Thursday, October 25, 2018

Examining The Middleweight Division Heading Into 2019

There have been few occasions throughout it’s illustrious history where Boxing's Middleweight division has not been a topic of discussion and/or debate among Boxing fans and experts. Of course, many knowledgeable fans can probably sit for hours talking about some of the greatest fights the division has seen over many decades. An element that also is a consistent topic of discussion with regard to the Middleweights is how the landscape changes from time to time.

In recent times, the Middleweight division has appeared as though it might be heading towards a period of transition. A transition that in some ways is not unlike the transition that has been taking place in the Heavyweight over the last several years. What happens that leads to such a process taking place? More often than not, the process is set in motion by the end of the reign of a longtime champion.

As many fans are aware, such an event did in fact happen in September when Gennady Golovkin, the undefeated long-reigning unified WBA/IBO/WBC Middleweight world champion lost his crown and suffered the first defeat of his career when he lost a razor thin decision in his rematch with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Although many including this observer felt that Golovkin had done enough to win that fight and retain his world championship, the loss to Alvarez disputed or not along with other events appeared to trigger the beginning of a transition period for the division. While this observer will discuss the obvious potential of a third encounter between Golovkin and Alvarez later in this column, what is interesting is how the two bouts between the two have had an effect on the rest of the division either directly or indirectly.

One thing that was impacted by the two bouts between Golovkin and Alvarez was that it in part broke a unification process that had gradually been taking place with Golovkin unifying portions of the World Middleweight championship. A process where Golovkin successfully unified the crowns of the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Organization (IBO), the World Boxing Council (WBC), and the International Boxing Federation (IBF).

Although it appeared for a time that Golovkin was eventually going to face undefeated World Boxing Organization Middleweight world champion Billy Joe Saunders to determine an undisputed world champion in the division, Golovkin’s loss to Alvarez as well as events and circumstances that took place both before and after the second Golovkin-Alvarez encounter have changed the landscape of the division significantly. First, due in part to mandatory title defense obligations as well as the delay in the second fight between Golovkin and Alvarez taking place, Golovkin was stripped of the IBF crown. The vacant IBF Middleweight world championship will be on the line on Saturday, October 27th when undefeated IBF number one contender Sergiy Derevyanchenko will face longtime top Middleweight contender Daniel Jacobs at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

The WBO meanwhile has also seen a shift in regard to it’s portion of the World Middleweight championship. As most Boxing fans likely know, Billy Joe Saunders was recently denied a Boxing license by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission due to his testing positive for a banned substance as part of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) randomized testing program prior to his scheduled bout against undefeated former WBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Demetrius Andrade, who was the WBO's number one Middleweight contender.

Saunders being denied a license prevented him from making his scheduled defense against Andrade on October 20th at the TD Garden in Boston. Saunders opted to relinquish the WBO championship before the organization could make a ruling on whether to strip him of the championship. This put Andrade in a position to fight for the vacant crown by facing undefeated WBO number two rated contender Walter Kautondokwa on the scheduled date of what would have been the bout against Saunders.

In a bout where he was able to score three knockdowns, Andrade dominated a very “Game” Kautondokwa to win a twelve round unanimous decision and become a two-division world champion. Although it remains unclear as of this writing as to what Andrade’s future plans might be, it would not surprise yours truly if an attempt is made to resign a bout between Andrade and Saunders, assuming the undefeated former world champion is able to resolve his licensing issue in the state of Massachusetts. If the ruling of the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission remains in place, one could assume that it could create an obstacle assuming the native of Hatfield, England wants to face Andrade here in the United States. There is also a possibility that Andrade could seek a fight with the winner of the upcoming IBF championship fight in what would be a unification bout.

The future plans of Saul Alvarez could also have an impact on the Middleweight division, which could change the landscape of the division even further. One of the biggest stories in the sport over the last week was the news that Alvarez and his promoter Golden Boy Promotions had signed a landmark five-year eleven bout deal for Alvarez with DAZN, the multi-sport digital streaming network, which launched in the United States on September 10th after successful launches in several countries internationally.

Although the particulars of the deal, which also includes Golden Boy’s stable of fighters is a subject that will be discussed here on the website in the coming weeks, Alvarez will make his debut on DAZN as he moves up in weight to face top Super-Middleweight contender Rocky Fielding. The fight, which will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY will be for interim/regular status in the WBA’s Super-Middleweight ratings currently held by Fielding.

In terms of the 160lb. Middleweight division, if Alvarez is successful in that fight he will move into a mandatory challenger position to potentially face recently crowned WBA world champion Callum Smith, who won the recently concluded World Boxing Super Series Super-Middleweight tournament. If such a scenario were to play out, it could open the WBC and WBA world championships that Alvarez currently holds in the Middleweight division up.

For the World Boxing Association, if Alvarez were to opt to remain in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division following his fight with Fielding, it is logical to assume that the WBA will name top contender Rob Brant, who scored a twelve round unanimous decision over Ryota Murata, the WBA’s top Middleweight contender on October 20th in Las Vegas, the new WBA Middleweight world champion. Even though the WBA has taken its share of criticism for it’s designation of “Regular” and “Interim” championship designations in their rankings, and such labels can create confusion among Boxing fans, such designations which this observer refers to as “Interim/Regular Status” does serve a purpose particularly in situations such as the possibility of Alvarez staying at Super-Middleweight after his fight with Rocky Fielding as it will fill a vacancy that would be left by the champion, in this case Alvarez choosing to relinquish the championship if Alvarez does indeed choose to stay at Super-Middleweight.

As for the WBC championship, it was announced at their recent annual convention that it had ordered a bout between it’s top Middleweight contender Jermall Charlo and former champion Gennady Golovkin to determine a mandatory challenger for Alvarez, should Alvarez elect to move back down to Middleweight after the fight with Fielding. Whether or not Charlo and Golovkin will meet in 2019 to determine a mandatory challenger in the WBC Middleweight ratings remains to be seen. Whether or not the situation in regard to the WBC's portion of the World Middleweight championship will eventually lead to a third encounter between Alvarez and Golovkin remains to be seen.

The changing landscape of the Middleweight division however, much like the changing landscape of the sport overall will remain a hot topic of discussion going forward. Whether the division will move closer to determining an undisputed champion in the coming year also remains to be seen.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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