So Where Does the Middleweight Division Go From Here?

By Paul Albano: In boxing, the voyage from prospect to champ is a constraining one, fraught with obstructions, setbacks, and dehydrated men with a half pound of leather taped around their wrists hell-bent on punching stuff. David Lemieux (25-1), the pride of Montreal, and perhaps the top 160 pound prospect, suffered one of those setbacks on Friday Night Fights. Likewise with James Kirkland (27-1) Saturday night, and Bastie Samir (10-0-1) with his draw against standard issue stepping-stone Lester Gonzalez. So it goes.

For the Lemieux camp, the most pressing question is whether their guy got exposed as a populist ticket-seller with a soft-record and a limited future; or if Marco Antonio Rubio (50-5-1) was a just a little too much too soon? It might be both. Lemieux was definitely winning up until the 7th round corner stoppage, and was clearly faster and the harder puncher. In fact, he looked bound for another early knockout after a big flurry in the 1st round. But he began losing the fight in the 6th when Rubio stunned him twice, and probably a round earlier, after Rubio started timing him, and landing straight rights off of Lemieux’s jab.

A lot of fighters stumble early in their careers—Lemieux is only 22—and he’s a good athlete with natural power, so not all is lost. But he looked awfully one dimensional against Rubio, relaying on an ordinary jab and long, sweeping rights that were effective at first, but couldn’t land once Rubio survived the initial onslaught and settled in. Most concerning of all, aside from Lemieux’s insistence on wearing those hideous mauve and mustard gloves, were the total lack of adjustments. Once Rubio began to block the sweeping rights, and using his reach to establish distance, Lemieux looked frustrated and utterly lost. It was as if he planned for everything—except Rubio doing exactly what he always does, jab, stay outside, counter, and survive.

Kirkland, 27, just looked awful. His defeater, Nobushiro Ishida, (23-6-2) is a light puncher, with an inflated record that still isn’t that impressive and absent any significant opposition. He’s also 35, and hadn’t won since outpointing Oney Valdez in 2009, and hadn’t stopped anybody since a 6th round TKO of Tatsuki Kawasaki in 2007. That Kirkland—with pre-prison victories against tough, hard-punchers like Brian Vera and Joel Julio—somehow couldn’t withstand a single clean shot from Ishida (and crumbled three times in the round, even if he was never seriously hurt) is astounding—and only comprehensible because…well…it actually happened.

But, perhaphs the most pressing question to emerge from the weekend is: who’s next in line in the middleweight division? Sergio Martinez is the undisputed, flamboyant, King, but on the 40 years old side of 35. Rubio’s had a solid career, but isn’t in the mix, at least not as a threat to become lineal champ; Julio Casear Chavez Jr. is popular, Sebastian Zbik is not, but regardless of who wins their summer fight, no one seems to take either seriously; Dmitry Pirog showed promise but appears to have been kidnapped; Pavlik deserted the division; Felix Sturm is talented but absent any interest of fighting outside of Germany; and former top prospects—the Kronk Gym Irishman Andy Lee, Golden Boy’s Daniel Jacobs, and now Lemieux, Kirkland, and Samir, have all been upset on their path to legit contention (though Lee seems to have worked his way to the precipice once again, and there is still time for the others to do the same).

The best hope for a compelling successor to Sergio—the guy with the chance to be The Guy, and capture people’s attention and crack pound-for-pound lists, like Martinez, or Pavlik, or Taylor, or Hopkins—might be Maryland based Fernando Guerrero (21-0). He’s still green, and a ways off from seriously challenging the division’s top fighters, but he’s fast, ultra athletic, and can really punch. Thus far, he’s leapt over the stepping-stones (Ishe Smith, Jesse Nicklow, Derrick Findley), though he’s yet to face a true gatekeeper. But he wisely avoided scheduling a fight this past weekend.

Article posted on 13.04.2011

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