Chaos and Disappointment at 140-Pounds

10.12.05 - By Gabriel DeCrease: Not long ago, the junior-welterweight division was teeming with high-profile fan-favorites, pound-for-pound contenders, and brilliant prospects. And now, the best estimation of the 140-pound scene is that it is watchable, palatable, decent. What happened? How? And why?

At it’s peak sometime during the early part of the last year. A panorama of the division looked like this…

Floyd Mayweather appeared to be well on his way to dominating another division.

He had conquered DeMarcus Corley, pushing through some rough patches in his maiden voyage as a junior-welterweight, and then tore Henry Brussles into tiny pieces and stomped on them before the ringside physician retired Brussles in the eighth-stanza.

Despite the questionable quality of his opposition, there was a swelling sense among fans and members of the press that “Pretty Boy” Floyd would soon be keeping a breakneck schedule of big fights at 140-pounds, and, in doing so, make his case for uncontested pound-for-pound sovereignty.

Kostya Tszyu and Miguel Cotto represented two generations of frightful one-punch knockout-power. “The Thunder From Down Under” laid out Sharmba Mitchell after an injury-induced layoff and looked deadly-sharp. Cotto ripped DeMarcus Corley, albeit somewhat controversially, and seemed ready to take his game to the next level against the division’s top dogs.

Ricky Hatton was enjoying a meteoric rise to fame as a true-grit, blue-collar tough guy.

The pride of Manchester had smoked “Sucre” Ray Oliveira in ten-rounds, and looked sharp enough to take his rough-and-tumble show on the road to a world title of his own.

Arturo Gatti seemed to be enjoying a surprising late-peak in the division. Gatti had been in so many wars (some of them one-sided losses) his fans were concussed and weighted-down with scar tissue. But somehow he had looked so sharp, strong, and fresh in wins over Gianluca Branco, Leonard Dorin, and Jesse James Leija that fans began to believe strongly in the Gatti’s potential as a rehabilitated boxer-puncher.

Vivian Harris and Junior “The Hitter” Witter looked to be men-on-the-verge, each in their own way. Both showed great potential, and seemed to be hurdling toward the shots shots at alphabet straps they had each called for on so many occasions.

Hot prospects Juan Urango, Mike Arnoutis, Francisco Bojado, and Oscar Diaz seemed bound for great fights and long turns in the world title mix.

Somehow, things got tangled and messy. Expectations were not met, hopes were dashed, and life at 140-pounds did not go on as the boxing public might have liked.

Instead, the story read like this…

Floyd Mayweather inked a contract to fight Arturo Gatti, and, ignoring all logic and common sense, a large portion of boxing’s fanbase (myself included) fell into the belief that Gatti would thunder to a knockout win over the ultra-slick Mayweather. Subsequently, Mayweather beat the tar out of Gatti who seemed tentative and ineffectual, if not hapless and helpless. Gatti never got a game plan in motion, and was shut out until his corner retired him to end the embarrassing clinic. In the aftermath of that debacle, even Gatti-boosters started grumbling that Mayweather’s victory over the outclassed Arturo did not make a definitive statement about his ability.

Ironically, this fight sent both men running for the welterweight division. Gatti, who made the move first, might have done so to go after another world title without the threat of having to face Mayweather (or duck him). And Mayweather, it seems, took the seven-pound leap to chase another title—more concerned about the statistical impressiveness of his career than asserting true dominance at junior-welterweight.

Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton took a huge step up in class when he signed to play underdog in a fight with highly-regarded IBF champion Kostya Tszyu. No one outside of Manchester thought Hatton had more than a prayer of beating the tight, determined, and methodical stalker Tszyu had become in his reign as champion. Yet somehow, the Manchester fanatics were right, and the rest of the world was wrong. Ricky was ready, and Kostya, for the first time, couldn’t swing a hatchet the way he used to. Hatton’s upset sent Tszyu into a period of hibernation that will almost certainly become a permanent vacation from the ring. And put Ricky, perhaps prematurely on top of the division.

Vivian Harris looked under-trained and unfocused when he went up against Carlos Maussa, the awkward spoiler. Harris lacked a definitive game plan and looked only for a knockout, and consequently was knocked out himself. By losing to the relatively unheralded Maussa Harris made himself look shabby on international television, exposed his potentially career-ending ego, and derailed his title-hopes by marring his record with an inopportune black mark. Harris effectively sent himself to the back of the line in the rankings and the public eye. Maussa seemed a few steps behind the best in the division, even in his upset, and was soon snuffed-out by Hatton in a fight that typified the lukewarm environment that the junior-welters have adapted to. Maussa will probably never again be a factor in the 140-pound division, or any other.

Junior Witter has only taken baby-steps forward, and has yet to explode onto the international scene in the way he, and most fans and pundits, expected. He has suffered no setback losses, but has instead engaged in dubiously tight contests with good, but not great, fighters. He won by a too-narrow margin against division workhorse Lovemore N’Dou in a WBC title eliminator, then squeaked by the tough-but-beatable Andreas Kotelnik and capably-technical Colin Lynes. If Witter wants to get on the fast-track, he needs to make a statement more definitive than his recent wins by close-decision. If he is gun-shy after his loss to Zab Judah, he needs to get over it, or he can count living down a Calzaghe-esque curse of infamy.

Miguel Cotto is shakily on track as he is relying on his ability to knock his opponents out while painfully eating leather. His power is undeniable, but his chin, while solid, looked dented against Ricardo Torres. Torres floored Cotto hard before being stopped. Torres, incidentally, was fighting on very short notice in the stead of an injured Gianluca Branco. Cotto will be stopped in a coming fight unless he ups his defensive skills and starts to be more selective about when, and with whom, he brawls.

In terms of the prospects…

Mike Arnoutis is only now on his way after an injury, and a subsequent layoff. Two fights up the road, assuming he gets by prospect Jose Luis Moreno, Arnoutis is slated to face an aging, but still tough, Stevie Johnston. “Mighty” Mike was once thought to be bound for a shot at an alphabet strap by now.

Juan Urango—often referred to as a miniature Mike Tyson—has been effective as he has plodded through pedestrian opposition. But he too was expected to be approaching big things by now.

Francisco Bojado came undone under the pressure of veteran-tactics from Jesse James Leija, and has not fought since.

Oscar Diaz also seemed bound for the top after his impressive wins over once-regarded now-defunct Jesse Feliciano and Al Gonzales, but has been recently hesitant and unspectacular against unspectacular competition.

Where did all the screaming momentum go?

The inferno of fistic fantasy in the junior-welterweight division has dwindled to a modest bonfire of predictably average action.

However, salvation may be on the horizon as action-warrior Acelino Freitas is now campaigning at 140-pounds. Jose Luis Castillo should make his move to junior-welterweight after his rubber-match with Diego Corrales. And there are whispers that Naseem Hamed will return to action as a junior-welterweight in 2006.

Article posted on 10.12.2005

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