29.12.05 – By Paul Ruby: Like at Heavyweight, the Light Middleweight division is largely full of past-their-prime fighters who remain household names despite diminishing skills. Personally, I can’t blame guys like Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, Vernon Forrest, and Ricardo Mayorga for trying to make as much money as possible with as little risk. Their legacies are virtually set and, if the buying public is ignorant or nostalgic enough to let them line their pockets even further, then you cannot fault them for taking the opportunity to make a couple million dollars.
The 154-pound division is one of the strangest in boxing right now. Daniel Santos and Kassim Ouma lost to Sergiy Dzinziruk and Roman Karmazin, respectively, and virtually no one forecasted either result. Karmazin looked technically sound and strong as an ox against Ouma, but he had never looked close to the that good beforehand, and he has yet to fight since.
I personally felt Dzinziruk was merely a mandatory opponent that would be summarily dispatched in a boring decision by the Puerto Rican southpaw, but that turned out false when the Ukranian matched and exceeded Santos’ above-average height, skill, and strength. Karmazin faces Alejandro ‘Terra’ Garcia, who had a great year, in February and it appears the winner will ultimately square off with either Fernando Vargas or Shane Mosley down the road.
The big name fights in the division are, of course, Vargas/Mosley and Oscar de la Hoya against Ricardo Mayorga. Oscar de la Hoya’s patience and skill will let him butcher Mayorga any day of the week – this is a classic low risk, mammoth reward fight for de la Hoya. On the other hand, Vargas/Mosley is a tough call. Vargas has made a major stylistic change and now focuses on throwing fewer punches per round while protecting himself better than he did in the past.
Given his natural size advantage over Mosley, this new style may actually benefit him. Mosley is no longer the combination-throwing dynamo he was at lightweight years ago. He no longer attacks the body with conviction and, too often, throws just one punch at a time. If Mosley takes chances, he should win this fight because his reflexes are sharper than Vargas’. Still, I tend to favor Vargas because of his size, style, and Mosley’s unwillingness to take risks in his recent fights.
The Welterweight division is heating up perhaps quicker than any other in boxing. Zab Judah, Floyd Mayweather, and Antonio Margarito are already there and Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, and possibly Kostya Tszyu could wind up there before 2006 is over. That said, 2005 was not a great year for the 147 pound division. The only major fight of the year was Zab Judah’s late knockout of Cory Spinks in a fight that turned out to be a lot better than many anticipated. The other major events were Antonio Margarito’s demolition of prospect Kermit Cintron and the arrival of Floyd Mayweather onto the scene. The coming year should provide answers to many questions, but biggest question in my mind is: ‘when is somebody going to give Antonio Margarito a shot?’ He’s held the WBO belt for almost half a decade, and no high-profile fighter appears willing to sign a contract to fight him. In terms of self-interest, I cannot fault any of them – I believe Margarito is the class of the division and can beat anyone at 147 or below.
My biggest hope for the division in 2006 is that another fighter in their prime will be willing to fight Margarito, because I truly believe he is among the best natural fighters in the sport today. I’ll end the welterweight discussion by admitting that I’m actually pretty surprised the fight between Judah and Mayweather has been finalized given both men’s history of unrealistic purse demands that ignore the realities of business and sports. Still, it is an exciting fight that I believe will catapult Mayweather closer to the stardom he craves. I like Mayweather to win by a knockout within seven rounds. Mayweather’s talent and desire far exceed those of Judah, who I believe has been vastly over-rated for years. Judah is a fine fighter and deserving champion, but he is not a fighter that should be considered among the elite of the sport based on accomplishments or talent.