At Middleweight, Rebuilding Has To Start Somewhere

While middleweight has often been top heavy even in higher financial times in recent decades, the top was often more than enough. Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins, and Gennadiy Golovkin all found themselves waiting for smaller men with big names to come up the scale to define them. A brief explosion between Hopkins and Golovkin featured Jermain Taylor, Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams, and Sergio Martinez making some memorable action. Saul Alvarez, the last superstar in the class, more than maintained its place as one of the classic glamor divisions. 

There’s not a lot of glamor right now.

Gennadiy Golovkin quietly vacated the IBF and WBA belts in the division following a loss at super middleweight to Alvarez last fall and is assumed retired. 33-year old Jermall Charlo (32-0, 22 KO), the WBC titlist, hasn’t fought since June 2021 and while his return is expected soon it still has to happen. 

Those two, when active, at least brought some star cache after Alvarez left for super middleweight. What remains is a constellation still a little dim in the night sky.

The real title picture of the division right now is:

Carlos Adames (23-1, 18 KO, WBC interim), age 29, won five straight including wins over Sergiy Dereyanchenko and Julian Williams

Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (14-0, 9 KO, WBO), age 30, two title defenses after being elevated from interim titlist in 2022

Vincenzo Gualtieri (21-0-1, 7 KO, IBF), age 30, won vacant belt in June with a decision over Olympic silver medalist Esquiva Falcao

Erislandy Lara (29-3-3, 17 KO, WBA), age 40, elevated from WBA sub-title status, inactive since May 2022

It’s not a superstar roster.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Adames has bounced back from a loss to Patrick Teixeira and done good work in the division. Alimkahnuly is talented and appears to be attempting to follow the Golovkin playbook of being billed as feared. Lara still has name value and Gualtieri may prove to be a factor.

The problem for middleweight, the thing the division can hang its hat on even during its most top heavy years, is that there isn’t anything out there to give the division an identity right now. If this were a team sport, one might refer to that as a rebuilding phase. Adames, Alimkhanuly, Gualtieri, and Lara are what amounts to the new foundation.

The only thing that can happen from here is to start building floors.

Saturday, construction will commence with perhaps the most understated unification match ever in the division. Alimkhanuly-Gualtieri will headline a card from Rosenberg, Texas (ESPN, 10:30 PM). No, it won’t be Hopkins-Trinidad, but it builds on the success Adames has had in his last few fights and whittles down the title picture just a hair. 

It’s something at middleweight, and something is better than the alternative of Alimkhanuly and Gualtieri fighting other opponents no one is particularly invested in. Unification carries at least a suggestion of being worth watching. 

Every division has down periods and middleweight won’t stay down. People have been getting rich at 160 pounds almost since “The Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey claimed the first middleweight crown. There are some promising young talents in the division like Ammo Williams and Elijah Garcia, but they haven’t arrived in the title scene yet. Some consolidation of the division will go a long way toward making their attempted arrivals something to get excited about. 

A division that lacks identity today doesn’t have to be without one long. The winner of Alimkhanuly-Gualtieri will have taken a step forward and, combined with Adames, make for a clear choice for the top two active fighters in the division. 

The next superstar will come. Now is the time where we find out who will do the work of carving out a spot to wait for them.

Cliff’s Notes…

The better card this weekend on paper will air on Showtime with Tim Tszyu-Brian Mendoza. Tszyu is unlikely to ever be as good as his father but he’s in a spot on the scale where he could potentially be a bigger star if he keeps winning. He could add something to middleweight sooner than later too…Oscar Collazo wants to fight the Shigeoka brothers at strawweight? Maybe 105 pounds can get interesting after all…This year’s Boxing Hall of Fame voting is going to produce the sort of results that get people talking for better or worse. Always remember: the top three vote getters are enshrined every year. In off years, that means a fighter with well less than half the voters selecting them can theoretically get in if the vote is split enough ways. So for anyone saying “how could the voters pick that guy,” the reality is that most of them might not have.    

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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