The Muddle at Middleweight
By Donavan Leonard: Up until two months ago, it was thought that boxing discussions this week would center around Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, depending on the outcome of their fight that was to be held last weekend. Was a clear winner determined? Was there a beatdown, mentally or physically, that would require time for the loser to recover? More importantly to the fans, and just as intriguing, would be what would be what would be next for both.
Unfortunately, the fight did not take place, no questions were answered, and middleweight remains in a holding pattern while negotiations between Golovkin and Alvarez are set to begin next week. For the division, it is like a scene from the movie “Groundhog Day”, where the same day is repeated over and over, with no closure. Essentially, eight months after the original fight and possibly for a year if the rematch takes place as believed in September, nothing has happened. That does not include the time needed between bouts (four to six months if Golovkin, eight months if Canelo), or the possibility of a third bout if warranted by the rematch. The division has been held hostage. With the realization that only one contender at a time can face the winner, and that the champion only fights two, maybe three times per year, there is no way for every middleweight with a perceived claim to land a shot at the linear title. The discussion this week instead gravitates toward what these fighters do to both stay relevant and maintain their best chance at titles, riches, or both.
Jermall Charlo: Charlo is indeed walking the walk and talking the talk. He is a fight fan who attends shows. This provides him quite a bit of face time, improving his marketability. He is also active on social media. He is the WBC mandatory challenger, which means he could be fight number three, at best (Canelo-Golovkin, Winner-Sergiy Deravyanchenko (IBF is next in the rotation), then Winner-Charlo). The best-case scenario gives him a shot at the throne in 16 months. Expect a soft touch next, with the possibility of a very intriguing and much bigger bout with Daniel Jacobs early next year. There has been some back-and-forth banter between the two, and it would make the most sense to have that fight closer to the time when a title shot is available to increase the buildup.
Sergiy Deravyanchenko: “The Technician” almost found his way into a title shot this past weekend with the IBF mandatory challenger next in line for a bout that is not a unification bout, only to have Golovkin’s team choose junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan. Deravyanchenko is in a strong position to negotiate, as it is believed that the IBF will be prepared to strip Golovkin should he not be next. If he is patient and Golovkin defeats Alvarez, there is a real chance that he could fight Golovkin for substantial prize money in December or January. If his team pursues the stripping of the title, he will find himself fighting for a meaningless (to followers of the sport) trinket, for far less money and against a non-descript opponent. The fighters ranked below him would make excellent bouts (Jacobs, Charlo, Alvarez, Andrade), but the most likely scenario would be the aforementioned passing on the opportunity for the vacant belt. The opponent would come from a pool of such names as Jack Arnfeld, Rafael Bejaran, Luis Arias and Ronny Mittag. If merely having a belt is important to him (in hopes of a future unification), then expect this to come to fruition. He would be better served, if the IBF approves, to withdraw his request for Golovkin to be stripped, find another lower tier opponent to stay active (his last bout was a scheduled 8-rounder versus Dashon Johnson), and keep his fingers crossed. The worst-case scenario would be Alvarez winning and choosing to drop the IBF belt. In either situation, the chance for a bout with Golovkin or Alvarez is worth a relatively short wait.
Daniel Jacobs: Jacobs is the odd-man out. He had his opportunity last year and was unable to wrest the title from Golovkin. As the WBA mandatory he is last in the rotation, so his scheduled time would come after Deravyanchenko and after Charlo. That is two years of waiting. He performed well enough against Golovkin that he will not be shown any favors and be moved ahead of any of the other mandatories. He may be able to pursue a bout against the “regular” WBA titlist, Ryota Murata, but the lines of enforcement in that organization are sometimes hard to follow. He is also ranked #2 by the WBO, so he could try to coax Billy Joe Saunders into the ring and take his title. Golovkin and his team at one time prided themselves on the pursuit of “all the belts” and holding the last piece of the puzzle might be the extra incentive that is needed to either acquire a rematch with Golovkin or gain a bout with Alvarez. This phase appears to have passed. His best option is to continue to stoke the fire for a bout with Charlo. By fighting and defeating Charlo, which in itself is a great bout, he could earn additional respect, as well as take Charlo’s spot in line.
Billy Joe Saunders: Saunders may have done himself a grave disservice in his last title defense by thoroughly outclassing David Lemieux. At one time he was considered cannon fodder for Golovkin, Alvarez, or any top middleweight, but the clinic he displayed that night might put to rest any chance he had of luring either of those two into the ring. A lefty with a style as far removed as “Mexican Style” as possible, he would be very difficult to look good against even in a winning performance. He will be defending next against another former Golovkin victim, Martin Murray, on June 23rd. His team has made overtures toward unifying with Golovkin if his defense is successful, and Saunders must hope that he can find a way to make it happen. The rankings in the WBO have Dennis Andrade #1 and Daniel Jacobs #2. If Saunders is going to face the risk of a difficult opponent, he would prefer that a substantial monetary reward accompany it. There have been claims that Saunders has priced himself out of a Golovkin bout in the past. He may accept a smaller offer with the knowledge that he would most likely be the underdog facing any of those three named, with Golovkin the highest purse. His best move is to first defeat Murray, then hope that Golovkin beats Alvarez and decides to finish unifying the belts. If Golovkin wins, expect Saunders to get the call.
Ryota Murata: As the WBA “regular” title holder, it is difficult to gauge whether Golovkin/Alvarez could fight Murata without a belt or two being stripped. However, his immense popularity in Japan and the size of the purse that could be offered (at least in Golovkin’s case) could possibly lure the winner to Tokyo and start the dominoes falling for the stripping of the belts. He is currently rumored to be looking for a fight in the fall in Las Vegas, with the obvious reason to gain exposure to the American public. A fight in late 2018/early 2019 with the winner of Alvarez/Golovkin would be the goal for Murata.
What does all this mean? Right now, nobody knows. The most likely bets are:
• GGG/Canelo to square off in September
• Deravyanchenko to fight a lower-level opponent for the IBF title that will be stripped
• Charlo and Jacobs to take stay-busy bouts while they bide their time, waiting for their organization to force a bout with GGG/Canelo, and then facing each other if the prize does not appear
• Saunders to wait for the fallout from GGG/Canelo and accept a lower offer to make the fight with GGG should he be victorious.
• Murata to fight another lightly-regarded opponent while hoping for a Golovkin win.
If Golovkin wins, look for a bout with Saunders to unify all the belts, with a bout in Tokyo against Murata as Plan B. If Canelo wins, look for belts to be dropped and these fighters to fight for vacant titles. Canelo will fight who he wants to fight, and his finances prove it. Whether he fights at junior middle, middle, or super middle, some organization will lend him a belt to defend to help promote the show.
In a perfect world, the fighters would be squaring off against each other to determine who has earned the right to challenge for the title rather than waiting on an opportunity to occur. It looks like only Charlo and Jacobs, at least in the early stages, are on course to step up. Hopefully the others will follow that lead and attempt to earn a championship rather than win a belt. Yes, the championship belts have been tied up, but it doesn’t excuse those lying in wait from honing their skills at the top level. Championships are won by fighting, not watching.