By Eric Raskin
Technically, any fight with a weight limit above 140 pounds and not above 147 is a welterweight bout. That means that this Saturday night in Macau, officially, Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri will square off in a welterweight fight. It doesn’t matter that the fight is at an agreed-upon “catchweight” limit of 144 pounds, or that Algieri last fought at junior welter, or that Pacquiao’s people are talking about a possible drop to junior welter in the near future. For record-keeping purposes, this weekend, they are both welterweights. Which means that for the moment, Pacquiao and Algieri are part of the most star-packed, financially fruitful division in the sport.
It’s been that way for a considerable portion of the last 35 years, actually. From the days of Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Wilfred Benitez, through the age of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Pernell Whitaker, and Shane Mosley, to the modern rivalries of Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, and Juan Manuel Marquez, heavyweight is probably the only division that has generated more money than welterweight. Boxing’s biggest names just keep finding their way to the 147-pound class.
So here’s a look at who’s who in this deep division, on the eve of one of its two marquee superstars stepping through the ropes:
The Pound-For-Pound King: Floyd Mayweather
Maybe if Andre Ward was fighting regularly (or at all), Mayweather wouldn’t be the clear P-4-P king anymore. But Ward isn’t, so Floyd is. He looked more vulnerable this year than ever before, winning two grueling decisions over Marcos Maidana to run his record to 47-0 with 26 KOs, but Mayweather is still a marvel at age 37. The only significant knock on the defensive genius is the same one that’s been knocking for the better part of the last decade: He tends to be somewhat risk-averse in his matchmaking. But even if Mayweather’s legacy isn’t all that it could be, he remains undefeated and is laughing all the way to the betting window.
The Beloved International Icon: Manny Pacquiao
The greatest offensive fighter of his generation doesn’t have quite the same offense he used to—but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s any less effective. Following his stunning 2012 knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao returned a smarter boxer who uses angles and footwork more and reckless power lunges less. He looked tremendous outpointing fellow pound-for-pound entrant Tim Bradley in April, extending his ledger to 56-5-2 with 38 KOs, and now he prepares for a different sort of challenge in the taller, rangier Algieri. It has been five years since “Pac-Man” last scored a knockout win, but given his adjusted in-ring approach, it’s quite possible that he doesn’t care whether he brings an end to that streak.
The Little Engine That Does: Tim Bradley
For much of his career, “Desert Storm” Bradley was roundly underrated. Then he won a bogus decision over Manny Pacquiao, and he became roundly disrespected. But after winning the 2013 Fight of the Year in a brawl with Ruslan Provodnikov, outpointing Juan Manuel Marquez, and losing competitively in the Pacquiao rematch, Bradley finally seems to be properly rated and properly respected. He’s now 31-1 with 12 KOs, and he has an intriguing fight coming up on December 13 against Argentina’s Diego Chaves. Much as we’d all like to see Bradley-Provodnikov II, the Chaves fight seems a reasonable facsimile from an action perspective.
The Mexican Maestro: Juan Manuel Marquez
Our fourth welterweight taking up residence in most experts’ pound-for-pound top five, Marquez continues to perform at an elite level at age 41, although he’s slowing down from a scheduling standpoint. His lone fight of 2014 was an off-the-floor decision win over Mike Alvarado that advanced his record to 56-7-1 with 40 KOs. Marquez is a hair slower than he used to be—in part because of added bulk that has raised its share of suspicion—but he’s still as clever a counterpuncher as there is and a willing give-and-take warrior who packs pockets of excitement into every fight. A fifth fight with Pacquiao seems his best moneymaking option for 2015, but so far Marquez has been pricing himself out of it.
The Relentless Brawler: Marcos Maidana
It isn’t easy to elevate your stock with an 0-2 campaign, but that’s exactly what Argentine assailant Maidana did in 2014 by pushing Mayweather close to his limits over 24 rounds. He’s not the most consistent performer—the one-sided nature of his 2012 loss to Devon Alexander remains puzzling—but when he’s on his game, “El Chino” can defeat the world’s most arrogant fighters (Adrien Broner) or come close (Mayweather). Though his record fell to 35-5 (31 KOs) this year, Maidana has taken major steps toward becoming a household name and would make a dangerous opponent for any of the welterweights listed above him here.
The Upside Guy: Keith Thurman
With the division’s biggest names all in their 30s or 40s, it’s nice to have a guy like Thurman exploding onto the scene and looking like a threat to the welterweight elite as a 25-year-old. He has speed, power, and personality; what Thurman doesn’t have is an A-level opponent on his 23-0 with 21 KOs resume. That won’t change when he faces Leonard Bundu in December. Hopefully it will change next year, because “One Time” is entering his prime and you’d hate to see it wasted.
The Handsome Stranger: Chris Algieri
As a natural 140-pounder, Algieri might prove to be a non-factor in the welterweight division. But you can’t do a roundup of the state of the division without including the guy who’s about to fight Manny Pacquiao, because the ramifications if Algieri were to win would be enormous. He’s not much of a puncher at 20-0 with 8 KOs, but he had the skill and heart to upset Ruslan Provodnikov earlier this year, and he’s good-looking and articulate enough to cross over into the mainstream in a big way if he somehow gets the better of Pacquiao.
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