By Carlos Acevedo
Over the last seven months, since the previous State of the Middleweight Division piece last October, some fortunes have soared, while others have crashed like 160-pound Hindenburgs. Martin Murray was savaged by Gennady Golovkin. Felix Sturm abandoned the division. Sergio Martinez, now closing in on 40, inched closer and closer to retirement. Jermain Taylor, a hazard to himself ever since returning to the ring, finally went haywire and has more criminal charges hanging over his head than FIFA officials do.
In addition, Marco Antonio Rubio, Matthew Macklin, Matt Korobov and Sam Soliman all sustained losses and are unlikely to regain the spotlight after suffering setbacks that ranged from humdrum to gruesome. With Miguel Cotto returning against Daniel Geale on Saturday night and the and the shadow of Gennady Golovkin still looming after scoring his 20th consecutive stoppage a few weeks ago, it seems as good a time as any to revisit the middleweight division.
Thanks to his status as one of the top box office draws in America, Miguel Cotto has recently adopted a regal air that has flummoxed fans and fighters alike. Since 2014, the Puerto Rican veteran has left Canelo Alvarez in the lurch twice, driven Sergio Martinez batty with contractual demands, and split with Top Rank to sign with promotional upstart Roc Nation Sports. It took years of bloodshed for Cotto to become one of the few bankable commodities in boxing, and now he seems determined to cash in on his hard-earned status. In his first start since atomizing Martinez, Cotto, 39-4 (32 KOs), takes on veteran contender Daniel Geale Saturday night on HBO.
Because Geale was annihilated by Gennady Golovkin in three rounds last year, some consider him a patsy for Cotto. With the exception of his KO defeat to “GGG,” however, Geale never suffered anything worse than a split-decision against him after a decade as a solid professional. Even so, Geale will enter the ring tomorrow night compromised after agreeing to a whimsical 157-pound catchweight. Defeating Geale could be the final step for Cotto before a fight with Canelo.
As talented as “GGG” is—and he is very talented—he couldn't exactly carry Willie Monroe Jr. last month. After opening in cruise control, Golovkin rattled Monroe with the first earnest punch he threw. A dazed Monroe survived, however, even rallying before being hammered into the canvas for good in the sixth. Although Golovkin has barely been tested during his championship run, comparing him to Marvelous Marvin Hagler is off the mark. Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and faced every conceivable threat during his reign. Because of contractual roadblocks, Golovkin is prohibited from facing some of the top names in the division, including Peter Quillin, Danny Jacobs, and, possibly, Andy Lee. Meanwhile, Miguel Cotto, the legitimate middleweight champion, remains aloof regarding, well, just about everything. But if talks with super middleweight titlist Carl Froch prove successful, Golovkin may finally have a world-class prizefighter in his sights. Froch is as flinty and as raw as a piece of Brutalist architecture and his right hand remains a threat. In Froch, whose only walkover in the last seven years came against Yusaf Mack in 2012, Golovkin will be facing a genuine hard-case whose résumé speaks for itself. One thing is certain: Golovkin will be less inclined to start in low gear against Froch.
The charismatic Quebecois has a blockbuster left hook that can leave opponents reeling. Artless but deadly, Lemieux made his debut on HBO last year by pummeling Gabriel Rosado and a potentially explosive matchup against Gennady Golovkin suddenly seemed to be a real possibility. But Lemieux surprisingly accepted a fight with troublesome Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam for a vacant title on June 20th. Although Lemieux, 33-2 (31 KOs), is the favorite, he could find himself being outscored from round to round until, suddenly, the final bell rings. Still, he has lights-out power, and his urbane persona gives him a marketing edge most fighters lack. Whether or not he can beat N’Dam and move on to a lucrative showdown with “GGG” remains to be seen. But it would make for a hell of a daydream come true if he did.
Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
While most fighters would be elated to earn a title shot, Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam is hardly getting up for it. N’Dam, who faces risky David Lemieux for a vacant middleweight kickshaw on June 20 in Montreal, has publically expressed his disenchantment about the circumstances surrounding his latest opportunity. Fighters are mercurial personalities to begin with, but add discontent to the mix and you have the possibility that N’Dam is unfocused. Regardless of his payday, N’Dam, 31-1 (18 KOs), is going to have to be at his best to outmaneuver Lemieux, who can torpedo an unsuspecting opponent in a heartbeat. And N’Dam, who was dropped by Peter Quillin half-a-dozen times in 2012, has shown that a neatly timed blow can leave him with cartoon stars swirling around his head. If N’Dam can upset Lemieux, then he will stand out as one of the few middleweights free to face division hobgoblin Gennady Golovkin. You have to wonder just how happy N’Dam will be about that scenario.
Six weeks ago, Quillin fought to an odd draw against titleholder Andy Lee. Considering the fact that both men hit the deck, it was an uneventful fight. Long stretches of time passed with Quillin and Lee staring at each other like mannequins in a JC Penney window display. According to Compubox, Quillin and Lee combined to throw 566 total punches for a pitiful average of 47 punches per round between them. For Lee, who has proven to be fragile in the past, it might have been a strategic plus to limit the action; for Quillin, however, the sluggish pace was symbolic of his general lack of intensity. A talented boxer-puncher who suffers from lapses in concentration, Quillin, 31-0-1 (22 KOs) is just good enough to keep observers imagining how he would do against top middleweights. Unfortunately, Quillin has never appeared particularly interested in facing them, and he seems only as ambitious as his Instagram account allows him to be. Two natural pairings for Quillin include a rematch with Lee and a neighborhood brawl with Danny Jacobs. But is Quillin even interested?
In the conversation: Andy Lee, Danny Jacobs, Billy Joe Saunders, Taureano Johnson, Jorge Sebastian Heiland, Daniel Geale, Chris Eubank, Jr.