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The Middleweights: What Now?

The last month has delivered a flurry of action in the middleweight division, suddenly bursting with action and breaking a long cycle of lackluster champions. Six fighters in the consensus top 10 have fought each other to include the top four clashing in bouts that created a clear pecking order. The final round of the Sergio Martinez – Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight can take its place among the most thrilling in boxing history. Australian Daniel Geale unified two alphabet titles in Germany and Gennady Golovkin established himself as a challenger to the throne with his destruction of fellow contender Grzegorz Proksa. By mid-October, eight of the 11 best middleweights will have fought one another!
Given all this activity, it is a good time to look at the major players and see where the division is heading from this point forward.

Sergio Martinez – Talk of a rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was immediate, potentially at Cowboys Stadium, but there are real concerns surrounding the knee injury and broken left hand Martinez suffered in the fourth round of their first outing. Either could keep Martinez out of the ring until spring of next year and, at age 37, inactivity is the greatest threat to Martinez’s legacy. In no shape or fashion do I believe Chavez Jr. earned a rematch with his performance, especially given rumors of his failing a post-fight urinalysis with marijuana in his system. The only reason I can find for a second meeting at this time is if the pay scales are reversed and Martinez is given the three million-dollar paycheck while Chavez makes do with less than half, as was the case for the duo’s first meeting. Otherwise, let Martinez heal and unify three belts by facing a proven middleweight like Daniel Geale, who earned the right to challenge Martinez in ways Chavez Jr. never did.
Daniel Geale – In the aftermath of the fantastical 12th round of the Sergio Martinez – Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. bout, Geale seemed resigned to his fate, watching the final three minutes at ringside. The Australian told the Sydney Daily Telegraph, “I’m at the press conference at the moment and they’re constantly talking about it. There seems to be a little bit of interest in a rematch so we’ll just have to wait until the dust settles.” On merit, Geale should be the next to challenge Martinez, the clear middleweight king, twice traveling to Germany to take belts from reigning champions. The injury to Martinez allows Geale to take a fight in the interim and there is no shortage of suitors given he holds the IBF and WBA belts. Felix Sturm is chasing a rematch; their first fight was a close affair (split decision by scores of 116-112 across the board) and a second meeting would be a big event in Germany. Promoter Ricky Hatton wants to bring Geale to England and face Martin Murray, which would recall the days when Kostya Tszyu traveled from Australia to face Hatton. The third and least attractive option is a fight with fellow Aussie Sam Soliman, the IBF mandatory contender.
Felix Sturm – For those who say it is impossible to win a decision in Germany, I give you a Felix Sturm who not only fought in but also promoted his debatable decision loss to Daniel Geale. Sturm can attract and fight any top middleweight in the world given his popularity and earning power in Germany. He does need a title belt to get the very best to travel to Germany and proved in a rematch with Javier Castillejo (who knocked out Sturm and lost a decision in their second meeting) that he learns from setbacks. At age 33, Sturm remains a viable challenger but with a recent loss and without a belt, no longer holds an attraction for Sergio Martinez. Sturm still wants no part of Gennady Golovkin, who is popular in Germany and lives there part-time, since Golovkin was a mandatory challenger for nearly two years and Sturm never gave him an opportunity. The monetary backing is there to force Geale back to Germany for a rematch with Sturm. A second meeting between the pair does not produce the box-office numbers in Australia to compare with German figures and boxing often comes down to economics over fairness. For Sturm, it is Geale or bust.
Gennady Golovkin – The Kazakhstani’s annihilation of fellow young gun Gregory Proksa turned more than Proksa’s head 180 degrees. The American public saw Golovkin live up to his reputation as an internet urban legend and the dominant stoppage rates as one of the best HBO’s debut fights in the networks history. Now, Golovkin needs to follow up and exploit that buzz and did his part by challenging every world champion from 154 to 168 pounds in post-fight comments. The good news is Golovkin wants to fight again this December in America or Europe; the bad news is that his impressive skill set will scare off many of the established middleweights with more to lose. So, in a strange way, Golovkin is right back where he started unless HBO antes up big money to get two-belt champion Daniel Geale or a popular draw like Chavez to duel the new gunslinger in town.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – The Chavez progeny is young enough to get over the one-sided thrashing by Sergio Martinez and retains the ego to sustain the loss mentally. The first 11 rounds against Martinez showed Junior’s many flaws while the final round revealed potential hard work could bring out in him. There would be zero demand for rematch if not for that hard knockdown in final round; otherwise, the fight would be remembered like Shane Mosley’s loss to Floyd Mayweather in which Mosley rocked Mayweather…once. Recent rumors of Chavez testing positive for marijuana (combined with drunk driving charges before his fight in March) in his post-fight urinalysis raise more red flags about Chavez’s mentality to boxing and life in general. Perhaps the lopsided setback will finally convince Chavez to train properly; if not; Chavez will live off his last name until the losses pile up. Chavez will be back in the ring before Martinez and given the rabid Mexican fan support, can still pick and choose opponents that HBO will gladly accept in return for big ratings.
Dmitry Pirog – Recently stripped for inactivity though the WBO would have surely made an exemption due to injury if Pirog brought in more money at the box-office for them. It’s a shame Western audiences have not been able to see more of this awkwardly effective boxer/banger after his HBO-televised knockout of prospect Daniel Jacobs. After that big victory, Pirog was inactive for eight months and only fought in Russia since then, unable to convince HBO to bring him back to America. Did accept HBO’s offer to face Gennady Golovkin but a back injury forced Pirog to withdraw from that opportunity. At 32, Pirog needs big fights now since he boxes in a reflexive and uniquely intuitive way. Without a title, will have a difficult time attracting good opponents to Russia but is likely to be elevated by the WBO and challenge the winner of the Hassan N’Jikam – Peter Quillin fight for his former title. From what I have heard and read, the intelligent Pirog is not dependent on boxing as his sole means of income and has spoken of retiring. I just get the sense Pirog will become another star-crossed “could have been” of boxing.
Matthew Macklin – If the Irishman’s gallant loss to Sergio Martinez did not convince fans he is a worthy title challenger, his one-round demolition of Joachim Alcine might have done the job. Has a controversial loss to Felix Sturm in Germany on his résumé as well and brings a free-swinging style with him that fans appreciate. It has earned him followers in England and America where his Irish roots also make him a main event attraction. Will need to fight his way back to a rematch with Martinez the hard way and seems a viable foe for Chavez Jr. or Gennady Golovkin on HBO. Until then, the Lou DiBella-promoted fighter is likely to be the co-feature on Showtime or “HBO Boxing After Dark”-level bouts. There is a chance of Macklin traveling back to Germany to face Felix Sturm, who promised him a rematch inside the ring during post-fight interviews. That would be a risk for both men as it would elevate one boxer slightly and remove the other completely from world title consideration.
Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam – The Cameroonian is the wild card of the division, a former Olympian fighting out of France who has quietly made himself into a force at 160 pounds. Lingering doubts about N’Jikam will be answered on October 20th when he travels to New York City for a clash with former New Yorker Peter Quillin. That fight is part of an excellent Showtime quadruple-header where only a great performance will elevate a fighter from the pack. If N’Jikam wins, it earns him the WBO alphabet belt that grants leverage and more options when it comes to high-profile foes. If those fights do not materialize, look for N’Jikam to return to France and face a string of good but not outstanding foes. This could be good for N’Jikam in the long run since the 28-year-old still has room to grow and improve on an already impressive set of abilities.
Martin Murray – The forgotten man at middleweight. Perhaps, rightly so, since a controversial draw against Felix Sturm in Germany is Murray’s claim to fame at this time. The lone boxer on this list who has not been in serious conversations about facing any of his fellow top 10 entrants. Does not have a fight scheduled but his promoter Ricky Hatton has put forth feelers to Daniel Geale’s people about a title fight in England. There remains an outside chance of a rematch with Felix Sturm but Sturm also wants to fight Geale and has economic advantages because Hatton lost a national television deal for his boxers earlier this year. A fight against Matthew Macklin in Liverpool or Manchester makes sense and is a very good “Plan B” for fans. But again, that decision comes down to his opponent since Murray has little in the way of cache or built-up fan equity.
Peter Quillin – Like his dance partner on October 20th, Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, many questions about Quillin will be answered when the pair fight for the WBO title. Quillin does have one clear advantage over N’Jikam, he is promoted by Golden Boy who can manage and steer him to profitable places no matter the outcome of his fight with N’Jikam. Quillin is a sellable commodity to my eyes, a viable talent inside the ropes who has the personality and life story to attract attention outside the ring. Built up a sizable and vocal fan base fighting in the New York City area for five years and proved it was not a fluke, repeating that feat after moving to California. Is of Cuban heritage but that will remain an untapped asset for as long as the Cuban community refuses to support their boxers! If he defeats N’Jikam, Quillin instantly becomes a player, able to fight anyone with the possible exception of Chavez Jr. because of Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions’ ongoing feud.
Grzegorz Proksa – Polish power-puncher covered himself with the goodwill of boxing fans by going out on his shield against Gennady Golovkin. In doing so, became the only fighter man enough to face Golovkin when he did not have to. Proksa said he will take a much-needed vacation after the grueling loss which he was in the midst of when he got the fateful call to fight Golovkin. The Golovkin loss does hurt Proksa’s immediate plans since other top names will point to that setback and duck his challenges. Proksa showed enough in beating Sebastian Sylvester - and in flashes against Golovkin - that he is a dangerous proposition to be avoided. Will be back in early 2013 and given his fan-friendly style and name recognition on both sides of the Atlantic, will have little trouble getting back on television and in the title mix.
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