Middleweight was once one of boxing's three most prestigious divisions, second to heavyweight and even with the welterweights.
In recent years, though, the middleweight division has become a sad sack, with little quality depth and few interesting matches.
That is all about to change. Top Rank on Tuesday announced that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will defend his World Boxing Council middleweight belt against former Irish Olympian Andy Lee at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on June 16.
That's huge news for Lee, who was once a boy wonder in the division but has had to wait an abnormally long time to get a title shot.
It's even bigger for boxing because promoter Lou DiBella said he's already in talks to guarantee that the Chavez-Lee winner would fight lineal champion Sergio Martinez in the final.
The division is suddenly teeming with good fights and fighters. Most importantly, the matches which should be made are getting made.
"The fans are the real winners in this," DiBella said. "Andy's a real test for Chavez and that's going to be a very fun fight. But we're working on a contract for the winner to fight Sergio. That's [expletive] huge. This is going to give this division a huge jolt."
Lee is one of the sport's most entertaining fighters, but he hasn't received a lot of television exposure. He was highly regarded coming out of the 2004 Olympics, but an unexpected 2008 loss to Bryan Vera seemed to throw him way farther off course than usual.
[ YCN: Five fights to make at lightweight ]
Lee is 28-1 with 20 knockouts but is fighting for a title for the first time.
"This is a fight I've wanted for a while," Lee said of a match with Chavez Jr. "I've been in position for a while now, and I've been waiting to see it get done."
Lee fought for Ireland in the 2004 Athens Games and was heavily hyped when he turned pro. Yet it will have been more than six years into his career before he got a title shot.
Chavez didn't take up boxing until later in his life and got much attention and notoriety early because of his Hall of Fame father. It was a running joke in boxing that Top Rank was searching graveyards to find opponents the young Chavez could beat.
Chavez was extremely popular with Mexican and Mexican-American fans, and Top Rank moved him slowly. But Lee said he sees a notable improvement.
"Early in his career, it was kind of a joke in boxing about him," Lee said. "He was matched well because of his name and because he was a ticket seller. Top Rank did a good job with him, but since he's been with [trainer] Freddie Roach he's improved a great deal. He's been fighting well and is a serious, serious fight for anyone in this division.
"He's physically strong and aggressive, but I believe I have the skill to beat him."
With Martinez likely looming for the Chavez-Lee winner, it sets the winner up for a big fight. At the end of 2012, the survivor from among Martinez-Chavez-Lee will clearly be recognized as the world's elite 160-pounder.
There are plenty of quality potential opponents in 2013, with Gennady Golovkin, Dimitry Pirog and Daniel Geale already holding belts. Ex-champion Kelly Pavlik plans to return to competition at middleweight, manager Cameron Dunkin said, and he'll be a major factor if he can avoid the out-of-the-ring issues which have plagued him recently.
And fighters at 154 – such as Erislandy Lara, James Kirkland, Paul Williams and Alfredo Angulo – have to be considered possibilities at 160 as well.
Finally, it's a great time to watch the middleweights.
• The only bad news about the Chavez-Lee fight is that it is in Texas. This time, hopefully, Texas officials don't forget to perform postfight drug tests.
• Every time Jorge Linares seems on the verge of maintaining stardom, he loses. The man once known as "El Nino de Oro," or "Golden Boy," was knocked out in the first round in 2009 when he was on the verge of a major super featherweight bout. He lost an amazing battle to Antonio DeMarco in October and was slated for a rematch with DeMarco later this year. But on Saturday, he was stopped in two rounds by little-known Sergio Thompson. Linares is a talented, entertaining fighter, but he's missing that little something to get him over the hump.
• Dunkin insists Pavlik will be able to make 160 pounds. I hope he's right, but I'll believe it when I see it.
• It's hard to believe that neither Showtime nor HBO can find a date to broadcast Brian Viloria, the World Boxing Organization flyweight champion who is always in an entertaining bout. He's a former U.S. Olympian and a highly marketable personality who belongs on television in the U.S.
• If Viloria defeats Omar Nino on May 12, perhaps Kathy Duva of Main Events ought to look into getting Viloria onto one of her NBC Sports Network cards.
• Epix landed a great bout when it secured the U.S. rights for the May 26 Lucian Bute-Carl Froch bout. That could turn out to be the most entertaining bout of an extremely busy May, which is saying something.
I have been a boxing fan my whole life, but I am completely disgusted with the sport right now. I keep hearing fighters and promoters talk about how this is a business and it's all about the money and no one stands up for the fans. Have you ever seen a sport that cares less about its fans? If they don't care about us, why should we care about them?
Turkey Creek, Ky.
Brett, all professional sports are a business. Guys aren't playing baseball or football for free either. They're playing to make a living. The reason it sticks out in boxing so much is that, unlike baseball or football, where the leagues schedule the best teams to play each other, such doesn't happen in boxing. Sometimes, in a bout that piques the public interest – like Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao – the negotiations get reported so much that it becomes frustrating to those who just want to see them fight. Money, though, isn't an issue as much as you think. I want to see the fighters rewarded for their work, but also like you, I want to see them compete in tough, entertaining matches.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it true that Shane Mosley is now ranked No. 3 at super welterweight by the WBC? How could that be possible? He wasn't even ranked in the Top 10 before he signed to fight Canelo Alvarez. Also, I was becoming a big Canelo fan, but I lost interest in him after I saw the quality of fighters he was fighting in his last few fights. I know that he wants and is willing to fight better fighters, but his promotional company is not making those fights for him. However, Canelo should not let his promotion company bully him around. I sometimes think it's my fault promoters keep making mismatch fights because I keep buying their pay-per-view events and although I don't like the match between Canelo and Mosley, I will still buy it. Why? Because I'm a diehard fan and always will be. As long as there are diehard fans like me, promoters will keep on making those fights.
The WBC does have Mosley ranked third at 154 pounds – which, of course, is completely ludicrous. He's 0-2-1 in his past three fights. Against Mayweather, he won only four of 36 scored rounds (12-round fight times three judges' scorecards). In his draw with Sergio Mora, he won 19 of the 36 rounds. And against Manny Pacquiao, he won one of 36 scored rounds. If you have trouble with math, that means he won only 24 of 108 scored rounds. For that, the WBC moved him up. Obviously, Golden Boy lobbied to have it done so it would look better when he's announced prior to his title fight with Alvarez on May 5. But the WBC just continues to hurt its own credibility with such atrocious rankings.
"The [loss to Vera] kind of set me back to zero and I've had to go about it the hard way. I've fought my way back on the smaller shows. I'm a seasoned fighter now. I thought I'd have gotten an opportunity when I was young, but I wouldn't have been ready. I've come full circle and I'm ready now." – middleweight contender Andy Lee, who is slated to fight WBC champion Julio Cesar Chavez on June 16 in El Paso, Texas.
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- Andy Lee
- Sergio Martinez
- Top Rank