Contenders: The weight game
Talk boxing with anyone in the sports business who has looked beyond the glare of a few record-setting pay-per-views and you will hear one word that they find particularly troubling: fragmented. Promoters and fighters typically align with networks, which can make it difficult to put together matches between top contenders. In order to make the business work, networks and promoters have gotten the hang of stacking their chips in certain weight classes, where they know they’re most likely to get the logical progression of fights that lead to the rare collisions that resonate beyond the most avid of fans.
“We all understand now that it’s absolutely critical to focus not just on stars or potential stars, but on divisions,” said Showtime Sports Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza. “The biggest obstacle to mainstream success is a lack of good opponents. You have to have those in order to get those tentpole, crossroads, career-defining fights that are big enough to attract casual attention.”
Here’s a division-by-division look at how that map shapes up heading into the homestretch of 2017.
Compiled by Senior Writer Bill King; rankings by Dan Rafael of ESPN, through Oct. 26.
■ Scorecard: Ownership of the long dormant division was one of the big bets Al Haymon placed before launching the PBC and it appears to be paying off, with Deontay Wilder on the brink of emerging as the first bankable American heavyweight star since Mike Tyson. When Showtime signed British Olympic gold medalist and unified champ Anthony Joshua to a U.S. TV deal, it paved the way for the matchup that could get Wilder over the final hump. With four of the current top 10 in the PBC and both Joshua and a second British contender, Dillian Whyte, promoted by Eddie Hearn of U.K.-based Matchroom, the PBC and Showtime should be able to keep their hold on the division for the foreseeable future — although if HBO continues to work with Hearn in other weight classes you can expect it will make a run at Joshua, too.
■ Bell cow: Anthony Joshua
■ PBC: Deontay Wilder (2), Luis Ortiz (3), Dominic Breazeale (7), Adam Kownacki (10)
■ Matchroom: Joshua (1), Dillian Whyte (6)
■ Top Rank: Joseph Parker (4), Andy Ruiz Jr. (8)
|American heavyweight Deontay Wilder floors Bermane Stiverne.
■ Scorecard: With no significant U.S. presence in the division there isn’t much percolating on TV. Earlier this year, action kicked off in the World Boxing Super Series, a tournament meant to unify the belts from four sanctioning bodies. Six entrants are from Europe; two from Cuba. Even with quarterfinals held at the Prudential Center and the Alamodome, the fights ended up on DirecTV’s Audience network.
■ Bell cow: To be determined, based on how the Super Series plays out.
■ K2: Oleksandr Usyk (1)
■ PBC: Murat Gassiev (2), Krzysztof Glowacki (4)
THE LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS
■ Bell cow: Adonis Stevenson
■ PBC: Stevenson (1), Marcus Browne (10); via Mayweather Promotions, Badou Jack (6)
■ Main Events: Sergey Kovalev (2), Sullivan Barrera (5)
■ Top Rank: Oleksandr Gvozdyk (4), Artur Beterbiev (7)
THE SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHTS
■ Scorecard: A PBC staple for Showtime, which has aired the last three bouts of No. 1 James DeGale, who won Olympic gold for Britain in 2008. The PBC also has three others in the top 10. Top Rank has No. 2 Gilberto Ramirez.
■ Bell cow: James DeGale
■ PBC: DeGale (1), Anthony Dirrell (4), Andre Dirrell (7), David Benavidez (10)
■ Top Rank: Gilberto Ramirez (2)
|James DeGale (right) and Badou Jack
■ Scorecard: The most bankable division in boxing lives on HBO, which has featured the top-five fighters in the division: Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, Daniel Jacobs, David Lemieux and Billy Joe Saunders. Golden Boy has Alvarez and Lemieux. Golovkin is with promoter Tom Loeffler of K2. U.K. promoter Hearn recently signed Jacobs as part of a U.S. expansion, hoping to help fill HBO dates vacated when Top Rank signed with ESPN. PBC has a few contenders in the bottom half, but there’s not much room here for anyone who doesn’t want to play in the HBO universe to gain a foothold.
■ Bell cow: Canelo Alvarez over Gennady Golovkin, in a decision not nearly as close as their controversial recent draw. Golovkin is ranked higher, but Alvarez is the far better pay-per-view attraction.
■ Golden Boy: Alvarez (2), David Lemieux (4)
■ K2: Golovkin (1)
■ Matchroom: Daniel Jacobs (3)
■ PBC: Sergiy Derevyanchenko (6), Jermall Charlo (8)
|Gennady Golovkin (left) and Canelo Alvarez
THE JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS
■ Scorecard: Another of the divisions that the PBC has locked up, thanks in part to the development of some of its top prospects, led by top-ranked Jermell Charlo, whose twin brother Jermall is a rising contender at middleweight. The PBC also has Erislandy Lara (2), Jarrett Hurd (3), Austin Trout (5) and Julian “J-Rock” Williams (7) — all of whom, like the Charlos, have been regulars on Showtime.
■ Bell cow: Jermell Charlo
■ PBC: Charlo (1), Erislandy Lara (2), Jarrett Hurd (3), Austin Trout (5), Julian “J-Rock” Williams (7)
■ Golden Boy: Miguel Cotto (4)
■ Scorecard: From the beginning, this was where the PBC planted its flag, banking on several of the bigger names in Haymon’s stable to meet each other in a succession of fights that would draw ratings for NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN. Keith Thurman (1), Errol Spence Jr. (2), Danny Garcia (4), Shawn Porter (5) and Lamont Peterson (8) all were featured on those networks and delivered solid numbers. Top Rank’s Manny Pacquiao also is here, and now the top American fighter in the Top Rank stable, Terence Crawford, has vacated all four of his junior welterweight belts to move into the division, presumably to find the sort of dance partners he’d need to break in to pay-per-view.
■ Bell cow: Keith Thurman
■ PBC: Thurman (1), Errol Spence Jr. (2), Danny Garcia (4), Shawn Porter (5), Jessie Vargas (7), Lamont Peterson (8)
■ Top Rank: Manny Pacquiao (3), Jeff Horn (9), Terence Crawford
THE JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS
■ Scorecard: An interesting division to watch in the coming year, blown open by the departure of Terence Crawford. The top three contenders come from three different promoters: Julius Indongo (Matchroom), Antonio Orozco (Golden Boy) and Eduard Troyanovsky (Russia-based World of Boxing). After that, the PBC runs deep, with ties to the next five names in the rankings, along with two others through promoters with which it is closely affiliated.
■ Bell cow: To be determined, based on who emerges behind Crawford.
■ Matchroom: Julius Indongo (2), Ricky Burns (10)
■ Golden Boy: Antonio Orozco (3)
■ World of Boxing: Eduard Troyanovsky (4)
■ PBC: Felix Diaz (5), Sergey Lipinets (7), Rances Barthelemy (9), plus Adrian Granados through Tom Brown and Regis Prograis through Lou DiBella
■ Scorecard: There’s what looks to be an exciting fight to be made at the top of this division, where Jorge Linares and Mikey Garcia are on a collision course. The rub: Linares is promoted by Golden Boy, while Garcia is on PBC.
Golden Boy head Eric Gomez said they met recently and the tone was promising. PBC also has Robert Easter Jr. (3) in the mix, so Garcia has other options. Top Rank has 2012 Olympian Felix Verdejo of Puerto Rico, who was scheduled to make an ESPN appearance in September but scratched due to injury.
■ Bell cow: Jorge Linares
■ Golden Boy: Linares (1)
■ PBC: Mikey Garcia (2), Robert Easter Jr. (3)
■ Matchroom: Anthony Crolla (5), Luke Campbell (10)
■ Top Rank: Raymundo Beltran (7), Felix Verdejo (NR)
THE JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS
■ Bell cow: Vasyl Lomachenko
■ Top Rank: Lomachenko (1)
■ Zanfer: Miguel Berchelt (2), Orlando Salido (4)
■ Golden Boy: Alberto Machado (5), Jezreel Corrales (6), Francisco Vargas (7), Robinson Castellanos (8)
■ PBC: Gervonta “Tank” Davis (3)
■ Scorecard: Top-ranked Leo Santa Cruz was an anchor of the Showtime boxing franchise before the launch of the PBC, even headlining a rare CBS Saturday afternoon show. He fought on the undercard of the record-shattering Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and has been a PBC cornerstone, headlining on ESPN, where he drew what then was the network’s largest boxing audience since 1998, and on Fox, which aired his fight last month. With Santa Cruz at the top, rival Abner Mares set for an upcoming rematch, and a deep set of contenders, the PBC controls the division. Top Rank has two-time Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez (4). Golden Boy has Jesus Rojas (10) and U.S. Olympian Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. (unranked).
■ Bell cow: Leo Santa Cruz
■ PBC: Santa Cruz (1), Abner Mares (3), Gary Russell Jr. (5), Lee Selby (6), Jesus Cuellar (7)
■ Queensberry: Carl Frampton (2)
■ Top Rank: Oscar Valdez (4)
■ Golden Boy: Jesus Rojas (10), Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. (NR)
THE JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHTS
■ Scorecard: Brought to the states by Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was in the conversation as the pound-for-pound king after a spectacular series of performances as the lead-in to Golovkin. In a clever stroke of marketing spawned by what then appeared to be a generational talent in one of the lighter weight classes, HBO went big in the division that it refers to as “SuperFly.” Of course, in boxing, as in most sports, there’s only so much you can plan. Fighting on a Golovkin PPV, Gonzalez was upset by Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. In the rematch on HBO, Sor Rungvisai won again. But worry not, diminutive ones. HBO sports head Peter Nelson says he plans to continue airing fights in the division whether “Chocolatito” rebounds or not.
■ Bell cow: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
■ Zanfer: Sor Rungvisai (1), Juan Francisco Estrada (3)
■ K2: Carlos Cuadras (4), Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (5)
■ PBC: Rau’shee Warren (NR)
|Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
THE JUNIOR FEATHERWEIGHTS,
BANTAMWEIGHTS AND FLYWEIGHTS
■ Scorecard: Save for HBO’s recent dive into what it calls the SuperFly division, there’s rarely much U.S. TV when you get beneath featherweight. That remains the case. At junior feather, where Guillermo Rigondeaux built his résumé, Golden Boy has Rey Vargas (3) and Diego De La Hoya, both of whom have been on HBO, and Top Rank has Jessie Magdaleno, who has gotten TV slots here and there. At bantamweight, No. 1 Luis Nery is a 22-year-old Mexican promoted by Top Rank collaborator Beltran. And the PBC had U.S. Olympian Rau’shee Warren and Dominican Juan Carlos Payano, who fought each other twice on U.S. TV. The top flyweights are scattered across Asia and Europe, with nothing of note percolating in the Western hemisphere.
■ Bell cow: Rigondeaux, at junior feather, is the closest thing, although it remains to be seen whether he remains there after the Vasyl Lomachenko fight.
■ Zanfer: Luis Nery (1) at bantam
■ Golden Boy: Rey Vargas (3) and Diego De La Hoya (NR) at junior feather
■ Top Rank: Jessie Magdaleno (2) at junior feather; Rex Tso (NR) at bantam; Daigo Higa (3) at fly
■ PBC: Moises Flores (4) at junior feather; Juan Carlos Payano (NR) at bantam