In some fan and pundit circles, there can sometimes be a sort of reverence for the so-called original eight weight classes. The fog of nostalgia and the distance of time can present as a simpler and yet more competitive time where there was but one world champion in eight distinct classes.
It wasn’t really always the case but it mythologizes well to pretend it was. The reality is split titles, and builds to undisputed supremacy, pre-date complaints about the modern WBA, WBC and later IBF, and WBO splits we are accustomed to now. Jr. lightweight and Jr. welterweight were established enough to be included in approximately the first decade of Ring Magazine ratings and Junior/super divisions have been a reality (with multipliers) for more than sixty years without a break.
The idea of just eight weight classes is a matter of pockets of time more than a singular reality that endured for more of gloved boxing history than it didn’t.
What those ‘original eight’ represent to some degree, consistently, is their place as what are often called glamour divisions. Some have been more glamorous than others. There’s no cumulative study here to double check, but it feels safe to argue more of the biggest and richest fights in boxing history have happened in three distinct weight classes than in any others.
Those three divisions are welterweight, middleweight, and heavyweight.
While fortunes are seemingly almost always there to be made in those three, the depth beneath the glamour varies.
This Saturday (DAZN, 3 PM EST), 33-year old WBO middleweight titlist and 2008 US Olympian Demetrius Andrade (29-0, 18 KO) will attempt to defend his belt for the fourth time against 28-year old Liam Williams (23-2-1, 18 KO). Williams has won seven straight since consecutive defeats to Liam Smith and enters as a solid underdog. Andrade hasn’t found the fortunes yet and, currently, isn’t finding the opponents that can get him there.
Assuming Andrade wins, middleweight will be in the same place after this weekend that it was heading in. There are three talents who stand out from the field: WBC titlist Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KO), IBF titlist Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KO), and Andrade.
Then there’s everyone else.
It’s a top heavy class right now and that isn’t a new place for middleweight to be. Since the reign of Carlos Monzon in the 1970s, the division has been marked by periods of long dominance from titans. Monzon, Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins, and then Golovkin (without ever winning the lineal throne the other three did) hovered over the bulk of their available fields for years at a time. Real rivals within the class were often hard to come by for long stretches.
Monzon found a rival in Rodrigo Valdez. Hagler had Hearns, Duran, and Leonard. Hopkins toiled for years until Trinidad came along. Golovkin finally got Saul Alvarez, though he couldn’t quite close the show. In all those cases, the culmination led to new wealth. Each had good opponents along the way but stretches where it felt like middleweight was a genuine mine field have been fewer than the storied history at middleweight would suggest should be the norm.
There was a fantastic period of depth after the reign of Hagler featuring the rise of Michael Nunn, James Toney, Roy Jones, a younger Hopkins, and Gerald McClellan in the States; the early chapters of the British foursome of Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, and Michael Watson; and, chunks of the primes of Sumbu Kalambay, Mike McCallum, and Julian Jackson. The overlap wasn’t always perfect for all those talents but that was a special time in the ring.
There was a fun period after Jermain Taylor wrested the middleweight crown from Hopkins as well with Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Artur Abraham, Paul Williams, and Sergio Martinez all playing roles. It wasn’t the post-Hagler years, but it was memorable.
Right now, there isn’t a proven, dominant king nor is there a feeling of danger lurking around every corner. Instead, it feels like an unglamourous moment where the three standouts of the moment don’t appear to be headed toward one another anytime soon.
On paper, the most logical fight to make should be Golovkin-Andrade as they both fight on DAZN. The most exciting and richest fight would probably be Charlo-Golovkin. There are plenty of fun fights to be made without those three against each other. None substitute for pairings between them. The elephant in the room is what isn’t at middleweight anymore.
The most glamourous star in the division, Alvarez, is off to super middleweight. Golovkin may still be in the running for a third Alvarez fight under the DAZN umbrella and Alvarez-Charlo in Texas could be the one of the richest fights in boxing within a year whether Charlo stays at middleweight until it emerges or moves up in the interim.
Boxing being fluid, things can change rapidly. Just six pounds south, fans have been treated to a banner era at Jr. middleweight over the last decade. If there is a case for the sentimental wish for eight, it’s the number of times where Jr. middleweight has been livelier than middleweight in recent decades because there was business to be done without or at least before chasing a Hagler or Hopkins.
The winner of the likely Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano could rise on the scale. An infusion from below would add depth quickly. For now, we wait for middleweight to catch fire again. Middleweight will be glamorous again. It will have great depth again.
Someday, it will have both at the same time.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org