Marvin Hagler. Bernard Hopkins. James Toney. Sugar Ray Leonard. Roy Jones Jr. Sugar Ray Robinson. Just a tiny fraction of the truly great names of boxing that have passed through or long reigned in boxing’s middleweight division. With such an illustrious history where the names of boxing greats roll seamlessly off the tongue it is all too easy to be caught up in the glory of days gone by, but in 2021 where nothing is quite the same as it once was, what does the middleweight division look like now?
As we know all too well nothing is ever promised in boxing and very little stays the same for all that long. In fact, since pen first went to paper on this summary of the middleweight landscape Ryota Murata (16-2, 13KO) has been elevated by the WBA from Regular to Super champion, the position previously held by Canelo Alvarez and relinquished at the start of this year. There’s every chance that between the final proofread and publishing of this article everything else may well have changed, but let’s go with it and see where we end up.
As with all other divisions in boxing the claim to the throne is relatively fractured with four main sanctioning bodies issuing titles. We’ll start then with Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36KO) the IBF champion and the fighter with most right to claim himself as “the man” in the middleweight division. GGG needs no introduction as his destructive record and reputation precede him. With the only loss on his record a highly contested one against pound for pound number 1 Canelo Alvarez there can be little dispute that GGG deserves to be considered the division’s king.
GGG eyes up the Canelo trilogy | Bleacher Report
At the age of 38 and with little left to prove, GGG may well be looking to cement his legacy by fighting Canelo once more in the hope of righting what he felt were wrong decisions in their previous meetings. Eddy Reynoso, Canelo’s trainer, has been very vocal about the fact though that Canelo has no intention of returning to 160lbs won’t be doing GGG any “favours” by doing so. GGG then, a consummate professional who has hardly shown an inkling of needing to move up in weight, may well be left with no choice but to move up to 168lbs in pursuit of what he wants.
Much of this article will be speculation which in boxing is unavoidable. Of course, there’s always the chance that GGG will want to unify the division again but when Father Time starts catching up there are two things that fighters are left wanting: money and legacy. It just so happens that for GGG those two desires are one and the same with the road leading to Canelo Alvarez.
For the sake of sanity, we’ll disregard the fact that Canelo is technically a middleweight champion holding the WBC’s money-spinning franchise champion status. In terms of who holds meaningful belts (Are any of them really that meaningful now?), the undefeated Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22KO) holds the WBC crown. Not to be confused with his twin brother Jermell who is currently running riot in the Super Welterweight division, Jermall is the marginally older (by one minute) of the two and looking to make his own mark on the middleweight division.
Jermall Charlo looks to prove himself | Boxing News
Coming off a career-best performance against Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Charlo will be brimming with confidence and prepared for whatever challenge lies ahead. The difficulty though is trying to figure out exactly what that challenge is going to be. GGG may well be looking for Canelo, Andrade continues his push for a clash with Billy Joe Saunders (more below) and an unavoidable obstacle of rival networks potentially hindering a fight with Murata of Top Rank it is difficult to see where Charlo goes next.
OK, so if those situations above pan out then what about Charlo fighting the WBC’s number 1 ranked contender? – Jaime Munguia (36-0, 29KO). Sure, that works in theory; The Mexican puncher gets his shot at a world title but this is where it gets messy again… What if Andrade’s Twitter rants get him a fight with Saunders? Well, then Andrade has to vacate leaving Munguia in position to fight Liam Williams for the vacant WBO strap, an option he may consider more favourable than fighting Charlo. Another option touted is that Charlo could hand a title shot to Britain’s Chris Eubank Jr. (29-2, 22KO), a fight relatively easy to make with both fighters under the watch of PBC’s Al Haymon. Again, in theory, that works great but Murata, as mentioned earlier, has just been elevated to WBA Super champion which means, and there is nothing official yet, that Eubank Jr may find himself instated as the regular champion. Much like Munguia’s situation where he has a choice, in Eubank Jr’s eyes, he may well consider Murata, a man with two losses, an easier route to world title honours.
Are you still with me? OK, so GGG may or may not fight Canelo and there’s no obvious route for Charlo at the moment but at least it’s clear cut with Demetrius Andrade (29-0, 18KO) as he has been mandated by the WBO to defend his title against Liam Williams (23-2, 18KO). At least it should be crystal clear but like most things in boxing, it's not that straightforward.
Andrade moving up to 168lbs? | WBO
After doing a demolition job on Alantez Fox in December 2019, Williams earned his position as mandatory challenger to Andrade’s title. The trouble here is that while Andrade knows about this he doesn’t seem interested in talking about it; In fact, Andrade seems more interested in fighting anyone but his mandatory challenger. Recent months have seen Andrade taking to Twitter to calling out Canelo following his win over Callum Smith, calling out Saunders on a weekly basis and not refuting Eddie Hearn’s suggestion of him unifying against GGG given that both fighters are on DAZN.
Let’s stick to what we know – Andrade is mandated to fight Williams and if he doesn’t then he will have to vacate the belt which ties Andrade’s hands somewhat. Would he vacate to fight Canelo at 168? Of course, everyone would because the Canelo money is always right. Would he vacate to fight Saunders at 168? It seems that way given that Andrade has gone so far as to say he would take a pay cut to fight Saunders. If Andrade doesn’t vacate the title then he’ll defend it against Williams and should he come through that some of the dust may have settled on the options available to him. If Andrade does vacate then in all likelihood we will see Williams and Munguia clash for the vacant title.
Lastly, we look into the WBA quadrant of the middleweight division and the options for Ryota Murata (16-2, 13KO). The Tokyo-located Murata may be considered by many as the weakest link in the division’s champions even if only for his record holding two losses. The first of those losses was a controversial split decision against Hassan N’Dam and the second of which a not even slightly controversial unanimous decision loss to Rob Brant. The Brant loss is worth focusing on for a moment because this may well be the key to what happens next for Murata. After a wide, near shut-out, unanimous decision loss to Brant in October 2018, Murata returned to avenge defeat forcing the referee to intervene in the second round of the rematch after beating Brant around the ring for nearly the entirety the bout.
Murata demolishes Brant in rematch | TalkSport
Although I have floated the possibility of Eubank Jr challenging the newly crowned Super champion it seems just as, if not more, likely that Murata and Brant could close out their trilogy and settle the score once and for all. Keeping with the notion that the landscape is ever-changing; reports have emerged this week that Eubank Jr has left PBC and signed to join Sauerland. Initially, the impact of this changes little for Eubank Jr but it certainly diminishes the possibility of him fighting Charlo and marginally increases a potential meeting with Murata.
As above, the most likely venture for Murata seems to be the trilogy fight with Brant and an opportunity to seal an open case. Eubank Jr changing promoters may have little immediate impact on his chances but if the WBA elevate him to status of regular champion that may well draw a Murata fight nearer.
Brits in the Middleweight Mix
With regards to Brits in the middleweight mix, the two main contenders with a chance at world honours have been mentioned above: Liam Williams and Chris Eubank Jr.
Williams who is the mandatory challenger to Andrade’s WBO title spoke to ESBR recently and when asked about Andrade mentioning anyone but him said - “this guy is obviously just avoiding me as much as he possibly can. I’d rather him not avoid me and just step up to the plate and fight me”. Williams, who is on a run of seven consecutive knockout victories, is chomping at the bit to get his shot at world honours and is openly confident that he will do a job on Andrade and claim what he believes is coming to him.
Williams makes himself mandatory | BBC / Getty Images
Eubank Jr, by contrast, finds himself with a less clear direction, there’s no mandatory shot in sight for him but with the WBA on a shakeup there may be opportunities just around the corner if the WBA consider him worthy of filling the regular champion slot.
Eubank Jr partners with Roy Jones Jr. | Daily Mail
So there you have it, no one really has any idea what is going on and the division seems to be in a position of limbo. In a somewhat convoluted manner, the man who may well set in motion how the dominoes fall is boxing’s pound for pound king – Canelo Alvarez. When you’re the most dominant man in boxing, both inside and outside of the ring, you are afforded the luxury of picking your own path. If Canelo picks GGG for the trilogy fight the IBF becomes vacant and may well push other 160lb champions to unify and petition the IBF to put the vacant title on the line. The same situation remains viable if Canelo picks Andrade or Charlo for his next outing. But of course, Canelo may pick none of them and Andrade vacates, GGG and Charlo attempt to unify and Murata faces Eubank Jr. Quite honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen but I’m looking forward to finding out.