It’s taken several years, but boxing’s middleweights have staged an epic comeback. Three talented boxers appear to be transforming the division and could catapult the sport with the impending retirements of welterweights Floyd Mayweather, 38, and Manny Pacquiao, 36.
Indeed, a new era appears to be dawning with Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin spearheading a charismatic group that could make for highly entertaining bouts. In the 1980s, the likes of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard occupied boxing’s attention, while Mike Tyson pulverized weak heavyweight competition.
But in the years that followed the Hagler-Hearns-Leonard era, few middleweights were considered top pound-for-pound fighters. After Roy Jones Jr. made easy work of James Toney in 1994 as a super middleweight, he became complacent with a lack of serious challengers. The rest that followed barely generated much attention, as Felix Trinidad was on the decline against the likes of Bernard Hopkins, who showed limited interest in fighting middleweights and moved up to light heavyweight. Later, Sergio Martinez, a highly skilled and intelligent boxer, seemed to roll through middleweights before this new group began to surface.
Miguel Cotto (44-4; 33 KOs)
It may have been Cotto’s impressive win over Martinez in June 2014 that triggered the rebirth of the 160 pounders. Martinez couldn’t get past the ninth round and not only retired from the fight but retired from boxing, and in a way, passed the torch to the elder statesman Cotto.
After the win over Martinez, Cotto went on to win his next three fights, including a one-sided victory over Daniel Geale in June. But at age 34, it’s unclear how much longer Cotto plans to fight, and his November bout with Alvarez should provide the best indication of how much of a force he will be in the division in 2016 and beyond.
A highly entertaining fighter, Cotto might consider sticking around to achieve more glory and huge financial windfalls with upcoming bouts. The Puerto Rican has won titles in four separate weight classes, and has made such a name for himself that a second fight with Alvarez or a bout with Golovkin would likely produce tantalizing paydays even if Cotto shows signs of a decline. Whenever Cotto fights a huge Puerto Rican audience follows, and that seems likely to continue when he takes on bigger names.
Canelo Alvarez (45-1-1; 32 KOs)
While Cotto is the most established of the trio, Alvarez is the youngest and with the best chance for a long career. The 25-year-old Mexican already has 47 professional fights, which is an astounding number for someone so young and accomplished. Like Cotto, Alvarez is an aggressive boxer with a huge following. Unless a new and more exciting Mexican boxer emerges in the coming years, which seems unlikely, Alvarez should maintain his top-draw status. His growing presence also might prompt top welterweights to move up to middleweight, creating more depth in the division.
The Guadalajara native has not only won nearly all of his fights, but he has won convincingly. Alvarez’s one draw came in 2006 in his fifth professional fight, and his lone loss came against undefeated Mayweather, among the most dominant boxers in history. Those blemishes aside, he has had a stellar career.
Alvarez likes to brawl and often doesn’t mind leaving himself open to be hit, as his ferocious combinations spark exciting fights. Even against defensive specialists, Alvarez rarely alters his style, making for bruising fights that otherwise would be tame. After he steps into the ring with Cotto, Alvarez’s fanbase will no doubt expand, and provide for future high-profile prize fights.
Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (33-0; 30 KOs)
But the matchup that will almost certainly make Alvarez a household name would be against Golovkin. Perhaps only Haglar vs. Leonard would receive more attention than a bout between the two power-punching middleweights. Alvarez’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya has already stated that Alvarez is “eventually going to fight Golovkin," which likely sent boxing enthusiasts into a state of euphoria.
Golovkin fighting either Cotto or Alvarez appears likely in 2016 unless Cotto and Alvarez have a rematch. There is no rematch clause for Cotto vs. Alvarez, but it wouldn't be surprising if they met again next year, forcing Golovkin to seek another opponent while playing the waiting game.
In the meantime, the big challenge for the imposing Golovkin is getting more casual boxing viewers to watch his fights. The Kazakh star has made inroads in promoting himself, and once new viewers catch on, he could be boxing’s No. 1 draw. His next bout is against little-known David Lemieux of Montreal at Madison Square Garden in New York. While Lemieux is talented, GGG is heavily favored and should add to his already impressive resume with another one-sided win.
The 33-year-old may have an unusual name, but people are starting to learn it, since he's arguably the most entertaining boxers around. Golovkin often welcomes being punched, even claiming to intentionally create openings for his opponent to land power punches to entertain the crowd. His spirited style has won him a great deal of respect from ardent boxing fans. In a Ring Magazine online poll asking to choose what opponent they would have liked to see Mayweather fight next, nearly half of the almost 14,000 voters chose Golovkin over the 12 other choices. No other boxer received even 12 percent.
The Post Mayweather-Pacquiao Era
In some ways, Mayweather and Pacquiao paved the way for this group’s growing visibility. The two boxing legends kept boxing relevant in the deep welterweight division after Lennox Lewis’ retirement in 2003 created a void in the heavyweight division. The void still exists for heavyweights, and now the attention seems to be turning from the welterweights to the middleweights.
Cotto spent a good portion of his career as a welterweight, making a name for himself in the talent-rich division. He would suffer losses to both Pacquiao and Mayweather, and then revived his career after a loss to Austin Trout by defeating Delvin Rodriguez, Martinez and Geale before the upcoming bout with Alvarez.
In 2013, Alvarez would defeat Trout as a light middleweight, and then move on to fight Mayweather in what was easily the most prominent fight of the year. While Mayweather went 12 rounds and defeated Alvarez in typical fashion, Alvarez was able to use the boost in attention to carry into fights with Alfredo Angulo, Erislandy Lara, and then a thrilling knockout win over James Kirkland in front of 31,588 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Golovkin, perhaps the most talented of the middleweights, has fought neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao, but might be the most feared boxer since Tyson. Ninety-one percent of his fights have come by knockout, and no opponent has even reached the 12th round -- a staggering statistic for a middleweight. While it seems doubtful that both Cotto and Alvarez will dodge him, Golovkin also has the option of perhaps facing undefeated super-middleweight star Andre Ward. There are few inspiring contenders in Ward’s division, so the Bay Area native may want to battle Golovkin at a catchweight in what would easily be his biggest payday.
With Mayweather and Pacquiao in the twilight of their careers, this new group seems ready to step up and produce quality fights. The middleweight division has produced some of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers ever, and while Cotto, Alvarez and GGG may not reach the level of Mayweather and Pacquiao, at the very least they should make for entertaining fights.