When the remainder of the 2015 boxing schedule was finalized a few months ago it appeared as though the middleweight division was going to be the most significant division of the final quarter of boxing. The reason all eyes were shifted onto the 160lb division was based on the fact that every fighter in the top 8 of the division would be competing, and they would be doing so against one another.
The most popular fight in terms of finances and casual fan interest was between lineal champion Miguel Cotto and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Cotto went on to lose his WBC title to Canelo in a fight that came down to the size discrepancy between the two fighters fighting at a 155lb catch-weight.
The most popular fight amongst hardcore fans as well as the most meaningful fight for the sake of the division took place before Cotto-Canelo and kicked off the middleweight showcase we’d come to enjoy. That fight took place in October and was between Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin and David Lemieux for Golovkin’s IBF and WBA titles, not to mention his interim WBC title which essentially acted as a golden ticket to face the winner of Cotto-Canelo. By no surprise to anyone, Golovkin easily dominated for 7 rounds before stopping Lemieux in the 8th. In what ended up being a surprise to many, Golovkin decided to put on a masterful display of boxing as opposed to running through Lemieux and capturing the imagination of all the casual fans in his first PPV headliner.
After those first two big time PPV’s, we got the battle of Brooklyn a couple weeks ago between the two most experienced middleweights during this end of the year timespan as Danny Jacobs and Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin finally met in the ring. Both Jacobs and Quillin were campaigning at middleweight in a real way in America longer than all four of the fighters involved in the two previous fights. Jacobs shocked the world when he won, and not because he merely won – after all, the fight was considered to be a 50/50 fight to most spectators – but instead because of the way he won, which was a first round stoppage based off of a violent and aggressive attack from Jacobs. It is worth mentioning that some felt the stoppage was premature, others didn’t.
After those fights and before the final showdown of the year between top 160lbders, another top 10 middleweight competed last week in Chris Eubank Jr., who scored a stoppage win over Gary O’Sullivan—an opposition choice considered to be much weaker by comparison to that of the rest of the aforementioned middleweight class. Eubank Jr., the son to a legendary fighter by the same name, was able to raise his profile just a bit, but that has more to do with his brash, and often times verbose nature. His loquacious style has served him well as many fight fans, mostly the UK fans, desire to see him in fights against certain fighters he may not have earned with his in-ring accomplishments. But you have to give him credit for being one of the few to actually call out Golovkin, although we can’t know if he’s serious.
That brings us to the final middleweight showdown of the year between Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders, a fight that has been rescheduled twice before, and what is now the most important fight of all the previous middleweight matchups.
It is true that Lee-Saunders isn’t as in-demand or financially lucrative as Cotto-Canelo, and Lee-Saunders does not involve the best middleweight in the division, nor has it captivated the hearts and minds in a way that Golovkin was able to do with the Lemieux fight, and continues to do as his reputation moves through the casual fan landscape like a brushfire. And Lee-Saunders does not maintain the American appeal Jacobs-Quillin maintained, not to mention Jacobs-Quillin was longer in the making.
However, all of those reasons which make the previously mentioned fights more important are precisely why Lee-Saunders has become so much more important now. Besides being a tremendous fight on paper with the potential for some significant drama, this fight will produce the only real meaningful, and, more importantly, realistic, opponent for one of the other winning middleweights.
As all of these fights were announced, fight fans considered the last quarter of 2015 to be the start of an unofficial middleweight tournament. The only problem being that there were no guarantees that the winners would face off. In fact, there were no actual mandatory implications with the exception of the Cotto-Canelo winner being forced (but not actually stripped) into a negotiation with Golovkin based on his number 1 status for the WBC middleweight title – Golovkin had to agree to step aside money in order for Cotto, who was later stripped before the fight, to initially defend against Canelo.
Now, Lee-Saunders remain the only potential fighters that could conceivably face anyone of the other top middleweights and simultaneously navigate through promotional politics. Lee went on record this week and said he hopes to secure a unification fight with Golovkin, who is scheduled to fight in March or April on HBO. Saunders, on the other hand, has mentioned a potential showdown with Danny Jacobs, which makes sense after both fighters competed on ShowTime to close out their 2015 campaign.
This is the most important fight because Golovkin is the most important fighter in the division and any potential opponent with the perception of being even semi-competitive is a big deal these days. Golovkin wasn’t able to land Canelo like he’d hoped, but instead, the WBC announced that the two fighters would get interim bouts before Canelo is forced to defend his title against Golovkin.
However, the Lee-Saunders winner will be ready quicker and that makes this a must-see fight for anyone even vaguely interested in the middleweight division.