The Stars and Stripes of American Boxing

With one of the United States’ most highly regarded prospects, Victor Ortiz, suffering his first knockout loss this past weekend, it’s time to analyze the American boxing landscape in the spirit of Independence Day. Are fireworks on the way for American fight fans or will more fizzle out in the next half year?

From heavyweight down to junior welterweight, American fighters remain prevalent in the rankings; in fact, five hold spots in most pound-for-pound lists, including that of this site, and a few others are just outside the top 10 or knocking on the door for recognition. Ortiz, on the other hand, was still a year or two from reaching star status, let alone elite status, but he had the look, demeanor and aggressively tactical style to be a major player in the sport for years to come. While he still may reach those heights, his loss gives some perspective on how hard it is to shake things up and change the guard in boxing.

More and more, fight fans are being let down by up-and-coming fighters not being able to fill the shoes of those who came before them. Of those five American fighters who consistently show up in pound-for-pound lists, three are just a fight or two away from permanent retirement. With their departure in the coming year or year-and-a-half, U.S. boxing fans are looking for new blood to step up.

Heavyweight

The heavyweight landscape is dismal across all countries not named the Ukraine, and the United States isn’t any better. The best American representatives in the division appear to be Cristobal Arreola, an undefeated Mexican-American who always chases the knockout, and Eddie Chambers, whose hand speed is exceptional but has already dropped a loss to Alexander Povetkin largely due to inactivity. Either’s chances of winning a heavyweight title have been greatly diminished since the Klitschko brothers have, for the time being, seized control of the division.

With Arreola, there’s no sugar coating. He comes at his opponent from the opening bell and is willing to wade through some heavy firepower to put his man down. That kind of style makes for great fights but will see him knocked out by either Wladimir or Vitali.

Chambers, on the other hand, can be flashy for a heavyweight when he wants to be but will need to step up his aggressiveness to put any pressure on a big opponent who can box. If he lands a shot at Nikolay Valuev’s WBA title, though, he has a great chance to come away champion just by outboxing the Russian giant. Otherwise, Chambers will likely remain a solid contender in a weak era.

Cruiserweight

The best American fighter at cruiserweight is Steve Cunningham, who gave division champion Tomasz Adamek a terrific fight in December but came up short after being knocked down three times. He deserves a rematch, which would be great to see, but he needs to win that fight to emerge as a real name in boxing.

Light Heavyweight

The light heavyweight division seems to be safe in U.S. hands for the moment. Undefeated Chad Dawson is slowly becoming recognized as its best fighter, if only because Bernard Hopkins, also from the states, isn’t doing anything to regain the throne that Joe Calzaghe seized from him in 2008.

Super Middleweight

One division south from light heavyweight, super middleweight is boiling with terrific matchups. Perhaps one will include the undefeated American Andre Ward, who just got his best win over Edison Miranda in May. Matched up with the right champion, Ward could win a title within his next two or three fights.

Middleweight

Kelly Pavlik of the United States is the middleweight champion and needs to stop biding his time at the top and take on his biggest threat – Arthur Abraham. Beating Abraham would be huge for Pavlik’s career, especially in light of the one-sided drubbing Hopkins gave him in October and the fact that Jermain Taylor, Pavlik’s biggest win, was just knocked out in April by Carl Froch.

Light Middleweight

Paul Williams is clearly the best fighter at 154 lbs but he might look for bigger fights than that particular division, which is without a real champion, can provide him. If no one is willing to fight him from 147 to 160 pounds, he can’t carry the torch for American boxing by default. Though he appears more than capable of doing so if given the chance.

Welterweight

With the return of undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr., the best American fighter in decades, the United States plants a firm foot as the country to go through for welterweight supremacy. Shane Mosley is considered by most to be the welterweight champion, so taking control of this fruitful division would require going through at least one of the two Americans.

Mayweather and Mosley will probably only be around for two or three more fights each, so someone new will have to be ready to take the torch by 2010. Perhaps that will be undefeated Andre Berto, a welterweight who appears to have all the talent and ability in the world, though he hasn’t taken on strong competition as of yet. He’s between prospect and champion, despite holding the WBC title, until taking on one of the top five in his division.

Light Welterweight

The American presence in boxing essentially ends with light welterweight, where Timothy Bradley and Nate Campbell are among the best but may have to wait until Manny Pacquiao moves up in weight or retires to take over the division. They’re actually scheduled to fight each other, thus creating an opportunity for stardom but at the expense of the other.

Everything south of 140 pounds appears to be dominated mostly by fighters of Mexican or Asian heritage.

There are plenty of potential stars ready to shine on the big stage, but most of the Americans mentioned are still earning their stripes. Mayweather, Hopkins and Mosley have done their part, and Dawson, Williams, Campbell and Bradley are certainly making the effort. Meanwhile, Arreola, Chambers, Ward, Pavlik and Berto are still each at least one big fight away from reaching the level of stardom and have the rest of the year to make a real statement.

Stay-busy fights are not what any of these men need right now if they are serious about being championship-caliber fighters. If each makes a concentrated effort to land a meaningful fight before the end of the year, then American fight fans will be in for quite a fall and winter and, with any luck, find some clarity about which of them will carry U.S. boxing into 2010 and beyond.

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