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Road To Undisputed #11: Welterweights

Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.

This week, we’ll take a look at the welterweights, on the verge of a superfight but still feels miles apart from ever happening.

Here are the divisions covered so far:

Minimumweights
Light flyweights
Flyweights
Super flyweights
Bantamweights
Super Bantamweights
Featherweights
Super Featherweights
Lightweights
Junior Welterweights

Titleholders:

  • WBA “Super:” Yordenis Ugas
  • WBC, IBF: Errol Spence Jr.
  • WBO: Terence Crawford

Contenders:

  • Manny Pacquiao (WBA Champion In Recess)
  • Vergil Ortiz Jr.
  • Keith Thurman
  • Danny Garcia
  • Shawn Porter
  • Jaron Ennis
  • David Avanesyan
  • Josh Kelly
  • Mikey Garcia
  • Jamal James
  • Custio Clayton
  • Sergey Lipinets

Current Outlook:

For the past 16 months (and maybe even more), the welterweight division starts and ends with Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. Those two have long been considered the top two welterweights in the world and among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.

There’s good reason for that as well. Crawford is one of boxing’s most gifted fighters, possessing an incredible array of speed and ability to change stances on the fly, being just as dangerous as a southpaw as he is as a right-handed fighter. Crawford is also one of boxing’s best finishers, able to stop opponents and knock them out on a moment’s notice. His last eight fights, (which includes the likes of Amir Khan, Kell Brook and Jeff Horn) all ended inside the distance.

On the other hand, Spence is a physically gifted boxer who is also one of the sport’s best body punchers. There was some worry as to whether or not Spence would be the same after his horrific car accident in October 2019, but answered those questions with a sensational performance against Danny Garcia last year.

A superfight between Crawford and Spence has long been one of the sport’s most sought-after fights. Despite public demand for the fight being made, there never seems to be an indication that the two sides are anywhere near close towards coming to terms on a deal. More on that in a little bit.

But first, it’s also well worth noting the rest of the division’s top fighters. The WBA’s roller coaster of titles recently had Manny Pacquiao and Yordenis Ugas holding belts. However, Pacquiao’s inactivity (no fights since July 2019) forced the WBA to name him “Champion In Recess” and elevated Ugas as “Super” champion. As of this writing, Ugas is recognized as the WBA’s top champion while Pacquiao is MIA.

The rest of the division is filled to the brim with contenders and former world champions. Keith Thurman has not fought since 2019, but is planning on a big 2021 return. Shawn Porter is looking to get back in the title hunt once more after a very close loss to Spence in 2019. Four-division champion Mikey Garcia is aiming to win a title at welterweight, but has come up short in the past and only has one win at welterweight.

The intrigue surrounding the welterweight division’s future is the development of two prospects: Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz Jr. Both of these fighters have long been tabbed as future world champions. Ennis brings a level of aggression, power and speed that has taken out a number of veterans and former title challengers. Ortiz also has devastating power enhanced by his solid boxing acumen, allowing him to score a knockout in all 16 of his pro fights.

What will it take to get an undisputed champion?

It’s been 15 years since Zab Judah last held the undisputed welterweight championship. There have been multiple attempts at crowning a new undisputed champion, with each attempt falling just short. Floyd Mayweather has been the closest to reach undisputed when he beat Pacquiao in 2015 to unify the WBA, WBC and WBO titles. However, his career was winding down and he never fought then-IBF champion Kell Brook to complete the undisputed championship puzzle. Since then, the division has been dominated mainly by Spence and Crawford. Pacquiao had moments where he shined and defied his age, but has been inactive since 2019.

Right now, an undisputed title fight would likely involve Crawford and Spence. With both Crawford and Spence being with Top Rank and PBC, respectively, getting both sides to even arrive at the negotiating table has been extremely cumbersome. Neither fighter seems to be scorching Earth to try and make that happen, which doesn’t help things either. Spence has a number of opponents to fight with PBC from Thurman to Pacquiao to a rematch against Porter or even a showdown against Ugas.

The potential fight against Ugas seems to be the direction Spence is leaning towards to at this moment. The sudden interest came as a result of Ugas being elevated to “Super” champion, which would make a fight between the two fighters for three of the four sanctioning body titles. Whoever wins that fight will be one belt away from unifying the division.

Even if Ugas and Spence fight, there’s still the matter of Crawford getting to fight the winner. Crawford’s public interest in such a superfight has been inconsistent to say the least. At times, he mentioned that he would try and get a Spence fight made. Other times, he’s stated that he doesn’t need a Spence fight for his legacy. It’s hard to get a read on Crawford when it comes to fighting Spence.

The Top Rank/PBC relationship doesn’t exactly help things either. Both entities have worked together in the past for major fights. Case in point, the two Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder pay-per-views. There is a precedent for those two working together if the fight is big enough.

Can a scenario where a Spence (assuming he beats Ugas this year) vs. Crawford fight take place in 2021? Absolutely. But at this point, with no sides being on the same page, it’s proving to be more a case of if that fight happens, not when.

Before long, the likes of Ortiz and Ennis will be fighting at a world title level and those fighters have a realistic chance of beating both Crawford and Spence. That’s how good those two prospects are and how high their potential is.

Many people’s boxing wish list once again includes a Spence vs. Crawford fight. But as always, it will likely end in another disappointing year for those wishing to see what might be one of the best fights in boxing today. There’s always 2022, I suppose.

Chances of there being an undisputed champion in the next 18 months: 20%

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