Best in Class

With lucrative purses and a wealth of talented fighters, the welterweight division is the place to be
June 21, 2009

What is it about the 147-pound class that has many of the world's top fighters scarfing down Snickers bars or joining Jenny Craig to make weight? Simple: money. Gobs of it. With most of the talent and the titles clustered inside one gene pool at heavyweight (Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko), leaving sideshows (Nikolay Valuev, Evander Holyfield) and stiffs (Lamon Brewster, Sultan Ibragimov) to fill out cards, welterweight has emerged as boxing's most glamorous—and lucrative—division.

In the last year lightweights Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have packed on the pounds for multimillion-dollar paydays, while oversized fighters such as Paul Williams, a former welterweight champ now competing as a middleweight, have expressed their eagerness to slim down. Throw in the natural 147-pounders such as Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto, and the best pound-for-pound list is a who's who of fighters tipping the scales at the same weight. "It's like the '80s with Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns," says Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. "Everywhere you look there is a great fight."

The most recent example of welterweight depth and talent was on display last Saturday at Madison Square Garden, where Cotto defended his WBO title against Joshua Clottey. In a match with a WWE flavor—a Clottey head butt opened a gash above Cotto's left eye in the third round, and a fifth-round body slam by Cotto left Clottey writhing on the canvas—Cotto dazzled the 18,000 fans with slick defense and punishing body shots. After dropping Clottey for the first time in his 14-year career in Round 1, Cotto dominated him in the sixth and survived a late surge from the steel-jawed challenger to win a split decision.

Cotto opened several doors with his victory, which earned him $2 million and lifted his record to 34--1. With his burgeoning Puerto Rican fan base, the 28-year-old Cotto is becoming one of the division's top draws; Arum says he is planning to bring Cotto back in November, and he floated Pacquiao as a possible opponent. While Pacquiao-Cotto would be easy to arrange—Top Rank promotes both fighters—Arum will more likely use the prospect of that matchup to negotiate a megafight between Mayweather and Pacquiao. Mayweather believes he deserves most of the purse, but the possibility of losing Pacquiao to Cotto could bring him closer to Arum's preferred 50-50 split.

So where does that leave Cotto? One potential opponent is Mosley, who lost to Cotto in November 2007 and has been actively seeking a high-profile fight. Not that Cotto will be interested anytime soon. Standing at the press conference, his face reddened and with three Steri-Strips holding together the skin above his eye, he was asked what he wanted next. Cotto's answer was succinct: "Vacation."

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Chris Mannix offers insight and analysis with his Inside Boxing column at SI.com/bonus

THE CORNER

Klitschko At Risk?

When Wladimir Klitschko defends his IBF and WBO heavyweight titles against undefeated Ruslan Chagaev this Saturday in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, he may have more to worry about than the challenger's sharp left hand. Chagaev, from Uzbekistan, has hepatitis antigens in his blood. Klitschko's manager, Bernd Boente, says his boxer has been immunized for the virus, and German doctors have told him that the chances of Klitschko's getting infected are "the same as the sky falling on his head." Many boxing officials aren't so sure. Finland's boxing federation called off Chagaev's fight against Nikolay Valuev last month, and representatives from the New York and Nevada athletic commissions say they would not license Chagaev (below) to fight in their state.

PHOTOSHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS (COTTO)LOOKING SHARP Bloodied by a head butt early on, Cotto showed his toughness and won for the 34th time in 35 decisions. PHOTOJOERN POLLEX/BONGARTS/GETTY IMAGES (CHAGAEV)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)