Contrary to what some boxing pundits have said, the junior middleweight division remains alive and kicking. While the Top 10 might be short on major crossover stars right now, it is not short on talent, and that bodes well for the division's future.
Highlighting the talent-rich field at 154 lbs are Februrary's junior middleweight fights. On February 1, #4 ranked Carlos Molina is set to square off with ex-champion Cory Spinks in Chicago, a bout to be televised on ESPN 2. February 23 sees Spinks' old nemesis, Cornelius Bundrage, defend his IBF title in Detroit against Ishe Smith on the undercard of the Devon Alexander vs. Kell Brook fight, to be televised on Showtime.
I ask you, how can a division be moribund when its #4- and #5-ranked fighters get a televised fight each in the space of less than a month?
Carlos Molina vs. Cory Spinks
The Molina vs. Spinks bout is an IBF eliminator for the #2 slot in that organization's rankings, and the two boxers currently hold the #5 and #12 slots respectively. As the IBF's #1 and #2 slots are currently vacant, and the rankings are packed with names like Demetrius Andrade, Erislandy Lara and James Kirkland, it's not unreasonable to expect the winner of this fight to either be in a box-off with another big name junior middleweight for the #1 slot, or to move up to #1 and become the mandatory challenger to Cornelius Bundrage.
Cory Spinks (39-7, 11 KOs)
5'9 1/2" tall, 71" reach, southpaw, 34 years old
Former two-time junior middleweight champion; former Undisputed World Welterweight Champion
Carlos Molina (20-5, 6 KOs)
5'9" tall, 70" reach, orthodox, 29 years old
This is an easy one to pick. While Molina doesn't pack much of a wallop, he is gritty, aggressive, and (most importantly) on a roll. By contrast, Spinks is shot and should have retired after getting knocked out by Cornelius Bundrage for a second time. I have a hard time seeing Molina take Spinks out, but there is the outside possibility of Molina overwhelming him into a stoppage in the later rounds.
Prediction: Carlos Molina UD12 Cory Spinks, high probability of Spinks announcing his retirement shortly thereafter
Cornelius Bundrage vs. Ishe Smith
Bundrage is the second-weakest of the 154 lbs champs, but also more accessible than the WBO's flimsy Zaurbek Baysangurov. As a result, a lot of cross-hairs are focused on him, so seeing how he fares against Smith ought to be required viewing against a future title challenge by the likes of Lara or Andrade.
Ishe Smith (24-5, 11 KOs)
5'10" tall, 71" reach, 34 years old
Cornelius Bundrage (32-4, 19 KOs)
5'6" tall, 72" reach, 39 years old
Current IBF Junior Middleweight Champion
This is another simple one to call. Bundrage might be on the old side, but he is tough, aggressive, packs a good punch, and is bound and determined to keep his title now that he has it. Against that, Smith isn't a spring chicken himself, and the guy has not beaten even so much as a top flight journeyman since Randall Bailey in 2004 -- although some would argue he's been on the wrong end of several bad decisions.
NBC's Contender or no, Smith is clearly a tune-up for the sterner challenges waiting for Bundrage down the road. That having been said, Smith is tough in his own right, having never been even close to stopped.
Prediction: Cornelius Bundrage UD12 Ishe Smith