With Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton having fought within five weeks of each other, the welterweight division has heated up so much that it has become the weight class with the most intriguing possible matchups in the sport of boxing.
Here is a breakdown of the main players and some possible future super-fights:
• The best fight that can be made right now is Mayweather-De La Hoya. The sticking point in this mega-fight between the best pound-for-pound boxer in the sport - Mayweather - and the most popular and successful one - De La Hoya - will come down to whether the "Golden Boy" is willing to meet "Pretty Boy" Floyd at a catchweight between 147-154 pounds.
The purse split will undoubtedly be an issue, but with De La Hoya, 38-4 with 30 knockouts, already rich enough to use $100 bills as toilet paper, that shouldn't be as much a problem as getting him to shed 7 pounds to meet Mayweather at 147.
In his six-round destruction of Ricardo Mayorga on May 6, De La Hoya wasn't carrying any fat at 154 and looked stronger than he ever has since turning pro at 130 pounds. Why then, against a slick, speedy boxer like Mayweather, should he possible sacrifice strength by melting down to welter?
The prediction here is that De La Hoya and Mayweather will fight at catch-weight - somewhere around 152 - because the Golden Boy will want every conceivable advantage possible. And Mayweather, 36-0 (24), has enough confidence that he will be willing to give Oscar that perceived advantage.
• Even though this is the best fight that can be made, it doesn't mean that it's the one that De La Hoya is considering. Unfortunately there is talk that Felix Trinidad - who took a disputed majority decision over De La Hoya in September 1999 - is coming out of retirement.
I say "unfortunately" not out of disrespect for "Tito", but out of disappointment in that this is not the best fight out there. For one, De La Hoya didn't so much lose to Trinidad as he had the win taken away from him by the judges, who undoubtedly didn't like the way he ran the last few rounds against the advancing Trinidad.
De La Hoya would defeat Trinidad in a rematch for the same reasons that Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright defeated Tito: because he can't deal with true boxers.
But De La Hoya has dropped hints that his next fight will be his last - and that it would be a "career-defining" one. It's hard to see Trinidad or (please no) a rematch with Sugar Shane Mosley or Fernando Vargas as fitting that description. Ditto with a De La Hoya-Hopkins rematch, especially with "The Executioner" moving to 175 pounds to fight light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver.
And even though De La Hoya's trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., said he would have no part of a fight between his son and Oscar, Mayweather-De La Hoya makes the most sense of any out there.
• Quick pick: Mayweather via decision. That said, De La Hoya has caused me to give more thought to this possible matchup by dint of his performance against Mayorga. De La Hoya looked bigger and stronger than ever.
And although a Mayorga uppercut rocked him in the third round, his chin remains solid.
Mayweather has had trouble with his hands in the past and pounding away at a bigger fighter like De La Hoya won't help in that regard.
Furthermore, De La Hoya should win this fight. As he showed in his April 8 fight with Zab Judah, Mayweather isn't as effective coming forward as he is playing defense and countering.
De La Hoya could use that great jab, pretty good hand speed and control the distance for 12 rounds with practically no worry of getting knocked out.
But I'm going against De La Hoya precisely for that reason. Ever since he stopped a pumped-up, 'roided-up Vargas, De La Hoya hasn't been afraid to come forward and mix it up a bit, as he surprisingly did against Hopkins, who lured him into his trap. He also traded with Mayorga, who just didn't have the tools and - also surprising (to me) - the chin to deal with an effectively offensive Oscar.
The thinking here is that - even though he should know better - De La Hoya will try and take it to the naturally smaller man and give Mayweather the edge he needs by putting himself within range of Pretty Boy's lightning counters.
Getting peppered by Mayweather will only serve to stoke the coals of De La Hoya's machismo, which in turn will lead to him trying to slug even more - a futile proposition when taking into consideration Mayweather's practically impenetrable defense. Advantage: Mayweather.
• The third party to this exclusive club is former junior welterweight champion Hatton, 41-0 (30), who defeated Luis Collazo for his WBA welterweight strap Saturday in an HBO-televised event from Boston, Mass.
Although much credit should go to the underrated Collazo, even more credit should go to Hatton, who had no business taking on a southpaw in his first fight at 147 and traveling to America from Manchester to do it. Styles make fights and Collazo's style was and is the wrong one for Hatton.
Yet Hatton still won.
Hatton was able to apply constant pressure and, in addition to scoring an important knockdown in the first round, was able to take enough steam out of Collazo to avoid a loss.
The close decision puts "The Hitman" into prime position to challenge the winner of Carlos Baldomir-Arturo Gatti, who tangle for the linear welterweight championship - throwing aside, if you will, whichever sanctioning bodies are involved.
Hatton and Gatti would be the best possible fan's fight, in that both come ahead and bang - although Gatti has tried to box a bit more. As with the Gatti-Mickey Ward trilogy, this potential fight could be shown in black and white.
Hatton didn't look as strong at 147 as he did at 140, but the reward-big, big HBO money - outweighs the risk. A Hatton victory would put him in the position to face either Mayweather or De La Hoya, should the Golden Boy decide to stick around.
• Before getting into who should beat whom, let's take a quick look at why Hatton should face Gatti or Baldomir instead of keeping his WBA trinket.
Part of the reason the WBA sanctioned Collazo-Hatton was so the winner could face Oktay Urkal within four months.
The winner of that match - as electrifying as it seems - would then face the winner of the Joel Julio-Carlos Quintana elimination match by Feb. 13, 2007.
All of this political maneuvering is just one more reason why all sanctioning bodies should be eliminated. It's not about taking money from promoters to allow certain fights. It should be about the best facing the best. That's why people pay good money to watch in the first place.
• Quick picks: Gatti, 40-7 (31), should be able to blend enough boxing with his punching prowess to defeat Baldomir, 42-9-6 (12), who rose to prominence by upsetting Judah.
The suits at HBO should be able to match Gatti and Hatton for what could be the Fight of the Year. But while it would make for the most appealing matchup - in light of Mayweather's thrashing of Gatti - I'm not sure Hatton will advance beyond Gatti to get to Mayweather, which would be a great fight stylistically.
Gatti is the stronger fighter, which favors him in the only kind of fight Hatton can bring - a toe-to-toe war. And even if Hatton can ring Gatti's bell - which is up for debate - Gatti can box well enough to keep Hatton on the end of his punches and cut him up.
And then again maybe it was Collazo who made Hatton look human. I'll hold off on a prediction until fight time - should it happen. But in any case, the future looks bright enough at welterweight to want to find a way to make time pass more quickly. And isn't that mindset an indicator that some fights are worth watching more than others?
•Contact Mike Houser at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1220