Power Ranking the 10 Fights Boxing Fans Need to See in 2013
I am going to start this story by informing my readers upfront that this is a Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather free zone. Boxing fans spent the length of President Obama's entire first term reading endless speculation over this potential super fight, but it is clear that interest has now waned considerably.
Don't get me wrong, if this fight gets made in 2013, it will still be greeted as the biggest boxing event of the year. But until that happens, I'm not really interested in writing about it any more.
I'm of the opinion that a lot of boxing fans are hungry to turn the page and move on. There is no shortage of great fights out there waiting to be made. It's time to look to other ring warriors to carry the sport into the future.
Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Orlando Salido
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Guillermo Rigondeaux is the WBA super bantamweight champion, and in theory there should be big fights for him if he stays at 122. Rigondeaux vs. Nonito Donaire is one talked about potential match ups on boxing Internet forums.
The winner of the Nov. 10 Anselmo Moreno-Abner Mares showdown would be another intriguing fight.
But I'm going to go in a different direction here and suggest a move up to featherweight for the Cuban star. I think WBO 126-pound champ Orlando Salido would be a terrific matchup for him.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Rigondeaux is one of the most decorated amateur fighters of this century. After escaping from Cuba and turning professional, he has been on the fast track to stardom, capturing his first world title in only his ninth fight.
Now just 11-0 with nine stoppages, he is already regarded by many fans as a blossoming superstar.
Salido's background could not be more different. The featherweight champion turned professional as a teenager and served a brutal apprenticeship, piling up losses during his first decade in the sport.
With his 39-11-2 (27 KOs) record, he has as many losses as Rigondeaux has fights.
Despite their radically different backgrounds, they are currently two of the most exciting and dominant fighters under 130 pounds.
Rigondeaux's golden pedigree vs. Salido's hard-knocks experience would make for a compelling story line. The action in the ring would likely live up to the hype.
Adrien Broner vs. Yuri Gamboa
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This fight would be one of the most anticipated of the year, a showdown between two of the sport's most gifted and explosive athletes. Both men are viewed as potential future pound-for-pound champs.
A Cuban transfer like Rigondeaux, Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs) has been out of action for over a year while he settled a contract dispute with Top Rank. He is scheduled to return to action on Dec. 8 against Miguel Beltran Jr.
Nobody expects that to be anything but a warm up for Gamboa.
Broner, meanwhile, has a stiffer test waiting for him on Nov. 10, when he carries his perfect 24-0 (20 KOs) record up to 135 pounds to challenge lightweight champion Antonio Demarcos.
Demarcos is no pushover. But I'd still be pretty surprised to see him beat Broner. Nicknamed "The Problem," Broner is a legitimate boxing prodigy.
I asked Broner about this a possible Gamboa fight when I interviewed him a few months back. His response was characteristically cocky: "He won't fight me."
But that is about what the supremely confident Broner says about everybody. In reality, if Gamboa wants to make up for lost time and take the biggest fights he can get, a matchup with Broner makes perfect sense for him.
Brandon Rios vs. Lucas Matthysse
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This would be an action-packed war from the opening bell. With a 32-2 record and 30 stoppages, Lucas Matthysse is a ferocious boxer-brawler. Both of his losses came by split-decision, to Devon Alexander and Zab Judah.
The Alexander loss is widely viewed as among the worst decisions of 2011. The Judah loss was contested, as well, so to a lot of fans, Matthysse deserves to be undefeated.
Rios, meanwhile, is undefeated, with a 31-0-1 record and 23 stoppages.
Now I'll say for myself that I don't think Rios should be undefeated. I viewed his victory last April over Richard Abril as perhaps as bad of a decision as Timothy Bradley's win over Manny Pacquiao in June.
But Rios came back in high style last month, TKOing previous unbeaten Mike Alvarado in seven in a non-stop slug fest.
Rios is a guy who just straight up loves to fight. He radiates joy in the middle of the most heated exchanges, breaking into childlike smiles as he trades punches with bad intention.
He might not have deserved the decision against Abril last April, but he deserves to be embraced by boxing fans for the way he leaves his heart in the ring.
The winner of this fight would unquestionably be in line for a shot at 140-pound kingpin Danny Garcia.
Victor Ortiz vs. Josesito Lopez II
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Last June, Victor Ortiz was supposed to meet Andre Berto in a rematch of their 2011 Fight of the Year, an epic war of attrition in which Ortiz came away with a unanimous decision, the WBC welterweight title and a shot at Floyd Mayweather.
But before the rematch took place, Berto tested positive for PEDs and was suspended.
Enter Josesito Lopez, a junior welterweight contender, as a last-minute replacement. How much of an after-thought was Lopez in this fight?
Consider this: even before they went into the ring, Ortiz had already been named as the next opponent for rising junior middleweight star Saul Alvarez.
But Lopez made good on his big opportunity, standing and trading all night long with Ortiz and eventually breaking the former welterweight champion's jaw before winning by TKO when Ortiz refused to continue after Round 9.
Lopez went on to get the big Mexican Independence Day fight with Alvarez. He ended up being battered, getting dropped three times before succumbing to a Round 5 TKO. For a guy who had only fought once above 140 in his career, the jump up to fight the rugged 154-pound Canelo was simply too much.
So he will almost certainly move back down to 147, where he looked extremely comfortable against Ortiz. Few fans will hold his performance in the Alvarez fight against him, instead remembering the gutsy, hard-nosed effort he turned in against Ortiz.
There should be more high-profile fights on his horizon. A rematch with Ortiz, who led on the cards at the time of the stoppage, would be a good place to start.
Ortiz needs this fight more than Lopez, though. There has been some mumbling by fans on the Internet that Ortiz "quit" during the fight.
That's probably unfair. Ortiz was badly injured and living to fight another day may very well have been the best choice he could make.
At the same time, I am willing to criticize Ortiz for becoming flustered when the slender Lopez was willing to stand in front of him and bang.
He threw a cheap shot to the back of Lopez's head that should have cost him a point. Just as he did against Floyd Mayweather in his previous fight, he made himself appear to be a fighter who will foul flagrantly when he is frustrated.
Adding to the complexity of Ortiz's situation is that he broke with long-time trainer Danny Garcia shortly after his loss to Lopez.
Ortiz's talent has never been questioned and his hard-punching style has made for some of the most exciting fights in recent years. But if he wants to move forward with his career, he has some image problems to clear up.
Rematching with Lopez would be an ideal first step for him.
Besides, the first fight was a classic. There's no reason to expect that the return bout would be any different.
Saul Alvarez vs. Erislandry Lara
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As mentioned in the previous slide, last Sept. 15 WBC junior middleweight champion Saul Alvarez TKOd Josesito Lopez in five rounds. It was a dominant performance, but he has received more criticism than praise for the fight.
Lopez was a much smaller fighter, a guy who had competed nearly his entire career at 140 pounds. Moreover, he is a stand-and-trade kind of fighter, not a a good style for challenging a bigger, stronger man.
About the best anybody was willing to say about Alvarez's victory over Lopez was that he managed to do exactly what he was supposed to do.
That's not necessarily a small thing in itself, though. Great athletic careers are built off from "doing what you are supposed to" over the long haul.
And 22-year-old burgeoning superstars have been known to get cocky and careless and stumble as a result. Give Alvarez at least some credit, then, for keeping his eye on the ball.
It's also not like Alvarez didn't try to line up a tougher opponent first. His original opponent for the Sept. 15 date was supposed to be the extremely tough Paul Williams, until Williams crashed his motorcycle and was tragically paralyzed from the waist down.
After Williams went out of commission, Alvarez appeared to make a serious attempt at landing a fight with the explosive-punching James Kirkland. He finally settled on former Floyd Mayweather opponent Victor Ortiz, an ex-world champion at welterweight.
As noted in the previous slide, when Lopez took out Ortiz, Alvarez was once again left with few good options.
There is, however, one prominent name that has so far received little play in the "who fights Canelo next?" sweepstakes. That name is Erislandry Lara.
Lara sports a 17-1-1 record with 11 KOs. His loss was by majority decision to Paul Williams, and it's another one of the widely criticized decisions that has plagued the sport in recent years.
Lara is also another former Cuban amateur star, the third one to appear on this list. That's not a coincidence, by the way. The recent influx of Cuban talent into the professional boxing scene has been one of the big stories of the past half decade or so.
The Cubans arrive with stellar amateur records and dangerous skill sets. What they don't generally have are good connections in the professional game. As a result, they can have a hard time getting the big fights they deserve.
Lara is due to meet undefeated Armenian-American Vanes Martirosyan this weekend, Nov. 10, so I am probably being premature calling for Alvarez-Lara ahead of time. Still, I do expect him to win over Martirosyan.
Of course, if I am wrong and Martirosyan emerges as victorious, obviously he would become the most deserving opponent for Alvarez's next big event.
In truth, if it is a close, competitive fight, both Lara and Martirosyan have the potential to emerge from this weekend as credible 2013 opponents for Canelo.
Peter Quillin vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
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Last month, Peter Quillin knocked down fellow undefeated middleweight Hassan N'Dam six times en route to winning a unanimous decision and capturing the WBO 160-pound strap. As of right now, the bout is my 2012 Fight of the Year.
The performance sold me on Quillin as a world-class talent. The extremely athletic N'Dam had advantages in hand and foot speed, but Quillin showed veteran patience, cutting off the ring and walking N'Dam into his punches over and over again.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., meanwhile, made his pay-per-view debut on Sept. 15 against middleweight kingpin Sergio Martinez, suffering the first loss of his career. Chavez lost by wide margins on the cards and was for the most part thoroughly outclassed by the pound-for-pound great.
But Chavez has his moments, bringing the Mexican Independence Day crowd roaring to its feet when he knocked Martinez down in the final round.
Chavez came up short, but at 26, he is not going anywhere anytime soon. He has improved steadily in recent years and even in defeat, he retains one of the largest fanbases in the sport.
Quillin, meanwhile is a star in the making in his own right, with his own burgeoning fanbase. A Brooklyn resident, the Barclays Center crowd treated him very much as a hometown hero when he beat N'Dam. He's already scheduled to return to the new Brooklyn sports mecca in January, opponent TBA.
These are the two biggest middleweight stars in North America, a couple of talented young fighters with crowd-pleasing styles. In 2013, this would be one of the most exciting fights that could be made at 160 pounds.
Gennady Golovkin vs. Any Top 10 Middleweight Who Will Fight Him
Last Sept. 1, undefeated WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin of Kazakhstan made his U.S. debut, fighting European middleweight champion Grzegorz Proksa of Poland on HBO's Boxing after Dark at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y.
I covered the fight live. I pretty much haven't shut up about it since, and I'm hardly the only one. GGG is the breakout boxing star of 2012.
Proksa is an athletic, power-punching, top 10 talent, who has also put serious beatdowns on former world champions. Golovkin walked through him, knocking him down three times before winning by TKO in the fifth.
In the press area, boxing writers, usually a pretty cynical and hard-to-impress group, were using words like "monster," "scary" and "superstar."
Golovkin has a strong amateur background, having won an Olympic silver medal in 2004. He is as technically solid a boxer as you could want to see.
But his freakish power, strength and chin are the real story. He is an extremely dangerous man.
The only thing he needs now is more high-profile fights. The buzz about him has begun, but a few more fights on American cable and he will be the next big thing.
Unfortunately, big-time fights are still hard for him to get. His team maintains nobody wants to fight him; it kind of looks like they are telling the truth.
From a business standpoint, it's understandable. Climbing in the ring with Golovkin is a serious risk-not just to your win-loss record, but to your long-term health as a professional fighter.
Considering that Golovkin is still a relative unknown in the Western boxing markets, it's not entirely unreasonable that nobody wants to take a chance against him. Right now, the payday might not be worth the potential risk.
Hopefully this will all change in 2013. A couple more performances like he put on in September and GGG will be one of the biggest draws in the sport.
Chad Dawson vs. Jean Pascal
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In September, Ring light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson won the respect of boxing fans everywhere when he dropped down to challenge the No. 1 super middleweight on the planet, Andre Ward. He was hailed as an old-school throwback with a warrior's heart.
"The best need to fight the best," he told me when I interviewed him in the weeks before the fight.
Unfortunately for Dawson, Ward proved the better man at 168 pounds. The fighter many now consider the top pound-for-pound star on the planet handed Dawson a one-sided beatdown, TKOing him in 10.
Now Dawson needs to re-establish his hold on the 175-pound division, where he remains the recognized champion. His first order of business should be settling accounts with Jean Pascal, the man who gave him his only other professional defeat, in August 2010.
Whereas Ward simply beat Dawson, most fans and writers consider that against Pascal, Dawson pretty much beat himself.
Still, Pascal is an explosive and athletic fighter. Now that Dawson is the top guy in the division, Pascal definitely deserves first shot at knocking him off his perch.
Magomed Abdusalamov vs. Deontay Wilder
Deontay Wilder won an Olympic bronze medal at heavyweight in 2008. Since turning pro, he has compiled a perfect 25-0 record, with 25 KOs. In August he pole-axed tough journeyman Kertson Manswell, stopping him by TKO in the first.
A month later he dispatched fellow undefeated prospect Damon McCreary in two.
In December, he is scheduled to fight another undefeated prospect, Kelvin Price. That should be his toughest challenge to date.
Russian heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov has an undefeated record himself, 16-0 with 16 KOs. In September he climbed off the canvas in the first round to annihilate journeyman Jameel McCline in two.
Abdusalamov and Wilder are two of the most exciting prospects in the heavyweight division, but there are potential flaws in each of them. And their respective strengths are perfectly suited to make them great dramatic foils for each other
Wilder, at six-foot-seven and about 225 pounds is extremely slender for a heavyweight contender. How his narrow torso will absorb a vicious body attack is a legitimate question, and it's also hard not to wonder if his thin legs will be able to stand up when a big-time heavyweight punch lands flush to his jaw.
Abdusalamov is a monster puncher. At worst he is destined to be a poor man's Ernie Shavers. In a best-case scenario, he looks like he could develop into Rocky Marciano 2.0.
My big knock against him is his footwork. He loads up so heavy on his punches that he frequently ends up off balance.
So a long heavyweight with good movement and respectable power, somebody like Wilder, could potentially expose his limitations.
Seth Mitchell vs. Tyson Fury
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Undefeated heavyweight sensation Seth Mitchell faces former cruiserweight title challenger Johnathon Banks on Nov. 10. Nothing is guaranteed in boxing, but I don't expect the Mitchell express train to become derailed against Banks.
A former standout linebacker for Michigan State University, Mitchell has excited fans more than any American heavyweight prospect in recent years. He is an explosive athlete who has applied his considerable athletic intelligence and football work ethic to mastering the sweet science.
So far, the results have been very exciting. Mitchell has polished footwork and a dangerous offensive game. He has continued to steamroll opponents even as he has stepped up in competition.
Former world champion Timur Ibragimov was supposed to be a big test for him, but Mitchell stopped him in two. Against fellow highly rated prospect Chazz Witherspoon, Mitchell weathered an early scare to win by Round 3 TKO.
British-Irish star Tyson Fury has meanwhile been creating similar buzz across the Atlantic. The 6'9" Fury has dominated a steady stream of upper-level journeymen and fellow prospects. He is due for a serious step up in competition.
When I interviewed Mitchell by phone this week, he said he thought he was about 4-5 fights away from challenging for a world title. While he continues to prepare, he expect to fight other top contenders. A high-profile British star like Fury would fit the bill.
Fury's toughest opponent to date has been Dereck Chisora, who he beat by unanimous decision in July 2011. Chisora is a tough, aggressive fighter, but he lacks Mitchell's athletic ability and ring discipline. Mitchell would come in with an intelligent game plan against the gigantic Fury.
Fury would give Mitchell some problems, making it difficult for the American star to attack him inside. But I expect Mitchell would eventually catch Fury in an awkward position, leaning down to engage. His explosiveness would pay off big time if that happened.
I'm not confident this fight could ever be made. I have a hard time seeing Fury's handlers letting him take the risk of fighting a dangerous fighter like Mitchell without a belt and significant payday on the line.
Then again, this fight could very easily headline a premium cable card, provided Mitchell takes care of business later this month and Fury does the same in his scheduled Dec. 1 bout in Northern Ireland against an opponent TBA.
Getting ahead in boxing is a matter of taking calculated risks. If both fighters' teams are confident in what their men can do, this would be the sort of high-profile prospect fight that should push the winner's stock much higher.