As 2012 draws to a close, Nonito Donaire is the runaway favorite to garner Fighter of the Year honors from publications like The Ring and among the community of online boxing writers.
Juan Manuel Marquez's stunning knockout of Manny Pacquiao on December 8 will get him in the conversation. Adrien Broner's continued emergence as a pound-for-pound star and his successful dismantling of Antonio Demarco after moving up to lightweight might earn him some nods.
I wouldn't even be shocked to see some mentions for 2011 winner Andre Ward, or for Abner Mares or flyweight kingpin Brian Viloria.
But my own choice will be Donaire, and I expect this vote will place me in a sizable majority.
Donaire fought four times in 2012, and all of his opponents were world-class, top five to 10-level talent.
In February, he took on Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. for the vacant WBO junior featherweight title in his first fight at 122 pounds. Although the official verdict was a split decision, the judge who had Vazquez winning should be removed from duty. Donaire knocked Vazquez down in the ninth round and controlled virtually every round of the fight.
In July, Donaire fought a unification bout with IBF champion Jeffrey Mathebula. Given up nearly half a foot in height, Donaire again cruised to an easy victory, dropping Mathebula in the fourth and eventually capturing a unanimous decision.
Donaire's October fight against Japan's Toshiaki Nishioka was expected to be his toughest fight in years. Instead, it gave Donaire an opportunity to once more demonstrate why most people have him at, or near, the pound-for-pound top five. He knocked down Nishioka in the sixth and finished him in the ninth.
Who's the man at 122?
Then, on December 15, Donaire closed out the year by meeting four-division world champion and future Hall of Famer Jorce Arce. A slightly smaller fighter, Arce's aggressive style seemed almost designed to highlight Donaire's explosive counterpunching abilities. He KOd the Mexican legend in three.
Donaire is among the most naturally gifted fighters in the world, but signing up for 48 rounds against that kind of quality within one year's time requires a degree of professional focus that marks the truly elite.
Still just 30, Donaire is poised to become one of the sport's true international stars during the next couple of years. But unlike his fellow countryman, Manny Pacquiao, the slender Donaire seems unlikely to rise above the 126 to 130-pound range.
And achieving true superstar status is always going to be more difficult for a smaller fighter. That's why, in the quest to build Nonito Donaire into a pay-per-view-type attraction, Top Rank boss Bob Arum is going to need to take some risks and match up Donaire against the toughest competition possible.
Donaire is going to enter 2013 as the recognized Fighter of the Year for 2012. But to keep his momentum going, there is one fight that he absolutely needs to make during the first quarter of the year: Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the most decorated amateur boxers in history, Rigondeaux has made a huge impact in the pro game in a short amount of time. Since turning professional in May of 2009, he has gone undefeated in 11 fights, winning eight by knockout.
Normally, you would never hear a fighter with less than a dozen professional fights mentioned as a must-see opponent for a champion with Donaire's resume.
But Rigondeaux is not your average fighter. Not even remotely.
Last January, Rigondeaux captured the WBA world title in just his ninth fight, when he pounded the previously undefeated Rico Ramos and stopped him in six. In June, he stopped Teon Kennedy in five.
Ramos and Kennedy might never end up getting enshrined in Canestota, but they were both very talented and well thought of prospects. Guillermo's easy handling of them was unprecedented, and it has gotten hardcore boxing fans anxious to see more.
Everybody knows how good Donaire is. Nobody can know for sure how good Rigondeaux is yet, but is seems clear that the only way to find out is going to be to have him fight an elite talent like Donaire.
Since both fighters are signed with Top Rank, it's a win-win match up for Bob Arum. Donaire continues to emerge as one of the sport's biggest stars, but he needs another big-name opponent to keep his standing high among hardcore fans.
Rigondeaux is already a darling among the boxing faithful, but he hasn't had time to build up his name recognition among the more casual crowd. A high-profile tilt with Donaire propels him to the next level.
Donaire would be the favorite, but it would almost certainly be a tougher night for him than he saw during 2012. Potentially, we could be looking at the start of boxing's next great rivalry, the new generation's version of Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.
There is, of course, a third wheel that needs to be mentioned in any discussion about the 122-pound division. WBC champion Abner Mares had a pretty terrific 2012 too, and has pushed himself onto a lot of pound-for-pound top 10 lists.
Ideally, all three of these great fighters would have at it in 2013, round-robbin style. Unfortunately, Mares is signed with rival Golden Boys. That doesn't make a fight with Donaire impossible, but much more difficult to arrange.
In the meantime, the Filipino Flash should stay busy with Guillermo Rigondeaux.