On Saturday, January 19, The Ring number one ranked featherweight Orlando Salido (39-11-2, 27 KOs) will meet undefeated rising star Mikey Garcia (30-0-0, 26 KOs) at Madison Square Garden in New York City to headline the first HBO boxing card of 2013.
This fight is a big deal on its own merits. Salido is a gritty, ring-savvy veteran who clearly deserves to be considered the best fighter in the world at 126 pounds. The 11 losses seem like a lot for an elite fighter, but Salido turned pro at 16 and came up in the game the hard way.
Eight of the L's came before he had turned 21. In the last dozen years he's lost just three times: a unanimous decision to all-time great Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004, a split decision to tough veteran Cristobal Cruz in 2008, and a unanimous decision to pound-for-pound entrant Yuri Gamboa in September of 2010.
Salido followed up the loss to Gamboa by traveling to Puerto Rico in April of 2011, where he derailed previous unbeaten phenom Juan Manuel Lopez via TKO in 8. He stopped Lopez again in 10 during a rematch last March.
Garcia, meanwhile, is an undefeated boxing prodigy, a smart and patient fighter who can finish a wounded opponent with brutal efficiency. He is the kid brother of former world champion and current super trainer Robert Garcia. Most knowledgeable fans consider him a potential superstar.
This would be a highly anticipated fight under any circumstances and a fitting choice to unofficially kick off the boxing year. But given the current boxing landscape, the matchup has to be viewed with particular interest for the potential impact it could have on one of boxing's biggest superstars: 2013 consensus Fighter of the Year Nonito Donaire.
While few people currently dispute Donaire's claim to kingpin status at 122 pounds, there are two very worthy rivals awaiting their crack at the Filipino Flash: WBC champion Abner Mares and WBA titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux. At the same time, Donaire won some of the biggest fights in the sport last year at 122 and there is already speculation about him moving up in division once more.
Ringtv.com has a story this morning quoting Donaire's promoter, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, as saying that a fight with either Rigondeaux or Mares is a possibility for April. Rigondeaux is another Top Rank fighter so that fight should be relatively easy to make.
Mares is promoted by rival Golden Boy, with whom Top Rank rarely does business. Assuming an April showdown with Rigondeaux is very possible, most hardened boxing writers and fans view a super fight with Mares as a relative long shot.
So the outcome of the battle for supremacy at 126 between Salido and Garcia should have a lot to do with shaping the possibilities Donaire is likely to encounter further down the road in 2013.
A fight between Donaire and Garcia should be assumed impossible. Garcia's older brother Robert is Donaire's longtime trainer, as well.
But if Salido triumphs on Saturday, he would have to be viewed as a very attractive opponent for Donaire later this year. He has a blue collar appeal and exciting style, though Salido has traditionally stumbled against the true elite such as Marquez and Gamboa.
At the same time, he would bring a size advantage into the ring with Donaire and he is exactly the type of crafty veteran who would likely know how to exploit any edge.
Beyond Mares and Rigondeaux at 122 and Salido at 126, I have always thought that a matchup between Donaire and the enigmatic and undefeated Indonesian star Chris John could be intriguing due to the appeal to the Asia-Pacific fan base.