Aside from blue-chip pitching prospects like Stephen Strasburg, nothing in sports gets protected more carefully than an undefeated boxing record. Unlike team sports with leagues or the UFC, which sets the fights for the vast majority of high-level MMA fighters, in boxing each match is a separately negotiated business deal.
Boxers, or, more often, their handlers and promoters, pick their opponents. A talented prospect with smart boxing people behind him can spend years racking up almost-sure-thing wins. Meanwhile the zero in the L column accrues value like a savings bond, with the interest rates largely determined by how impressively those victories get collected.
Eventually, of course, the magical zero has to be risked in a legitimate way. But a fighter's handlers usually aren't going to cash the chip in short of some kind of title fight or eliminator.
It creates a strange dynamic in the sport, where fans often have to wait far too long to see a promising talent in a truly competitive matchup.
For example, probably the top up-and-comer in my area of central New York is Ryan McKenzie of Verona, N.Y., a 12-0 light heavyweight with 11 stoppages. I've seen him fight four times in the past year or so, and only once against anybody who could remotely be considered a fellow prospect, 7-2 Eric Watkins. His other three opponents had a combined record of 16-32-3.
This kind of handling is standard, and given the brutal realities of the sport, it is largely justifiable. If a guy is going to make a living entertaining us by getting punched in the face, we shouldn't begrudge him shrewd handlers.
I want to address ahead of time a few undefeated fighters who I suspect might show up in the comments section: Javier Fortuna, Leon Santa Cruz, George Groves and Thomas Oosthuizen will all surely be tested more seriously in the future, but for the level they are at in their careers right now, they have all faced legitimate talent.
Canelo Alvaez, as well, is not on this list. I would agree with anybody that his resume does not support the kind of hype he receives from his massive fanbase. But, for a 22-year-old fighter, he has compiled a very impressive resume.
You could argue that WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin has not been tested, but I consider that more of a testament to what a rare talent he is and the fact that not a lot of people are lining up to fight him. He has fought top-10-rated opponents and former world title contenders.