In the past three weeks, boxing fans have been treated to two all-time classic fights: Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II. It's been a terrific stretch for boxing fans, but these sort of feasts just leave us hungering for more.
Any true fight fan can list a good half dozen or so fights he would love to see at any given time, just off the top of his head. And unfortunately, for various reasons such as scheduling and promotional conflicts, a lot of these fights never take place.
Due to the current Golden Boy-Top Rank feud, many of the fights on this list have little chance of getting made. So while this article is primarily aimed at igniting interesting debate among the boxing nuts who hang around these parts, let it also serve as a reminder of how much fans are losing out on due to the impasse between the sport's two biggest promotional groups.
Maybe I am just being overly optimistic, but I actually believe this fight could happen. This is the one that I believe could at least temporarily thaw the Golden Boy-Top Rank cold war.
Nonito Donaire has been in most people's pound-for-pound top five since his dramatic KO of Ferdinand Montiel in February of 2011. Abner Mares, meanwhile, has worked his way onto many top-10 lists by remaining undefeated against a murderer's row of tough opposition since 2010: Yonnhy Perez (a draw), Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko (twice), Eric Morel and Anselmo Moreno.
In a rational world without feuding promoters, these two would already have fought. Their respective journeys from bantamweight up to junior featherweight have run along parallel tracks.
Donaire fights fellow Top Rank fighter Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba later this month. While that fight is in no way a sure thing, if the Filipino Flash prevails once more, he will suddenly find worthy opponents in short supply.
His current division, 122 pounds, will be played out, and there is a logjam above him at featherweight, where two of the world titles are already held by fighters handled by Robert Garcia, Donaire's own trainer. A showdown with the undefeated, longtime WBA featherweight champ Chris John of Indonesia would certainly attract interest, especially in Asia and the Pacific region.
But it would not generate anywhere close to the enthusiasm that a superfight with Mares would excite. Mares-Donaire would be a matchup between two of the most exciting fighters in the pound-for-pound top 10, both of them in their prime.
Mares has never made any secret about wanting to fight Donaire, and so long as he survives Rigondeaux this month, I expect Donaire to reciprocate the feeling. Who else is there for him?
As a fight, this one would be exciting. Mares is the kind of fighter who goes to war.
Ultimately, I am not sure how competitive it would end up being over the course of 12 rounds. Donaire's ring vision, reflexes and explosive power would make him a very dangerous opponent for an all-action, come forward fighter like Mares.
Still, Mares, though extremely physical, is hardly an unrefined brawler. I'd rate him as having the most brutal body attack in the lower divisions, and that could allow him to slow down the nimble Donaire and take something off from his always dangerous lead hook.
Coming into 2013, most knowledgeable fight fans considered Mikey Garcia among the most promising prospects in the sport. Then, in January, he captured the WBO world title from Orlando Salido by one-sided technical decision, knocking the always-tough veteran down three times in the process and shutting him out on the cards.
Even for a lot of people who had Garcia tabbed as a future champ, his performance against Salido came as a revelation. Garcia used slick footwork and jolting combination punching to keep Salido outside of range and lunging desperately forward, round after round.
Garcia is a boxing protege from a famed boxing family. His older brother is perennial trainer of the year Robert Garcia. He is a patient, calculating fighter who knows how to finish an opponent in a hurry once he has him hurt. He may only have turned 25 last December, but he has the ring IQ of a longtime veteran.
At his best, Yuri Gamboa is among the most exciting fighters in the sport. He has feline agility and explosive power with both hands. Not that long ago, he was viewed as a potential pound-for-pound king, but a long layoff and a less-than-sterling return bout against Michael Farenas on the Marquez-Pacquiao undercard last December have caused his stock to drop.
Still, he would represent a major step up in competition for the young Garcia. But it's a step up that I think he is ready for.
I suspect I might be in the minority, but I'd pick Garcia to win here. He'd bring a three-inch reach advantage to the ring against Gamboa, and I think he has the footwork and ring generalship to make the most of that advantage.
I can even see the move up to 130 working to Garcia's advantage. The extra weight might make him stronger, which would help him against the supremely athletic and explosive Gamboa
Here's a spoiler for the rest of this slideshow: The majority of fighters I am going to be talking about from here on out are welterweights. The 140- and 147-pound divisions have always been loaded with the most talent, and that's as true as ever right now.
After building a decent reputation as a rugged brawler-boxer on Friday Night Fights, Ruslan Provodnikov turned in the sort of performance against Timothy Bradley that will guarantee fans want to see more of him. He nearly stopped Bradley in both of the first two rounds, and then, when trailing on the cards, he dropped Bradley and almost stopped him again in the final round.
Marcos Maidana has been a fan favorite for few years now. He famously made Victor Ortiz quit on his stool and his unanimous decision loss to Amir Khan was a thrilling war that many people tabbed as the 2010 Fight of the Year.
After being outboxed by Devon Alexander in February of last year, he came back strong, stopping the gritty journeyman Jesus Soto-Karass in eight in September and KOing prospect Angel Martinez in three in December.
Simply put, these are two guys who are so tough that they seem tough even by the standards of professional fighters. They are both exceptional in-fighters and a boxing match between them would be a take-no-prisioners battle in the trenches.
Maidana is scheduled to fight Josesito Lopez in June, though, which has the potential to be another classic. Provodnikov, signed with Top Rank, may get a rematch with Bradley later this year.
I'll be honest, to a large degree this slideshow writes itself. There's no doubt that Lucas Matthysse and Brandon Rios would make for one terrific fight, but so would Rios and Provodnikov. And no doubt an encounter between fellow-Argentinians Matthysse and Maidana would produce a war for the ages.
At this weight, you can almost pick names out of a hat and never go wrong.
Matthysse is a KO machine, with 31 stoppages in 33 fights. His most recent two fights were a Round 10 TKO of previously undefeated Ajose Olusegun and a first-round destruction of contender Mike Dallas.
Rios, though, is a guy who appears to have an anvil in his head. Even in his recent unanimous decision loss against Mike Alvarado, he came away sporting less damage to his face. He'd be there for Matthysse to hit, but getting hit wouldn't make him stop coming forward.
Matthysse's only two career losses came by split decision, to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, so a lot of people feel he deserves to be undefeated. The Alexander decision is among the worst in recent years.
His exciting style combined with his bad luck on the score cards have made Matthysse among the sport's most popular figures. "Bam-Bam" Rios is the kind of fighter who fans know will make for a thrilling fight.
Matthysse is scheduled to take on Lamont Peterson in May. Expect it to be a great fight.
Rios may very well end up in a rubber match with Alvarado later this year. There can be no doubt that's the fight he would want the most.
Undefeated Danny Garcia is The Ring, WBA and WBC 140-pound champion. He shot to the top of the rankings last July when he stopped Amir Khan in four. He followed that up with a highlight-reel, one-punch KO of Erik Morales in November.
In his recent triumphant rematch against Brandon Rios, Mike Alvarado demonstrated that he can adjust in the ring and use boxing skills when necessary. But underneath it he remains a hard-nosed fighter who isn't afraid to slug it out.
I would have to make Garcia the favorite in this matchup. He got to the top of the division for a reason.
Still, Alvarado would be by far his toughest test to date. While he may lack Khan's boxing polish, he's got a world-class chin and would keep coming. He has enough craft to stay competitive with Garcia and unlike Morales, he is a solid 140-pounder in his prime.
This is another fight that could probably never happen, due to the whole Top Rank-Golden Boy deal. It's a damned shame, because this fight would be magnificent, a hard-fought scrap featuring a high level of boxing craft.
Bradley and Guerrero are two of the best technical boxers in the game. Both men are capable of fighting expertly at long, middle and close range. And as their most recent fights demonstrated, both men are true warriors, as tough as they come.
I would give Bradley a distinct advantage in strength and Guerrero a strong edge when it comes to speed. The interesting thing would be to see how each adapted to the other's advantages and managed to create situations that would allow them to employ their own.
Guerrero will fight Floyd Mayweather on May 5. I don't expect him to win, but I do think people will be surprised by how hard the fight ends up being. I just don't see the Ghost giving anybody an easy night, not even the pound-for-pound king.
This would be the kind of fight that the fans always find intriguing, a classic young lion versus old lion showdown.
Coming off of his Round 6, one-punch KO of Manny Pacquiao last December, Marquez, at 39, finds himself suddenly more popular than ever before. But hardcore boxing fans have known how great he was for years.
Marquez is arguably the greatest Mexican champion of all time. For casual fans who don't appreciate the magnitude of that statement, it's like saying that a baseball player is arguably the greatest Yankee of all time
Just 23, Adrien Broner is viewed by many as the future of the sport, Floyd Mayweather's heir. He is an explosive, dangerous puncher who excels at making opponents miss him with their own punches.
If the fight were to happen this year, I believe Marquez would take Broner to school. But Broner's talent is very much for real, and he is at the point in his career where a fighter can still get better every time out. Given what we have seen from him already, it's a scary thought.
I believe if a poll was conducted among boxing fans about the single fight they would most like to see, this would be the one. I see commenters talking about it in nearly every article I read about either Mayweather or Martinez.
It is a tantalizing prospect to be sure. Mayweather is almost universally recognized as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world and most people place Martinez at two, three or four.
Still, I have my doubts that we will ever see it happen. Mayweather started his career at 130 pounds and even when he fought Miguel Cotto last year, he only came in at 151, a full three pounds below the limit. It just might not be realistic to expect him to go all the way up to challenge an extremely dangerous 160-pound champion like Martinez.
Martinez did fight most of his career at welterweight and junior middleweight, but I wouldn't assume that he could easily make 154 again now in his late 30s. Although, if the money was right, I expect he would give it a shot.
The big question is: Would Mayweather be willing to take such a risk, not only to his perfect record, but to his health, as well? Martinez has shown deadly power against much bigger men.
But if Mayweather took this fight and won, it would shut up all but his most irrational haters. Ending his career by beating the middleweight champion, even at a catchweight, would give him an extremely strong argument for all-time, top-five pound-for-pound status.
While I do not think we are likely to ever see a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Sergio Martinez, I have to hold out hope that this one between Martinez and Gennady Golovkin will take place eventually. Hopefully, by the end of the year.
Martinez has been badly in need of a worthy contender for his middleweight crown. Many boxing fans and writers believe that the Kazakhstan native is exactly that. He is a devastating puncher with tremendous physical strength and a rock-solid chin.
Golvokin made his U.S. debut at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York last September 1, already sporting a reputation as the most avoided fighter in Europe. On HBO Boxing After Dark, he brutally dispatched Grzegorz Proksa of Poland, a definite top-10 middleweight, in five rounds.
I covered that fight live and in the press section, people were using words like "scary" and "monster."
Golovkin has fought twice since, stopping Gabriel Rosado in January and Nobuhiro Ishida last month. These are two tough, skilled journeymen, but hardly the kind of opponents Golovkin really deserves.
But other top middleweights have not been lining up to fight him. He's now become the most avoided fighter in the entire sport.
It shouldn't be surprising that Martinez himself has not been in a rush to get Golovkin in the ring. Nearing the end of his career, Martinez cannot be faulted for wanting to get the biggest fights he can at this point, against the biggest names.
But if Golovkin keeps walking through people, he's going to be that guy. I don't believe Sergio Martinez fears any other fighter, so once enough outcry builds up for a fight with Golovkin, expect it to happen.
In May, Wladimir Klitschko is scheduled to face undefeated challenger Francesco Pianeta. I don't believe a single fan in the world outside of Italy, Germany and the Ukraine is excited about this.
Last year, Pianeta recorded stoppages of Oliver McCall and Frans Botha. Those would be fairly impressive wins, if they had happened last century.
Meanwhile, a steady drumbeat of support is building for the Bulgarian, Kubrat Pulev. The 2008 Olympian recorded Round 11 KOs last year against both Alexander Dimitrenko and Alexander Ustinov.
Neither of these two are in Klitschko's class. But they were both legitimate, gigantic heavyweight contenders. And nobody else in the division had two wins as good last year.
Pulev has only fought 17 times as a pro, and Wladimir Klitschko would be a major step up in competition for him. He'd be giving up an inch or two in length, but nothing in weight.
Pulev throws dangerous straight punches and moves well. With his imposing physical stature, there is a reasonable chance that he would be able to put his fist on Wladi's jaw.
Every boxing fan remembers what that has meant in the past.
I'm not going to go out on too much of a limb here. Klitschko would have to be a clear favorite in a fight with the upstart Pulev. But he would at least be a heavyweight title challenger who the fans could get enthusiastic about.
And I can hardly even remember the last time that was the case.