Even as fiction, Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa character was the epitome of a reckless tough guy in the ring.
Perhaps Rocky Balboa—or Sylvester Stallone, for you sticklers—said it best:
“To beat me, he's going to have to kill me. And to kill me, he's gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he's got to be willing to die himself.”
Though those words were scripted for Balboa as he prepared to take on indestructible Soviet behemoth Ivan Drago in 1985’s Rocky IV, their variations still ring true for fight fans 28 years later when pondering the sport’s current hell-bent-for-leather crowd.
You know the type—not concerned with style points, shoulder rolls or evasive maneuvers.
Instead, they enter the ring with a simple mantra: come persistently forward, relentlessly stalk their competitive quarry, and, in best-case scenarios, render it defenseless.
Click through to see the 10 fighters that we feel best exemplify the aforementioned Balboa creed.
Donaire pounded Jorge Arce into retirement with left hooks like this one, en route to a third-round KO win last December.
Sure, his stock plummeted dramatically following a curiously ineffectual effort against Guillermo Rigondeaux last weekend in New York City, but, lest we forget, “Filipino Flash” entered that fight as a solid betting favorite on a decade-plus unbeaten run.
And not all of it was due to promoter Bob Arum’s powers of persuasion.
Rather, Donaire worked his way into some pound-for-pound discussion with a high-end work ethic, a textbook left hook and the wherewithal to willingly wander into harm’s way while aiming to land spirit-sapping shots on his opponent.
He got on the map with a one-shot elimination of then-flyweight kingpin Vic Darchinyan. Then, he continued the ascent through the 118- and 122-pound classes while building a worldwide fan base drawn to his enviable mix of skills. A December punchout of Mexican veteran Jorge Arce again demonstrated his willingness to go nose-to-nose with a renowned bomber.
Arum has already floated the idea of a return at featherweight later this year against Top Rank stablemate Juan Manuel Lopez in what could be a serious contender for 2013’s Fight of the Year (h/t BoxingScene.com).
Promotional wrangling between Golden Boy and Top Rank played a sizable role in keeping Mares out of the ring with the aforementioned Donaire this year, but the 27-year-old Mexican—who now lives in California—will no doubt continue his positive trajectory, even without that big fight.
Mares toiled outside the spotlight for some five years after turning pro in 2005, but he quickly climbed the ladder in 2010 with a defeat of Vic Darchinyan for the IBO title at 118 pounds. This was followed by consecutive decisions over Joseph Agbeko that both earned and kept the IBF’s share of the title.
A shade less than 5'5", Mares makes up for his nondescript stature with a vicious commitment to working his opponent’s body, a tactic that he used to its fullest and most brutal extent in 2012 victories over former champs Eric Morel and Anselmo Moreno in a brief pit stop at 122 pounds.
The new year brings a new challenge and will see Mares jump, yet again, to featherweight, where he will take on Daniel Ponce De Leon for the WBC title on May 4 in Las Vegas, on the undercard of the welterweight match between challenger Robert Guerrero and champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Guerrero rose from a 10th-round knockdown to finish off a unanimous decision over Joel Casamayor for his first big-name win.
The first few minutes of Showtime’s first “All Access” piece promoting Guerrero’s upcoming mega-event at 147 pounds gives a quick indication of where this guy comes from.
He burst onto the screen behind the wheel of a dirt-gnashing pickup and is described as a gun-toting good ’ol boy—a drastic contrast from Mayweather’s glitzy, diamond-encrusted persona.
The comparison translates aptly to the ring as well, where the Gilroy, Calif. native earned his stripes at welterweight by pounding out a brutal 12-round verdict over Andre Berto last November—while also getting hit more in 36 minutes than his soon-to-be foe has been hit in 36 fights.
In reality, though, Guerrero proved his reckless mettle long before he reached Mayweather’s radar, winning his first title at featherweight in 2006 and blasting out Martin Honorio in one round a year later. That was just days after learning that his wife, Casey, had been diagnosed with leukemia.
He got off the floor to beat Joel Casamayor at lightweight in 2010, then used his 147-pound debut with tough Turk Selcuk Aydin—a unanimous 12-round win—to prove that he could give and take with even bigger boys.
Recently, a New York arrest for carrying an unlicensed firearm provided street cred for those who prefer their recklessness outside of the ring as well. His court date is a few days after the Mayweather fight.
If you don’t believe that this guy is as tough as he looks, just ask Victor Ortiz.
At one point regarded as a high-end prospect—thanks to the folks at Golden Boy—Ortiz had both his body and his confidence battered in a memorable six-round smash-up with Maidana four years ago in Los Angeles.
The Argentine got off the deck in Rounds 1 and 2, then proceeded with a systematic beatdown that led to Ortiz’s memorable in-ring surrender that initially threatened his career.
In seven fights since, Maidana has gone 5-2—losing only to Amir Khan, at the time a super lightweight belt-holder, and later to Devon Alexander, now a champion at welterweight.
He finished Victor Cayo, then 24-0, with a single body shot, dropped former champ DeMarcus Corley en route to a wide 12-round points win, and, more recently, stopped contender Jesus Soto Karass in a street fight in which both men were penalized for hitting on the break.
He’ll face Josesito Lopez—another Ortiz conqueror—in a 12-rounder for a regional welterweight belt on June 8, with a chance to firmly establish himself as the resident tough guy in his newest division.
Froch turned his career around in 2012 with consecutive stoppages of Lucian Bute and Yusaf Mack (above) in a combined eight rounds.
Recklessness, and success for that matter, don’t always come with age.
Unless, apparently, you’re Carl Froch.
The favorite of a particularly rabid fan base in Nottingham, England, the “Cobra” bounced back from a wide 2011 scorecard loss to Andre Ward with a brutal KO of previously unbeaten Lucian Bute that let him regain a share of the super middleweight championship.
A subsequent stoppage of American Yusaf Mack prompted Froch to turn his aim toward the only men who have ever beaten him—he’s 30-2 in 11 years as a pro—namely Ward and Danish ex-champ Mikkel Kessler.
He’ll face Kessler, who outpointed him over 12 rounds in Denmark three years ago, in another 12-rounder for the IBF and WBA 168-pound belts at home in Nottingaham on May 25.
Froch set the stage for brutality at a pre-fight press conference in London, saying the second go-round would likely be "savage."
He’s flabby around the belly, he's inked on most of his upper torso and he’s not at all averse to engaging in voluminous quantities of pre-fight trash talk.
Still, as much as you think he looks like the bouncer at the neighborhood bar down the street, the 32-year-old Arreola remains a viable force on the outskirts of heavyweight contention.
The brash Mexican-American climbed the rankings—and built a following—with a series of quick stoppages on HBO, including a particularly brutal three-round takedown of previously unbeaten Chazz Witherspoon on an Andre Berto undercard five years ago in Memphis.
He found himself in the ring with a less reckless, but more qualified, Vitali Klitschko a year later, then dropped another bout with Tomasz Adamek a year later in his California backyard.
Seven fights since have yielded five KO wins, a pair of decisions and the occasional light moment, like when he gave Joey Abell a smooch on the cheek as referee Tony Crebs intervened to stop their ESPN bout after just 148 seconds in 2011.
Though his quest to become the first Mexican-American heavyweight champ may not end favorably, Arreola will no doubt reign as the undisputed heavyweight kingpin of bar fights.
Denver tough guy Alvarado bounced back from a seventh-round TKO loss to Brandon Rios to defeat his rival over 12 rounds last month.
To those mourning the 10 years that have passed since Arturo Gatti wrapped up a memorable three-fight rivalry with Micky Ward, weep no more.
Colorado-born Mike Alvarado seems willing enough—and reckless enough—to hold up his own end in a trilogy for a new generation.
Previously unbeaten before a seventh-round TKO loss to Brandon Rios last fall, he bounced back in unlikely fashion to grind out a narrow 12-round victory—and hand Rios his first loss in 32 pro fights—when they met for the second time in March in Las Vegas.
Like his rumbling brethren a decade ago, Alvarado has rarely met a fight that he didn’t like, showing a taste for the sort of interior grinding that had yielded 23 KOs in 33 wins prior to the first Rios match.
He faced the typical flotsam and jetsam on the way up, then burst into the spotlight with a blowout of Ray Narh in 2011, in which his 25-1 foe chose not to answer the bell for Round 4.
A 10th-round TKO of Colombian Breidis Prescott—a former one-round conqueror of Amir Khan—followed six months later and put him squarely in the sights of Rios for what was widely considered to be 2012’s Fight of the Year.
It’s among the most daunting possible sights for a fighter: You punctuate an exchange with a strong left or right hand, but, rather than reeling across the ring or falling down, the opponent merely smiles wickedly, smacks his hands together and charges forward with designs on landing some impactful shots of his own.
That taste for engagement has been one of the primary mental weapons for Manny Pacquiao while jumping, jiving and wailing his way through multiple divisions, en route to a spotlight role as a welterweight since his punishing defeat of Oscar de la Hoya in 2008.
Regardless of whether you think the most recent bout with Juan Manuel Marquez signaled justice or a fluke—or whether you believe Floyd Mayweather Jr. would fall at his feet or steal his lunch money—it’s hard to argue that Pacquiao’s been as recklessly exciting as any fighter in the last several years.
He took several hard shots from Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito en route to decisive victories over both former champs, and was surging in the fourth Marquez match before running into the one right hand that ended a win streak that stretched back to 2005.
Need more proof? Pacquiao reportedly told PhilStar.com this week that he wants Marquez for a fifth go-round for his September comeback fight (via BoxingNews24.com).
Though he's not won a major title fight since 2011, Darchinyan, nicknamed "Raging Bull," remains among the sport's premier action fighters.
No one will ever confuse Vic Darchinyan with Pernell Whitaker.
And no, it’s not likely that the Aussie’s in-ring style will be fodder for a textbook anytime soon.
Still, even after nearly 13 years in the pro ranks, the man known as “Raging Bull” remains a viable—and entertaining—commodity among the sport’s little guys.
Now 37, the powerful lefty’s caveman-like style has long been a signature element from flyweight to bantamweight, allowing him to pick up titles at 112, 115 and 118 pounds while scoring 27 knockouts in 38 victories.
Of course, the wide-open, seek-and-destroy style leaves him open to return volleys as well, as was evidenced in 2007 when Nonito Donaire stopped him with a precise left hook and wrested his IBF and IBO hardware.
He’s not been stopped since, but was beaten by tight decisions against Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares in 2009 and 2010, then he lost wider verdicts to Anselmo Moreno and Shinsuke Yamanaka in 2011 and 2012.
Darchinyan came back with a 10-round win in a comeback fight in September, and he has another fight scheduled for May 11, as he begins one presumably final push toward the elite.
If you’re a member of the rock ’em, sock ’em crowd, chances are you’re a Rios fan.
The Texan-turned-Californian, who’ll turn 27 later this month, has already packed a career’s worth of highlights into a series of recent fights that have put him among the top talents in two weight classes.
He scored three knockdowns on the way to a 10th-round stoppage of Miguel Acosta to win a lightweight belt in February 2011, and he then defended it memorably five months later with a three-round KO of Urbano Antillon that left the crowd at Carson, Calif.’s Home Depot Center gasping for air.
Little did they know, he was just warming up.
Bob Arum brought Rios to Manhattan for an 11th-round halting of John Murray to wrap-up 2011. Then, after a desultory effort got him a dubious split decision over Richard Abril, he began a 140-pound miniseries with Mike Alvarado that’s already drawn comparisons to the Gatti-Ward rivalry of a decade ago.
Though it was in a recap of the Antillon fight that Showtime commentator Al Bernstein said, “From the opening moments, these two fighters planted themselves in the center of the ring and battled away,” it’s a tag that could legitimately be hung on any of Rios’ fights.