The Biggest Storyline Surrounding Every Marquee Fight Scheduled in 2013
In boxing, there is no playoff season. There is no final game or series that everything builds towards, like a Super Bowl or World Series.
For fighters, especially at the highest levels, it's a final, championship-game atmosphere every time they get into the ring. Nearly every fight has the potential to make or break a fighter's career.
When it's a marquee fight featuring major, pound-for-pound stars, the atmosphere runs as electric as a rock concert and a championship sporting event combined.
Prizefighting, by its nature, provides the greatest drama in sports. It's man-to-man action, with no teammates to fall back on. It's two mere mortals, scrapping for all they are worth, with everything they have.
And every prizefight has its storylines. These are the human backstories that make a fight unique and relevant.
Once a fight begins, what happens in the ring is all that matters. But the stories of the two warriors, and what brought them together, play a huge part in making us want to watch.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios: November 23
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On November 23, Filipino congressman and international boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao faces all-action Brandon Rios in Macao, China. This fight has tremendous potential to be very exciting.
But I don't really see what the fight does for Pacquaio's career, aside from furnishing him with another payday.
Rios is nearly always involved in exciting fights and has a lot of fans as a result, but he's coming off from a loss to Mike Alvarado and is not generally regarded as a high-level, pound-for-pound star.
If Pacquiao wins this fight, even in exciting fashion, he will merely have won a fight he was expected to win. If he loses, his career is probably over. That's an incredibly skewed risk-reward ratio for a star of Pacquiao's standing.
No matter what the outcome here, this fight benefits Top Rank and Bob Arum far more than it does Manny Pacquiao. Top Rank has been taking aggressive steps to open up the potentially huge Chinese market in the past year, after having signed former Chinese amateur standout Zou Shiming.
In November, Top Rank will put on one of the biggest fights of the year in China, featuring one of the sport's biggest stars. It's an historic event.
If Pacquiao wins, Top Rank is in good position to either set up a fifth fight for Pacman with longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez or else create a rematch with Timothy Bradley. If Rios wins, he becomes that much more valuable to Top Rank over the next few years.
Lucas Matthysse vs. Danny Garcia: September 14
Lucas Matthysse vs. Danny Garcia will be a cofeature on the Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez pay-per-view on Mexican Independence Day weekend. Although it is the only fight on this list that is not a main event, it will nevertheless be the most hotly anticipated showdown of the fall for many fans.
The WBA, WBC and lineal light welterweight championships are all on the line here. The winner will be viewed as the unquestioned top dog at 140, to the extent that this is still possible in a boxing world where the two top promoters in the sport refuse to do business with each other.
Danny Garcia burst into boxing prominence in July of last year when he beat the stuffing out of Amir Khan and won by Round 4 TKO. In October, Garcia rematched with future Hall of Famer Erik Morales, knocking him out in the fourth with one of the most perfectly thrown left hooks of the year. In April, Garcia beat Zab Judah by unanimous decision.
Matthysse will enter this fight as perhaps the hottest athlete in the sport. He's stopped six straight opponents since losing by split decision in June of 2011 to Devon Alexander, a decision which was almost universally regarded as a travesty of justice.
Last May Matthysse brutalized IBF light welterweight belt holder Lamont Peterson, stopping him by Round 3 TKO. Peterson had lost previously to Timothy Bradley but had never been flat-out steamrolled as he was against Matthysse.
This is exactly the fight that boxing fans want to see at 140 pounds. Both men are dangerous fighters, with bright futures lined up in front of them.
This is a fight that will play a big role in shaping the future of the sport.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Timothy Bradley: October 12
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Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley both beat Manny Pacquiao last year, and on October 12 they will face off in in Las Vegas.
Marquez will have turned 40 by the time he enters the ring, and there is a chance this will be the last roundup for one of the greatest Mexican boxers of all time.
Of course, to merely note that Marquez and Bradley both beat Manny Pacquiao last year is to seriously gloss over two of the biggest boxing stories of 2012. When Bradley beat Pacquiao by split decision on June 9, 2012, it was one of the most strenuously criticized judging performances of this century.
Bradley got back in action last March and survived a fierce 12-round shootout against Ruslan Provodnikov, in which Bradley appeared nearly out cold on his feet on two separate occasions. It would be my choice for fight of the year, if the year ended right now.
Marquez faced Pacquiao last December, in the fourth meeting between the two future Hall of Famers. Pacman held a 2-0-1 advantage over Marquez, though neither of Pac's wins had been unanimous decisions, and both had been criticized by a large percentage of boxing fans and commentators. This time Marquez forced a definitive conclusion, knocking his longtime rival out cold with a perfect right-hand counter at the very end of Round 6.
I am looking forward to Marquez vs. Bradley, but there is a good chance this ends up being the sort of fight enjoyed more by boxing purists than the average fan, who values action over everything else. Marquez and Bradley are both tactical counterpunchers.
Although I consider Marquez the better all-around fighter, I am not convinced he will win this one. Bradley is an extremely strong, physical fighter with an awkward style. I expect him to make it difficult for Marquez to get enough space to maneuver and create angles to counterattack.
Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin: October 5
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The biggest storyline about Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin is that it is finally happening, after all these years. Povetkin was being talked about as a challenger for the Klitschko brothers as far back as 2008 when he was coming off back-to-back victories over Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers.
The WBA would like to frame the storyline here as being about unifying Klitschko's WBA super world championship with Povetkin's WBA regular world championship. But to push that angle merely underscores the WBA's absurd practice of creating phony world champions like Povetkin.
Povetkin captured the WBA's second place trinket back in August of 2011 when he beat former belt holder Ruslan Chagaev by unanimous decision. At the time it was assumed this fight was a warm-up for Povetkin before he challenged Wladimir Klitschko.
Instead, Povetkin has spent the past two years beating two 40-year-old guys (Cedric Boswell and Hasim Rahman), a cruiserweight (Marco Huck) and an obscure, undefeated fighter (Andrzej Wawrzyk). He stopped Boswell, Rahman and Wawrzyk, but he struggled to come away with a majority decision against Huck.
But last April, Russian promoter and adviser to Povetkin, Vladimir Hryunov, put up a purse bid of over $20 million dollars to make the fight happen in Russia this fall. The fight was officially announced on the Klitschko Management Group website at the beginning of July.
I don't give Alexander Povetkin very good odds for beating Klitschko, but he will probably be the best opponent the champ has faced in many fights. Povetkin has been regarded by most rankings as the third best heavyweight for about half a decade now.
It's well past time he challenged the Klitschkos' dominance head on.
Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez: September 14
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In any Floyd Mayweather fight, Mayweather's perfect record is always going to be a large part of the storyline. Whether they love him or hate him, boxing fans are always anxious to see whether Mayweather will be able to keep his streak going.
Despite a significant deficit in experience, Saul Alvarez might have the best chance of any recent opponent to beat Mayweather. The exciting, red-headed Mexican star will carry a 20-pound weight advantage with him by the time both fighters enter the ring on fight night.
This fight is a showdown between the biggest star in the sport today and the fighter who could very likely become the biggest star of tomorrow. Alvarez is already the most popular fighter in North America. A stellar performance against the pound-for-pound king will legitimize his standing in the box office.
I don't think most boxing fans expect Alvarez to beat Mayweather, but Alvarez has a lot of diehard fans who believe in him. This fight will be held on Mexican Independence Day weekend, traditionally among the biggest boxing weekends of the year.
Featuring the Matthysse-Garcia fight already profiled here, this pay-per-view has a chance to pull in some very big numbers, but in today's economy, it's unlikely to outsell Mayweather's fight with Oscar De La Hoya in 2008.
Still, there's no question that September 14 is going to be a huge night for boxing.