Ranking the Top Candidates for 2013 Fighter of the Year
Summer isn't even officially over, so it's still too early to talk seriously about Fighter of the Year candidates. Too many big names still have fights on the schedule or the potential to add them.
But with two-thirds of the year behind us now, the field is definitely taking shape.
And this year, unlike other recent years, there is no clear-cut leader as we head into the final turn. Barring some sort of major upset, I doubt the choice will be completely obvious even when we are making our holiday toasts at the end of December.
Last year we had Nonito Donaire going 4-0 with one-sided victories over a quartet of world-class champions. In 2011 Andre Ward wrapped up the final chapter of his dominant march through the Showtime Super Six Super Middleweight Tournament.
Nobody has such an obvious case this year. But even if the boxing calender ended now, there would be worthy candidates to consider.
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Guillermo Rigondeaux has only fought once this year, in April, and it seems unlikely at this point that he will fight again this year. So based on nothing but his activity level, he's a long shot for Fighter of the Year.
Still, his single fight was against Nonito Donaire, and he handed the 2012 Fighter of the Year a boxing lesson.
Amazingly, it was the two-time Olympic gold medalist's 12th professional fight.
Rigondeaux's performance dazzled serious fans. His masterful control of distance in the ring made it nearly impossible for the normally dangerous Donaire to get into position to attack.
Unfortunately, in today's age of improperly educated fans, there seems to be minimal enthusiasm for an accomplishment as spectacular as taking away the offense from an offensively explosive fighter.
But in addition to his defensive wizardry, Rigo has knockout power.
He's the greatest amateur boxer of all time and has skyrocketed through the professional game more quickly than any fighter of the modern era. So if HBO would get him back on the air, they could build an audience for him.
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If any other boxer had turned in the kind of one-sided performances that Floyd Mayweather recorded against Robert Guerrero and Saul Alvarez this year, he would be the front-runner for Fighter of the Year.
But the award has a tendency to go to fighters who have exceeded expectations, and Mayweather didn't do anything unexpected. Still, it's hard to argue that Mayweather's 24 rounds this year weren't the best turned in by anybody in the sport.
Incidentally, for the two or three readers who haven't heard: Judge C.J. Ross' 114-114 card in Mayweather's fight with Alvarez will probably be the worst card turned in by any judge in a championship fight this year. It's even worse than her 115-113 for Timothy Bradley over Manny Pacquiao last year. The woman has absolutely no business judging fights.
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Sergey Kovalev entered the year with a record of 19-0-1 with 17 knockouts. A lot of fans were aware of him as an exciting light heavyweight prospect, but he'd yet to receive much major exposure.
But 2013 has been his breakout year. In January he completely walked through former world champion Gabriel Campillo, winning by Round 3 TKO. In June he won by Round 3 TKO again, this time against 21-1 Cornelius White.
In August, Kovalev went to Wales to battle WBO champion Nathan Cleverly in front of Cleverly's hometown crowd. Cleverly is a skilled technical boxer with great conditioning, and a lot of boxing media on both sides of the Atlantic favored him over Kovalev.
Instead the Russian Destroyer rolled to victory once more, pounding the champion and stopping him by Round 4 TKO.
Given his busy schedule and the short nights he has put in so far, there is still time in the year for Kovalev to add to his case.
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Mikey Garcia entered this year undefeated and highly regarded. At 25, he had clearly established himself as a legitimate contender.
Once 2013 began, he wasted little time taking his career to the next level. In January he knocked down WBO featherweight champion Orlando Salido three times en route to a completely one-sided technical decision.
In June Garcia took just four rounds to dissect and demolish the explosive Juan Manuel Lopez.
Garcia moves up to 130 in November to fight WBO super featherweight champion Roman Martinez. If he wins, which I expect he will, it will give him world titles in two divisions inside of one calender year.
That should make him a leading contender on everybody's Fighter of the Year ballot.
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Danny Garcia was on the short list for Fighter of the Year last year, when he went 3-0 with 2 KOs and collected the WBC, WBA and Ring light welterweight titles.
He's only gone 2-0 this year and hasn't knocked out anybody, but once again he will get Fighter of the Year consideration in 2013.
In April, Garcia beat Zab Judah. Judah is not quite what he used to be, but he remains a world-class talent at light welterweight, and Garcia beat him by fairly wide margins.
On the Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez pay-per-view, Garcia faced Lucas Matthysse in one of the year's most hotly anticipated bouts. Despite his breakthrough 2012 and collection of championship hardware, Garcia was the betting underdog against the Argentinian gunslinger.
Instead Garcia closed Matthysse's right eye and convincingly out-boxed him en route to a unanimous-decision win. In the process, he moved himself to near the front of the line for a potential shot at Floyd Mayweather.
Juan Francisco Estrada
In November 2012 Juan Francisco Estrada lost a unanimous decision to WBA light flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez. It was a closer fight than most challengers have given Gonzalez but still a fairly one-sided loss.
But in 2013, Estrada moved up to full flyweight and found a very comfortable home there. In April he went to China and beat veteran WBO and WBA champion Brian Viloria by a split decision that I don't think was actually very close.
In July, Estrada handed top-rated contender Milan Melindo the first loss of his career in a one-sided unanimous decision. At this point, Estrada has established himself as the top 112-pound fighter in the world.
Estrada is just 23 and one of the hottest young talents in the sport.
Undefeated WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin made his U.S. Debut last September 1 at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York on an episode of HBO's Boxing After Dark. He beat European middleweight champion Grzegorz Proksa by a brutal Round 5 TKO.
American boxing nuts have barely stopped talking about him since.
In January, Golovkin beat Gabriel Rosado by Round 7 TKO. In March he completely demolished Nobuhiro Ishida of Japan by Round 3 KO.
In June Golovkin faced the highly rated Matthew Macklin. Macklin had given very competitive rounds to Sergio Martinez and dropped a split decision against former champion Felix Sturm in a fight many thought he deserved to win.
It was supposed to be a serious step up in competition, but it didn't work out that way.
Golovkin's power had Macklin on the defensive from the start, and Golovkin knocked him out with a single body shot in Round 3.
Golovkin is scheduled to face Curtis Stevens in November. Stevens has too much power for it to be a sure thing, but GGG will be a heavy betting favorite.
A win will make him 4-0 for the year against the best opponents willing to sign up and face him.