Once upon a time, there were real world champions in boxing. Competing claims might emerge on occasion, but if they were legitimate, they were generally resolved in the ring in a prompt manner.
By and large, the world champion at each weight class was clearly established, and there was only one.
Then, in the 1960s, the WBA and WBC emerged with competing claims to legitimacy, and the two sanctioning bodies began to recognize competing champions.
Still, there were only two world champions, and unification bouts happened with regularity.
But in the 1980s and '90s, the picture began to get more complicated, with the formation of the IBF and then the WBO. Not only do all four promotional organizations recognize their own champions at each weight class, they also frequently muddy the waters by recognizing all kinds of different "interim" and "super" world champions.
In today's boxing world, not everybody holding an alphabet-soup title is even a legitimate top-10 fighter in his weight class. Even many die-hard fans barely pay attention to them.
Still, many of the recognized world champions are major stars. And there are a bunch of potential title-unification fights that would be blockbusters.
I doubt we'll ever see boxing get back to the point where there is only one world champion. But more unification bouts would still be a trend in the right direction.
Jhonny Gonzalez and Orlando Salido both regained world titles in 2013, demonstrating that they have plenty left in the tank, even after years of ring wars. A battle between these two veteran champions from Mexico would be a potential Fight of the Year if it happened in 2014.
Unfortunately, this fight is extremely unlikely to happen. Gonzalez fights for Golden Boy and Salido fights for Top Rank, so this potential fight is another victim of the cold war that exists between the sport's top two promoters.
My best guess is that Gonzalez's next fight will be with Abner Mares, who he knocked out in Round 1 last August to capture the belt. I can see Salido defending against Nonito Donaire.
This past weekend, former WBO featherweight champion Mikey Garcia made his super featherweight debut and captured the WBO title with a Round 8, body-shot KO of Rocky Martinez. Garcia recovered quickly from a flash knockdown in Round 2 to control the fight and turn in a dominant performance.
In his post-fight, in-ring interview with HBO's Max Kellerman, Garcia welcomed the possibility of fighting fellow unbeaten knockout artist and interim WBA lightweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.
That would be a great fight and has more box office potential at the moment, but a unification bout with Takashi Uchiyama would likely be a thriller as well. Uchiyama is 20-0-1 with 17 KOs, and his draw was a three-round technical draw with Michael Farenas. The Japanese WBA champ has blown out everybody else.
And his list of opponents is a pretty good one. Among Uchiyama's knockout victims are Bryan Vasquez, Jorge Solis and Juan Carlos Salgado.
The light welterweight division has been among the most exciting in the sport over the past couple of years. In September, WBA and WBC champion Danny Garcia defended his belts in impressive fashion against Lucas Matthysse, winning a unanimous decision against the Argentinian gunslinger in one of the year's most anticipated fights.
Meanwhile, in October, "The Siberian Rocky" Ruslan Provodnikov went into Mike Alvarado's hometown and took his WBO title by Round 10 stoppage.
The IBF belt is irrelevant in this division. It's officially held by Lamont Peterson, but Matthysse slaughtered him by Round 3 TKO last May in a non-title fight.
So a showdown between Garcia and Provodnikov would effectively establish an undisputed champion in the weight class. Unfortunately, this is another potential blockbuster fight that is probably impossible due to the bad blood between Golden Boy and Top Rank.
Over the past five years, the biggest story in boxing hasn't been about any staged fight but instead about the bout that could never be made between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. If Pacquiao looks impressive in his fight against Brandon Rios later this month, some of that talk will pick back up.
But I think most fans have given up on that fight and are sick of talking about it.
Timothy Bradley captured the WBO welterweight title with his split-decision victory over Pacquiao in June 2012. It was among the most controversial decisions in recent years, but even if Bradley didn't deserve the win, he still turned in a game performance on two badly injured legs and largely negated Pacman's normally explosive offense.
This year has been terrific for Bradley. Last March, he survived a war with Ruslan Provodnikov to win what might be 2013's Fight of the Year. Last Month, he turned in the best performance of his career, beating Juan Manuel Marquez by split decision.
A unification fight between Bradley and Mayweather is probably impossible for the same reason that Mayweather vs. Pacquiao was ultimately impossible. Like Pacquiao, Bradley is promoted by Bob Arum and Top Rank.
Still, I think it's possible that Bradley will push harder than Pacquiao ever did to make this fight happen. I think he would relish the chance to face the pound-for-pound king, and his rugged, defensive style might provide more trouble for Mayweather than anyone else at welterweight or junior middleweight.
More than any other division in the sport, middleweight has true potential for establishing an undisputed champion. The four belt-holders—Sergio Martinez (WBC), Gennady Golovkin (WBA), Peter Quillin (WBO) and Darren Barker (IBF)—can legitimately be ranked as the true top four of the division.
Martinez, Golovkin and Barker have all fought on HBO in in their most recent fights, and Golovkin has emerged as the cable network's new rising star. It is likely that he will negotiate unification fights with both fellow champions next year, if they are willing to fight him.
As a Golden Boy fighter, Quillin is locked in with Showtime. But since none of the other titleholders is with Top Rank, it shouldn't be impossible to work out a deal for him to fight for an undisputed world championship.
Middleweight has always been among the sport's premier divisions, and it would be great for boxing to have a true undisputed champion there again.
One of this year's biggest boxing stories has been the way Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson have suddenly turned the light heavyweight division into one of the sport's hottest weight classes. They are destructive punchers who electrify fans, and both become world champions this year.
Stevenson shocked the boxing world last June when he knocked out longtime star Chad Dawson in Round 1 to capture the WBC belt. He looked outstanding in his first defense against former champion Tavoris Cloud last September when he won by Round 7 TKO.
In this first half of 2013, Kovalev recorded a pair of Round 3 TKOs over former champion Gabriel Campillo and once-beaten contender Cornelius White. In August, he traveled to Wales and captured the WBO belt by dispatching previously unbeaten Nathan Cleverly by Round 4 TKO.
Kovalev and Stevenson are both scheduled to defend their belts at the end of this month on an HBO Boxing After Dark show from Quebec. Stevenson will face Tony Bellew, while Kovalev will defend against Ismayl Sillakh.
If this night goes according to plan for HBO, expect a unification bout between Stevenson and Kovalev to be one of HBO's major fights in the first part of 2014.