Fortunes can rise and fall quickly in boxing. Fighting only a few times a year, a boxer has limited opportunities to make a big impression or overcome a setback.
To simply keep winning at the world-class level is a major challenge. To win with style or in an overwhelming manner is rare indeed.
So, it's no surprise that getting to the top in the fight-game can take years of hard work and patience. But, the fighters on this list made huge strides in 2013 and will enter next year in position to land some of the biggest fights in the sport.
This will probably go down as a bittersweet year for Guillermo Rigondeaux. The two-time Olympic gold medalist from Cuba has received as much attention for his inability to build a huge fanbase as he has for his stellar work in the ring.
That's a shame because what Rigo did in the ring during 2013 was close to unprecedented in the history of the sport. In April, in just his 12th professional fight, Rigondeaux challenged pound-for-pound superstar Nonito Donaire.
Rigo's tremendous talent was obvious, but a majority of fans still doubted he could be ready for a seasoned and dangerous professional like Donaire.
But Rigondeaux not only won, he made it look easy. He handed one of the sport's most dominant fighters in recent years a boxing lesson.
The more casual fans might need to catch up to the Rigondeaux bandwagon, but for the boxing purists, there is no doubt. We know that we are seeing an incredibly rare talent.
When the opportunity arose to fight IBF featherweight champion Billy Dib on just a month's notice last February, Evgeny Gradovich jumped on it. And on the March 1 edition of ESPN2's Friday Night Fights, the former Russian amateur outworked Dib to earn a split-decision victory and become a world champion in just his 16th professional fight.
Gradovich is trained by Robert Garcia and has earned the nickname "The Mexican Russian" from his training partners. After capturing the belt, he stayed in the gym and gathered steam as the year progressed.
In July, he shut out Mauricio Munoz by unanimous decision. In November, he faced Dib in a rematch on the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios undercard. This time, he handed the Australian a one-sided beatdown, winning by Round 9 TKO.
Mikey Garcia entered 2013 regarded as one of the sport's most promising young fighters. He had a 30-0 record with 26 KOs.
In January, he captured the WBO featherweight title from Orlando Salido. He knocked the tough veteran down three times en route to a one-sided technical decision.
Garcia lost his belt on the scales in June prior to his fight with Juan Manuel Lopez. But, he was outstanding in the ring once again, blitzing the normally explosive Lopez and routing him via Round 4 TKO.
He capped the year off in November against WBO super featherweight champion Roman Martinez. Garcia came back from a flash knockdown in Round 2 and dominated the rest of the way, before stopping Martinez by Round 8 KO.
Ruslan Provodnikov came into this year with a reputation as a tough-nosed pressure fighter. In March, he faced Timothy Bradley in a fight I would regard as the 2013 Fight of the Year if a vote were held today.
Provodnikov forced the normally careful Bradley into a brutal war. He had Bradley out on his feet in both of the first two rounds and came back strong in the final round to drop Bradley and nearly end the fight again. Bradley survived with a razor-thin unanimous decision.
In October, Provodnikov went to Denver to face WBO light welterweight champion Mike Alvarado in Alvarado's hometown. Provodnikov physically mauled Alvarado, knocking him down twice in Round 8 and ultimately winning the belt by Round 10 TKO.
Provodnikov will enter 2014 regarded by the fans as one of boxing's most exciting fighters. He's been mentioned as a possible opponent for Manny Pacquiao—even though both men share a trainer in Freddie Roach.
It's hard to drive your stock up much higher when you already hold two world titles. But, WBA and WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia did precisely that in 2013.
Garcia's showdown with Lucas Matthysse on the Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez undercard was among the most anticipated fights of the year. Matthysse was 34-2 with 32 KOs and was fresh off from a brutal Round 3 TKO of IBF champion Lamont Peterson.
Matthysse was one of the sport's hottest fighters, surging in popularity on the strength of a six-KO streak.
But, Garcia was able to use accurate punching and smart, tactical boxing to close Matthysse's eye and beat him by a comfortable unanimous decision. It established Garcia as the clear No. 1 fighter at 140 and put him in the running for a shot at Floyd Mayweather.
On paper, 2012 should have been Timothy Bradley's year. In June, he beat Manny Pacquiao by split decision to remain undefeated and capture the WBO welterweight belt.
But, few fans or writers felt Bradley should have won, and the backlash against him was vociferous. Bradley sat out the rest of 2012.
When he returned to action in March of this year, it was against the rugged Ruslan Provodnikov. Fighting like he had something to prove, Bradley took more chances than is normal for him and nearly ended up getting knocked out in both of the first two rounds.
Bradley took control of the middle portion of the fight but had to withstand another scare in the final round, before surviving with a narrow-decision win in one of the year's most brutal and exciting fights.
Bradley returned to action in October against Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez. The result was an exciting but tactical fight in which Bradley had the opportunity to display the full range of his skills. Bradley won by split decision; although, I honestly didn't think the fight was that close.
In November 2012, Erislandy Lara fought to a Round 9 technical draw against previously unbeaten Vanes Martirosyan. Although I thought Lara definitely deserved to win the fight, it was hardly a thrilling performance, and in the ultra-competitive 154-pound division, it pushed the former Cuban amateur star to the back burner.
This year, Lara has forced himself back to the front of the line. The tricky southpaw survived two knockdowns to stop Alfredo Angulo by Round 10 TKO in June.
On Dec. 7, Lara made his major statement for the year, knocking down Austin Trout and winning a unanimous decision by wide margins. It was a far more dominant win than Saul Alvarez was able to manage against Trout last April.
Lara, like his countryman Guillermo Rigondeaux, is still waiting for the more casual boxing fans to catch up to him. But after his performance against Trout, he should be at the top of the list to fight anybody at junior middleweight.
In September 2012, WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin made his United States debut on HBO's Boxing After Dark, starching tough Polish contender Gregorz Proksa by Round 5 TKO. GGG created an immediate sensation and ended the year with as much buzz as almost any fighter in the sport.
Golovkin fought four times in 2013. In January, he beat tough journeyman Gabriel Rosado by Round 8 TKO while fighting with a bad case of the flu. In March, he smashed Nobuhiro Ishida by Round 3 KO.
In June, Golovkin finally found a top-five middleweight willing to meet him in the ring as Matthew Macklin challenged him. Macklin has a history of acquitting himself well in title fights, but against GGG, he was just another punching bag, going down to a brutal body-shot KO in Round 3.
Golovkin finished his year in November against Curtis Stevens, a rugged middleweight with a long record of knocking people out at light heavyweight and super middleweight. Golovkin stopped him in Round 8 to go 4-0 for the year with 4 KOs.
This has been a very good year for fighters from the former Soviet Union territories and a very good year for light heavyweights. These two trends converge in the figure of Sergey Kovalev.
In 2013, Kovalev established himself as the 175-pound version of Gennady Golovkin. He's a very solid technical boxer with freakish punching power.
Golovkin started the year by destroying former world champion Gabriel Campillo by Round 3 TKO in January. In June, he stopped 21-1 Cornelius White in three, as well.
In August, Kovalev traveled to Wales to challenge WBO champion Nathan Cleverly in his own hometown. Kovalev smashed him by Round 4 TKO.
Kovalev finished his year on Nov. 30 in Montreal, defending his new title against Ismayl Sillakh on the undercard to Adonis Stevenson vs. Tony Bellew. Sillakh is a highly regarded former amateur from the Ukraine, and he gave Kovalev a tough opening round.
But, Kovalev made whatever adjustments were required before the second as he knocked Sillakh out in frightening fashion just 52 seconds into the round.
In 2013, Adonis Stevenson provided the fight-crazed fans of Montreal with a new hometown hero. No star in the sport exploded onto the scene quite the way he did this year.
In March, Stevenson avenged the only loss of his career by Round 6 KO against the notoriously tough journeyman Darnell Boone. In June, he shocked the boxing world by knocking out WBC and lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
Stevenson returned to action in September, stopping the rugged Tavoris Cloud in Round 6. On Nov. 30, Stevenson added a fourth KO to his total for the year when he stopped mandatory challenger Tony Bellew.
Stevenson and WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev had eight knockouts between them in 2013. At this point, fans are dying for a unification bout.