10 Lessons Learned from Boxing in 2013
As the New Year begins, boxing fans can look back on an extremely memorable 2013. The past year has been full of terrific fights and historic boxing moments.
From January through December, 2013 was crammed with big highlights. New stars emerged and interesting moments happened in nearly every weight class.
But despite all the terrific, surprising moments, many of the year's biggest lessons were things that we've all known, all along.
1. Bernard Hopkins Might Be an Alien
In 2013, Bernard Hopkins continued to break all longevity records for professional sports. In March he broke his own record by becoming the oldest man ever to win a major world boxing title, when he beat IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud at the astonishing age of 48.
In October he was back in the ring, defending his belt against mandatory contender Karo Murat. Once again, Hopkins thoroughly outclassed a man young enough to be his son.
In his post-fight, in-ring interview, Bernard Hopkins explained the secret of his success to Showtime's Jim Gray. "I'm alien," said Hopkins, with a straight face.
At this point, it's beginning to seem plausible.
2. Light Heavyweight Is Boxing's Hot New Division
In 2013, light heavyweight emerged as the hottest weight class in boxing. New champions breathed fire into the 175-pound division.
In addition to the ageless Bernard Hopkins capturing the IBF strap from Tavoris Cloud, Adonis Stevenson seized the WBC belt from Chad Dawson with one of the year's most stunning knockouts. Sergey Kovalev went to Wales and collected the WBO title from Nathan Cleverly with a brutal Round 4 TKO.
Stevenson and Kovalev both went 4-0 on the year, with 4 KOs each. HBO would love to match them up for a unification fight in 2014.
WBA champion Beibut Shumenov also recorded an exciting stoppage on the Hopkins vs. Karo Murat undercard in October. Former Cuban amateur Umberto Savigne and Polish native Andrzej Fonfara also had knockout victories in 2013.
3. Environment Is Contagious
The success of the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California has been an ongoing story in the sport for several years running now. In 2013, the former world champion turned elite trainer once again ruled the sport from his corner.
In 2013, Garcia's fighters won three world titles in a single division. Mikey Garcia, Evgeny Gradovich and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar all won versions of the featherweight title during the year.
Garcia's top fighter, Nonito Donaire, stumbled, but his younger brother, Mikey, emerged as a pound-for-pound star, winning a second world title in November when he stopped Roman Martinez for the WBO super featherweight belt.
In December, Garcia closed out the year in Marcos Maidana's corner as the Argentinian gunslinger battered previously undefeated Adrien Broner.
4. Some Judges Are Either Incompetent or Corrupt
Bad judges' cards are a story as old as the sport, but in 2013 they seemed to reach a new low.
I would never personally accuse anybody of corruption without direct proof. So all I will say is that there was some obscenely bad judging last year.
Judging fights is legitimately hard. In the action and excitement, it's easy to miss parts of what happens. Judges have to decide how to score a round as soon as it ends, without the benefit of looking back at slow-motion replays on Youtube.
Still, there's no credible explanation for C.J. Ross scoring 114-114 between Saul Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather. Stanley Christodoulou had to have filled out his scorecard in the hotel room to end up 118-109 for Alvarez over Austin Trout.
Gwen Adair and Marty Denkin going 98-92 and 97-93 for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. over Brian Vera missed a heck of a fight. Andre Van Grootenbruel scoring 115-113 for Ricky Burns over Raymundo Beltran in Scotland was the year's worst case of "home cooking."
5. Promoters Overhype Their Talent
Saul Alvarez, Adrien Broner and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. all came into 2013 being proclaimed the future of the sport by their promoters. After the past 12 months, estimations will need to be revised.
Alvarez and Broner both spent much of the year ranked in the pound-for-pound top 10 by The Ring, a publication owned by their promoter, Golden Boy. Alvarez recorded a big win over fellow undefeated star Austin Trout in April, but he hardly looked like a pound-for-pound star when he lost to Floyd Mayweather in September.
Broner barely survived with a split decision against light-hitting Paulie Malignaggi in June and then got pounded by Marcos Maidana in December.
Broner and Alvarez are both talented and young, and it would be a mistake to write off either, simply because they failed to be as great as they were advertised. Top Rank has less reason to be optimistic over Chavez.
After sitting out the first part of the year for a suspension for testing positive for marijuana, Chavez returned to action against Brian Vera in September. Chavez's team had to renegotiate the weight limit multiple times.
During the fight, Chavez appeared to be in poor physical condition and was thoroughly out-hustled by Vera. He was remarkably lucky to escape with a unanimous decision.
6. Skill Trumps Athleticism and Aggression
They call it "The Sweet Science" for a reason. The sport of boxing is about technique and craft, not simply standing toe-to-toe and trading bombs.
At the world-class level, all the fighters have legitimate skill and elite athletic ability. But they possess these traits in varying degrees.
And ultimately, there is no trump card like pure skill and craft.
Guillermo Rigondeaux provided a classic example in April when he handled Nonito Donaire with ease.
Danny Garcia demonstrated it again in September, when he finessed and battered red-hot Lucas Matthysse.
7. An Athletic Boxer with a Big Punch Is Hard to Beat
They call it "The Sweet Science," but the full quote is "The Sweet Science of Bruising." Being clever and elusive are great qualities to possess as a fighter.
But all things being equal, a monster puncher is tough to beat.
Gennady Golovkin was Exhibit A in 2013. The Olympic silver medalist has outstanding boxing skills, and he uses them almost exclusively to get into position to deliver brutal, fight-changing punches.
Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev have been doing their own versions of the same thing at light heavyweight all year long.
Not all fans understand the sport well enough to appreciate a defensive wizard. But everybody loves and understands a boxer who can punch.
8. The Golden Boy-Top Rank Feud Is Terrible for the Sport
This wasn't a new lesson for boxing fans in 2013, but in a year filled with terrific fights, it became more obvious than ever that things could be even better if Golden Boy and Top rank would finally end their Cold War.
Imagine a world where Guillermo Rigondeaux could face Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares. Imagine a world where Ruslan Provodnikov could fight Danny Garcia and Brandon Rios could fight Lucas Matthysse.
Imagine a world where after all these years of hype and speculation, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally faced off.
That's what a world without a Top Rank-Golden Boy feud might look like.
9. Boxing Can Be Extremely Dangerous
It should never come as a surprise that a sport built around two trained men punching each other has the potential to be dangerous. The shadow of tragedy always hangs over the sport.
But just how tragic the sport can be was driven home to fans in 2013.
In October, Francisco Leal died three days after being knocked out by Raul Hirales.
In November, heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov finished on his feet in a unanimous-decision loss to fellow unbeaten Mike Perez. But Abdusalamov had suffered broken bones in his skull and later had to be placed in a medically induced coma to keep him alive.
Mago will survive, but he will never fight again.
Although the danger of the sport should always be obvious, too often fans forget it in the excitement of screaming for blood. But the very real risks associated with the sport should make any true fan think twice before criticizing a fighter for protecting himself with defense or a referee for stopping a fight.
10. Boxing Is in a Renaissance
It's been a cliche for a long time for boxing fans to complain about how the sport "ain't what it used to be." But even the most nostalgia-addled, old-school head should be willing to admit that boxing had a great year in 2013.
Even with an economy that has been stagnant for a half-decade, Floyd Mayweather and Saul Alvarez set pay-per-view sales records. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn has provided a new East Coast venue for major cards.
ESPN2's Friday Night Fights had a stellar season. NBC Sports reestablished boxing on weekend afternoons. HBO and Showtime both consistently presented high-quality cards.
Best of all, 2014 is set up to be even better.