Best-Case Scenarios for Boxing's Top Stars in 2014
The best-case scenario for both Pacquiao or Mayweather would be to make and win that fight.
This is not a prediction piece. It's a list of what would happen to each of these stars in an ideal world.
But in boxing, such a thing rarely exists.
Mikey Garcia became a two-division world champion in 2013, capturing the WBO featherweight belt from Orlando Salido in January and the WBO super featherweight title by KO against Roman Martinez in November.
In between those championship wins, he stopped explosive Juan Manuel Lopez by brutal Round 4 TKO. Garcia made a case as a pound-for-pound star this year.
He is already scheduled to defend his new belt against Juan Carlos Burgos later this month. In a best-case scenario, Garcia follows up a stoppage of Burgos with an exciting, technically masterful demolition of Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa later in the year.
A win over Gamboa would likely earn Garcia a world title in a third division.
Sergio Martinez returned to his native Buenos Aires in April 2013 to fight there for the first time in more than a decade. But what was supposed to be a triumphant return against unbeaten but unheralded Martin Murray of England instead developed into a struggle.
Martinez was knocked down in Round 8 and escaped with a very close unanimous-decision win. Murray is a quality fighter and deserves some of the credit, but the story was much more about Martinez struggling than it was about Murray doing anything special to give him trouble.
The Argentine took the rest of the year off to recover from yet another surgery. At 39, he's been under the knife multiple times in the past two years. For a fighter who relies on explosive athleticism, this is not a good sign.
Most of the speculation has been that he will face Miguel Cotto in his next fight. Cotto is on the bubble for being ranked in the top five at junior middleweight, so how he has earned a shot at the lineal middleweight belt is a mystery.
On the other hand, Martinez and Cotto are the kind of stars who have earned this sort of payday. Unless Martinez has devolved into a shadow of his former self, this should be a relatively easy win for him.
After Cotto, Martinez's best-case scenario would be to address the very real and legitimate challenge from undefeated WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.
Martinez probably cannot win that fight at this point, but if he proved me wrong, it would be a terrific exclamation point on his career.
Danny Garcia has spent the past two years proving people who sell him short wrong. In July 2012, he was viewed as an underdog when he fought Amir Khan to unify the WBC and WBA light welterweight titles.
Instead, he won by Round 4 TKO.
He was an underdog again this year against the gunslinger Lucas Matthysse, but he turned in a brilliant boxing performance and won a hard-fought decision.
Garcia enters 2014 still undefeated and the nearly undisputed light welterweight champion. As long as Golden Boy and Top Rank aren't making fights, there is really nobody left of consequence for Garcia to face at 140.
The best-case scenario for him in 2014 is to move up to welterweight and collect more belts. He's already receiving some mention as a possible opponent for Floyd Mayweather, but he should establish himself as a titleholder at welterweight before that happens.
Wins over fighters like Shawn Porter, Robert Guerrero or Marcos Maidana would keep Garcia's star on the rise.
Juan Manuel Marquez
Now that he is older than 40, Juan Manuel Marquez is likely nearing the end of his legendary career. I thought we might have seen the last of him when he finally got the decisive win he'd spent a decade chasing against Manny Pacquiao in December 2012.
But Marquez returned to face Timothy Bradley last November. It was an exciting and extremely well-fought battle by both men, but Bradley emerged as the split-decision winner.
I picked Marquez to win but thought Bradley deserved the nod. The best-case scenario for Marquez in 2014 might be retirement and a full-time career in the media in Mexico.
In the ring, the best-case scenario would be another big payday against Pacquiao and another decisive win in their fifth fight.
Manny Pacquiao has been one of boxing's biggest stars for the past decade. He's the kind of fighter who has permanently marked out a special place in the sport's rich lore.
But as 2014 begins, there are loose ends waiting to be tied up by the Filipino star. In a best-case scenario, he avenges one of his two 2012 losses this spring, either against Juan Manuel Marquez or, better yet, Timothy Bradley.
From there, only one fight would really matter for his legacy. Boxing fans have been hungry to see Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather since early in President Obama's first term.
If that fight happens, it will be the biggest pay-per-view event in history. A win would establish Pacquiao's status as a true all-time great and the premier fighter of his era.
2013 turned out to be the best year of Timothy Bradley's career. One knock on him coming into last year was that he was boring to watch. But his war in March with Ruslan Provodnikov was a near-unanimous choice for Fight of the Year.
Bradley was nearly knocked out in both of the first two rounds and had to survive a Round 12 Provodnikov blitz that saw him hit the canvas. But he survived with a unanimous-decision win and the respect of all true boxing fans.
He demonstrated heart and durability of the highest order.
In October, he showcased his elite boxing skills by handing Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez a split-decision loss. It was a highly competitive bout, but Bradley clearly won, and I was officially on the record as picking Marquez.
The best case-scenario for Bradley in 2014 would be to avoid the punishment he took in the Provodnikov fight. He has said in interviews since that it took him more than two months to recover.
Beyond that, the best thing that could happen in 2014 would be for him to record a clean win over Manny Pacquiao. The outrage has died down somewhat since his June 2012 split-decision win over the Filipino, but few fans or writers believe Bradley deserved the W.
A victory over Pacquiao that was viewed as legitimate would make Bradley an obvious opponent for Floyd Mayweather.
The best-case scenario for Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2014 would be for Golden Boy and Top Rank to suddenly start making fights together. That way Rigo could face Golden Boy stars Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares.
As it is, I'm not sure who Top Rank has left that will seem a compelling matchup to even the purists who adore Rigo.
Another scenario for him might be a move to featherweight, although he will be small there. Rigondeaux might become more entertaining to the casual fans if he was boxing circles around bigger men.
The best case-scenario for Wladimir Klitschko in 2014 might be to get a referee who will actually enforce the rules in regard to clinching. That way Klitschko might have to exchange more and rely on his superb offensive skills instead of his Greco-Roman wrestling ability.
Klitschko made it clear against Alexander Povetkin last October that if he can get away with leaning on an opponent for large chunks of the fight, he will do it. And for better or worse, he's nearly impossible to beat if he can employ that sort of strategy.
In a best-case scenario, Klitschko fights and beats Kubrat Pulev, the obvious No. 1 contender at heavyweight. Then he unifies the last remaining stray heavyweight belt—the WBC crown that his brother Vitali vacated last month.
I hate to say it, but the best-case scenario for Andre Ward in 2014 probably includes a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The son of the legend has done nothing to deserve that kind of shot at the super middleweight champion.
Chavez didn't even deserve his decision over middleweight journeyman Brian Vera last year. But Ward has cleaned out 168 thoroughly, and the undefeated star deserves a big payday, which Chavez might still be able to provide, if his fanbase has not abandoned him in disappointment.
Aside from Chavez, Ward might be able to set up a superfight with WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin next year. Golovkin's team would probably like him to thoroughly clean out 160 before moving up, but Sergio Martinez may never agree to fight GGG.
Best-case scenario: Ward gets a payday against Chavez and a meaningful fight against Golovkin later in the year.
Floyd Mayweather was the 2013 Fighter of the Year for many people. He pitched near-shutouts against Robert Guerrero and Saul Alvarez.
His fight with Alvarez set pay-per-view records. The bar is high for the sport's pound-for-pound king as we move forward in 2014.
The best-case scenario would be a fight in the spring with Marcos Maidana. Maidana would be outclassed, but he might force some excitement.
After that, only one bout would push Mayweather beyond the plateau he achieved in 2013. There's no best-case scenario for Mayweather in 2014 that doesn't include finally adding Manny Pacquiao to his undefeated resume.