The Biggest Question Surrounding Boxing's Top Stars Early in 2014
Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward will both return to action in the first half of 2014. Whether either will find an opponent who can give him a competitive fight remains to be seen.
As 2014 begins, boxing's top stars will all look to stay on top and maximize their earning potential during their finite window of opportunity in this brutal sport. A top fighter can only fight a certain number of times a year and can only remain at his best for a certain number of years.
So there is no time to be wasted as the new year gets underway.
Saul Alvarez: Can He Actually Carry a Pay-Per-View on His Own?
There's no question that Saul Alvarez's own star power played a big part in turning his showdown with Floyd Mayweather last September into a record-breaking pay-per-view event. Mayweather was the top fighter on the billing, but Canelo's popularity helped drive sales in a major way.
In the actual fight, Alvarez was seriously overmatched against the pound-for-pound king. Still, he remains a wildly popular fighter with skill, so his future should be bright.
How bright Golden Boy thinks it is became clear late last week when they announced that Alvarez's next fight would occur in March against Alfredo Angulo as a pay-per-view event.
Angulo is a perfect comeback opponent for Alvarez, and it should be a very good fight. But whether or not the public is going to accept Alvarez vs. Angulo as a fight they are willing to pay for is an entirely different matter.
Bernard Hopkins: Will He Keep Winning at 49?
During this coming week, IBF light heavyweight champion of the world Bernard Hopkins will turn 49. Sometime in the first part of 2014 he will climb back into the ring to defend his belt against a man young enough to be his son.
Competing at this level as a professional athlete at this age is unprecedented in the history of sports, unless you count race car driving and golf, which I refuse to do. In one of the most unforgiving sports there is, Hopkins is preparing to keep going against the best in the world just one year short of 50.
At some point, time will have to catch up with even Hopkins. It will be the question facing him in every fight for the rest of his remarkable career.
Carl Froch: Will He Give George Groves a Rematch?
Last November, England's biggest current boxing star, Carl Froch, defended his IBF and WBA super middleweight titles against George Groves. The undefeated young Groves took the fight to the superstar Froch and delivered a brilliant performance for the first eight rounds.
When he succumbed to a controversial TKO stoppage in Round 9, Groves led on all three cards. A lot of fans feel the fight shouldn't have been stopped and that Groves was in a position to hang on and take Froch's belts, forcing a major shakeup at the top of the rankings in both the super middleweight division and on the domestic U.K. scene.
A rematch between Froch and Groves will attract attention from boxing fans worldwide. With eight confidence-building rounds now on his resume, Groves is likely to come into a return bout an even more dangerous challenger.
Danny Garcia: Is He Going to Welterweight?
After his masterful unanimous-decision win over Lucas Matthysse last September, WBC and WBA light welterweight champion Danny Garcia has completely cleaned out the available Golden Boy roster of fighters at 140 pounds.
With Adrien Broner appearing to exercise his rematch clause with Marcos Maidana, there's not even the possibility of "The Problem" coming down to chase a title in a fourth division.
At this point, the only fights out there big enough to be worthwhile for a fighter of Garcia's standing are at welterweight. Garcia looks to have the frame and the pop to keep winning at a full 147. I expect that he will start demonstrating this in early 2014.
Juan Manuel Marquez: Is He Going to Retire?
In his prime, Juan Manuel Marquez was frequently overlooked in favor of the other two great Mexican superstars of his generation, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. But in his late 30s, Marquez has continued to perform at the elite level, and ultimately he leaves all of his countrymen of his era in his shadow.
At 39, Marquez scored the greatest moment of his career, putting Manny Pacquiao to sleep with a perfectly timed right-hand counter. But at 40 Marquez lost by split decision to Timothy Bradley.
It's a fight I had picked him to win but thought he deserved to lose.
There's still plenty of money waiting to be made by Marquez if he wants to return, especially for a fifth fight with Pacquiao. That's got to be tough to walk away from.
But he's already a legend, and there's little more that he can add to his legacy now.
Manny Pacquiao: Will He Avenge One of His Last Two Losses?
The biggest question hanging over Manny Pacquiao is always whether or not he will finally fight Floyd Mayweather. There is some reason to be more optimistic about that than usual as 2014 begins, but I don't see it happening in the first part of the year.
The more realistic question facing Pacquiao in early 2014 is whether or not he will get the opportunity to avenge one of his two 2012 losses, against either Juan Manuel Marquez or Timothy Bradley.
All three men remain ranked in almost all pound-for-pound, top-10 rankings. Throw in Ruslan Provodnikov, and Top Rank can pretty much mix-and-match to form two pay-per-view-quality fights in early 2014.
Timothy Bradley: Whom Does He Rematch?
It should be "deja vu" all over again for Timothy Bradley in early 2014. A rematch against any of his last three opponents would be viewed as compelling by the vast majority of boxing fans.
In June 2012, Bradley escaped with a split decision over Manny Pacquiao that was highly controversial and vociferously criticized. Last March he won a unanimous decision over Ruslan Provodnikov in a brutal war that the majority of boxing media viewed as 2013's Fight of the Year.
In November, Bradley won a split decision over Juan Manuel Marquez. It was a tense, action-packed chess match.
In a sport where finding a compelling opponent often hinders a star, Bradley finds himself with an embarrassment of riches.
Guillermo Rigondeaux: Will the Philistines Come Around?
I write at least a couple of stories a month in which I urge readers to embrace the technical brilliance of Guillermo Rigondeaux. But I often feel as if I'm swimming upstream.
Rigo's promoter, Bob Arum, doesn't help matters by giving interviews in which he talks about HBO "throwing up" whenever Rigodeaux's name is mentioned.
But to be fair to both the promoter and network, they have to sell tickets and attract viewers, and Rigondeaux's style has had trouble doing both.
I get that a slugfest is exciting and emotionally engaging for a fan. I enjoy them myself. But if this is a sport, then the fans should be able to appreciate those who perform at it better than almost everybody else alive.
Andre Ward: Will Fans Care About Seeing Him Beat Up Chavez Jr.?
Andre Ward essentially cleaned out the super middleweight division two years ago. In 2012 he won a superfight with light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson by TKO, and last year he won a decision against the big, hard-punching Edwin Rodriguez.
If George Groves wins a rematch with Carl Froch in early 2014, that would make him an intriguing new opponent for Ward. If Gennady Golovkin simply can't get the fights worthy of him at middleweight and moves up, that will give Ward the kind of superfight a star like him needs.
But neither of those fights would materialize until the second half of 2014.
Early in 2014, it seems pretty obvious that HBO will give us Andre Ward vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
That's a fight that the fighters and network have all appeared to want for quite a while now, but Chavez Jr. didn't exactly make a compelling case for himself as an opponent for a superstar like Ward in his return bout against middleweight journeyman Brian Vera last September.
I thought Vera clearly deserved to win.
One assumes Chavez would actually train harder for a fight with Ward than he did for the fight with Vera, when he had to repeatedly renegotiate the weight in the final days before the fight.
One assumes it, but I wouldn't bet on it with any confidence, either.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Who's Next and How Much Will People Care?
Although I will always harbor pessimistic thoughts on the topic, I do see some tiny potential for 2014 to be the year that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally climb into the ring together and fight.
But if that miracle comes to pass, it won't be until next fall. Meanwhile, this spring, it looks like Mayweather will fight Amir Khan.
Amir Khan might very well have the best physical tools and technical skills in the welterweight division for matching up with Floyd Mayweather. But that still doesn't mean he matches up very well.
Mayweather did record numbers in his pay-per-view fight last September against Saul Alvarez and did very good numbers with Robert Guerrero last spring.
Unless he fights some shocking opponent from out of left field like Gennady Golovkin or Bernard Hopkins, I think he'll struggle to get close to his recent sales in the first half of 2014.