Ranking the 10 Best Rivalries in Boxing Today

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best Rivalries in Boxing Today

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The four-fight series between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao is the greatest boxing rivalry of this century. While a few others have matched it, or even slightly edged it, in terms of pure thrills, none approach its combination of excitement and overall historical importance.

    These two future Hall of Famers have largely defined each other's careers.

    Nothing else on this list really comes close to matching it. In an era where fighters compete less often and pick their opponents much more carefully, great rivalries just don't come along with the frequency that they did in earlier decades.

    For this list I have excluded any "rivalries" where the fighters have not actually fought.

    Fighter A and Fighter B trading insults on social media and in the press does not equal a true rivalry. It's just two dudes jawing and posturing.

10. Felix Sturm vs. Daniel Geale

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    From my viewpoint, Felix Sturm and Daniel Geale are both guys who walked away from fights with Gennady Golovkin when the undefeated star from Kazakhstan was the obvious next fight on the table for them, if they truly wanted to rule the middleweight division.

    But despite ducking GGG, both men are legitimately among the top middleweights in the world. And the stars should be aligned perfectly this year for a rematch of their September 2012 split decision, which was won by Geale.

    After beating Sturm, Geale dropped his IBF middleweight title to Darren Barker by split decision in August of last year. Sturm then came roaring back to relevancy last December when he stopped Barker in two rounds, to bring the IBF strap back to Germany.  

    I don't see either Geale or Sturm taking a fight with Golovkin now, or with undefeated WBO champion Peter Quillin either. But a rematch between the two for the IBF gold would be interesting and would be viewed as a major fight in Germany and Australia.

9. Jhonny Gonzalez vs. Daniel Ponce De Leon

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Jhonny Gonzalez and Daniel Ponce De Leon are a couple of veteran ring warriors from Mexico who have both dedicated years to the sport, earning the respect of their peers and the fans. Guys like them are the heart of boxing.

    In September 2012 Ponce De Leon beat Gonzalez by eighth-round technical decision to wrest the WBC featherweight belt away from him. But Ponce De Leon dropped that belt in May 2013 to Abner Mares by Round 9 TKO.

    At the time that very much appeared to be a changing-of-the-guard fight. Mares, 27 and still undefeated, was viewed as a rising superstar.

    But as so often happens in boxing, the action in the ring ended up complicating the narrative already being written by promoters. Last August Gonzalez stunned Mares with a first-round KO to win back the title.

    I suspect Mares had a rematch clause in his contract, but if he did, Golden Boy has not been in a hurry to exercise it. As of right now, Gonzales-Mares II remains unmade.

    With Mares staying on the sideline, the obvious next fight for Gonzalez should be Ponce De Leon, the man who gave him his last defeat. This rematch would be a potential Fight of the Year.

8. Marcos Maidana vs. Amir Khan

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    So far in 2014 Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana have been the two leading candidates for the coveted slot as Floyd Mayweather's next opponent. Khan partisans claim the Brit is the only fighter in the welterweight division with the speed to match Mayweather.

    Those who favor Maidana as the next opponent maintain that the Argentinian gunslinger would at least force the pound-for-pound king into an exciting battle.

    But in my opinion, Khan and Maidana have unfinished business in the ring. Their December 2010 battle was one of the best fights of that entire year.

    Khan dropped Maidana in the first round and controlled the early going, but Maidana dug in and rocked Khan badly in a thrilling Round 10. Khan held off the late rally to earn a very close unanimous decision.

    Maidana has improved tremendously as a fighter since 2010, thanks in large part to his time spent at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy. Maidana is a welterweight world champion now, and Khan has got to be a loss on his resume that he'd love to avenge.

    I'm not particularly excited about the idea of seeing either of these two face Mayweather. But I'd be stoked to see them in a rematch. 

7. Rances Barthelemy vs. Argenis Mendez vs. Arash Usmanee

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    I'm making this selection on the list a three-way affair. It has all played out this season and last on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights, with the IBF super featherweight title hanging in the balance.

    On the January 4, 2013 season premiere of Friday Night Fights, Arash Usmanee and Rances Barthelemy staged a terrific fight in Miami. The unanimous-decision victory went to the Cuban, Barthelemy, who was essentially a hometown fighter.

    Friday Night Fights host Teddy Atlas found the judges verdict so outrageous that he ended the broadcast in full meltdown, charging the judges with either "incompetence or corruption."

    But Usmanee still got his shot at the IBF belt in August, when he faced Argenis Mendez on another Friday Night Fights broadcast from Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y. The result was another hard-fought battle that ended in a draw.

    Barthelemy and Mendez faced off on the 2014 premiere of Friday Night Fights last January 3. Barthelemy jumped on Mendez early and appeared to win the world title by Round 2 KO. However, the Minnesota Athletic Commission later overturned the KO and ruled it a no-contest, due to Barthelemy's KO punch landing a split second after the bell.

    It was an outrageous decision by the Minnesota AC, as Barthlemy was pounding Mendez like a drum and had clearly launched the final punch in advance of the bell. If anybody was to blame, it was the referee for not being in position to intercept it.

    Either way, all three of these talented and exciting fighters have unfinished business together in the ring. Ultimately, the fans should win here, no matter what.

6. Tyson Fury vs. Dereck Chisora

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    This Saturday night at the Copper Box Arena in London, British heavyweights Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora will fight on the same card. Fury will face journeyman Joey Abell, and Chisora will meet former world-title challenger Kevin Johnson.

    I expect Fury to knock Abell out, and I am predicting Chisora will win against Johnson, who appears very much on the downside of his career. So what happens on Saturday night should be the perfect setup for Fury and Chisora to meet in a rematch of their July 2011 fight.

    Fury won that fight by unanimous decision and remains unbeaten to this day. But Chisora has been a much more disciplined and well-conditioned fighter since losing that bout.

    So a second meeting between Fury and Chisora has tremendous potential. A world-title shot could very well hang in the balance.

    Beyond that, bragging rights as the top big man in Great Britain would be on the line. David Haye is out of action indefinitely, and Anthony Joshua is still at least several fights away from having any claim to that distinction.

    Both men have business to take care of in the ring this weekend. But if events go as expected, Fury vs. Chisora should be a major heavyweight tilt for this summer.

5. Marco Huck vs. Ola Afolabi

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    Daniel Kopatsch/Associated Press

    The cruiserweight division gets very little respect from American fans, but in Europe the division is far more popular, and in Germany, the WBO 200-pound champion, Marco Huck, is a major star.

    In the past several years, Ola Afolabi of Great Britain has been his greatest rival. Huck won a close unanimous decision over Afolabi in 2009.

    In 2012 and 2013 they fought twice more, with the results between them even tighter. Huck barely escaped with his title in May 2012, earning a draw that I thought Afolabi deserved to win. 

    Their rubber match last June was another razor-close affair, as Huck earned a majority decision. The action between these two in three fights has been compelling, and I'd be happy to see them fight a fourth time, though in England for a change, or at least on neutral ground.

4. Carl Froch vs. George Groves

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Even going into this one last November, it had the storyline of a classic boxing matchup. Carl Froch was the United Kingdom's top boxing star, but, at 36, he was probably nearing the end of his great career. George Groves, undefeated and just 25, was an obvious potential successor.

    Froch was viewed as a prohibitive favorite, but apparently nobody told Groves that. He dropped the champion in Round 1 and took control of the fight. The young challenger was comfortably up on the cards when a Froch barrage stopped him by TKO in Round 9.

    It was one of the year's most criticized stoppages, and the rematch has already been signed for the end of May. The crowd will fill a soccer stadium this time, as British fans come out in droves to find out who really deserves to wear the crown.

3. Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    When Timothy Bradley beat Pacquiao by split decision in June 2012, it was one of the most controversial judging decisions in recent years. The morning after the fight, I attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canastota, N.Y., and didn't talk to a single fan who felt Bradley had deserved more than four rounds at the very most.

    The win actually hurt Bradley's career, as fans resented him for unfairly knocking off a major star. But 2013 was a great rebound year for "Desert Storm." In March he showed unbelievable heart and resilience to outlast Ruslan Provodnikov in a Fight of the Year performance.

    In October he beat fellow pound-for-pound star Juan Manuel Marquez by split decision. It was a close fight, but I thought Bradley clearly deserved to win.

    Bradley will have a lot to prove when he faces Pacquiao in April in a long-awaited rematch. Pacquiao will have much to prove himself. Following his controversial loss to Bradley, he suffered the most devastating knockout of his career to longtime rival Marquez.

    This rematch will be a career-defining fight for both men.

2. Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Boxing fans started rubbing their hands with glee when this one was announced for October 2012. Both men were tough, undefeated, all-action fighters.

    If ever there was a can't-miss fight, it was this one.

    And the battle lived up to the hype. The two fought on brutally even terms for six rounds before a Brandon Rios assault left Mike Alvarado relatively defenseless against the ropes in Round 7, prompting a referee's stoppage.

    A rematch was almost immediately signed for March 2013. This time Alvarado chose to fight with a more calculated strategy.

    The fight was still a thriller. But Alvarado used enough movement and angles to outbox Rios and capture a unanimous decision.

    Alvarado and Rios both ended 2013 with tough losses. Alvarado took a pounding and was stopped in 10 by Provodnikov. Rios was battered for 12 rounds by Pacquiao.

    With both fighters badly in need of a win, a rubber match between the two would be as compelling as the first two fights.

1. Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

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    As I stated in the opening, when it comes to current boxing rivalries, there is this one and then there is everything else. Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez is not just currently the greatest rivalry in boxing, it ranks among the best of all time.

    And it almost never happened. In their first meeting, Pacquiao exploded on Marquez in the first round and sent him to the canvas three times.

    Somehow Marquez managed to battle back into the fight and control large portions of it. The result of the first meeting was a draw.

    Pacquiao won the second fight by split decision and the third by majority decision. I thought Marquez deserved to win both those fights, though they were far too close to call robberies.

    Although their fourth fight ended in a decisive knockout for Marquez, it was still another classic. Marquez caught Pacquiao with a beautiful right-hand counter to drop him in Round 3. Marquez stayed in control to win Round 4.

    But Pacquiao came back strong in the fifth and dropped Marquez. The round developed into a straight-up dog fight, with Pacquiao getting the better of it, buckling Marquez's knees and breaking his nose before the bell.

    Round 6 started out all Pacquiao. Marquez hung in the pocket and fought back gamely, but as the last seconds of the round were counting down, it looked like Pac was about to go up four rounds to two.

    Instead Marquez lured Pacquiao forward and drilled him with one of the greatest right-hand counters of all time, putting his rival to sleep with a mere second left in the round.

    Whether or not a fifth fight will materialize between these two remains to be seen. But as long as they are both still active and the potential is there, this will remain boxing's greatest rivalry.