Ideal Opponents for Boxing's Top Stars Without a Next Fight

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2014

Ideal Opponents for Boxing's Top Stars Without a Next Fight

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Let's face it...not everyone is Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao.

    While those two boxing superstars have a bevy of silk-suited middlemen working 24/7 to keep the pipeline full of stars to shine opposite them on pay-per-view marquees, it's a little more difficult for the rest of the working stiffs who get paid slightly less to punch guys in the face for a living.

    Sometimes, though they have staffs working on their behalf, too, they need a little help when it comes to suggesting which foes might make the most sense in terms of financial windfall, professional development or just plain convenience.

    We've done the matchmaking bidding for six of the sport's biggest stars who aren't named Floyd or Manny, pairing them with foils who'd bring cash, titles or buzz in the short-term as they continue to step incrementally higher toward the penthouses occupied by the chosen few.

    Take a look and feel free to chime in with suggestions of your own.

Andre Ward vs. Gennady Golovkin

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    Most peopleincluding the pound-for-pound rankings folks at The Ring magazine and BoxRecconsider Andre Ward to be among the very best fighters in the world.

    But, because he's in a veritable no-man's land at 168 pounds, he's either a division down or a division up from the guys with whom he could really elevate his stature to PPV levels.

    Conveniently, one of those guysdual middleweight beltholder Gennady Golovkinhas frequently expressed interest in pursuing quarry beyond his own division. And, because they both fight frequently on HBO, a match between Ward and Golovkin could be made without having to thaw boxing's promotional Cold War.

    Ward even sprinkled a little gasoline onto the idea when he suggested that Golovkinwho's unbeaten as a pro and has stopped his last 16 opponentswas being force-fed to the masses as a superstar.

Wladimir Klitschko vs. Deontay Wilder

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    Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

    First of all, if there are any Alex Leapai fans in the audience, I humbly apologize.

    I'm aware the Samoan-born heavyweight has an audience scheduled with Wladimir Klitschko in late April. But no, I don't believe he's got much more of a chance than I do to actually unseat a champion who's not lost in a decade and has copped four title belts while cleaning out the big-man division.

    So with that said, the suggestion is that Klitschko should aim his sights a little higherabout seven inches, to be exactto meet the gaze of the first truly titillating American heavyweight in a generation, former Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder.

    The 28-year-old Alabama native has revved the engines of dormant U.S. heavyweight fans with 30 KOs in 30 pro fights, including a pole-axing of former title claimant Sergei Liakhovich that left the ex-champ twitching after just 103 seconds of action.

    And while the jump from a shop-worn Liakhovich to a top-of-his-game Klitschko is a steep one, it's also the only one likely to attract the interest of cable TV networks that have long since dismissed the current kingpin as a surely capable but barely watchable commodity.

Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Ruslan Provodnikov

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    When you've fought Manny Pacquiao four times and Floyd Mayweather Jr. once, it's not surprising that everything else would feel like a big departure from relevance.

    But if now-40-year-old Mexican superstar Juan Manuel Marquez, beaten in his last fight by Timothy Bradley, wants to stay in the running for more significant paydays as he ages, he's going to need another paradigm-shifting victory like the one he got when he starched Pacquiao in December 2012.

    That may come in the form of Russian export Ruslan Provodnikov, whose own star has never shone brighter after a 2013 that included a fight-of-the-year-quality fracas with Bradley and a brutal, grinding 10th-round stoppage of Mike Alvarado.

    Marquez has recently dismissed the idea as one he's not interested inand given Provodnikov's violent acumen, it may be tough to blame himbut if the veteran wants to play anything other than nostalgic seniors tour dates from here on out, it's a challenge he might want to reconsider taking.

Lucas Matthysse vs. Khabib Allakhverdiev

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    We'll concede going in that this one may be a casualty of the aforementioned Cold War, but it's still interesting enough to ponder.

    Until last September, Lucas Matthysse was among the hottest things going in boxing, with a KO streak that included a world champion and a fearsome presence that inspired fawning media to hang the "Most Feared Fight in Boxing" label on him after he laid out Lamont Peterson.

    Then Danny Garcia got a hold of him, and, a comeback mission is in order.

    In Allakhverdiev, a tough, sturdy Russian who's in possession of the IBO's world title at 140 pounds, Matthysse would face a guy who'd be there for him to hit and, perhaps more importantly, there to hit him a few times to make sure there's no lingering impact from the combat with Garcia.

    A win would mean a championship and a foundation from which to begin calling for either a redo with Garcia or a match with another of the division's larger names.

Mikey Garcia vs. Miguel Vazquez

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    If you haven't seen Mikey Garcia fight, you will. And if you haven't seen Miguel Vazquez fight, you should.

    Garcia is being rightfully groomed by his Top Rank handlers as one of the emerging stars in the sport, and he's done nothing to dampen the propaganda while running roughshod through champions and contenders at both 126 and 130 pounds.

    Top Rank czar Bob Arum floated the idea that Garcia would one day be a Pacquiao foil, and, while that seems like it'd be a while off, his man could add lightweight to his list of conquered divisions if he bettered Vazquez, who's reigned as the IBF's top man there since 2010.

    Hype aside, it wouldn't be an easy acquisition. Vazquez has won 34 of 37 fights as a pro, with the only three losses coming to two men fans have certainly heard from. He was outpointed in his 2006 pro debut by Saul Alvarez (in his third career fight), dropped a decision to Timothy Bradley (who was 20-0 at the time) a year later and lost another scorecard verdict to Alvarez (by then at 19-0-1) in 2008.

    He's won 13 straight since the second "Canelo" meeting and might be just the kind of tough foil an ambitious Garcia would need if he indeed plans on seeking bigger game at 140 and 147.

Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Evgeny Gradovich

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    He's proved himself the best in the game at 122 pounds and handily defeated a reigning Boxing Writers Association of America fighter of the year in Nonito Donaire.

    Still, it's hard for Guillermo Rigondeaux to make much news these days other than when it's about a television network claiming he's not exciting enough to put on the air.

    A rise to featherweight might change all that.

    In IBF champion Evgeny Gradovich, the Cuban would have a foe who's established street cred with a pair of wins over ex-champ Billy Dib and whose aggressive, no-nonsense style would be exactly the contrast that could accentuate Rigondeaux's many positives.

    Gaining status as a two-division champ could also amp up the interest for Rigondeaux's subsequent options, which could include stablemate Vasyl Lomachenko, if the one-fight wonder is successful in toppling veteran WBO champion Orlando Salido this weekend in San Antonio.