Ranking the 10 Most Impressive Fighters in 2014 So Far
With his impressive unanimous-decision victory over Timothy Bradley, Manny Pacquiao reclaimed the WBO welterweight title and reasserted his position as one of the sport's top stars. A convincing win over a top champion like Bradley is a good performance in any year.
The boxing calendar is still just starting to heat up, and most of the top stars are waiting to make their 2014 debuts. But a number of established champions have already turned in impressive performances, while some new names have emerged.
Regardless of their pound-for-pound rankings, the following 10 fighters have been the most impressive boxers of 2014 so far.
10. Jessie Vargas
I had Jessie Vargas losing to Khabib Allakhverdiev on the Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley undercard, 115-113. But it was a close fight, and I'm willing to accept the verdict of the ringside judges, although I think Robert Hoyle's 117-111 was absurd.
But Vargas deserves credit for fighting an intelligent and gutsy fight against an extremely tough competitor. He used his jab expertly to control range and build a lead in the early rounds. His left uppercut was a dangerous scoring punch throughout the fight.
In the last third of the fight, he showed a champion's heart to hold on against Allakhverdiev's determined pressure.
While I don't view the WBA's "regular" title as legitimate just because Danny Garcia was deemed the "super" champion, there's no doubt that Vargas' latest win moves him up the light welterweight rankings.
9. Vyacheslav Glazkov
Vyacheslav Glazkov was originally supposed to fight Tomasz Adamek last November, but the former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion was forced to withdraw days before the fight with illness.
Instead they fought this past March, with Glazkov running his unbeaten record to 17-0-1 via a decisive unanimous decision. At 37 years old, Adamek probably isn't what he used to be. But he entered the fight viewed as a top-five to top-10 heavyweight.
So the win was a big one for the former Olympic medalist from the Ukraine. There's a lot of movement happening in the heavyweight division this year, and Glazkov should get his chance to participate in the action.
8. Marco Huck
The cruiserweight division gets little respect or attention in North America, but in Germany, WBO 200-pound champion Marco Huck is a major star. In January, he reaffirmed his position as the top cruiserweight in the world by stopping tough veteran Firat Arslan via Round 6 TKO.
It was a rematch of their November 2012 fight, which Huck won by unanimous decision. He has already made one foray up to the heavyweight class, losing a hard-fought majority decision to Alexander Povetkin in February 2012.
I'd love to see him fight a unification fight with IBF champion Yoan Pablo Hernandez, the other claimant to top-dog status at cruiser. But I'd also be curious to see what Huck could do in another campaign at heavyweight.
7. Jermell Charlo
Earlier this year, Jermall Charlo's opportunity to fight IBF junior middleweight champion Carlos Molina fell through when Molina was detained by police on an immigration violation days before the two were set to meet on the Canelo Alvarez vs. Alfredo Angulo undercard.
But twin brother Jermell made a major splash in January with his one-sided decision victory over tough journeyman Gabriel Rosado. Rosado has fought some tough rounds against world champions, and Charlo handled him like a highly skilled veteran.
I thought Charlo's performance against Rosado was much better than WBO middleweight champion Peter Quillin's effort against the same opponent last year. It has to be seen as a wake-up call to the entire junior middleweight division.
6. Terence Crawford
Like Jermell Charlo, Terence Crawford is another undefeated young star who has stepped into the spotlight in a big way in 2014. In March he traveled to Scotland and captured the WBO lightweight belt from Ricky Burns with a unanimous decision.
Taking a unanimous decision from Burns in Scotland is a Herculean task, but Crawford's performance was impossible to deny. The scorecards were a little closer than they probably should have been, but at least the verdict was correct.
With his first world title around his waist, the future looks bright for the highly skilled Crawford. Expect him to be an important boxing star throughout the rest of the decade.
5. Sergey Kovalev
The destructive legend of WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev added another chapter in March when he pummeled undefeated Cedric Agnew, knocking him down twice before KOing the game challenger with a jab to the body in Round 7.
I'll repeat that last sentence: Kovalev knocked out Agnew with a jab to the body. I don't remember ever seeing that kind of finish.
But Kovalev's intelligence is at least as impressive as his power. Agnew fought a tough, defensive-minded battle and gave the champion no easy avenues of attack.
But Kovalev stayed patient and probed, slowly breaking Agnew down until finding openings for big shots.
4. Saul Alvarez
After being nearly shut out on any credible judging card last September by Floyd Mayweather, Saul Alvarez needed to make a strong showing in his return bout in March against Alfredo Angulo. "Canelo" managed to do just that.
The rugged and aggressive Angulo was very much a tailor-made opponent for Alvarez. Nevertheless, his performance deserves acclaim.
While I'm still not prepared to regard Alvarez as a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter based on his win over Angulo, his work that night did prove he is a talented young fighter with solid all-around skills. He is a durable boxer who can punch.
He's scheduled to fight Erislandy Lara in July. And a win over the crafty Cuban will make Canelo's claims for top-10 status difficult for anybody to deny.
3. Gennady Golovkin
In February, WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin turned in a typical dominant performance against Osumanu Adama, knocking him down three times and stopping him in Round 7. Adama was an unfamiliar name to a large percentage of North American boxing fans, but it's a mistake to dismiss him as a nobody.
The native of Ghana was an experienced international competitor. In March 2012, he went the distance with Daniel Geale, even winning five rounds on one card.
So GGG's complete destruction of him was, as usual, impressive. Although Sergio Martinez is still the lineal middleweight champion, Golovkin has become the top fighter at 160 pounds.
2. Mikey Garcia
In January, WBO champion Mikey Garcia solidified his claim to dominance in the super featherweight division with a one-sided decision victory over once-beaten Juan Carlos Burgos. It was Garcia's first fight in several years to go the distance.
But it was yet another great performance. At 26 years old, Garcia is a fully rounded fighter. He has great defensive skills, a high boxing IQ and fight-ending power.
And since moving up to the world championship level in 2013, he's only looked more impressive. It's only a matter of time before Garcia becomes a universally regarded pound-for-pound star.
1. Manny Pacquiao
Before his rematch with Timothy Bradley, plenty of people felt Manny Pacquiao had slipped enough to suffer a legitimate loss this time around. But like so many great athletes, he proved he's the only one who can write the script of his career.
Pacquiao adjusted well to a rugged early charge by Bradley and had taken full control by mid-fight. It was a more exciting fight than their 2012 clash and more competitive, at least early on. But this time the judges got the decision right.
Whether or not the win makes a long-awaited showdown with Floyd Mayweather more likely is another matter.
However, by convincingly beating the man who convincingly beat Juan Manuel Marquez last October, Pacquiao has made a fifth go-round between the two longtime rivals more attractive than ever.