10 Boxing Fights That Should Be Made Immediately
But in boxing, one night is all it takes for things to change in a major way. Last Saturday in Las Vegas, Marcos Maidana gave the pound-for-pound king his toughest fight in over a decade, earning a draw on one judge's card.
Maidana became the rightful heir to Luis Firpo's old nickname, "The Wild Bull of the Pampas." He had great success neutralizing Mayweather's famed counterpunching with his erratic aggression and consistently muscled the undefeated superstar against the ropes.
Mayweather came away with a disputed majority decision, but the rematch had all but been agreed to on camera before either man had left the ring following the fight. So that fight needs to get made, immediately.
Fans will still want to see Mayweather and Pacquiao square off. But Mayweather has unfinished business first with Maidana.
Boxing thrives or flounders based on the quality of fights getting made. If Mayweather-Maidana II happens this fall and half of the rest the list gets made as well, 2014 will go down as another terrific year for the sport.
10. Roman Gonzalez vs. Giovani Segura
The fighters in the lowest weight classes never get the respect they deserve. Roman Gonzalez has a 39-0 record with 33 KOs. He's been a dominant world champion at strawweight and light flyweight.
He should be a universal pound-for-pound top 10 at this point. And he is very much on the radar with hardcore fans.
But a fighter with his skill and excitement should be a bigger star, regardless of size. What he needs to reach the next level of popularity is the sort of opponent who will take him to war.
Giovani Segura could be that kind of opponent. Segura has lost two fights in recent years to veterans Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria.
But as his KO victory of Hernan Marquez demonstrated, Segura remains one of the biggest punchers in the flyweight division. Three years ago, The Ring had him ranked in their pound-for-pound top 10.
He's exactly the opponent to match Gonzalez with in a high-profile, North American fight.
9. Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa
It's been a while since we've had a major fight in the lightweight division. But everything is perfectly in place to make one happen now.
Earlier this year, undefeated rising star Terence Crawford traveled to Scotland and captured the WBO 135-pound belt from Ricky Burns. His one-sided decision over the very experienced reigning champion showed exactly what kind of potential Crawford has.
Yuriorkis Gamboa has been one of the most wasted boxing talents of the past several years. The former Cuban amateur has catlike agility and explosive power. At times, he's looked like boxing's next big star.
But he's been incredibly inactive in recent years. He fought just once each in 2012 and 2013. He was out of action for over a year between 2011 and 2012 and hasn't fought in nearly a year now.
The winner of this fight would command tremendous respect in the sport moving forward.
8. Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Leo Santa Cruz
Guillermo Rigondeaux made history when he schooled pound-for-pound star Nonito Donaire in just his 12th professional fight. The two-time Olympic gold medalist proved he had boxing skills and ring intelligence of the highest level.
Unfortunately, after taking care of Donaire, Rigo has been left with precious few options for a follow-up opponent worthy of his reputation and skill.
Leo Santa Cruz is the WBC champion at super bantamweight and should be the obvious next opponent for Rigondeaux. Unfortunately, Rigo is with Top Rank, and Leo Santa Cruz is signed with Golden Boy.
But with Oscar De La Hoya and Bob Arum appearing to have mended their relationship in recent weeks, the time could be perfect for this fight to get made.
I wouldn't necessarily pick Santa Cruz to beat Nonito Donaire. But I do think the relentless, pressure-fighting Santa Cruz could make for a more exciting opponent against Rigondeaux.
7. Lucas Matthysse vs. Adrien Broner
Adrien Broner made his debut at 140 pounds on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana fight. It was clearly a better weight for him than full welterweight, as he won a relatively easy decision over Carlos Molina.
Fighting a slower, less athletic opponent without dangerous power, Broner was able to return to the brash, show-boating behavior that has made him so easy to boo in recent years. When speaking to Showtime's Jim Gray post-fight, Broner set new lows for even his own behavior, spewing profanities and wildly exaggerating the degree to which he handled the game with Molina.
Fans who loved seeing Broner humbled by Maidana last December would no doubt salivate over the chance to see him matched with Maidana's fellow Argentinian, Lucas Matthysse.
Matthysse would present Broner with many of the same problems that Maidana did. And nothing in Broner's performance against the gritty but limited Molina proved that he has made the kind of improvements necessary to beat a monster like Matthysse.
6. Mikey Garcia vs. Takashi Uchiyama
The younger brother of elite trainer Robert Garcia, Mikey Garcia, is a boxing protege. As a rising prospect, he always demonstrated a veteran's ring intelligence.
But since stepping up to the world-championship level in 2013, he has looked even sharper. In January 2013, he pounded WBO featherweight champion Orlando Salido, knocking him down three times and earning an eight-round technical decision.
In November 2013, he moved up to super featherweight and captured the WBO belt there with a Round 8 KO of Roman Martinez.
Japan's Takashi Uchiyama has meanwhile emerged as one of the sport's most explosive fighters. He's 21-0-1 with 17 KOs.
The draw on his record was of the three-round, technical variety. Nobody has seriously challenged him in a full-length fight.
Garcia and Uchiyama are clearly the two most exciting fighters in the world at 130 pounds. They'd be perfect for a Top Rank card in Macau, China.
5. Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter
While Adrien Broner was being wildly over-hyped the past few years, welterweights Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter were steadily building their resumes and establishing themselves in the sport.
The fact that Porter, in particular, had been overlooked was vividly highlighted in April when he torched Paulie Malignaggi by Round 4 TKO, less than a year after Malignaggi gave Broner all the problems he could handle.
Thurman and Porter both look like budding superstars. They can both box, and they can both bang. Each man has the kind of self-confidence a champion prizefighter requires and the sort of engaging personality that fans cheer for.
They aren't braggers. They are doers.
Porter vs. Thurman would be a showdown between two ultra-talented, undefeated warriors. The winner would emerge as a potential Mayweather opponent that the fans would be excited about. The loser would likely still be positioned well for his career moving forward.
When the young lions face off, it's always great for the sport.
4. Sergio Martinez vs. Gennady Golovkin
Sergio Martinez has to beat Miguel Cotto in June before he can think of fighting anybody else. Gennady Golovkin has to get by Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. in July.
But I would be very surprised if either Martinez or Golovkin lost. And so long as they take care of their business as expected, boxing fans will be beating the drums to see these two middleweight champions face off later in the year.
Martinez is the WBC and lineal champion at 160 pounds, and he's viewed as a pound-for-pound star. Gennady Golovkin is the WBA champion and has emerged since late 2012 as one of the hottest fighters in the sport.
Martinez is 40 now and has had multiple surgeries over the past two years. But if he makes a strong return against Cotto, a showdown with GGG should be a natural next step.
Middleweight has always been one of boxing's glamour divisions and fans want to see the biggest possible fights get made there.
3. Danny Garcia vs. Ruslan Provodnikov
It's common to hear boxing fans wax nostalgic for the old days, when there was only one world champion per division. With four major sanctioning bodies, even the greatest champions have a hard time unifying all the belts.
But one fight at 140 pounds could yield what would be, for all practical purposes, the undisputed light welterweight champion. Last September, the WBA and WBC champion Danny Garcia beat Lucas Matthysse in decisive fashion.
In his previous fight, Matthysse had destroyed IBF champion Lamont Peterson by Round 3 TKO.
Ruslan Provodnikov, meanwhile, emerged as a star in 2013. In March, he nearly knocked out Timothy Bradley en route to losing in a Fight of the Year performance. In October, he battered Mike Alvarado to seize the WBO light welterweight belt by Round 10 TKO.
So a fight between Provodnikov and Garcia could unify all the belts that currently matter at 140 pounds. Beyond that, it would be a compelling fight between two of the sport's biggest rising stars.
Provodnikov is a granite slab of a man with dangerous punching power. Garcia is a well-rounded boxer with a dynamite lead hook, who always finds ways to win.
With relations thawing between Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya, perhaps this is a fight that could happen after all.
2. Wladimir Klitschko vs. Kubrat Pulev
I suspect I have this fight ranked higher than many would place it. The heavyweight championship has fallen sadly under the radar in recent years.
But that is largely because fights like this one don't get made. For the heavyweight title to be the biggest championship in sports, the man who holds the belt needs to fight the toughest available competition.
Right now, Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev has the best claim to that status. The former Olympian is 20-0 with 11 KOs and has the best resume of any heavyweight contender.
In 2012, he stopped Alexander Ustinov and Alexander Dimitrenko, a couple of giant heavyweights with a combined record of 59-1. In 2013, he beat experienced Tony Thompson by comfortable margins on the cards.
At 6'4.5", Pulev has the height and skills to touch Wladmir Klitschko on the chin.
I'd certainly favor Klitschko to win this bout. But he'd have to actually fight to win it. His punch, clinch and lean style would not hold up against Pulev.
An opponent with the size and skills to force the younger Klitschko brother to fight would be the best thing that could happen in the heavyweight division. It would be great for the overall health of the sport.
1. Floyd Mayweather vs. Marcos Maidana
I didn't see a single boxing writer pick Marcos Maidana to do anything but lose by a wide-margin unanimous decision against Floyd Mayweather. I didn't talk to one fan who gave the Argentinian slugger a chance.
But last Saturday night in Las Vegas, Maidana did what nobody had been able to do since Jose Luis Castillo in 2002. He forced Mayweather into a hard-fought brawl. When the bell rang to end Round 12, it was far from clear what the verdict would be.
Mayweather ended up with a majority decision that many in the MGM crowd booed. Maidana left the ring to a hero's applause. Both fighter's and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer all told Showtime's Jim Gray on camera that they would welcome a rematch.
Fans have been clamoring for Mayweather to fight Manny Pacquiao for half a decade now. But after Marcos Maidana's performance against Mayweather last Saturday night, Mayweather-Maidana II is the new must-happen fight.