Burning Questions That Will Be Answered in 2014's Biggest Remaining Fights
You know the boxing year has gotten off to a great start when we are entering the summer months with so many intriguing questions waiting to be answered. After winning his closest fight in years in May, will Floyd Mayweather keep his word and give Marcos Maidana a rematch this fall?
Or will Money finally fight Manny Pacquiao? Or will Pac-Man fight Juan Manuel Marquez for a fifth time?
Beyond these potential superstar fights, other bouts on the dock offer the opportunity for new superstars to emerge.
For the first time in years, the heavyweight division is even showing a strong pulse.
10. Is Terence Crawford an Emerging Superstar?
For the past couple of years, action in the lightweight division has trended toward lackluster. Adrien Broner's pit stop there in 2012 provided a brief buzz when he starched Antonio DeMarco to win by Round 8 TKO.
But big fights at 135 pounds have been rare. It hasn't helped that arguably the division's top fighter, Miguel Vazquez, is a defensive specialist whose style doesn't always create exciting fights.
Things have gotten more interesting at lightweight this year following Terence Crawford's impressive unanimous-decision win over Ricky Burns in Scotland, which netted him the WBO world title. Crawford lived up to his potential, traveling to the hometown of an experienced world champion and leaving with the belt.
Next up for Crawford is the most dangerous fight of his career against fellow unbeaten star Yuriorkis Gamboa on June 28. The former Cuban amateur standout is an agile and explosive puncher.
Crawford has the frame to likely handle a move up to welterweight in the future. If he can solidify his reputation at 135 pounds by beating a fighter like Gamboa, he will be viewed as an emerging superstar.
9. Will the Former Soviet Bloc Destroyers Get Meaningful Fights?
The rise of fighters from the former Soviet Bloc has been a major part of boxing's developing scene in recent years. The Klitschkos have ruled the heavyweight ranks for more than a decade. But with each passing year, it seems like more elite fighters from Eastern Europe and Central Asia emerge.
The trend is illustrated vividly by a trio of titleholders from the former USSR whom, quite frankly, nobody seems to want to fight.
WBO light welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov burst onto the scene in March 2013 when he nearly knocked Timothy Bradley out in a fight-of-the-year war. Last October he collected his world title by pounding Mike Alvarado by Round 10 TKO.
Provodnikov tried to call out superstar Juan Manuel Marquez, who instead opted to fight Alvarado.
WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin developed into the hottest fighter in boxing in 2013, going 4-0 and running his KO streak to 16. Sergio Martinez is the WBC and lineal middleweight champion, but he'll be fighting Miguel Cotto this summer instead of GGG.
Like Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev went 4-0 with 4 KOs during 2013. In August he captured the WBO light heavyweight belt from Nathan Cleverly, smashing him in four rounds. Since Kovalev and WBC champion Adonis Stevenson both fought on HBO last year, there was a lot of hope for getting the two monster punchers together for a superfight this year.
But Stevenson opted to sign with Golden Boy and Showtime earlier this year instead.
Provodnikov, Golovkin and Kovalev would have to be on any list of the 10 fighters who most excite fans. It will be a shame if they all end 2014 without landing a fight that is worthy of them.
8. Is the Alien Ageless?
Bernard Hopkins broke his own record in April when he beat Beibut Shumenov by split decision to unify the WBA and IBF light heavyweight titles. At age 49, he extended his record as the oldest man to ever win a legitimate world title fight.
No professional athlete of any kind has ever been so good, so close to 50. To be doing it in a brutal sport like boxing is wondrous.
Hopkins has made no secret about having his sights set on WBC and lineal champion Adonis Stevenson next. The Haitian native and Montreal resident will be a tougher opponent than Shumenov. He has explosive power, which he demonstrated when he won the title from Chad Dawson via Round 1 KO.
But at this point, it's getting hard to doubt Hopkins. He looked terrific against Shumenov, knocking him down in Round 11. It's tough to understand what judge Gustavo Padilla was watching when he scored the bout 114-113 for Shumenov.
Fans and writers thought Hopkins was nearing his end a decade ago, but like a wild river, he just keeps going.
7. Is Canelo Truly Elite?
In terms of popularity, Saul Alvarez is a star already. As an opponent for Floyd Mayweather last September, Canelo helped set a new record for pay-per-view sales.
But his wild popularity has caused many fans to overrate him—and nearly as many to sell him short. As his performance against Mayweather showed, he still has some learning to do.
On the other hand, he's just 23, is already a veteran of more than 40 professional fights and has shown continual improvement over the past few years. In his return bout against Alfredo Angulo in March, Canelo was sharp and explosive. He thoroughly outboxed Angulo and stopped him in 10.
But that win hardly convinced the doubters. A dominant performance against Erislandy Lara, whom he fights in July, should.
Aside from Floyd Mayweather, Lara and Alvarez are the two top fighters in the world at 154 pounds. They both have wins over Austin Trout, though Lara's victory was more one-sided. They both TKO'd Angulo in 10, though Alvarez had fewer problems with "El Perro."
Their showdown in July will be one of the most hotly anticipated and relevant fights of the summer.
6. Is Sergio Martinez Still Elite?
Sergio Martinez has been one of the most exciting and talented pound-for-pound stars of the past decade. His one-punch KO of Paul Williams to capture the lineal middleweight crown in 2010 is one of the most iconic knockouts of this century.
But he's 39 and has undergone multiple surgeries in the past two years. It's impossible not to wonder how much "Maravilla" has left.
He has always fought with a highly athletic style, and fighters like that don't always age well. In his last fight in April 2013 against Martin Murray, Martinez looked far from dominant.
In June he returns to action against three-division world champion Miguel Cotto, and this fight should tell us a lot about what Martinez has left. Cotto is a Hall of Famer, to be sure, but Martinez is bigger and quicker and has far more explosive power.
In my opinion, if this one isn't relatively one-sided for Martinez, the takeaway is going to be Martinez's decline.
5. Is the Heavyweight Division Entering an Exciting New Era?
On May 10, Bermane Stiverne knocked out Chris Arreola to capture the vacant WBC crown. For the first time in years, a North American fighter holds a share of the heavyweight crown.
Stiverne's first defense should come against Deontay Wilder, the WBC's mandatory contender. He has started his career with a 31-fight KO streak, but he's yet to face a solid challenge. Stiverne should provide it to him.
Meanwhile, in England, Tyson Fury rematches with Dereck Chisora in July. The winner of that fight should be in line for a title shot in the future as well.
After earning a draw against undefeated Mike Perez earlier this year, Carlos Takam returns to action in June against Tony Thompson, who has become a dangerous gatekeeper late in his career.
Last March Vyacheslav Glazkov propelled himself far up the rankings by defeating Tomasz Adamek. A great matchup for Glazkov would be unbeaten American Bryant Jennings, whose scheduled fight with Mike Perez got scrubbed earlier this month.
Of course, Wladimir Klitschko still sits at the top of the mountain at heavyweight. But even he should be forced into an exciting fight this year. The IBF has mandated undefeated Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev as his next contender.
Pulev would be an underdog, but the Olympian has the physical stature to match Klitschko and the boxing skills to put the champ's notoriously vulnerable chin at risk.
By the time 2014 is over, we will have seen more big fights with the big men than we have in many years.
4. Is It Finally Amir Khan's Turn?
Amir Khan spent much of the end of last year camped by the telephone, waiting for the call that so many boxing stars hope to get—the opportunity to earn a million-dollar payday as an opponent to Floyd Mayweather on pay-per-view.
Even before Mayweather had taken care of Saul Alvarez in September, Khan was already being viewed as a likely opponent for May 2014. He even passed up a chance to fight Devon Alexander for the IBF welterweight belt.
But then Marcos Maidana pounded Adrien Broner in December and forced his way to the front of the line. Khan was instead handed an undercard slot against tough veteran Luis Collazo.
Khan handled Collazo with relative ease, knocking him down three times along the way. It looked like he had set himself up well to fight Mayweather next September.
Once again Maidana complicated matters, pushing the pound-for-pound star to the limit and losing by a contested majority decision. Before Maidana and Mayweather had even exited the ring, talk of a rematch was already underway.
Even though Mayweather, Maidana and Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer all told Showtime's Jim Gray in the ring that a rematch would happen, it's still too early to assume that one will take place. Khan might still get his crack at Mayweather after all.
But it's looking a lot like he's going to get jumped in line again.
3. Will Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez Go for Five?
Manny Pacquiao's unanimous-decision win over Timothy Bradley last April was his finest performance in at least three years. Fighting a younger, stronger fighter with world-class skill, Pacquiao used his trademark speed and unpredictable angles to pull away in the second half of the fight.
It erased his controversial split-decision loss to Bradley in June 2012, which most thought he should have won anyway. But it doesn't erase Pacquiao's knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012, despite the fact that Bradley beat Marquez last October.
The only way Pacquiao will ever avenge that is to climb into the ring with his longtime rival and give it one more go. So far these two have fought four times. The first three fights were razor-close, with Pacquiao going 2-0-1 but failing to win any of the fights outright on the cards.
The fourth fight was an action-packed, seesaw affair, with both men trading knockdowns. Pacquiao was up on the cards when Marquez caught him with a beautiful counter right that put the Filipino great to sleep in Round 6.
There will be grumbling if Pacquiao and Marquez meet for a fifth time. For one thing, fans want to see Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather. But there was grumbling before their fourth fight, and that ended up being 2012's Fight of the Year.
Marquez has to get by Mike Alvarado this weekend before he can ink any deal with Pacquiao. But I expect he will be successful at that.
And fans might as well resign themselves to Part V this fall.
2. Will Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana Fight Again?
Prior to their fight earlier this month, I didn't come across a single person who predicted that Marcos Maidana would do anything more against Floyd Mayweather than lose a one-sided decision. Instead the rugged Argentine turned the fight into an ugly brawl and forced the pound-for-pound king to rally in the second half of the fight just to escape with a contested majority decision.
Anytime a heavy underdog makes the fight close, some fans are going to come away crying "robbery." When the winner of the fight has as many detractors as Mayweather, it's particularly inevitable.
The fight was not a robbery. I thought Mayweather deserved to win 115-113. I thought Maidana was up four rounds to two at the midway point and Mayweather took five of six rounds down the stretch.
But many of those rounds were very close. I could see anything from 8-4 for Mayweather to 7-5 for Maidana.
Interest in Mayweather pay-per-views has lagged of late due to the fact that nobody seems like a competitive matchup for him. By giving the champ all he could handle, Maidana has injected more excitement into boxing than we've seen in years.
If Mayweather isn't going to make a fight with Manny Pacquiao this fall, he definitely needs to make a rematch with Maidana.
1. Will Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao Finally Fight?
Boxing fans have been asking for this fight since the early years of the Obama administration. I don't even want to think about how many words boxing writers have written about it.
Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao would be the biggest money fight of all time. And yet, year after year, it goes unmade.
Mayweather's recent signs of vulnerability against Marcos Maidana and Pacquiao's stellar performance against Timothy Bradley have only intensified the demand for it. After Mayweather's win over Maidana, even "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali weighed in, tweeting congratulations to the pound-for-pound king but urging him to face Pacquiao:
— Muhammad Ali (@MuhammadAli) May 4, 2014
I won't believe this fight is likely to happen until I see both men at a press conference and signing the contract. But in the meantime, like everybody else, I can hope.