Unification Title Fights That Should Be Made Immediately
In a perfect boxing universe, the title "world champion" would carry much more weight than it does currently. A fighter who wore that title would stand alone at the top of the mountain, above all his peers.
In a perfect boxing universe, "world champion" would refer to just one man in each weight class. If any legitimate, competing claims to the title ever arose, arrangements would be made to settle them in the ring.
Of course, the boxing universe we live in is far from perfect. Not only do four different ranking organizations recognize champions, but they delight in further muddying the waters by designating "super" world champions and "regular" world champions, as well as assorted "interim" world champions.
To be a world champion in boxing should mean your name is instantly recognizable to casual fans. As it stands now, we have plenty of "world champions" who aren't even recognizable to serious fans. Heck, most serious fans don't even make it a special point to keep track of "world champions" at this point.
The sport could be doing so much better at this, although it would take major cooperation between rival promoters Top Rank and Golden Boy, as well as between rival networks HBO and Showtime. But it would revive fan enthusiasm for the sport quicker than anything else.
In the long term, it would be a boon to anybody involved in the boxing business.
7. Cruiserweight: Marco Huck vs. Yoan Pablo Hernandez
I feel like this one should have happened years ago. Yoan Pablo Hernandez is the IBF cruiserweight champ, and Marco Huck is the WBO champ. The two of them stand well above the rest of the current 200-pound crop.
Both men are skilled fighters who have beaten tough, credible challengers in impressive fashion. Both men fight out of Germany, and I have to think this fight would draw a huge crowd there.
Cruiserweight tends to get overlooked in the U.S., but this is a showdown that the hardcore fans would be interested in watching, even if it was only on stream.
6. Super Bantamweight: Leo Santa Cruz vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux
WBA and WBO super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux is among the two or three most talented boxers in the world today. But after schooling Nonito Donaire last year, he's already running short of credible opponents just 13 fights into his professional career.
Leo Santa Cruz is the undefeated IBF champion at 122 pounds. He has an exciting, all-action style that has made him popular with fans. The two-time Olympic gold medalist would be a tough opponent for Santa Cruz, but he has the conditioning and volume-punching ability to perhaps force an exciting fight with Rigo.
Unfortunately, Rigondeaux and Santa Cruz are two players in boxing's perpetual cold war between Top Rank and Golden Boy. Instead, Rigondeaux will return to action in Macao, China in July against Jonathan Guzman.
Guzman is undefeated at 16-0, but he hasn't exactly faced stiff competition. His last four opponents have a combined record of 20-45-1.
5. Super Featherweight: Mikey Garcia vs. Takashi Uchiyama
This is another fight that makes so much sense that it's hard to believe it isn't happening. Mikey Garcia is the undefeated WBO champion at 130 pounds at 34-0 with 28 KOs. He's viewed as a potential pound-for-pound superstar.
Takashi Uchiyama is the WBA super featherweight champion at 21-0 with 17 wins by stoppage. He is one of the most exciting, explosive punchers in the sport today.
This fight could be sensational for one man's career and potentially good even for the loser. Garcia's promoter Top Rank now presents cards routinely from Macao, China.
So how hard could it be to bring the Japanese star over to mainland Asia for a showdown with Garcia?
4. Light Welterweight: Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Danny Garcia
This is another fight that will probably never happen because of the Top Rank and Golden Boy feud. In a perfect boxing universe, it would have already happened this year.
Danny Garcia captured the WBC light welterweight belt when he beat Erik Morales in March 2012 and then unified it with the WBA strap when he stopped Amir Khan by TKO in July of the same year. His unanimous-decision victory over Lucas Matthysse last September consolidated his claim to supremacy at 140 pounds.
But Ruslan Provodnikov has his own claim to the crown, and in a perfect boxing universe, it would need to be resolved. He was one of 2013's breakout stars in the sport. In March he nearly knocked out Timothy Bradley in a Fight of the Year thriller.
Last October he captured the WBO light welterweight strap when he pummeled Mike Alvarado before stopping him in 10. Provodnikov will fight Chris Algieri in June, who has done nothing to warrant the title shot.
Meanwhile, yet another extremely relevant fight is going unmade.
3. Middleweight: Gennady Golovkin vs. Peter Quillin
Sergio Martinez is the WBC and lineal middleweight champion. But he's 39 and has undergone multiple surgeries in the past two years.
More importantly, he's fighting Miguel Cotto this summer. Cotto is a future Hall of Famer and a three-division world champion, but he's never fought a single time at middleweight and is arguably not even in the top five at junior middleweight.
Martinez's desire to fight Cotto instead of another middleweight titleholder is understandable, given the point he's reached in his career. But it makes him less relevant in the division.
So while Martinez pursues a superfight with another superstar on the backside of his career, the best thing that could happen in the division right now would be a unification bout between WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and WBO champ Peter Quillin.
Both stars are undefeated and have recorded impressive stoppage wins. There would be complications due to Golovkin's involvement with HBO and Quillin's contract with Showtime, and GGG would have to beat former champion Daniel Geale in July.
But Golovkin and Quillin both view themselves as the future of the middleweight division. They should fight before the end of 2014 to see which one of them is right.
2. Light Heavyweight: Sergey Kovalev vs. Adonis Stevenson
In the alternate, perfect boxing universe, this fight already happened last April. And boy, was it a great one.
How could it not have happened? Both Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson broke out as major stars in 2013. They both went 4-0 with four stoppages. They both won light heavyweight world titles.
Stevenson won the WBC and lineal title by stunning Chad Dawson with a Round 1 KO. Sergey Kovalev traveled to Wales and took the WBO strap from Nathan Cleverly with a brutal Round 4 TKO.
And both men were under contract to fight on HBO. So this fight seemed like a certainty.
But in our real boxing universe, what should happen often does not happen. Earlier this year, Stevenson signed with Al Haymon as his manager and jumped ship to Showtime.
At this point, it looks a lot more likely that Stevenson will fight a unification bout with IBF and WBA champion Bernard Hopkins, one of my favorite fighters. If he can figure out a way to frustrate and outfox Stevenson at age 49, I'll be thrilled to see it.
But nobody should kid themselves about this. Kovalev vs. Stevenson, the battle of the big punchers, is the fight that would truly be good for the sport.
1. Welterweight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao
This fight would be bigger than any of the titles involved. It would draw in casual boxing fans who wouldn't be able to tell you what alphabet soup titles were on the line or which weight class was being showcased.
But if Floyd Mayweather were to put his WBA and WBC welterweight belts on the line against Manny Pacquiao's WBO strap, it would go a long way toward fixing so much of what is wrong with the sport.
On a media call I participated in last week with Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion reflected on how the sport has changed since his glory days. He said, "Back then, it wasn't so much about the business to us. We took it more personal. If somebody else said they were the best in the world, that was enough for us to want to fight them."
Pacquiao vs. Mayweather would be very good business for both men. And for once, it would mean giving boxing fans exactly what they want.
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