Former Champions Most Likely to Regain a Belt in 2014
Saturday night on pay-per-view, Miguel Cotto will challenge for a fourth world title when he faces WBC and lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. A win will make him the first four-division world champion ever from Puerto Rico.
Cotto is one of a group of former champions who should get the opportunity to win gold again in the second half of 2014.
Even in this era of alphabet-soup proliferation, holding a world title is a major accomplishment. It takes a special fighter to come back from defeat to win one again.
5. Marcos Maidana
Marcos Maidana dropped his WBA welterweight belt in a unification fight with WBC champ Floyd Mayweather on May 3. Few people outside of his own camp even expected Maidana to be competitive in the bout.
Instead, the hard-nosed Argentine forced the pound-for-pound king to fight for 12 grinding rounds, earning a draw on one judge's card and ultimately losing by majority decision. A detailed report by BoxingNews.com's Bobby Hunter found nearly 20 percent of boxing media felt Maidana either won or deserved a draw.
Considering the lack of other compelling opponents for Mayweather, a rematch for this fall seems likely. Obviously, fans would like to see Mayweather finally face off with Manny Pacquiao, but if that's not going to happen, Mayweather vs. Maidana II would be the next best thing.
I consider it unlikely that Maidana would prevail in a rematch. Mayweather adjusted to his brawling style and was clearly on top in the second half of the first fight. My feeling is that after studying Maidana for 12 rounds, Mayweather would be able to separate himself even more quickly in the rematch.
Then again, I didn't think Maidana could make the first fight competitive.
If Maidana doesn't fight Mayweather, another option I could easily imagine for him would be a move up to junior middleweight to face the winner of Saul Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara. Maidana is one of the hottest fighters in the sport right now, so expect Golden Boy to cash in.
4. Abner Mares
Last August Abner Mares dropped his WBC featherweight title to Jhonny Gonzalez by Round 1 KO. It was among the year's most shocking moments. At the time, Mares was an undefeated, three-division world champion.
At first it appeared he would exercise his rematch clause and schedule an immediate return bout. Last December ESPN's Dan Rafael announced that the bout was all set to happen in mid-February. But that date came and went.
It appears the time allotted for the rematch clause must have expired, and Mares will instead return to action on the Saul Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara pay-per-view in July to face Jonathan Oquendo. According to BoxingScene.com's Jake Donovan, Mares will likely have to face Jayson Velez in a title-eliminator fight if he gets by Oquendo.
So there might not be enough time for Mares to get back into a title fight before 2014 is over. But I'd hardly be surprised to see him slated back into the slot by the fall. Mares was one of the sport's biggest rising stars prior to his sudden tumble against Gonzalez.
By placing him on the Alvarez card, Golden Boy is indicating that it is anxious to insert him back into the spotlight.
3. Miguel Cotto
On paper, I don't consider this a particularly good matchup for Miguel Cotto. Sergio Martinez has a reach advantage of a half foot. He is the quicker, more athletic fighter, and his punching is far more explosive.
But the WBC middleweight champion is also 39. He's coming off more than a year of inactivity and has had multiple surgeries in the past two years.
So regardless of how great he has been in the past, Martinez might be ripe for the taking. And Cotto is the sort of talented professional who can turn even a small opening into a major edge over the course of a 12-round fight.
Cotto is well-rounded and knows how to do a lot of different things to win fights. I'm still favoring Martinez to win this Saturday. And if Martinez loses, I think it will say more about his decline than it does about Cotto's undeniable greatness.
But I'll hardly faint with surprise if Cotto pulls off the upset and becomes Puerto Rico's first four-division world champion.
2. Juan Manuel Marquez
Last September Juan Manuel Marquez came up short in his bid to become Mexico's first five-division world champion, when he dropped a split decision against WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley.
But Bradley lost that belt to Manny Pacquiao this past April, and Marquez got back in the win column in style in May, pounding Mike Alvarado over 12 rounds. So now the table is set for a fifth course in the greatest boxing rivalry of this century.
I've heard plenty of grumbling about the possibility of yet another fight between Pacquiao and Marquez. But folks were grumbling before the fourth fight too, and that ended up being 2012's Fight of the Year.
Like anybody, I'd rather see Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather than a guy he's already fought four times. But I don't believe the Mayweather fight is likely to happen, and there's no way a fifth fight between Marquez and Pacquiao will be anything other than exciting.
The last time these two legends meant, Marquez landed a perfect counter right that put Pacquiao to sleep for several minutes. If he can connect with a shot like that again this fall, he'll have one more world title to hang in his trophy case.
1. Yuriorkis Gamboa
Former WBA featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa will challenge newly crowned WBO lightweight champion Terence Crawford later this month in Crawford's hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. It's the most significant lightweight showdown in years.
Both fighters have identical records of 23-0 with 16 KOs. But they are at very different points in their careers. At 26, Crawford looks like he could be a budding superstar. In March he traveled to Scotland and took the belt off hometown hero and veteran champion Ricky Burns with a stellar performance.
Gamboa is 32 and has to worry that he's already lost the best years of his career to contract disputes and inactivity. But it wasn't so many years ago that he was viewed as an emerging pound-for-pound threat. He combines the technical skill you would expect from a former member of the Cuban national team with supreme athleticism and explosiveness.
This is a big opportunity for Gamboa to reassert himself as a major boxing star. A great performance against a young talent like Crawford would make a statement.