Boxers Whose Popularity Will Continue to Grow in 2014
When Miguel Cotto jumped all over Sergio Martinez in June and rolled him for the WBC and lineal middleweight titles via Round 10 TKO, he rallied some of the most passionate fans in the sport. One of the most popular boxers of this century, Cotto is the rare fighter who is admired by virtually every true fan of the sport.
When a longtime star of Cotto's standing makes a mid-career comeback, fans flock to him.
An individual sport like boxing lives and dies on the popularity of its stars. Heading into the end of 2014, boxing has a roster of charismatic talent, ready and anxious to keep winning fans.
10. Chris Algieri
Chris Algieri's gritty split-decision victory over Ruslan Provodnikov in June was among the best performances of this year. Algieri had to recover from a first-round shellacking to outbox the "Siberian Rocky" the rest of the way.
It was the kind of upset win that can make an unknown fighter popular overnight. Still, it seems a bit excessive that the fight was his golden ticket to facing Manny Pacquiao this fall. Fights with the likes of Jessie Vargas or Viktor Postol would have made more sense to me.
But the unexpected shot at Pacman will continue to send Algieri's popularity upward. Fans love an underdog story, and the Floyd Mayweather fans who feel obligated to hate Pacquiao will rally behind Algieri.
At the same time, the diehard Pacquiao fans will have to support him as a credible opponent.
In the ring, Algieri's length and style could present problems for Pacquiao, if Algieri is able to adjust to Pacquiao's speed.
9. Adonis Stevenson
When Adonis Stevenson signed with Al Haymon and moved to Showtime earlier this year, to fans in the United States it seemed like a fear-motivated decision, meant to avoid Sergey Kovalev, who remains under contract with HBO.
But in Stevenon's fight-crazy Montreal home, the move made sense. It's the quicker route to a fight with Bernard Hopkins, and that is the bigger fight to fans in Quebec.
Stevenson is an athletic fighter with explosive power. Those kind of boxers are always going to be popular. If "Superman" can beat Hopkins and unify three of the four major belts at light heavyweight, his popularity will continue to rise.
8. Keith Thurman
Keith Thurman has all the qualities fans like to see in a rising boxing star. He is a tactically intelligent fighter who adjusts well to his opponent. He's extremely confident yet thoughtful in his interviews.
And he can crack. The undefeated "One Time" has stopped 21 of 23 opponents.
Thurman could use a big fight before the end of the year to keep his momentum going. He's established himself as one of the top fighters in the welterweight division, and every move he makes from now on should be calculated with a design on landing Thurman in the biggest possible fights.
7. Sergey Kovalev
WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev takes his undefeated record into the ring against fellow unbeaten Blake Caparello of Australia on August 2. Caparello is a talented fighter, but that should ultimately just give Kovalev more opportunity to look good when he knocks him out.
Kovalev has the kind of dangerous power that electrifies crowds. He is also a skilled, methodical fighter who carefully probes openings while breaking opponents down.
Kovalev's popularity is enhanced by the perception among some fans that he's being ducked by fellow champion Adonis Stevenson.
6. Terence Crawford
So far Terence Crawford would get my vote for 2014's breakout star. The undefeated Nebraska native went to Scotland last March and won the WBO lightweight belt from veteran champion Ricky Burns by unanimous decision.
In June Crawford took on Yuriorkis Gamboa in one of the biggest lightweight showdowns in years. Gamboa entered the fight with a perfect record and a reputation as one of the sport's most dangerous pound-for-pound punchers.
Crawford adjusted to Gamboa's speed in the early rounds and proceeded to beat him up, knocking him out in Round 9.
The win has Crawford on the fast track to superstardom. Expect the likable champion's popularity to continue to surge.
5. Shawn Porter
Shawn Porter is part of the same trend as Keith Thurman and Terence Crawford. Porter is yet another well-rounded, undefeated young star who can punch or box, depending upon what's called for strategically.
Porter beat talented Devon Alexander to capture the IBF welterweight belt last December and then blew out cagey veteran Paulie Malignaggi by Round 4 TKO in April. On August 2 he faces unbeaten Kell Brook of England.
If Porter turns in another great performance and wins that one, he'll be near the top of the list for the biggest fights in the sport.
4. Bermane Stiverne
North American boxing fans have been waiting a long time for a new heavyweight boxing star to emerge. When Bermane Stiverne knocked out Chris Arreola in Round 6 to claim the vacant WBC heavyweight title last May, he showed that he might be ready to claim that spot.
Stiverne showed smart tactical boxing to adjust to Arreola's own strong attack, and he displayed stunning power when he put away the normally iron-jawed Arreola.
Something is very wrong with boxing is Stiverne doesn't defend his belt against Deontay Wilder before the end of the year. The buildup to the fight would generate more excitement in North America than any heavyweight fight has in years.
And I think Stiverne would win, which would make a major star.
3. Gennady Golovkin
Gennady Golovkin is an appealing type of knockout artist. He's soft spoken and quick to smile in interviews or press conferences.
But in the ring he is methodically ruthless. Golovkin beats up opponents with brutal efficiency.
It's made him one of the sport's biggest rising stars. The Kazakhstan native has taken the U.S. boxing scene by storm since his North American debut in September 2012.
Golovkin is due to face Daniel Geale this weekend. Geale is the biggest test of his career, but it's one he should pass with his typical dominance.
Beyond that he should be in line for a major, high-profile fight for the end of this year or the beginning of next.
2. Saul Alvarez
There are fans who will continue to complain that Saul Alvarez is popular beyond his accomplishments. They have a point. But at the same time, it's only fair to admit that "Canelo" has done everything he can to repay his fans' loyalty.
Alvarez has made it a habit to take the most dangerous fights available when he could have made at least as much money fighting somebody else. He fought Austin Trout in 2013 when he didn't have to and he fought Erislandy Lara this year when he didn't need to.
That's what fans should expect from boxing stars, but all too often in today's world, it's not what they get. As long as Canelo continues to give it to them, his popularity will continue to rise.
1. Miguel Cotto
Historically, when a boxing star defies the so-called experts and earns a major upset deep into his career, it takes his popularity to a whole new level. It was the case for Muhammad Ali when he stopped George Foreman and for Ray Leonard when he came off the couch to beat Marvin Hagler by split decision.
It's what we are observing now for Miguel Cotto in the wake of his sensational performance over Sergio Martinez last June. I still maintain that fight tells a lot about Martinez's state of decline.
But I've always been a fan of Cotto, and I'm happy to see him get his just due for his historic win. Now the first four-division world champion in Puerto Rican boxing history, Cotto finds himself in the driver's seat for pursuing many of the sport's biggest potential fights.
A rematch with Floyd Mayweather now makes sense. Superfights with Saul Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin would be extremely lucrative. A unification bout with WBO champ Peter Quillen would sell out in New York City.