Stock Watch for the Top Brawlers in Boxing Today

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

Stock Watch for the Top Brawlers in Boxing Today

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    A pure brawler won't get far in the sport of boxing. Even an unheralded club fighter will generally have far too much technical skill for an unrefined mook who is simply swinging for the fences.

    So the boxers on this list have schooling in the sweet science. Still, their willingness and aptitude for digging in and going to war have brought them to the level of success they enjoy.

    It's also what has made them popular with fans. The sport's brawlers sell tickets and help drive ratings. Even boxing purists enjoy the excitement of a true donnybrook.

Giovani Segura

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    Giovani Segura's stock has dropped a long way since he cracked The Ring's pound-for-pound top 10 as a hammering light flyweight champion in 2011. In December of that year he moved up to 112 pounds and was dismantled by technical master Brian Viloria in eight rounds.

    He lost another fight by unanimous decision to veteran Edgar Sosa 18 months later. At that point his stock appeared as if it might be at rock bottom.

    But he's rebounded well since. Last November, Segura stopped former champion Hernan Marquez by Round 12 KO. 

    The flyweight division is red-hot now, and Segura is in the middle of it. On September 6 he faces WBO and WBA champion Juan Francisco Estrada in Mexico City. The day before that, lineal and WBC champ Akira Yaegashi will face undefeated, two-division champion Roman Gonzalez in Tokyo.

    If the winners of these two bouts face off, there would be a true champion at 112 pounds.     

Leo Santa Cruz

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    Like many fighters on this list, it's a bit unfair to categorize Leo Santa Cruz purely as a brawler. He has true boxing talent and does an excellent job of covering up in exchanges.

    Still, Santa Cruz wins fights by getting in his opponent's face and banging. The all-action style has made him one of the hottest emerging stars in the sport over the past few years. The undefeated Santa Cruz has already collected world titles at 118 and 122 pounds at just 25 years of age.

    He has become a fixture on Golden Boy pay-per-views, and he'll fight on the Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana II card in September, although the opponent has not yet been named. His stock is high and has room to keep climbing.

    It could get a boost from the fact that Guillermo Rigondeaux's contract with Top Rank and HBO has expired. The undefeated Cuban star would be a very tough challenge for Santa Cruz, but he'd also give the Mexican the most notable opponent of his career and his first crack at a superfight.

Orlando Salido

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    Orlando Salido has lost a dozen professional fights, which is a lot for a world-class-level fighter. But most of those defeats came more than a decade ago. Salido is a classic case of a hard-knocks fighter who developed into a star.

    Salido is a good ring general and used superior control of range to land the far better punches while stopping Juan Manuel Lopez twice and handing the Puerto Rican star his first two professional losses. But against truly elite technical boxers like Juan Manuel Marquez and Mikey Garcia, Salido has struggled.

    Against Vasyl Lomachenko last March, Salido gave the highly decorated amateur prodigy a firsthand lesson in brawling. Using every tactic the referee would let him get away with, Salido earned a split-decision victory.

    Still, his stock is in slight decline. His inability to make weight for his fight with Lomachenko cost him his WBO featherweight title, and he has not immediately jumped into the conversations for the big fights at 130.

    Salido is just 33, but he's been a professional fighter since age 16. He has a lot of miles on his odometer, though he'd still provide a grinding night of work for nearly anybody in the sport.

Ruslan Provodnikov

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    Ruslan Provodnikov entered 2014 as one of the hottest fighters in the sport. In March of last year he nearly knocked out Timothy Bradley in three different rounds while losing a very close decision in a Fight of the Year war.

    He followed up by smashing Mike Alvarado in October to collect the WBO light welterweight belt.

    When Provodnikov faced the relatively unknown Chris Algieri in June, it was considered a letdown. Provodnikov had become a name that fans expected to see in the biggest fights.

    Provodnikov started the fight with a flourish, knocking the challenger down twice in the opening round. But Algieri recovered and turned in an incredibly gutsy performance, earning a split decision and the belt with his eye nearly closed.

    So Provodnikov's stock has clearly taken a dive. Still, if he was an actual stock being analyzed for portfolio investment, The Siberian Rocky would have to be viewed as sound. The loss to Algieri was very close and hotly debated.

    Moreover, Provodnikov is exactly the kind of fighter that fans love to see. His stock should climb once more.

Lucas Matthysse

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    Lucas Matthysse's stock was clearly higher than it is now prior to his September 2013 loss to Danny Garcia. He was the favorite heading into that fight and was spoken of as a potential opponent for Floyd Mayweather.

    Garcia was able to stand up to Matthysse's aggression and use boxing skill to land the better punches. It was still a very competitive fight, and Matthysse remains among the light welterweight's elite. But Garcia demonstrated that Matthysse has some flaws.

    An exciting fighter like Matthysse is only ever one performance away from sending his stock back up, though. He was back in action last April against John Molina. An underdog going into the fight, Molina came at Matthysse and knocked him down in the second and fifth rounds.

    Matthysse also suffered a cut from a head-butt. Still, back in the comfortable climate of a true brawl, the Argentine quickly found his bearings. He knocked down Molina in Rounds 8 and 10 and knocked Molina out in Round 11.

    The fight is the leading candidate so far for 2014's Fight of the Year. And Matthysse's stock is climbing again.

Brandon Rios

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    Brandon Rios came into 2014 riding a two-fight losing streak. In March 2013 he lost an exciting rematch against Mike Alvarado by unanimous decision. Last November he was pummeled for 12 rounds by Manny Pacquiao.

    So Rios' stock is obviously down. But if this was Wall Street and he was a company on the index, he'd be well-positioned to rise.

    Rios gets back in action this weekend against Diego Chaves of Argentina, a rugged brawler in his own right who has lost only to Keith Thurman. This is one of those fights that look extremely promising on paper.

    Chaves is exactly the kind of opponent who should give Rios the opportunity to do what he does best. Expect to see a lot of standing and trading from these two—and a big smile on Rios' face.

Marcos Maidana

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    Marcos Maidana has improved as a boxer since he started working with Robert Garcia. He jabs more and uses angles better. If it wasn't for his improved skill level, he would never have been able to make his fight with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather last May so tantalizingly close.

    Maidana did a better job than anybody has in years of preventing Mayweather from having a lot of success with counterpunching. Still, brawling was clearly at the heart of his attack.

    Mayweather quipped afterward that he felt like he'd fought an MMA fighter, not a boxer. And there's no doubt that the referee let Maidana get away with a lot of borderline roughhousing.

    Maidana's crude approach earned a victory on one of the three scorecards. While he lost, the demand for a rematch was loud enough to earn Maidana a second shot at the king in September.

    Unless Maidana can pull off the upset this time around, his stock is now as high as it's likely to ever be.   

James Kirkland

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    Injuries and legal troubles have repeatedly slowed down the promising career of James Kirkland. But the hard-punching Mandingo Warrior is just 30 years old and is 32-1 with 28 knockouts in his career.

    So it's easy to imagine him in big fights at 154 and 160 pounds in the future.

    Kirkland's stock has a history of rising and falling. In April 2011 he was shocked by Japanese journeyman Nobuhiro Ishida, going down by TKO in the first. Six months later he looked to be on the brink of suffering the same fate against Alfredo Angulo, when he rallied and roared back to stop El Perro in six, in one of the most exciting fights of that year.

    Kirkland's stock should be on its way back up following his scary Round 6 TKO of Glen Tapia last December. Tapia may have shown too much heart for his own good, as Kirkland's power and relentless ferocity overwhelmed him.

Alfredo Angulo

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    Alfredo Angulo has been stopped in two straight fights now and three of his last five. There's no question that El Perro's stock is in decline.

    Still, like the other fighters on this list, Angulo is the type of popular action fighter whom promoters are happy to book. While losing to Erislandy Lara in June 2013, he managed to drop the tough Cuban twice before getting his eye punched shut in Round 10.

    He was straight up pounded by Saul Alvarez last March but lost on his feet, still arguing for more time when the referee halted the action in Round 10.

    Angulo has taken more than his share of damage in recent years, and his best days are now very likely behind him. At the same time, he'll probably get the opportunity to push his stock back up.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

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    I would argue that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s stock reached an all-time high on the night of his first defeat. In September 2012, Sergio Martinez handed him a boxing lesson. Yet Chavez continued to wade through punishment for round after round and in the 12th dropped the champion, nearly pulling off a last-minute upset.

    Almost immediately after the fight it was announced that Chavez had tested positive for marijuana. He served nearly a yearlong suspension and then returned to face journeyman middleweight Bryan Vera.

    Chavez had to renegotiate the agreed-upon weight for that fight multiple times and turned in a lackluster effort in the ring. The judges gave him the decision, but it was booed by the StubHub Center crowd, which had begun the fight cheering Chavez.

    I scored the fight seven rounds to three for Vera. Chavez seemed more interested in complaining to the ref than in waging an active offense.

    The two fought again last March. This time Chavez seemed to prepare better, and he clearly deserved the decision. Still, it took him two efforts to convincingly beat a smaller fighter with very limited defense and less-than-dangerous punching power.

    Chavez Jr. has always enjoyed the benefit of being the son of the most beloved fighter in Mexican history. Beyond that, he has often shown himself to be a gutsy brawler with a granite chin. His name continues to sell tickets, so he'll land more big fights in the future.

    But right now his stock has come close to bottoming out. He's still in his mid-20s, so it should go back up. It really has nowhere else left to go.