Predicting When Boxing's Top Undefeated Fighters Will Receive Their 1st Loss
Undefeated records have taken on an unhealthy value in contemporary boxing. Floyd Mayweather's perfect record is a remarkable historical achievement and makes him an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But it doesn't necessarily mean he deserves to rank above other great fighters from earlier eras, when boxers competed more frequently and every top guy fought every other top guy, often multiple times. In that kind of environment, losses were inevitable, no matter how great a fighter was.
Still, winning is the point of the contest. And no fighter wants to give up his zero.
Here's a look at when the top unbeaten stars in the sport today are likely to finally lose.
Peter Quillin is the undefeated WBO middleweight champion. He deserves accolades and acclaim for his accomplishments.
But a close look at his list of opponents removes some of the luster from his glow. Some fans have been critical of Gennady Golovkin's opponents, but GGG destroyed three fighters who were ranked in the top 10 when he faced them: Grzegorz Proksa, Matthew Macklin and Daniel Geale. Geale and Macklin were arguably top five.
Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam is the only opponent Quillin has faced who was close to being in the top 10. Kid Chocolate did look brilliant at times in that fight, knocking N'Jikam down six times. But knockdowns aside, I had N'Jikam winning six of 12 rounds in the fight.
Quillin stopped journeyman light middleweight Gabriel Rosado on cuts and was well up on the cards at the time. But those were three of the worst cards I've seen in recent years. I had Rosado and Quillin fighting close to even.
My guess is Quillin's first loss will come against a 154-pound fighter moving up. Saul Alvarez has shown a willingness to fight anybody and everybody. If he wants to chase a belt at middleweight, Quillin's would be easier to claim than Golovkin or Miguel Cotto's.
Deontay Wilder has created as much excitement as any United States heavyweight in recent years. He's won his first 31 professional fights by knockout. And his knockouts have been quick and violent.
But Wilder is way overdue for a step up in competition. He's established that he's a dangerous puncher. It's time to see how he will stand up against a big man who can get in his face and hit him back.
Wilder has his next fight scheduled for later this month against an opponent yet to be determined. He should be fighting WBC champion Bermane Stiverne. Wilder is the No. 1 contender for that belt.
The fact that Wilder's people aren't falling all over themselves to make that fight hints that they have doubts about his ability to take a big punch. Because make no mistake: Stiverne can bang. Not even Vitali Klitschko managed to flatten Chris Arreola the way Stiverne did.
Wilder could stay undefeated indefinitely if he's matched against the right competition. He can knock out the vast majority of heavyweights in this world without breaking a sweat.
But those sorts of fights won't prepare him for a legitimate challenge. My prediction is that Wilder loses if and when he fights either Stiverne or Wladimir Klitschko.
It seems pretty certain that Danny Garcia won't lose this weekend, when he faces unrated lightweight Rod Salka, who boasts a meager KO percentage of 13 percent. The fight is such a mismatch that the WBC and WBA both refused to sanction it as a title fight, so Garcia's belts won't even be on the line.
Garcia has the talent and left hook to be a big star in the sport. His victory over Lucas Matthysse last September was one of 2013's best performances.
But Garcia also looks plenty beatable, particularly of late. He barely made it out of Puerto Rico with his titles last March against the crafty but light-hitting Mauricio Herrera.
There's a good chance this Saturday will be Garcia's last time fighting at 140 pounds. I doubt Al Haymon will match him against a world-beater in his first fight at 147.
Once he goes to welterweight, I do think it's only a matter of time before Garcia takes his first loss. I think Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero would all beat him, and that Devon Alexander would be a pick 'em fight.
But given the way the fight game works, I wouldn't be surprised to see Garcia remain unbeaten, by hook or by crook, until he's finally maneuvered into a fight with Floyd Mayweather.
Terence Crawford defends his WBO belt against Raymundo Beltran in November. Beltran is a hard-schooled contender who should have won the WBO belt before Crawford did; the draw that allowed Ricky Burns to keep his belt against Beltran was a robbery.
But Crawford is on a different level and will handle Beltran with ease. I also think it's his last fight at 140. He told me in a telephone interview that he thought his fight against Yuriorkis Gamboa would be his last at lightweight.
I would favor Crawford against anybody at 140. He has the frame to move up to full welterweight, and it is inevitable he will.
The competition at 147 will be steep, even for a fighter as skilled as Crawford. Also, he has shown himself to be the type of fighter who runs towards a challenge. So he'll be looking to match himself against the other big stars in the division.
At this point, it's still tough to predict when the Nebraska native will lose. But if and when it happens, it's likely to happen at welterweight.
However, if Crawford sticks around a bit longer at lightweight and faces Mikey Garcia, I'd view that as a 50/50 fight for either man.
Boxing fans love a rhymer, and the cerebral welterweight slugger Keith Thurman has certainly delighted them with his most recent couplet, repeated frequently now in interviews: "I've got an O/and I'm not afraid to let it go."
In other words, the confident Thurman thinks he's the best in the world and is anxious to prove it. That's the kind of attitude all young champions should bring to the table.
I'd like Thurman's chances against any 147-pound fighter in the world, aside from Floyd Mayweather. I'm dying to see him fight Shawn Porter, and I think that would be an even-money fight. Timothy Bradley might have a bit too much craft and experience for Thurman, but Desert Storm certainly can't punch with One Time.
Without seeing the potential matchup on paper, I'm not ready to predict when Thurman will lose. He probably will eventually because it's the nature of the sport. But he's an emerging superstar either way.
Shawn Porter will easily beat fellow unbeaten Kell Brook when they face each other later this year. And as was the case with Keith Thurman, Porter has the physical gifts and skill to beat just about any welterweight in the world.
Maybe I'm just being hopeful, but I predict a great rivalry is going to develop between Porter and Thurman. I wouldn't be very surprised if one of them gives the other his first loss. I wouldn't be shocked if they both end up giving each other their first losses.
I see Porter vs. Thurman as one of the great boxing series of this generation. If I'm right, no matter which man ends up winning in the ring, the fans will win big time.
Sergey Kovalev will get what should be the first significant test of his career this November when he faces boxing legend Bernard Hopkins in a light heavyweight unification bout. Normally, the idea of a man two months shy of 50 facing a monster like Kovalev would be laughable.
But Hopkins is no ordinary man. Then again, Kovalev is a significant step up from anybody Hopkins has faced since at least Joe Calzaghe. Kovalev not only punches much harder than the likes of Jean Pascal, Tarvoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov, he's also a far better boxer than any of them.
Kovalev will win that fight, though as an over-40 gym rat, I'll be delighted if Hopkins can pull it off.
But realistically, the most likely fighter to beat Kovalev is Andre Ward, if and when the super middleweight champion moves up in weight. Aside from that, the only fights out there that would be threats for Kovalev at this point are bouts with rugged cruiserweights like Marco Huck or Thabiso Mchunu.
Even then, I'd favor the power-punching Russian.
At just 26, Mikey Garcia has compiled a 34-0 record with 28 KOs and has already collected world titles at featherweight and super featherweight. As he's stepped up his level of competition in recent years, he's looked every bit as dominant as he did on his way up the ranks.
I'd love to see Garcia matched with fellow unbeaten Japanese star Takashi Uchiyama. With Top Rank and HBO trying hard to open the Macau market, that kind of East-West showdown would make a lot of sense. But I haven't seen even rumors of it so far.
I could also see Garcia and lightweight champion Terence Crawford making for a terrific superfight. That's a 50/50 fight.
But aside from Crawford and Uchiyama, I see no immediate threat for Garcia at either 130 or 135. I think he will definitely move up to at least 140 pounds eventually. Until he does, though, it's hard to judge the landscape and predict any likely losses for the budding superstar from Oxnard, California.
Miguel Cotto might be the lineal middleweight champion, but Gennady Golovkin is the true king of the 160-pound division. The undefeated WBA champion from Kazakhstan is 30-0 with 27 KOs and just steamrolled former world champion Daniel Geale last month.
If Cotto does face Golovkin, he'll lose. But I don't think the fight is likely. Golovkin seems interested in unifying belts at middleweight, but bouts against Cotto and Peter Quillin are unlikely to materialize.
I can imagine Saul Alvarez moving up to challenge Golovkin. But if he does, Canelo will lose.
GGG is untouchable until he ages or moves up to 168 pounds. I definitely think Golovkin would beat Carl Froch, but I don't think he'd necessarily blow right through The Cobra.
Golovkin vs. fellow unbeaten champion Andre Ward is really the fight fans are waiting for. I would see Ward as the favorite. But I wouldn't bet money I couldn't afford to lose against GGG.
At strawweight and light flyweight, Roman Gonzalez has looked as untouchable as any champion in the sport. He's compiled a 39-0 record with 33 KOs.
In September, Gonzalez travels to Tokyo to face lineal flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi. I don't expect him to lose.
Gonzalez has already beaten Juan Francisco Estrada, who holds the WBA and WBO belts at 112 pounds. If you were going to handicap the current champions who are most likely to retire undefeated, Gonzalez would have to be at the top of the list.
The best bet to beat Gonzalez might be a power puncher with a chin, like Giovani Segura.
Guillermo Rigondeaux has just 14 professional fights, but he proved he belonged in the elite class in just his 12th fight, when he gave pound-for-pound star Nonito Donaire a boxing lesson. He's fought twice since then but has been unable to find an opponent who is worthy of him and capable of helping him generate excitement.
Now that his contract is up with Top Rank, Rigo is free to sign with Golden Boy, which should allow him to face fellow unbeaten super bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has the kind of busy, come-forward style that could make for an entertaining fight with Rigondeaux.
But I'm ultimately not sure the fight will be very close. Rigondeaux will probably have too much technical ability.
The biggest danger to Rigondeaux's unbeaten record will come if he decides to move up in weight. He is not a very big fighter even at 122. At 126 or 130 he will face decisively bigger opponents.
I could see him having real problems with fellow Olympic star Vasyl Lomachenko. The Ukrainian can match him in skill and has a big edge in size and reach.
Andre Ward isn't just undefeated as a professional. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist hasn't lost a fight of any kind since very early in his amateur career, when he was still in grade school. The lineal super middleweight champion knows how to win boxing matches.
Ward has beaten every top fighter in the world at 168 pounds and did it years ago. Young, rising contenders like Thomas Oosthuizen, James DeGale and J'Leon Love all look like unlikely candidates for toppling the king.
A fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would sell a lot of tickets, but the legend's son would do little more than serve as a punching bag for Ward.
Ward's biggest challenges will come from below or above. Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev are both ferocious punchers with top-level boxing skills.
At this point, I'd still consider Ward the favorite against either man. But I'd hardly regard it as a sure thing.
No matter how crazy it might make his haters, it's beginning to look inevitable that Floyd Mayweather will retire undefeated. Marcos Maidana put up a spirited effort against the pound-for-pound king in May, but the rematch will not be as close.
I thought Mayweather adjusted well in that fight, and I had him winning five of the last six rounds to finish ahead by a score of 115-113. I think he'll do at least as well the next time out.
I don't expect Mayweather to ever fight Manny Pacquiao, and I think he would win if he did. I doubt he'd beat a dangerous middleweight like Gennady Golovkin, but I also don't think he'll ever fight GGG. If Mayweather goes for a belt at middleweight, it will be against Miguel Cotto.
And he would beat Cotto again.
The best chance for Mayweather to lose at this point is if he gets beaten late in his career against a young lion like Keith Thurman or Shawn Porter. That's the way things usually play out in boxing.
But if I were a betting man, I'd bet on Mayweather to retire with that fiercely protected "O."