Early Favorites for 2014's Fighter of the Year

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2014

Early Favorites for 2014's Fighter of the Year

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    While there's far too much boxing left this year to start seriously debating Fighter of the Year candidates, stars like Canelo Alvarez and Terence Crawford have already made strong cases for themselves.

    Others could enter the conversation with another strong showing before 2014 winds down. There have been some compelling contests already this year, with more potential classics waiting on the calender.

    When the smoke clears, one of the fighters on this list is likely to get his number called.  

7. Bermane Stiverne

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    WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne has some big hurdles to jump before he becomes a legitimate Fighter of the Year candidate. He's got to heal his nerve-damaged hand and then successfully defend his belt against Deontay Wilder.

    That won't be easy. Whatever anybody thinks about Wilder's level of competition, he's knocked out 31 of 31 professional opponents. He's an Olympic medalist with one-punch power. That makes him a dangerous man.

    But under ideal circumstances, Stiverne will finish the year in perfect position to at least earn mentions as a Fighter of the Year finalist. In April he captured the vacant belt by knocking out Chris Arreola in six rounds.

    Arreola's never been a world-beater, but he's never been somebody who gets knocked silly by a single punch either. Stiverne showed explosive power and the boxing ability to set it up.

    He's brought a share of the heavyweight crown back to North America for the first time in years. He should face Wilder before year's end. Once more, American fans are excited about the heavyweight division.

6. Sergey Kovalev

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    Sergey Kovalev has now knocked out six straight opponents since the start of 2013. So far this year he has stopped undefeated fighters Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello.

    He was his typical dominating self in both performances, but they wouldn't be the type of wins to earn him Fighter of the Year honors by themselves. Kovalev will have to do more to earn that kind of distinction.

    But he's got the perfect opportunity to do so staring him in the face. In November, he faces boxing legend Bernard Hopkins, in a bid to unify his own WBO light heavyweight title with Hopkins' IBF and WBA straps.

    If he wins by stoppage, Kovalev's case will be particularly strong. Hopkins will be pushing 50 when the fight takes place, but he's never been beaten inside the distance. If Kovalev's 2014 resume reads two KOs of undefeated contenders, one of a Hall of Famer and three of four major belts collected, there are going to be a lot of writers designating him as the Fighter of the Year.

5. Bernard Hopkins

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    Last April, Bernard Hopkins beat Beibut Shumenov by split decision to unify the IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles. At 49, the future Hall of Famer holds half the major belts at 175 pounds.

    It's hard for me to even fathom what judge Gustavo Padilla was watching to score the fight 114-113 for Shumenov. Hopkins controlled every aspect of the fight and knocked down Shumenov in Round 11 with a perfectly set up punch. 

    As impressive as it was, that win wouldn't be enough to earn Hopkins Fighter of the Year honors. But he's got another unification fight set for November against WBO champion Sergey Kovalev.

    Sergey Kovalev has elite punching power and extremely solid technical skills. To beat a monster like him is a challenge for a fighter of any age, let alone one two months shy of 50. 

    But if he can pull it off, Hopkins might end up with the best claim out there for Fighter of the Year. 

4. Gennady Golovkin

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    As we near the last quarter of 2014, undefeated WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin is riding a knockout streak of 17 fights. So far this year he has stopped contender Osumanu Adama in seven and former world champion Daniel Geale in three. 

    Golovkin will almost certainly fight again this year. He's found it extremely difficult to attract other top fighters as opponents, but after selling out the big room at Madison Square Garden in July against Geale, his status as a top star in the sport is solidified.

    So the other big names might finally start returning his calls. Wins over Miguel Cotto or Andre Ward could lock up his claim to Fighter of the Year recognition. Of course, beating fighters like that is never a guarantee. 

    But even a dominant performance against a punching bag like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would put GGG's name on the short list. 

3. Miguel Cotto

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    To a certain extent, Miguel Cotto's Round 10 stoppage of Sergio Martinez last year said more about Martinez than it did about Cotto himself. The former Argentine soccer star has always fought with a highly athletic style, but facing Cotto, he was a shell of his former self. He's 39 and has undergone multiple knee surgeries in the past two years. 

    But Cotto still deserves credit for what he accomplished. He executed a terrific game plan and handed a thrashing to a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Cotto became the lineal middleweight champion and the first four-division world champion ever from boxing-proud Puerto Rico.

    That's a great historical achievement and would be my selection for the biggest boxing story of the year to date. So naturally Cotto has to be on the list for Fighter of the Year.

    If Cotto ends up fighting and winning against Saul Alvarez this fall, it could make him the favorite with writers. 

2. Saul Alvarez

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    Saul Alvarez started his 2014 campaign in March by recording a dominant, Round 10 TKO over Alfredo Angulo. Angulo is a rugged fighter, but he's also made-to-order for Alvarez. It was impressive work but not a major challenge for the popular red-headed star.

    But the fight also proved Alvarez has the box-office appeal to carry a pay-per-view event as the "A-side" fighter.

    For his next test, Alvarez went after the toughest fight he could find: Erislandy Lara. The Cuban is a skilled technician with outstanding movement, which is exactly the type of fighter Canelo has had trouble with.

    In July Alvarez beat Lara by split decision, establishing himself as the clear No. 1 fighter behind Floyd Mayweather at 154 pounds. Personally, I had Lara by decision, but the fight was close enough to have gone either way.

    Alvarez was the aggressor and stayed committed to his game plan of attacking the body, even after a frustrating first few rounds. Once again, he looked like a talented young fighter who is still improving.

    Wins over fighters like Angulo and Lara would make Alvarez a front-runner for Fighter of the Year, if the year ended today. But Canelo will almost surely fight another big fight before the end of the year.

1. Terence Crawford

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    Undefeated WBO lightweight champion Terence Crawford has been the breakout star of 2014. And if the year ended today, he'd also get my vote for Fighter of the Year honors.

    In March, Crawford traveled to Scotland and captured the belt by one-sided unanimous decision over tough, two-division champion Ricky Burns. He made his first defense in June against undefeated, two-division champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.

    Gamboa is a former amateur standout with explosive power and athleticism. Before a lack of activity stalled his career, he spent time ranked in The Ring's pound-for-pound top 10.

    Crawford struggled with Gamboa's speed in the early rounds but made tactical adjustments. He switched to a southpaw stance and beat Gamboa up before stopping him in eight.

    Crawford has the look of a potential superstar. He'll have the opportunity to further burnish his 2014 resume when he faces veteran contender Raymundo Beltran in November.