This past Saturday night was one of the most exciting nights of boxing so far in 2010.
That’s partially a nod to an HBO card that featured two very close, hard-fought matches and partially an indictment of the prior seven-plus months in the sweet science. This year has had its moments, but has yet to produce the kind of drama that permanently etches itself into the minds of fight fans.
Two contests that looked like prime candidates to be Fight of the Year material—the fourth meeting between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez and the rematch between Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz—both failed to clear the high bars for excitement set by their predecessors. The Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao megafight that has captured the imagination of the masses won’t happen until 2011, if it happens at all.
Yet all is not lost. With four months to go until boxing takes its unofficial winter break, there’s still time for something truly memorable to come together.
The following six fights are ones that stick out in my mind as the type that could still take the honors for top fight of 2010. Their statuses range from finalized to not even in negotiations, but all have at least been discussed as possibilities.
Counting down from least likely to most likely to end up as 2010 Fight of the Year, here are the sensational six:
6. Jean Pascal vs. Chad Dawson
Dawson is often talked about as one of the top American boxers under 30 and is somewhere in just about every reputable top 20 pound-for-pound list. His failure to become a household name is due in large part to two years of fights against aging veterans (Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver) and the lack of a talented contemporary to push him into a real rivalry.
He might find one this week. The Haitian-born Pascal is blossoming into a star in his adopted Canada, and though he lacks Dawson’s polish, he’s got loads of speed and athleticism.
Both men get hit enough that this fight could turn into a barnburner. Neither boxer is known for having a real killer instinct, though, which is a big reason why it’s not higher on this list.
5. Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander
The campaigning for this bout began in earnest right after Alexander won a tough decision over Andriy Kotelnik a few nights ago, with the fighter holding up a shirt that left no doubt about who he wanted to take on next.
Bradley’s handlers have been bemoaning the lack of top guys at 140 pounds willing to fight their man. Assuming that’s the case, they should jump at the opportunity to get Alexander in the ring.
This match-up is one that will excite die-hard boxing fans more than the general public. But name recognition isn’t a factor when it comes to deciding the Fight of the Year, and with two young talents who can bring it for 12 rounds, someone could end up as a crossover star when the final bell rings.
4. Carl Froch vs. Arthur Abraham
Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic has been a worthy experiment, but no one fight has stolen the show. This bout has as good a chance as any, especially since both men are heading into it attempting to bounce back from their first career defeats.
Abraham is a notorious slow starter, and Froch can also sometimes be cautious early on. Still, there’s no denying the power they possess, meaning there’s a very real chance bodies could be hitting the canvas once they start to open up.
The stakes are high too, since the winner will move on to the tournament semifinals and the loser is likely out. A neutral site and enthusiastic European fans will only add to the fun.
3. Amir Khan vs. Juan Manuel Marquez
The storylines for this one are numerous: potential superstar versus decorated champion, British hope versus Mexican legend, youth and speed against experience and skill.
There are also plenty of reasons this fight won’t be made. Marquez has his heart set on a third shot at a certain Pac Man and looks most comfortable at lightweight, and Khan’s people may very well decide to seek out a similarly worthy but less accomplished opponent.
We boxing fans can dream, though, and the explosive potential of this match-up is the stuff dreams are made of, for sure.
2. Andre Ward vs. Andre Dirrell
Often, we learn something about the boxers in a Fight of the Year we’ve never known because it pushes them to places they’ve never been before. That may be the case here, as two of the brightest young American stars collide with each other.
Ward has rarely experienced adversity in the ring but may struggle with Dirrell’s raw athleticism. Likewise, Dirrell was never in big trouble even in his lone loss to Froch, yet Ward brings more skills to the table than anyone he’s previously faced.
The only question is whether each man will go all out against someone who is a longtime friend. Both Andres seem competitive enough to do just that, and the fans will be the winners if they do.
1. Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Rafael Marquez
Juanma just seems tailor made for high drama. He’s got fight-ending power, and though he has some defensive awareness, he’s vulnerable enough to suffer more anxious moments than you’d expect for an undefeated fighter. Just ask Bernabe Concepcion or Rogers Mtagwa.
Anyone who’s followed boxing for the last few years knows what Marquez brings to the table thanks to his epic series with Vazquez. He can box or brawl with the best of them, and he’s got the heart and chin to trade shots with a young lion like Lopez.
With vocal fans on both sides, the atmosphere in Las Vegas on September 18 should be electric. One of my younger brothers is fond of saying there’s no such thing as guaranteed fireworks in boxing, but this is pretty darn close.