As 2010 comes to a close, there's a definite sense that boxing will soon be undergoing a rather large changing of the guard.
The sport's biggest draw over the last decade, Oscar De La Hoya, has been retired for two years now. Successors Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather have dropped hints that they may not have many fights left in them either.
Bernard Hopkins continues to amaze as he fends off Father Time, but he'll soon turn 46 and can't keep it up forever. Even current champs like Vitali Klitschko and Juan Manuel Marquez have plenty of miles on their odometers.
Any passing of the torch is likely to happen gradually instead of all at once and, since this is boxing, it may involve physically wrestling said torch away from the older generation of stars. Regardless, the movement toward a new crop of headliners is likely to start in the coming calendar year.
Despite some well-intentioned hand-wringing about the scarcity of young boxing talent, there is a new wave of fighters primed to make waves in 2011. Everyone has their own definition of "young," but for the sake of argument, we're looking at boxers who are under 27—the age when many studies say athletes begin to peak—suggesting that the best is yet to come for all of them.
Here's a look at 11 fighters who you should be hearing from as they attempt to make their mark on the sweet science in the coming year:
This Ohio native turned pro in late 2008 and has so far lived up to his "Showtime" nickname, knocking out 13 of his 17 professional opponents while staying undefeated.
Porter was an accomplished amateur but failed to make the U.S. Olympic team two years ago, which should give him extra motivation going forward. Having already sparred with the likes of Manny Pacquiao and trained under Freddie Roach, Porter is well positioned to make an impact on the welterweight division sooner rather than later.
An American boxer of Mexican descent, Garcia was impressive in dispatching Olivier Lontchi in just five rounds on the Humberto Soto-Urbano Antillon undercard in Anaheim earlier this month. He's now 24-0 as a pro and has shown plenty of power with 20 stoppages.
Signed to Top Rank, Garcia should have no problem staying on big cards in 2011. Indeed, Bob Arum has already said he has plans for "Mikey" in the months ahead.
There's room for a new "Pride of Wales" in the sport since Joe Calzaghe hung up his gloves, and the undefeated Cleverly is the leading contender for the title. It doesn't hurt that he campaigns at light heavyweight, a division that is fairly shallow in terms of elite talent.
Cleverly has already battled his way to British Commonwealth titles and an interim WBO belt. It would not be surprising to hear his name as a possible opponent for the likes of Jean Pascal or Tavoris Cloud before too long.
Nicknamed "Nightmare," Martirosyan proved to be exactly that for Kassim Ouma and Joe Greene in 2010. He made his HBO debut in the latter fight, getting his first exposure to a wider boxing audience.
Though he was born in Armenia, Martirosyan has called California home for the last 20 years. Promoted by Top Rank and trained by Freddie Roach, he has his sights set on big things in 2011, claiming he's ready to fight the best in the sport.
Sometimes youth gets served a little too soon in boxing, and no one understands that better than Ortiz. Pushed as a budding superstar by Golden Boy, Ortiz stumbled under the expectations when he was stopped by Marcos Maidana in the summer of 2009.
Since then, Ortiz has regained his swagger, going 4-0 before knocking down Lamont Peterson twice in a disputed draw a few weeks ago. With power, speed, charisma and a compelling backstory, Ortiz has the look of a star on the rise once again.
Since fighting Manuel Perez to a draw back in October 2008, Rios has blazed a path of destruction through his opposition. The man nicknamed "Bam Bam" has gone 8-0 with seven KOs since that time, most recently taking out Omri Lowther on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard.
Though Bob Arum had mentioned pitting him against lightweight titleholder Humberto Soto, Rios will instead face Miguel Acosta for a WBA belt in February. He could earn a shot at Soto after that, a matchup that would come as close as possible to guaranteed fireworks.
This St. Louis-born southpaw has already accomplished a lot at a tender age. His 21-0 pro record includes victories over tricky Junior Witter and rugged Urango.
Still, a less than scintillating performance against Andriy Kotelnik has many boxing pundits predicting Alexander will come out on the short end of his January clash with fellow unbeaten Timothy Bradley. If he wins, expect some of those same experts to mention him seriously as a top 10 pound-for-pound talent.
The risk in hyping up young fighters is building them up too fast, too soon. In the case of Alvarez, though, the hype appears to be completely justified.
Alvarez shows unusual patience in the ring for someone who isn't even 21, possibly because he's been boxing professionally since he was 16. When he does unload, the result is usually opponents hitting the canvas—to the tune of 26 knockout victories in 36 bouts.
Nicknamed "Canelo" for his distinctive red hair, Alvarez has every chance to become the next Mexican boxing legend.
Mares just edges fellow Mexican Saul Alvarez on this list because we've already seen what he can do against top level competition. When you're able to fight Yonnhy Perez to a draw and beat Vic Darchinyan, there's no doubt that you're pretty darn good.
Another test awaits Mares in the final of Showtime's bantamweight tournament in the form of Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko. If Mares manages to win the whole thing, there will be little doubt that he's one of the best young fighters in the world.
Though he's the senior member of this list, it's easy to forget sometimes that Ward is only 26 and has only 23 pro fights under his belt. That means that even though he's already shown the look of one of the top super middleweights in the world, he can and probably will continue to improve.
Ward's run through Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic has required him to demonstrate grit and toughness to go with his undeniable skill. He's not always the prettiest boxer to watch and his soft-spoken nature means he's not much for self-promotion, but he's good enough that he may achieve crossover stardom anyway.
Here's a guy who has true superstar potential. Khan has power, speed and Freddie Roach in his corner, plus that "it" factor that is hard to define yet easy to recognize.
He's arrived at just the right time to fill the post-Ricky Hatton boxing void in his native Great Britain, and his Pakistani heritage helps him appeal to a whole new audience. Even the vulnerability he shows at times can actually add to his popularity, as the fact that he can be hit or even knocked out lends itself to exciting fights.
Khan could very well face the Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander winner later in 2011. After that, he's got his sights set as high as Floyd Mayweather.
He's probably not ready to take on someone quite that good yet, but give him time. Khan is already a champion and should continue on to bigger things in the coming year.