Sergio Martinez, 2010's consensus Fighter of the Year
The three most anticipated boxing fights of early 2011 won't cost you $50 a bout.
In fact, if you're a standard HBO subscriber, you won't have to pay a penny more to watch the best bouts the sport has to offer.
Consider it one of the positive side effects of the frustrating standoff that is plaguing boxing's two biggest superstars —Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
What this results in is the chance to watch the best fights in boxing on a much more realistic budget—or a friend's cable subscription. It's fights like these that define the next great superstar in the sport, and five of the top candidates for that mantle will be in action between now and the middle of March.
Jan. 29, Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander square off in a matchup between two American boxing champions on the threshold of superstardom.
Three weeks later,Feb. 19, Nonito Donaire faces Fernando Montiel, pitting the fifth- and seventh-ranked pound-for-pound boxers against each other in one of boxing's long-anticipated superfights.
Then on March 12, presumptive 2010 Fighter of the Year and third-ranked—soon to be second-ranked—pound-for-pound boxer Sergio Martinez takes on undefeated German champion Sergei Dzinziruk in a middleweight championship bout.
It's a tremendous opportunity.
During a 45-day span, we get to watch Ring magazine's third-, fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-ranked pound-for-pound fighters in excellent matchups without having to cough up money for a single Pay-Per-View.
In fact, this lineup features two of the top three picks on my September article Ten Fights this Boxing Fan Wants To See In 2011.
A preview of what we can expect from these three exciting HBO bouts:
Jan. 29 - Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander (WBC, WBO Light Welterweight Championship fight)
In the first article I ever wrote for Bleacher Report, Move Over Pacquiao and Mayweather: 10 Pound for Pound Fighters to Watch, I had Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander tied for the top position on my list. They are the two finest young American fighters, and this is a match we've been looking forward to for over a year.
Timothy Bradley, 27 and ranked ninth pound-for-pound in the world, is the best American boxer not named Mayweather.
The undefeated 26-0 fighter is neither large, (just 5'6"), nor strong (only 11 KOs in 26 bouts) for his division, but has tremendous all-around boxing talent and finds a new way to win in every fight.
Devon Alexander, just 23, has been watched more closely during his early career.
Max Kellerman of HBO occasionally mentions him as a potential pound-for-pound No.1 a few years down the line.
Alexander has three straight victories over former champions Andriy Kotelnik, Juan Urango and Junior Witter. He is an inch taller, and arguably quicker, than Bradley, but is considered less polished than his opponent.
The bout was considered almost even odds, but after Alexander's somewhat inconsistent performance against Kotelnik, who had just been rocked by Amir Khan, the odds are now close to 3-1 in favor of Bradley.
This is the biggest fight of both boxers' careers, and we will learn a great many things when they step into the ring together in the first major fight of 2011.
They had some excellent statements on their recent conference call.
Feb 19 - Nonito Donaire vs. Fernando Montiel (WBC, WBO Bantamweight Championship fight)
This is a fight we've been waiting for over two years, and it's now coming to fruition, with a verified TV date and venue.
The fifth- and seventh-ranked pound-for-pound fighters are going to be involved in this fight.
The last time that happened—when Sergio Martinez (then ranked sixth) knocked out Paul Williams (then ranked fifth)—the winner became Ring magazine's No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter and presumptive Fighter of the Year.
Nonito Donaire has been ranked as one of Ring magazine's top five pound-for-pound fighters for over a year now, and hasn't disappointed in any of his recent appearances.
The tall—for a bantamweight—and fan-friendly boxer has exceptional technique and is perhaps the finest pure boxer in the sport other than Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
He leapt onto the scene in 2007 with a fifth-round TKO of feared bantamweight champion Vic Darchinyan, and has been dominant over contender-level opposition since then.
However, Donaire needs some big fights to boost his profile, since even after his awesome four round clinic of Volodomyr Sydorenko, he dropped a spot on the pound-for-pound rankings.
Fernando Montiel is about as characteristically Mexican a fighter as you'll find.
While not a pure boxer like his countrymen Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera, he is tough, gritty and aggressive, always moving forward and punching through whatever obstacles are placed in his way.
He has long been one of the top bantamweights, but his awesome fourth round KO of Hozumi Hasegawa last year made him the early favorite for Fighter of the Year and landed him a spot on the pound-for-pound rankings.
Look for the winner of this bout to move up to fourth place on the pound-for-pound list and start generating a lot more publicity.
March 12 - Sergio Martinez vs. Sergei Dzinziruk (WBC Middleweight Championship fight)
In the eyes of most boxing writers, including this one, Sergio Martinez was the best fighter in boxing in 2010.
His awe-inspiring KO of Paul "The Punisher" Williams in one of last year's most significant fights earned him many new admirers.
Immediately people were asking for a big-time showdown against Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. or a top middleweight like Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito.
Unfortunately for Martinez, all of those fighters except Mayweather wisely found better things to do in early 2011, and Martinez, who is 35 and looking to capitalize on his strong momentum, was left with an HBO bout with tough Sergei Dzinziruk.
I think it's fair to say that Dzinziruk and HBO wanted this fight to happen more than Martinez did, but the 37-0 German is still a very worthy boxer who has made six straight defenses after winning his WBO Light Middleweight championship in 2005.
The 34-year-old, who actually has a better knockout rate than the speedy southpaw Martinez, will pose an interesting stylistic match up with Martinez.
Unfortunately, it's not the huge fight Martinez deserves, but it's still one of the top bouts of early 2011, and I absolutely will be watching.
Sergio Martinez is athletic, handsome, fan-friendly and has perhaps the fastest-rising profile in the sport. He likes to fight with his hands down, using his quick reflexes, superior ring generalship and exceptional hand speed to coax his opponents into an overly-aggressive stance.
However, in spite of his relatively low mileage—he started boxing relatively late after careers as a cyclist and soccer player—he is 35, and probably has only a few more years of exciting fights left.
For anyone who missed out on his two bouts with Williams or last year's fight with Kelly Pavlik, this bout is an excellent opportunity to see the exciting Argentine work his magic against a very good, if relatively unknown, champion.
True boxing fans would be wise to mark their schedules and make time for these relatively inexpensive telecasts, which are all going to be shown as part of HBO's standard (non-PPV) boxing coverage.