Ranking Boxing's 10 Fastest-Rising Names

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2013

Ranking Boxing's 10 Fastest-Rising Names

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    A list of the fastest rising names in boxing is different than a pound-for-pound list. The majority of fighters ranked in the pound-for-pound top 10 have risen and are now coasting along at an elevated peak.

    A few of the fighters on this list are names I would also rank inside the pound-for-pound top 10—or very close. But they have only entered that status recently and on the strength of scintillating performances.

    They are climbing with a bullet, momentum still seeming to ride beneath their wings.

    Other included fighters have made impressive and rapid gains recently within their own weight classes. There is a mix here of established headliners and fighters who are pressing hard on the edge of stardom.

Edwin Rodriguez, Super Middleweight

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    Edwin Rodriguez has run his record to 24-0 with 16 KOs, while facing a steady stream of highly regarded prospects, such as Don George and previously unbeaten Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna.

    Last weekend, he crushed the very tough Russian light heavyweight Denis Grachev by Round 1 TKO, fighting in Monte Carlo.

    Nobody will confuse Grachev as the second coming of Bob Foster, but he was well-regarded at 175. Last March, he handed former world title holder Zsolt Erdei his first professional loss. Grachev's only career loss came against Lucian Bute, by unanimous decision, in a fight where he gave Bute plenty of problems.

    Bute has been a top name at 168 for years, so for Rodriguez to beat a mutual opponent so much more convincingly will get a lot of attention. Super middleweight is a division desperately in need of fresh blood, and Rodriguez has to be viewed as the hottest new name in the pool.

Sergey Kovalev, Light Heavyweight

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    Last June, hard-punching Adonis Stevenson shocked the boxing world when he knocked out Chad Dawson in the first round, capturing the lineal 175-pound title and turning the weight class upside down.

    I believe Sergey Kovalev (21-0-1, 19 KO's) is in a perfect position to emerge from the chaos as the division's new top dog. The Florida-based Russian is a brutal puncher, with a very technically solid offensive style.

    So far in 2013, Kovalev has beaten former world champion Gabriel Campillo and 21-1 Cornelius White, both by Round 3 TKO.

    He fights a little bit like a light heavyweight version of Gennady Golovkin. He is intelligent and patient, but incredibly destructive.

    Kovalev faces undefeated WBO champion Nathan Cleverly in August, in Cleverly's native Wales. Cleverly is a skilled boxer, but I simply don't think he has the power to avoid being walked down by Kovalev.

    Once he has a belt around his waist, Kovalev's star will only continue to rise.

Takashi Uchiyama, Super Featherweight

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    Takashi Uchiyama of Japan is the undefeated and explosive WBA super featherweight champion. Both The Ring and Boxrec.com have Uchiyama ranked No. 1 in the world at 130.

    It's a weight class badly in need of excitement, and the fighter known as Kid Dynamite is exactly the kind of slugger who can bring it. 17 of his 20 wins have come by way of stoppage.

    I expect to see Uchiyama make his U.S. Debut within a year. There are a number of good fights for him with Western boxers, such as Brooklyn-based Argenis Mendez or Juan Carlos Burgos of Mexico.

    If he can continue to build momentum, he should make a great future opponent for Mikey Garcia.

Leo Santa Cruz, Super Bantamweight

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    Super bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz is an undefeated, all-action fighter. In recent years, he has maintained an active schedule by contemporary standards, fighting five times in 2012 alone.

    He rarely fails to entertain crowds and impress critics. He briefly held the IBF bantamweight title, before outgrowing the weight class.

    Santa Cruz has drawn comparisons to a smaller version of Antonio Margarito. He is big, even for a super bantamweight, and will likely move up again before long.

    To judge from the outside, it would appear Golden Boy is grooming Santa Cruz as a future opponent for Abner Mares. They've been showcased on two of the same cards within the past year and share a common opponent in Eric Morel.

    Mares beat Morel by a shutout decision, but Santa Cruz made him quit on his stool after five rounds.

Abner Mares, Featherweight

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    Abner Mares entered 2013 as one of the fastest-rising names in the sport. He had collected world titles at 118 and 122 and had beaten a long list of big-name opponents.

    Unable to secure a showdown with Nonito Donaire, Mares opted to jump up to featherweight this year, facing the talented Daniel Ponce De Leon on the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero undercard.

    Mares' success at 118 and 122 had come largely as a result of a bullying, brawling style, and many wondered if success would follow him with another move up in weight.

    But against Ponce De Leon, Mares fell back on his strong amateur background, proving he can box as well as brawl. He controlled distance expertly and picked the larger fighter apart, roughing him up and winning by Round 9 TKO.

    The performance forced Mares onto most pound-for-pound, top-10 lists. Given his consistent success across three weight classes, against the best names available, his status as a true pound-for-pound star cannot be denied.

    The only thing standing in the way of his continued rise is a lack of quality opponents. Mares is promoted by Golden Boy, while many of the best fighters in and around his weight class are signed to rival Top Rank.

Guillermo Rigondeaux, Super Bantamweight

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    Guillermo Rigondeaux is another pound-for-pound star who may see his rise stall slightly for lack of a worthy opponent. But he has turned in the finest exhibition of pure boxing skill so far this year, beating Nonito Donaire by one-sided unanimous decision and forcing every pound-for-pound list in existence to be re-written.

    Donaire was almost universally regarded as among the biggest stars in the sport. He had brutally knocked out some of boxing's biggest names, from 112 to 122.

    Donaire had been, perhaps, the single most exciting fighter in the sport in recent years, and Rigondeaux made him look ordinary.

    This was only Rigondeaux's 12th fight as a professional. He was a two-time Olympic champion and is regarded as one of the top amateur boxers in history.

    But to rise so quickly, so soon into his professional career, is unprecedented in the history of the sport.

Gennady Golovkin, Middleweight

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    Gennady Golovkin made his U.S. debut on September 1 of last year, on HBO's Boxing After Dark, at the Turning Stone Casino, in Verona, N.Y. He arrived in America with a perfect record, the WBA belt and a reputation as one of the world's most avoided fighters.

    His performance against top-10 ranked Grzegorz Proksa did not disappoint, as he battered the rugged Pole and stopped him in five. I was lucky enough to cover the fight live. In the press section, hardened boxing scribes were using words like “scary” and “monster.”

    2013 for Golovkin has been all about trying to stay active while also arranging the biggest fights possible at middleweight. He kept busy during the winter and spring by TKOing Gabriel Rosado in seven in January and knocking out Nobuhiro Ishida in the third at the end of March.

    In June, he finally got the big fight he had been waiting for, against Matthew Macklin, a legitimate, top-five middleweight.

    Macklin had lost a split decision to world champion Felix Sturm in June 2011 that many people thought he deserved to win. He had fought on very even terms during the first half of his fight with Sergio Martinez in March 2012, before getting stopped in 11.

    Hopefully, unification fights with the other middleweight champions will be the next order of business for Golovkin, though I won't be shocked if some belt holders are reluctant to risk their trinkets against GGG.

Mikey Garcia, Featherweight

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    Mikey Garcia entered this year as a highly regarded prospect. He had an undefeated record and a stellar knockout percentage. Against fellow prospects and seasoned journeymen, he had consistently performed with veteran composure and impressive skill.

    But since the beginning of 2013, the soft-spoken Garcia has convinced many fans and writers that he just might be the sport's next breakout, pound-for-pound star. In January, he captured the WBO featherweight title from Orlando Salido.

    Salido entered the fight as the consensus top champ at 126, but Garcia pounded him. In the best performance of his career, against his toughest opponent to date, Garcia dropped Salido three times before winning by Round 8 technical decision.

    Garcia has since lost the belt on the scales, when he failed to make weight against Juan Manuel Lopez in June. Nevertheless, his performance in the ring was once more eye-popping, as he battered Lopez and stopped him in four.

    Garcia is poised to move to 130 and clean out the weight class.

Saul Alvarez, Junior Middleweight

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    Just 22 years of age, Saul Alvarez has already compiled a 42-0-1 record with 30 knockouts, unifying the WBC and WBA junior middleweight titles. He is the most popular boxer in North America.

    In September, he will take a major step up in competition, as he faces pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. If he wins this fight, he will become the most popular star since his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, emerged in the 1990s.

    Not many observers are picking Alvarez to win. It's true that Canelo will carry a weight advantage of 20 pounds into the ring with him and is 13 years Mayweather's junior. But he will need to show more skill than he ever has before to beat the wizard-like Mayweather.

    A loss will slow Alvarez's rise, at least for the short-term. But for now, he is preparing to fight in the sport's biggest pay-per-view event in years, just two months after he turns 23.

    It's hard to rise much faster than that.

Lucas Matthysse, Light Welterweight

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    Lucas Matthysse is the only fighter on this list who doesn't have an undefeated record. But I would still maintain that no name in boxing is currently rising as quickly as the Argentinian gunslinger.

    For starters, the matter of Matthysse's two losses is hotly contested. Both came by split decision, against Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, and in both fights, he knocked his opponent down.

    Matthysse is 34-2, with 32 knockouts, and has dropped every fighter he's ever faced to the canvas.

    Since losing unfairly to Alexander in June 2011, he has stopped six straight opponents. And as the competition has gotten better, Matthysse has gotten more beastly.

    Last September, he beat previously unbeaten Ajose Olusegun by Round 10 TKO. In January of this year, he knocked out Mike Dallas in the first.

    In May, he faced IBF junior welterweight champion Lamont Peterson and steamrolled him in three. Peterson had been in the ring with some of the top fighters in the world and was never handled so roughly. He'd lost only to Timothy Bradley and had never been stopped.

    Next up for Matthysse should be a showdown with WBA, WBC and lineal 140-pound champ Danny Garcia. ESPN's Dan Rafael has reported that the fight is nearly set for the Alvarez-Mayweather undercard.

    Another big win for Matthysse in this fight should push his name into the discussion for the next crack at Mayweather himself.


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