A new year is upon us and as we look forward, a pretty good early schedule of fights is already on the docket for 2011. From Devon Alexander-Tim Bradley to Nonito Donaire-Fernando Montiel, the early slate looks promising. Those can be classified as true “fight fans’ fights,” match-ups that may not necessarily hold the attention of the casual follower of the sport but are eagerly anticipated by the hardcore enthusiast.
For all the talk of potential bouts like Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather (and I'm calling for a moratorium on any speculation of this bout till an official announcement is made on this fight), fights like those aforementioned are the heartbeat of this sport.
I actually prefer these types of fights over the high-profile mega-fights for one simple reason: these bouts actually deliver more often. While these fights may not hold the cache of the big pay-per-view bouts, they have participants who are fighting to get to that particular level. Because of that, you have boxers who actually take risks because they still have something to fight for. Let's be honest; by the time you get to that eight-figure tax bracket, are there really any losers in a given fight?
More and more, the biggest events in boxing are nothing more than glorified business transactions and they rarely deliver defining moments inside the ring. That’s because the results, most of the time, seem preordained with boxers whose big victory is just getting to that point (case in point, Joshua Clottey).
Here in this column, I list 11 fights I would like to see in the upcoming year. And I have a few ground rules for what makes the cut. First, these fights would not be on pay-per-view; in other words, an HBO or Showtime could theoretically afford to purchase my proposed contests. Secondly, the fights I make aren't ones that are already signed, sealed and delivered. And lastly, these are fights that I would pay to watch. Yeah, I know, my job allows me to get media credentials (basically free ringside tickets) but regardless, like anyone else, I like to see a good fight.
To me, it doesn't necessarily matter if a fight is between the division’s best or for any linear title. That stuff is completely overrated, in my opinion. What will raise the awareness of this sport is not necessarily having the two best fighters in any division fight it out but having compelling match-ups that leave lasting memories. The reality is, some fights look much better on paper than they do on the actual canvas.
So in no particular order, here are my 11 bouts...
- Giovani Segura vs. Roman Gonzalez: These two junior flyweight beltholders are two of the hardest punchers in the world, pound-for-pound. Segura stamped himself as a marquee name by simply wearing down the classy Ivan Calderon in Puerto Rico over the summer. He goes by that old adage: swing hard; you just might hit something. Gonzalez has one of the highest KO percentages in the sport at the world-class level and is undefeated in 27 fights. Gonzalez makes a good living fighting in Japan and Segura does his work in Mexico now. Not sure just how realistic this fight is but it would bring back some memories of Chiquita Gonzalez-Michael Carbajal.
- Andre Berto vs. Randall Bailey: OK, the knock on Berto is that he has been protected from punchers while earning a boatload of money on HBO. Well, Bailey is a hit-or-miss type of fighter that is the quintessential wild card. One thing he can do is bang and he would hold a size advantage over Berto. Yeah, Bailey is flawed (like many other pure punchers) but unlike most of the guys Berto's faced recently, he brings an element of danger. This fight could be short and explosive.
- Jorge Linares vs. Rocky Martinez: I'm still a believer in Linares and have been since I saw him give Manny Pacquiao fits at the Wild Card Gym back in 2006. But his career has never taken off and it was derailed in October of 2009 as he was shockingly knocked out by Juan Carlos Salgado in Japan. Since then, he's been handled with care against the likes of Jesus Chavez and Rocky Juarez. Martinez, who was the WBO 130-pound champion till his last fight against Ricky Burns, is an aggressive face-first brawler who will pressure the stylish Linares all night. Linares may simply be too classy for Martinez but he'll be pressed the whole way.
- Tomasz Adamek vs. David Haye: Yeah, everyone wants Haye to finally face one of the Klitschkos but honestly, I think this here is a better fight. I mean, c'mon, just about any Adamek fight will have more fireworks than any involving the Klitschkos. Adamek-Haye is a battle of former cruiserweight kings and both are formidable offensive fighters who possess power in both hands. While Haye is the more athletic fighter, Adamek has the better set of whiskers. The question is, which would be the more definitive advantage in this fight?
- Amir Khan vs. Bradley-Alexander winner: Not sure who Khan will face in April (name being prominently mentioned is Lamont Peterson) but we know that Bradley and Alexander will stake their claim to junior welterweight supremacy in Pontiac, Michigan later this month. Khan has the skills and attributes to give these guys fits but he will always be a vulnerable guy and unlike Marcos Maidana, Bradley and Alexander are fundamentally sounder with quicker feet.
- Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko winner vs. Montiel-Donaire winner: Put any of these four bantams in a hat; pick out a couple of names and you'll come up with a good fight. Yeah, I know there is the pesky little feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy but, putting that aside, these guys make for good action all the way around.
- Tavoris Cloud vs. Adrian Diaconu: These two won’t need a GPS to find each other in the ring. Cloud never shies away from battle and Diaconu is a tough, physical grinder that is always coming forward. Cloud is a hard-punching guy that has shown some staying power in recent fights. Diaconu has fallen short in his title shots but he has never been an easy out for anybody.
- Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa: Remember when Bob Arum was talking about building this fight for the summer of 2011? Don't know if he still has those plans but I'd still like to see it. Lopez and Gamboa are almost mirror images of each other- skilled, offensive practitioners who have also shown that they can be rattled. In this fight, each man would be dangerous and vulnerable, all at the same time throughout. There's nothing better than seeing two undefeated boxer-punchers who have shown the ability to get off the canvas to come up victorious.
- Paul Williams vs. Andre Berto: Hey, who said I couldn't list a fighter twice? Berto's been given a free ride long enough with the Haymon Boxing Organization; he needs some defining bouts to really put him into the mix with the Pacquiaos and Mayweathers of the world. Yeah, I know Williams is also with Haymon. So what? In one of boxing's ironies, Arum's problem is that he only seems to match his own guys with one another. Well, on the flipside, Haymon never seems to match his own guys with one another. Williams says he is still a welterweight; well, Berto is too. These guys may need each other.
Hey, and the winner of Berto-Williams gets Mayweather- who just also happens to be with Haymon.
Of course, as long as the tail that is Haymon wags the dogs that are HBO, Dan Goossen and Lou DiBella, don't look for this to occur.
- Kell Brook vs. Saul Alvarez: I hadn't thought of this before until Brook started tweeting about it this weekend. Ya' know what? It's not a bad idea. If Alvarez is going to become an HBO staple, he should be matched accordingly. Brook has a lot less fights than “Canelo” but his amateur pedigree makes him a fighter that is more advanced than his record indicates. Alvarez is a stout puncher but a bit stiff. Brook is not only a boxer who possesses good sock in both mitts but he is also very fluid and slippery. Brook, like Alvarez, will soon be considered one of the biggest draws in the sport.
- Rafael Marquez vs. Mikey Garcia: Classic crossroads bout between the veteran Marquez, last seen in his slugfest with “JuanMa” and Garcia, who has been steadily developed by his manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Top Rank. Marquez is a guy who can still bang and Garcia is a sharpshooting counterpuncher, who has never faced a fighter with this type of offensive game and power. Marquez is a faded fighter (has been for awhile) but he is one of those guys who will always be able to kick. For as long as this goes, it will be a fun night of action.
Told that there is still a chance that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. could still be fighting on Jan. 29th in Culiacan, Mexico. Name I'm hearing to face him is Billy Lyell...Boxing returns this Friday night, ESPN2 returns with “Friday Night Fights” featuring Ruslan Provodinikov and Demetrius Andrade and “Solo Boxeo” on Telefutura has Brandon Gonzales...Not a good New Years Day for the Big 10, huh? Even the programs (Nebraska) that are entering that conference got beat...Too bad the Rose Bowl wasn't a national semifinal game, huh (although Stanford would argue that they should've been in the “Granddaddy”)?...If his team was better, Arian Foster of the Texans could make a case for NFL MVP but, of course, that trophy belongs to Tom Brady...My New Year’s resolution? To lose three or four pounds. Hey, gotta keep these things realistic...