As the waning moments of 2011 slip away, the new year beckons forth a fresh horizon of matchmaking to tantalize and tease the boxing enthusiasts' fanciful minds.
Looking forward to the staredowns and faceoffs that may grace the sport in the coming year, there is only one surefire hookup signed at this moment, the welterweight rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto. The first go-around was a Fight of the Year candidate and both men have had lively matches since last they met. It should make for another all-action shootout.
But beyond that, the new year is a vast unsettled frontier. Floyd Mayweather has staked his flag at May 5, and claims finally to want a welterweight Manny Pacquiao meet-up. Who knows if those two will ever find common ground? Canelo Alvarez, the redheaded Mexican superstar, may have the inside track on landing a play date with Mayweather, though, and recently redeemed Miguel Cotto has been bandied about as a foe for Floyd too. Regardless of who gets the gig, the only certainty is that it's gonna be a "Money May."
Light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins claims to have a March date in hand and he's interested in a marquee cash clash with Canadian superstar Lucian Bute or in unifying a couple of the belts floating around the light heavyweight division. While some have grown tired of Hopkins, he continues to be one of the two or three major players in the sport able to create compelling storyline's in just about every fight.
But with little more than these fleeting shadows of fights to come and only errant clues, a hint and a wish or two, here are other fights that would be fun to see in the new year. Some are likely lay downs, others are simple deal designing daydreams, but all would be explosively entertaining endeavors.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Erik Morales
The last of the legendary featherweight four to never have faced off in the ring, Morales and Marquez have fought Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera a combined total of 10 times going 3-6-1, a record which one could argue just as easily being 7-3 or a myriad of other combinations. The point is, add in a couple of showdowns between Barrera and Pacquiao and you have a dozen fights amongst them that have been etched indelibly into every fight fan's consciousness in the last decade.
The remarkable thing is that Morales and Marquez, for all their feats and foes, have yet to meet up in the maelstrom of big money, Fight of the Year-making mashups. If this long-awaited throw-down is gonna happen, this is the moment to push it through.
Lightweight champion Marquez just re-emphasized his incredible all-time counterpunching mastery with a brilliant showing against pound-for-pound kingpin Pacquiao. That he didn't get the nod just once in his remarkable trilogy with the Filipino is a shame, but regardless, no one would dare deny his excellence at this point.
Morales, too, is not far removed from his redemptive bout with Marcos Maidana, where fighting his foe with one eye closed for nearly the entire fight "El Terrible" managed to out-will and out-punch the Argentinian tough man over 12, but fell pray to an unjust majority decision against him.
The two Hall of Famers would make for a massive Mexican event showdown that could fill any stadium south of the border. Morales' rabid dog aggression versus Marquez' pinpoint counterpunching could make for the perfect mix of give and take, combination tossing mayhem.
It's hard to imagine a loser between two men willing to fight hard, that come to win and lay it on the line every time. Win, lose or draw... it would make for a fitting end to the era's four-headed fight machine and there'd be little doubt that the spirited contest would enthrall Mexico and light up the televisions of combat lovers everywhere. I'm not sure there is a downside to the fight for either legend.
Antonio DeMarco vs. Brandon Rios
Two young sluggers willing to go full throttle, DeMarco and Rios each have belts in a lightweight division whose true champion, Juan Manuel Marquez is a technical maestro capable of dismantling hard charging youngsters like these two. If they are a chapter or two behind Marquez in the boxing textbook, they've certainly gotten through the Cliff's Notes on being a warrior in the ring. Pitting them against one another, in what could boil over into an all-out brawl, would be a boxing boon for everyone.
DeMarco is coming off a stirring come-from-behind stoppage of one-time pound-for-pound hopeful Jorge Linares while Rios' name is on everyone's lips as an action star about to be the next big thing. It would be hard to imagine a throw-down between these two could result in anything other than a grueling war of punishing willpower and face-slicing fisticuffs.
Rios seems destined for higher weights and marquee opportunities, while DeMarco has always been a dark horse in the shadow of others. They are both right at a spot in their careers where they need to take it to the next level. If they are brave and bold, they could help each other get there.
Librado Andrade vs. Sakio Bika
Two of the toughest, hardest fighting prizefighters in the sport over the last handful of years, these are blue collar super middleweights who would battle the hell out of one another for another crack at the crown. Andrade, the elegant MexiCalifornian man who once said, just minutes after losing in his bid to win a Super Middleweight Belt from Mikkel Kessler, "I'm a time collector... and this is a wonderful time to collect," is the type of man who seems grateful just to be a fighter earning opportunities. Bika is the same, and while each have come up short when faced with the very best of their division, they've both also distinguished themselves as solid contenders who can make for a scary night against any champion luckless enough to be stuck defending against them.
Bika is a windmill wildman, swinging for the fences and willing to get down and dirty if the need should arise. His showdown with Jaidon Codrington a few years ago was a frightening, explosively enveloping eight-round hand-wringer in which it seemed either man could be knocked cold at any second.
Andrade is a non-stop, face-first plugger who can swallow more streaming punch output than a high school harlot scavenging for alcohol-jolted tropical party juice. That ability to walk through fire all but doused the career of Bute who needed a hometown referee assist to escape an embarrassing knockout loss.
For all of fandom's breathless adoration, any sport is really only a means of entertainment. They may not be pedigreed world-beaters, but Bika and Andrade are two pure entertainers. Together they could produce a blockbuster.
Yuriorkis Gamboa vs. Juan Manuel Lopez
Gamboa's dazzling hand speed and Lopez's gaudy 90 percent knockout rate go together like the shock and awe of a military strike. On the one hand you have a Cuban Olympic standout who puts punches together like a spitfire machine gun, on the other a Puerto Rican pummeler who has a penchant for dropping foes like a Panzer tank. Each has a suspect chin that could make for a wild featherweight firefight full of dramatic turnarounds and back and forth savagery. With their aggressive, offense-first mindset we could likely expect take-no-prisoners combat, with both men gunning for a killshot... this one would have all the ingredients for a classic tussle.
The real question in this duel of speed and power might be who can land their big shots first. With some of the sheen scrubbed away from his record during a spat of tougher than expected bouts, Lopez might go into the match-up an underdog, but those same trials and tribulations that have lowered his standing, might be the very grit he would need to overcome the ultra talented Gamboa.
Not having gone through a war of wills or a back and forth brawl before, Gamboa might get dropped in unchartered waters should Lopez find a home for his devastating power shots. Whatever happens between these two, you're almost guaranteed high tension fireworks will erupt at some point. When they go off, the boxing world will very likely fill the night air with "oohs" and "awws."
Alfredo Angulo vs. Cornelius Bundrage
The guy who wears a dog collar against the guy whose nickname is "K9?" These guys fight like dogs, and while Angulo seems like more of the purebred show dog by comparison, Bundrage has exhibited a dogged determination of late grabbing a junior middleweight belt and beating some name fighters.
Angulo's momentum may have gotten neutered when James Kirkland got off the deck and took him out in six rounds, but he went down swinging and his reputation as a gritty pitbull of a fighter should remain rightly intact.
Without HBO's glossy backing like Angulo, Bundrage went the route of TV's "The Contender" appearing on season two back in 2006. Back then he got recognition for a few upsets during the show and stood out as a memorable personality. His crude, but deceptively athletic fight tactics took him far in the tournament. Since then he's added a little polish to his power game, but his chief attributes are his heart and willingness to fight.
Both need to make something happen in careers that have hit roadblocks. Bundrage needs to beat a marquee name to move ahead and Angulo needs to regain his bark and grab a belt. If unleashed on one another, these guys are both willing to make it a dogfight and are hungry to get their names into the Saul Canelo-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr .-Miguel Cotto big money sweepstakes.
With all that at stake a Bundrage-Angulo meet up would likely end in one or the other made to play dead. Winner gets a treat.
Miguel Cotto vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Sure, one cash cow can bring people through the gates, but two can blow the doors wide open. That's the main reason why these two names would get together, but it'd be hard to overlook how entertaining this fight would probably end up being in the ring.
Having exorcised the mental demons of 2008's harrowing loss to Antonio Margarito in his last fight, Cotto is rejuvenated in the eyes of many and showed vicious combination punching that downgraded "The Tijuana Tornado" to a mild breeze. Having evolved from a liver lashing destroyer, to a beautiful boxing battler, Cotto has shown resilience and a fighting spirit that stirs hearts and wallets of boxing fans everywhere.
Son of a legend, Chavez Jr. has started to beat back the shadow of his Mexican idol father and shown improvement in his skills of late. Silver spoon in his mouth or no, the unmistakeable signs of a born in the blood warrior are showing at the first sign of adversity in his softball match-ups. That there is substance to go along with his name make all sorts of possibilities swing wide open for Jr.
Glowering over Cotto by five inches, Chavez Jr. would also carry large reach and weight margins in as serious advantages against the relatively diminutive, by comparison, Cotto. However, moving to middleweight to face a younger, inexperienced money tree might just be too tempting for the the Puerto Rican icon to pass up.
With Chavez looking to transform into a responsible and rangy boxer, Cotto would be wise to dust off his vaunted but M.I.A. left hook to the body and make it a close quarters brawl. Each are vulnerable, and both have proven willing to go to war.
With rabid fans at each's back the atmosphere for such an event would rival the electricity of any match that could be made in the sport today.
Along with all these, there are names like Carl Froch, James Kirkland, Sergio Martinez, Abner Mares, Tavoris Cloud and Lucas Matthysse smattered across the divisions. These action stars and others leave plenty of men ready to entertain, thrill, and amaze us.
How many of the above fights will get made? Who knows, but if even one or two come to pass the sport will be all the better for it. If none of them do, rest easy knowing that even while promotional outfits war and refuse to work together at times, great matchups will still happen. They can't be stopped, because sometimes you just don't know they'll be great until it's unfolding before your eyes.
If the punch you don't see coming is the one most likely to knock you down, then pedestrian matchups that magically click into all out action are often the fights that can knock you out.
Let's hope 2012 comes out swinging.
I think the size difference is what makes it competitive... otherwise p4p Cotto wipes him out. I'm not a fan of the size difference either, but just thinking about how that fight would play out, I think it has the opportunity to be a pretty great fight...
Interesting list. As much as I don't think of JCC Jr as a world-beating talent, he's gotten a lot better lately and I'd frankly rather not see my boy Cotto in there with him. Cotto is already a small, small junior middleweight; Jr. is a ginormous middleweight, sometimes stepping into the ring lately as a small cruiserweight. I feel like Cotto-Canelo is a much, much more competitive and interesting fight, and it still maintains the Mexico-PR rivalry. Unfortunately, with TR and GBP acting like the Sharks and the Jets all the time, we're probably never going to see it. Snap.