Manny Pacquiao is back in action on June 9, but that's just one of the excellent fights currently on the schedule over the next two months. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
As I mentioned earlier in the rankings update, there are a lot of really good fights coming up over the next two months on the boxing schedule, including the ring returns of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr, but neither of those are the best fight out there, in my opinion.
Since news is a bit slow and I need to break my stupid writer's block, let's just gab a bit and do the easiest thing in the world: Make a top ten list. The ten best fights on the current boxing schedule, in my view, are after the jump.
10. Brandon Rios vs Richard Abril (Top Rank PPV, April 14)
This isn't so much a competitive matchup on paper as it is the fact that I consider Brandon Rios to be the must-see fighter in boxing today. He's had four straight terrific fights on HBO, Showtime, and HBO PPV, all wins over Anthony Peterson, Miguel Acosta, Urbano Antillon, and John Murray. He wasn't really favored to win the first two, and in the latter two he made clear that he's the premiere heavy-handed brawler in his weight class, taking down two similar-minded but simply less durable battlers.
Rios (29-0-1, 22 KO) was supposed to be facing Yuriorkis Gamboa this Saturday. When Gamboa pulled out, it went to hell. If Rios vs Gamboa had remained, it would have been No. 1 on this list. The style matchup was beyond interesting -- it was one that had people passionately and firmly picking a winner, and the votes seemed pretty much split. Some felt Gamboa's slickness, skill, and flair would be too much for the powerful Rios. Others felt that very power would be way too much for the smaller Gamboa to handle. Plus, they were meeting in their primes, at the top of their games. It was going to really be something.
Abril (17-2-1, 8 KO) is not a terrible replacement, he's just a replacement. He's a massive underdog and should be. But he's long, tall, and has some skill. If Rios isn't in shape (which is a concern) or he takes this lightly, he could struggle. Trainer Robert Garcia has even said he expects Brandon to have some trouble early on, but that his pressure will eventually be far too much for Abril.
9. Robert Stieglitz vs George Groves (BoxNation, May 5)
Stieglitz will be defending his WBO super middleweight title against Groves in Germany, part of a very good card (more on it in a moment) that might well make May 5 the best fight date of the entire year.
Groves (14-0, 11 KO) broke out last year with a mild upset win over former amateur rival James DeGale, but has fought just once since then, and it wasn't much work, as he blitzed through Paul Smith in just a round and a half on November 5. That could very well make him a bit rusty and unprepared for Stieglitz (41-2, 23 KO), who is certainly no world-beater but is definitely the most experienced fighter Groves has faced to date, and a top 10 super middleweight at the moment.
If Groves and promoter Frank Warren are looking at this as the crowning of Britain's newest "world champion" instead of the tough fight it can easily become, they could be in for a real eye-opener. Groves, 24, is after all a 14-fight novice when you get past the pure talent, which he does have, and the generally solid personality he seems to have. Chances are he'll be prepared, and if he is, his talent should carry the day and put that WBO belt around his waist, after which Warren will likely pull a Cleverly with him and match him against undeserving non-contenders. But then that's getting ahead of ourselves, isn't it?
I can't say as though I'm wild about how this fight came together, though, as it took one cancellation of a fight that seemed it was never going to happen and then did not (Stieglitz vs Mikkel Kessler) and then Groves suffering a very timely injury that knocked him out of a possible trap rematch with Kenny Anderson, who didn't exactly take the news well. One of Groves' friends then claimed that Groves had received death threats. It was all pretty ridiculous.
I'm sure the BoxNation team will be fully prepared to bitch about German scoring the entire fight, too, so that should be a blast.
8. Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi II (BoxNation, May 5)
This is a very nice rematch, the first of three listed here, and the main event for the May 5 show featuring Stieglitz vs Groves, and also a good heavyweight matchup between top prospect Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Dimitrenko, the guy who is really tall so there remain some people who think he should fight a Klitschko, even though he got his ass whipped by Eddie Chambers.
Huck (34-2, 25 KO) tried his luck at heavyweight last time out, and did quite well against Alexander Povetkin, with more feeling he won than lost, it seemed, but the duke went to Povetkin on close scores. There was talk of a rematch, but that wasn't possible since Povetkin has to face a tough challenge from 605-year-old Hasim Rahman next, which is one of the stupidest mandatory appointments in the history of stupid mandatory appointments in boxing.
Huck was convinced by his team to stay at cruiserweight, where his WBO mandatory is Ola Afolabi (19-2-3, 9 KO), a fighter who already gave Huck a rough test back in December 2009. Huck's straight-ahead, brawling style clashes pretty well with Afolabi's slicker approach, and this could wind up a second straight loss for the Serbian slugger. Afolabi is one of the best cruiserweights in the world and would be tough for anyone in the division to beat, but this is a big step back up in class for him, too, as he's fought mostly no-hopers since the loss to Huck three years ago. The best win since than has been over Valery Brudov.
7. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Andy Lee (HBO, June 16)
I'm going to make really clear why I like this fight so much: I like it so much because I know that Chavez's team really did not want this fight. They've made that very clear, rejecting Andy Lee last year because he's left-handed, and trying to do the same this time around. In the end, Martin Murray couldn't get a visa to come to the States, so they got stuck with Andy Lee. There's some fear in the Chavez camp. I'm not saying it's coming from Chavez or from promoter Bob Arum. Chavez's team can say whatever they want now that reality is they're facing Andy Lee. I'm never going to believe that they really wanted this fight.
The winner of this is also supposedly set to face Sergio Martinez on September 15. Martinez has signed the contract. Chavez has not, that I have heard, signed the deal. Even if he does, it doesn't really matter. If he struggles with Lee and retains his title anyway, he can just vacate. All signing the contract does is guarantee that Chavez vs Lee is for the WBC middleweight title. So in short, don't go counting your chickens on Martinez vs Chavez actually happening in September, even if they both sign up for it in theory. This is why Lou DiBella wanted money in escrow for a fight, but that's not going to happen.
There's a good chance Lee can win this fight, I think. I do favor Chavez. I think stylistically he presents a lot of problems for Lee, who fights straight up and has a lot of holes defensively. But Chavez isn't known for his precise punching or his pointed offensive attacks, either. At his best, he's still a brawler who attacks the body and attacks it well. At his worst, he's a fairly out of shape attempt at a boxer-puncher who seems to forget what he's trying to do, or else just isn't good enough to really do it.
I like the fight a lot. I do think it's a tougher fight than Rubio or Zbik. Lee can thump a little and someone who matters on Chavez's team thinks the left-hand stance is going to give him issues.
6. Tomasz Adamek vs Eddie Chambers (NBC Sports, June 16)
We discussed this one when it was announced last week, and needless to say, I love the fight. I hate that it's going head-to-head with Chavez vs Lee, but what can you do? Adamek (45-2, 28 KO) is coming off of a tougher-than-anticipated win over Nagy Aguilera on March 24, and really, despite the high level of respect for the Polish fighter, this is going to be very tough for him if Chambers (36-2, 18 KO) is in shape.
What worries me most from Adamek's side is that he's been successful at heavyweight but almost never dominant. Even in wins over Aguilera, Jason Estrada, and Michael Grant, he's had some struggles, and those guys aren't on Chambers' level. Eddie can box, Adamek probably can't do enough damage to stop him, and if Chambers isn't too rusty coming off of a layoff and some injury issues, then I think he's 50-50 at worst in this one. This is not a "title eliminator," but sort of a contender eliminator. One of these guys is going to lose and be out of the race. Slowly but surely, a new crop of heavyweights are making strides (Tyson Fury, David Price, Kubrat Pulev, Denis Boytsov maybe), and guys like Adamek and Chambers are getting closer to losing their spots.
5. Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Miguel Cotto (HBO PPV, May 5)
I want to believe this will be a good fight, but I just don't see much happening here. The reason this ranks so high is because it is an event, and I do love big-event boxing. It's a good excuse to get together with friends and watch fights that people care about. Let me be really clear: When you watch enough boxing, and you write about it all the time, and your life is basically set around the boxing calendar, fights like these may not satisfy the cravings for good or great fights, but they do go down as a great change of pace. Most of my fight-watching is spent watching TV in the living room by myself and posting round-by-round summaries. Maybe that sounds lonely or like some tragic plea for awwwws, but it's not, it's just what covering boxing is for a site like this one. Mayweather and Pacquiao fights are different. They're sports events, not just boxing on a Saturday night.
Still, I just don't think Miguel Cotto is good enough. I didn't think he really was ever good enough. The old body punisher Cotto would have done OK, I suspect, but he would have lost. Mayweather's talent is such that talent always takes over in his fights. I can't see a 31-year-old, past prime version of Cotto getting the job done. He's still very good (he's far from "shot," which is either used wrong or just is wrong when people call him "shot," IMO), but very good is not going to get it done against Floyd. If anyone ever beats him, it's going to be someone at his peak who can avoid being mentally broken by Mayweather's genius.
That's not Miguel Cotto, I don't think. But they're two of boxing's biggest stars, legitimate, genuine star fighters, and having them share the ring is at least a little special to me in my more optimistic moments. I definitely don't think this fight "sucks." There's not a better realistic fight out there for Mayweather, really.
4. Lamont Peterson vs Amir Khan II (HBO, May 19)
The first fight generated a ton of buzz, in part because it was a big upset, in part because it was controversial for realsies, and in part because Amir Khan and Golden Boy just could not stop the crying and looking for any excuse to save face after Peterson won the fight.
After putting himself out there for other suitors, Peterson eventually came around and signed for the rematch, which is going to be a career-best payday for him, and really the new biggest fight of his career. Some of us did feel that Lamont was a tough style matchup for Khan the first round around, but the oddsmakers saw it as a rout. This time, no one's going to be putting Khan it at -1100 or whatever.
This time, Peterson has expectations from the boxing public. Though it seems like most are picking Khan to take it this time, with Peterson not having the advantage of fighting at home in DC, many do think he's just going to be able to throw Khan off-track again and pull it out a second time. Usually, winners of the first fight do win the rematch. That's a statistical fact. But this is a unique case, and right now I wouldn't dare hazard a guess as to who will win this one. My mind changes every time I think about the fight.
3. Lucian Bute vs Carl Froch (Sky Sports/Epix, May 26)
My only reservation with this fight is the fact that Carl Froch, for all his bluster and talk about being a big "warrior," isn't really often in fights that are very exciting. He uglies it up when he has to, isn't a big puncher, isn't the most accurate guy, has defensive issues that don't come from aggression so much as simply a lack of top notch defense. He's a real good fighter, but it stops there. He is not great. To call Froch great is to lower the bar, and I don't mean offense when I say that.
I like Carl Froch. I think he's funny, fairly honest, and no one has fought as tough a schedule as Froch has since December 2008, as he's faced Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, and Andre Ward, and he's coming out of that by fighting Lucian Bute. You can't lack respect for that schedule. You just can't. If you do, you're a dummy. Sorry. Froch is a man's man and a fighter to the bone.
And on that note, and I'm not saying Ward is a lesser man or whatever, but isn't it interesting that after beating Froch, all Ward could talk about was taking a long break because he "deserved" it, while Froch went ahead and signed a fight with a guy Ward apparently doesn't want to face? Doesn't that bother anyone else on some fundamental level where this is a noble art and honorable men fight other honorable men, instead of just, you know, boxing bullshit about "deserve" and all that?
I don't know. But this is a great fight. Froch is coming off of a loss, but so what? With Kessler leaving the division, Froch is still unquestionable the No. 3 man at 168, with Bute No. 2. If Ward won't fight, you can't make a better fight than this one.
2. Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley (HBO PPV, June 9)
Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KO) is always an event, same as his press rival Mayweather. Alex Ariza thinks Manny can win this thing within five rounds if he just follows all of Alex Ariza's brilliant boxing genius advice. But it's not so simple as a training camp. There's the other guy in the ring, and Tim Bradley can fight.
Unless something weird happens, I'm going to go into this one expecting that Manny Pacquiao can lose this fight fight and square. Bradley's never been out of shape, never lacked focus. He's been knocked down by Kendall Holt, but that was three years ago, plus Holt can punch, plus Bradley boxed his ears off for most of that fight and won without question.
Timothy Bradley is in an enviable position here. Like Andy Lee, in a way, he's getting a fight some important people weren't exactly looking to make happen. Top Rank wanted Miguel Cotto in for a rematch with Pacquiao, not this fight. This isn't happening by choice. It's happening because there are no other choices. I don't have any doubt that Manny Pacquiao is on the other side of the hill headed down. It's now a question of whether or not Bradley is good enough to beat him. With Cotto against Mayweather, I feel like I have enough big fight knowledge of Cotto to make the call that he's not good enough. With Bradley, I don't believe I have that knowledge right now. It has to wait until June 9.
1. Victor Ortiz vs Andre Berto II (Showtime, June 23)
Some might put one of the Mayweather or Manny fights here, some might go with Bute-Froch, but for me, this is the money fight, and it's really the only good fight Showtime has had all year in a main event slot, which is incredibly depressing. But it's not just a good fight, it's a great one. It cannot be a bad fight. The styles won't allow it. I'm fairly confident this will be about as good as the first fight.
Ortiz vs Berto was the first big move made by Showtime under Stephen Espinoza's rule. It was a great reason to get excited. But instead of more exciting moves, Espinoza's reign has seen us exposed to the Jermain Taylor comeback, the Andre Dirrell comeback which may as well be considered aborted right now, the Paul Williams comeback, the Winky Wright comeback is coming, and a bunch of showcase ShoBox cards that abandon the stated purpose of the show. They're giving us Antonio Tarver vs Lateef Kayode on May 26, but passed on Bute-Froch. It's absurd. If you're a pro wrestling fan, Showtime has turned into the TNA of major league boxing, recycling a bunch of guys who do nothing to move the brand value forward.
But then there's this fight. It's like the Kurt Angle-Samoa Joe feud of 2012 Showtime boxing. I'd love to have more good things to say about Showtime securing this fight, but they've surrounded it with questionable at best decisions and a lot of lame ass fights meant to make us believe that 2005-07 were the best years in boxing history.
Here are a few notable fights that missed the cut, and are also of good quality:
Mike Alvarado vs Mauricio Herrera (Top Rank PPV, April 14), Jhonny Gonzalez vs Elio Rojas (TBA, April 28), Kendall Holt vs Josesito Lopez (May 25, ESPN2), Gabriel Rosado vs Joel Julio (NBC Sports, June 1) Scott Quigg vs Rendall Munroe (Sky Sports, June 16).
Erislandy Lara vs Ronald Hearns (Showtime, April 20), Jermain Taylor vs Caleb Truax (Showtime, April 20), Nathan Cleverly vs Robin Krasniqi (BoxNation, April 28), Dmitry Pirog vs Nobuhiro Ishida (TBA, May 1), Paul McCloskey vs Julio Diaz (Sky Sports, May 5), Mikkel Kessler vs Allan Green (BoxNation, May 19), Michael Oliveira vs Acelino Freitas (TBA, June 2)
I'm varying degrees of indifferent.