I almost feared for a while there that boxing wouldn't be able to match the final quarter of 2007, a wild, eventful three months that we're just about to finish off in style with Mayweather-Hatton next Saturday night.
Really take a second, clear your mind, and let this all truly enter in. In the last quarter of the 2007 campaign, we saw:
- September 29: Kelly Pavlik dethrones middleweight kingpin Jermain Taylor with a stunning seventh round knockout, capping a rally that started in round three after Pavlik was floored and nearly finished off in the second frame. Pavlik becomes the toast of boxing, and finishes off his 3-0 year with a huge, huge win, putting himself on the map as one of boxing's brightest stars. It seems like the amiable Pavlik becomes nearly an overnight celebrity, praised by everyone from the Taylor camp to Joe Calzaghe. Also, Pavlik becomes one of boxing's most desired opponents, in rumors to fight anyone from Taylor to Calzaghe.
- October 6: Long announced, the Golden Boy-Top Rank Cold War comes to a close as Top Rank's Manny Pacquiao steps into the ring to take on Golden Boy legend Marco Antonio Barrera in the Mexican icon's final bout. The fight doesn't live up to expectations, but does kickstart what will hopefully be a long peace between the sport's two biggest promotional firms.
- October 13: Juan Diaz batters Julio Diaz to capture the third alphabet lightweight title in his collection. Having forced Acelino Freitas to quit on his stool in the summer, "The Baby Bull" hammers away at Julio with relentless pressure until Julio's corner decides that enough is enough. With the win, Diaz firmly cements himself as the world's best 135-pound fighter in the minds of most.
- November 3: Joe Calzaghe silences, once and for all, every critic with a clear decision victory over Denmark's Mikkel Kessler in front of 50,000 plus in Cardiff, Wales. Calzaghe's performance is in many ways the most important of his career, even bigger than his awe-inspiring destruction of Jeff Lacy.
- November 6: ESPN's "Contender" reality series finale rolls around, featuring super middleweights Jaidon Codrington and Sakio Bika. Nothing special is predicted for this cable TV fight sandwiched between two enormous Saturdays. Then, in the first round, all hell breaks loose. Both Bika and Codrington taste canvas, and the action barely slows from there before Bika finishes Codrington off in the eighth round. A wild, exhilarating thrill-ride of a fight that came as close to out of nowhere as a reality TV finale can.
- November 10: Miguel Cotto takes a close decision over "Sugar" Shane Mosley to retain the WBA welterweight title and possibly set himself up for a fight against Oscar de la Hoya or the Mayweather-Hatton winner. Mosley contemplates retirement, which would make that one hell of a final performance. A back-and-forth battle that delighted the fans at Madison Square Garden, where Mosley was making his debut (he'd fought at the Theater at MSG before, but never in the main building), helping to at least momentarily erase the ugly memory of the hideous Casamayor-Santa Cruz decision earlier in the evening.
- November 23: Ricardo Mayorga tops Fernando Vargas in the much-hyped battle of boxing's baddest bad boys, ending the months of trash talking that resulted from weight issues, illnesses and a canceled September date. Vargas, after the fight, keeps his promise and officially retires at 29. Mayorga vows to battle on. The fight, which was more a farewell exhibition than anything terribly relevant to the next day's boxing landscape, is very well-received, and the PPV praised for good action in the main event and the Cintron-Feliciano prelim welterweight title bout.
We haven't even reached the December 8 battle between pound-for-pound king and welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and junior welterweight king Ricky Hatton, which will be the biggest -- if not the best -- fight of the season.
That's a pretty tough act to follow, right?
Thankfully, the promoters are gearing up to do much of the same in the first three months of 2008.
Here's what we know:
- On January 19, HBO PPV presents the return of Puerto Rico's favorite son, Felix "Tito" Trinidad, as the legend makes his second rise out of retirement to face a seemingly-rejuvenated Roy Jones, Jr. The fight holds intrigue on so many levels. Is Jones really back in the game? Can Trinidad, at 34, still fight? Is Tito stepping up too high in weight at 170 pounds? If Jones win, where does he go from there -- Hopkins, Calzaghe, or elsewhere? If Tito wins, does he step back down to middleweight and juice up the competition? It promises to be a true event, with HBO and Don King backing the whole thing at Madison Square Garden. I can't wait to hear the roar for Tito's entrance at MSG.
- On February 2, we finally start to settle the mess that has been created in the WBC's heavyweight title picture. Maskaev was going to fight Peter, but Vitali Klitschko stuck his retired nose in, and the WBC offered him Peter's spot. Peter called their bluff, nearly accepted a large sum of money to step aside (after winning two eliminator fights against James Toney), and then decided to stick to his guns. Vitali Klitschko was going to fight Jameel McCline, then he pulled out. Maskaev was to defend against Peter, then he got hurt. Peter was going to fight Golota, but Showtime rejected it. Peter winds up fighting McCline, who drops him three times before Peter rallies to win a razor-thin decision for the WBC interim title. Now, Maskaev and Peter will finally -- knock on wood -- square off, with the winner facing Vitali later on in the year. At this point, it'll be nice just to have it clear up a little. The same night on HBO, Paul Williams will make the first defense of his alphabet welterweight title.
- On February 9, we might see Juan Diaz against Australian knockout artist Michael Katsidis. We also might not.
- On February 16, Pavlik-Taylor II comes to us from Atlantic City, this time on pay-per-view. It will be Pavlik's first ever pay-per-view main event slot, and the first time Taylor will be on a pay broadcast since the second fight with Bernard Hopkins. Will Taylor be a different fighter without Manny Steward in his corner? Is Pavlik a one-punch flash in the pan? It's a natural rematch of what was a phenomenal fight.
- February 23rd will mark Wladimir Klitschko's first fight in nearly a year, and the first time since 2006 that he's fighting what could be considered a credible opponent. Ray Austin was a joke, and then Wlad never made better on it the rest of 2007. Sultan Ibragimov is as hot as he's going to get after thwarting Evander Holyfield's last attempt at a heavyweight title. Wlad says he wants to unify all the belts. This is step No. 1.
- Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez fought tooth-and-nail in each of their jaw-dropping battles in 2007. On March 1, 2008, they do it again, the final chapter in what will go down as one of boxing's great trilogies. There is not a possible fight that can be made in this sport that I want to see more than Vazquez-Marquez. As I've said before, it's like throwing Barrera-Morales and Gatti-Ward into a pot and stirring it up for a while. They are brutal, bloody wars, featuring two very highly-skilled boxers. They don't miss when they swing, and they both hit hard. There's not a better matchup.
- Two Saturdays later, we'll see Rafael's brother, Juan Manuel, square off with Manny Pacquiao for the second time. Their first encounter was a classic draw, highlighted by a thunderous fast start from Pacquiao and a miraculous boxing clinic from Marquez in the latter stages of the contest. Neither man will go into this one as a clear favorite, I don't think, because for as much as Pacquiao's legend has grown over the years, Marquez has never stopped being a great fighter in his own right. He didn't have Pacquiao's superb promotional handling or the big fights, but star power won't mean a lot when the bell rings.
And there are still a couple of fights to be made. Bob Arum wants Miguel Cotto back in the ring in March if he can't land the May fight with Oscar de la Hoya. Winky Wright is currently without a dance partner for the foreseeable future. And the second quarter? Oscar in May. Hopkins and Calzaghe will be in the ring sometime, though perhaps not against each other. Arum has said that Cotto-Margarito in June is a definite possibility. Maybe Mosley will come back again. Mayorga-Forrest III has been thrown out there, with interest from both sides. Kessler will get back in the ring at some point.
I know I'm biased, but I'm very excited about where boxing is headed right now. We're getting fights we want, consistently. Not just one here or there, but on a routine basis.