I like lists. Everyone likes lists. That's why TV is infested with countdown shows. Greatest this-or-that. And lists are fun to talk about. So let's do some listin', y'all.
I want to make note that this is a list of the ten best guys you will routinely be able to see on TV. Guys like Alejandro Berrio are also all-action, but Berrio is rarely on television. And I also want to make note that this list isn't simply about potential for "fireworks" or knockouts, but about fighters whose fights are routinely, well, freakin' awesome, and at the very least really entertaining. Win, lose, or draw, these are the guys worth tuning in for every time out. There are several others, of course, but 10 is a nice, neat number.
Two true honorable mentions before we get going: Jorge Arce and Juan Diaz
This is the epitome of the "win, lose, or draw" component of this list. Mayorga is not a talented boxer. For those that aren't too familiar with "El Matador," the nickname is both fitting and not.
Like a matador, Mayorga stands in and challenges any bull in front of him. But unlike the bullfighter, Mayorga doesn't go in with any distinct advantage past guts. As Bert Sugar once put it, "He's not a matador. He's a bull."
There is perhaps no fighter in the sport today as cocky or defiant as Mayorga. Armed with wild, body-twisting haymakers and a spirit that desires to show machismo at every moment of every fight, it's nearly impossible for Mayorga to have a bad fight, even if he gets the crap beaten out of him, as he did against Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad. Who will ever forget Mayorga dropping his hands, daring Trinidad -- a powerhouse puncher -- to hit him, and then taking shots, bragging as he did it? He called Trinidad out on the carpet. Eventually, it got him knocked out. But I've always wondered what, exactly, Trinidad was thinking during that fight. While he was winning, how could he not have thought to himself, "Oh my God, this guy is legitimately crazy!"
Mayorga is one of the fighters that re-ignited my love of boxing. When I was a kid, I would watch Tyson fights and the old USA "Tuesday Night Fights" series with my grandfather, but I lost track and became a casual observer at best for a few years.
I was about to turn 21 when I happened to come across a replay of Forrest-Mayorga, just after it had aired live. I knew nothing of Mayorga, knew Forrest only by name and reuptation, and really was just watching because I was bored.
I saw a gunslinger outfox what was obviously the better boxer. He dragged Forrest into his fight and knocked him out. I was hooked on Mayorga, and on boxing again, at that very moment. There's something very special about Mayorga and his fights. He's a personality and a gutsy, brave warrior, if not anywhere near an exceptional fighter.
Miranda's fights are good because he could end any single one of them at any moment. His last fight, televised on ESPN2 in January, saw him take on physically overmatched but technically sound David Banks, a journeyman sort of fighter with good skills, and a guy who will never be a pushover. The type of guy that as soon as you consider him a pushover, you're risking losing to him.
Miranda held back for two rounds, getting a feel for Banks' timing. The one knock on Banks was that he'd often leave his hands low and thus leave himself wide open for a lead right hand. Against someone with Miranda's crushing power, that is suicide.
And it happened. At 1:15 of round number three, Miranda's shotgun right smashed straight into Banks' face, and sent him careening through the top and middle ropes, bent over backwards in what was briefly a fairly scary scene. It was the type of perfect punch from the type of puncher that can hurt someone. Thankfully, Banks was OK. But that was one of those punches that will be burned into the minds of everyone that saw it live. It was a bomb. ESPN's Joe Tessitore lost it at ringside, and I remember sitting in my living room and just shouting when I saw Banks fall. My goodness.
It's not like that's Edison's only career highlight. His two losses have both been valiant, out-on-your-shield efforts. He broke Arthur Abraham's jaw (pictured) in defeat in 2006, and found himself backed down by Kelly Pavlik last year. No shame in either -- we're talking about arguably the two best middleweights in the world, and guys that have never lost a fight.
Miranda may in some ways be the heir apparent to Mayorga, a trash-talking fighter who is admittedly rather one-dimensional and is likely to be outclassed by the best guys he faces. But Miranda has something Mayorga never did, which is vicious one-punch power. Boom! That's how fast Miranda can win a fight -- any fight.
The younger, stronger Marquez brother was a steamroller of destruction at 118 pounds. Stone guaranteed to blow your mind. His stoppages of Silence Mabuza (twice), Tim Austin, Mark Johnson, Heriberto Ruiz and Mauricio Pastrana, among others, were bona fide. He also had dominant decision wins over Ricardo Vargas and the aforementioned Pastrana.
He was a bulldozer of a bantamweight. If he decided to go back down to that division, the 33-year old Marquez would probably clean up. But lucky for boxing fans worldwide, he made a decision to move up to 122 pounds and take on Israel Vazquez in March 2007.
Trying to describe the three Marquez-Vazquez bouts to the uninitiated or the doubters is impossible. You simply have to see them to believe them. How often do you get precise, consistent, non-stop power punching like that from two pound-for-pound top fighters?
Rafael's reputation as an action star should have been a little bit bigger than it was pre-Vazquez, but 118 pounds is hardly a glory division, and neither man had ever had a fight as truly captivating and buzz-spreading as any of their three head-to-head matchups. Of the two, I think most of us would agree that as far as pure thrills go, Marquez is slightly lesser than his rival. But that's not saying there's anything less than adrenaline-pumping about a Rafael Marquez performance. He's extremely powerful and is also a fantastic ring technician. None of his fights can be taken lightly, and all of them should be considered absolutely required viewing for any fight fan.
What happened with Antonio Margarito from a promotional standpoint is really too bad. Bob Arum talked up his fearsome qualities so much and so heavily pointed at Floyd Mayweather, Jr., not fighting him that once he wasn't just killing everyone, Tony got some backlash. "Well, he's really not THAT good."
That's not the point. No, he was never really as great as Arum said he was, but that's a promoter's job. He saw in Margarito a potential star, and for good reason. Margarito fights like every bout is specifically to feed a starving family, not like a guy that fights because it's his job and that's what he does to keep food on the table. He fights like a hungry young kid that came from the barrio -- still.
His two biggest wins were against the same guy, Puerto Rico's Kermit Cintron, a wicked puncher whose shots Margarito simply walked through in order to dish out his own punishment. The one time in recent memory we've seen Margarito fail was against Paul Williams, a fight in which he started extremely slow, but by the end had taken momentum and nearly knocked Williams down or even out at a couple points. Williams deserves credit for starting fast and avoiding the rushes as best he could later. In what was really a pretty good performance and a rather tight loss in a fight most of us would now agree he should have won, Margarito vowed to never fight so poorly again, apparently.
He came back to face journeyman Golden Johnson, a guy that can punch. Margarito was a natural disaster that November night on the undercard of Cotto-Mosley, wiping Johnson out in the first round and proclaiming himself back in the game full force. He waited on Cintron, who was looking for revenge, and creamed him in April. The loss was so overwhelming against Cintron that his promoter released him -- a rash move, probably, but Margarito made a clear statement that Cintron was in no way his equal or on par with him. And Cintron is a pretty decent fighter, mind you.
The world now awaits a guaranteed excellent fight between Margarito and another Puerto Rican, Miguel Cotto, in July. There is no fight currently on the docket that will be as good as that one should be.
Like many who populate lists like these, and many who have for years, it's not any great skill that makes Antonio Margarito such an exciting fighter. It's sheer willpower and determination. One of the great sports cliches is the inability to measure an athlete's heart, but in boxing that can be something of a tangible topic. Margarito will take shots to deliver his own. He will eat leather to give punishment. And more often than not, he winds up being the guy dealing out most of the damaging punches.
It is hard to believe, sometimes, that Juan Manuel Marquez is going to turn 35 in August. That's because as he's aged, he's become more daring and more exciting.
Now don't get me wrong -- Marquez was never a boring fighter. But I would have never expected to consider him as one of the sport's go-to guys for action in 2008.
That's just what's happened, though. Our pal Tim Starks from Ring Report once put it precisely right, saying that Marquez's career exhibits "the exact opposite way boxing careers progress."
Take a look at his last few fights. After a controversial loss to Chris John in Indonesia in 2006, he beat the tar out of both Terdsak Jandaeng and Jimrex Jaca, showing a new aggressive nature, who still threw some of the sport's best combinations and displayed his expert craftsmanship, but was also willing to kick into higher gears and go for the kill.
After those two wins, he got the chance to fight Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera, one of the two countrymen (with Barrera's great rival, Erik Morales) whose career had overshadowed Marquez's. The two of them put on what was, in my mind, a classic showdown. It was everything you could want from the thought of a Barrera-Marquez bout, lived up to all its hype and billing, and was just a beautiful, wondrous fight. I still like to go back and watch that one now and then. Such a great fight that was somewhat lost in the shuffle of boxing's big 2007.
After that, he went out and beat Rocky Juarez bloody over 12 rounds, and this year put on a second thriller with Manny Pacquiao. While the fight wasn't quite as dramatic or awe-inspiring as their 2004 epic, it was more proof that Marquez will fight until he's hurt and knocked down, and then get up and fight some more. And just when you might not expect it, he lands something gorgeous and rocks his opponent. Juan Manuel is always a joy to watch in the ring.
When Manny Pacquiao first stepped into a boxing ring, he weighed in at 106 pounds in 1995. That was 13 years ago.
Pacquiao is now a 29-year old man who has won world titles at 112, 122, 126 and 130 pounds, and on June 28 he'll look to add a 135-pound strap to his collection. Who'd have ever thunk it?
To be fair, Pacquiao's frame is very big for a guy fighting at strawweight or even flyweight. But it's unlikely anyone saw him fighting back then and went, "This guy has what it takes to be a worldwide phenomenon." Which is exactly what Pacquiao has become under the promotional guide of Bob Arum and the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach.
Pacquiao is the most reliable PPV force in the sport that isn't named Oscar de la Hoya or Floyd Mayweather, Jr. He has essentially retired both Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales.
Watching Pacquiao capitalize any time he sees an opening is pure excitement. His unorthodox style has been refined somewhat over the years, but when the chips are down, he still brawls like a rabid panther, full of frenzy. And he's willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone -- and when he does, Pacquiao almost always ends up winning the biggest of the exchanges, and people end up on the canvas. Even the upcoming bout with someone as relatively unheralded as David Diaz is must-see; the come-forward Diaz is perfect fodder for Pacquiao's move up the weight ladder.
He's a throwback. A fighter who works almost exclusively off a solid jab and a devastating 1-2 that is punctuated by the best straight right hand in the sport. And he's an everyman -- someone that anybody can identify with, no matter their background, race, income, or whatever. Kelly Pavlik is a fighter.
What makes Kelly Pavlik different than your everyday Joe Six-Pack is the fact that he's a murderous puncher and a tough-minded kid that fights like a veteran at the age of 26.
Pavlik's star-making three-pack of fights last year told the story of a young man who just has something. His destruction of Jose Luis Zertuche was case in point of what he could do, but he was expected to win that one. An eliminator bout with Edison Miranda in May showed just how good he really was.
But it was his unbelievable victory in a classic battle with Jermain Taylor in September that sealed the deal: Kelly Pavlik was for real, and he was here to stay. This was no pretender with an inflated record, this was a no-B.S. fighter with a big punch and big guts.
When Taylor floored Pavlik in the second round, it seemed like we were seeing both the fall of the rising Pavlik and the rebirth of the once-great Taylor. Instead, Pavlik weathered the storm, and it became an instant classic moment in his corner. He looked at trainer Jack Loew with a smirk and said, "I'm good."
Taylor continued to control most of the fight until the seventh round, when Pavlik hurt him and proceeded to put him away in shocking fashion. What appeared to be a long night for Kelly Pavlik turned into the greatest night of his professional life. Five months later, he beat Taylor again.
Right now, Kelly Pavlik (33-0, 30 KO) has a chance to be a very significant fighter in terms of history. I truly believe that. He's the type of boxer that could capture the attention of non-diehards and spread out into a mainstream sort of athlete. The fact that he fights the style he does -- all action -- will only help.
If Miguel Cotto told you during a fight, "I'm hurt!" you might have a hard time believing him. His face never tells any story. There have been times for sure when he's been hurt. Ricardo Torres and Shane Mosley both backed him up a little bit, but that was a pretty great effort, because if there's one thing it's tough to get Miguel Cotto to do, it's stop coming forward.
A brusing, punishing body puncher by trade, Cotto's an iceman tactician and a furious, mean-spirited fighter in the ring. As mean as he fights, though, he's just as likable away from the action. He's a humble fighter, one that doesn't call anyone out, and also one that doesn't duck any challenge that comes his way.
Cotto survived the advances of two former world champions in 2007 when he systematically destroyed Zab Judah and later outlasted a still-great Shane Mosley. It's a blessing that someone as good as Cotto is also this entertaining to watch fight.
His bouts with Mosley, Judah, Torres, Lovemore N'dou, and Paulie Malignaggi have all been truly exciting. And his next one may just be his best fight yet. Like his upcoming opponent Margarito, Cotto at his best knows just one direction: straight to the other guy, punching all the way. Cotto is not a brawler, per se, and he's not an all-guts fighter like past action star Arturo Gatti. He's very intelligent, can box when he needs to, and isn't a one-punch power sort of guy. But he's going to continue piling up knockouts simply because he punches in volumes and hits the spots that add up to opposition breakdowns.
Nobody takes an opponent apart better than Cotto does. Guys like Mayweather and Ivan Calderon, the pure boxers, make an art of picking their rivals apart. But Cotto makes a bloody art of destroying the man in the other corner. He's someone who is always going to make you OK with paying up to 50 bucks to watch him fight, because chances are very high you'll get your money's worth. He does not disappoint.
Good God almighty, someone cloned Arturo Gatti.
Seriously, if any fighter has come close to replicating a prime years Gatti, it's Katsidis. Some might not take that as the greatest compliment in the world; I'm sure Katsidis would take it as a wonderful one.
His 2007 bouts with Graham Earl and Czar Amonsot were both outright wars. He and Earl traded shots that made veteran referee Mickey Vann wince. After five rounds of brutality, it was clear that Earl couldn't beat Katsidis, and his corner called the fight off. Their man was thoroughly beaten.
The Amonsot bout, of course, featured a very unfortunate outcome for the fight's loser, but it was such a valiant effort and I like to think that Czar Amonsot and his brave performance will live on forever as his legacy and contribution to boxing. All fighters give their bodies to the sport, some more than others. Their bout made the Hopkins-Wright PPV worth the money.
But Katsidis firmly established himself as a must-see blood-and-guts warrior this March when he took on Ring Magazine champion Joel Casamayor. Most of us thought Casamayor was finished after his pathetic "fight" with Jose Armando Santa Cruz last November. But there was something about the makeup of the fight and Casamayor's demeanor going into it that made me think we might get a sleeper great fight.
Even I didn't expect the excellent ebb and flow that we did receive, however. From the get-go, Casamayor was in Katsidis' face, even before Katsidis could take off his trademark Spartan helmet. Casamayor appeared in attitude to be back to the great fighter he used to be. And his performance may have solidified a Hall of Fame case.
But it was Katsidis that brought that fire out of him -- well, Katsidis and likely the constant stream of abuse he took from the media after his disgustingly unfair decision win over Santa Cruz. He floored Katsidis twice in the opening round and won the next two, as well.
The Aussie came back though, winning rounds and eventually knocking Casamayor clear out of the ring. Casa recovered and came back to knock Katsidis out in the tenth round. But Katsidis never stopped trying to fight back, even on shaky legs with a clearly cobwebbed mind.
It was an awesome performance, and I think we can expect that the 27-year old Katsidis will be in a whole truck load more great fights in his career, which is destined to go down as something quite storied.
Who else could it be?
Who fights six rounds against a puncher like Rafael Marquez with a broken nose? Israel Vazquez does.
Who sets the new standard for flat-out guts in boxing? Israel Vazquez does.
Who goes to war three consecutive fights against the toughest possible opponent for him? Israel Vazquez does.
Who is still maybe boxing's biggest secret weapon? Israel Vazquez is.
And who's the best action fighter, pound-for-pound, in the entire sport? It's gotta be Israel Vazquez.
At 122 pounds, Vazquez is not going to get the multi-million dollar paydays or the pay-per-view headline spots. But you can mortgage your house on the fact that every single fight he's in will be a great one. He's been in four straight stone cold classics, the trilogy with Marquez and his jaw-dropping comeback against Jhonny Gonzalez in 2006, which stole the show on the Barrera-Juarez II card.
What a warrior. With Barrera and Morales gone, it's now Vazquez and the Marquez brothers that headline the proud tradition of Mexico's great fighters, the guys that never relent and never show up giving less than their absolute best possible effort. It's not that any of them are infallible; all of them have been down, all of them have gotten up, and all of them continue to fight on in stellar bouts.
Vazquez is everything good about boxing, everything dramatic and gripping and awe-inspiring about this brutal career choice. It is shocking to think that the human body can withstand what guys like Israel Vazquez put it through every time they do their job. He's currently on one of the most well-deserved rests imaginable, and there's talk of Vazquez-Marquez IV. Have mercy on both men, and God bless them for what they've given us.