In boxing -- and any other sport, or any other entertainment avenue, for that matter -- opinions can change quickly, and the crowd that adored you one minute might turn on you before the next one even comes. Let's take a look at some of the names in boxing that are either on the rise or heading downhill at the moment.
Last Time We Did This: August 18
Andre Ward has not only seen his stock rise, he's seen it skyrocket. I'm not saying I was in the majority or even close to it, but I just never quite caught on to the Ward train. He seemed good, for sure, but just never made me go, "Wow, look out for this kid." I never quite knew why. Now, I really don't know why. Ward stepped way up in competition on November 21 and didn't just beat Mikkel Kessler, he annihilated him. Ward shot up the super middleweight rankings across the world, even climbing to the No. 1 spot for The Ring. We're a bit less enthusiastic, as I have Ward at No. 3 behind Lucian Bute and Arthur Abraham, but there's no denying that Andre Ward took a huge leap forward with the domination of Kessler. We just might be looking at the next great American star in boxing.
I figured Kelly Pavlik's reputation couldn't really take much more of a hit than it had in the last year, but it has happened. Last time Pavlik had the red arrow because he'd canceled the fight with Paul Williams on October 3. This time, he has it not only because he canceled the fight with Paul Williams on December 5, but managed to get better enough a few weeks later that he could take a December 19 fight with the lightly-regarded non-contender Miguel Espino. Injuries should always be taken seriously, but people are doubting not just the severity of Pavlik's injury now, but whether or not he ever had any intention of fighting Williams at all, or if he ever will.
Also last time out, both Shane Mosley and Andre Berto got the red arrows. The gist was, "Come on, guys, you have to fight someone." They're fighting one another on January 30. That was easy.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. got a chance to shine on the PPV undercard of Cotto-Pacquiao, boxing's biggest show of the year, and he didn't do it. You might be thinking to yourself, "Who can really shine against Troy Rowland?" The thing is, the 1.25 million that ordered the show was not a crowd made up of entirely boxing diehards. Most of them don't even know who Junior Chavez is. Rowland, at 25-2, had a decent enough looking record for the on-screen graphic. Chavez could have put on a scintillating performance and wowed some viewers, who might have wanted to see him fight again, particularly if they looked into him, learned about his dad, and so on, or if they were long-lost boxing fans creeping back into the fold who know his dad and aren't too aware of the son. But Chavez's stiff, unimpressive performance against the feather-fisted, 34-year-old part-time fighter probably had more viewers shaking off the urge to catch a nap than staying excited for the main event to come. If there's really an "it," Chavez just doesn't have it, despite his name and his blood, and despite the fact that he's honestly a pretty gutsy kid who can make for exciting fights when someone gives anything back. He's got a very good chance to make a fine career as an action fighter, but I'm now completely convinced that's as high as his ceiling goes. It's not the worst thing by any means, but he's never going to be a truly top fighter.
How about Rogers Mtagwa? Those who had seen the guy fight before knew he was better than his shoddy professional record, and by a fairly wide margin at that. But no one expected him to push Juan Manuel Lopez through 12 grueling rounds the way he did. With that scintillating, Fight of the Year-level performance from the veteran, he's now set up for another nice payday in January against Lopez's would-be rival, Yuriorkis Gamboa. If you ask Mtagwa if it was a good year overall, I'm betting he'll agree it was, and his bank statement probably feels good about it, too.
I figure it's a blip on his career more than anything else, but you can't deny that 19-year-old Marvin Sonsona took a bit of a hit this past weekend. The young Filipino won a world title this year at 115 pounds, but couldn't make weight for his first defense. The fight went on anyway, and he put up a rather awful performance, drawing with journeyman Alejandro Hernandez. Things like this do happen. He's still a teenager and getting used to his body, which is still growing. He'll go right up to 122 pounds, and his handlers say he's grown a couple inches or so taller this year, too. His natural skills are wicked. When he settles on a weight (or even before then), look out. (As an aside, Sonsona and Saul Alvarez are very young fighters who have "it," in my estimation. One of my personal favorite prospects is Fernando Guerrero, and I'm not even sure I'd say he has "it." He's got a lot of good qualities, but I'm not sure he has "it." But I know Chavez doesn't have "it." Hopefully, that properly frames my feelings on "it.")
I'm not really sure how the world sees it overall, but I'm giving Jermain Taylor a big old green arrow for staying in the Super Six. Good for him. The overreacting to Taylor's knockout loss against Arthur Abraham really surprised me. Yes, it was a pretty bad knockout, but he also got up, shook the cobwebs, congratulated Abraham, left the ring under his own power, talked after the fight, and then yes, he went to the hospital to get checked out, as all fighters do when they're knocked out. It was uglier than all get out on TV, but it was not the worst knockout ever or anything like that. He's been stopped three times; against Froch it was almost entirely due to fatigue, Pavlik broke him down, and Abraham one-shotted him with a thudding right hand. These things happen. Maybe he's not a world class fighter anymore. Maybe his two wins over Bernard Hopkins (debatable to many still) were the absolute best he had in him. But he's not going punch-drunk. He's 31 years old and really hasn't taken that much punishment. He's going to fight on, finish this tournament, and be fine. And he'll probably keep fighting after the tournament, too, because professional boxers rarely have great backup plans to make their livings. Jermain Taylor boxes for a living, and as long as he's of sound mind, he's going to keep going out there.
If he becomes "Jermain Taylor the Journeyman and Former Middleweight World Champion," it won't be the most shocking thing in the history of time. Evander Holyfield is 47 years old and still fighting. Jose Luis Castillo has taken a lot more punishment in his career than Taylor has, and he still fights. I genuinely applaud Taylor for not getting too swept up in all the talk of how he must retire for his health. I'm not Jermain's dad or his doctor, and neither is any other boxing writer. If Taylor and Ozell Nelson feel he's fit to fight, I can trust that. People in and around the sport on the whole these days seem so jumpy to get rid of every fighter. Jermain Taylor should retire, Miguel Cotto should retire, Juan Manuel Marquez should retire, Ricky Hatton should retire, and on and on. I just don't get it. If this were a clear case where a man was putting himself at obvious great risk, then sure, complain, but it's a violent, contact sport. Guys are going to get knocked out sometimes. Guys are going to take beatings sometimes. We don't need to chase them all off as soon as they take a couple of them. What do you propose they then do for a living?
Taylor, Cotto, Hatton and Marquez are all credits to the sport of boxing in every way. I'm happy to cherish them before it really is time for them to retire.