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Many boxers at the crossroads, on the brink in 2010

Every new year brings with it uncertainty, and boxing is no exception. The next year will be someone's last in the sport, the breakthrough of many, the career turnaround of a few. Fighters will suffer heartbreak and agony in defeat, and the chosen few will get to or stay at the very top of the sport with huge wins.

Going One Step Beyond?

Andre_berto_medium Andre Berto

Berto, 26, has been on your HBO screens for years now, hyped and touted as one of boxing's next major talents and big stars. I know a lot of people have fits about "hype," overusing the word to a drastic level and refusing to believe that basically any young fighter can be all that good, offended at the very notion that television or print might point out that someone has a promising career, but really, I think Berto has deserved pretty much all the goodwill.

Still, his last fight in May with Juan Urango stunk for several reasons. The fight itself was an unmistakable bore and a complete style mismatch. Urango, coming up from 140 pounds, was exceptionally slow and lumbering, but with his power, the quicker, natural welterweight Berto wanted nothing to do with any sort of fight. What had been fairly promising on paper turned into a dud. And the boo-birds were out louder than ever, even louder than when HBO was overpaying for Berto to run over guys like Michel Trabant (who would never have gotten a shot on HBO otherwise) or their eyeroll-worthy Berto-Steve Forbes matchup.

His January 2009 win over Luis Collazo was a gutcheck. But Collazo is a B-fighter. On January 30, he faces Shane Mosley, an A-fighter if I've ever seen one, even while aging. Sugar Shane is the final test for Andre Berto. If he passes this one, he's in the elite ranks.

Antonio DeMarco

It's been a joy watching DeMarco develop on Showtime, going from rough-around-the-edges brawler to well-rounded fighter over the years. While Berto has developed, DeMarco has done so more dramatically, in part because he doesn't have Berto's natural athletic gifts.

On February 6, 23-year-old DeMarco (23-1-1, 17 KO) steps up against lightweight titlist Edwin Valero, he of the flawless KO record (26-0, 26 KO). Everyone he's faced thus far in his career has met an ugly fate. DeMarco will have a good height and reach advantage against the Venezuelan destroyer, and a win for him would qualify as one that "shocks the world," at least the part of it that knows who Edwin Valero is.

Career Rehab?



94923316_medium Kelly Pavlik

Sometimes, fighters don't lose in the ring, but their stock drops dramatically outside of it. Pavlik is a prime example of that.

Pavlik (36-1, 32 KO) went 2-0 in the ring this year, beating Marco Antonio Rubio (a top ten middleweight and legitimate opponent) and Miguel Espino (not so much). Trouble is, he twice dropped out of an agreed-to fight with Paul Williams, once on October 3, then later on December 5. He also had a June 27 defense against Sergio Mora scrapped.

Pavlik's reputation took big hits this year, right or wrong. Nobody is saying that staph infection is anything to mess around with, because it's absolutely not. But his own promoter said that the condition was worsened by Pavlik's inability to show up for doctor appointments, so who's to blame for the cancellations in the Williams fights?

But it's a simple fix, too. Fight Paul Williams. That's it and that's all. That's what everyone wants, and Team Pavlik says they're itching to get it done, too. Pavlik-Williams is a potential epic, and nothing heals wounds in boxing quite like a great fight.

(Pavlik photo by Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)

Cristobal Arreola

An excerpt of "The Clean Plater" by the poet Ogden Nash:

Go purloin a sirloin, my pet,
If you'd win a devotion incredible;
And asparagus tips vinaigrette,
Or anything else that is edible.
Bring salad or sausage or scrapple,
A berry or even a beet.
Bring an oyster, an egg, or an apple,
As long as it's something to eat.
If it's food,
It's food;
Never mind what kind of food.
When I ponder my mind
I consistently find
It is glued
On food.

Comeback?

86353702_medium Ricky Hatton

Most signs point to the "Hitman" getting back into the ring in 2010, but latest scuttlebutt is it won't be against Juan Manuel Marquez, who likely fights again on May 1. There will be no shortage of fighters ready to take on Hatton; for one thing, he remains worth far more money than anyone else at 140 pounds, and he's also been shown as very beatable ... though by only the two best boxers in the world.

Some will bemoan Hatton's return, but at 30 years of age, I can't do it. Ricky is not the barreling powerhouse he once was, but he has a perfectly good chance to do more damage at 140, and it doesn't seem like he wants to stick around forever, either. But he is embarrassed by his performance against Pacquiao, and seems to have no intention to let that be his final night in the ring.

(Hatton photo by Al Bello / Getty Images)

Roy Jones Jr.

Please, Roy. No more. No more.

Over Now?

93193209_medium Miguel Cotto

Cotto (34-2, 27 KO) says he wants to fight two or three times in 2010, maybe stepping up to 154 pounds to challenge Yuri Foreman for a title, and then he'll be done in boxing. He's adamant that '10 will be his final year in the sport as an active competitor.

Will it be? Maybe, maybe not. Historically, fighters don't stick to retirements. Hell, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has "retired" three times. But I think we really may have entered a time in the sport where guys have become so business savvy that at least at the top levels where guys like Cotto have been, money has been invested better, saved better, and passed through less non-trustworthy hands than it may have 20 or more years ago. Thus, fighters may be more secure at 30 than they used to be at 40.

And at that point, it becomes a question of desire to keep taking physical abuse. Is it worth it if you've made your money and can get out?

I tire of all the "everyone should retire when they've lost two or three fights" talk, but if a guy doesn't want to fight anymore, he shouldn't. Cotto may be Mayweather, or he may be Joe Calzaghe, who seems as absolutely content in retirement as you could have imagined.

(Cotto photo by Al Bello / Getty Images)

Vitali Klitschko

Vitali is 38 years old, has a balky body that legitimately took him out of boxing once before, and seems intent on getting as many fights in as possible lately. He's establishing his legacy, because he doesn't have much more time to go. I would almost be surprised if 2010 isn't Vitali's final year in boxing. Both Klitschko brothers have said time and again that sticking around forever is not in their plans, as they have post-boxing aspirations for which they'll need their faculties. Then again, as little as Vitali gets hit, he could probably box until he's 50.

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