With the lull in boxing right now about to give way to an absolute storm of compelling fights, I thought it'd be a good time to focus on 10 of them that stick out. Not all will be great (or even good) fights, but they all have distinctly interesting storylines, and will help shape what's to come on boxing's biggest stages for the rest of 2010 and into 2011.
Well, except one of them, probably, and we'll lead off with that one.
Honorable Mentions: Andre Ward and Allan Green didn't make the cut, but I suppose that could be an interesting fight if the "good" Green shows up ... Ya like old folks? Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. II is for you ... Andre Berto's proposed fight with Carlos Quintana has some spark ... Amir Khan and Paulie Malignaggi could be good, but I'd never watch that over any of the fights on this list ... Tavoris Cloud-Glen Johnson just barely missed the cut, and will almost surely be more enjoyable to watch than at least two of the fights that did ... Koki Kameda's first WBC flyweight title defense against Pongsaklek Wonjongkam will decide the new Ring Magazine world champion at 112 pounds.
About three years ago, I tried to do my bit to help start the hype train for the first meeting between reigning junior featherweight world champion Israel Vazquez and reigning bantamweight world champion Rafael Marquez. I could envision nothing less than a great, knock-down, drag-out fight between the two talented and exciting Mexican warriors.
They surpassed my expectations in the first fight, upped the ante in their second bout, and in their third and supposedly final battle, they put on a classic for the ages. Every time out, their fights got better, culminating in a 12-round war (how could they go 12 rounds?) that saw Vazquez storm Marquez in the final frame to secure a razor-thin decision win, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It was truly epic -- a word overused now (thanks, World of Warcraft), but perfect to describe the trilogy between these two men.
Like many, I had my doubts about a fourth fight. It seemed, in a way, to cheapen what they'd already done. Too much of a good thing. But with both men now campaigning at featherweight, they still offer one another the most money they can make.
It's a dangerous fight for both in so many ways. Not only that they might lose, but that it could be the last time we see either of them in the ring, or at least fighting on the top levels of the sport.
Vazquez, 32, and Marquez, 34, will forever be connected, boxing brothers in bloodshed and brutality. Like Gatti and Ward, Barrera and Morales, Ali and Frazier, and Zale and Graziano, you won't be able to mention one without quickly mentioning the other. The impact they've had on each others' careers and legacies is immeasurable. There is no Israel Vazquez as we know him without Rafael Marquez, and vice versa.
For all those reasons, I've come around and become quite excited for the fourth fight between the two. They deserve the money, the glory, and the chance to do what they wish with their careers. If their desire is to wage war one more time, then so be it. Bring it on.
Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime
9. David Haye v. John Ruiz (April 3, Sky Sports PPV)
David Haye won a paper heavyweight title from Nikolai Valuev last year in a dreadful fight that has been discussed far more than it really deserves. End of the day, Haye has the belt, Valuev and his team are now making outrageous demands for money with Vitali Klitschko's people, and old John Ruiz -- now with Golden Boy -- is in line for Britain's golden child heavyweight.
I've said from minute one that John Ruiz will be more of a danger to Haye than he's likely to get credit for being, and since he's still being given very little credit at all, I'll say it again. Ruiz is no superstar, but Haye's real (read: current) heavyweight experience is limited to the tremendously shot Monte Barrett and Valuev, who pretty much fights exactly the same no matter who he's against, because he's that limited.
Ruiz is better than Valuev, stands more of a chance at being able to cut off the ring and force Haye into a fight, and has been stopped all of one time in his career, against David Tua in 1996. We're talking 14 years ago, and we're also talking the first round knockout, and one that was exceptionally fluky-seeming. Not that Tua didn't have the power to turn anyone's lights out with a good shot, but 19 seconds? They could fight 100 times and that happens that one time.
I still figure Haye will win, whether or not he really deserves to. Ruiz's luck on scorecards isn't about to start changing at age 38, and Haye is a more dynamic fighter. But David's got the still-questionable chin, and Ruiz is a legit heavyweight who isn't a light puncher.
8. Manny Pacquiao v. Joshua Clottey (March 13, HBO PPV)
We're coming up fast on fight week for this one (though not fast enough by my watch), so I'll just put it like this for now, since we'll have a ton more when the week rolls around. Pacquiao-Clottey is compelling mostly because it has Manny Pacquiao. Clottey isn't exciting, isn't a big name, isn't a great fighter. He's solid, tough, very good, and it takes a lot of balls to fight him. This is a really good fight with the potential for a mega upset, and now that Antonio Margarito has been pulled from the undercard (thanks to that dastardly California commission, if you listen to Bob Arum), the anti-Margarito alliance can rest easy and order. Or choose not to order because the undercard isn't very good and there are too many PPVs again.
Whatever you thought of the decision in Dirrell's fight with Carl Froch last year, it's hard to not admit that Dirrell showed a real aversion to mixing it up with a guy who can punch. Abraham is tremendous at exploiting weakness in his opponents and striking when the time is right, and his high-guard defensive tactics could shut down Dirrell's offense entirely.
On the other hand, if Dirrell learned to be more aggressive after the Froch fight, there's no doubt he's the quicker, more athletic guy in this fight. Using his movement and his hand speed, Dirrell could frustrate the stoic and generally non-aggressive Abraham and rack up a lot of rounds against the unbeaten Armenian, who has a habit of starting slowly. An Abraham win all but assures him of a spot in the semifinals of the tournament, no matter what happens with him in stage three. A win for Dirrell puts him right back in the tournament's running.
Photo by John Gichigi / Getty Images
6. Cristobal Arreola v. Tomasz Adamek (April 24, HBO)
Who's for real? Anyone? Arreola and Adamek are lining up to slug it out on HBO in a fight that will knock one guy out of immediate heavyweight contention, and the fight looks more interesting than ever right now.
Adamek had a bit of a conditioning scare late against Jason Estrada, running out of gas fighting at his heaviest-ever weight. If Estrada had Arreola's power, would we even be talking about this fight? Arreola can punch, and he can box a little. Adamek is a tough guy, but Arreola would be without question the heaviest hitter he's ever faced, and by a good margin at that. There's almost nothing to not like about this matchup on paper. It's about as close to a guaranteed exciting fight as you can get at heavyweight.
5. Chad Dawson v. Jean Pascal (July 17/24, HBO)
This was originally supposed to be set for June 19, but Pascal is coming off of shoulder surgery and his team says he won't be fit to go until late July. It's a good call by them, as there's no good reason to risk rushing Pascal into a fight against the top man in the light heavyweight division. Dawson is a tremendous boxer, but if you look at his sheet since he stepped up a bit in competition starting in 2006, there's nobody who has Pascal's skill set. Eric Harding, Adamek, Jesus Ruiz, Epi Mendoza, Glen Johnson (twice) and Antonio Tarver (twice) are just not the athletic specimens that Pascal is, and Pascal has proven his toughness and willingness to get hit in order to land. He's just a different animal than Adamek, Johnson or Tarver, who presented their own challenges, but nothing like what Pascal offers. Dawson may well cruise to victory, but if he does so it will be because he's that good. Pascal is about as good an opponent at 175 as Dawson is going to get right now.
4. Carl Froch v. Mikkel Kessler (April 24, Showtime)
Froch and Kessler have talked big leading up to this one, and that will probably just get more fiery as the fight draws near. Kessler fired his trainer after his embarrassingly one-sided loss to Andre Ward last November, while Froch has been dogged by questions of a hometown decision over Dirrell.
Kessler's two career losses have come against "spoilers," guys who Kessler himself described as spoiling his style and giving him fits. Joe Calzaghe and Ward bear little resemblance to the straight-forward, basic style that Froch employs. Kessler himself is about as mechanical and predictable as a top-level fighter gets, but when he's able to work behind his powerful jab, he is highly effective. Froch doesn't figure to give Kessler the headaches that Calzaghe and Ward did, so what is Froch's plan? If it's to use brute strength, I suppose there's a chance he can scare Kessler, but nobody has yet.
With Carl Froch, much as I like him, there is still that sense that he's almost living a fairytale, and that the clock has to strike midnight. It's either that or he's perennially overlooked and underappreciated. The Kessler fight will go a long way to figuring that out.
The talk of Miguel Cotto being damaged goods is overdone. He stood up to a barrage against Manny Pacquiao, withstanding two knockdowns and trying hopelessly to find a way back into the fight. Even his running seemed to be tactical in nature, as he kept looking for any way to land something on the Filipino that might slow him down. In the end, Pacquiao stopped him in the 12th when Kenny Bayless decided enough was enough, and rightfully so. But Miguel Cotto is no chump, and to be honest, Yuri Foreman is no dazzling sensation.
Foreman's best win was on that undercard against Daniel Santos, who was rather grossly out of shape, hadn't fought in a while, and hasn't been truly active in years now. Santos was once a very good and underrated fighter, but those days are gone. Yuri Foreman is as basic as a bread and water lunch, and doesn't like being hit. That's not a bad thing, but Cotto is probably going to hit him. What happens then?
As our own Matt Miller has said recently, I expect a quite ugly fight with this one, something that will have the NYC crowd booing the dreadful lack of action and amount of hugging going on. Foreman is pretty good, but on pure talent, not in Cotto's league. That said, size is going to matter, and Foreman is a bigger man. Cotto wasn't a big welterweight by any stretch, and he's going to be a tiny junior middleweight. If Cotto can't hurt Foreman or at least make him nervous, I'd expect to see a lot of Yuri jabbing his way around the ring and scoring points in a boring fight. Or Miguel might just rattle his cage early and go for the kill against a less-talented foe.
Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images
2. Kelly Pavlik v. Sergio Martinez (April 17, HBO)
Style-wise, Kelly Pavlik's only real challenge in his career has been Bernard Hopkins, the mental assassin who banged him around and dominated him more through willpower and smarts than physical strength, speed or agility. Martinez is a cutie southpaw who seemed tougher than previously imagined in December against Paul Williams, but Kelly Pavlik's biggest weapon -- the straight right hand -- is the southpaw killer, and Martinez has been there to get hit when he decides to get aggressive offensively. This is the first real challenge Pavlik has taken since the October '08 loss to Hopkins, and Martinez is a legitimate threat to the middleweight crown.
1. Shane Mosley v. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (May 1, HBO PPV)
What more can you say about this one? It's a mega-fight that we've been waiting on for a decade. Finally, these two will get it on and sort out what's what between them.