There's not a lot going on in the boxing world right now, and we've hit the midway point of 2013, which means we can put out entirely useless mid-year awards. Since I hate mid-year awards, I've decided instead to just focus on the top candidates for Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year, the former a little easier to project than the latter, as well as which promoters have been producing the highest quality fights so far.
Fight of the Year
There will no doubt be plenty of additions to the serious contenders list by the end of this year, but if we've already seen the Fight of the Year, that won't be any surprise -- nor will it mean we had a weak second half, because we've seen a couple of instant classics.
Here are, in chronological order, five fights that have received some major buzz.
Timothy Bradley UD-12 Ruslan Provodnikov (March 16)
Timothy Bradley was looking to prove something after nine months out of the running following a win over Manny Pacquiao so controversial that fans decided to turn on the fighter instead of focusing on the at fault judges, but his HBO return against Ruslan Provodnikov was met with indifference when it was first announced. On fight night in Carson, California, though, the two fighters had fans on their feet, enthralled by a toe-to-toe war.
Bradley was badly hurt very early in the fight, appearing to be fighting on grit and wild instinct from the second round on, while the determined Provodnikov smelled blood and continually went for the kill over the course of the fight. Bradley was able to fire back enough, and at times outbox Provodnikov, that he was able to hang in while frequently wobbling around the ring. Bradley went down in the 12th round, wisely taking a knee so as to survive the remaining seconds of the war. Bradley's hand was raised, and though he may not have won back everyone, this has launched him into a big fight in October with Juan Manuel Marquez.
Mike Alvarado UD-12 Brandon Rios (March 30)
Alvarado said before the rematch -- which wasn't Top Rank's original idea, but happened because Pacquiao-Rios fell through for March after Marquez knocked out Manny in December -- that he was going to be smarter, fight a more controlled bout than he did the first time, and not get into a battle of chins with Brandon Rios. In other words, he intended to avoid the sort of fight he'd lost in October 2012.
This fight still oozed plenty of machismo, and in the early going, it seemed as though Rios might have been able to force Alvarado into a repeat of their previous war. But "Mile High" Mike managed to keep it together mentally, at which point he was able to take over physically, boxing and punching his way to revenge via a deserved decision win. Rios' post-fight complaints about Alvarado's "running" fell on dismissive if not deaf ears, but the loss didn't hurt his career (nor should it have), as he's scheduled to face Pacquiao in November.
Guillermo Jones KO-11 Denis Lebedev (May 17)
Jones, who boxes every few years or so, figured to be at least old and rusty enough for Lebedev to leave still regarded as one of the world's top cruiserweights, and still holding the WBA title. Lebedev had home field advantage to go along with his keeping a normal boxing schedule and not being 41 years old, too.
But it was Jones, the ancient Panamanian who made his pro debut in 1993 as a welterweight, who stood up to some heavy shots from Lebedev, then returned the fire two-fold, turning Lebedev's right eye into a mass resembling a genetically engineered plum. Lebedev was allowed to fight on and on, even after he clearly could no longer see the punches coming, until finally he crumbled in the 11th round, unable to beat the count. Lebedev's bravery and toughness were commendable, but Jones' ability to return after a year and a half out of the ring and go to war with a strong, high-level cruiserweight was almost unbelievable.
Carl Froch UD-12 Mikkel Kessler (May 25)
In front of a rabid crowd in London, Froch and Kessler picked up where they left off in 2010, putting on another terrific fight filled with offense. Kessler landed a huge percentage of the power shots he threw, but he never managed to push Froch back for very long. Instead, it was "The Cobra" dictating the pace of the fight, and simply out-gunning the Danish star over the 12 rounds.
The fight established Froch as the clear and concrete second-best fighter in the 168-pound division, and made a case for himself among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. There has been some talk of a third fight between Froch and Kessler later this year, but both fighters will have other options.
Marcos Maidana TKO-6 Josesito Lopez (June 8)
Maidana and Lopez may not be A-list headliners, but their Showtime main event was expected to deliver action, and there was no disappointment, as this was another in a solid line of action fights that have made Carson, California, one of the top boxing destinations in the world.
Lopez started strong, standing his ground with Maidana, the two both landing good blows in the early rounds of a back-and-forth, exciting battle that was everything we hoped it would be. The fourth round saw Maidana badly hurt and forced into survival mode, Lopez battering him severely and looking primed for a stoppage. Things suddenly changed two rounds later, when Maidana smashed Lopez with an overhand right, putting Josesito on the canvas. A series of unanswered blows when the fight resumed forced the referee to step in, though Lopez protested the decision.
Fighter of the Year
It's a nearly impossible race to call at this stage of the year, but let's take a look at four guys who, with a strong finish to the year, could very well be in the running when 2013 is over and done.
A win over Robert Guerrero in May was as easy as most expected, and the fight failed to really move the needle to the normal Mayweather standard. But it was a solid win no matter how you slice it against a top-rated welterweight who had fought his way to that stage. Beating Canelo Alvarez in September would be another kettle of fish -- and it's going to be the biggest fight of the year, too.
GGG will be a hot pick among Die Hard Core Boxing Heads, but he's also racking up a legitimate case for himself. With three wins over Matthew Macklin, Gabe Rosado, and Nobuhiro Ishida, he's been staying busy and physically demolishing his opponents. With another solid win or two -- he'll return to HBO in November -- he could very well make himself a serious contender on merit.
If he beats Floyd Mayweather, the award is his. There's nothing that anybody in the sport can do that would be more significant than that.
Rigondeaux would need a lot of things to happen, but his April win over Nonito Donaire speaks for itself. He clearly won the fight and rather well outclassed a guy who was considered one of the best boxers in the world. There seems to be the possibility of a rematch, or maybe a fight with Vic Darchinyan (that's also a possible return bout for Donaire, too). Two wins over Donaire would be really strong, but Rigondeaux would need Canelo to lose and Mayweather to not be particularly impressive if he beats Alvarez. After all, a second win over a guy he's already beaten isn't going to be as impressive as the first one.
Promoter of the Year
Eddie Hearn's outfit has signed David Haye, Scott Quigg, Ricky Burns, and George Groves this year, promoted Froch-Kessler II, and will have a hand in Haye-Fury, which will be the biggest UK fight of 2013 if it goes down. They own Sky Sports for all intents and purposes from a boxing standpoint, the most reliable outlet in the nation. He's got another world title shot for Darren Barker coming in August. Whatever Froch does next will be big again. Kell Brook is near a world title shot. Hearn did lose Carl Frampton to rival Frank Warren, who has decided to unite with fellow promoters in a consolidated effort to battle the young upstart, but compared to what's gone right for Matchroom, losing Frampton is a drop in a bucket.
When HBO drew the line in the sand earlier this year and chose to go with Top Rank as their main content producer, giving the heave-ho to Golden Boy and Al Haymon fighters they had helped build up over the last decade or so, the early thought was that Top Rank could struggle to put on enough compelling fights. There are some depth issues at the company, but they're working to get new fighters (such as Terence Crawford) some name value on the network, and they do own arguably the two best fights of 2013 so far (Bradley-Provodnikov and Rios-Alvarado II). They're having a fine year.
Golden Boy Promotions
Golden Boy is, for my money, the clear leader. They've had the biggest fight (Mayweather-Guerrero, even if a disappointing business venture, dwarfs other bouts this year), as well as a lot of good fights, with quantity and quality mixing together. Golden Boy are making good fights to help lift Showtime's profile, and the agreements and rivalries, though always on a razor's edge and teetering toward potential fan disaster if everyone gets too comfortable and stops trying to kick their enemies' asses, have been a positive for TV boxing so far.