Some of the most significant matches in the first half of 2014 include:
April 12th: Making Things Right
One of the first major fights of 2014 was Pacquiao vs. Bradley II. Back in 2012, Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight title to Timothy Bradley in one of the controversial judging decisions of all time. Fans and various media outlets raged and declared it a robbery, but Bradley would go on to defend the belt for the next two years against the heavy-handed Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez, who was coming off a career defining knockout of the Pacquiao. Manny, on the other hand, was knocked out for the first time in 13 years in his fourth fight by the aforementioned Marquez, before dominating the durable Brandon Rios to obtain a rematch with Bradley to get his belt back.
When the two met again in the ring, it was a fight. From the opening bell, Bradley stormed out of the gate and swung for the ropes as if he was fighting to prove his title legitimacy. Bradley had promised a knockout in prior interviews, and was clearly headhunting that night. He rocked Pacquiao several times early with great right hands, but as the fight dragged into the later rounds, he began to slow and Pacquiao's speed and power took over. The Filipino slugger took back his belt in a clear-cut unanimous decision.
April 19th: Old School
Bernard "the Alien" Hopkins is a biological anomaly. Every time he steps into the ring, Hopkins seems to defy the natural concept of aging and outboxes fighters decades his junior. Bernard has fought a who's-who of boxers from middleweight to light heavyweight, and going on his third decade in the sport, he set the record as the oldest fighter ever to win a world championship. The victim this night was Beibut Shumenov, a 2004 Kazakh Olympian 19 years Bernard's junior.
Hopkins' movement bewildered the younger boxer, and the Alien had Shumenov swinging at air the entire bout. Any offense Beibut mounted was neutralized, as Bernard slipped, smothered, and counterpunched his way through 12 measured rounds.
Hopkins (red trunks) completely nullifies Shumenov's offense
Whenever Shumenov tried hesitated, Hopkins tagged him repeatedly with lead right hands, seemingly at will.
Hopkins' right hand kept Shumenov from finding his range and made him apprehensive with his punches
Despite Hopkins' one-sided technical schooling of Shumenov, one judge inexplicably scored the match for Beibut. Regardless of the sour taste left by an odd split decision call, Bernard Hopkins defied Father Time once more and became the oldest boxer ever to unify titles in a weight class at the venerable age of 49.
April 26th: All Out War
Top light welterweight Lucas Matthysse and fringe contender John Molina gifted us with an absolute brawl that was instantly a fight of the year candidate. Matthysse was looking to rebound after a loss to light welterweight kingpin Danny Garcia, while Molina looked to leap into title contention after finishing his last two opponents. Both men are heavy handed and possess over a 75% finishing rate; fans expected a firefight and nobody thought this match to go the distance.
And they delivered. The two men battered each other for 11 rounds, absorbing and returning each other's best shots. Molina was considered a mismatch to Matthysse by many, but he proved to be a very game opponent and gave Matthysse the second knockdown in his career in round 2, followed another in round 5. However, the Argentinian puncher came alive as Molina began to wilt in the later rounds, and floored Molina in rounds 8, 10, and early in the 11th, ending the fight. It was an exhausting, brutal, close-ranged fight with incredible displays of heart and durability that left both men cut up and bloody. Absolutely fantastic.
May 3rd: A Different Kind of Violence
Floyd Mayweather has not really been pushed in the ring since he fought Miguel Cotto back in 2012. Most recently, he won an easy unanimous decision over Saul Alvarez, cleanly outboxing the young, undefeated combination puncher. Meanwhile, an Argentinian brawler by the name of Marcos Maidana seized the WBA welterweight belt in a 12 round thrashing of Adrien Broner, the man many considered to be Mayweather's protégé. Although Maidana was a major underdog in the matchup against Floyd, he possessed heavy hands and impressive durability.
From the beginning, Maidana put the pace on Mayweather. Taking a page out of Cotto's earlier success at damaging Mayweather by pinning him on the ropes, Maidana smothered the pound for pound best boxer in the world, pushed him against the ropes, and roughed him up with an arsenal of uppercuts and chopping overhand rights. Mayweather is excellent at using his defense and clinching to deny his opponent's offense, but when he attempted to clinch Maidana, he faced punches coming at all angles with bad intentions. Maidana fought like a rabid dog, punching on the inside, throwing left hooks off of the break, and pressuring Floyd with his head and arms land more heavy shots.
Mayweather is forced keep a tight guard against Maidana's high-volume brawling
Mayweather rallied to take over the second half of the match with clean boxing and picked up a split decision victory. He would later go on to compare his match with Maidana to fighting MMA and accused Maidana's rough tactics as "dirty fighting", but the fans will remember Maidana as Floyd's toughest challenger to date.
June 6th: Vintage Cotto
Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez were both considered veterans nearing the twilight of their respective careers. Cotto is a longtime fan favorite for his brutal left body hook, but back to back losses to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout in 2012, along with fighting only once in 2013 have raised questions of how much longer we'll see the Puerto Rican veteran. Sergio Martinez, on the other hand, is the victim of his own body. The dominant middleweight champion suffered multiple knee and hand surgeries, devastating for his crowd-pleasing, hands down style.
Going into the fight, Cotto was a 3-to-1 underdog, but as soon as the fight began, fans saw the rebirth of the old Miguel Cotto. He was quick on his feet, his jab was crisp, and his left hooks were devastating. Cotto dropped Martinez three times in round 1 alone, and then again in the 9th round, after which the Martinez quit on the stool.
It was a one-sided domination by Cotto and one of the best performances of the year. Martinez certainly did not look his best during the fight; he was flat-footed, sporting ridiculously long trunks covering wraps on both knees, and his punches and combinations lacked their usual snap, but there's no taking away the significance of the moment from Cotto. With that win, Cotto became the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four weight classes and paved the way for a new chapter in his career.
June 21st & June 28th: Stars are Born
Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford are two of the most exciting new champions to emerge from 2014. Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the most decorated amateur boxers of all time. Sporting two Olympic gold medals and a 396-1 amateur record, the Ukrainian sensation made waves when he turned pro late 2013. He challenged for a featherweight title after only 1 professional fight, and lost a closely contested split decision to the veteran Orlando Salido, in a fight where Salido was over 20 pounds overweight and committed numerous fouls.
Lomachenko would bounce back on June 21st to win his first title against the talented Gary Russell Jr, another former Olympic boxer. Lomachenko put on a 12 round boxing clinic, utilizing excellent angles and footwork to set up devastating body punches and combinations. He took the belt by a wide unanimous decision and tied the record for the fewest number of fights to win a world title. Lomachenko later went on to face mandatory Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo and routed him in another lopsided victory during which Vasyl fought with one hand for the last 6 rounds due to a hand injury.
June 28th was a defining match for Terence Crawford when he defended his new belt against the dangerous Yuriorkis Gamboa. Gamboa was a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and had a deep Cuban amateur background, and, for the first three rounds, proved to be one of the hardest fights of Crawford's career. Gamboa used his notorious speed and heavy amateur-influenced in and out style to stay one step ahead of Crawford in the early rounds. Crawford, however, displayed patience and versatility well beyond his young career and adjusted by switching from an orthodox to a southpaw stance, where he repeated tagged the Cuban with lead right hooks. Crawford quickly took over the match and overwhelmed Gamboa, dropping him in 5th, 8th, and 9th rounds before winning by stoppage.
Crawford stops Gamboa in the 9th
Both Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford represent the new generation of young talent carving their territories in the sport. At only 26 and 27 years of age, we'll definitely be watching these two boxers for many years to come.