Boxing is a tough business, and often times fighters find themselves in a position where fans are asking, "What have you done for us lately?" Here today, gone tomorrow. Out of sight, out of mind. One loss, and people will write you off. Uninspiring wins are pretty much just as bad.
2014 was hard on a number of name fighters, for a variety of reasons. Here are 10 guys whose stock dropped, in my estimation, with what they produced this year.
Stevenson went 2-0 on the year, beating Andrzej Fonfara in a tough battle and Dmitry Sukhotsky in a walkover, but the near unanimous pick for 2013 Fighter of the Year took a hit on a number of fronts. Neither of his fights were seen as particularly interesting going in, and thus were not big fights, and furthermore, his signing with Al Haymon can thus far be considered a backfire, which is rare for fighters who sign with Haymon.
Stevenson, 37, was in talks to fight Sergey Kovalev early in the year on HBO, but his move to Haymon made him a Showtime fighter, too, and that cut off the deal with Kovalev. It was thought then that Stevenson was angling for a bigger money fight against an aging Bernard Hopkins, who had been fighting on Showtime as part of the Golden Boy stable.
But when Richard Schaefer was muscled out at Golden Boy Promotions, and Oscar De La Hoya decided to take the fighters he could back to the bigger stage at HBO, Stevenson not only had lost the Kovalev fight, but the Hopkins fight, too. And now heading into 2015, he's even lost a fight with Jean Pascal, who will face Kovalev on March 14 on HBO.
This leaves Stevenson, the lineal champion of the light heavyweight division, twisting in the wind. Kovalev controls three of the four paper title belts and is seen by most now, it would appear, as the top dog in the weight class. Fair or not, it was Kovalev who put a thorough whooping on Hopkins, not Stevenson, and "Superman" faded into the background a bit in 2014. 2015 isn't looking a lot better on paper, unless perhaps someone comes up from super middleweight to fight him.
Donaire was Fighter of the Year in 2012, then had a tough 2013, much like Stevenson's 2014, except Donaire also was soundly defeated by Guillermo Rigondeaux, and later in the year had to rally to stop Vic Darchinyan in a fight that was meant to get Donaire well and make him look devastating once more.
2014 was not kind to Nonito, either, and at this point, there are questions about how much he even really wants to fight any longer. Donaire, 32, won a somewhat controversial technical decision over Simpiwe Vetyeka on May 31 in Macau, and was then overpowered by a little-known Nicholas Walters on October 18, stopped in the sixth round.
Donaire's focus has seemed to slip a bit in the last two years, but not really in the "bad" ways that some fighters experience after they've reached the mountaintop. Nonito's not partying or eating his way out of shape, he's simply focused on his life outside of boxing, which means he's concerned much more with his family than he is with the sport anymore. If Nonito doesn't have the same drive he used to, then is there really any point in him continuing on, other than money? There are plenty of featherweights he can still beat, but how many top featherweights can he beat? The book on Donaire is written at this point, and if he's not going to go all eye of the tiger and change his approach, he's not going to be an elite fighter again.
Leo Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, 26, was a full-fledged fan favorite coming into the year, but without tooting my own horn or anything, I was getting on the small but vocal bandwagon that was wondering when he might actually fight a true top contender. His wins this year over an aging Cristian Mijares and a totally unqualified Manuel Roman only put into a brighter spotlight that no matter how much you like Santa Cruz's whirlwind punching style, he's as much a stereotypical "Haymon fighter" as anyone out there.
When Santa Cruz beat Vusi Malinga for the IBF bantamweight title in June 2012, he was beating a guy who had been inactive and was really a fringe contender at best. When he beat Eric Morel, it was an old, small guy who hadn't done anything notable in many years. Victor Zaleta and Alberto Guevara were not serious contenders. A move up to super bantamweight in 2013 saw him fight Alexander Munoz, who was also old and small, and then he beat Victor Terrazas for the WBC title. Wins over Cesar Seda, Mijares, and Roman followed, each one less credible than the last.
Now, Santa Cruz is writing off the division's true champion, Guillermo Rigondeaux, because Rigondeaux doesn't make an exciting fight "for the fans." But ask boxing fans if they'd rather see Santa Cruz fight Rigondeaux or whatever mediocrity they come up with for Leo's next fight on January 17 (as of December 30, that's still a TBA), and I'm almost certain they'll say Rigondeaux. Santa Cruz is either totally aware that Rigondeaux is bad news for him and would be a huge challenge, and thus he doesn't want anything to do with him, OR he's been steered away from that fight because his handlers don't want it. There was once a time when guys would take tough fights because they truly wanted to fight the best, not just run up records. And there's nothing wrong with a proposed Santa Cruz-Abner Mares fight in May, either. That could be a war. We'll all love it. But Santa Cruz, his team, or both are flat-out avoiding Rigondeaux, and Leo has lost some respect this year, though he hasn't lost any fights.
This one's tough, but hey. Pacquiao, 36, looked terrific in a pair of wins over Tim Bradley and Chris Algieri. Absolutely, he did. Manny wasn't "as good as ever" -- that's BS promoterspeak -- but he was fantastic, and he looked really sharp, really focused, and totally on his game. Manny Pacquiao at 36 couldn't look better than he did this year, I don't think.
But the days of Manny moving the needle for any fight are over. Though Floyd Mayweather is struggling on pay-per-view compared to his past results, Pacquiao has flat-out taken a nosedive. He sold just 475K or so for his 2013 win over Brandon Rios, but that was even lower this November against Chris Algieri, a fight reported to sell only about 300K.
I really don't believe this is a case of the PPV market becoming oversaturated so much as it's a case of people having long grown tired of the same old things. Any "normal" Pacquiao or Mayweather fight now is not going to sell the way it might have three or four years ago. If you spend five years not making the one fight everyone wants to see, people will start tuning out. People not getting fights they've wanted has always been a great reason for them to tune out in the past, and boxing's audience has seemingly dwindled down to the serious fans, with the "casuals" largely bailing in the last two years. When Juan Manuel Marquez knocked out Manny Pacquiao, he may have also knocked out a lot of people who were waiting to see Mayweather-Pacquiao happen. Since then, the only fight that has gone over one million buys has been Mayweather against Canelo Alvarez, and that was a special circumstance, because Canelo (unlike Guerrero, Maidana, Algieri, Rios, or Bradley) brought his own significant fan base to the fight.
Pacquiao is still a huge star within the bubble of boxing, but he's not the star he used to be. Pacquiao is still a great fighter, too. But when he can't do over 300,000 for a pay-per-view, even considering Algieri was an exceptionally weak B-side, you can't say his stock didn't drop this year.
Provodnikov is the guy Algieri beat in June, which made Pacquiao-Algieri happen. If Provodnikov had won that fight, who would Manny have even fought in November? Provodnikov, like Pacquiao, is trained by Freddie Roach, so that wasn't likely. Would we have seen Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas in Macau ahead of schedule?
The loss to Algieri sort of put the hysteria around Provodnikov in perspective. This is not a great fighter by any means, and his whomping of Mike Alvarado in 2013 was simply a great matchup for him, one where he could overwhelm a similarly limited brawler. Algieri outboxed Provodnikov and Ruslan never was able to make a single adjustment. We saw a lot of the same stuff in Provodnikov's loss to Mauricio Herrera in 2011, which was close and slightly controversial, just like this one, but either way, sort of exposed the low ceiling that Provodnikov has. He's great fun to watch, absolutely, and he could knock out an elite fighter if he lands the right shot(s), but he can also lose to guys like Algieri, and it's more likely that he loses to more Algieris than it is he beats a truly elite fighter.
Provodnikov, 30, also didn't gain any goodwill by fighting a shot to bits Jose Luis Castillo in November for his bounce-back fight.
He didn't fight this year. He's not close to fighting next year. Ward's dispute with his promoters has taken him out of boxing, as he's fought just two times since 2011 -- once in 2012, once in 2013.
The good news for Ward, 30, is that he's now ranked No. 2 all-time by the BoxRec system at super middleweight, behind only Joe Calzaghe, and he's the only guy within even 200 points of Calzaghe. (Also, Mads Larsen is ranked No. 7 and Mikkel Kessler No. 9, and I don't agree with that at all, but this is not the place for the Larsen-Kessler debate.)
If Ward fights in 2015, great. If he doesn't, that's a shame, but what can anyone do about it? It's a downer that one of the great talents of the generation is stuck on the sidelines in what should be his prime, while there are great fights for him at his weight, potentially from someone coming up from 160, or if he wanted to move up to 175.
Like many others on this list, Garcia didn't lose this year. Honestly, big name fighters don't lose much these days, because they don't often fight the other top guys. That said, Garcia is a really weird case for me. I think he unquestionably lost a lot of support this year with his immense struggle to beat the crafty Mauricio Herrera, and then a total farce of a matchup with Rod Salka, but Garcia has proven he'll fight dangerous guys in the past. It was just over a year ago that he beat Lucas Matthysse, after all.
So this isn't a situation like Adrien Broner or Santa Cruz where he's too long fought mediocre opposition or whatever. This is a case where Garcia fought his way into contention, beat some legitimate opponents, and then fell back, even without losing. The Herrera fight was easily the toughest night of Garcia's career to date, and the Salka fight was somehow even worse in reality than on paper.
The good news is that Garcia is 26, has a big future ahead of him still, and could pretty much write this year out of existence with a big 2015. He remains a potential Mayweather foe at some point, as he could move up to 147 any time now. And I don't want this to be misconstrued, either. I still think Danny Garcia is a terrific young fighter -- crafty, strong, generally very intelligent in the ring, and flat-out, the guy is a winner. But this was a tough year for him, and he's got some work to do in 2015.
Did you ever watch the pro wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat? It's a pretty solid film, and interesting, I think, even for those who are not afflicted with a deep love of the silly world of professional rasslin. But while the main subjects of the film are Mick Foley, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and Terry Funk, there's also some focus on an old journeyman wrestler named Dennis Stamp.
Before a retirement show for Funk (which like many other retirement matches for Funk wound up no retirement at all), Stamp, who was also from Amarillo, Texas, was asked if he'd be going to the show. He said no. He argued with Funk about it. "I'm not booked," Stamp said.
"I'm not booked." That line has stuck with me forever, as it has many others who watched the film. "I'm not booked." Rigondeaux wasn't booked this year. Rigondeaux isn't some old pro who made only a minor dent and was never a star, however, which was the case of Dennis Stamp. Rigondeaux is one of the best boxers in the world. He's the number one fighter in a division that has some outstanding young talent in Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz, and Scott Quigg.
But Rigondeaux fought once in Macau this year, knocking out a total inferior, and is booked for one of tomorrow's New Year's Eve shows in Japan. He's essentially off the radar. The argument has been that he's not exciting, that he doesn't sell tickets. And those are fair enough arguments, I suppose. "Exciting" is a subjective idea, of course, but no, he does not sell tickets. Of course, neither do a lot of fighters who are regularly aired on HBO or Showtime.
I still believe that Rigondeaux was sort of railroaded after beating Nonito Donaire in 2013. He knocked off a golden goose and did it not just handily, but without taking any risks or providing a lot of excitement. He just simply beat Donaire because he was better. But there was no congratulations toward Rigondeaux after that fight, even from his promoters at Top Rank. All Bob Arum would ever say is that he was boring, that he made people at HBO vomit in their own mouths. That was strange, because promoters spin boring ass fighters who don't sell tickets all the time, and generally speaking, they're not half the fighter that Donaire is. Mickey Bey still fights on premium cable, for God's sake. There's no place for Rigondeaux?
Here's an "out of sight, out of mind" case, as Garcia, like Ward, is sidelined in an argument with his promoters. Garcia and Top Rank remain at odds as the year closes out, and Garcia hasn't fought since beating Juan Carlos Burgos in January. (This is also a guy who could easily be argued as boring and not a star, like Rigondeaux, but nobody is holding him to those standards, apparently.)
Garcia is an excellent fighter. He might be the best super featherweight in the world today. He's already been the best featherweight in the world. He's a special talent, a pure and natural boxer-puncher who isn't a good matchup for any particular style. Hopefully, he gets back in the ring soon, because the 27-year-old Garcia is certainly doing himself no favors by simply not fighting. He didn't make enough of an impression to skirt by on what he's done in the past, and ring rust could prove a bigger issue for him than any actual opponent, too.
Martinez, 39, is probably done. The writing's been on the wall for a while now, and the way he looked in a devastating defeat to Miguel Cotto in June probably sealed it. There's been talk that he'll hang up the gloves, but no official announcement.
"Maravilla" had an electric late prime, competing in a Fight of the Year contender with Paul Williams in 2009, then beating Kelly Pavlik for the lineal middleweight crown in April 2010, after which he trounced Williams, Serhiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
The Chavez fight, though, was the first real sign of decline, and has left everyone wondering what might have happened if Chavez had actually shown up in the first 11 rounds, before he rallied and overpowered Martinez in a nail-biting final frame, where Martinez injured his knee. A tough and debatable win over Martin Murray led to knee surgery, and Martinez looked totally gone physically against Miguel Cotto. Without his legs, Martinez is a sitting duck, because he's not a particularly good defensive fighter, and he's not a big enough puncher to make up for lessened mobility. Plus, his reflexes didn't look good, either.
Cotto is a great boxer and sure, there might be middleweights out there that Martinez can still beat, but he's turning 40 in February. The clock would be ticking even without a wiped out knee. The odds of Martinez ascending to the top of the sport again are pretty slim.