By Tyson Bruce
Critics of boxing in the mainstream media always site the advanced age of its preeminent stars and the lack of real up and coming talent as evidence that boxing is a dying sport. They have being saying this precipitously for over two generations and yet the sport continues to endure. They thought no one could replace Ali until Mike Tyson came around…no one could replace Sugar Ray Leonard until Oscar De La Hoya became a box office magnate…and now they’re saying it about Mayweather and Pacquiao. Boxing is the sports worlds’ version of a super virus—it can be treated but never cured— but always finds a way to adapt and survive. In 2013, this adage was again proved true as we finally saw a glimpse of what boxing might look like in the post Mayweather-Pacquiao era, as a number of talented fighters from a new generation broke onto the scene with sensational performances.
It would be hard to mistake a solid two-weight world champion like Timothy Bradley as a newcomer. However, as has always been the case in his career, he showed continued improvement in 2013. In the process he convinced many more skeptics that he might truly be among the best pound for pound fighters in the sport. When Bradley first came through the ranks as an unheralded prospect he was regarded by boxing scouts as a solid, workman type fighter but nothing special. This changed when he went to England and thrashed the highly regarded Junior Witter for a portion of the Jr. welterweight crown and made successful defenses against, amongst others, Kendall Holt and Devon Alexander. Those fights earned him the right to call himself world class but certainly didn’t endure him to the public, who regarded him as an ugly spoiler who head butted as much as he punched.
Ironically, public perception of Bradley really changed when he won a highly controversial decision over Manny Pacquiao. People unfairly despised him after the victory, but he proved in the bout that he possessed the boxing skills and wherewithal to compete against the very best in the world. He used the public outrage and doubt to fuel his determination. This year the beast fully emerged, as he went through something akin to torture in order to survive Ruslan Provodnikov (who became a star in his own right) and out-boxed one of the best fighters of this generation in Juan Manuel Marquez. In terms of style, appearance, and personality he is a miniature version of Evander Holyfield. So, get used to him folks because Timothy Bradley is here to stay.
The boxing public love punchers and the new generation of fans, perhaps more so than any other, demands knockouts. They were rewarded this year when a plethora of knockout artists burst onto the scene. No fighter captured the public’s imagination this year quite like Gennady Golovkin. The baby faced Kazak fighter had four destructive victories, including vanquishing respected contender Matthew Macklin with a single left hook to the body and trashing fellow big puncher Curtis Stevens in a grudge match on HBO. When he steps into the ring it creates an aura of curiosity and terror that hasn’t existed since Mike Tyson’s rampage through the heavyweight division in the 1980’s. Fan are interested not only by his ability to score resounding knockouts, but also by just how high his ceiling as a fighter could be. In little more than two years of American television exposure he has become one of the must see attractions in the sport. He has also created enormous buzz for a potential super fight with pound for pound star Andre Ward, who is in desperate need of a competent challenger.
A slew of other knockout artists also joined the scene, most notably light heavyweights Adonis Stevenson, who took the reigns as the lineal champion, and Sergie Kovalev, both of whom scored an incredible four knockout wins a piece. The two fighters are not young by traditional boxing standards, Stevenson is 35 and Kovalev 31, but have put themselves in an excellent position to cash in by providing fans with the best matchup of pure punchers since Julian Jackson-Gerald McClellan. Quite simply these two men are the hardest punchers in all of boxing. They appear to stun opponents with even glancing blows and are capable of ending a fight at any moment. Stevenson appears to be the more dynamic of the two because of his tremendous speed, movement and athleticism, but also the more vulnerable. Kovalev doesn’t do anything fancy but his brute strength, raw power, and relentless aggression make surviving twelve rounds with him a very daunting task. This fight is a concussive knockout just waiting to happen.
When Keith Thurman first came onto the scene he was advertised as a pure puncher with his nickname, “One Time” serving as a brand for the kind of excitement he intends to bring into the ring. However, his early reputation was hurt because of the perceived favoritism shown to him by the executives at HBO and his sudden and mysterious rise at the behest of manager Al Haymon. In 2013, Thurman proved many things, including that he is a resilient and multidimensional fighter and not only an explosive puncher. He was matched toughly against the likes of Diego Chaves, who was an undefeated power puncher in his own right, and Jesus Soto Karass, who is one of the most gritty and relentless fighters in the sport. He overcame adversity in both matches and gave the people what they wanted: a knockout. His combination of youth, exceptional size for a welterweight, and explosiveness make him one of the most likely fighters to some day roam the pound for pound lists.
Much like Timothy Bradley some fighters, for reasons that are difficult to put your finger on, just don’t seem to get the respect they deserve. Nobody in the sport has been as consistently underrated and overlooked as Jr. welterweight champion Danny Garcia. He was cherry picked by Amir Khan’s team as a comeback opponent after Khan’s controversial defeat against Lamont Peterson. Garcia, obviously outraged, showed the boxing world that fights are won by more than just physical attributes like speed and power, but also through intelligence and the ability to exploit the weaknesses of your opponents. While some people still contend that Garcia scored a lucky punch, a smarter observer would recognize that he waited for Khan’s over-aggression, horrid balance, and weak chin to expose themselves. Garcia doesn’t always win pretty, but he always wins.
It was this kind of ignorant thinking that led many, including myself, to view him as a massive underdog in his super fight against the power punching Lucas Matthysse. Garcia again proved us all wrong by using his patience and underrated counter-punching skills to expose Matthysse’s lust for the knockout and one-dimensional tendencies and score a resounding victory. Although he has been overlooked (either by his own choice or intentionally) as an opponent for Floyd Mayweather, he appears to have finally gained the respect of the boxing public as perhaps boxing’s preeminent fighter under thirty. It should be very interesting seeing him defend his title against the deepest pool of talent in the sport.
Although the world still longs for a match-up between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, boxing proved that it has the depth of talent to survive the failure of that matchup not happening, as well as providing a bright future for the sport we love. This was a banner year for boxing in large part because of the emergence of a new crop of fighters that have risen to at or near the top of the sport. With studies showing that boxing is finally attracting fans under the age of thirty, it appears that a sport that is far too often the scapegoat for controversy and ignorance is doing just fine.