By Sean Crose
It’s hard to believe, but we’re almost at the midpoint of 2014. At the end of 2013, we fight fans were in a good state. Things seemed to be looking up for the sport, after all. Mayweather and Alvarez had broken financial records with their bout, Pacquiao was back, and Marcos Maidana wound the year down by shutting up Adrien Broner (who would have ever thought that was possible?). With a fresh new year on the horizon, it looked like 2014 would be an exciting time for the sport.
And guess what? It has been. At least it has been so far. Very much so, in fact. Any fight fan who isn’t at least somewhat happy with how things are going right now may be in need of a reality check. Boxing’s cold war may still be preventing good fights, Al Haymon may still be pissing people off, but man, there’s been some good boxing in 2014.
What’s makes this year truly impressive so far is the the fact that it got so good after starting off so slowly. Sure, there were a few high points throughout the winter, but the only true bright spot was Friday Night Fight’s Boxcino Tournament. That’s right, ESPN 2 delivered in a big way, giving audiences a winter-long tournament and two names to watch out for in the future: Willie Monroe and Peter Petrov.
The chill which had been running throughout the sport finally began to thaw in the early spring when Manny Pacquiao stepped into the ring in Vegas and proved to the world he really was the better man as far as Timothy Bradley was concerned. Bradley came looking for a fight that night and Pacquiao gave him one. It was a fast-paced and exciting bout, sure. By the middle rounds, though, it was clear the Filipino legend was far from finished and that he would at least carry the night – which he did, via twelve round decision.
A few weeks later, Lucas Matthysse and John Molina gave us a legitimate classic when they battled on the undercard of a Keith Thurman bout. Let’s just say it’s the undercard that will be remembered from that particular evening. As I said at the time, Matthysse-Molina was less a boxing match than it was something out of a Rocky movie. It was simply great, thrilling stuff. Matthysse stopped his man late in the bout, but boy, did he earn his pay that night.
Things began to take an almost surreal turn in early May when Marcos Maidana gave Floyd Mayweather a real run at the MGM Grand in Vegas. That’s right, someone gave Floyd Mayweather a run. It was a low down, dirty, in the trenches kind of fight. I thought it was a draw, while others thought Maidana won and still others thought Floyd won. The judges ended up siding with Floyd in a rare occasion where I personally believed any close decision would have been acceptable.
The month of May was far from over, however. For Juan Manuel Marquez also proved he’s still a force to be reckoned with by trouncing Mike Alvarado. What’s more, Andrzej Fonfara may have shown the world that Adonis Stevenson isn’t all he’s been cracked up to be. Stevenson won their fight, but Fonfara proved the man from Canada can’t just steamroll over everyone he meets in the ring. Fonfara also proved that Stevenson can be dropped.
Aside from Mayweather-Maidana, however, the big story in May was the rematch between Carl Froch and cocky up and comer George Groves. This little baby packed eighty thousand people into Wembley Stadium and probably got as many pay per view hits as Mayweather-Maidana did (Showtime doesn’t seem to want to release the numbers on Floyd’s latest foray).
Considering the fact that American fans were allowed to watch the fight on HBO, those numbers for Froch-Groves II were beyond impressive. The fight was decent, too, with the older Froch letting his younger, slicker foe exert energy before wearing Groves down and knocking him out. It was a prime example of skill besting talent and youth. It was also a prime example of the fact that boxing is far, far from dead.
Early June put an exclamation point on that sentiment when Lazarus-like Miguel Cotto beat the hell out of Argentine star Sergio Martinez in an electrified Madison Square Garden. Cotto was supposed to be too small, and too worn out to defeat the middleweight champ. Cotto, however, claimed his new trainer, Freddie Roach, had reinvigorated him. That ended up being an understatement. For Roach had gone and created a monster. Cotto proved that not only was he not finished, he showed that he just might be entering his prime.
Speaking of entering one’s prime, Chris Algieri stepped into the spotlight a few weeks later by stunning the popular and hard hitting Ruslan Provodnikov. I personally thought that Provodnikov had won the bout, but the judges felt otherwise and a star was born. People now want to see the kid from Long Island fight Pacquiao. The talented Algieri may prove to be a paper tiger, but he’s certainly generating interest.
Someone else who should be generating interest is Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai. If you didn’t see his fight last weekend with the returning Robert Guerrero, check it out. It’s an all out war with two pugs who like to slug – and who can take some punches, too. These two pummeled each other before Guerrero walked away with a hard earned decision. Still, Kamegai is a welterweight fans should keep on their radar. He fights like a marine in combat and, if he hooks up with the right trainer, could be a star in the making.
So yeah, boxing gets an “A” for it’s 2014 midterm grade. I thought of giving it a “B-plus” since Top Rank fighters have yet to meet any Golden Boy ones. We’ll give that some time, though. Besides, it’s been an exciting, surprising and, yeah, entertaining year so far.
Let’s hope boxing keeps the momentum going throughout the second half of 2014.