SAN DIEGO, December 30, 2013 – Like many other media at year’s end, boxing writers are compelled to take stock of the prior 12 months and call out their top fights of the year. Who am I to buck the trend?
Despite certain critics who have insisted for years that “boxing is dead,” boxing enjoyed an action packed 2013 with impressive performances including several comebacks and a few surprising upsets. There was plenty of action outside the ring, too: Floyd Mayweather’s blockbuster fight deal with CBS/Showtime, the cold war between promoters Golden Boy and Top Rank, and ongoing controversy about drug testing and performance enhancing drug (PED) use.
As discussed last year in performing this exercise, defining exactly what is meant by “top” fights has numerous variables. Are they the fights with the most action? Killer knockouts? Underdogs who prevail, or champions who show their dominance? Does the story outside the ring matter? What about the element of surprise?
- I appreciate tactical contests, but they don’t launch me out of my seat and make me cheer. Show me willingness to engage. Great boxing must be entertaining.
- Proficiency within the action. Smart, not foolhardy aggression. Well-placed, effective punches. Speed and endurance. Skilled defense and the ability to take a shot.
- Great fighters have heart. Boxers can’t help but bring relationships and emotion into the ring. A compelling back story doesn’t hurt.
- Never discount the element of surprise, the knockout from nowhere, the boxer who rises to the occasion when it really counts.
Since it’s 2013 and boxing fans were blessed with so many good matchups, it’s a lucky 13 fight that made my list of Fights of the Year for 2013.
1. Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, March 16, 2013
The Desert Storm and The Siberian Rocky staged a wild showdown witnessed by a fortunate audience of 2,000-plus at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. It was the kind of fight fans dream about. From start to finish it was a no-holds barred brawl in which both men teetered on the brink of being knocked out. Bradley (30-0, 9 KOs) surprised and delighted fans with his aggressive style, surviving what seemed a sure second round stoppage and beating a vicious 12th-round knockdown just before the bell to win a unanimous decision by a razor thin margin over previously unheralded Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs). Bradley admitted he was concussed from the second round on and barely remembered the fight. This victory plus Bradley’s decision over Juan Manual Marquez gave him the validation as a top fighter he deserves. Provodnikov emerged as a fan favorite, going on to score a TKO win over the tough Mike Alvarado in October.
When any fight gets hyped as much as this rematch, it risks being a disappointment. Expectations were not only met, they were exceeded as Rios and Alvarado put on another wildly entertaining fight jam packed with action from start to finish in Las Vegas. Can you say Rios-Alvarado III? Alvarado (34-1, 23 KOs) won a tight unanimous decision over Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs), evening the score in their series. When these two get in the ring, they are warriors and they get right down to business. They are blessed with jaws of titanium and steel will. At least a dozen of the punches thrown would have dropped most other boxers. Incredibly, neither managed a knockdown. Alvarado gained the edge with superior boxing skills married to punching power, just as he promised prior to the fight.
Believe the hype, Golovkin is the real deal. No one needs to put the adjective “rising” in front of “star” before Golovkin’s name anymore. Golovkin’s (27-0, 24 KO) stunning body shot knockout of Macklin (29-5, 20 KO) at 1:22 of Round 3 established him as one of the most exciting boxers in the sport today. Golovkin hit Macklin so hard it was as if someone had used an industrial strength taser on him. Golovkin walked away calmly after landing the punch, just another day at the office for him. He’s got the punching power and explosive potential of a middleweight Mike Tyson. Golovkin likes to fight and the fans love him for it. The day he faces a big name opponent, clear your schedule.
Stevenson bagged four knockout victories in four fights in this year, but this is the one that meant the most. Stevenson (21-1, 18 KOs) came out aggressively and connected with a huge left to Dawson’s (31-3, 17 KOs) head at one minute and 16 seconds of the first round. Dawson fell straight back. He made it to his feet, but that was it. Stevenson was elated, as was his entire team and the delighted fans in Montreal. After the initial celebration, the Haitian-born Stevenson, 35, dropped to his knees in tears of joy, emotional with the win dedicated to his late trainer, Emanuel Steward. Stevenson started boxing late in life after serving prison time; the victory was as much what he had accomplished outside the ring as inside. Stevenson’s possibilities now seem endless. He’s a legitimate contender in two weight classes.
Broner (27-1, 22 KOs) failed to answer the many naysayers who said the three-division champion had never faced a true threat. The hard-punching Maidana (36-3-0, 31 KOs) came out aggressively and stayed far busier than Broner throughout the bout by a two to one punch count. Maidana knocked down Broner for the first time in his career, once in the second round and again in the eighth round. Maidana and trainer Robert Garcia put together a smart game plan for Broner including body shots to wear him down. It worked. The hard-partying, trash talking Broner needs to turn serious attention to his sport if he is going to resurrect his career from this defeat.
Some of you might be saying “Who?” Not for long. Nearly 2,200 punches were thrown in 12 rounds between lightweights Nihito Arakawa of Japan and Omar Figueroa, Jr. of Texas in the fight on the “Knockout Kings 2” card in San Antonio, Texas. From the first bell, it was a full-on brawl and the fans couldn’t have been happier. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t even the main event of the night. It barely even mattered what the scorecard said. Although the unanimous decision went to Figueroa, Arakawa (24-3-1, 16 KOs) has many new American fans that can’t wait to see him fight again, hopefully against Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs). This was the Undercard Fight of the Year.
Froch and Kessler are exceptionally well matched physically and in their crowd pleasing offensive style. Froch (31-2, 22 KO) was the aggressor from the start, but after a few rounds in which he was the dominant presence, Kessler (46-3, 35 KO) picked up the pace. By the seventh round, the pair were trading power shots instead of taking turns. Froch rattled Kessler with a right to the head in the eighth round. In Round 11, Kessler made his best play for the victory, opening a cut above the left eye of Froch, which started streaming blood. Froch closed the deal in the final round, unleashing everything he had left. In the final seconds, it appeared American referee Pete Podgorski was about to stop the fight, but wisely let the two warriors in the ring finish on their feet, as they deserved.
Garcia (27-0, 16 KOs) has been here before. He was the underdog against Amir Khan, and knocked him out. He won an impressive decision against a tough Zab Judah. He did it again with his convincing unanimous decision over the hard punching Matthysse (34-3-0, 32 KOs). Maybe now boxing media will toss their “Groundhog Day” thinking when it comes to Garcia. (For the record, this writer called it for Garcia. Thank you). He is the undisputed champion at 140-pounds with this assured, convincing victory. This co-main event always threatened to steal the show from Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez, and it turned out to be the case. It was an exciting, action-packed fight from start to finish.
It didn’t rank with PacMan’s greatest matchups against Barrera, De La Hoya, or Hatton, but it didn’t need to. High drama and big stakes were in play. Eight division boxing champion Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) turned back the clock a decade in his unanimous decision victory over Rios (31-2-1, 22 KOs) in Macau, China. The win raised Pacquiao back up after his disastrous loss a year ago to Juan Manuel Marquez, permitting him to once again consider a future at the top of his sport. Likewise, the victory gave hope to an entire nation struggling to recover from the devastation of super typhoon Haiyan. Pacquiao was in command from the opening bell and never showed any weaknesses. After being away from the ring for a year, Pacquiao was light on his feet and swift with his hands, firing combinations seemingly at will to wear Rios down. He won by scores of 120-108, 119-109, and 118-110 on the scorecards. The victory was an emotional one and an enormous relief for Pacquiao.
At 56 seconds of Round 8, Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs) delivered a left hook body shot to perfection just under Martinez’s (27-1-2, 16 KOs) right elbow. He dropped to the canvas on his hands and knees, and Martinez’s title was his. It was a punch worthy of Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin and to say it was highly effective hardly describes it. Figure out who’s moving off your pound for pound top five list, because Garcia deserves a spot. Bear in mind he also moved up in weight class for this fight to junior lightweight, 130 pounds. There is hardly anyone in the division who’s a match for Garcia at this point.
A shocked hometown crowd in Cardiff, Wales saw British boxer Cleverly suffer his first ever knockdowns, knockout and first defeat at the hands of Russian fighter Kovalev. Kovalev made quick work of Cleverly, stopping him early in the fourth round of their light heavyweight title bout. Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KOs) made a believer of every fan who watched this fight. Kovalev put Cleverly (26-1, 12 KOs) down twice in the third round. Cleverly came out for the fourth round but Kovalev picked up right where he left off, and the bout was called. This is an exciting fighter American fans will enjoy watching. Thankfully most British sports fans were more interested in the opening night of Premiere League soccer and probably weren’t watching Kovalev destroy Cleverly.
Hopkins is the only athlete to successfully beat Father Time. His place in boxing history is secure as the oldest title holder ever at age 48, but he isn’t normally the type of fighter who often brings fans to their feet. Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KO) did so in the seventh round and again at the end of the fight, bringing more action against Murat (25-2-1, 15 KO) than he’s shown in a decade. Now all the top fighters anywhere near Hopkins’s weight class want a shot at him.
13. Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Mike Alvarado, October 19, 2013
Boxing media and fans had a high level of anticipation for this bout with good reason. From the first bell, Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs). pressed the action, cutting off the ring and crowding Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs), forcing him to drop his attempts to box and get aggressive in return. It was Provodnikov’s ability to push Alvarado into trading shots rather than employing his boxing skills that secured the “Siberian Rocky” the tenth round TKO victory. Alvarado used his feet and speed and scored with hooks and upper cuts while avoiding the worst of Provodnikov’s punishment several times. But when the fight became a war of attrition, not even the iron tough Alvarado could stand up in the end to the relentless Russian’s attack.
NEXT: Boxing’s Notable Names in 2013 including our Fighter of the Year.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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