This year featured an unusually large number of fighters moving from second-tier prospects to legitimate main stage performers. All 20-something talents with plenty of career ahead of them, here's a look at 2012's Breakthrough Fighters of the Year:
"The Problem" was already a world champion before coming into 2012, but it was all with a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge," because the mega-talented Cincinnati native hadn't really faced a legitimate, world class fighter. This year, though, Broner changed that with three big wins over increasingly solid opposition. First came a win over prospect, Eloy Perez, then a blow-out of Vicente Escobedo and, finally a masterpiece against defending WBC lightweight champion, Antonio DeMarco. The 23-year-old is now a two-division world champ and slowly becoming a top draw and elite-level boxer.
Philadelphia's Garcia was a well-regarded junior welterweight prospect prior to 2012, but this year saw him jump right to the front of the line in the stacked 140 lb. division. A unanimous decision win over Erik Morales in March was followed by a shocking fourth round TKO of Amir Khan in July. Finally, Garcia capped off an outstanding year with a fourth round knockout of Erik Morales in an October rematch.
The native of Las Cruces, New Mexico was always considered a good, solid boxer. He also held the lesser version of the WBA junior middleweight title. However, the talented boxer had a paper-thin resume and was an absolutely unknown commodity in terms of true world class potential. 2012 saw Trout earn his spot near the top of the 154 lb. class with decisive unanimous decision wins over Delvin Rodriguez and Miguel Cotto.
"Kid Chocolate" became a legitimate presence in 2011 with some solid wins and quality performances, but he became a world champ in 2012. Quillin followed a one-sided unanimous decision over veteran former champ, Winky Wright in June with a an entertaining WBO middleweight title-winning performance against France's Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, knocking down the defending champ six times en route to the unanimous decision. Quillin is set to make the first defense of his title in February against the offense-minded Fernando Guerrero.
Yoan Pablo Hernandez
The Cuban cruiserweight, who now fights out of Germany, finished 2011 in controversial fashion, beating IBF champ, Steve Cunningham for the title via controversial sixth round technical decision. However, Hernandez, would affirm his status as a world class cruiserweight in 2012 with a solid unanimous decision over Cunningham in an IBF-mandated rematch. The tall, lanky southpaw would then defend his IBF title against legitimate Top Ten challenger, Canada's Troy Ross via unanimous decision later in the year.
On the UK scene, talented welterweight prospect, Brook, dedicated himself to competing, full-time, against an overall better level of competition. 2012 saw Brook beat Matthew Hatton in a one-sided romp, then go to war with the underrated Carson Jones to take a majority decision, and, finally, crush Argentina's Hector David Saldivia in three rounds. The 26-year-old talent is now set to face Devon Alexander for the IBF welterweight title in February. It will be Brook's biggest fight to date, against his best overall opponent. It will also be a chance to bring a world title back to his native Sheffield.
Leo Santa Cruz
Bantamweight, Santa Cruz came a long way this year, pulling himself up from anonymous undercard bouts to five solid wins, a world title, and a date on CBS. A tough, entertaining fighter with a heart for battle and solid overall technique, Santa Cruz has become a favorite of hardcore fight fans and, pound for pound, one of the sport's more compelling performers. The 24-year-old is now firmly on the main stage of the sport and has plenty of career ahead of him.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.