COMMENTARY | Writing about boxing requires a certain level of impartiality, but it's hard not to develop an affinity for certain fighters as they come up and begin to make a name for themselves in the sport.
For me, personally, the skilled masters, who have labored long and hard to learn the art of prizefighting at its highest level, will always hold a special place in my jaded fight fan heart. Genius-level boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins prove that boxing isn't just two brutes battering one another for the enjoyment of other brutes. Rather, boxing is about psychology, about applied geometry, and the discipline needed to learn a genuine craft.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist, Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs), learned the art of boxing in the stellar Cuban amateur system over the course of nearly four hundred fights.
After defecting from Cuba to pursue a professional career, Rigondeaux immediately began having an impact in the pro ranks, winning a regional junior featherweight title in just his third fight. By fight no. 7, the Cuban had won the interim WBA 122 lb. title. By fight no. 9, he had captured the full WBA junior featherweight title and was already starting to earn some pound-for-pound consideration by those who keep such lists.
The smart, technically superior southpaw is now on the verge of getting the type of major fight he has longed for since toiling away as a big fish in the Cuban talent pool.
Tentatively scheduled to face the mega-talented pound-for-pound star and WBO junior featherweight titlist Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) in April, Rigondeaux is one win away from stardom. Questions remain about the durability of the Cuban's chin, but all doubts will be answered when Rigondeaux and Donaire finally get in the ring.
At 32 years of age (and many feel he is actually older), Rigondeaux is sitting at the no. 3 spot in the junior featherweight division, behind no. 1 Donaire and no. 2 Abner Mares, with nowhere else to go. There's no time to lose, no energy to waste. The skilled Cuban will finally get his chance to put up or shut up and the fans get to enjoy the in-ring drama.
The other type of fighter near and dear to my heart is the blood and guts battler. And nobody fits that description better than "Bam Bam" Brandon Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs).
Rios is another fighter on the verge of true boxing stardom. Signed to meet Mike Alvarado in a March rematch of last year's Fight of the Year brawl, Rios is one win away from some major, superstar-level opposition.
For nearly a year, Rios' name has been mentioned as a potential opponent for Manny Pacquiao in a sure-fire instant classic. More recently, Juan Manuel Marquez's trainer, "Nacho" Beristain, told Boxingscene.com that the Mexican legend is more "interested" in meeting Rios than in a fifth bout with arch-rival Pacquiao.
Big things are on the horizon for Rios and 2013 could be the year the entertaining brawler moves from cult action hero to mainstream star. Regardless of opposition, though, Rios always delivers an honest and compelling performance. What's not to like? What's not to root for?
The third type of fighter that seems to get preferential treatment in my personal boxing psyche is the bluechip prospect with nothing but greatness ahead of him.
Olympian Gary Russell Jr. (21-0, 13 KOs) Is one of the most talented fighters in the game, but has been brought along at an excruciatingly slow pace. However, the 24-year-old featherweight prospect appears to be on the verge of finally stepping up his level of opposition en route to a world title run in the next year or so.
Set to face Russia's Vyacheslav Gusev in March, Russell may have officially ended the stage of his career reserved for record-padding victories over no-hopers and C-list journeymen. Fans and observers have been waiting three years to see the gifted southpaw begin to live up to his full potential. 2013 may be the first time fans get to see a glimpse of the greatness within Russell.
Don't believe the critics and those who tell you that boxing is dead or dying and that the stars of today just don't deliver. There are plenty of quality fighters with an intriguing story and compelling ring presence. Interestingly, many of those just happen to be on the verge of breakthrough years. Truly appreciating boxing just takes some dedication as a fan to look past the sport's dark issues and paralyzing politics to focus on its greatest assets-the fighters.
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.
Miguel Rivera, Nacho: Marquez Looking at Brandon Rios, Not Pacquiao, Boxingscene