Thirty fighters worth the price of admission and three who don’t deserve your money

Kevin Iole
Boxing Experts Blog

In April, after I came away not all that interested in watching Guillermo Rigondeaux fight again, a small but boisterous segment of boxing fans let me have it. My take was that while Rigondeaux clearly outboxed Nonito Donaire and deserved to win a decision in that April 12 fight, it wasn't the kind of fight where I'd put my own money down to watch.

That didn't make me right, though it also didn't make me wrong. It was a choice.

Some people prefer Coke and I prefer Pepsi (Author's note: Former wrestling champion The Iron Sheik can attest that I do not drink the Sprite). It's essentially different strokes for different folks.

But after watching Showtime's outstanding tripleheader last week, headed by a sensational interim lightweight title fight between Omar Figueroa Jr. and Nihito Arakawa, I began to mull over those fighters I would put my own money down to watch fight.

I like a variety of styles, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the classic boxer-puncher. I loved watching Tommy Hearns and Ray Leonard, because they were both brilliant boxers, but also had the speed, power and courage to engage in toe-to-toe slugfests.

I enjoy a brawl as much as the next guy, but in my mind, what makes boxing so fascinating are those rare times when you match two highly skilled fighters and a slugfest breaks out. I think of the four Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fights as perfect examples of this concept.

So, too, were a slew of either fights, including Leonard-Hearns I, Leonard-Roberto Duran I, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I, Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez I, II and III, Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield I, Larry Holmes-Ken Norton and Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas.

Defense is a part of boxing, but at its core, boxing is an offensive sport. So, if you're just a defensive whiz but you don't fire back after making your opponent miss (and yes, I am thinking of you, Guillermo Rigondeaux), you've got no chance to make my must-watch, will-pay list.

With that as the background, these are the active fighters I'd pay to see fight.

30, Terence Crawford: He's one of the elite lightweights in the world and is developing as an offensive weapon.

29, Jessie Magdaleno: A young guy who lives in my hometown of Las Vegas, I've had a chance to see him a lot and always like what I see. He's going to be a big-time fan favorite when he reaches his peak.

28, Mikey Garcia: A classy, talented fighter who is getting better as quickly as anyone.

27, Nonito Donaire: Donaire has had a few stinkers that he needs to be called onto the carpet for and accept some blame, but Donaire is a talented fighter who has the kind of all-around skills I like to see.

26, Omar Figueroa Jr.: If you saw his fight with Arakawa, you'd know why.

25, Roman Gonzalez: He has great ability, as his 35-0 record and 29 knockouts show. He knows how to set up his punches and he's got the entire arsenal.

24, Leo Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz had a brilliant year in 2012, and he should become one of the game's most popular fighters before too much longer. He's active, having fought five times in 2012, he's fearless and he's highly skilled. He's just coming into his prime and will be in a Fight of the Year before he's through.

23, Brian Viloria: I always thought Viloria would become a mega-star, a la Michael Carbajal, and that hasn't happened. But he's a skilled guy with a brawler's mentality. He's lost some, but he's always a guy to look forward to seeing next time out.

22, Danny Garcia: For some reason, the guy is not as highly regarded as he should be. What doesn't he do? He takes tough fights, he engages and he looks to score knockdowns and knockouts. That's my kind of a fighter.

21, Felix Verdejo: The guy has had but a handful of fights, but if I had to guess who would be the talk of boxing in 2015, it would be Verdejo. He's wonderfully talented with a killer instinct and a flair that makes you want to see him again and again.

20, Josesito Lopez: I get the sense he'd agree to a fight with Wladimir Klitschko if he got paid. He's a blood and guts fighter, but he's far more skilled than he's given credit for being.

19, Sergio Martinez: I fear he's nearing the end, as his body seems to be betraying him, but the classy Argentine always puts on a show.

18, Zab Judah: He's lost way more than he should have given his gifts, but he's fought just about everyone and he's been a compelling guy to watch time and time again.

17, Robert Guerrero: He's nowhere near good enough to beat the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., but he's fearless, he always comes to fight and he competes with a chip on his shoulder.

16, Vitali Klitschko: He may have one more fight left, perhaps two. But Klitschko is a massive guy who, without a lot of speed and quickness, has managed to be the prototypical boxer/slugger. He's not as physically talented as younger brother Wladimir, but his mean streak in the ring and desire to finish separates him in my opinion.

15, Andre Berto: Berto is moaning about his treatment from the media in light of his knockout loss to Jesus Soto Karass last week on Showtime. Berto is a guy who has little reason to complain, given the numerous free passes he's been given. That said, give it up to the guy. Most of the time, you leave after seeing Berto fight and you feel you've gotten your money's worth.

14, Marcos Maidana: A mega power-puncher who is looking to take one's head off with just about anything he throws. I like that.

13, Amir Khan: I am not a fan of his excuse-making and his whining about a lot of things, but Khan comes to fight every time out. He's a skilled boxer with power, but he also has a China chin, so one is always on the edge of the seat watching his bouts.

12, Carl Froch: He not only fights anyone, he actually seeks out the toughest fights he can find. He's more gifted than he's given credit for being, but he's as hard-nosed as they come and loves a brawl. Andre Ward is more talented, but if they were fighting at the same time in different parts of town, no question, I'd go watch Froch.

11, Abner Mares: He'll fight anyone, he's versatile and he's a crowd-pleaser.

10, Miguel Cotto: Cotto is the consummate professional who is clearly on the back stretch of his career. But he never fails to disappoint, always throws with mean intentions and even when he's having his worst night of his life, as he did against Austin Trout, he's coming forward looking to turn things around.

9, Timothy Bradley Jr.: He was out on his feet for much of his bout with Ruslan Provodnikov in March, but he kept throwing punches. He's tough enough to hang with the sluggers and skilled enough to compete with the boxers.

8, Mike Alvarado: As he's matured, he's delivered action each time out but has maintained good technique, something that isn't easy to do.

7, Brandon Rios: Rios isn't the most technical guy out there, but there is no one more hard-nosed. Whatever it is that Rios has on a given night, you'll see it all. Rios is mean in the ring and he actively delights in hurting an opponent. He'll give Manny Pacquiao fits in November, even if Pacquiao is too quick for him.

6, Lucas Matthysse: Very similar to Rios, but with a bit more power, you're always on the edge of your seat with Matthysse. A fight could end at any second when he's in the ring.

5, Canelo Alvarez: As he moves into the serious portion of his career, he'll likely move up on this list. He has power, speed and boxing skill and he's an entertainer of the highest level.

4, Juan Manuel Marquez: A truly classy veteran who can fight anyway you want and put on a good show.

3, Manny Pacquiao: He's a killer in the ring with knockout power and the kind of skills that would allow him to compete with the best of his era. He is often breathtaking, a wonderful combination of speed, power and endurance.

2, Floyd Mayweather Jr.: We're watching one of the all-time greats. He'll never surpass Sugar Ray Robinson as No. 1 all-time in my book no matter who he beats, but Robinson is go good, that's not damning at all. Mayweather is marvelously gifted and seeing that skill put to use is an honor.

1, Gennady Golovkin: Golovkin has knockout power with either hand and he tries to use it. He is willing, though, to box if he has to and he has the skills to outbox the best guys out there. He wants to please and that's the kind of fighter I'll pay top dollar to see.

And three fighters I'm not so excited to see:

3, Guillermo Rigondeaux: I need to see more offense out of him. I could flip and put him on the other list if he starts to consistently, not once in a while, see him turn his defense into offense. But right now, I feel the same way about him that HBO apparently does.

2, Shane Mosley: Mosley is one of the most talented fighters I ever saw. His time has come and gone, though, and I hate to see him hanging around.

1, Adrien Broner: Broner is good enough physically to not only be on my Top 30 good list, but be high on it. But I've lost interest in seeing him because of his numerous classless outside the ring antics. He's the guy who posted a video of himself performing oral sex on a stripper. He's the same guy who shot a video of himself using the toilet and then showed himself flushing money down the drain. He's frequently crass and crude and is definitely no one I want to support with my money. Golden Boy needs to put a halt to what is quickly becoming a train wreck.

What to Read Next