Coming off one of its best years in a long time, boxing is poised to continue the momentum in 2008, as there are already a number of marquee matches on tap. But at the beginning of 2008, here are a few things I hope I'm writing about at the end of the year:
1. The unification of the heavyweight division. The first step begins Feb. 23 in New York, when IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko meets WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov. WBC champion Oleg Maskaev takes on interim champion Samuel Peter on March 8 in Cancun, Mexico. WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev is fighting a meaningless Jan. 19 bout against Matt Skelton. But hopefully, those who handle the champions will see to it that the Klitschko-Ibragimov winner gets in with the WBC and WBA champions before year's end.
2. The return of boxing to network television. The UFC had substantive talks with NBC and CBS about putting mixed martial arts on network television. It's mind-boggling that none of the top boxing promoters are making that happen. Why not pitch a monthly Friday night show that begins at 11:30 p.m. and airs just one high-level fight per episode?
3. Steroids are no longer an issue. Boxers need to show more respect for the sport and their opponents and start a grass roots effort to stamp out anabolic steroid usage in the sport before someone is seriously injured or killed by an artificially enhanced fighter.
4. Decline in influence of the sanctioning bodies. The fighters make more money now in most cases when they hold a sanctioning body belt. Let's hope promoters and fans realize how much better the sport is without the likes of Jose Sulaiman playing it like a marionette.
5. Cooperation among television networks. Too often in the past, fans have been forced to choose between shows on HBO and Showtime. Or, Showtime and pay-per-view. Promoters need to work together for the fans, which benefits them by making the sport more popular.
With that, let's delve into the first reader mailbag of 2008:
WHAT ABOUT MARGARITO?
What do think of Antonio Margarito? I think he is a very good contender, but you rarely seem to mention him when you talk about the top contenders to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Miguel Cotto. What do you think of him as a fighter and what does his future hold?
Margarito is a good fighter, but he's nowhere near Mayweather's league. Margarito is too slow and too porous defensively to have much success with Mayweather. Depending upon whether Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya agree to face him, expect to see Margarito fight Cotto sometime in the first half of the year. As for the best welterweights, I rank the top five 147-pounders in order as Mayweather, Cotto, Shane Mosley, Paul Williams and Margarito.
A POUND-FOR-POUND LIST
Here is my pound-for-pound list at the end of 2007: 1. Manny Pacquiao; 2. Floyd Mayweather; 3. Joe Calzaghe; 4. Miguel Cotto; 5. Kelly Pavlik; 6. J.M. Marquez; 7. Juan Diaz; 8. Bernard Hopkins; 9. Israel Vazquez; 10. Chris John. Any thoughts on my picks? I'll give honorable mention to: Edwin Valero, Arthur Abraham, Christian Mijares and Jorge Arce.
Costa Mesa, Calif.
It's a reasonable list, though you should flip Pacquiao and Mayweather. Mayweather is clearly the top boxer in the world. My top 10 is Mayweather, Calzaghe, Pacquiao, Cotto, Hopkins, Marquez, Diaz, Vazquez, Pavlik and Winky Wright. I don't think Valero is accomplished enough yet to be in the top 20 or 25 yet and I think Arce is on a downward trend.
With all the talk of Floyd being the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, how would you rate him against the best ever? Also, who would be on your top 10 list of greatest fighters? One name I'd have to put on that list is Ricardo Lopez.
Floyd is getting close to being in the top 100 of all-time. That's an exclusive list, considering the great fighters who have fought over the years. The best ever, Sugar Ray Robinson, fought at welterweight, to, but would have handled Mayweather with no problems. As good as Lopez was, he doesn't belong in the all-time top 10. Behind Robinson, you have to consider, in no particular order, Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Willie Pep, Harry Greb, Roberto Duran, Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Leonard, Archie Moore, Rocky Marciano, Marvin Hagler, Pernell Whitaker, Carlos Monzon and Ezzard Charles for a spot in the top 10 before Lopez.
FLOYD TO MMA
I'm very offended that this is even a story. Floyd would never become an elite MMA fighter. This whole thing is based on his potential in MMA, which is by no means a realistic way to measure future success. He's 30, right? Most elite MMA fighters have 10-plus years training in the various arts before they become champions or even elite fighters in the WEC or UFC. Stick with a sport that keeps you safe from real fighting, Floyd. Stick with boxing.
I don't believe at this stage that Mayweather would become an elite fighter. I think he might fight once – if that – against a low-level opponent in order to draw attention to a promotional company he may form. Had Mayweather trained in MMA the way he did boxing, from his youngest days, I have no doubt he'd be one of the sport's best. But he's too far behind the curve to make it now.
I'm surprised that people continue to discriminate against Mayweather. Besides you and Angelo Dundee, every expert made it clear that Ricky Hatton was the favorite against Mayweather. Some of the people who thought Hatton would win are Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe. Other experts said the same, touting Hatton as the best challenge Mayweather may face. Then when Hatton was dismantled and humiliated, the talk changed. Now he needs to beat Cotto, another overrated boxer, to gain your respect?
I can't take credit for being one of only two to pick Mayweather, though I was convinced he would rout Hatton. Remember that De La Hoya and Hopkins were promoting the fight; they knew Mayweather would win, but they talked up Hatton to make the fight seem more competitive and thus make it more attractive to potential pay-per-view buyers. Calzaghe and Hatton are friends and Joe was supporting a friend, but I'm not sure Joe ever directly picked Hatton to win. He did not when I spoke to him personally. As far as beating Cotto, I was calling for Mayweather to fight Cotto long before Mayweather fought Hatton. I think that's the fight boxing fans want to see.
COMPETITION FOR FLOYD
I want to tell you how much I respect and enjoy your work. I also would like to say that you handle your questions with an amazing amount of class. That jerk in last week's edition was absolutely out of line and downright disgusting. Your response was perfect, even though his question didn't deserve one. Who do you think would give Floyd Mayweather the most competition? Is Cotto good enough at boxing and landing punches on Floyd or will he take too much abuse and not be able to get to him? I would also like to know what you think of young stars like Paul Williams and Andre Berto.
Thanks, Justin. I think Cotto is the guy who would pose the biggest challenge to Floyd. He doesn't have anywhere near the speed that Mayweather does, but he's a better boxer than some give him credit for and he's a devastating body puncher. I think Mayweather would win a unanimous decision in an unbelievable fight. To me, it's much like the first Leonard-Duran fight in 1980. I think Williams has the potential to succeed Mayweather as the king at 147. I'm not as sold on Berto yet.
Your column is so entertaining and I love it like many readers do. I'm a fan of Pretty Boy Floyd. I would love to compare his skills to the greats. I would like to ask you how did you see a Roberto Duran having a late-round stoppage over PBF in that mythical tournament a reader asked about? I just don't think it could happen.
Floyd would have trouble keeping Duran off of him, in my opinion. Duran was a devastating puncher and a very good boxer. Look what he did to Leonard when they met in Montreal in 1980. I picked Duran by late stoppage because I believed that Duran's power would eventually slow and wear down Mayweather.
I do not agree with you discounting of "The Contender" finale as fight of the year. You state yourself that this fight was like one taken out of movies. I think that this was one of the best of the year, for purity, aggressiveness and determination of the fighters.
I have no disagreement with your comments, Gervais, which is why I included it in my finalists. Interestingly, the Boxing Writers Association of America didn't include it in its list of finalists, so it can't win the BWAA award. But I think the Marquez-Vazquez rematch was everything that the Bika-Codrington fight was and the skill level of the fighters was much higher.
Can’t get enough of Kevin Iole’s mailbag? Then check out last week’s edition.