Five For 2014

By Matt McGrain on January 28, 2014
Five For 2014
If Martinez makes his return in early summer, a showdown with Golovkin seems possible.

The first article I ever penned for was about Mago. I predicted he would one day hold an alphabet belt. My heart breaks for what he got instead…

New Year is a big deal in Scotland, at least as much as anywhere else in the world. 

Head in hands, the population might not start thinking about the coming year until the third week of that year, and I know at least one guy who still isn’t thinking about it.

But the time comes when out with the old and in with the new starts to take on a real meaning and the year ahead begins to take on real focus and a man really starts to think about the things that really matter – like the fights.

Boxing finished last year in the shadows. The condition of Magomed Abdusalamov drew a reluctant shroud around a sport given to a measure of soul-searching even at the best of times. Personally, yes, it made me miserable. The first article I ever penned for was about Mago. I predicted he would one day hold an alphabet belt. My heart breaks for what he got instead.

In order that I might feel better, I watched more boxing. It’s the textbook definition of addictive behavior. 

But there are worse addictions.

Here are the five fights that would deliver the best hit in the New Year.

#1 Sergio Gabriel Martinez vs. Gennady Golovkin

“I’m not sending a champion who is 38 years old, after a year plus layoff, into the ring with that guy,” said Lou DiBella after seeing Gennady Golovkin destructify Matthew Macklin in June of last year. “I’m not saying they will never fight…[but] the successor to Sergio Martinez has already been determined and the next great middleweight champion is Triple G.”

This does not sound particularly promising if we’re honest, but there is a silver lining. Martinez is represented internationally by Sampson Lewkowicz who is quoted as saying that 2014 will be the “perfect time” for a match-up between the lineal middleweight King and his #1 contender, Golovkin. The final call, basically, will belong to the champion – to face the greatest challenge of his career head on like the fighter we hope he is, slink into retirement, or worse, ignominy, continuing to fight whilst avoiding boxing’s other great middleweight.

Certainly retirement is a possibility. Knee and hand injuries mean Martinez is likely to see a year of inactivity, a bell which would toll in April 2014, but this might tie in with Golovkin’s schedule. The Kazakhstani’s next opponent is the tough but limited Osumanu Adama whose selection as an opponent does little more than underline the ludicrousness of the WBA strap Golovkin is currently wielding, but he’s reasonably busy and may very well look to get out three times this year. Presuming that Martinez makes his return in early summer, a showdown with Golovkin in November seems very possible. 

Simply put it would be the most eagerly anticipated fight of the year. Golovkin would be favoured, unusual for a challenger, but the feeling is that this bulldozer’s time has come.  Meanwhile, Martinez is fading but may have the style and athleticism to take advantage of perceived weaknesses in Golovkin’s style. It is also true that he lacks big-fight experience and that this is one of the biggest fights that can be made. The middleweight King should be respected, but there may be a new backside on the throne come morning.

#2 Giovani Segura vs. Roman Gonzalez

Banging the Segura drum is a great pleasure for it involves watching and understanding the most exciting fighter in the sport. Even Ivan Calderon couldn’t make Giovani Segura boring when the Mexican flyweight twice defeated the then pound-for-pound Puerto Rican (KO8, KO3). Since then, both Brian Viloria and Edgar Sosa have found ways to take advantage of this warlord’s limitations but Jonathan Gonzalez, one of the world’s brightest prospects, was crushed in four and the excellent Hernan Marquez was out-gutted in twelve superb rounds, last year’s runaway fight of the year. Now ranked at #5 by the Transnational Boxing Board, Segura is poised for another run at the quill of boxing’s best division – but it is a fighter ranked below him, at #7, who makes the most intriguing match-up.

Roman Gonzalez has now decided that the flyweight division is for him and has abandoned light-flyweight in its favor, but his ranking reflects in part occasional sojourns into the 112-pound division that date back as far as 2008. It was barely eighteen months later that I began to refer to him as a future pound-for-pound #1 – Gonzalez steadfastly refused to step up in class and lend my prediction even the merest hint of credence. 

Now he has no choice. It is making an easy fight that is difficult at flyweight, not making a tough one. Segura might just be the toughest.

Cards on the table – I don’t think that this fight will happen. Segura doesn’t have a strap and Gonzalez doesn’t tend to fight unless it’s for a strap, another example of how the proliferation of letterbound belts undermines boxing. On the other hand, flyweights are boxing’s beggars and they most certainly cannot be choosers. If the money appears the fight could happen. To name it mouth-watering is a bit like saying the sun is hot. This fight might be Segura-Marquez II. Gonzalez is basically Marquez on rocket-fuel, a better technician, a better puncher, with better reach and superior accuracy. But I do think that he is less adept at giving ground in small increments whilst maintaining control. Gonzalez will look to move laterally, just as he’s been taught, and this might leave him more vulnerable to Segura’s lunging pressure style. Where Marquez traded space for punches, Gonzalez will box and punch, box and punch, seeking to unload his body-attack and combination shots to the head – I don’t think he has the intelligent compromise Marquez introduced, all be it in vain.

Gonzalez would win, but he would win a bruising war. It is a pity he is more likely to pursue one of the three (yes, three) WBA champions.

#3 Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Brandon Rios

Ruslan Provodnikov seems bound for 147 pounds and there has even been talk of a match with Manny Pacquiao – this is unlikely to come off and that is a blessing in disguise. While the bruising Provodnikov still has it all to give the fight that should be made is with Brandon “Face First” Rios, who last appeared at 147 himself but could easily return to 140.

Rios was widely criticized for his performance last year against Pacquiao but it really didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already: Rios can’t fight on the outside. All he can do is shuffle forwards with his gloves up and walk, jab or hook his way inside. Manny made mincemeat out of him with fast punching and fleet footwork, something we were not sure he still had until he showed us those twelve one-sided rounds. 

It must be noted though, that on the rare occasions where Rios got inside and was able to throw meaningful punches he did good work, showing imagination and the beginnings of the layered body-attack that remains a cornerstone of his battleplan.

Against Ruslan Provodnikov, he will not have to work too hard to deploy.

Provodnikov gives a little more when coming forwards for me, showing head movement, a superb judge of the distance but when he attacks it is with unmitigated savagery. The Kazakhstani may be slightly more intelligent in his initial approach but he is even wilder in the cut. He is perfectly capable of leading with his right, with body punches, with an uppercut, once he’s launched his attack. This singular vision of the world and everything in it can mean that Provodnikov needs to be handed opportunities in the same way that Rios does and as Bradley proved in outboxing Ruslan after swallowing some colossal punches in there 2013 encounter, he can be befuddled by a tempered style even when in the ascendancy.

But as we know, Rios does not have a tempered style.

Let’s avoid overthinking here; if it happens it could be the fight of the decade – and whilst we don’t recommend holding your breath, it’s starting to warm up as an idea, as are the fighters themselves who have as much as issued a mutual, and, surprisingly and to the great credit of both men, respectful challenge on Twitter. 

That’s not enough in this business of course, but if the rumors of a Pacquiao-Bradley rematch are true, Provodnikov’s first and second choices are tied up with one-another and this definitive example of, what – surely not the Sweet Science? – the opposite then, the Bitter Faith, is a step closer to happening.

#4 Carl Frampton vs. Scott Quigg

There is potential, and only potential, that unbeaten super-bantamweight rivals Carl Frampton versus Scott Quigg could be the very best fight of the coming year. If you speak to the right people on the British scene, there is even a whispered suggestion that these two might be the new Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, who staged the definitive British rivalry for the last generation. 

I’ll say up front: I think European champion Carl Frampton is the better fighter, due in the main to variety and footwork. Quigg has developed a perhaps undeserved reputation for being clangingly naïve in terms of strategy, a perspective brought about by his stuttering performance against Yoandris Salinas, from whom he was lucky to escape with a majority draw given his ponderous start, but either way, it is clear that Frampton is the more flexible to the two men. He surprises by boxing well going away and is very adept at quartering the ring (not quite cutting it off – in part Carl’s success in carving up territory is down to superb radar and anticipation). I also think that he may turn out to be better defensively, though this is perhaps a more controversial claim given how disciplined Quigg is about his guard, but Frampton looks to me less predictable, and Quigg’s habit of dipping into his own punches is worrying.

Having said all that, Quigg has certain undeniable advantages and it is these that make the fight fascinating as a contest. His hands are faster, for one, and I think he has an even better engine. Most of all, he has an outstanding jab and although I prefer Frampton as a puncher, we would be wise not to underestimate the way Quigg whips that hand across to head and body.

The best thing about this fight is that it looks like it’s going to happen.

“This is a fight that’ll make more sense a few years down the road when we both hold world titles,” is what you don’t want to hear when a truly big British fight is in the offing. Yeah, great, we’ll wait a few years then, for nothing to happen, which is what that line really means. Neither man is given to talking shit, so pleasingly these lines have yet to be uttered.  Rather there is fighting talk.

“I’ll fight him anywhere, even in [his hometown of Manchester, England],” said the Belfast born Frampton. “The purse doesn’t matter that much.”

Quigg, meanwhile, amid accusations of Frampton’s having ducked him, appears just as keen.

“I’m not afraid of Carl Frampton, and he’s not afraid of me…I want that fight.”

It appears that Quigg is going to match Kiko Martinez next, whilst Frampton was after, and failed to get, both Martinez and Leo Santa Cruz. His next move is unknown. 

The regard he is held in cannot be overstated however. Fellow professional Mitchell Smith has just picked him to beat Guillermo Rigondeaux. One thing at a time, though. Quigg might just deny him that chance in 2014.

#5 Adonis Stevenson vs. Sergey Kovalev

Adonis Stevenson has the same problem as Sergio Martinez – and I don’t mean a knee injury. No, I mean the devastating puncher that has stalked out of the east and into the west to relentlessly track him. Like Martinez he is the legitimate and undisputed lineal King, in this case of the 175-pound division and like Martinez his reign will squirm regretfully towards paper champion should he fail to meet Kovalev, who is nicknamed “Krusher” for reasons other than the juxtaposition of alliteration to marketing.

As I pointed out in coverage for this site, Kovalev proved himself to be the division’s most lethal puncher in 2013, and as the editor of this site pointed out in his coverage of Stevenson’s domination of Tony Bellew, the American called out just about everyone in boxing that might make 175 pounds apart from his Russian nemesis. Like Martinez, Stevenson is knocking on forty – the temptation to duck the division’s beast must be significant.

So what price this fight?

Whilst expressing a preference for old-man Hopkins or super-middleweight number two Carl Froch as an opponent, Stevenson did say he had “no problem” with Kovalev as an opponent, which gives us a glimmer of hope, but more than that, I think that Stevenson’s chances – and he is the underdog – are a little underrated. Just as Stevenson hasn’t seen anything like Kovalev before, so Kovalv has seen nothing like Stevenson – and lest we forget, the American is a puncher, too.  He just happens to be a faster, slicker, more mobile puncher and when was the last time everybody was so quick to pick an upright box-puncher over a quicker, more mobile champion who even at thirty-six remains very much in his prime?

So, despite what has been described as a fight that is “not a priority” for Team Stevenson, I say get it done. Brutal, tough fights like Kovalev where a fighter quite literally puts his life on the line can’t be fun, but that’s the price of being champ.

That’s the price of being a boxer.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sergio Martinez vs Paul Williams II HD

Gennady GGG Golovkin vs. Curtis Stevens, TKO, November 2nd 2013, New York City, USA

Giovani Segura vs. Hernán "Tyson" Márquez

Roman "El Chocolatito" Gonzalez Tribute / Highlights

Full Fight: Bradley vs. Provodnikov 2013 (HBO Boxing)

Brandon Rios' Greatest Hits (HBO Boxing)

Carl Frampton vs Kiko Martinez Full Fight

Scott Quigg v Rendall Monroe

WBC champion flattened in first round

Sergey Kovalev Vs Ismayl Sillakh

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  1. jamsad arswad 05:20am, 01/29/2014

    Stevenson is Canadian not American

  2. nicolas 07:27pm, 01/28/2014

    the fight that makes sense for Roman Gonzalez is fighting Juan Estrada the WBA and WBO flyweight champion. He fought him at light flyweight winning about 8 of the 12 rounds. Of course many consider the WBC champ Yaegashi the true champion when you consider that it has been over 40 years that the last WBC had a fight for the vacant WBC flyweight championship. A record I would say. I wrote about it on my Facebook page. If he would fight more often, I would suggest that a Wlad Klitschko-Tyson Fury match would be interesting. A man younger, bigger. Just think how people would be talking about that fight if Fury had fought Haye and beaten him.

  3. Matt McGrain 02:40pm, 01/28/2014

    hahahahhaha yeah don, it’s a dark continent indeed for peninsula hooked to an isalnd of choice…i think you’ll have to continue to wait for a bit for Gonzalez-Ioka Teddy…we shall see though we shall see.  I don’t think it’s any less likely than the Segura fight tbh.

  4. Ted 01:53pm, 01/28/2014

    But I’d pay 50 bucks PPV to see each of these. Also, I’d pay to see Wilder-Fury.

  5. Ted 01:35pm, 01/28/2014

    Roman Gonzalez vs. Ioka please!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Catch weight

  6. Don from Prov 11:55am, 01/28/2014

    Do they acknowledge years in Scotland?
    Doesn’t time there have to do with rock cairns and shadows?

    Provo/Rios is a murder waiting to take place: I never miss murders
    Kovalev/Stevenson would be tense for every second it lasted (I think)
    Good picks, Mr. McGrain

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