No matter what Punxsutawney Phil says every year, the groundhog that crawls out of his dwelling in Pennsylvania to ask his shadow when the weather will change, spring officially begins in the United States (and the rest of the northern hemisphere) when the sun crosses the celestial equator. This year, it happened last Wednesday, March 20.
After a pretty abysmal winter, boxing fans have good reason to be excited about the start of a new season, and it has nothing to do with the discarding of sweaters and jackets. Cold season mismatches, postponements and cancellations are gone, my friends. Spring is in the air.
Here are the five best fights of the bunch, the scrumdiddlyumptious Cadbury Eggs of your heavier-than-usual Easter basket this year.
1. Canelo Alvarez vs. Austin Trout, April 20in San Antonio (Showtime) – Boxing hardly ever gives us fights like this one. Both Alvarez and Trout (seen above in Rachel McCarson photo) are young, undefeated stars just now entering the prime of their years. Both men carry alphabet straps and are ranked top of the class by the TBRB. At only 22 years of age, Alvarez is already Mexico’s most popular boxer. Meanwhile, Trout’s win over Miguel Cotto last December proved the 27-year-old’s elite status. The atmosphere in the Alamo Dome will make for an electric evening, and Showtime’s willingness to broadcast the bout on its regular channel instead of PPV will help make this fight just about everything it could be. The scrap itself should make for an entertaining affair, with neither man a clear-cut favorite. Simply put, this is the most anticipated fight of a splendid spring.
2. Nonito Donaire-Guillermo Rigondeaux, April 13 in New York (HBO) – As much as we wanted to see Donaire take on Abner Mares, the truth of the matter is that the consolation prize might be the more meaningful fight. Hear me out. Few pundits leave Donaire out of their pound-for-pound top five. Even fewer believe the ceiling for the uber-talented Rigondeaux is anything other than ridiculously high. The narrative saying Mares deserves the fight over Rigondeaux may have some merit. After all, Mares has fought a murders’ row to get where he is today. Still, it’s not as if Rigondeaux deserves the fight any less. The Cuban fighting out of Ireland is the TBRB’s number one contender to Donaire’s junior featherweight crown for a reason. Fans should expect a high level chess match in this one. Will Rigondeaux be able to land his straight right hand? Or will Donaire’s counterpunches and potshots carry the day?
3. Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado 2, March 30 in Las Vegas (HBO) – The fact this highly anticipated rematch is ranked the third best fight of the spring tells you all you need to know about the upcoming boxing schedule. Last October, the first much ballyhooed throw down lived up to the hype, proving to be a Fight of the Year contender up to the very minute referee Pat Russell rightfully stopped it when Alvarado appeared wobbly beyond repair. Back and forth the fight went, neither man clinching or pretending to care about defense. Still, it appears from their first encounter that Rios is just too strong for the brave Alvarado, so this one gets bumped down a bit since most experts in the Twitterverse expect to see the same thing they saw the first time. It will be a spirited engagement again in Las Vegas before the stronger, heavier handed Rios batters Alvarado to the canvas. But if Alvarado can keep the fight on the outside…
4. Tyson Fury-Steve Cunningham, April 20 in New York (NBC) – If 24-year-old heavyweight contender Tyson Fury is capable of being in a bad fight, I haven’t seen it yet. The 6’9” giant continues to prove his naysayers wrong. Unlike other Shaq-like heavies, he’s tall but he likes to brawl, and brings the fight to his opponent more often than not. More importantly, of the most prominent heavyweight prospects in the sport, Fury is the youngest, has fought the toughest schedule of opposition and has remained undefeated doing it while more celebrated big men, like David Price and Seth Mitchell, have fallen by the wayside. Meanwhile, Cunningham’s move to heavyweight from cruiser proved to be smart but disappointing for the fighter. The 36-year-old Philadelphian seemingly outfought Tomasz Adamek last December but wasn’t awarded the decision. Still, Cunningham’s performance at the weight makes him another solid step up for the giant-striding Tyson Fury, who continues to represent the divisions’ bright future admirably.
5. Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler 2, May 25 in London (HBO) – Since his 2010 close decision loss to Mikkel Kessler in the latter’s home country of Denmark, Carl Froch has gone on an impressive run. The super middleweight from Nottingham has gone 4-1 in his last five fights, his lone loss being against division stalwart Andre Ward (who also defeated Kessler in 2009). During the stretch, Froch notched wins over Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, Lucian Bute and Yusaf Mack, vaulting him up the ranks to perhaps the UK’s most decorated 168-pound champions ever. Not to be outdone, Mikkel Kessler has remained Denmark’s steady beacon of boxing brilliance. With losses on his resume only to Ward and all-timer Joe Calzaghe, Kessler maintains his viability as a top ranked division contender. The two put on a fantastic show their first go-around, and with the venue shifting to Froch’s raucous home turf in London, the second encounter should be another barnburner.
Honorable Mention (listed by date)– Sergio Martinez-Martin Murray, April 27 in Buenos Aires (HBO); Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero, May 4 in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV); Lucas Matthysse-Lamont Peterson, May 18 in Atlantic City (Showtime); Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute May 25 in Montreal (HBO).