Sergio Martinez v James Kirkland (Middleweight)
The middleweight division is short of marquee names and junior-middleweight contender James Kirkland, for all his flaws, brings excitement every time he steps into the ring. The troubled Texan (30-1, 27 KOs) can bang with the best of them and his relentless, come-forward style ensures he doesn’t hear the final bell very often.
However, he also possesses a suspect chin and a leaky defence that makes him vulnerable to counter punchers. Lest we forget he lost his unbeaten record earlier this year in shocking fashion when he was knocked out in the first round by the unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida for a stunning upset.
But Kirkland confounded the critics with a gutsy performance in Cancun against fellow slugger Alfredo Angulo last month to put himself back in the frame for a world title shot. Recovering from a knockdown in the first round, the ‘Mandingo Warrior’ returned fire and dropped Angulo in the same session before letting his Mexican opponent punch himself out on his way to a sixth round TKO. The first round was probably the most exciting of the year, and should he move up in weight, Kirkland might just bring the best out of Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs) by putting him on the backfoot and not allowing him to dictate the pace of the fight.
Most people would agree that Martinez – widely considered the third best fighter in the world – marks a significant step up in class for Kirkland, but at 36, the Argentine’s time at the top could be short lived and he is fast running out of viable opponents in a thin division. He is also unwilling to move up in weight to face the best of the super-middleweight class. A fight with Britain’s Matthew Macklin on St Patrick’s Day in New York has been mooted but hardly sets the pulse racing, while Australia’s Daniel Geale and Russia’s Dmitry Pirog, though decent champions, don’t have the profile in the States to capture the wider public’s attention.
At least you know you would get a highly entertaining fight with Kirkland involved rather than a cagey, tactical affair like Martinez’s recent win over Darren Barker– and should he connect one of his bombs, he might just bring Maravilla’s reign at the top to an abrupt end.
Manny Pacquiao v Floyd Mayweather Jnr (Welterweight)
Rumours abound that Top Rank are now looking to match the eight-division world champion with another fighter in their stable, junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs). This match-up stinks on paper, and would probably be even worse inside the square circle. Bradley’s last two fights – a TKO win over fellow American Devon Alexander in January and a routine eighth round stoppage of faded former titlist Joel Casamayor (38-6, 22 KOs) earlier this month – were both drab encounters and the self-styled ‘Desert Storm’ seems to throw as many headbutts as punches these days. Besides, after turning down Amir Khan’s overly-generous 50-50 split for a light-welterweight unification bout, Bradley simply doesn’t deserve a shot at ‘the Pacman’.
Another possibility for Pacquiao is a fourth showdown with Juan Manuel Marquez after his hotly contested majority decision win on 12 November. Although Pacquiao looked far from his best on the night (Knockoutpunch scored the bout 115-113 for Marquez) and the Mexican warrior is certainly worthy of a rematch, most fans would much rather see the superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jnr made before it’s too late. After all, styles make fights, and Mayweather’s one-sided beatdown of Marquez last year does not necessarily mean he would dish out similar punishment to Pacquiao. Remember how badly Mayweather struggled against Jose Luis Castillo (a fight many felt he had lost) back in 2002? Well, Castillo was later knocked out in the fourth round by Ricky Hatton, who Mayweather stopped in the 10th round. Pacquiao would be desperate to take away the 34-year-old’s undefeated record after all the barbs from Mayweather’s camp and the sport frankly needs the wall-to-wall publicity a fight between the two best fighters in the world would generate. It’s time for Bob Arum and Mayweather’s associates to settle their differences and make the fight happen before father time and Pacquiao’s political obligations make it unworkable.
Ricky Burns v Kevin Mitchell (Lightweight)
England’s Mitchell (32-1, 24 KOs) has already started calling out Scotland’s Burns (33-2, 9 KOs) on Twitter following the latter’s impressive points victory over Aussie slugger Michael Katsidis on 5 November to claim the fringe WBO interim lightweight title. Katsidis, of course, wiped out Mitchell inside three rounds in May last year in the Englishman’s only world title shot to date. After more than a year away from the sport, Mitchell returned to the ring in July to stop fellow Englishman John Murray (31-1, 18 KOs) in an action-packed bout that will probably go down as the British fight of the year. Coming into the fight as the slight underdog, Mitchell weathered the early storm to take control of the bout and dropped Murray for the first time in his career in the eight round with a vicious left hook before closing the show. It was an impressive performance from the 27-year-old, who appears to have put his well-documented problems outside the ring behind him as he gets in line for another shot at world honours.
However, the noises coming from Burns’ camp suggest his team is more determined to set up a lucrative encounter with lightweight king Juan Manuel Marquez than an all-British showdown with Mitchell, but that now seems unlikely following the Mexican’s controversial majority decision loss to Manny Pacquiao earlier this month. Another option is WBA champion Brandon Rios, but Burns’ lack of name recognition in the States means he would surely earn more from a domestic clash with Mitchell in his native Scotland.
Mitchell certainly carries more power than Burns, as a quick glance at their respective knockout ratios attests, but the Scotsman is a skilfull operator who proved he can take a shot or two against the hard-hitting Katsidis while managing to catch the judges’ eye with some well-timed combinations. Similarly, Mitchell’s unanimous points win over Amir Khan’s nemesis Breidis Prescott in December 2009 showed that the ‘Dagenham Destroyer’ can box on the backfoot and a fight between the two would likely be more of a tactical affair than a toe-to-toe battle – but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing. Both fighters are promoted by Frank Warren, so in theory the fight should be easy to make, but whether Warren will want to pit two of his more prized assets against each other at this stage of their careers is doubtful.
Yuriorkis Gamboa v Brandon Rios (Lightweight)
This match-up pits two of the most exciting fighters in the sport against each other, and if reports are accurate, may actually happen as early as March next year. Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs) is a Cuban Olympic gold medalist at flyweight with an unblemished professional record that includes notable wins over Orlando Salido, Jorge Solis and Daniel Ponce de Leon. The 29-year-old from Guantanamo, who recently hired the legendary Emanuel Steward as his head trainer, has talked of his desire to move up to lightweight, paving the way for a potential showdown with WBA champion Rios.
The two fighters couldn’t have more contrasting styles. Gamboa has arguably the fastest handspeed in the sport, slick movement and throws sharp, accurate combinations. Rios, on the other hand, is a hard-punching pressure fighter who excels at cutting down the ring and working the body with powerful hooks. His aggressive, come-forward style has made the 25-year-old Mexican/American a firm fan favourite across the pond. It’s this clash of styles that makes this proposed face-off so fascinating. Although Rios’ boxing skills shouldn’t be underestimated, it’s hard to see a scenario where he beats the speedy Gamboa to the punch over 12 rounds to win a decision. He’s much more likely to try and trap his opponent on the ropes and use his size and strength advantage to force a stoppage.
Here’s hoping Bob Arum doesn’t decide to let this one ‘marinate’ like the proposed Gamboa v Juan Manuel Lopez showdown. Rios must get past England’s John Murray (31-1, 18 KOs) on 3 December to avoid that nightmare scenario.
Marcos Maidana v Lucas Matthysse (Light-welterweight)
Like the recent James Kirkland v Alfredo Angulo match-up in Cancun, you’d know exactly what you were getting with these two Argentine gunslingers – a toe-to-toe shootout unlikely to go the distance. Both Maidana and Matthysse have been on the wrong end of controversial decisions in the United States, with the former dropping a tight decision to Britain’s Amir Khan in the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fight of the Year, and the latter on the wrong end of blatant home town robbery in favour of Devon Alexander (23-1, 13 KOs) in June.
Matthysse has chalked up 26 KOs from 30 paid contests, with two disputed decisions the only blots on his otherwise exemplary record (he dropped Zab Judah with a right hand to the jaw in a questionable split decision loss last November). Maidana has a similarly impressive 28 KOs from 33 bouts, and beat Khan from pillar to post in the epic 10th round of their memorable scrap.
However, Maidana looked sluggish last time out against Mexican veteran Erik Morales, and was lucky to scrape home with a majority points verdict. But a fight against his fellow countryman would surely bring out the best in the 28-year-old from Magarita.
Both boxers have a fairly crude, one-dimensional style, and this would not be one for the purists, but every now and then boxing fans just want to see a slugfest between two fighters who leave it all in the ring, and that’s exactly what this fan-friendly match-up would deliver.