Note: Starting today (December 30), BeatsBoxingMayhem will count down 10 Award/Distinction lists on the Sweet Science in 2015. From your standards like Fight of the Year and KO of the Year to a few creative categories like this list, we’ll be looking at the sport from as many angles as possible. Enjoy.
5. GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX (16-0, 10 KOs)
If you ever needed proof that masterful skill alone won’t keep you atop the boxing world, look no further than former unified WBO and WBA super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Amid back and forth lawsuits with his former manager Gary Hyde and co-promoter Caribe Promotions, Rigondeaux managed just one bout in 2015, resulting him being stripped of his WBO and WBA titles. Nonetheless, Rigondeaux was still signed by upstart boxing imprint Roc Nation Sports, who got his lone 2015 bout, an absolute 12-round stinker of a decision win over Drian Francisco, included on the Cotto vs. Canelo pay-per-view.
Rigondeaux now comes into 2016 without the bargaining chips that were his titles nor favorable marketability due to his highly technical (Read: boring) in-ring style. What the Cuban does have is a promoter that for now is willing to spend lavishly to make matchups happen. Will Roc Nation put down big money to entice fighters like Carl Framption and Scott Quigg to take on the Jackal?
At the age of 35, Rigondeaux can only hope.
4. LUCAS MATTHYSSE (37-4, 34 KOs)
Matthysse’s 2015 went from triumphant to disasterous in the span of a few months. In April, he waged war in a Fight of the Year candidate against Ruslan Provodnikov. It was brutal, bloody fight where Matthysse had to dig deep late to hold off a surging Provodnikov. The bout had critics and fans lauding Matthysse’s effort as everything that’s right with the sport.
Then came an October bout with Viktor Postol for the vacant WBC super lightweight title. Matthysse hurt Postol early, but struggled with Postol’s movement and combination punching as the fight progressed. A shot on the left eye put Matthysse down in the 10th and made him quit on the canvas.
This was Matthysse’s first KO loss and the circumstances behind it have severely damaged his rep as the “Machine.” Before the loss, he along with Canelo was seen as one of the top Golden Boy fighters. Now he’s at a crossroads where he has to decide if he wants to stay at 140 or press his luck at welterweight. Either way, 2016 is make or break for Matthysse’s status as a top fighter.
3. ADONIS STEVENSON (27-1, 22 KOs)
The man nicknamed “Superman” spent 2015 acting more like Clark Kent. His two outings were a unanimous decision win over a blown up super middleweight in Sakio Bika, and a third round blowout of an overmatched Tommy Karpency.
For the lineal champion at light-heavyweight, this is unacceptable. It’s not all his fault that the Sergey Kovalev bout hasn’t happened (Main Events declined a purse bid for fear the bout wouldn’t be on HBO), but the Krusher has still been able to get quality opponents like Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins. Stevenson’s last solid opponent was Andrzej Fonfara in April 2014.
Luckily for Stevenson fans, there is some hope for 2016. Edwin Rodriguez is a fellow PBC’er and likely opponent. Plus there is the Russian beast Artur Beterbiev waiting on the wings. Count of those bouts happening before we ever Stevenson in the ring against Kovalev.
2. THE PBC WELTERWEIGHTS
Yes, I’m throwing them all on the list. The Premier Boxing Champions brand has the advantage of most of the top fighters at welterweight under contract. You’d think that would allow them to make quality matchups. But so far, politics seem to be only fighting being done. Amir Khan kept himself on the shelf while waiting for Mayweather or Pacquiao and didn’t seriously entertain any other top opponents (even a lucrative, 2015 matchup against Kell Brook). Danny Garcia looks to “ease in” to 147 after another scare against Lamont Peterson. He fought a gimme against Paulie Malignaggi and has another set in January against a sliding Robert Guerrero. Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter may or may not happen due to money squabbles. And blue chipper Errol Spence Jr. is being ignored by everyone.
The word from trainers and managers is that PBC head Al Haymon lets his fighters pick their matchups. For 2016, he needs to put his foot down and make these guys compete each other. His stable is too talented to do otherwise.
1. ANDRE WARD (28-0, 15 KOs)
When you’re a Top 5 Pound 4 Pound fighter and the highlight of your 2015 is starring in a movie, we have a problem. For the past several years, Ward’s most notable battles have been in the courtroom against his old promoter Goossen Tutor. The conflict was finally resolved with Roc Nation signing Ward to an exclusive contract in early 2015.
He had a tune-up fight on BET in June against Paul Smith, and then spent the rest of the year trading public barbs with Carl Froch and Gennady Golovkin in vain hope of getting them in the ring. Now officially a light-heavyweight, Ward signed a three-fight deal with HBO that’s supposed to lead to a pay-per-view showdown with Sergey Kovalev.
The pay-per-view 2016 culmination sounds good in theory. But as we saw from Gennady Golovkin’s pay-per-view numbers, being a “boxing star” doesn’t equal being able to grab a crossover audience. Ward has only fought once in three years, so his opponents leading to Kovalev must be ones that can up his profile. So far, Ward’s only choices are Sullivan Barrera and Marco Antonio Periban.
Ward has been coasting on his Super Six reputation for half a decade. More than anyone on this list, 2016 is truly sink or swim for Andre Ward.