Boxing fans in the 1980s to the early 1990s are perhaps one of the luckiest, because that period saw the best fighters from the welterweight to middleweight divisions face each other without, or with minimum hesitation.
That era saw Sugar Ray Leo–nard, Thomas Hearns, Marvellous Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran clash with each other just to find out who among them were the best.
And marquee fights they produced are still talked about up to this day.
While they made millions of dollars from their careers, they were more concerned on giving fans marquee fights to determine who was the best among them.
Leonard registered wins over Hagler, Hearns and Duran; Duran over Leonard; Hagler over Duran and Hearns; and Hearns over Duran.
While Hearns failed to win over Hagler and Leonard (even if his rematch with Leonard was actually a victory for him), fans will never forget his imposing physical stature of 6’1” and his fan-pleasing style of mixing it up with the opposition. And while Duran was stopped in two rounds by Hearns, he managed to win over Leonard once and stretched Hagler to 15 rounds.
When the dust settled, not one of them could really claim to be the best, because all of them put out their best showings. Among the controversial fights in their era was Hagler-Leonard, because Leonard allegedly waited for Hagler to “age” before taking on him.
Nonetheless, that boxing era was never repeated again, even if the batch of Oscar Dela Hoya, Sugar Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas could have replicated it. Fast forward to today, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao could still clash, but remember that Hagler and Hearns fought when they were in their peaks and not near their retirement dates. To this day, Hagler-Hearns remains one of the best fights in boxing history.
But a closer look at the junior welterweight to junior middleweight divisions today show that there are up-and-coming fighters who could replicate the era of Hagler and company: Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Marcos Maidana, Erislandy Lara and Saul Alvarez.
As of this writing, Garcia and Thurman are undefeated, while Maidana and Alvarez are sturdy fighters who have taken on significant opposition, ditto for Garcia.
Each fighter has unique attributes: Garcia has so far faced the best level of opposition and remains undefeated; Thurman, though still largely untested, has the highest knock out ratio with 20 stoppages in 22 wins, and remains undefeated; Lara is a product of the Cuban amateur boxing system and is a masterful boxer; and Maidana is the most battle-tested in the group and also has a high knockout percentage (31 stoppaged in 35 wins). And while Alvarez, despite losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr., is still considered the top dog in the junior middleweight division, and has yet to reach his peak.
If Timothy Bradley beats Pacquiao convincingly in the rematch on April, we can count him in the company of Garcia et al.
I really wish that no promotional issues get in the way of Garcia, Thurman, Maidana, Alvarez and Lara facing each other in the next few years, because mixed martial arts, particularly the Universal Fighting Championship (UFC), is slowly gaining a firm fan base which counts former boxing fans who found boxing no longer entertaining. In the past three to four years, the UFC has created marquee bouts that rival the best boxing had to offer also in the same time frame: Shane Carwin vs. Brock Lesnar; Lesnar vs Cain Velasquez; Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos (three times); Carwin vs. Dos Santos; Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua; Machida vs. Jon Jones; Jones vs. Rua; Jones vs. Rashad Evans; and a lot more from marquee fighters like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. While promotional issues got in the way of Russia’s Fedor Emilianenko fighting the best heavyweights of UFC, there is no doubt that Lesnar’s clashes with the best in the division helped the UFC get more fans.
Garcia, Thurman, Lara, Mai–dana and Alvarez have the chance to repeat the golden era that Hearns, Hagler, Duran and Leonard created and make boxing generate a wider fan base. Let’s just hope promotional issues won’t ruin that potential golden era.