2020 – The end of legends?
By Gav Duthie: It’s a new year, a new decade and a new era in boxing 20 years after the Millenium. The greatest boxers of the last period are mostly retired and many are vying for top spot like Crawford, Lomachenko and Canelo and a new breed of Ryan Garcia, Vergil Ortiz, Josh Taylor and many others are coming through to challenge.
As new doors open many must close. This article will examine 6 boxing legends of the last 10, 15 and even 20 years as professionals who could well be entering their final year in the sport. Will this be their last stand? Will it end in victory or defeat? Could they continue past 2020? And what will their legacies and hall of fame status be?
In order of weight category: Highest to lowest
When you picture the image of Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev slumped against the ropes with Canelo Alvarez standing over him it’s easy to forget just how formidable the Russian used to be. Canelo started the decade 4 weight divisions below Kovalev but by the time they faced each other in the ring Canelo was a big favourite. Over the last 4 years Kovalev has lost twice to Andre Ward, once to Eleider Alvarez and Canelo of course with 3 of them stoppage defeats.
He earned a career high $12.5 million for the Canelo fight but he has legal issues out of the ring regarding assault charges which could cost him millions so I expect him to fight again. The obvious path is to fight for his WBO title again. After Andre Ward retired they let Kovalev fight for it again straight away but not this time.
The organisation has ordered 2 eliminators between Gilberto Ramirez 40-0 (26) v Eleider Alvarez 25-1 (13) and Umar Salamov 25-1 (19) v Maksim Vlasov 45-3 (26). The winners will face each other and a shot at the vacant title. This means a lot of waiting around for Kovalev as this probably won’t be resolved until late this year or even next.
The other options are of course title shots against compatriots Artur Beterbiev or Dimitry Bivol. At this stage I think Bivol, Beterbiev and Ramirez all beat him and that would signal the end of his career in 2020. His trainer Buddy McGirt has said he will move up to cruiserweight. That is a full 25lb shift, the biggest jump in boxing. For me he gets stopped by any top cruiser and retires in 2020.
Legacy: Going into the fight against Andre Ward they were arguably #1 and #2 P4P in the world and the decision could have gone his way. Kovalev won his first world title (WBO) in 2013 coming over to the UK to destroy Nathan Cleverly. He made 8 successful defences of that title whilst also picking up the WBA and IBF titles along the way when he outpointed Bernard Hopkins. He eventually lost to Andre Ward but despite his 4 losses in 4 years has enjoyed partial success winning the WBO title another 2 times (vacant title TKO 2 Vyacheslav Shabranskyy) and his rematch points win over Eleider Alvarez. Buddy McGirt can be credited with taking Kovalev back to basics for a more measured approach but it was not enough to beat Canelo. Kovalev will be seen as a formidable, powerful fighter who looked unbeatable until he faced top class fighters and someone who dominated a division for 3 years.
Hall of Fame: NO.
For me there just isn’t a win big enough there. He could have got the Ward decision but he didn’t. He could have been undisputed champion but he couldn’t get WBC champion Adonis Stevenson in the ring. If he had beaten Stevenson or Ward then he would be but looking at his best victories they are probably a prime Nathan Cleverly an ageing Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal, which is not enough to gain Hall of Fame status. The only way to earn it is to beat current champions Beterbiev or Bivol, but that seems unlikely as does becoming a cruiserweight champion.
Much like Kovalev, Gennadiy Golovkin had an aura and mystique as an unstoppable force and brutal knockout artist who would stop anything in his way. Unlike Kovalev, however, Golovkin is also an immovable object with one of the best chins in boxing history.
Again, in recent years this mystique has gone with more fights going the distance and a loss on his record. Unlike Kovalev though, he hasn’t capitulated. I had hoped at this stage of his career he would only be in big fights, but it looks like he may defend his newly acquired IBF title against Kamil Szeremeta.
There is no chance that Golovkin can string together another 20 defences at his age, so he should avoid these mandatories and concentrate on big fights. If this is the road he is going down, I can’t see him retiring in 2020 unless he suffers a shock defeat. He may just be looking to keep himself busy until he can face Canelo Alvarez, but he could be waiting a long time for that.
Legacy: Golovkin’s legacy comes from longevity rather than career defining fights. He has equalled Bernard Hopkins record of 20 middleweight title defences and recently regained one of his lost middleweight titles to Sergey Derevyanchenko in a 2019 fight of the year contender.
Many feel GGG was hard done by in his career defining fights against Canelo Alvarez. They fought twice with one going to Canelo and the other a draw which most felt Golovkin won. Golovkin’s best wins have come against Derevyanchenko, Daniel Jacobs and Kell Brook, so he really needs to cement his legacy with another career defining win.
Jermall Charlo or Demetrius Andrade could suffice or he could move up to 168lbs to take on Callum Smith or Billy Joe Saunders, but he seems reluctant to shift from middleweight.
Hall of Fame: YES
Golovkin is 37 and at the moment is possibly on the fence, but I think he has done enough for Hall of Fame status. He could cement it with a big win at 160 or 168 and there is still time for that. His biggest win is against Daniel Jacobs and his moral victory/draw over Canelo.
In the end though the history books say GGG didn’t beat Canelo. Much like Juan Manuel Marquez against Pacquaio he needs to keep going until he can knock him out. I feel though that a middleweight domination of 20 defences and 3 titles gets him the nod.
Those defences included wins over tough contenders David Lemieux and Martin Murray and he took the unbeaten records of Dominic Wade, Kell Brook and Steve Rolls. Golovkin is past his prime but still hanging with the best in the sport. For me, Golovkin is already a Hall of Famer but he could be a legend if he can bag a great win.
Manny Pacquiao has held world titles in 4 decades. Nobody else has ever done this and I doubt anyone ever will. He won his first in 1999 at flyweight and is still a WBA champion in 2020 after defeating Keith Thurman last year. What is there left for him to do?
Manny could still go down as one of the greatest boxers of all time, so there are still fights for him. After his loss to Jeff Horn his comebacks were calculated. Big names in Lucas Matthyse and Adrien Broner but entirely beatable. Thurman, however, he had no right to defeat. Many had Thurman as the #1 welterweight and in his prime. Pacquiao aged 41 should not have been able to win but he did.
Many said Pacquiao should have retired after Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, then Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, and certainly after Jeff Horn in 2017, but he has found amazing form from God knows where. He is incredible. Surely one more big win and he can finish. Errol Spence could be the one and if he gets it this year I think he will retire.
Legacy: When I said he could be an all time great he already is. The last 30 years belong to Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hokpins and Manny Pacquiao. He is a top 50 if not 25 fighter but a win over Terence Crawford or Spence could put him in the top ten. 4 decades as a champion and 8-weight classes.
This will not be achieved again. His best wins include Keith Thurman, Adrien Broner, Tim Bradley, Juan Marquez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya. He has a list of hall of famers defeated and his style was amazing to watch.
Hall of Fame: YES
No further explanation necessary.
The ‘Filipino Flash’ could have gone out on his shield after the WBSS final defeat against Naoya Inoue. The now 37-year-old took the pound-for-pound stars best punches and returned the favour breaking Inoue’s nose and orbital bone. It was a fight of the year contender and incredible considering Donaire dropped 2 weight classes to fight in the tournament in his advanced years.
Donaire is a 4-weight world champion and was unbeatable for a while after upsetting then world champion Vic Darchinyan in 2007. Nonito is close to finalising a deal to face current WBC champion Nordine Oubaali 17-0 (11), and I feel that win or lose, Donaire will retire in 2020.
Legacy: He was one of the most exciting low weight fighters ever. After dethroning Darchinyan he won 13 fights in a row at the highest level winning world titles flyweight, bantamweight and super bantamweight. He took the 0’s of Raul Martinez and Omar Narvaez and bested Mexican legend and co 4 weight world champion Jorge Arce.
Donaire was stunned by Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013 just after being named boxer of the year for 2012 but still went on to achieve another world title at featherweight (Simpiwe Vetyeka) as well as coming back down to win a world title at 122lbs (Cesar Juarez) and 118lbs (Ryan Burnett). Donaire has lost 6 times.
Once in his second fight and the only arguable one in his prime career to Rigondeaux. He was stopped against Nicholas Walters but he was never a featherweight despite winning a title there.
The Jessie Magdaleno loss was a surprise as he was back at his normal weight but losing to Carl Frampton and Naoya Inoue at this stage of his career gained him more plaudits than criticism because of the quality of the fights.
Hall of Fame: Yes
Being a low weight fighter it’s hard to gain respect and money in this game. He has a big fan base for a low weight fighter. His list of names might not resonate with most, but they are impressive. Vic Darchinyan x2 looked fantastic and Donaire wasn’t a huge threat at the time of the first one.
Moruti Mthalane who he defeated in 2008 is still boxing now and has never been beaten again. Fernando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez and Jorge Arce are all top fighters. Eyebrows were raised when Rigondeaux beat him but he is a great fighter as well.
Donaire was always fun to watch, powerful with a warrior attitude and a really great guy. The sport will miss him when he is gone.
One of the most talented boxers of all time. A two time Olympic champion and as of last Saturday night a two weight world champion. Winning the WBA regular championship against Liborio Solis at 39 years of age, one weight below the class he made his name and 3 weights below his supposed career defining defeat to Vasiliy Lomachenko was a monumental achievement but as usual was met with a chorus of boos.
Rigo has never been a fan favourite. Most Cuban’s don’t get a fair shake, but Rigo in particular gets poor viewings and crowd booing. Bob Arum said he was un-promotionable, and as a result has never received the fights his talent deserves. Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz avoided him as are the 122lb champions of today.
The latest is that he is after 118lb and P4P star Naoya Inoue. Rigo says he is going monster hunting. To be honest, I see very little chance of Arum letting that fight happen. I doubt Rigo will retire this year though. He looked like he was going to adopt a fan friendly style when he stopped Julio Ceja last year, but he was back to his defensive mastery against Solis showing he still has the reflexes. In the end, I fear he will just carry on until he loses to someone he shouldn’t when the reflexes finally dull.
Legacy: His achievements are amazing but the feeling will probably be that he could have had more. He has 2 career defining fights, his breakout win over Nonito Donaire, a masterclass in defensive boxing for any young student and a 2 weight jump and one sided defeat to Vasyl Lomachenko.
Rigo is resilient as he could have retired after the criticism he received in quitting. Loma dubbed himself ‘nomaschenko’ after the famous Roberto Duran ‘no mas’ quit against Ray Leonard following the bout. Rigo has other good wins but nothing substantial. He really needs one more and Inoue would be the icing on the cake. One doubts he will get it though.
Hall of Fame: NO
A hard one to pick. I would easily accept an argument that he is a hall of famer. He is certainly a better boxing than dozens who will get in if he doesn’t. The hall of fame isn’t just about talent though. Trainers like Eddie Futch, promoters like Don King, writers like Bert Sugar and actors like Sylvester Stallone are in there.
It’s about services to boxing. Rocky motivated millions, Bert Sugar kept the old fighters’ stories alive. Rigondeaux has bored fans all over the world. I’m a fan but I’m a boxing fanatic most are not. There is one way for Rigo to get hall of fame status, beat Inoue but he won’t get the chance.
Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez
Chocolatito has never gone away but he has been very quiet recently. His first defeat caused outrage, his second humbled him. Gonzalez has another chance to become world champion at the end of this month when he challenges Kal Yafai for his WBA super flyweight title.
The biggest minimumweight sensation since Ricardo Lopez was incredible from 2008 until 2017. He won titles at minimumweight, light fly, flyweight and super fly during this time defeating the likes of Juan Francisco Estrada, Brian Viloria and Carlos Cuadras along the way. Roman was hard done by in his first defeat against Sor Rungvisai but the second was a brutal knockout and given his miles on the clock many thought he would retire.
Gonzalez took a year off and defeated the respected and former world minimumweight champion Moises Fuentes (who had retired Ivan Calderon years earlier). Chocolatito won comfortably so it was a surprise to see him take another 15 months off and then face journeyman Diomel Diocos in December 2019.
Gonzalez is now 32 years old with 50 fights which is generally old for a low weight fighter. Kal Yafai is a talented fighter and has been waiting for a big fight. He speaks of his admiration for Gonzalez but I think he will defeat the Nicaraguan legend and he will likely retire in 2020.
Legacy: Gonzalez is 1 of only 20 boxers ever to be a 4 weight world champion. Tommy Hearns was the first to do it so he is on a comprehensive list of top talent. He was absolutely unbeatable for almost a decade with only Estrada coming close before his eventual first loss.
Chocolatito had a great boxer puncher style with power and defence. He took on the best of his era and was unfortunate in his and Naoya Inoue’s timing in the sport or that could have been a great fight. It was a shame that he only truly came into prominence on HBO’s superfly cards where he lost as fans did not get to see the best of him.
This should not detract from his achievements though because if he had been a featherweight or above he would have been one of the most popular fighters on the planet. Unfortunately, he was past his prime when the world was watching, but he paved the way for the likes of Estrada, Rungvisai and other flyweights to make a name for themselves on TV networks.
Hall of Fame: YES
It’s hard to argue against a 4-weight world champion when so few have achieved this status. Despite Gonzalez’s first loss to Rungvisai, it was one of the fights of the year, as was his bout with Estrada years before. Chocolatito idolised Alexis Arguello but has surpassed him in many ways.
Roman has always seemed a little on the small side to compete, but he needed to keep moving up divisions to get recognition and has given everyone a good scrap. It’s too soon to write him off beating Yafai, but either way win or lose, I think this could be the last time we see Gonzalez unless a huge offer comes his way.