Five Fighters Follow a Familiar Outline

by Kieran Mulvaney

When boxing fans of a certain age look back on what is generally regarded as the most recent Golden Era of boxing, they reflect not only on the fact that the sport then boasted a quintet of exceptional talent – Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Wilfred Benitez – but that they (and this must always be pointed out with earnest, brow-furrowed emphasis) fought each other.

Of course, they did not always fight each other at the perfect time. Leonard had hinted at wanting to fight Hagler earlier than he did, and in November 1982 even held a press conference that everyone expected was to declare his challenge to the middleweight champion – heck, he even specifically invited Hagler for the occasion – only to instead announce his retirement from boxing (his first of many, as it turned out). Not until almost three years later, after he saw signs of rust in Hagler’s aging chassis, did Leonard emerge from what was already his second retirement to stick-and-move his way to the middleweight crown. None of them fought Duran at anything close to the Panamanian’s prime – except for Leonard, which is one reason why he is the only one of the group to lose to him. And Leonard, Duran and Hearns continued to fight each other long past the time when they should have been warming their feet in comfy slippers by the fireside.

But still, at their peak, they locked horns with enough skill and tenacity to burn themselves into the sport’s lore. “No mas!” and “You’re blowing it, son!” are shorthand for the second Leonard-Duran contest and Leonard’s comeback victory in his first battle with Hearns. The two-plus rounds in which Hagler and Hearns went to war are reverently regarded still as perhaps the greatest eight minutes or so in boxing history.

(Benitez is the Joey Bishop or Peter Lawford of this pugilistic Rat Pack, but he played his role with skill, losing to Leonard and Hearns and defeating Duran.)

It would be premature – and to many, borderline sacrilegious – to compare any group of fighters around the welterweight division to those legends of 1980s vintage, but there is a nice five-person round-robin rivalry underway that kicks into high gear with a pair of bouts later this year: one in Las Vegas, one in Macau.

Timothy Bradley spent plenty enough time calling for a big fight; his 2011 meeting with Devon Alexander was expected to be it, but turned out to be a damp squib. His challenge the following year for Manny Pacquiao’s welterweight crown was his first shot on the biggest of big stages, but it didn’t exactly work out the way he wanted. He appeared to lose the fight, albeit valiantly; instead he was awarded a victory that earned him opprobrium from fight fans. He emerged from seclusion to engage in an enthralling Fight-of-the-Year-quality battle with Ruslan Provodnikov, and now earns another turn in the spotlight, against Juan Manuel Marquez.

Bradley is one of the few guys Marquez hasn’t fought so far in a career that has included tilts against Marco Antonio Barrera, Floyd Mayweather and, of course, on four separate occasions Manny Pacquiao. After their rivalry reached its violent crescendo last December, there was inevitably an assumption that Marquez and Pacquiao would tangle a fifth time, but Marquez apparently thought about the last scene of their rivalry – in which Pacquiao lay face-first and unconscious on the canvas – and decided that he was quite happy to leave it there, at least for now.

So Marquez fights Bradley in Las Vegas, and in China Pacquiao will fight Brandon Rios, who is himself in the midst of an epic rivalry with Mike Alvarado. Having stopped Alvarado in their first encounter last year (in what would surely have been Fight of the Year had it not been for Pacquiao-Marquez IV), he lost a decision in another Fight-of-the-Year caliber matchup in March. For now, while he heals from hand surgery, Alvarado is on the outside looking in, but there's a good chance he'll be up next for the winner of either of these two contests.

Five men, fighting each other, and creating epic battles and unforgettable moments along the way.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?