Before 2014, the Best of 2013

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Households across the country have had the opportunity to exchange gifts and wear garish sweaters. But for boxing fans, the most wonderful time of the year presents a special challenge. Granted, you're grateful for that tie, and who doesn't need more socks, but where's the sanctioned, televised violence? Sure, Uncle Ernie and Cousin Jerome might square up after too much eggnog, but it's hardly the same, is it? And it may very well be a wonderful life, but I think we can all agree that James Stewart is no Ruslan Provodnikov.

Never fear, HBO Boxing is here. To help bridge the gap until our first live fight card of 2014 on January 18, we're bringing you the best of 2013. If you missed any of these 10 fights the first time around, you can watch them now on HBO.com:

Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler II

Three years after Kessler scored a narrow decision win over Froch in his native Denmark, the Englishman extended an invite for a rematch in London, and the result was another 12 rounds of first-rate action.

Round to Watch: In round 5, Kessler landed a hard left-right combination that buckled Froch, only for the Brit to shake it off and take it to the Dane for the rest of the round.

 

Sergey Kovalev vs. Nathan Cleverly

Kovalev's reputation as a fearsome puncher preceded his HBO debut against Cleverly, and it was only enhanced after he blew away Cleverly and took his light-heavyweight belt in the process.

Round to Watch: Although it wasn't the final frame of the contest, round 3 was the one in which the fight was effectively knocked out of the Welshman, courtesy of a pair of heavy knockdowns.

 

Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Ruslan Provodnikov

Bradley's first outing since his highly controversial 2013 win over Manny Pacquiao was nearly a disastrous one, as he (and the world) was introduced to the relentless punching power of Siberia's Provodnikov.

Round to Watch: Round 12 was the most dramatic final three minutes of professional prizefighting since Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. nearly pulled victory from the jaws of defeat against Sergio Martinez last fall.

 

Miguel Cotto vs. Delvin Rodriguez

Fan favorite Cotto returned to HBO after back-to-back losses in 2013, and rebounded in style, with arguably his most emphatic victory in years.

Round to Watch: Officially, the contest ended in the second, but it was all but over before that, as Cotto came bouncing out of his corner on his toes and spent the first three minutes tearing into Rodriguez with his long-vaunted but much-missed left hook.

 

Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado II

In a rematch of their hellacious first encounter, Rios and Alvarado once again thrilled fans with a bruising battle in which neither man gave any quarter, both ended the night battered, but only one man was beaten.

Round to Watch: Just try and watch the second round without your jaw dropping. Go ahead. Try it.

 

Gennady Golovkin vs. Matthew Macklin

After rolling to two stoppage wins on HBO, Golovkin took on the sternest challenge of his professional career in the form of former title challenger Macklin. The aftermath saw a lot more passengers clambering aboard the Golovkin bandwagon.

Round to Watch: The third-round ending is a study in violent artistry, as Golovkin maneuvers Macklin into position before dropping the hammer blow.

 

Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

Bradley's reward for escaping Provodnikov was a pay-per-view bout against Mexican veteran Marquez, and the result was two men putting on one of the year's best displays of skilful boxing-punching.

Round to Watch: For the second Bradley fight in the row, the final round had the most drama, the result of the contest seemingly hinging on the final three minutes – and even the very last punch of the fight.

 

Adonis Stevenson vs. Chad Dawson

Dawson was returning to light-heavyweight after an unsuccessful attempt to wrest the super-middleweight crown from Andre Ward. Few had heard of Stevenson before the opening bell; it only took 79 seconds for that to change dramatically.

Round to Watch: Let's put it this way. Once the fight begins, try not to go to the bathroom or the kitchen, or even to sneeze.

 

Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios

Eleven months after the sudden and disastrous end to his fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao returned to action against Rios, in the first pay-per-view boxing card to be broadcast from China.

Round to Watch: Bit by bit, round by round, Pacquiao's speed proved too much for Rios; the final frame, when Rios made one last effort to turn the tide, was the best of the bunch.

 

James Kirkland vs. Glen Tapia

There are boxing bouts, and there are fights. This was a fight.

Round to Watch: All of them. Seriously. All of them.

 

HBO Boxing Insiders Year End Picks: Best HBO Boxing Moments

Photo Credit: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, it's as good a time as any to take a look back at a stacked year of fights on HBO. HBO Boxing Insiders made their selections for the top everything from this year's HBO fights. Next up, the best HBO Boxing moments of 2013.

Previously: Fighter of the Year, Breakthrough HBO Fighter, Best Blow

Kieran Mulvaney:

In a year full of great moments, three in particular come to mind. One was interviewing boxers during the promo shoot for HBO's Epic Fall of Boxing, highlighted by the contrast between discussing Russian poetry with Ruslan Provodnikov one minute, and then hearing his screams of "Champ-ee-on" echo through the studio stage as he posed beneath an artificial waterfall the next. The others come from Macau: finding ourselves hopelessly lost on a day out, only to be rescued by a bar owner who saw the credential hanging round HBO photographer Will Hart's neck and walked up to us shouting, "Hey! Manny Pacquiao"; and sitting in the arena at 10AM on a Sunday morning, taking in the scene as 12,000 people packed the venue and screamed themselves hoarse at what was the first -- but surely not the last -- big boxing pay-per-view on Chinese soil.

Eric Raskin:

Tim Bradley's raw comments during Face Off With Max Kellerman:

Bradley talking openly about the aftereffects of his fight with Provodnikov as he sat across the table from Juan Manuel Marquez, admitting to a concussion and two months of slurred speech, was one of the more harrowing, gripping, honest moments of TV I saw all year.

Arturo Gatti's daughter reading his Hall of Fame plaque:

If you didn't well up at least a little bit during the final minutes of the Legendary Nights doc on the Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy, then you might want to check yourself for a pulse.

Darren Barker getting off the canvas after Daniel Geale's sixth-round bodyshot:

Referee Eddie Cotton's count was at about 9 and 99/100ths. It's remarkable that Barker not only got up, but rallied back and won the fight.

Nat Gottlieb:

So many great moments. Tough to choose. I loved virtually every episode of the 24/7 series. Choose between them? Not me. I vote the entirety of the 24/7 series as my favorite "moments" of the year.

Tim Smith:

During the Face-Off between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios, Max Kellerman asked Rios if he thought he was being insulted by Pacquiao selecting him as an opponent that he could look exciting against and whom he could beat up. As Rios answered the question, boasting about what he could do against Pacman, Pacquiao had a smirking smile on his face. It was as if he knew he was going to beat the stuffing out of Rios and look good doing it.

Hamilton Nolan:

"Gabriel is… good boy." - Gennady Golovkin, after nearly murdering Gabriel Rosado.

My least favorite moments of the year were the fights that did not get stopped when they should have, including Abdusalamov and Tapia.

Michael Gluckstadt:

Ruslan Provodnikov's mom, a Russian nesting doll come to life, joining her just-crowned champion son in the ring, brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it.

In 24/7 Bradley/Marquez, Juan Manuel Marquez broke down the footage of his KO of Manny Pacquiao, describing the feint he had been waiting for all night to unleash a vicious counterpunch, and removing any doubt that what he had landed could be considered a lucky punch.

Sitting in the driving rain in Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was unsure if Sergio Martinez's fight against Martin Murray was about to take place or not. Once it did, I'll never forget clearing a path through a mass of humanity (and no security), before celebrating a job done remarkably well with the HBO production team.

HBO Boxing's Best For 2013

Gennady Golovkin, Matthew Macklin - Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

The schedule is set for HBO Boxing's Best for 2013. 

Over the course of five consecutive nights in December, HBO2 will present 10 of the year's biggest fights, featuring the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Timother Bradley Jr., Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, and more.

The Best Of series kicks off on Monday, December 23 at 11:00 PM ET/PT, with a back-to-back feature of Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler II and Sergey Kovalev vs. Nathan Cleverly. 

Revisit the most memorable fights of 2013 with the full schedule below.

(Winners names in italics)

 

Monday, December 23 at 11:00 p.m.

Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler II

Sergey Kovalev vs. Nathan Cleverly

Tuesday, December 24 at 11:00 p.m.

Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Ruslan Provodnikov

Miguel Cotto vs. Delvin Rodriguez

Wednesday, December 25 at 11:00 p.m.

Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado II

Gennady Golovkin vs. Matthew Macklin

Thursday, December 26 at 11:00 p.m.

Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

Adonis Stevenson vs. Chad Dawson

Friday, December 27 at 11:00 p.m.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios

James Kirkland vs. Glen Tapia

 

Which fight was your favorite? Let us know in the comments or at @HBOBoxing on Twitter.

 

Speed Kills in Macau as Pacquiao Returns to Form

by Kieran Mulvaney

[Click for Slideshow] Photo Credit: Will HartBrandon Rios shook his head and smiled every time Manny Pacquiao hit him flush. Sunday morning at The CotaiArena in Macau, he shook his head and smiled a lot.

They say that, in boxing, speed kills, and Pacquiao's speed killed any hope Rios had of walking away from Macau with an upset victory in front of an energized sellout crowd of over 13,000. Long before the final bell rang at the end of 12 one-sided rounds, Rios must have felt like Bill Murray with a swollen face, each frame much the same as the last as the American was forced to endure a succession of painful, pugilistic Groundhog Days.

The rounds took on a familiar rhythm. In the first, Pacquiao connected with a left uppercut and a strong left hook. At the end of the second, he exploded with combinations. In the third round, he showed nice footwork, turning Rios as he looked for a clean shot. The fourth saw Pacquiao land a straight left, then a combination that snapped back Rios' head. In the fifth, another big straight left. And so it went.

Early in the fight, there was a sense from ringside that Pacquiao's punches, though fast and landing with repetitive accuracy and effectiveness, did not carry quite the explosive power of years past.  It seemed then that Rios was perhaps the less vulnerable and more heavy-handed of the two, that a Rios combination to Pacquiao's jaw might have an effect similar to the right hand that Juan Manuel Marquez landed to render the Filipino unconscious at the end of their December contest. Maybe that was the case, but Rios never had a chance to put the theory to the test, never came close to landing testing blows, and was obliged instead to chug after his opponent in an increasingly futile effort to cut off the ring and get his foe where he wanted him.

Pacquiao was having none of it. He moved effortlessly from one side to the next, his footwork setting up his offense and proving to be exceptionally effective with a defense that left Rios punching at air on more than one occasion.

And while Pacquiao may not have detonated the kind of blow that left Ricky Hatton prone or Miguel Cotto wanting no more, he landed enough that, by the end of the contest, Rios had a badly swollen right eye and a slow blood trail from his left  for his troubles.

"All I can say is, many Manny punches," smiled Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach. "He fought the perfect fight. He let him off the hook. I wanted him to knock him out. But I was very happy with his performance."

Indeed, there is a case to be made that, if Pacquiao's punches weren't always quite as heavy as they once they had been, that that was by design, the result of a decision not to become too excited or to over-commit and risk walking into a counter punch of the kind that Marquez threw. The evidence for that supposition came in the final round, when Rios, seemingly badly hurt, staggered backward into a corner and Pacquiao, knowing victory was his and risk was unnecessary, backed away.

At the end, there was no doubt. The winner was clear, and it was Pacquiao – amazingly, the future Hall-of-Famer's first conclusive win since early 2011. And yet, even in his latest finest hour, the congressman from Sarangani province turned his thoughts elsewhere.

"This isn't about my comeback," he insisted. "My victory is a symbol of my people's comeback from a natural disaster, a national tragedy. It's really important to bring honor to my country with this win."

Fans Weigh In During a Fight Week to Remember

We've seen a lot during this fight week.

We've seen trainers fighting instead of training fighters. We've seen one boxer dedicate his fight to his tragedy-stricken country and another one compared to a " a bobblehead doll whose bobblehead will not break off no matter how many times you slam it on the side of a desk." We've seen weigh-ins and Stat Chats conducted across multiple time zones, or even days. We've seen what the world's largest casino floor looks like teeming with screaming fans. We've heard what it's like to compete out of your comfort time zone from experts and legends. We've prepared for an undercard with an overweight heavyweight and a boxer carrying the hopes of his populous nation. We've gone inside the camps and Under the Lights:

We've heard from the fighters' fellow boxers, expert prognosticators, Harold Lederman and Mike Tyson. And now we're hearing from you. While, 100 percent of HBO Boxing Insiders predicted a win for Pacquiao, on HBO Connect and Twitter, 52 percent think Rios holds the #KeyToVictory (though it's constantly changing).

Here's more of what fight fans had to say:

Writer Predictions: It's Unanimous for Pacquiao

Photo Credit: Will Hart

There are a lot of things boxing writers disagree about, but apparently the outcome of this weekend's fight is not among them. In the admittedly small sample size of HBO Boxing Insiders, not one brave soul was willing to predict a Brandon Rios victory. That isn't to say we're not expecting fireworks, but they're likely to be the type of fireworks heralding the return of a champion, and not a new ascendant to the throne.

Here's how our writers see the fight playing out:

Kieran Mulvaney

The big question about Manny Pacquiao is whether he is still Manny Pacquiao, after the years of tough fights and particularly the nap he took at the end of his last one. But even 75 percent of Manny Pacquiao should be too versatile, too fast, and too strong for Brandon Rios. A game Rios has his moments, but Pac-Man chops him up en route to an 11th round stoppage.

Eric Raskin

I've been among the bigger believers in Brandon Rios for the last couple of years, but I expect he'll find himself overmatched on Saturday night. This isn't Mike Alvarado or Miguel Acosta; this is Manny Pacquiao. His speed, accuracy, and athleticism threaten to overwhelm the more stationary Rios. I don't think we'll see significant residual effects from Pacquiao's knockout loss to Marquez, so I expect Manny to stop a very game Rios in about seven or eight high-contact rounds.

Nat Gottlieb

Although I think Pacquiao has lost his edge, Rios is a one-dimensional brawler with a poor skill set. Pacquiao boxes circles around him, winning every round.

Hamilton Nolan

I think Pacquiao by decision is the most likely outcome, and the second most likely outcome is Rios by KO, if it turns out Pacquiao got old after the Marquez fight. I wouldn't necessarily bet on that, though.

Tim Smith

Brandon Rios likes to sit in the pocket, but he doesn't play peek-a-boo with his defense. He relishes taking shots. Pacquiao has some of the heaviest hands in the welterweight division. That spells trouble for Rios. Pacquiao KO 7.

Bob Canobbio, CompuBox

Rios has limited movement and is the busier fighter, throwing 74 punches per round in his last 6 fights.  As a result, opponents landed 40% of their power shots.  Pac (69 punches thrown per round) has better lateral movement and a better jab. Pac landed 47% of his power shots in his last 9 fights, while opponents landed 33% of their power shots. Pacquiao TKO 10 Rios.

Diego Morilla

Rios presents a difficult challenge, but his level of opposition hasn't been anywhere near Pacquiao's, and that difference will become evident as soon as the fight starts. This one looks just like Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Diaz all over again: young, volume-puncher with decent power against a tough veteran who knows how to counterpunch and has the patience to wait for his chance to hurt him. Pacquiao wins by late-round TKO.

Michael Gluckstadt

As much as I'd like to go against the grain, Manny Pacquiao is just too good of a fighter to be beaten by Brandon Rios. Rios almost seems custom-built as an opponent that Manny could look good against in his comeback fight; someone who can take a punch, a lot of them actually, and give Pacquiao the canvas he needs to turn in a masterful performance. Pacquiao UD.

Zou Flies Banner for Chinese Boxing

by Kieran Mulvaney


Zou Shiming is not, it seems, afraid to test himself.

Trainer Freddie Roach recalls that, shortly arriving for training at the Wild Card Gym, the three-time Olympian asked to spar with eight-time world champion Manny Pacquiao.

"I said, 'Are you sure? He said 'Yeah,'" Roach told reporters this week in Macau, where Zou 's third professional contest will be on the undercard of Pacquiao's clash with Brandon Rios.

"I went over to Manny and I said 'Manny, Shiming wants to box with you,'" the trainer continued. "And Manny looked at me and I said 'No, he didn't mean it in a bad way, he just wants to see what it's like to box with Manny Pacquiao.' He says, 'Maybe I'm a little bit too big for him' and I say 'Yeah, maybe you are, but just box.' Two days later they boxed four rounds together, and it was a great experience for Shiming. He got hit by one really good shot, a body shot by Manny, and he felt it and grunted a little bit. There was no knockdown and he did okay. He did good. A lot of people said 'You're crazy, if he gets knocked out you're going to get fired.'"

Zou won a light-flyweight bronze in the 2004 Athens Games, and then gold in his hometown Beijing Olympics in 2008. He successfully defended that crown in London last year, and is as a consequence by some distance the most successful Chinese boxer to date. The extent to which his fame has captivated this nation is illustrated by an art exhibit at the Venetian Macao, where Saturday night's card is taking place, in which Macanese boxer-turned-artist Jet Wu has portrayed the life of the "King of Boxing" in some surrealist watercolors as well as a graphic novel, the draft pages of which are displayed on the exhibit's walls.

A long amateur pedigree can sometimes lay the foundations for professional success (see, most recently, the example of Gennady Golovkin), but the disciplines can be surprisingly different and the transition can sometimes take time. Roach suspects the latter is proving the case with Zou, despite a promising start sparring former three-time world champion Brian Viloria.

"I thought it was going to happen really quick with Shiming because his first sparring partner in America was Brian Viloria that I thought 'For sure this kid's going to be champion in, like, a month' – he was doing that well," Roach explained. "He has Brian Viloria's number for some reason and then in the first fight he reverted back to his amateur style a little bit too much, I thought. In the second fight he thought that I wanted him to be more of a banger and I think our gameplan got lost in translation a little bit. He stayed in the pocket way too long and got hit way too much in that fight. Because I want him to sit down and score with a couple of good combinations and get under and get out with his speed, but he just stayed in the pocket a bit too long. So now we're trying to work the middle a little bit, be aggressive but not too aggressive, you know?"

Roach, the definition of old school, get-off-my-lawned that perhaps Zou's progress was being hindered by achieving a financial comfort level too soon.

"I don't like to spoil people and I think they might be spoiling him a little bit," he said. "He might be making a little bit too much too early. It might be making him a bit soft or softer, because my first ten-round fight was for $1,000 and I thought I was rich, but that was a long time ago."

Zou in contrast will earn $500,000 for his outing on Saturday night – a pretty hefty sum for a man with two pro bouts under his belt. But promoter Bob Arum makes no apologies for the fee he's forking over.

"If anyone on this card deserves their purse, it's him," he said in the media room this week.

The reasons for that are manifold and the kitsch in the hotel is merely the most obvious manifestation of them. There is only one boxer who, by Sunday, will have fought three times as a professional on internationally-televised cards from Macau, after all, and it isn't Manny Pacquiao. Arturo Gatti and Ricky Hatton weren't the greatest boxers known to man, although they were plenty good; but the fact that they weren't the best didn't stop their fans turning out in droves time after time. Those fans loved their fighters' styles and personalities; similarly Zou's amateur success and easy-going manner has struck a chord in the Middle Kingdom.

If big-time boxing gains a foothold on this Chinese peninsula – or indeed, elsewhere in what is potentially by far the largest market on Earth – it will have a lot to do with Manny Pacquiao. It will have more to do with Bob Arum. But most of all, it will be because of Zou Shiming.

Watch All of 24/7 Pacquiao/Rios

Before Saturday's pay-per-view bout between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios, 24/7 went inside the fighters' training camps as they prepared for the fight. From Pacquiao's response to the devastation in the Philippines to the nasty scuffle that broke out between the two camps at the gym in the Venetian Macao, 24/7 cameras were on hand to capture it all.

Watch all three episodes of 24/7 below and share your favorite #247moments on Twitter.

Pre-Fight Podcast: Rich Marotta Interviews Mike Alvarado

Be Your Own Judge with Advice from Harold Lederman

Download an exclusive Pacquiao-Rios scorecard and score the fight at home. Harold Lederman, HBO's unofficial ringside scorer, guides you through what to look for in the fight:

Since I have to keep score, I never pick a winner in advance, because I don't want people to think I'm partial to either fighter. But you gotta face reality and the reality is they're fighting in Pacquiao country. There's a relatively new judge in Lisa Giampa, you wonder if she might be swayed by the crowd in the closer rounds.

Brandon Rios has a lot to overcome in this fight. If you look at his last fight, he's had some problems. There was a weight problem in the fight with [John] Murray; I thought he lost against [Richar] Abril; and he did lose against [Mike] Alvarado the second time. Then Robert Garcia has a decision to make, since he's training [Evgeny] Gradovich as well. Is he going to be in his corner? If he is, who's gonna wrap Rios's hands?

If I had to predict what might what happen, I think it'll be a sensational night and sensational fight for Manny Pacquiao. He's motivated by the fact that he lost his last two fights. But even in those two, I had him winning the [Timothy] Bradley fight 11-1. And as far as the fight against [Juan Manuel] Marquez, he got hit by a punch he didn't see. Maybe he heard the 10-second mark and just dropped his hands thinking the bell was about to ring. He was winning when he got knocked out.

Now he's probably, saying, "I'm gonna kill this guy because I need a win." Especially, in front of his fans and family. And don't forget future voters! This is his constituency. All signs are pointing to a great performance by Manny Pacquiao.

You look at style to see who's the better ring general, who's landing the cleaner and harder shots. And I think that favors Pacquiao. Effective aggression might favor Rios, as he tends to be the aggressor. But I don't think it would make much of a difference.

Read the primer on How to Score a Fight Right with Harold Lederman.