The 10 Biggest Middleweight Fights in HBO History

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It’s too soon to say whether the September 16 battle for middleweight supremacy between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin will be one of the division's greatest fights. But it’s not too soon to declare it a massive event. This will be the most meaningful, most anticipated clash between two world-class boxers that the sport has seen in more than two years. And it will be one of the most meaningful, most anticipated middleweight title bouts that HBO has aired in 40-plus years of broadcasting fights.

Where does Canelo-GGG rank exactly on that list? Here are the top 10 middleweight fights in HBO boxing history:


10. Felix Trinidad vs. William Joppy

May 12, 2001

Madison Square Garden, New York City

Joppy isn’t a household name now and he wasn’t one then, but this fight was a big deal anyway for three reasons: It was a semifinal bout in Don King’s Middleweight World Championship Series; 2000 Fighter of the Year Trinidad was as scorchingly popular as any boxer alive at that moment; and the bigger Joppy was given a very real chance at upsetting “Tito,” who had never fought at middleweight before. Rarely has the decibel level at the Garden been as elevated as it was that night when the Puerto Rican icon bounced Joppy off the canvas three times on his way to a fifth-round knockout.

9. Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez

June 7, 2014

Madison Square Garden, New York City

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This transfer of the lineal middleweight title is remembered largely for Martinez’s gimpy knees making it easy for Cotto, but going in, it looked like the ultimate challenge for the undersized Puerto Rican warrior. Martinez had been the champ for four years and he’d beaten Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. along the way. Cotto and Martinez were two of the most respected pugilists of their generation, and the former scored perhaps the most meaningful victory of his Hall of Fame-bound career as he sent the latter into retirement with a 10th-round stoppage.

8. Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

September 15, 2012

Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

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For 11 rounds, it didn’t live up to any of the hype. For the final three minutes, it exceeded all possible hype. And make no mistake, there was plenty of hype surrounding the undefeated son of Mexico’s greatest champion challenging a pound-for-pounder for the lineal 160-pound title. Between the Chavez name, a memorable 24/7 build, and a peaking Martinez, this was a perfect Mexican Independence Day weekend mega-event, even if it ended with the Mexican’s frantic 12th-round rally coming up just short against the Argentine king.

7. Canelo Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto

November 21, 2015

Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

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Cotto was a major star and the lineal champ; Alvarez was an even bigger star as the challenger. Neither were necessarily true middleweights, but it was a 50-50 fight for many fans and experts, and the pay-per-view numbers proved that the stink of May-Pac could be shaken by the right kind of must-see battle between warriors with rabid fan bases. In the end, it was a very good but not great fight, as Canelo was too young and too sharp and he outboxed Cotto to win a clear-cut decision.

6. Marvin Hagler vs. Roberto Duran

November 10, 1983

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

In a world in which Sugar Ray Leonard was retired — for the moment, anyway — Hagler and Duran were as big as any two stars in the sport. Duran was already a living legend, but for Hagler, this represented his first crack at a superfight and the money that comes with it and a major step toward his ambition of becoming a legend in his own right. And the fight was more competitive than many expected, with Duran boxing smartly and Hagler holding onto his strap by a single point on two scorecards.

5. Bernard Hopkins vs. Oscar De La Hoya

September 18, 2004

MGM Grand, Las Vegas

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It’s easy, nearly a decade after his career ended, to forget just how carry-the-sport-on-his-back big De La Hoya was. In long-reigning champ B-Hop, boxing’s biggest star had found an opponent against which he had nothing to lose, a challenge so great he was enhancing his legacy just by trying. It didn’t end gloriously for Oscar, who was left writhing on the canvas from as sneaky ninth-round body punch, but it was a win for everyone when the receipts from 2004’s biggest pay-per-view extravaganza were added up.

4. Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

September 16, 2017

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

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There was demand among the hardcore fans for a GGG-Canelo showdown in May or September of 2016, but if it had happened then, it wouldn’t be all the way up at No. 4 on this countdown. This fight between the lineal champ and the people’s champ was kept in the toaster until it was golden brown on all sides, until it finally reached a point where picking a winner isn’t going to be easy. History and legacy will be at stake when these two beloved fighters try to separate the “good boys” from the great men.

3. Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad

September 29, 2001

Madison Square Garden, New York City

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This didn’t draw as big a gate or sell as many PPVs as Hopkins’ fight with De La Hoya three years later would. But in terms of a fight capturing something historic — tapping into something culturally and emotionally significant as well as something of great pugilistic heft — the Hopkins-Trinidad showdown in the finals of the Middleweight World Championship Series is tough to outdo. Just 18 days after the 9/11 terrorist attack, a wounded city healed just a little bit through the power of sports, and it was Hopkins to rose to the occasion and punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame with a performance for the ages and a 12th-round TKO.

(Read From the Vault: Still Standing)

2. Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns

April 15, 1985

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

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Part of what made the savagery of the eight minutes Hagler and Hearns shared so iconic was that fights this big pretty much never become this violent this fast. Most superfights feature two professionals with elite skill and therefore take a few rounds to heat up. Hagler and Hearns wasted no time sizing each other up and delivered on the event’s nickname “The War” from the instant the opening bell rang. Hagler’s third-round knockout of Hearns pushed the “Four Kings” era into a different place in the public consciousness, establishing it as the go-to reference for multi-way rivalries for the ensuing 32 years and counting.

(Read From the Vault: Eight Minutes of Hell)

1. Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler

April 6, 1987

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

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It was like something out of a movie: The baby-faced superstar who’d been forced to retire young daring to come back after a three-year break against the long-reigning champ widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter around. It was an event so momentous and so wrapped in curiosity that it sold itself. And Leonard didn’t only know how to sell the fans; he also knew how to sell the judges, and he convinced two of them to award him maybe the most debated decision of all-time, capping an upset and a comeback more fantastic than anything Hollywood could script.

(Read From the Vault: Still Fighting)

Boxing Bloodlines: Fathers and Sons

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

When Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. steps into the ring at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, HBO Pay-Per-View), he won't just be fighting his designated opponent, Canelo Alvarez. He will also be battling expectation and the burden of his name, of being the famous son of an even more famous father. That father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., is widely regarded as the greatest boxer ever to come out of Mexico, a fact that in many ways doomed Junior's career, or at least limited the degree to which his countrymen would view him as a success. When Julio Cesar Chavez is your dad, nothing you can do -– no amount of world titles you secure, fans you win or money you earn -- will ever be enough. You will never be as good as your father.

Over the past few years, it seems the impossible demands of being Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – of not being Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. – have overwhelmed the younger man. After a promising start to his career, in which he showed heart and fire that was perhaps surprising for someone who did not need to put himself through such punishment, he fell just a few punches short on his most important night, against then-middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, in 2012. Since then, his professional life has been in something of a spiral. Saturday night’s bout against Alvarez is, perhaps unfairly, seen as an opportunity for him to right the ship and prove that he deserves to carry his famous name.

It's an extraordinary amount of pressure, but while it may be scant consolation, he is far from the only famous boxing son to fall short of the achievements of his famous boxing father. Even still, some manage to match up quite well to their old man's success, and one or two even leave their daddies in the dust.

Couldn’t Escape the Shadow

The truly exceptional boxers rarely, if ever, give us progeny whose talent comes anywhere close to matching theirs. There are good reasons for that, of course: exceptionalism is, by definition, a rare commodity; and even if he possesses at least some of the genetic qualities that propelled his parent to the top, anyone raised in a world of fame, money and world championships simply isn’t going to have the same poverty-driven fire and anger that drives the most successful.

Carlos Zarate was one of the greatest fighters in Mexican history, and in 1999 was voted the joint-best bantamweight of the 20th century. His son, Carlos Jr., never really got the opportunity to prove whether he might have reached similar heights. He turned pro in 2009, ran up a record of 20-1 in the junior welterweight division, and retired in 2014 after a series of shoulder injuries. For a time, Marvis Frazier looked as if he might be a worthy boxing heir to Smokin’ Joe; he was a National Golden Gloves champion in 1979. But despite scoring some decent wins against the likes of James Tillis, Joe Bugner and Bonecrusher Smith, his professional career is defined largely by two crushing first round knockout losses, to Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. He retired with a record of 19-2 and became an ordained minister.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

Zarate and Frazier did better than most. Ronald Hearns shares the lanky frame of his father, Thomas, but not much else – except perhaps the suspect chin that was his father’s one weakness: every one of his six career losses to date has been by KO. Julius Jackson, son of famed knockout artist Julian, started his career well, winning his first 19 bouts; but his last two outings have been KO losses. It’s a similar story for the younger Jackson’s brother John, who went 18-1 and looked on the verge of stopping Irish middleweight Andy Lee in 2014 until Lee uncorked his patented southpaw right hook and knocked out Jackson, who has subsequently also been stopped by Jermell Charlo.

The flamboyant Puerto Rican Hector Camacho raised a son, Hector Jr., who is an altogether more subdued and sober personality, but who never found the boxing success that was hoped of him. He presently has a record of 58-6-1 and last fought in 2014, but is expected to return to the ring in June. Before he became celebrated as a trainer, Buddy McGirt was a fine fighter, winning world titles at 140 and 147 lbs. in the early 1990s. His super middleweight son, James Jr. is carving out a perfectly respectable professional career, presently with a record of 26-3-1; but at age 34, there’s no indication he’ll be following in his father’s world championship footsteps.

Maintaining the Family Tradition

That said, there are those in whose gloved hands the family business has proven perfectly safe. It’s something of a cheat to include former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and Tracy Harris Peterson here, as the former adopted the latter, but Tracy merits featuring not least because he was pretty darn good, picking up title belts at 122 and 130 lbs. in a lengthy career that ran from 1985 to 2001.

After shockingly beating, and then less shockingly losing to, Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks saw his career all but collapse; Leon’s son Cory, however, found more consistent success, winning straps at 147 and 154 lbs., and splitting a two-fight series with Zab Judah.  Tony Mundine was a popular boxer who held titles across four different weight divisions in his native Australia, although he fell short against world-class opposition; his son Anthony, a more polarizing figure, actually won a couple of title belts, although he too is at a level below the very best.

Wilfredo Vasquez is one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated boxers, a champion at 118, 122 and 126 lbs; his son, Wilfredo Jr., hasn’t reached those heights, but he has competed solidly on the world stage, at one stage holding a strap at 122 lbs. Neither Guty Espadas, nor his son Guty Espadas Jr., are likely to wind up in the Hall of Fame, but each had a solid career and a brief spell in charge of a world title belt, father at flyweight and son at featherweight. Ray Mancini is in the Hall of Fame, despite a short career that came to a premature halt at the age of 24, with Mancini never truly recovering from the death of opponent Duk Koo Kim; his success built on the groundwork laid by father Lenny, a welterweight and middleweight from whom Ray took the nickname “Boom Boom.”  

And then there are the Eubanks. Chris Eubank was one of the dominant players in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions in the 1990s, and his rivalry with fellow Brit Nigel Benn was legion. His son, Chris Jr., appears on the cusp of breaking through to true world level, although at present the father-son team is perhaps better known for its mercurial tendencies, maintaining the independent, somewhat eccentric streak established by Chris Senior during his in-ring career.

(I have, by the way, very deliberately not to this point mentioned the Hilton family – Dave Sr. and his sons Dave Jr. and Matthew. Yes, they were among the most popular sporting figures in Quebec for a while, but their criminality – and particularly the repugnant crime for which Davey Jr. was jailed for five years – is disqualifying. I wrote an article about the family ten years ago, and still feel dirty. So, let's move on, shall we? )

Anything You Can Do …

Occasionally – very occasionally – boxing sons can even outshine their fighting fathers. One could easily put the Mancinis in this category, and perhaps even the Spinks family. But a couple truly stand out. Carl Penalosa was a fair-to-middling boxer, truth be told, more famous for training alongside Filipino great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde. But his sons achieved greater success. One, Jonathan, challenged for an alphabet strap in 1992; another Dodie Boy, held titles at flyweight and junior flyweight in the 1980s; and Gerry won straps at 115 and 118 lbs., and contested several more, in the late 90s and early 2000s. Interestingly, Dodie Boy’s sons, Dodie Boy Jr. and Dave are also presently-undefeated boxers, making the Penalosas a rare example of potential three-generational boxing success.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

This category, however, belongs to one father-son combination in particular. Floyd Mayweather was a pretty decent fighter, although not anything like as accomplished as his brother Roger. His son, Floyd Jr., on the other hand, needs no introduction, nor do the details of his career require much explanation and elucidation. The very finest boxer of his generation, and among the best of all time, Floyd Jr. will sail into the Hall of Fame as a very rare example of a son whose light utterly eclipsed that of his father. And, as anyone who watched some of the two men's occasionally strained interactions on various episodes of 24/7 will appreciate, that appears to have not always been something with which the patriarch was altogether comfortable.

Special Mention: The Daddy and Daughter Duo

Unsurprisingly, we have focused on fighting sons of fighting fathers. But let's not forget one of the more successful parent-child boxing combinations. Laila Ali did not come close to matching her father’s accomplishments. Who could? Muhammad Ali was, after all, The Greatest. And whereas he was able to test himself against perhaps the greatest generation of heavyweights that ever lived, she had Jacqui Frazier-Lyde. (She did noticeably retire without facing Ann Wolfe, but who among us can truthfully say we’d have done differently?) But she showed legitimate skills, and, while not possessing the same quick wit as her father (again, who could?) she inherited much of his talent with the media, too.

Sergio Martinez leaves behind a legacy of class inside and outside the ring

Photos by Will Hart and Ed Mulholland

By Diego Morilla

On March 17, 2010, Sergio Martinez scored the biggest win in his career and one of the biggest boxing achievements in his country’s history when he became the undisputed middleweight champion of the world after defeating Kelly Pavlik at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

If you lived in Martinez’s native country of Argentina back then, however, you probably didn’t know much about it unless you read the back pages of the newspaper, because that’s how much attention Martinez was capturing back in those days.

Fast forward four years to June 2014, and there is no escaping him. He is greeting you from a jeans ad on the side of a bus. He is shaking his bon-bon on the local version of "Dancing with the Stars." His interviews with some the country’s top talk shows, in which he describes his life of hardship and his self-made transformation into a prizefighter, capture the attention of millions of people, and are the subject of endless water cooler conversations on the next day. Thanks to Sergio, boxing gym memberships are skyrocketing, and new gyms are opening in every town. Wedding planners check the schedule tabs of boxing websites almost daily, under strict orders from cranky brides to avoid scheduling their wedding parties on the day of a Martinez fight.

Very few other athletes have lived through such a monumental transformation from nonentity to larger-than-life superstar in such a short span of time. But Sergio Martinez walked that path as if on a mission from a higher power, a man of destiny waiting to take his country by storm and to use his fame for the noblest purposes, all while becoming one of the most revered boxers of his generation.

And now, Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KO) has just embarked on the final leg of his trip towards those goals and much more, as he decided to announce his retirement from boxing this past Saturday, June 13th. The announcement followed a year of inactivity marked by his struggle with a nagging knee injury that never healed properly and ended up costing him his last defeat and his title with it.

His chosen venue for the delivering the news was the Banquet of Champions during the induction week of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, where he had visited before to soak up the environment of a place he clearly hopes to inhabit one day. And even though boxing is hardly a stats game, his case can be argued quite successfully in numbers alone.

In his last nine fights, his eight opponents had an impressive combined record of record of 272-9-1 (he faced Paul Williams twice). Four of those eight fighters were unbeaten at the time they faced Martinez, and two more had only one defeat in their records. Five of those opponents were current or former world champions.

It took some time for those acheivements to receive the proper recognition in his homeland. No member of the Argentine press corps was in attendance the night he took the crown from the undisputed lineal middleweight champion after campaigning almost his entire career at lower weights. Facing a considerably larger man – Pavlik would never fight again as a middleweight after that bout – in the champion’s backyard and coming off an undeserved loss against Paul Williams in his prior bout were reasons enough for local TV networks to pass on broadcasting his title bout in his homeland. But the man they called “Maravilla” was determined to begin his own marvelous championship run with a bang, with or without his countrymen watching.

On that historic day, the Argentine boxing writing community was largely ringside in the city of Rosario watching a terrific local scrap between Oscar Pereyra and Patricio Pedrero, in the lavish facilities of the town’s brand new casino. Soon enough, the catering was served in the balcony and there we were, munching on sandwiches and canapés, until this scribe had the notion of testing the local internet connection by logging in to an illegal website (sorry, HBO!) to try and catch a glimpse of Martinez’s likely failure.

With the corner of our eyes first, and with our growing attention later, we all gathered around the tiny computer screen to watch in disbelief as Martinez progressively dismantled, manhandled, injured and ultimately dominated Kelly Pavlik to win the title held by Monzon almost 40 years earlier. And in the same fashion, Martinez progressively crept into the consciousness of the Argentine public until he became the most recognizable face in the country.

At that time, his story became known to all – his childhood in poverty in blue-collar Quilmes in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, his initiation as a boxer under the guidance of his uncle as a way to fend off schoolyard bullies, his first few fights in the local boxing federation in which he often climbed into the ring with his hair dyed unusual colors, his loss against Antonio Margarito in his first trip overseas in which he was paid the equivalent of a ringside ticket for a scheduled 10-rounder fight against a proven contender, his exodus to Spain amid the 2000 economic crisis that crippled his homeland, his tribulations in Europe as a bartender-dancer-construction worker-bouncer and all the while building a 27-0 record against all comers, and capping his nine-year unbeaten streak with a title belt of sorts when he defeated Alex Bunema to grab the interim WBC junior middleweight crown.

After having his title validated as a regular championship due to the inactivity of Vernon Forrest, Martinez slowly began to gain a reputation as a fighter to watch. And he made the case for himself in every chance he got. It wasn’t hard to find Martinez in those days: he would be sitting smack in the middle of every press room of every big fight in Las Vegas with his legs stretched blocking the path, forcing himself to be noticed.

And noticed he was. Soon after his highly dubious defeat at the hands of the most feared fighter in the world in Paul Williams, Martinez became boxing’s new media darling, progressively climbing the mythical pound-for-pound rankings with his unusual style: face sticking out, shoulders dropped, hands below the waist, ready to counterpunch and move out of harm’s way with the speed of a flyweight and comeback with the stinging power of a full-blown middleweight.

Slowly, he came to embody the very best virtues of his country’s best fighters in one single package. The foot speed of Pascual Perez, the cocky elusiveness of Nicolino Locche, the deadly one-two of Carlos Monzon, the awkward southpaw stance of Juan Coggi, coupled with the unusual handful of punch combinations that only a man of his unique creativity and imagination could devise and topped with the right amount of arrogance and excessive swagger that other Latin American countries often ascribe to Argentines.

Soon enough, his hard work would pay off in convincing fashion, and his career would dramatically soar to great heights. He demolished Williams in the rematch, scoring what would be named the “KO of the year” when he dropped the game's most avoided boxer with a single left hand to the chin. Williams’ face-first dive onto the canvas would soon become the centerpiece of Martinez’s highlight reel, and earn him consideration as one of the best fighters on the planet right behind Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, a notion cemented by three spectacular title defenses against three solid contenders, two of them unbeaten at the time.

His savvy within the ring spilled outside of it as he made a brilliant use of the WBC’s shameful political decision of handing over the middleweight belt to a less-deserving Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Martinez worked tirelessly to turn that minor humiliation into an epic struggle for vindication with the sole purpose of cornering Chavez Jr. into a relatively easy lucrative bout. And he achieved his goal, dominating Chavez for 11 and a half rounds before getting caught by a few punches that turned an otherwise one-sided drubbing into a heart-stopper with an uncertain ending that raised just the right amount of doubts to keep his career interesting.

After the Chavez fight, he had his long-awaited homecoming bout, a night in which he struggled to defeat an unbeaten contender in Martin Murray in front of a very vocal crowd of 50,000 people under a freezing drizzle. That night he climbed the ladder into the ring to the roar of the crowd, with his face glowing with a mix of pride and disbelief. But that’s where his health began to fail him.

After a year of uncertainties, a few failed negotiations for bigger fights, and a surgery to repair the extensive damage in his right knee, Martinez succumbed ingloriously to Miguel Cotto at New York’s Madison Square Garden in what would prove to be his last appearance in a boxing ring. His story as a prizefighter came to a screeching halt after an eventful championship run, and the decision to hang up the gloves was already taken by his body. His mind and his heart took an extra year to agree with it.

There is a story, however, that precedes and supersedes Martinez’s career as a prizefighter. His determination to fight bullying, a task he imposed upon himself as soon as he became a celebrity. His support towards battered women and children. His new career as a comedian, writer and actor. A story that may, one day, again capture the attention of his countrymen.

His boxing years, however, already have a page waiting for him in the history books.

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Round of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best round on the network this year:

More: HBO Boxing Year End Picks

Kieran Mulvaney: Tie: Cotto-Martinez, Round 1/Kovalev-Hopkins, Round 12

There were plenty of back-and-forth donnybrook rounds, including the ninth round of Terence Crawford-Yuriorkis Gamboa and the fourth frame of David Lemieux-Gabriel Rosado, but partly to be contrarian and partly because to me they were more memorable, I'm picking a pair of rounds that, far from being even, were hugely one-sided.

Even with a recent history of physical ailments, Martinez was favored heading into his middleweight title defense against Cotto, but the Puerto Rican soon blew away the betting lines, as neither the champion's chin nor his balky knees could stand up to Cotto's patented left hooks. The roars that greeted the sight of Martinez hitting the canvas three times in those first three minutes all but lifted the proverbial roof off the proverbial place.

And after eleven rounds of patient boxing, Kovalev erupted in the twelfth to batter Hopkins around the ring in a manner that was – excuse the pun – completely alien to the wily veteran. The shock at the prospect of seeing Hopkins stopped yielded to a desire to see him survive to the final bell and ultimately to a realization that, even if he fights one more time at age 50 just so he can say that he did, it was likely the final round of a lengthy and distinguished championship career.

Eric Raskin: Lemieux-Rosado, Round 4

When my podcast partner Kieran Mulvaney talks about humdingers and slobberknockers, it's rounds like this that he's talking about. Rosado's unreliable (or, more accurately, reliably disastrous) left eye had swollen nearly shut in the third round, and he came out for the next round desperate to swing the momentum. Back and forth they brawled, a couple of cavemen holding invisible clubs, each with the power to crumple the other at any moment. Neither landed that perfect shot, but it was edge-of-your-seat stuff because of the ever-present possibility.

Hamilton Nolan: Cotto-Martinez, Round 1

Many, many, many people doubted that Miguel Cotto could move up in weight and challenge the middleweight champ. Many people thought Cotto was too small to hurt Martinez. It only took the first good hook of the first round to destroy all of those assumptions.

Nat Gottlieb: Crawford-Gamboa, Round 5

After losing the first four rounds, mostly fighting in the orthodox stance, Crawford caught Gamboa with a crushing left hook to the head and followed with another left to knock Gamboa down. Those two knockdowns were a game-changer.

Oliver Goldstein: Cotto-Martinez, Round 1

No doubt there were better rounds in terms of action this year, but the berserk first three minutes between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez are the ones I'll remember in future. Why? Well, there were the three knockdowns here, of course, all caused by some beautiful left-hooking. Is that enough to make it Round of the Year? No, probably not. But there is something else that has stuck with me from the first round between Martinez and Cotto, a brief moment after the second knockdown, when Martinez's knees — protected by heavy strapping, previously hidden under pointedly long shorts — quickly revealed themselves before he scrambled back to his feet. There, briefly, was the desperate futility of it all, unveiled in a flash, a strangely pithy image of age and decline and inevitable loss: the wound that wounds. And a reminder: boxing does tell its trauma quietly, from time to time.

Tim Smith: Algieri-Provodnikov, Round 1

It looked like Provodnikov was on his way to blitzing through Algieri with two powerful knockdowns. But Algieri got up from both of them and survived a badly swollen eye to pull off one of the most stunning upsets of 2014.

Diego Morilla: Marquez-Alvarado, Round 9

If there is something even stranger than seeing lighting striking twice, it's seeing the same lightning striking twice. Earlier in round 8, Marquez had landed a crushing right cross that sent Alvarado on his back and through the lower ropes of the ring while flapping his arms looking for balance. In the following round, Alvarado retaliated with the exact same punch, which landed in the exact same location (left cheekbone) and produced the exact same result. Marquez went down (although not as spectacularly as Alvarado) and what ensued was a classic mini-war of attrition, a two-minute slugfest between the wounded lion and the pissed-off hunter, between the rebellious student and the teacher bent on finishing his lesson, a bloody toe-to-toe stand-off between two proud warriors going for the kill. A terrific statement from both fighters and the peak of an emotional, intense fight.

Michael Gluckstadt: Lemieux-Rosado, Round 4

This round had its share of memorable images. A game Rosado, his eye swollen closed, urging his opponent forward. Lemieux happily obliging with a thunderous hook. But the picture that sticks out in my mind is the smiling face of referee Steve Willis, a decidedly neutral third party, who – like the thousands of screaming Brooklyn fight fans surrounding him – proved unable to contain his glee at the fracas breaking out in front of him. 

State of the Division: Middleweight

Middleweight lineal champ, Miguel Cotto  Photo: Will Hart

Middleweight lineal champ, Miguel Cotto

Photo: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

The middleweight division has as clear and indisputable a current championship lineage as any weight class in boxing. Bernard Hopkins won a unification tournament in 2001 (then added another alphabet belt, for what that’s worth, by knocking out Oscar De La Hoya three years later); Jermain Taylor decisioned Hopkins in ’05; Kelly Pavlik knocked out Taylor in ’07; Sergio Martinez outboxed Pavlik in 2010; and earlier this year, Miguel Cotto overwhelmed Martinez at Madison Square Garden—the very arena in which Hopkins stopped Felix Trinidad to begin this unbroken lineage.

As clear and indisputable as the identity of the 160-pound division’s true champion is, the identity of the division’s best fighter is almost as unanimously agreed upon. And it’s not the same as the lineal champion, which is where this conversation starts to get very interesting.

On Saturday night in Carson, California, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin puts his perfect record on the line against Marco Antonio Rubio. He also risks his reputation as the best middleweight fighter on the planet—a reputation he hopes to back up someday soon by facing Cotto for the lineal title. It is an imperfect situation, having the champ and the perceived “baddest man” not be one and the same and not (yet) be scheduled to fight each other. The middleweight division is at once crystal clear and frustratingly muddied. Here is a breakdown of who’s who at 160 pounds heading into this weekend’s Golovkin-Rubio clash:

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Lineal Champ: Miguel Cotto

The beloved Puerto Rican warrior is a surefire future Hall of Famer, and his 10th-round TKO win over “Maravilla” in June was the most historic achievement of his 39-4 (32 KOs) career. But his middleweight credentials remain in question because this was his first fight above 154 pounds and his true prime was probably from 2005-'08 at junior welterweight and welterweight. Has he found, at age 33, a second prime under Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach? Or did he just find the perfect opponent in an injury-riddled Martinez? Cotto is aiming to provide some answers in a showdown with 154-pound superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2015. Oh, and he’s aiming to collect a massive payday as well, as Cotto-Canelo is by far the biggest event in boxing that doesn’t have the names Pacquiao or Mayweather attached to it.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Uncrowned King: Gennady Golovkin

Whether you love violence delivered with a smile or unintentional comedy delivered with an accent, this boxing blend of James Bond and Borat is guaranteed to entertain. And over his last 17 fights, Triple-G has been guaranteed to end matters inside the distance. Though he hasn’t yet faced an A-list opponent—for reasons seemingly beyond his control—the Kazakh phenom appears damned close to being the perfect fighting machine. He has one-punch power, world-class hand speed, technical precision, and flawless footwork, and his record of 30 wins, no losses, and 27 KOs is as spiffy as they come. There’s no time to waste at age 32, which is why he’s fighting three or four times a year and hoping to corner the lineal champ at the negotiating table soon.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Dangerous Outsider: Peter Quillin

As a boxer who competes on a rival network and is “advised” by an individual in Al Haymon who tends not to do business with HBO, “Kid Chocolate” faces significant impediments should he decide he wants to fight one of the division’s three top attractions, Cotto, Alvarez, or Golovkin. But that should not obscure the talent of the 31-0 (22 KOs) Brooklyn-based boxer-puncher. Wins over Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam and Gabriel Rosado—the former a thriller in which Quillin scored multiple knockdowns in three separate rounds—helped separate the personable Quillin from the also-rans of the division (while also exposing potential limitations). He recently turned down a career-best payday to face Matt Korobov and gave up his alphabet belt in the process, placing his management decisions under a microscope. But for now, Quillin remains part of any discussion of the elite 160-pounders.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Aging Ex-Champ: Sergio Martinez

Have we seen the last of Martinez in the ring? Maybe—he’s currently awaiting the results of physical evaluations and trying to decide whether he has one last run in him with his 40th birthday just a few months away. Even if he gets the go-ahead and decides to add numbers to his 51-3-2 (28 KOs) record, the evidence presented in the Cotto fight suggests that what awaits might be nothing more than his Shaq-on-the-Celtics phase. But until we know for sure, Martinez’s name and résumé make him a conversation piece and a desired opponent. Which means he’s part of the middleweight mix until he either loses again or decides not to risk losing again.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Steady Contender: Martin Murray

On a rainy night at an outdoor stadium in Buenos Aires 18 months ago, Murray might have become the middleweight champ if not for the fact that defending champ Sergio Martinez was responsible for drawing more than 40,000 paying customers; there was little chance of an obscure fighter from the UK winning a close decision in Martinez’s homecoming. But Murray hinted at being a legitimate top-five middleweight that night, and has since run his record to 28-1-1 (12 KOs) with three subsequent victories. On paper, he’s the sort of fighter that Golovkin bowls over in about three rounds. But to this point, nobody has bowled over the 32-year-old Murray, nor even come close.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Unlikely Resurrection: Jermain Taylor

On the one hand, the less said about former champ Taylor, the better. He was once diagnosed with a brain bleed, peaked about eight years ago en route to his current 33-4-1 (20 KOs) record, and might soon be going to jail on charges of first-degree domestic battery and aggravated assault for shooting his cousin. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a guy blocking out his past and his distractions and defeating the monumentally awkward Sam Soliman at age 36. Like it or not, “Bad Intentions” (free legal tip, Jermain: don’t mention your nickname in court) has muscled his way back into the middleweight title picture. It was unexpected. It makes us all uncomfortable. But the ending to the Jermain Taylor story has apparently not been written yet.

In the Conversation:

Daniel Geale, Sam Soliman, Felix Sturm, Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, Matthew Macklin, Daniel Jacobs, Marco Antonio Rubio, Matt Korobov

HBO Boxing Podcast - Episode 9 - Cotto vs Martinez Postfight and Provodnikov vs Algieri Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Miguel Cotto's dominant win over Sergio Martinez for the middleweight title and – along with Harold Lederman – the upcoming fight between Ruslan Provodnikov and Chris Algieri on Boxing After Dark, June 14 at 10 PM ET/PT.

Cotto Turns Back the Clock as Time Catches Up with Martinez

Photos: Ed Mulholland and Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

It would be easy to say that Miguel Cotto turned back the clock in a virtuoso performance against Sergio Martinez on Saturday night. It would be easy, but it would be wrong. Cotto, 33 years old and with 42 professional bouts and many ring miles under his belt, didn't look like the contender who 14 years ago began his body-punching assault on the 140-pound division. He was far superior to that young man, combining offense and defense more effectively and beautifully than at any stage of his long and glorious career; and the 21,090 in attendance at Madison Square Garden, which has applauded so many of the greatest nights of that career, roared in celebration when the bell rang to begin the tenth round, Martinez stayed on his stool, and Cotto was crowned the middleweight champion of the world.

By that stage it was remarkable the fight had even lasted that long. Cotto, bouncing on his toes and working behind a stiff jab and his trademark impassive mien, hurt Martinez in the opening 30 seconds of the first round with a left hook and, smelling blood, moved in instantly for the kill. A flurry put Martinez down as the crowd exploded in euphoria; seconds later, he was down again, and before the round was over the champion had been bowled over a third time. The excitement of the moment was matched only by the astonishing improbability of events: Martinez was supposed to be the stronger, faster, harder-hitting man, and yet Cotto was physically dominating him from the outset.

The Puerto Rican's hands were faster, his punches were harder, and despite being the smaller, lighter man, he dominated in the clinches, pushing Martinez around like a rag doll. Martinez survived the first round, and the second, and the third, but even as he began to clear his head, began to get his feet back under him, began to fight back and land southpaw right hooks and left hands, there was nothing to suggest he had the ability or the strategy to turn back the tide.

Cotto, constantly on his toes, showed perfect balance as he kept coming forward, putting Martinez under pressure. He switched his jab from head to body, keeping Martinez guessing and on the back foot, all the while looking to land that vaunted left hook – following it on occasion with an equally effective right hand.

Even when Martinez was able to launch an assault, Cotto's defense kept him out of trouble. In the ninth, Cotto slipped away from a lunging Martinez right hand and landed a short counter that caused Martinez to stumble and touch his glove to the canvas for a fourth knockdown.  By then, Martinez, troubled by Cotto's punches and by his own balky right knee, was all but done, prompting his trainer Pablo Sarmiento to ignore his charge's entreaties for "just one more round," and to call for a halt to the contest.

Cotto landed a remarkable 54 percent of his punches, more than twice as many as Martinez, and almost every one of them detonated with greater authority than any of those thrown by the deposed champion.

"This is the biggest achievement of my professional career," said Cotto afterward, who thanked trainer Freddie Roach for "the most beautiful camp of my career."

Roach returned the love in spades.

"I think we passed the audition," he smiled, channeling John Lennon. "I'm so proud of Miguel. He worked very hard in camp. He deserved his historic victory. He was picture perfect. We won every round. He didn't get hit with nothing. His defense was beautiful. I kept telling him the same thing after every round: 'That round was better than the last one.'"

Of Martinez, Roach offered that, "He's got a lot of balls," for peeling himself off the canvas three times in that opening round. But such compliments were of course of little consolation to the Argentine.

"I got hit with the punch [in the first round] and I was cold and I never recovered after that.  I tried to do my best and I want to apologize to the Argentine fans and I want to thank all of the Puerto Rican fans for coming out. You've got to know when to win and you've got to know when to lose and I give all congratulations to Miguel Cotto."

On this night, more than any other in a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, such congratulations were richly deserved.

Photos: Cotto vs. Martinez Pre-Fight Gallery

Check out this collection of photos leading up to tonight's main event, when Miguel Cotto faces off against Sergio Martinez on HBO PPV.

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Photos: Ed Mulholland