So let's be real with each other about boxing in 2013:
Like a no-hitter through seven innings, this year shouldn't be celebrated too early. Can't be too careful to avoid jinxing anything to do with this cruel and unpredictable sport. But ... this year has been crazy. Amazing. Riveting. Scintillating. And it just seems to keep getting better with every week.
From the blockbuster cards to the low-profile shows featuring prospects and journeymen, it isn't just that there has routinely been something to talk about at the proverbial watercooler. The talk has even been positive.
Even now, in the midst of a promotional cold war I personally abhor and will never accept as simply "Well, that's just the way it is," we are getting the fights we want -- and they are actually living up to expectation.
Fans have been able to enjoy at least five legitimate candidates for fight of the year (and that was before Saturday's Darren Barker-Daniel Geale scrap), including at least two -- Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II -- that produced enough drama and savage artistry to be considered on par with the best of this century.
But it goes beyond that. We've also seen breakout campaigns from exciting and marketable action fighters such as Gennady Golovkin, Lucas Matthysse, Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev. We've seen the development of young stars who appear more than ready to be labeled "next." (I'm looking at you, Abner Mares, Adrien Broner and Mikey Garcia.) And we've seen more than the typical number of under-the-radar fights (think Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa and Sakio Bika-Marco Antonio Periban) deliver unexpected fireworks.
What this all amounts to, especially with a jam-packed final five months already on the slate, with fight-of-the-year hopefuls and big-name pairings jumping off the schedule, is two-fold.
First of all, and probably most important, the sport is relatively healthy again. Go ahead, bring on the backlash to that comment. And don't forget to mention the lack of a central governing body, too many titles, far-from-ideal drug-testing protocols and, oh yeah, that whole promotional catfight. But all things considered, boxing appears to be moving in the right direction after such an up-and-down decade.
And it clearly had been a rough ride for the sport since 2004, when a clear and distinct changing of the guard began to take place. There was the sudden crumbling of the heavyweight division, with the retirements of Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko, not to mention the fallout of two knockout losses in a 17-month span for current champion Wladimir Klitschko. You also had a group of fighters who had become the face of the sport over the previous seven or eight years -- Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad -- hit career snags as losses and the impact of age began to erode their elite status.
Every valley, however, eventually leads back to another peak, and boxing rebounded in a big way with a banner year in 2007. In fact, it was the sport's last truly great year.
You had the anchor of the highest-grossing fight in history between Floyd Mayweather and De La Hoya. There were marquee bouts between unbeaten fighters such as Mayweather-Ricky Hatton, Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor I and Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler. There also was a run of memorable action fights: Miguel Cotto-Mosley, Paul Williams-Antonio Margarito, Cotto-Zab Judah, Juan Manuel Marquez-Marco Antonio Barrera and the first two Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez wars. (And let's not forget about the Bika-Jaidon Codrington "Contender" finale and the two Michael Katsidis fights with Graham Earl and Czar Amonsot.)
Seriously, take inventory of the past 10 years or so in boxing and you simply won't find a more action-packed and memorable year than 2007 ... until now. And that leads to my second point.
The buzz of excitement surrounding the sport in 2013 has been a virtual runaway train. For the first time in many years, boxing's traditionally cynical group of fans and experts have grown to expect things to go their way. This is a huge departure from just a year ago, when a flurry of injuries and drug suspensions wiped out nearly a complete summer of entertaining fights.
So what was the tipping point? Ironically, it was a date that was supposed to have been representative of the type of greed that continually has plagued the sport in recent years. With both HBO and Showtime airing competing blockbuster cards on Sept. 15 -- which pitted a Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. PPV against a cable show headlined by Canelo Alvarez -- a night that was expected to further darken the sport's black eye somehow had the opposite effect.
Instead, the fighters on both cards applied the black eyes to each other. The momentum of the evening then spilled into a memorable three months to close out the year, highlighted by Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV, and it hasn't slowed yet.
The fact that 2013's biggest fight to date -- Mayweather's May 4 win over Robert Guerrero -- featured a poor promotion, lackluster sales and a rather unexciting in-ring result, yet still hasn't killed the buzz, is proof that this will be a year to remember.
And think about this for a second: The next few months, we expect, will bring us continued excitement from the likes of Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse, Bradley-Marquez, Alvarado-Provodnikov and Pacquiao-Rios. But what about Mayweather-Canelo? What if this fight -- the one most experts continue to downplay as likely one-sided, with an almost predetermined result -- ends up bringing the kind of action, drama and excitement on par with what we've seen throughout most of 2013? What happens next?
It's crazy to think about, of course. But for a sport that is regularly labeled as cursed to yield a year so sublimely fun to be a part of, I'm not going to bet against it.
I have to admit, it's kind of weird going into a season of big fights and actually expecting them to live up to expectations. Don't lose heart -- this is really how it's supposed to be. Let's savor the flavor while we can.