If you swam long enough against the current of the "boxing is dead" rhetoric, you may have noticed that 2012 was a quietly fruitful year for the sport.
Outside of the typically crippling moments of bad publicity (from apocalyptically bad scorecards to the rampant suspicion -- and occasional proof -- of a performance-enhancing drug problem), the past year saw boxing gain an increased presence in the mainstream. There were high-profile bouts that actually lived up to expectations, a handful of legitimate fight of the year candidates and the increased development of tomorrow's stars such as Andre Ward, Nonito Donaire, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Adrien Broner.
In light of everything that went right and the opportunity to build on the momentum, here are my 10 wishes for 2013:
10. Enough of the counter promoting
Between too many fights airing on pay-per-view and the others playing on premium cable (forget being forced to find Internet streams for fights overseas), it's hard enough for boxing fans to gain access to great fights. So please stop making them choose by greedily counter promoting. There are enough vacant weekends throughout the year. Stop the madness.
9. More feature shows
There's the phenomenal documentary series "24/7" from HBO, along with the recent addition of "The Fight Game with Jim Lampley" -- a welcomed treat. And don't forget about Showtime's "All Access," which is not only excellent, it gets better with each installment. But here's to hoping we see more programming focused on boxing's great history as we once had with ESPN Classic's "Ringside" and HBO's "Legendary Nights."
8. The emergence of a third power promoter
Boxing is a world with two revolving planets (Top Rank and Golden Boy) and a group of shooting stars who appear a few times per year. Some of the game's top fighters are represented by these "other" promoters and most do an outstanding job. But none has the financial impact of the two powers that be, and with their refusal to match top fighters against each other (more on that below), we could use a third company willing to go for broke in order to produce the fights that aid boxing's long-term health. Will a guy like 50 Cent fill that void? It remains to be seen.
7. A full veto of alphabet titles
Ask any former fan the reason they stopped watching and they'll mention the confusion over multiple titleholders and too many divisions. Even hard-core fans have trouble pinning down the legitimate champions. With the lack of a central governing body to name its own champions and everyone else willing to get on board, true clarity is hard to come by. But any fan, journalist, television network or promoter who even mentions the names of the alphabet titles and sanctioning bodies sets us back even further. Can we all agree to stop?
6. A network television blockbuster
Getting fights on network TV twice in December was a fine achievement and hopefully just the beginning. But for this experiment to have a lasting impact, at least one promoter is going to have to place a big-name fight in a competitive time slot. Saturday afternoon bouts between exciting prospects is one thing, but drawing viewers into a prime-time fight on free TV in a matchup between established names typically reserved for cable is taking things to the next level. It's a tremendous gamble, the kind that brings to mind the 1995 Mike Tyson-Buster Mathis Jr. fight on Fox, which did a 16.9 overnight rating -- a testament to Tyson's drawing power in his second fight after prison. That kind of success is nearly impossible to equal, but showcasing a young star -- Canelo, anyone? -- in an attempt to build drawing power ahead of a future PPV slot is not a horrible idea.
5. A heavyweight tournament
The "Klitschko era" has been short on heavyweight contenders or anyone the general public could pick out of a police lineup, but it's becoming quietly long on large men with potential to make compelling fights. With Vitali Klitschko's alphabet title potentially available should he retire, how about a tournament for the vacant belt, setting up a showdown in 2014 against recognized champion Wladimir Klitschko. Allow Wladimir, who turns 37 in March, his typical two title defenses in 2013 (how about Alexander Povetkin and Chris Arreola?). Meanwhile, the remaining heavyweights of note compete in a formal elimination system, not necessarily as drawn out as the ill-conceived Super Six super middleweight tournament, but featuring exciting names such as Marco Huck, David Price, Tyson Fury, Tomasz Adamek, David Haye or Robert Helenius, to name a few. Tell me you wouldn't be interested.
4. Pacquiao-Marquez V
For a rivalry that as recently as one month ago was out of storylines and battling customer fatigue entering its fourth and (supposedly) final chapter, something happened along the way for Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. After one of the single most dramatic and historically significant action fights of the modern era, a fifth fight in 2013 would be a financial juggernaut and one of the biggest crossover events in recent years. It also would address a series of new storylines and questions that need answering: Was Marquez clean in Chapter 4? Can Pacquiao rebound from such a devastating knockout? Who will be left standing as the winner of the rivalry after a fifth and final installment?
3. Final thawing of the promotional "Cold War"
Ever try to explain to a casual fan why there's no chance exciting fighter "A" will ever face fighter "B" though they're both champions in the same division? It's fun, right? It would be like the owners of the Heat and Thunder refusing to play each other in the NBA Finals. One could argue that the beef between promotional giants Top Rank and Golden Boy -- and their refusal to work together for the betterment of the sport -- is the undisputed No. 1 hurdle holding back boxing. Enough is enough.
2. A unified drug-testing program
There's an unspoken worst-case scenario in play when PEDs are potentially abused in a sport as violent as boxing. It's a road that no one -- let alone boxing -- needs to be tiptoeing anywhere near considering the already built-in aspects of danger in the sport. The fact that the attention following Pacquiao-Marquez IV shifted immediately from how historically thrilling Marquez's knockout punch was to debating how credible the muscles on his 147-pound frame were indicates the sport has a massive problem on its hands. Promoters, fighters and athletic commissions need to join together to create a unified and random drug-testing system that -- most important -- is rock-solid in its credibility. Forget simply eliminating doubt, let's avoid the kind of consequences that are beyond repair.
1. More Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Having the undisputed face of the sport compete only one time in 2012 before entering a well-publicized jail sentence was far from a good thing. Boxing is clearly a healthier sport when Mayweather, who is tentatively slated to fight twice in 2013, is regularly competing. While it's clear his physical skills are slowly fading with age, no one is exactly sure -- maybe not even the soon-to-be 36-year-old Mayweather himself -- just how much. Still, he enters 2013 with his best chance of losing a fight in over 10 years and is likely in for competitive -- and potentially dramatic -- challenges on par with his last fight against Miguel Cotto. Considering how protective Mayweather has been of his "0" in recent years, a loss could wind up being an unforeseen bonus to the sport if it leads to him seeking difficult challenges with the pressure of staying undefeated gone. Just maybe, a Mayweather loss brings us closer to seeing the fights fans have been robbed of. Either way, Mayweather is the single most valuable athlete to his own sport and his pursuit of perfection, with the drama and debate it creates, is must-see for fans of all sports.