The first month of 2016 continued the trend of 2015, with more boxing than ever before available on the small screen. Traditionally a relatively slow month for boxing, this past January was packed with action.
The biggest fights of the year are still ahead of us in the Spring and Fall. But two high-level performances from last month deserve particular mention. For the first month of 2016, I’m splitting top fighter honors between Sergey Kovalev and Danny Garcia.
On January 30, Sergey Kovalev defended his WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight belts against former champion Jean Pascal, in a rematch of his Round 8 stoppage of Pascal in March of last year. The first fight between these two was competitive, though ultimately one sided. This time around, it was a straight up slaughter.
Kovalev provided a text-book illustration of what happens when a great fighter faces a very good fighter for the second time, after having a previous chance to study him in the ring. Kovalev targeted Pascal’s body early, sapping his punching power, and then methodically hammered on his weakened prey. Pascal’s iron chin and huge heart kept the fight going for rounds longer than it should have. It’s likely Pascal will never be the same fighter again.
On January 23, Danny Garcia claimed the vacant WBC welterweight belt with a hard-fought decision over Robert Guerrero. Guerrero is one of the toughest and gamest fighters in the sport and he started tough against Garcia. I had the Ghost winning four of the first five rounds. But Garcia adjusted intelligently to Guerrero’s pressure and fought well off his back foot, showing something of a new wrinkle. He took control of the second half of the fight, landing the better punches and at a much higher percentage.
In a perfect world, Garcia will fight a unification bout later this year with the winner who emerges from WBA champion Keith Thurman’s defense against Shawn Porter in March. Barring injury or stunning upset, Kovalev should be on a collision course with former super middleweight champ Andre Ward in what will be one of the best matchups of recent years.