With the International Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2020 announced on Wednesday, much attention is being paid to the latest inductees, and rightfully so. But with a couple of high-profile fighters falling short this time around, it's only natural to think about their next chance in 2021.
There is a strong cast of incoming candidates who will gain eligibility on next year's ballot, though, which could leave a few well-deserving fighters waiting another year for their call from Canastota, New York.
That is, of course, assuming that none of those fighters decides to return to the ring, which would then further delay eligibility and open up the field. Only five fighters have returned to the ring after being inducted into the IBHOF -- Sugar Ray Leonard, Virgil Hill, Alexis Arguello, Azumah Nelson and Jeff Fenech -- but the Hall's eligibility period shrank from five years to three starting in 2019, making it a stronger possibility moving forward.
Assuming they resist the urge to return, here's a look at the fighters who are most likely to be the next batch of Hall of Famers:
Floyd Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 100%
Mayweather is a shoo-in, no questions asked. No, he might not be TBE (the best ever), as he proclaims, but he is one of the best pure boxers the sport has ever seen. Technically sound and proficient, Mayweather was a boxing prodigy from the very beginning, and he ended up parlaying his talent to a point at which he wasn't just the best boxer in the game, but among the richest athletes in all of sports.
After turning pro in 1996, Mayweather was moved quickly under the direction of Top Rank, and by his 18th pro fight, he was fighting for the WBC junior lightweight world title against the respected Genaro "Chicanito" Hernandez. What was thought to be a stern test for Mayweather was instead an exhibition of his transcendent talent. Mayweather stopped Hernandez in eight rounds, and he was on his way. Victories over the likes of Angel Manfredy and Diego Corrales soon followed.
Mayweather won world titles at lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight. Along the way, he added the names of DeMarcus Corley, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and then, finally, Manny Pacquiao, to his ledger. It could be argued that only Jose Luis Castillo, in their first encounter, had any real argument that he defeated Mayweather.
There will be some who contend that Mayweather turned boxing into too much of a business -- his moniker went from "Pretty Boy" to "Money" for a reason. But he was also a pioneer in this sense. He was able to leverage his own ability and marketability into a rare opportunity in this industry -- being a fighter who truly made his own decisions and controlled his career to the end.
Mayweather said recently that he is coming out of retirement in 2020, but until we see him in the ring, he is at the top of this list.
Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 99%
Like Mayweather, Ward was an intelligent boxer who understood his way around the ring and managed to remain undefeated throughout his career. He wasn't always exciting, but he was effective at neutralizing his opponents' strengths and slowly dissecting them.
Ward, the last American man to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing (2004), signed a promotional agreement with the late Dan Goossen, who slowly guided Ward up the boxing ladder. After getting hurt in early fights against Kenny Kost and Darnell Boone, Ward matured as a professional prizefighter, and when he entered into the "Super Six World Boxing Classic" super middleweight tournament in 2009, he showed that he was more than ready for world-class competition.
That's the moment when Ward truly burst onto the scene, overcoming the likes of tournament favorites Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch along the way. His next victory came against light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who had come down to 168 for the fight.
The momentum of Ward's career was halted by injuries and a contractual dispute with Goossen. Once that dispute was settled, Ward moved up in weight and engaged in a two-fight series with Sergey Kovalev. Their first fight in 2016 saw Ward win a disputed decision. The rematch the following year was much more conclusive for Ward, who stopped Kovalev in seven rounds.
If that was truly Ward's last bout, ending his career as the light heavyweight champion was a fitting way to wrap up his story in the ring.
Wladimir Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 95%
Klitschko's is a career defined by professionalism and consistency. For the better part of a decade -- from 2006, when he scored a seventh-round stoppage of Chris Byrd for the IBF belt, until 2015 when he was outpointed by Tyson Fury -- he reigned supreme in the heavyweight division.
During this stretch of time, Klitschko was given acclaim as the world's best heavyweight, but it was a long way back from 2003 and 2004, when he was shocked by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, and many believed that he was a front-runner who simply didn't have the constitution or punch resistance for long-term success. Yet under the steady guidance of trainer Emanuel Steward, Klitschko was able to reinvent himself into a calculating boxer who relied on his educated left jab to give him shelter on the outside while also softening up his opponents. While he wasn't always exciting, he still scored 53 knockouts. Oftentimes, the end result was more entertaining than the process.
Many will argue that Klitschko reigned in a relatively weak era of heavyweight boxing, and there is probably some truth to that. Yet you could make that same argument for the likes of Joe Louis and others down the line. Klitschko wasn't just a belt holder; if it wasn't for the presence of his brother, Vitali, he would've most likely been the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. In all, Wladimir made 23 title defenses in his career, which spanned from 1996 to 2017.
What's ironic is that in his last outing, a memorable 11th-round KO loss in a slugfest versus upstart Anthony Joshua, Klitschko seemed to get more credit in this defeat than he did for many of his victories.
Miguel Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 80%
The Mount Rushmore of Puerto Rican boxers has to include Wilfredo Gomez, Felix Trinidad, Carlos Ortiz and Cotto. While some may debate Cotto's inclusion, he won titles in four separate weight classes, spanning from junior welterweight all the way up to middleweight, and he became a legitimate draw on the East Coast, regularly headlining shows at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Cotto found success and popularity while having to follow in the footsteps of Trinidad, the most beloved boxer to come out of Puerto Rico. It's one of the big reasons why Cotto doesn't get the acclaim that he deserves, much like Larry Holmes had to fight for his respect post-Muhammad Ali. And while other Puerto Rican boxers failed to seize the vacant spotlight left by Trinidad after early successes in their careers, Cotto did so and was a model of consistency, fighting as many good-to-great fighters as anybody in his era.
Just look at his résumé, which includes Carlos Maussa, Lovemore Ndou, Carlos Quintana, Randall Bailey, Ricardo Torres, Paulie Malignaggi, Judah, Mosley, Antonio Margarito (twice), Pacquiao, Ricardo Mayorga, Mayweather and Canelo. No, he didn't win them all, but he won his share, and he did so with a straightforward style that was accentuated by a bruising left hook. He was rarely in a bad fight. Cotto spoke softly, but carried a big stick.
In 2014, he faced middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and scored a 10th-round TKO over the hobbled Argentine. That fight likely sealed Cotto's Hall of Fame case for any lingering doubters.
Tough luck in 2021
James Toney (77-10-3, 47 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 20%
You could make an argument that Toney was the last of the real old-school, throwback fighters, especially during his run from 1991 to 1994. when he fought 23 times in that span. For modern day boxing, it was downright Archie Moore-ish.
In that period of time, he won the IBF middleweight title against Michael Nunn, who was undefeated at that time. After seven title defenses, which included a two-fight set versus Mike McCallum (their first hook up in 1991 was a "Fight of the Year" candidate), he moved up and dismantled the powerful Iran Barkley for the IBF 168 pound title in 1993. He would remain undefeated for another 10 fights, until he faced the incomparable Roy Jones Jr.
This period was truly his prime, between the 160- and 168-pound divisions, although his toughest battles thereafter were mostly a result of his own lack of discipline. But there was no denying Toney's craft or boxing acumen. He was still able win a cruiserweight title (in the 2003 "Fight of the Year") and a portion of the heavyweight belt against John Ruiz, although it was expunged after Toney failed a drug test.
Toney should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but you wonder if voters will hold Toney's late career struggles, when he fought way past his prime and through the age of 48, against him. Regardless of how the next ballot plays out, one day, Toney will have permanent residence in Canastota.
Timothy Bradley Jr. (33-2-1, 13 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 20%
For Bradley it's a matter of "when," not "if," in terms of his induction. Bradley had a distinguished run at 140, where he first won the WBC title against Junior Witter in the United Kingdom, and later came off the canvas twice to defeat Kendall Holt (who came into the bout as the WBO belt holder). A few fights later, Bradley downed Devin Alexander in a high-profile unification bout at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.
During time at junior welterweight, Bradley defeated Edner Cherry and two previously undefeated fighters, Lamont Peterson and Luis Carlos Abregu.
As he went up to welterweight, Bradley engaged in a lucrative three-fight series with Pacqiuao. Bradley had his hands raised in their first fight, in what was a highly disputed decision. It would be unfair though, to define his career by that first Pacqiuao fight, or his subsequent losses to one of the best fighters of that generation. Because during his days as a welterweight, Bradley engaged in the 2013 "Fight of the Year" against the hard-charging Ruslan Provodnikov -- in one of the most savage battles of the 21st century -- and he decisioned Juan Manuel Marquez later that year.
Bradley didn't have an abundance of punching power, but he more than made up for it with tenacity and competitiveness. It's just a bit unlucky that his second chance at enshrinement comes in such a loaded year.
Sergio Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KOs), probability of induction in 2021: 20%
"Maravilla" had a fine career, which saw him overcome an early loss to Margarito in 2000 to eventually become a world-class junior middleweight and then the middleweight king after he defeated Kelly Pavlik in 2010.
Martinez was an athletic southpaw with a unique style that saw him glide around the ring and use his fast hands.
His two bouts versus Paul Williams will always be remembered fondly. Their first fight was one of the best of 2009; Martinez lost a highly controversial majority decision. In the rematch, Martinez scored one of the most vicious knockouts we've seen with a jolting left hand.
Martinez was never quite the level of star he wanted to be, but he was always a strong, respected fighter.
Outside looking in
Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KOs)
Froch was a fighter who left it on the line every time he laced on the gloves. He wasn't the most elegant or fluid boxer, but he was strong and determined.
During a stretch that spanned from 2008 to 2012, Froch took on Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, Ward and Lucien Bute. Only Kessler and Ward were able to best him, and he managed to gain revenge over Kessler in 2013.
Froch ended his career by stopping archrival George Groves twice.
Ricky Hatton (45-3, 32 KOs)
Yes, there was only one Ricky Hatton, and while there were superior fighters from the U.K., none of them had the rabid following Hatton did.
Hatton was able to win his first world title by smothering Kostya Tszyu, and then unified belts after beating Maussa. He then traveled to America, where he notched a few victories before facing Mayweather in 2007. Hatton was simply outclassed over 10 rounds in that bout. Two fights later, he was blasted out in two by Pacquiao. Hatton had a short-lived comeback in 2012, but it was ultimately cut down when he was halted in nine by Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon (35-3-1, 6 KOs)
This southpaw from Puerto Rico was the consummate boxer. He stuck to his game plan, fight after fight, and was good enough to win belts at strawweight and light flyweight, making a total of 17 successful title defenses during his career.
In 2010, he was involved in a memorable battle versus Giovanni Segura, where he was stopped in eight rounds, which finally brought an end to his championship days.
Israel Vazquez (44-5, 32 KOs)
Vazquez will always be remembered for his first three fights versus Rafael Marquez, each of which were "Fight of the Year" candidates. But that third bout elevated the series to legendary status. Down a point going into the 12th round, in what had already been a pitched battle, Vazquez scored a late knockdown to win on the cards.
This sealed his legacy as a fan favorite. Also on his highlight reels are memorable scraps with Oscar Larios and Jhonny Gonzalez. Vazquez was a two-time world champion at junior featherweight.
Diego Corrales (40-3, 33 KOs)
If there is ever an argument for a fighter being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on the strength of one key fight, it's "Chico." Corrales was able to stage perhaps the greatest comeback in boxing history by getting off the canvas twice in the 10th round against Jose Luis Castillo to stop the accomplished Mexican later in that round.
That wasn't just the 2005 ESPN fight of the year, many believed that is the greatest fight that ever took place. Yes, Corrales won titles and beat other good fighters, but that fight alone is his greatest argument.
Rafael Marquez (41-9, 37 KOs)
Rafael was one-half of one of the most successful brother duos in boxing history, and while his brother, Juan Manuel, was a precision counterpuncher, Rafael was a heavy-handed bulldozer.
During his career, which saw him best the likes of Tim Austin and Mark Johnson (the latter a Hall of Famer), Marques was a long-reigning bantamweight belt holder. His only weakness was a shaky chin, but it made for some exciting fights.
His rivalry with the aforementioned Vazquez is as good as any this past generation.
Jorge Arce (64-8-2, 49 KOs)
The colorful "Travieso" was just the second Mexican fighter to win titles in four weight classes. He had a highly productive career in which he won titles at 108, 115, 118 and 122. He never really had a career-defining victory, but he was always in the thick of things at an elite level.