<
>

'12 Days': Ward-Golovkin

Come and get them: Andre Ward is the man with the belts in the super middleweight division. Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos.com

In the spirit of the holidays, ESPN is celebrating the season with our own "12 Days" wish list of the fights we want to see most, regardless of promotional or other entanglements. Keep checking back over the coming days to see new fights revealed, discuss our choices, or even suggest some of your own in the comments section or via Twitter using #ESPN12Days.

Oh, sure, it's fun enough to debate fantasy matchups that will always remain fantasy, confidently predicting outcomes secure in the knowledge that you will never be proved wrong because the fight will never come to pass.

But, to my mind, that's far less exciting than the anticipation of a bout that isn't just possible but arguably probable. Andre Ward against Gennady Golovkin is just such a bout.

None of the usual disqualifiers apply here. Both men are staples of the same network. Although they are represented by rival promoters (for now, at least; Ward is still desperately trying to sever his professional relationship with his), neither of those promoters would rather stick a fork in his face than deal with the other. Add to that the fact that neither man is exactly deafened by the clamor of credible opponents beating down his door, and this is a very makable contest.

It's arguable that Golovkin, with his fan-pleasing, all-action style and his friendly out-of-the-ring demeanor, has developed a larger fan following in the past year than Ward has secured since turning pro in 2004; but Ward would enter the fight as a big favorite, and deservedly so. The Californian is almost universally regarded as, at worst, the second-best boxer in the world, and he has shown an ability to adapt to whatever his opponent throws at him. He can box from the outside, brawl on the inside, rough his guy up and work behind a tight defense.

By contrast, Golovkin is rapidly compiling a Hall of Fame highlight reel, but questions remain. Although analysts love the subtle things he does -- his shifts in stance, his footwork, his feints, the way he cuts off the ring -- almost as much as his bludgeoning blows, his commitment to offense can come at the expense of his defense. After all, if Curtis Stevens could nail him with some big punches en route to being badly beaten, what might Ward do? And Golovkin's opposition, although solid and improving, still falls some way short of the likes of Mikkel Kessler's or Carl Froch's.

But that, as they say, is why they fight the fights. One man is at the top and looking to establish himself there. Another is trying to knock him off his throne before he has even had a chance to make an indentation in the seat pillow. It's a clash of styles, personalities and unbeaten records. And it could well happen in 2014.