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.
The skinny kid from L.A. who grew up wanting to be a ballplayer, not a boxer, wasn't so skinny anymore and certainly had grown into his fighting form. An Olympic gold medalist and 10-time professional world titleholder, Oscar De La Hoya was boxing's rock star by the time he laced up a pair of gloves for the final time on Dec. 6, 2008.
Although "The Golden Boy" had lost two of his previous four bouts and three of his past six, those defeats had come against all-time greats who had been in their primes, and De La Hoya himself remained a force at age 35. When the match was made with a then-29-year-old Filipino fighter with a perma-smile and speed to burn, the fight was no foregone conclusion. Manny Pacquiao was already the world's leading pound-for-pound fighter, having come into his own under the guiding hand of trainer Freddie Roach, but De La Hoya was favored by many of the sport's cognoscenti.
The skinny kid from L.A. actually had to drop down a weight class, to 147 pounds, while Pacquiao -- a lightweight -- jumped two divisions to meet De La Hoya near the welterweight limit. As much respect as Pacquiao had earned in dispatching Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez while climbing the ladder from his origins as a speedy but raw flyweight, many considered a 12-pound leap to meet the great De La Hoya a bridge too far.
It wasn't, as we now know. Pacquiao's speed, funky angles and relentless volume punching trumped De La Hoya's size and experience, and boxing witnessed a clear-cut changing of the guard as one pound-for-pound and pay-per-view colossus fell at the hands of the man who would be king in a rightful claiming of the throne.
But by and large, the act of torch passing -- especially in boxing -- is a far trickier thing. Such ceremony is usually prevented by pounds, promoters and egos, and the thing is settled not in the ring but in the minds of fight fans, slowly and well past any in-the-moment appreciation.
Yet five years after De La Hoya-Pacquiao, there is one matchup that shapes up similarly -- and in some ways more interestingly: Mr. Miguel Cotto, meet Mr. Saul Alvarez.
Cotto, 33, whom many believed ruined after his 2009 thrashing by Pacquiao and who was considered shot before last year's losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout, has improbably risen in stature since that time. The Puerto Rican icon remains one of boxing's top draws and, if anything can be gleaned from a dominant stoppage of Delvin Rodriguez in his most recent outing, still has some scrap left in him.
For his part, the decade-younger Alvarez -- a star in his native Mexico -- is coming off a defeat, also to Mayweather, this past September. It remains to be seen how Canelo reacts to his first loss as a pro and whether he can embrace it as a learning experience -- the sort that could carry him through a new set of trials in a matchup with a legend like Cotto.
And what a matchup it would be: Mexico versus Puerto Rico, young meets old, two offense-first fighters and body punchers exchanging at kidney-swelling levels and refusing to wilt. Let's put it on in New York, at the Garden, where Cotto is the house fighter and adopted hero but where the local Mexican community would no doubt show Canelo plenty of love.
If Cotto wins, his legend -- and Hall of Fame dossier -- grows. He becomes emperor of the island, Puerto Rico's supreme leader (if unofficially), and maybe even puts himself in position to land a Mayweather or Pacquiao rematch. Few in Cotto's position -- a glorified but battle-worn stallion who not long ago had been all but put out to pasture -- get to spend their twilight years so well.
And Canelo? A victory over Cotto likely would be just the beginning for him, a royal seal that legitimizes a fighter still deemed more style than substance by many. With fights against Mayweather and Cotto -- and a torch-grabbing triumph -- under his belt, Alvarez would presumably then have the chops, confidence and track record to regularly land the biggest fights and build the sort of decorated career that will make him the prime target, let's say sometime around 2025, for the sport's next skinny superstar-to-be.
— Caryn A. Tate (@carynatate) December 25, 2013