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Fighters we want to see in 2016

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Making the Rounds: Fighters we want to see in 2016 (1:58)

ESPN.com boxing editor Brian Campbell discusses the fighters he's looking forward to seeing in 2016. (1:58)

In boxing, there are lists created to rank the sport's pound-for-pound best and lists that celebrate the most entertaining fighters. There are even lists counting down the potential stars of tomorrow.

How about a list that encapsulates all of the above? We can call it "The Must-See List," as in: Which fighters are we most excited to see in 2016?

Whether we are intrigued by their charisma or fighting style, or simply interested in seeing them step up in competition and maturation, these are the 10 (or so) fighters who most firmly hold our attention entering the new year.

1. Gennady Golovkin

With 21 consecutive knockouts, a marketable nickname and boy-next-door charm, Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs) retains the mantle as boxing's trendiest fighter. Despite turning in underwhelming numbers from his pay-per-view debut in October, GGG's crossover buzz remains strong. Because Golovkin, who turns 34 in April, is boxing's safest bet from an entertainment standpoint, the name value of his opponents has rarely mattered. But three years into his journey as a featured fighter on American cable, it's past time for fans to find out just how good the oft-avoided unified middleweight titlist really is.


2. Sergey Kovalev

If Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) isn't outright the most violent puncher in the sport, you would be hard-pressed to find another fighter as nasty in his execution. Despite his menacing power, the unified light heavyweight titlist has done well to showcase his refined boxing skills, too. It's still uncertain whether Kovalev, 32, will ever get to circumvent boxing politics and face lineal champion Adonis Stevenson while the fight still means something. But a proposed showdown with Andre Ward this fall could allow the winner to make a claim as being the sport's pound-for-pound best.


3. Felix Verdejo

You get the feeling it won't be long before Verdejo, the 2014 ESPN.com prospect of the year, is one day headlining PPVs as a full-fledged welterweight. For now, you'll have to make do watching Verdejo (19-0, 14 KOs), the 22-year-old lightweight sensation, attempt to back up his tremendous hype. He has long been anointed by his native Puerto Rican fan base for his speed, power and aggressive style. The rest of the boxing world is falling for him just the same, helped by his enthusiasm and million-dollar smile.


4. Terence Crawford

When Crawford made his HBO debut in 2013 with a trio of televised victories, it was clear he had the skills to one day earn his current level of P4P acclaim. What wasn't evident, however, is that Crawford (27-0, 19 KOs) had the potential to be a star. But the two-division titlist's evolution during the past two years from slick boxer to assertive finisher has considerably raised the ceiling of his potential. Crawford, 28, the 2014 ESPN.com fighter of the year, appears to have it all -- speed, length, poise and a high ring IQ. But it's the old-school "go get it" side to his fighting personality that is most refreshing.


5. Roman Gonzalez

Talk about a coming-out party for "Chocolatito" in 2015. The power-punching flyweight champion made his long-awaited HBO debut and failed to disappoint with a pair of knockouts. Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs) also supplanted a retiring Mayweather in September as the sport's new P4P king. At the peak of his prime at age 28, the Nicaraguan sensation is the most dangerous and well-rounded fighter in the sport. His clinical destructions are breathtaking to behold. It will be fun to watch just how high the three-division titlist can continue to rise in weight and still be as dominant.


6. Keith Thurman

In the aftermath of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao welterweight era, Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) just might have the strongest case for consideration of being labeled as "next." The 27-year-old titlist has size, boxing ability and great charisma. He's also the biggest puncher in the division. But after a mostly forgettable 2014, the past 12 months failed to provide us with indisputable proof that he's everything he's advertised to be. It's a point made more frustrating when you consider the incredible depth at 147 pounds under the PBC banner. Still, the opportunity for a defining victory could come early in 2016 if a rumored showdown against Shawn Porter comes to fruition.


7. The heavyweight division

Don't look now, but a heavyweight resurgence just might be upon us. Tyson Fury's upset of long-reigning unified champion Wladimir Klitschko in November certainly leveled the playing field. But the timing coincided perfectly with the rise of a new guard, led by unbeaten American titlist Deontay Wilder, all-world prospect Anthony Joshua of England and Cuban slugger Luis Ortiz. Throw in veteran names like Alexander Povetkin, Bryant Jennings and the return of David Haye, and 2016 could be fun -- which is something the division has lacked for more than a decade.


8. Canelo Alvarez

Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) continues to build respect for his insistence on matching himself as difficult as possible. But the Mexican superstar also stepped out of his own shadow as a red-haired, box-office sensation in 2015 to showcase his vast improvement as a fighter. His reward was the middleweight championship, P4P respect and ESPN.com honors for knockout and fighter of the year. Canelo never quite fit the stereotypical mold of charismatic Mexican warrior. But he's plenty crafty inside the ring, with a subtle elegance to the way he carries himself out of it. At 25, his most dangerous test to date looms -- he is on a collision course with Golovkin later this year.


9. Errol Spence Jr.

Attempting to quantify just how good a prospect might be is far from an exact science. But ask yourself this question about Spence: How many active welterweights right now would you favor to beat him? Be honest -- it's an incredibly short list. At 25, Spence (19-0, 16 KOs) fights with the maturity of a veteran champion. ESPN.com's prospect of the year very likely could be carrying a world title right now had he not been conservatively matched in 2015. (And let's not forget, it was Spence who publicly called out Thurman in June.) Still, the southpaw recorded four knockouts in the past 12 months and garnered the praise of Mayweather, who just about proclaimed Spence as his successor. Don't just buy some stock in this kid, buy all of it.


10. Leo Santa Cruz

After navigating a frustrating odyssey of weak matchmaking, Santa Cruz, 27, raised his game when matched on the bright stage against Abner Mares in August. It's not that Santa Cruz (31-0-1, 17 KOs) ever failed to make entertaining fights thanks to his relentless style. But in answering every question we had of him against Mares, the three-division titlist only upped the ante when it comes to marquee fights that could be made in and around a loaded 126-pound division in 2016.

Just missed the cut: Vasyl Lomachenko, Daniel Jacobs, Timothy Bradley Jr., Amir Khan, Viktor Postol.