Here are 12 top Latino fighters who should see their profiles rise even further during the coming year:
Saul Alvarez (39-0-1, 29 KOs), junior middleweight, Mexico: Don't let his angel face fool you. Alvarez, who has a ferocious style, is an almost-complete package of boxing talent, lacking only some speed to go with his excellent punch rate, underrated punching power and willingness to mix it up and trade punches at midrange. Unlike his countryman Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., "Canelo" has been brought along against increasingly better opposition, and 2012 will be his graduation year. He'll wind up losing his zero if he goes up against Floyd Mayweather Jr., but he'll earn respect and become a star if he does well against boxing's other "Pretty Boy." And the fight won't be the awful mismatch many expect, either.
Sergio Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs), middleweight, Argentina: If this guy were any better, he'd get no fights at all. Martinez embodies the phrase "too good for his own good." As an older fighter from a country without much of a pay-per-view television market, he is in a tough spot trying to make the high-profile fights that his supreme talent deserves. His first assignment of 2012 will likely be against the thoroughly deserving Matthew Macklin, but let's hope the biggest names come knocking on his door after that.
Marcos Maidana (31-2, 28 KOs), welterweight, Argentina: The hard-punching and always-dangerous Maidana is one of the most exciting fighters around, and could produce some of the most explosive fights of 2012. His debut at 147 pounds, against Devon Alexander in February, could prove to be an early candidate for fight of the year. My bet is that Maidana will be able to produce a knockout-of-the-year candidate as well. With the right matchups, there's no limit to what Maidana can bring to the already exciting welterweight picture.
Miguel Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs), junior middleweight, Puerto Rico: Always fit. Always ready. Always gives 100 percent. What's not to like about Cotto? And now, with the shadow of his worst defeat behind him after he avenged his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito with a TKO victory, Cotto seems ready for bigger and better things. Mayweather and Martinez might be out of reach, but he would give the Alvarezes, Chavezes, Kirklands and Angulos of the world a stern test.
Abner Mares (23-0-1, 13 KOs), bantamweight, Mexico: Mares got some help from referee Russell Mora in his first fight against Joseph Agbeko, in the final bout of Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament, but he rolled to a landslide victory in the rematch to set himself up for a bright 2012. A rematch with Yonnhy Perez is his only challenge at 118 pounds, and a move to 122 would put him in range for some very interesting fights, with a pool of names that includes Rico Ramos, Toshiaki Nishioka, Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Jorge Linares (31-2, 20 KOs), lightweight, Venezuela: Here's why asterisks come in handy. Sure, Linares took the "L" against Antonio DeMarco while attempting to defend his 135-pound title in October, but during the first eight rounds of the fight Linares' speed and skill seemed on a whole different level than those of his opponent. He made DeMarco, a respectable and deserving contender, look like a mule running the Preakness. And Linares was stopped only after losing about three pints of blood from one of the most horrific injuries I've seen in a long time. When it comes to guts, focus and talent, very few can touch this former two-division titlist. With a bit more luck, 2012 could be Linares' biggest year yet.
Roman Gonzalez (30-0, 25 KOs), junior flyweight, Nicaragua: In any other division, an undefeated two-division champ with an 85 percent knockout rate would draw a lot of attention. But Gonzalez works his magic in boxing's lowest weight classes, where it can be tough to get anyone but the hardcore to take notice. Still, Gonzalez should earn more exposure in the coming year. He could unify titles with one of two other excellent champs in Kompayak Porpramook (fresh off his destruction of Adrian Hernandez in a barn burner) or Ulises Solis, but we'd settle for any decent matchups with some of the outstanding contenders in the division just to watch Gonzalez put his talent on display again while he continues to grow.
Thomas Dulorme (13-0, 10 KOs), junior welterweight, Puerto Rico: Move over, Juanma. Make some room at the top, Tito. If he develops properly, Dulorme just may be Puerto Rico's next big superstar. One thing is certain: He ain't boring. His second-round KO of the usually durable Harrison Cuello back in April raised a lot of eyebrows, and his dominant performance against faded but still-dangerous former champ DeMarcus Corley showed Dulorme is growing in stature as a boxer too. He has yet to be checked by a tough veteran in a crossroads fight or dominate and stop an equally talented young contender. But I'll put my rent money down on him any day of the week. Can't wait to see him fight again.
Hernan Marquez (32-2, 25 KOs), flyweight, Mexico: People in Mexico don't throw around nicknames like "Little Tyson" for nothing. But Marquez, who goes at opponents like a runaway train every time the bell rings, has earned it. His left hook is one of the most punishing punches in boxing today, and he is ready to start making big noise in the smaller divisions with his fan-friendly style and terrific stamina. My bet is that we'll see Marquez flourish in 2012, and we'll be thoroughly entertained watching him do it.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (44-0-1, 31 KOs), middleweight, Mexico: I had said that 2011 would be a make-or-break year for Junior. Well, he made some and broke some, but he still has a lot to prove. The basics are there: good punching power, durability, youth and enviable DNA. We'll give him and trainer Freddie Roach one more year, hope they are able to break through Bob Arum's overprotective shell to put him in a dangerous fight, then check back on him.
Erislandy Lara (15-1-1, 10 KOs), junior middleweight, Cuba: It would seem hard to get excited about a guy who took a dubious decision and a points loss in his past two outings, but you have to look past the record book for the complete story on Lara. As bad as he looked against journeyman Carlos Molina (and without taking anything away from the Mexican's performance), Lara, a former standout Cuban amateur, rolled through Paul Williams but was robbed in one of the most shameful decisions in recent memory. The new year will bring better matchups for him, and he should be back after learning not one, but two, great boxing lessons.
Jorge Arce (59-6-2, 45 KOs), bantamweight, Mexico: I was there when a doctor, accompanied by a policeman, had to force Arce to visit the hospital after his fight with Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in May, just to make sure he got the right medical attention while still under the watch of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. If it had been up to him, Arce would have kept trying to stop the bleeding from a 2-inch cut over his nose with a cocktail napkin while giving interviews all night, then maybe gone dancing with his wife. A few months later, he became the first Mexican to win titles (interim or vacant) in five different divisions. Toughest little guy out there. Don't be surprised to see Arce-Klitschko in 2012.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.