The Floyd Mayweather era has mercifully come to an end.
After easily boxing his way to a wide decision victory over Andre Berto on Saturday night, Mayweather again said he was retiring at 49-0, matching heavyweight legend Rocky Marciano’s historic undefeated record. If Mayweather can resist the urge to come back for a 50th fight—and that’s a big “if”—it’s worth nothing that Mayweather was not only the best fighter of his era, he was also the highest-paid, the brashest, and the sport’s most reviled figure.
But his greatest sin, as far as fight fans were concerned, wasn’t his pro wrestling heel persona, but the boring, bloodless way Mayweather racked up all those wins against elite fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto. Mayweather used his baffling defensive wizardry, unrivaled ring IQ and piston-like jab to flummox opponents during his 19-year reign as a world champion, rarely indulging in the kind of exciting, fan-friendly slugfests employed by everyone from Mike Tyson to Gennady Golovkin.
The good news? The next wave of fighters who will duke it out for the title of boxing’s biggest star aren’t dazzling defensive technicians like Mayweather, they’re natural-born brutalists who aren’t afraid to get hit in order to land a punch. In the wake of Mayweather’s retirement, here are five fighters who could replace him at the top of the food chain:
1. Gennady Golovkin (Middleweight, 33-0, 30 KOs ):
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This undefeated middleweight titlist with 20 straight knockouts is probably the single most feared fighter in boxing, which is why it’s been tough for him to land big-name opponents. A native of Kazakhstan, Golovkin, 33, has wowed fight fans with his scary knockout power, precision punching and oddly endearing personality, as evidenced by Golovkin cheerfully promising a “big drama show” before his brutal victories. Triple-G, as he is known, could get a major boost in star power with his first pay-per-view bout, a unification fight against Canadian slugger David Lemieux on October 21.
2. Canelo Alvarez (Junior Middleweight, 45-1-1, 32 KOs):
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The redheaded Mexican superstar may have been shut out in his sole loss to Mayweather, but he’s nevertheless become an established pay per view attraction at age 25. Alvarez could notch the biggest win of his career if he defeats popular middleweight champion Miguel Cotto in a Nov. 21 pay-per-view showdown that pits two passionate boxing hotbeds, Mexico and Puerto Rico, against each other. The winner is expected to face Golovkin, and whoever emerges victorious after that megabout could legitimately claim the mantle of boxing’s new king.
3. Sergey Kovalev (Light-Heavyweight, 28-0-1, 25 KOs):
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A Russian native who now lives in Los Angeles, Kovalev is a savage puncher known for his devastating knockout power and surly, Sonny-Liston like presence in the ring. His biggest victory to date was beating up the great, but aging, Bernard Hopkins in 2014. Back in 2011, the “Krusher” knocked out Roman Simakov, who died three days later from a brain injury suffered in the bout. When asked about Simakov’s death by Sports Illustrated, Kovalev responded, “I am professional fighter. I cannot be concerned about these things.” Kovalev will be back in action on Nov. 28 for a tune-up bout in Moscow, and is expected to fight the United States in early 2016. That match-up could see him facing his toughest challenge yet—highly-regarded super-middleweight champion Andre Ward.
4. Deontay Wilder ( Heavyweight, 34-0, 33 KOs):
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This 6-foot-7 knockout artist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama became the first American to win a heavyweight title since 2006 when he beat the rugged Bermane Stiverne in January. Before that fight, the affable 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist was often accused of facing soft opposition, a strategy he is apparently reverting to when he fights little-known Frenchman Johann “Reptile” Duhaupas Sept. 26 on NBC. (By the way, the last prime-time heavyweight title fight on NBC was Larry Holmes versus Carl “The Truth” Williams in 1985). The heavyweight division has long been in sad decline, but if Wilder could somehow score an upset victory over recognized heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko, he’d bask in certain glory.
5. Keith Thurman (Welterweight, 26-0, 22 KOs):
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This fast-rising welterweight titlist from Clearwater, Fla. Is known for an exciting, hard-punching style (basically the opposite of Mayweather’s cautious, technical strategy). He defended his WBA belt by outslugging Robert Guerrero in a headlining slot on Premier Boxing Champion’s prime-time NBC card back in March. On July 11, he defended it again with an 8th round KO of former champ Luis Collazo, after surviving a brutal body shot. Look for Thurman to keep punching his way to prominence as he vies to replace Mayweather at the top of the talent-rich welterweight division.
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