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2011: Boxing Heaven or near-Dead End like 2010?...Part Two

The early boxing schedule for 2011 is shaping up nicely, building on a strong end to an otherwise forgettable 2010. It could be a stellar year below heavyweight and even there I have hope with David Haye again pronouncing he is on a collision course with the Klitschko brothers. The much-anticipated Pacquiao – Mayweather clash could be derailed again by the law this time around instead of egos, which would give the anti-boxing press more ammunition for 2011. Otherwise, it looks like the stars are destined to fight each other instead of going along with promoters’ delaying tactics. The notable 2010 case of Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez comes to mind. Showtime’s tourneys conclude in 2011 as well and my New Years wish is that they build on those successes with more tournaments!

Over the next two installments, I present an overview from featherweight to heavyweight, revealing my choices for a champion that will stay, a champion that will go and a prospect to keep an eye on. The titlists from the IBF, WBA, WBC, and WBO were considered when selecting the champions who I believe will keep or lose their belts. As an aside, only the sanctioning bodies’ real champions are considered, so do not expect to see interim, silver, or regular champs that the alphabet bandits elevated to make extra money considered. The one limitation I have for selecting the boxer to watch out for in 2009 is that the man chosen must not have had a world title opportunity yet.


Champion who will stay: Hozumi Hasegawa
– A positive for this pick is that Hasegawa is out of the mix for a big featherweight showdown this year, since few are aware of him in America. That is a negative for fans and a shame since Hasegawa has the talent to push Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez to the limit. There is an outside shot of a fight materializing with Chris John in late 2011, which would be an easy sell in Asia. Mandatory contender Jhonny Gonzalez must be dealt with and that is my main concern. However, Gonzalez will have to travel to Japan for that fight and his performances have been erratic the last two years. At age 30, Hasegawa is slowing but he remains sharp and still has key advantages of being a southpaw and fighting at home.

Champion who will go: Yuriorkis Gamboa – Most will disagree with this choice but I am playing the odds more than denigrating Gamboa. If the Juan Manuel Lopez fight takes place, I believe Lopez has the right combination of attitude and skills to defeat Gamboa. Other than his next fight against Willie Casey, Gamboa will have a difficult schedule to traverse in 2011. Having said that, I doubt any of the four titlists lose their crowns in 2011 since the Gamboa – Lopez fight will not get made until early 2012. That leaves Gamboa with potential fights against Chris John and perhaps Elio Rojas, both difficult bouts which he could lose, given those champions’ qualities. On top of all that, Mikey Garcia (featured below) is the number one-rated challenger, who has the potential of breaking through to elite status as Abner Mares did last year.

Will rise in 2011: Mikey Garcia – One of boxing’s overlooked feel-good stories; Garcia is a dedicated boxer in the ring who graduated from the Ventura County Police Academy. Has a great team around him, starting with undervalued trainer and older brother Robert Garcia. Oxnard product has lived the game and seems to have innate sense of the ring. Was 58-7 as an amateur, despite using the bouts to further his pro potential and style instead of hunting for national tourney successes. There is nothing mousy about this kid, once he throws punches and showed a ton of maturity in outboxing former title challenger Walter Estrada, despite breaking a finger early in that fight, and stopped ten of his last 11 opponents. Mature beyond his years, often sparring with Israel Vazquez and displayed real stopping power in his right hand. Garcia is still developing a ring persona but has shown the ability and diversity to beat opponents with speed, power, or movement. Thailand’s Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo was considered but I could not find enough video footage to evaluate him. Matt Remillard and Jorge Diaz drew my attention but fell short in quality wins when compared with Garcia.


Champion who will stay: Takahiro Ao
– Edges Mzonke Fana on the strength of his overall ability; I only considered Fana because he does not have a mandatory contender this year and is only likely to fight once in 2011. Ao is a skilled southpaw, working with a hometown advantage, who is less likely to get upset than the 37-year-old Fana. Ao has a tough mandatory with slick Belarus boxer Sergey Gulyakevich but their styles will neutralize each other and I suspect Ao gets the benefit of the doubt in Japan. Ao has improved since his loss to Elio Rojas and, at age 26, is entering his physical prime to go along with a mental maturing in the ring. Ao has only lost or drawn with championship quality boxers and I doubt he runs into one of those this year.

Champion who will go: Takashi Uchiyama – I rate Ricky Burns and Mzonke Fana weaker champions but Uchiyama has to get by tough countryman Takashi Miura at the end of month. After that, Jorge Solis looms as the number one contender, who will probably be paid step-aside money so Jorge Linares can challenge Uchiyama. Linares is more popular in Japan, having fought there many times, and is a superior boxer to Uchiyama in every category. Uchiyama is a good boxer but lacks the ring generalship of potential rivals and is slowing at age 31. The Miura fight will prepare and strengthen Uchiyama for a possible showdown with Linares but not enough to forge a victory.

Will rise in 2011: Adrien Broner – Beats out Cuban Luis Franco on youth and has more upside, even though his boxing IQ is not on par with Franco’s. Cincinnati has produced great fighters like Aaron Pryor, Freddie Miller, Ezzard Charles, and Tim Austin; now Adrien Broner looks to add his name to that roster of greats. Started boxing at age ten and was a good junior-level boxer, winning the national Silver Gloves tourney and advanced to the semifinals of the Junior Olympics. That type of success eluded Broner at the senior amateur level tourneys but Dan Rafael reported Broner had about 300 amateur bouts. Is a speed-burner in the ring with excellent defensive reflexes and has shown an ability to use that speed on offense, knocking out 15 of 18 opponents. A bit of a peacock in the ring, whose assuredness pays off for fans as Broner takes chances to make himself look as impressive as possible. That cockiness can rub people the wrong way but it certainly adds flair and extra attention to a fighter who could get lost in the crowd, given Golden Boy’s large stable of boxers. Can’t emphasize enough how much speed is a part of Broner’s success. I hope to see Broner use angles and jab more to help himself as he matures and inevitably meets someone equally fast. Reminds me a bit of James Kirkland in his aggressive nature but without Kirkland’s physical strength. Will Tomlinson and Luis Cruz were also considered.


Champion who will stay: Humberto Soto
– I appreciate Soto more than most but admit he can be negative, taking away an opponent’s best weapon instead of pressing his advantages. Despite his being older, I believe Soto has more room to improve on his performance against Urbano Antillon when they rematch in May. Theirs was a classic fight, garnering many votes for “Fight of the Year,” with Soto engaging Antillon instead of outboxing the naturally bigger man. Soto fights more than most champions, four times last year, but I believe he will slow the pace since his paydays are likely to be larger. I would not be surprised if number one challenger Antonio DeMarco is his only other fight in 2011. Has only been outclassed once, by Juan Guzman, and, at age 30, sports the right combination of experience and vitality to reign another year.

Champion who will go: Juan Manuel Marquez - I would not be shocked if every lightweight champion lost his title in 2011, since Miguel Vazquez has seemingly fought above his station in boxing. I chose Marquez because he is likely to be stripped of the WBC or WBA title for not facing their mandatory contenders. Number one contenders Robert Guerrero and Brandon Rios do not carry the kind of cache- Rios less than Guerrero- nor provide the payday to entice Marquez into a fight. Because of that, Marquez will have to relinquish a title and, to be truthful, I would not be surprised if Guerrero beat Marquez straight up anyway. Either way, Marquez leaves 2011 with one less title belt around his waist.

Will rise in 2011: Leonardo Zappavigna - Comparisons will be drawn between Leonardo Zappavigna and Kostya Tszyu for more than a shared hairstyle. But they have a different attacking philosophy and a better style comparison can be made to Zappavigna and fellow Aussie Michael Katsidis. Where Tszyu was a selective destroyer, making every punch count like a bazooka, Zappavigna swarms with machine gun flurries. Displays power in both hands and the 23-year-old should improve as the maturing process impacts his strength and mind. Stylistically, Zappavigna seems easy to categorize at first glance but has underlying skills that are not seen in YouTube knockout compilations. Mostly a volume puncher who could be called a brawler, if it were not for clever footwork coming forward. Commits to his punches more than the average volume guy but does not limit himself in the body attack the way pure power-punchers do. Is a big junior welterweight with a lot of his bulk centered on broad shoulders (is shaped like Kermit Cintron). A big right hand is Zappavigna‘s coup de grâce of choice. Zappavigna knocked out iron-chinned Ji Hoon Kim, in his last fight, to announce his arrival on the world stage. Fellow youngsters Sharif Bogere, Mercito Gesta and legally-troubled Archie Ray Marquez are runners-up.


Champion who will stay: Amir Khan
– Came of age in his fight with Marcos Maidana, despite boxing stupidly to please his fans and shut up detractors. The result was a thrilling fight but also displayed why Khan remains vulnerable against brawlers and elite boxers. Khan took himself out of the running for a fight with Manny Pacquiao and is not likely to face the Tim Bradley - Devon Alexander winner until early 2012. Another reason to select him is trainer Freddie Roach, as Khan will continue to improve under his direction and as lead sparring partner for Pacquiao. Victor Ortiz and Brunet Zamora are his top-rated challengers but look for him to batter a domestic British challengers and Zab Judah this year instead. There is an outside chance of a date with the resurgent Erik Morales or maybe even Marquez, if he feels like stepping up in weight again. All are winnable propositions.

Champion who will go: Devon Alexander – Since there is no IBF champ and I picked Khan to remain a champion, I am left to fill this spot with the man who I believe will lose the Tim Bradley – Devon Alexander showdown on the 29th. Enough said.

Will rise in 2011: Danny Garcia - One of Golden Boy Promotions’ earliest East Coast signings, Garcia had been making impressive progress, fighting almost exclusively on West Coast shows. Returned to Philadelphia to score an impressive kayo against Mexican banger Enrique Colin on the Bernard Hopkins-Enrique Ornelas undercard and has a knack for delivering his best work when TV’s spotlight shines on him. Garcia’s boxing skills were instilled at the amateur level, a 107-13 record, winning a national Golden Gloves title and topping out as an Olympic alternate. Growing up in the tough Philly gym system will serve him as well, if not better, in the pros as his time with the national amateur team did. Garcia has really quick hands and his feet keep him in continual contact with the target. I would not qualify Garcia as a strong puncher but his punches land with sudden authority and make a solid popping sound. Needs to work on keeping the hands up but not at the expense of his aggressiveness. Displays good head movement and reflexes but because he is usually moving forward, was not tested defensively. That was until Ashley Theophane found some holes but Garcia worked to correct those flaws in the gym. The better level of competition focused Garcia, as he improved despite the heightened threat level. The 21-year-old is more mature and calm in the ring than most boxers at this stage of their careers. There is good depth at 140 and this choice was difficult. Mike Dallas, Ajose Olusegun, Paul McCloskey, Ruslan Provodnikov and Cesar Cuenca all lacked one or more of the combined qualities of Garcia to beat him out.


Champion who will stay: Manny Pacquiao
– Do I need to explain? He is Manny Pacquiao! There is no one within ten pounds of “Pac-Man,” up or down, that I can see the Filipino icon losing to including Floyd Mayweather. It’s that simple.

Champion who will go: Jan Zaveck – I toyed with the idea of selecting Andre Berto, as I think Selcuk Aydin has the tools to beat him and I continue to believe Berto is not a finished product yet. However, playing the odds, I picked Zaveck because he is more prone to lose, given his age and weaknesses as a champion. Now that I got that out of the way; I think every welterweight champ keeps his title through a combination of weak challengers and lack of money and interest to match them against another. Do fights between Vyacheslav Senchenko, Andre Berto, and Jan Zaveck send your senses racing? Not mine either, which is why each will reign over their little kingdom in the shadow of “Pac-land.”

Will rise in 2011: Brad Solomon – I admire this Solomon, who is making a contender out of himself the old-fashioned way. I liken him to a young James Toney and Glen Johnson, since he uses old-school tricks and methods to get ahead. Won seven fights last year, including successful trips to Nicaragua and Panama, and defeated an Anges Adjaho few fight voluntarily. Was brought in as an opponent to undefeated prospects Ray Robinson and Kenny Galarza, on ESPN shows, but quickly turned the tables on both, scoring lopsided wins. Solomon was an excellent amateur, who won three Golden Gloves titles, which shows in his ability to switch from orthodox to southpaw in a split-second. Defeated current hot Golden Boy Promotions prospect Danny Garcia in the amateurs, which suggests he has ample speed and confidence. Solomon showed he can bring those elite amateur credentials to bear on a pro platform, no matter the country or opponent. At 27, is fully matured, physically, and been busy logging six fights in 2009 and seven more in 2010. I am concerned that Solomon is too willing to take chances in scheduling and could run into another quality fighter instead of avoiding him. Selcuk Aydin, Kell Brook, and Mike Alvarado were considered but lack Solomon’s ambition, given that he has not been a pro for three years yet.


Champion who will stay: Miguel Cotto
– Considered selecting Pacquiao again, since there is no way Golden Boy will rush their number one prospect Saul Alvarez into facing “Pacageddon.” Alvarez is the WBC’s number one contender for Pacquiao but De La Hoya is happy to have Alvarez hold the phony “silver” title until Pacquiao is quietly stripped or elevated to some bogus status by Jose Sulaiman. That leaves Cotto (who has already been passed over for another shot at Pacquiao), who faces recently resurrected Ricardo Mayorga in March. Rigoberto Alvarez is the mandatory for Cotto and that fight should find its way onto some PPV undercard to fill out the Puerto Rican’s dance card for the year. There is also a possibility Bob Arum decides to cash out on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., which would be a preferable payday to Alvarez for Cotto and equally winnable.

Champion who will go: Cornelius Bundrage – I admire “K9” Bundrage for his dogged determination but his skill level is simply not that of a world champion. Bundrage did sneak up on an aging and disinterested Cory Spinks last year but does not have the wherewithal to deal with elite challengers like Vanes Martirosyan or Erislandy Lara. I do not consider Bundrage’s mandatory, Sechew Powell, elite but I think Powell has the skill set to defeat Bundrage as well. Bundrage is 37-years-old but in fantastic shape in every department except reflexes and has been out of action since winning the title five months ago. Does not have a fight schedule, suffering from Don King’s lack of TV dates, so it is a combination of factors that lead me to pick against one of the better success stories of 2010. I hope I am wrong selecting Bundrage and will root against this pick in 2011.

Will rise in 2011: Erislandy Lara -  The busy Lara is on cable TV more than Billy Blanks infomercials, fighting eight times in 2009 and five times in 2010 (an ESPN favorite). This  Cuban has avoided the dreaded “lackadaisical” tag from trainers and garnered a lot of praise for wins over Grady Brewer and Danny Perez. To avoid the pitfalls of other Cuban boxers based in Miami, Lara leaves the city to train under the tutelage of Ronnie Shields in Houston. The impressive junior middleweight (promoted by Germany’s Arena-Box) is a three-time Cuban and one-time world amateur champion that was favored to make an Olympic appearance before his defection. Showed some one-punch kayo power since turning pro and earned a good reputation in sparring sessions against Ricky Hatton. A mature 27 years old, Lara’s power and amateur pedigree suggest he will have little problem when the level of opposition is advanced further. A well-rounded southpaw, I would not classify him a great puncher since he does not look for power from the opening bell. He is not a speed merchant either; I would call Lara cunningly fast and exceedingly accurate. Lacks the flash, brilliant hand speed, and power of fellow Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa or the cocky persona, for that matter. Is a controlling boxer in the vein of Joel Casamayor or- dare I say- Jose Napoles. Looks as comfortable countering as leading, with only his finishing skills still in doubt. The question now is whether Lara progresses from rock solid to sensational. I already used Vanes Martirosyan in this spot before, so he was not considered. Sherzod Husanov and the rest of the field are surprisingly weak, with a resurgent Zaurbek Baysangurov my only other real consideration.


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