I do not make any changes to the predictions from last year thus removing any temptation to make myself look better through the exclusion of erroneous or irrelevant content. That forced me to separate this feature into three parts, coming to a merciful end today. After each prediction, I apply a simple grade, from A to F, along with an opinion on how the prognostication turned out.
Champion who will stay: Daniel Geale – It is depressing that I cannot pick the best middleweight in the world, Sergio Martinez, since the Argentine was stripped of his alphabet belts. No matter; we all know who the real champion is by the running of others in the opposite direction. I pick Geale because he is a quality champion, winning his title on the road in Germany and fights an average Osumanu Adama in March. Adama is Geale’s mandatory challenger, allowing Geale to fight countryman Sam Soliman in a voluntary defense afterward. Geale will be favored in both bouts and if he fights a third time in 2012, it is likely to be a keep-busy bout while waiting for a big name in 2013.
Grade – A : Truthfully, had I known Geale was going to challenge Felix Sturm in Germany, I would not have picked him. Such are the vagaries of boxing and trying to predict what is going to happen over a long year. The fact that Geale did go to Germany and emerge victorious - by decision no less and not be rewarded by a fight in America against Sergio Martinez - shows how massively underappreciated the Australian boxer is.
Champion who will go: Felix Sturm – Stiff jabber got the benefit of the doubt from judges in his homeland in 2011 and is running out of British boxers (if Andy Lee is his next foe) to bring to Germany. Has the toughest of all mandatory challengers in Gennady Golovkin and since Sturm promotes himself, he could ditch the WBA belt to lure Sergio Martinez to Germany for a big money show. I see Sturm losing competitively to Martinez or Golovkin and if he fights Martinez, there is a good chance he has to give up the WBA belt. Either way, Sturm does not have a title at the end of 2012.
Grade – A : It did not happen the way I thought it would but happen it did. Sturm lost a close decision to Daniel Geale after looking fantastic against Sebastian Zbik in his previous outing - which leaves me uncertain which fight represents the real Sturm going ahead in 2013.
Will rise in 2012: Grzegorz Proksa – This kid turned my head with an impressive destruction of former champion Sebastian Sylvester, who went 12 rounds with champions Daniel Geale, Felix Sturm and Javier Castillejo. Proksa nearly turned Sylvester’s head 360 degrees with his slashing hooks in the process. The 27-year-old southpaw was composed, fighting with a hands-down, instinctive style, blending the best of Sergio Martinez or Dmitry Pirog. Polish puncher is smoother than herky-jerky Martinez and his angles are more severe and cutting than Pirog. A world traveler based in England, fighting three times in Las Vegas, the only potential drawback I see with Proksa is his average height at 5’8”. Proksa’s darting style and quality footwork favors his stature, showing against Sylvester how his mobility works to compel opponents off-balance or into hesitancy. A real gym rat, Proksa boxed since age seven, a five-time Polish champion, winning silver at the Junior European Amateur championships and finishing with a 117-10-3 record. In the pros, the flashy Pole throws every punch in the book and some which are not in any standard textbook. The hard puncher has had some hand problems in the past but nothing else has slowed this contender’s progress.
Grade – D : Proksa fell, rose and fell again in 2012. Suffered a shock loss – aided by a bad cut – to Kerry Hope to open 2012 but quickly reversed the setback four months later. Took a fight against beastly Gennady Golovkin on short notice losing to a superior boxer-brawler despite employing his own effective style. Proksa will rise again in 2013 and beyond, winning one version of the world title, thanks largely to what he learned and experienced in 2012.
Champion who will stay: Andre Ward – Oakland product came into his own in 2011 and will not have as difficult a schedule in 2012 despite holding the WBA and WBC titles. Brian Magee and Karoly Balzsay are the mandatory challengers; there is a chance Ward loses a title if Showtime or HBO do not step up and allow him to face either in what look like easy defenses. I believe Lucian Bute has the tools and ability to defeat Ward but doubt that fight comes off until early 2013. Even it if does, Ward will be favored and to date, has never had to face someone holding a hometown advantage. I look for Ward to coast in 2012, engaging in two or three easy fights while Bute, Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and Andre Dirrell build their brands to challenge Ward in 2013.
Grade – A : I would retract my optimistic statement on Lucian Bute but otherwise choosing to go against Ward (even a post-surgery version) is 2010’s equivalent of betting against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Champion who will go: Robert Stieglitz – Strike one is that Stieglitz travels to Denmark to face Mikkel Kessler. Strike two…well, do I really need a strike two? I don’t think the competent Stieglitz, who only fought once in 2011, has the offensive arsenal to escape Denmark with his title. Losses to Librado Andrade and Alejandro Berrio display Stieglitz’s vulnerability to pressure fighters and Kessler is a couple levels above both those men while fighting on home turf. Stieglitz is a respectable champion, making five defenses and is undefeated since 2008 but his streak ends early in 2012.
Grade – A : The Kessler fight never came off and Stieglitz got off to a positive start winning his first two fights of 2012. An unexpected challenge came from Arthur Abraham in August, which proved a bridge too far for the brave but outgunned Stieglitz.
Will rise in 2012: Thomas Oosthuizen – The only blemish on the young South African’s record is a hotly-contested draw with top 10-rated Isaac Chilemba, certainly forgivable for a 23-year-old with only had 13 bouts at the time. Oosthuizen impressed American observers who viewed him live, dismantling Aaron Pryor Jr., going on to stop hardnosed Francisco Sierra, showing there were no lingering ill effects from the Chilemba fight. Southpaw has a stinging punch, stopping 12 of 18 foes. Raised in a fighting family (his father was a pro national champion) and boxing since age six, Oosthuizen has proven adaptable against veteran opponents. At 6’4”, has great size but fights against it at times, preferring to get inside and aggressively force the pace on retreating foes. Has been 12 rounds four times and with world-class trainers Harold Volbrecht and Brian Mitchell (a Hall-of-Famer) in his corner, Oosthuizen uses their brainpower to maximize his potential. A student of the game, Oosthuizen lists Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran as his idols.
Grade – A : Is certainly moving up the boxing ladder like a champion, scoring four impressive wins, splitting his time in America and South Africa. Given results and attractive style, Oosthuizen’s only negative is a name that is hard for boxing writers to spell and wrap their tongues around.
Champion who will stay: Tavoris Cloud – I picked Cloud as the boxer who would rise in 2010 and who would stay in 2011, repeating that choice this year. Last year’s win over Glen Johnson confirmed my confidence in Cloud. In fact, I think Cloud is the best light heavyweight in the world and would pick him to defeat anyone from ageless Bernard Hopkins to rebounding Chad Dawson. At 30, Cloud is exiting his physical prime and unfortunately remains contractually tied to a Don King who lacks TV dates. That limits Clouds ambitions, forcing him to fight a tough Isaac Chilemba next (as of press time, Boxrec.com lists Cloud facing Gabriel Campillo) instead of unifying the titles or chasing prominent names. Cloud has no mandatory challenger as IBF champ and the top two (Karo Murat and Dawid Kostecki) offer little chance of an upset. 2012 is not about Cloud keeping his title - he will - it is about his promoter getting a big name like Dawson, Pascal or Hopkins to accept Cloud’s challenge.
Grade – A : Cloud gets the opportunity to fight Hopkins in March and as I predicted only fought once in 2012 again because of Don King’s lack of available TV dates. Escaped a title defense against Gabriel Campillo by split decision and in Hopkins, faces an equally awkward foe with more experience. Still, Cloud’s aggression makes up for a lot, the question is whether that is enough to last another year as a champion if he makes more than one title defense.
Champion who will go: Bernard Hopkins – The number one challenger to Hopkins’ WBC title is Chad Dawson and Hopkins does not look eager to rematch the suddenly angry Dawson. Frankly, fans never wanted that fight in the first place and the surrounding controversy the two generated did nothing to elevate the sport. Remember, I am picking Hopkins to lose his title, not a fight. In fact, I think all four titleholders (Nathan Cleverly, Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov are the others) keep their titles given the lack of quality challengers. Hopkins needs his belt the least, even though the greedy WBC will ignore their rules in attempts to have Hopkins keep it and because of that, I chose to pick on the elderly.
Grade – A : Well, Hopkins did lose his title but is obviously far from gone. Television entities refuse to stop giving Hopkins opportunities despite his age and lack of entertainment value. They are the ones being lazy, accepting the great backstories they can spin about Hopkins which fly in the face of his output that lacks excitement. So yes, Hopkins lost his title but obviously not his attractiveness to the spin masters.
Will rise in 2012: Luis Garcia – Upon arrival in America, many insiders thought that with the exception of Yuriorkis Gamboa, Garcia had the most upside of any Cuban defector. Garcia surprised everyone by moving to Ireland to turn pro (based in Cork but training in Newcastle, England) and showed his potential, becoming the only sparring partner for Carl Froch in preparation for his fight with Jermain Taylor. Garcia’s physique is deceptive and despite lacking the usual ripped muscles along the torso and upper body, his body abounds with elasticity and snap. His punches are not extraordinarily fast but they are crisp and delivered with malicious forethought to maximize impact. Has stopped nine of 12 opponents and shut out undefeated southpaw Alexander Johnson in his “ShoBox” debut. With only 12 pro fights, is obviously still adjusting to the pro game needing to make more of a positive impression than he did against Johnson. Garcia has the composure and boxing brain to push any champion but needs to show more passion and work rate to ensure he gets that shot in 2013. Ismayl Sillakh is the obvious choice at 175 pounds but I chose him last year and in general, light heavyweight looks the weakest division for up-and-coming talent.
Grade – D : Perhaps I should give myself an “F” since Garcia did not fight at all last year. It was not by his choice, however, so I was lenient on both of us. In 2012, Garcia battled managers and promoters instead of opponents, losing a year of his prime at age 25.
Champion who will stay: Krzysztof Wlodarczyk – I chose the Pole last year and was surprised when he gave up a home country advantage to knock out Danny Green in Australia. He is a talented boxer-puncher, undefeated in four years since splitting a pair of close contests with Steve Cunningham. Wlodarczyk remains the least attractive champion for television with few storylines and should return to fight in Poland and make two defenses of his title. One will be against number one challenger Francisco Palacios, whom Wlodarczyk narrowly defeated in 2011. Wlodarczyk probably looked past Palacios last time and will win a wide decision in the rematch. Otherwise, I don’t look for Wlodarczyk to challenge any of the other champions, making one other voluntary defense in 2012.
Grade – A : Defeated Palacios by the wide margin predicted and did not bother to fight a second time in 2012, ensuring an “A” for both of us. At age 31, can do this for another three or four years (like, say, Guillermo Jones) and I will pick him to do so for the aforementioned reasons in the same amount of time.
Champion who will go: Guillermo Jones – I keep picking against the 39-year-old Panamanian, mostly because he fights less than the Swiss Army but somehow is allowed to keep his title. Was inexplicably allowed to keep his title when other boxers are stripped for facing fellow titleholders, despite a 25-month ring absence that did not involve injury! Did defeat number one challenger Valery Brudov (who grew old waiting for the title shot) in 2010 and was allowed a laughable title defense against trial horse Michael Marrone in 2011. Dangerous Denis Lebedev is Jones’ number one challenger and if the WBA and Don King do not conspire to protect Jones, he will lose to Lebedev. However, given Jones’ history, he might not have to make that title defense until 2014.
Grade – A : To the shock of no one, Jones did not fight in 2012 but to my shock, the WBA stripped Jones of his title and elevated Denis Lebedev in his place. The WBA is not stupid (despite their ratings and multiple champions) and understands Jones can’t make them money if he does not fight. Took them long enough to catch on but it finally seems the boxing world is rid of Guillermo Jones. If only the WBA would follow suit.
Will rise in 2012: Mateusz Masternak – Powerfully built Pole, an evenly proportioned 6’0” with broad and heavily muscled chest, is only 24 years old and has the feel of a champion in the making. Matched against solid opposition in Poland, America and the current cruiserweight hotbed of Germany. Aside from Steve Cunningham, might be the best physical specimen, sporting chiseled abs and sculpted shoulders, in the weight class and has an attacking style that makes use of his strength. Began boxing before his teens, winning a national title and representing Poland internationally, finishing with a 61-9 mark. To date, has stopped 18 of 24 foes, removing the undefeated record from two fellow prospects and dispatching veterans Ismail Abdoul and Ali Ismailov with equal aplomb. Recently signed with Germany’s powerful Sauerland Promotions and is trained by an Andrzej Gmitruk, who guided Tomasz Adamek to two world titles. Can be compared to Adamek offensively, fluid in attack, and once he sees an opponent is hurt (stopping 11 of last 12), Masternak puts it into overdrive, looking for a stoppage. Masternak does so with speed as much as power, only lacking refinement and experience he will gain this year to push for a title shot in 2013.
Grade – A+ : Polish puncher fought five times in 2012 and was rewarded for his activity with a top 10 (at number six now) ranking from The Ring magazine. Is rated in the top 10 by all four sanctioning bodies as well, which should assure a title shot in the future. Perhaps not 2013 because the champion will actively avoid him if possible but given his youth and aggression, Masternak cannot be denied interminably.
Champion who will stay: Vitali Klitschko – Given Vitali’s overall résumé, I rate him ahead of brother Wladimir as the best heavyweight in the world today and in terms of historical legacy. Despite his size, fights with intelligence over brawn and in two setbacks, was ahead on the judges’ scorecards (losing via cut and injury). In many fans’ views, was on his way to victory when those fights were stopped. The Ukrainian giant always arrives at fights in optimum mental and physical condition, a rarity in today’s heavyweight scene. Because of Klitschko’s size (6’7½” and 250 pounds), he is hard to hit cleanly and almost impossible to counter with a hook because of his dimensions. With one of his giant steps backward, Vitali is out of punching range and opponents find themselves off-balance, attempting to land more than one punch at a time. An underrated technician, landing pinpoint jabs and lead right hands in the middle of the ring but never in a rotation that leads to a detectable pattern for opponents to decipher. Simply put, even at age 40, there are no heavyweights who can beat this Klitschko.
Grade – A : My sound logic on Vitali was rewarded despite his traveling, arguably, a tougher road than his brother. Fought twice in 2012, easily dispatching of Dereck Chisora and Manuel Charr while simultaneously running for political office in his native Ukraine. Probably too old for me to go out on a limb and pick him to do this for another year but given weak list of opposition, Vitali is certainly capable of repeating his 2012 campaign.
Champion who will go: Wladimir Klitschko – Neither Klitschko is going to lose. However, I have to pick one and Wladimir holds three alphabet belts and has the toughest challenger in Alexander Povetkin. The odds say Wladimir is more likely to lose or is perhaps stripped by one organization, given his commitment to defend three titles.
Grade – D : Refuse to give myself an “F” because I lacked choices. Plus, my logic was sound and I predicted neither would lose in my write-up. The Klitschko domination extends to the sanctioning bodies as well since all of them know they will lose money stripping either Klitschko given their popularity in Europe.
Will rise in 2012: Mike Perez – Cuban defector has drawn well-founded comparisons to Mike Tyson, his muscular 6’0”, 225-pound frame unleashing hooks dripping with Tysonesque brutality. I am not predicting Perez becomes the left-handed Tyson but I would not rule out his doing as well as southpaw counterpart Michael Moorer. Actually, the 175-pound Moorer is the more apt comparison and is the style of boxer that former Cuban amateur coach Nicholas Hernandez wants to mold Perez into. Because of his stout body, it is essential Perez doesn’t eat himself out of contention as other Cuban heavies have. Perez has gotten that message after ballooning up to 244 pounds. Note this was after shoulder surgery, with Perez ultimately whittling down to 230 pounds in 2011. In Perez’s abbreviated amateur career, he was a gold medal winner at the 2004 Junior Olympics and finished second at the 2005 World Cup. Stoppages are derived by equal parts power, quickness and intelligent punch selection. Former champion Glen McCrory, who helps train Perez, does not shy away from Tyson comparisons. “He was world amateur champion and he’s got the power of Mike Tyson, the speed as well. But he’s got something different, in that he’s a southpaw and does not drop his hands. He can fight close in and can box as well.” Another thing Perez does like Tyson is watch tapes of former greats. Perez studies videos of heavyweight legends and his personal idol, Kid Chocolate (Eligio Sardinias Montalvo). Never mind opposing heavyweights; imagining a heavyweight champion like Kid Chocolate makes my knees weak!
Grade – D : Cuban was on track to take his first big league scalp, facing former champion Ruslan Chagaev when an injury derailed Perez’s ambitions. Like stablemate Luis Garcia, did not fight in 2012 because of it with thanks to managerial problems. Those seemed solved given canceled Chagaev fight and a scheduled return to the ring in February. God knows the heavyweight division needs the emergence of an exciting heavyweight like Perez, so let us all pray to the boxing gods that Perez fulfills his dreams of becoming the heavyweight version of Kid Chocolate.
Final Tally for 2012
A’s = 29
B’s = 3
C’s = 2
D’s = 9
F’s = 8
Final Tally for 2011
A’s = 33
B’s = 7
C’s = 2
D’s = 3
F’s = 6
Final Tally for 2010
A’s = 20
B’s = 4
C’s = 7
D’s = 11
F’s = 9
Final Tally for 2009
A’s = 23
B’s = 6
C’s = 8
D’s = 6
F’s = 7
Final Tally for 2008 (only predicted a champion who would retain or lose title)
A’s = 17
B’s = 6
C’s = 4
D’s = 5
F’s = 4
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