With boxing it can be increasingly difficult to determine which champions will will do what, but fight aficionados can determine those results for themselves. If not, here’s my take on 2013 and which champions will remain and those who will go.
Those Who Will Remain:
Carl Froch - In 2010, I correctly named Froch as one of five champions who would be dethroned in 2011. At the time, I just could not see him defeating Andre Ward to keep his belt and close out the Super Six World Boxing Classic. To rectify matters, I am naming Froch, 35, as one of my five titlists to keep their waists garnished with a world title belt. While nothing in the sport of boxing is ever set in stone, it is expected that Froch, 30-2 (22), will be meeting Mikkel Kessler in a highly anticipated rematch in the spring. Although Kessler stole The Cobra’s unbeaten record, their first encounter was a hotly contested twelve rounder, which more than a few folks felt the Nottingham native deserved to win. I was among that flock of Froch faithful and I will again support the IBF super middleweight champion against Kessler should they square off. Other names on the Froch radar are Lucian Bute, Adonis Stevenson, and, perhaps, Edwin Rodriguez. Bute already felt Froch’s thunder in surrendering the IBF belt to Froch in 2012, but it is possible the Romanian former titlist will exercise a rematch clause. If so, given Bute’s recent showing against Denis Grachev, I see no reason to favor him in a rematch. Bute is still far too hittable and susceptible to Froch’s two-fisted attack. Stevenson is Froch’s number one contender and easily the biggest puncher in the division, but that power will be greatly diluted once it is in the ring with an elite class opponent. Froch is made of sterner stuff than Don George or Aaron Pryor Jr., who fell to the fists of Stevenson. It will take a lot more than a one dimensional assault to unseat Froch. Edwin Rodriguez is Froch’s number two contender, but, like many New England fighters, he has been protected against top opposition until that title fight materializes. He’s faced a swarm of third tier opposition and has passed each test without question, including a hard-fought win over Will Rosinsky. He’s just not of the right pedigree to become an elite name at 168 in this era though. Only Kessler poses any real threat on the immediate horizon and it’s a great one, but I see Froch remaining a champion until 2014.
Note: As of this writing, it became a distinct possibility that Froch would be forced to defend against Stevenson to keep his title. It is also rumored Froch plans to vacate the title to proceed with a Kessler rematch.
Daniel Geale - Geale, 28-1 (15), has averaged two bouts a year over the last three calendar years. He’s already slated to rematch Anthony Mundine on January 30 and even though he lost the first match-up in a close contest, Geale has developed considerable since then and Mundine has faced exclusively third tier opposition of late. There are many who actually felt Geale was robbed of his first big name win when he met Mundine back in 2009. With Geale as a safe bet to avenge his lone loss in January, that likely will take up fifty percent of his activity in 2013. Geale’s present number one contender is the aged veteran Sam Soliman, who has managed to stay relevant with a string of unexpected wins. Soliman will meet Geale’s number three contender Felix Sturm on February 1. Very likely, Geale, 31, will meet the winner sometime later in 2013. Most anticipate that Sturm will prove victorious against old Sam and set up another rematch for Geale. Geale comfortably outpointed Sturm on two cards in 2012 and should be favored to do so again if the two hook up for a sequel. Among Geale’s top fifteen, Matthew Macklin also presents a formidable task for the champion, but with a number fourteen ranking it is hard to imagine Mack the Knife will even get the opportunity. A clash with unbeaten Gennady Golovkin or Sergio Martinez would likely spell the end of Geale’s reign, but neither fight seems likely for 2013. My money is on Geale keeping his championship status into another new year.
Austin Trout - The WBA 154-pound champion, Austin Trout, just might become one of boxing’s most ignored fighters. After lopsided 2012 victories over Delvin Rodriguez and Miguel Cotto, Trout should be on the radars of Saul Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather Jr.. However, "No Doubt" fits into the high risk, little reward category. He’s a smooth boxer who can handle his own in the pocket, as he showed against Cotto. However, he’s a bland personality without a particularly pleasing style. If Trout, 26-0 (14), could secure a unification bout with Cornelius "K-9" Bundrage, he should count himself lucky because I don’t see either of the other champions jumping to mix it up with him in 2013. That leaves his slew of contenders, which is not particularly daunting. With his mandatory challenger slot vacant, Trout’s highest ranking contender is the relatively unknown Damian Jonak, who has several recognizable wins over faded third tier opposition, but nothing to impose a serious threat against Trout. The rising Keith Thurman, a budding HBO favorite, rates highly at number three on the heels of his recent stoppage of Carlos Quintana. However, he seems a little green for Trout, 27, and would likely be exposed for his inexperience as Thomas Dulorme was in 2012 on HBO airwaves. Erislandy Lara also lurks among the top five, but he has failed to separate himself from the pack in the past once he’s stepped up either through bad luck or lackluster showing. If Lara has what it takes to unseat Trout, he has not shown it yet. Super Fights aside, Trout survives 2013 with his world championship credentials intact.
Note: As of this writing, Trout is rumored to be in serious consideration to meet Canelo Alvarez on May 4th. The prediction above stands.
Ricky Burns - Streaking WBO lightweight champion, Ricky Burns, 29, is not getting his due attention in the sport. His twenty-fight win-streak got incredibly hot in 2010 as he started winning world title belts at 130 and 135. His recent dominance of Michael Katsidis, Paulus Moses, and Kevin Mitchell has put him on a very short list of opponents worthy enough to actually challenge Adrien Broner, which we will get to later. Burns’ top ten is not without its share of threats. Right now, Sharif Bogere and Richard Abril pose big threats at number three and eight respectful, but seem on a collision course with each other instead as they have already had one bout scheduled in late 2012.The Scotsman is probably too refined for either man anyway. Fourth ranked Sergio Thompson, although dangerous, has fought exclusively at 130 since defeating Jorge Linares and has a lesser title bout scheduled already for 2013 at that weight. If a Burns fight should arise, he’d probably take it, but I am not so sure he can win. Big punching Puerto Rican Jose Gonzalez is Burns’ mandatory challenger, but he has not shown his mettle against a true world class opponent in his prime such as Burns. In all likelihood, Burns, 35-2 (10), is on the hunt for a big payday. He’s already priced himself out of a Broner fight once, but that could just be part of the negotiating tactic. HBO has introduced fans to Miguel Vazquez, but has he shown the level of excitement to be granted a bout with Broner? We’ll find out for sure soon enough, but let me conclude with this. Regardless of whom Burns meets in 2013 at lightweight, the Scottish champion hangs on to his belt even if it means he must upset Adrien Broner to do it. It’s a risk, I know, but let’s make things interesting.
Shinsuke Yamanaka - Before 2012, Yamanaka, arguably the world’s best bantamweight, was an unknown commodity for most boxing fans outside of Asia. However, after nabbing the WBC title and posting defenses against Vic Darchinyan and Tomas Rojas, Yamanaka, 30, has secured one of the most solid positions on my list of Five Champions Who Will Remain in 2013. Yamanaka, 17-0-2 (12), has the potential for Super Fight caliber match-ups against Anselmo Moreno and Leo Santa Cruz, but I don’t see WBA or IBF unification in his immediate future. The Japanese fighter is just too dangerous. The lesser known WBO titlist Pungluang Sor Singyu might be willing to risk his title to escape virtual anonymity. Even still, Yamanaka just might beat all three if given the task. Focusing on his top ten contenders is more likely for the champion, who tends to fight two to three times a year. It appears a given that Yamanaka will soon meet Malcolm Tunacao since he defeated Christian Esquival in a recent title eliminator. Esquival was just one bout removed from a vacant title loss to Yamanaka himself. At thirty-five, Tunacao the older man, but still pretty fresh due to the fact that he has been greatly protected since moving up from flyweight after losing his world title in one round back in 2001. In his most stern test outside of Esquival, he lost to fringe contender Rolly Matsushita. Given Tunacao’s reluctance to meet the best over the last eleven years, I am making Yamanaka a huge favorite to win by KO. Promising SecondsOut ranked fighters, Tomoki Kameda and Julio Ceja are ranked in the top six, but both could use another year to develop into elite class professionals. Stephane Jamoye, who just knocked off number two ranked Lee Haskins and is bound to end up highly rated next month, appears a little too wild and susceptible to Yamanaka’s big punch and would likely end up on the losing end of a one-sided KO. Unless he vacates his world title strap, Shinsuke Yamanaka is a lock to be champion into 2014.
Those Who Will Go:
Chad Dawson - Connecticut’s Dawson absorbed one of the most debilitating defeats of 2012. In ten of the most lopsided rounds of boxing one could imagine, Andre Ward reduced Dawson’s previous momentum to ashes. It was the kind of defeat that ruins a career. On top of it, Dawson, 31-2 (17), has a tragic flaw: he is overly brave in selecting his matches. After facing Adrian Diaconu, Bernard Hopkins twice, and then Ward, Bad Chad is now actively seeking redemption against the first man to conquer him in Jean Pascal. To go from one fight to the next would be a daunting task for any contender or champion and I applaud Dawson for trying to do so. I hope my Connecticut brother can be successful, but my head and gut tell me he won’t. Mentally, I just don’t think Dawson will be ready even though Pascal himself just ended a lengthy layoff and may not physically beat at his best. Bad Chad also has all the tools to win, but as we saw in the first fight, Dawson could not apply them successfully enough to overcome Pascal’s drive to win. Pascal swarmed Dawson and got him to stop punching, a trend we saw in the Ward fight as well. Pascal should be extremely confident going in because he knows he can win and will be asked to do so once again in Canada. Even worse, Dawson knows Pascal can beat him. My guess is that by spring-time, Chad Dawson, 30, will be a former world champion on the mend long before 2014 arrives
Krzysztof Wlodarczyk - Poland’s Wlodarczyk, 31, should have been dethroned in 2011 and 2012 in each of his two bouts with Francisco Palacios. In his only other 2012 appearance, Wlod had to rally to stop Danny Green while trailing on a three scorecards. It’s going to be tough with the protection of a home-field advantage, but I see just the contender on the horizon to do it! The WBC rates Wlod’s old nemesis Giacobbe Fragomeni number one and I am pretty sure that bout will happen in 2013. After two high-volume punch-a-thons with Silvio Branco, Fragomeni proved he can still mix it up, but he’s probably a little too old for a successful title run at forty-three. Wlodarczyk’s 47-2-1 record is impressive and full of experience, but the big threat I see down the road is Rahkim Chakhkiev, who should soon be in the number one spot once Fragomeni is out of the way. The powerful Russian is a murderous puncher and should be able to wear the champion down to the body for a late round stoppage in a breakout win. No guarantees this fight happens. For all we know, we’ll see Branco getting the title shot instead, and, even still, I expect a couple exciting bouts for Wlodarczyk in 2013 and will go out on a limb to say he loses.
Miguel Vazquez - The Mexican lightweight champion could probably go on forever if he sticks to fighting his top ten, which includes four men he’s already beaten and two vacant spots at top! However, in his HBO debut, Vazquez was unimpressive in defeating Marvin Quintero, who earned a draw on my card. Colombia’s Darley Perez is highly rated at third, but cooled down a bit in 2012 with a string of mediocre showings. Vazquez is probably too refined for Perez as he was for Mercito Gesta in his last fight. Raymundo Beltran is streaking right now, but also shows signs of easy fodder for Vazquez, who is more elusive and skilled than his recent opposition. Antonio Demarco will possibly be entering the IBF’s rankings now that he is no longer WBC champion and he presents a formidable threat for the champion, but that’s not where my money is going. Vazquez appeared on HBO this year and a the high-profile Marquez-Pacquiao IV pay-per-view card. His name is being built for one person and one person only: Adrien Broner. HBO is looking to groom Broner into a superstar as Floyd Mayweather is likely entering the final chapters of his career. Nabbing a unification bout is just the thing for Broner in the wake of his recent defeat of Demarco. Having looked considerably more vulnerable in recent outings than Ricky Burns, Vazquez fits this role well. Again, this pick relies heavily on a Broner match being made, but I have a hunch it will and I’m sticking with it. Come 2014, Vazquez will be just another lightweight contender.
Abner Mares - Right now, Mares is the only fighter whose strength of schedule can match Carl Froch’s. The difference: he’s still unbeaten. However, my feeling is that this will not last for long and Mares will soon be back to contender status. The WBC super bantamweight champion has numerous Mexican contenders in his top ten to pick from including Victor Terrazas, Cristian Mijares, and Hugo Cazares. If a major fight doesn’t come his way, the vulnerable Terrazas is a solid bet in the number one spot. However, his chances of winning seem slim. The bout that must happen for Mares, and should in 2013, is a showdown with Nonito Donaire. Donaire put in a 2012 Fighter of the Year performance and is in dire need of a Super Fight in 2013. Mares is also his only suitable option. This fight makes as much sense as any top five match-up in the game and both parties have shown the balls to make it happen and make it memorable. However, I just think Donaire is a cut above everyone, even Mares, who looked sensational in his last outing against Anselmo Moreno. Mares has bested punchers and boxers, but can he handle one of the top three fighters in the world today? I think not and it might not even be that close. As long as he avoids Donaire, Mares reigns on, but I think the fight has become too big for that. Abner Mares’ days as champion are numbered.
Brian Viloria - I feel like I am going bold this year! Viloria’s career is as hot as it has ever been as the world’s best flyweight has finally lived up to the potential some saw as the former Olympian turned professional. Right now, the WBO/WBA champion is on a scorching run, but he has two dangerous top ten contenders who just might catch him off guard if some of his inconsistency returns. Milan Melindo is a dangerous boxer, who has learned to punch a little himself. The unbeaten Pinoy fighter is a little under-seasoned, but it could be a break-out performance for one of the more deserving challengers in the sport. As the number one challenger for the WBO and with his Filipino background, the fight might be easy to make happen. The WBA’s top-rated challenger Rocky Fuentes is also a deserving challenger with a budding resume and he too could pose problems to a less than focused Viloria, who would be stepping down in name value if the fight was made. Both are fun match-ups to consider, but not the biggest threats out there. Viloria just disposed of Hernan Marquez to unify the two belts, but a rematch still may loom in 2013. Marquez has shown an ability to improve himself for rematches against Luis Concepcion and Richie Mepranum. It’s hard to imagine Viloria being as good as last time and one could expect Marquez to be a tad better. It’s feasible, but this not where I see it happening. Roman Gonzalez is the big fight for Viloria right now and more serious talk has surfaced regarding this bout than at any time prior. Viloria is the real deal, but Gonzalez is the second coming of Ricardo Lopez. I have not seen a fighter box with such precision and land with as lethal intention since the greatest little man in history retired. Gonzalez would be equally matched though as he has never seen anything like Viloria. This match-up stands up right alongside Carbajal-Gonzalez and Alvarez-Lopez. The Hawaiian Punch’s power and will to win are huge summits to topple when he is properly motivated and I have no doubt Gonzalez will bring the best Viloria into the ring. It’s a pick ’em fight probably, but I will go with the Nicaraguan to win via decision after scoring a knockdown along the way. Viloria will not be champion at the end of 2013.
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