I Said That? My 2009 Preview Review
Readers that visit multiple boxing websites are sure to notice how easy it is for journalists to make predictions; certain in the knowledge that few will remember what they wrote in a year’s time. But here at Maxboxing, we have high standards and are held accountable for what we write. With those thoughts in mind, every year I venture back in time and review my predictions for the previous year. Take a look around the ‘Net. I don’t think you will find another boxing website or publication doing the same. A shame really, since writers should be like the boxers we cover and learn from past mistakes while expounding on positives.
In this 2009 Preview Review, I revisit my predictions in every weight class for a champion who will stay, a champion who will go and a boxer to watch out for. I do not make any changes to the predictions from last year; removing any temptation to make myself look better through minor removal of irrelevant content. This means I have to separate this feature into three parts, in order to keep the word count below that of an Alexander Dumas novel. At the end of 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: Oleydong Sithsamerchai
What I said: The champion just dispatched his number one challenger, countryman Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym, by a wide unanimous decision. He also took the title from Eagle Kyowa, one of the best strawweights of the last ten years, and impressed me with sharp punching and nimbleness. Unlike many Thai champions, Sithsamerchai does not rely on brute strength or incessant pressure. The tiny Thai has the skills to retain the title; no matter the opposition put before him. He also has the advantage of fighting out of his homeland and he comes at challengers from a southpaw stance.
Grade – A: Would have given myself an “A+” if Sithsamerchai had not struggled somewhat scoring a majority decision win, two months ago, in his last fight against a skilled Juan Palacios. Otherwise, Sithsamerchai won a total of four fights in 2009; notching a win over faded but still dangerous Muhammad Rachman. Made two non-title defenses against no-hope opponents as well; keeping the young champ active between title defenses.
Champion who will go: Donnie Nietes
What I said: The Filipino should have no problem in his February title defense against Mexican Erik Ramirez, but a tough mandatory fight against sturdy Manuel Vargas awaits him sometime in 2009. I am not overly confident Nietes will lose this year, but he is the weakest of the four champions. It is a strong division, so I am going with the weakest link, and there is a chance Nietes might step into the ring four times this year. A fight with countryman Florante Condes is a possibility as well, since it is an attractive fight in the Philippines that would create a good live gate.
Grade – C: Gave myself a “C” since I did get his two title challengers correct; even though neither gave an improving Nietes the trouble I expected them too. I thought having to travel to Mexico would give Nietes more trouble than it did, but he came through well; scoring decision wins on foreign soil. Also, I did say, “I am not overly confident Nietes will lose this year, but he is the weakest of the four champions.” I stand by that.
Will rise in 2009: Nkosinathi Joyi
What I said: I debated about whether to select Joyi, and it was not because of a lack of talent. He is the IBO champion and sometimes that can interfere with a title shot with the big four sanctioning bodies. I currently rate Joyi ,19-0 (15), as the third best strawweight and his style would entice me to pick him to beat all but Sithsamerchai with a good degree of confidence. At 25, the South African is in his prime, but he needs to fight more often. In the last two years, Joyi has only fought three times, and he needs to put himself on display more often. However, the three fights were against quality opposition (Lorenzo Trejo, Sammy Gutierrez, and Gabriel Pumar AKA Boom Boom Toei), and he comprehensively destroyed all three opponents.
Grade – A-: Only fought once last year, but at least it was an IBF title eliminator. In that fight, Joyi swept every round dominating Florante Condes and should get a title shot at Raul Garcia sometime in 2010. My only regret with Joyi is that he does not fight more often!
Champion who will stay: Ivan Calderon
What I said: The Puerto Rican slickster is the Joe Calzaghe of the lighter weights; a man who has been overlooked and underappreciated for nearly a decade. Outside of Floyd Mayweather Jr., no one has flashed so many pure boxing skills. There is nothing Calderon cannot do inside the ropes.. Well, yeah there is one thing...he can’t knock people out. But his skills frustrate opponents to the extent that he does not need a finishing touch with his fists, as his opponents are kayoed mentally by mid-fight. The only chink in his armor is that a kayo is not likely if he were to need it late in a fight. As the biggest payday at junior flyweight, he will attract excellent challengers and because he is in the later stages of his career, this could be a dangerous pick. However, his skills are so superior that I cannot use conventional wisdom to judge him. Calderon is that good and he is putting up Hall of Fame numbers.
Grade – A: Had two hard fights against Filipino toughman Rodel Mayol, but never seemed in any danger of losing his title. If Calderon had any power at all, only six kayos in 34 fights, people might say he would have given the great Ricardo Lopez a run for his money. Even without that power, some could still make an argument for Calderon.
Champion who will go: Brahim Asloum
What I said: Heck, the Frenchman could lose his title outside of the ring if he does not do so in it. It has been over a year since he defended his title because of promotional problems and he has a decent list of challengers to boot. Another factor is that he moved down from flyweight to win the WBO junior flyweight title; so a case can be made that his recent inactivity will be even harder to overcome when weight factors are thrown into the mix. His two losses were by wide margins in his home country and came against the two best foes on his resume. I have a feeling that the former Olympic Gold medalist will falter again when a qualified challenger comes to town.
Grade – A+: Despite one fight in 2009, a kayo of weak Humberto Pool, Asloum lost his title for not making a title defense against the number one challenger. The reason Asloum did not fight was because he could not get a TV channel to televise the fight and instead of traveling or taking a pay cut, decided not to fight. Which is too bad, since the former French Olympic Gold Medal winner is a classy operator when he does step between the ropes.
Will rise in 2009: Suguru Takizawa
What I said: It is tough to find qualified boxers in this division who have not had title shots, mostly because of the activity of the champions and the financial need to fight good opposition in the lower weight classes. At 21, Takizawa has a lot of room to improve and his one loss was a close split decision that I would like to see him avenge. A lanky orthodox boxer, Takizawa might gain some added power as he matures physically as well. I chose him over current OPBF champion Yukio Wadamine, who did not convince in his regional title winning effort, in hopes that the two meet this year and he defeats Wadamine. A win would put Takizawa within striking range of a title at the end of 2009.
Grade – A-: Gave myself a lesser “A” since he won two fights in 2009, but I expected more from Takizawa. He struggled in his last ring appearance, winning a majority decision. Takizawa did do enough to merit a national title shot against fellow unbeaten Ryo Miyazaki, this February, so I might have just been a year too early in selecting Takizawa.
Champion who will stay: Nonito Donaire
What I said: Won the title impressively with a tremendous knockout of Vic Darchinyan, and has looked equally dominant in retaining the title, via kayo, against solid challengers. Still, I have my doubts about his holding on to the title past 2009. He has all the tools and, at 26, is in his prime, but I just get a sense that something is missing. It should be a pretty active year for him. Donaire will probably appear twice on American TV and probably have at least one fight in his native Philippines. He just dispatched of his number one challenger, South Africa’s Moruti Mthalane, but was aided by a cut that put his challenger’s rally on ice. A good, young champ whose youth and combination punching should hold the wolves at bay for the next 365 days.
Grade – C: Donaire is fashioning himself into a P4P boxer. Some will say I am generous to give myself a passing grade, since Donaire did vacate the title to move up in weight and win another belt. I did not see that coming, but believe Donaire would have kept his flyweight title had he not moved up in weight. Knocked his number one challenger out before moving up, which is another reason I gave myself a passing grade.
Champion who will go: Omar Narvaez
What I said: I might be one of the few boxing writers outside of Argentina who thinks Narvaez is the best flyweight in the world. So why am I picking against him? He has a tough mandatory defense scheduled against the naturally bigger American Rayonta Whitfield (a sign of respect is that he chose to face Whitfield on home turf), and the rest of the boxers in the WBO’s top ten are not bad either. Plus, Navarez is an active champion and there have been rumors that he wants to follow some of his countrymen and fight on the big stage in America. To do that, he will need to face good opposition and that could produce a chance of his getting clipped by a lucky punch or losing via cut. This is a case where I am playing the odds against my better judgment.
Grade – F: Note the flattering words I bestow on Narvaez before selecting him, as well as my final sentence of the preview. This was the choice I most regret from last year. Perhaps if Narvaez had come to America he would have lost? Also, he only fought twice last year (two kayo title defenses); which is probably a case of Narvaez preserving himself to extend his career. No matter. This is perhaps the most overlooked champion of the decade and I should not have picked against such a talented performer.
Will rise in 2009: Zolani Tete
What I said: Beats out fellow southpaw Cesar Seda Jr. on the strength of his power and a win over fellow South African prospect Xolani Ntese in early 2008. He is 21-years old, but has been given and handled a good mix of styles in his ten victories. A speedster with good pop on his punches, Tete showed impressive stamina in going 12 rounds against former gym-mate Ntese. One big concern is that he reportedly had an “epileptic fit and convulsions” during a run, but recovered fully and knocked out former African Boxing Union champ Francis Miyeyusho in his last fight. I don’t see Tete challenging for a title fight in 2009 (he is the champion of something called the World Boxing Foundation), but his blend of speed, power and ring charisma make him impossible to overlook.
Grade – A: Two fights, two first round kayos in 2009. Not a bad year and still I expect more from this talented performer. Now rated in the IBF and WBO top ten and he cracked The Ring magazine top ten poll. Needs to fight more than twice a year and, maybe if Tete had, he would be in the spot of a mandatory challenger by now. Which is the only way I see this talented fighter getting a title shot, since no champion is eager to see this guy standing across the ring.
Champion who will stay: Vic Darchinyan
What I said: The cocky Armenian has a tough title defense scheduled against Jorge Arce and he is likely to have at least one more difficult defense by the end of the year. The logical pick here would be Fernando Montiel, but I think the two will fight each other by the end of 2009 and Darchinyan has good stylistic matchup advantages. I cannot see the Arce fight being anything other than a war and whoever is forced to fight off their back foot will lose by kayo. A good money fight with Montiel should keep Darchinyan in the junior bantamweight division and making the weight does not seem to be an issue either. However, he is 32 years of age so the weight issue could creep on him. But Darchinyan’s power remains intact and his underrated boxing skills will give many the false security Cristian Mijares entered the ring with.
Grade – B: How can I give myself a passing grade when Darchinyan lost to Joseph Agbeko last year? Easy, that fight was at bantamweight and Darchinyan returned to junior bantamweight to defend his title after that loss. So, technically, he stayed. Also, the two wins at junior bantamweight, over Jorge Arce and Tomas Rojas, were quality stoppages against good challengers. Still, because of the loss, I did not give myself an “A.”
Champion who will go: Fernando Montiel
What I said: I really hate to pick against Montiel, especially given his run of great performances in 2007. He has become the “Anti-Barrera” in my mind; a slick boxer who has morphed into an exciting kayo machine over the last two years. But since Darchinyan holds the other three title belts, and the Aussie transplant is likely to win a head-to-head match, I have to go against my rooting interest. Montiel’s number one challenger is 40-year old Thai Pramuansak Posuwan, whom he has already beaten once; so that should not be much of a concern. He is likely to face the winner of Darchinyan-Arce by mid or late 2009, and I have already made my prediction, if that were to occur. If Arce does beat Darchinyan, I think Montiel’s chin and superior boxing skills will enable him to win a decision over Arce, but even that is no certainty.
Grade – B: The Darchinyan bout never materialized, but Montiel did vacate his junior bantamweight title to move up and win an interim title at bantamweight. Since I did not see the divisional jump coming, I decided not to give myself an “A.” Had a very difficult fight against Alejandro Valdez and was rescued by a cut rule in a fight that was changed from a loss to a technical draw by the Mexican boxing commission. Given his age and struggle with the hot-and-cold Valdez, I am still not sure whether the 30-year old is a spent force?
Will rise in 2009: Raul Martinez
What I said: The 26-year old Raul Martinez, a two-time American flyweight champion in the amateurs with a 70-20-1 record, has raced to a 24-0 start in just over four years. He may be the best prospect to come out of San Antonio since Robert Quiroga and he exhibits a nice combination of hand speed and intelligent ring movement. Martinez is a boxer foremost; whose rapid combination punches befit his nickname of “The Cobra.” Martinez began his career with a string of kayos (a 55% kayo ratio is flattering), but with the exception of the Victor Proa kayo, he has not scored an impressive stoppage since 2006. Martinez’ skills have kept him from being severely tested, but he did show composure in climbing off the canvas in his fifth pro fight and in the first round of a fight against Ilido Julio. In the Julio bout, Martinez displayed an aggressive streak by going for and getting a stoppage victory in the final round.
Grade – D: Given Martinez’s fourth round kayo loss to Nonito Donaire, some would suggest an “F” grade is more appropriate. Martinez never recovered from a first-round knockdown, but showed grit fighting back before Donaire put him down a third time in the third round. Donaire is a talented champion and I do not write off quality boxers after one loss. Martinez came back in October to score a win over journeyman Jonathan Perez, but will need to defeat a quality contender to put himself back into title consideration. Not enough for a passing grade though.
Champion who will stay: Joseph Agbeko
What I said: The Ghanaian just won a tougher than expected defense of his title against mandatory challenger William Gonzalez of Argentina and should get a relatively soft touch in his next fight. Even if he does face Gonzalez in a rematch, I think he will do better the second time around. He will not have a year’s worth of ring rust to shake loose and he won’t allow Gonzalez to get into a rhythm early. Plus, he is promoted by Don King, who has not kept his fighters all that busy as of late. The combination of solid skills, no mandatory and perhaps only two fights in 2009 make Agbeko my choice to retain his title.
Grade – C: I just can’t bring myself to give a failing grade for Agbeko, especially given the quality of opposition he faced in 2009. I was right about his schedule, only fighting twice in the year, but also thought Agbeko would be able to avoid the talented Yonnhy Perez until 2010. He surprised some by repelling the challenge of Vic Darchinyan, and was in a Fight-of-the-Year candidate against Perez. The scores from the judges did not reflect the closeness of the competition in the ring and I am sure both men were aged by the fight. At 29, Agbeko is still a force at bantamweight and a rematch with Perez would be must-see-TV for any boxing fan.
Champion who will go: Gerry Penalosa
What I said: The Filipino is 36-years old and has a history of erratic ring performances at the highest level. The perfect example of which was his one-punch body shot kayo of Jhonny Gonzalez. In that fight, Penalosa was losing and on the verge of becoming a stoppage loser before he rescued himself with a perfect punch to the liver. He looked good in his lone defense since then, against Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (whom he had beaten before), and is not scheduled for a bout yet. Even though four of his six losses have come by split decision, I can’t bring myself to trust Penalosa. He has a strong list of mandatories and will likely have to leave the Philippines to fight Eric Morel on a Golden Boy Promotions undercard bout.
Grade – A: Instead of leaving the Philippines to fight Morel, Penalosa had an even harder challenge in a title unification bout with Juan Manuel Lopez. Showed a ton of heart before trainer Freddie Roach rescued Penalosa from the furious fists of Lopez in the tenth round. At 37, probably should retire, but is scheduled to fight Eric Morel in a WBO title eliminator in February. That fight will surely decide his future as a contender.
Will rise in 2009: Abner Mares
What I said: A bit of a rarity among top-notch Mexican prospects in that Mares was an accomplished amateur; finishing with a 112-8 record. He brought home plenty of international medals as well and ended his run in the amateurs with an Olympic appearance. The smooth boxer, with solid pop in his mitts, also has Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio Beristain in his corner. It’s a solid combination that has been working its magic en route to a 17-0 record, with the 23-year old coasting through the standard opposition for a prospect. Has the backing of Golden Boy Promotions, so Mares should have little trouble getting a title shot when Beristain thinks the time has come.
Grade – B-: While Mares did not lose, it was an unfulfilling year; given he only had two wins over mediocre opposition. Mares was hampered by nagging injuries, but I expected his level of opposition to be elevated in 2009. Because it was not, I cannot give myself an “A” grade and even put a minus at the end of his B. Probably chose Mares one year too early.
Champion who will stay: Juan Manuel Lopez
What I said: How can we not be impressed by this southpaw’s prodigious talent? None of his three title fights have heard the bell ending the first round and he has scored a total of six knockdowns in those first-round stoppages. Destroyed the sturdy Daniel Ponce De Leon to win the title and no one in the WBO’s top ten looks like a threat. This will sound blasphemous to some, but I think Lopez could be the most destructive Puerto Rican fighter since Wilfredo Gomez. I doubt he can match the 13 defenses of Gomez (all by kayo), also at junior featherweight, but the 25-year old does have a chance. Because he does have the name to bring a big payday yet, Caballero and Vazquez are not likely to face him either. Lopez might be everything that the Puerto Rican people expected Miguel Cotto to be.
Grade – A: Would have given myself an “A+” if Lopez had not showed flaws getting by Rogers Mtagwa and I was lucky that Lopez did not move up in weight until 2010. Will fight Steven Luevano for the featherweight title next and is favored by most to win that bout. Made three title defenses in 2009, against good but not star quality opposition. Probably could have made ten more defenses given his talent, and lack of qualified contenders in the WBO.
Champion who will go: Israel Vazquez
What I said: It will surprise most that I chose Vazquez over Caballero, but hear me out. First off, there is no telling how Vazquez’s body will react after his three epic bouts against Marquez and he will be coming back from at least a one-year layoff. Plus, I do not think he will face a warm-up opponent and there is a chance Vazquez will fight Caballero in that return fight. That is no easy assignment, given the height and awkward punching angles the Panamanian road warrior creates. In no way do I think Vazquez has gotten complacent or lazy, but he has become the center of focus for a bunch of hungry challengers who are eager to pull him back to the pack. History tells us that defending the title is harder than winning it.
Grade – A: Only fought once in 2009, in late October, and struggled with an Angel Priolo who had not won a fight (losing six fights - five by kayo) since 2004! The Priolo bout was exciting, but might also be a clue as to how much the Marquez trilogy took from Vazquez. The champ did have to relinquish his WBC title, which is why I gave myself an “A.”
Will rise in 2009: Olivier Lontchi
What I said: The Canadian, by way of Cameroon, won my admiration in a tough ten-round fight with road tested Mexican Eduardo Garcia. He overcame a first-round knockdown and battled back valiantly to earn a draw. That’s right, a draw. Not every prospect has to have a perfect record and I’d rather they take on perfectly good opponents instead. Lontchi’s mid-round rally was impressive, as he nearly stopped Garcia in the eighth round and if it were a 12-round bout, he would have gotten the decision. The speedy combination puncher followed countryman Herman Ngoudjo to Canada and has not fought as a pro outside of Canada. He is trained by former champion Otis Grant, who thinks highly of his fighter. “Pound for pound, he is one of the strongest guys we have in the gym. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second putting him in with any of the champions at 122 pounds. We consider Juan Manuel Lopez the cream of the crop of the division and we’d take that fight also.”
Grade – D: Maybe if Lontchi had fought anyone but Juan Manuel Lopez, he would have won the title? I thought about a “C-“ grade, given the quality of opposition Lontchi lost to, but he did suffer two knockdowns in that stoppage loss. Valiantly fought through a rib injury, and a lot of punishment, before he was told not to come out for the tenth round. At 26, that was a wise decision by his corner and I look for Lontchi to rebound from this loss in 2010 to become a title challenger again by early next year.
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