2015: Champions who will stay, who will go and prospects to keep an eye on-part III
Today, we wrap up my predictions for 2015, delivering the final installment of a three-part preview covering every division. The finishing segment presents an overview from middleweight to heavyweight, housing some of boxing’s traditional glory divisions, revealing the choices for a champion who will stay, a champion who will go and a prospect to keep an eye on. The titlists from the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO were evaluated in selecting the champions whom I believe will keep or lose their belts. Only the sanctioning bodies’ real champions are considered, so do not expect to see “interim,” “diamond,” “silver” or “regular” champs (which the alphabet bandits created to make extra money) listed. The one limitation I have for selecting the boxer to watch out for in 2015 is that the man chosen must not have had a world title opportunity yet and I also try to limit that choice to younger boxers with less visibility at this time. A belated Christmas present for them, if you will.
There is no doubt whom the boss of this division is! Sure, Miguel Cotto may still carry more name recognition (and The Ring magazine championship belt he took from Sergio Martinez) but if they meet in the ring this year, Gennady Golovkin leaves a winner while Cotto exits stage left on the retirement ramp. That star power Golovkin undoubtedly possesses will need to burn bright for a couple years since there are not many exciting young talents coming up the ranks.
Champion who will stay: Gennady Golovkin – At 32, may be past his athletic prime but surely has one of the best boxing brains in the sport that compensates for slowing reflexes helping to fashion an aura of beast-mode invincibility that aids the Kazakh hitman as well. Has taken “baby-faced assassin” image to HBO heights not seen since the days of Marco Antonio Barrera, with genius punch selection and accuracy of which NASA computers would be envious. No one beats Golovkin (who stays busier than most champions) at middleweight and if he loses at all, it is at super middleweight to Andre Ward where his WBA belt would not be at stake.
Champion who will go: Miguel Cotto – The more obvious choice is Jermain Taylor but he is likely to get an easy first title defense and there is a possibility he goes to jail, putting the IBF belt in limbo. I chose Cotto because I doubt he is able to resist the Canelo Alvarez payday for the entire year. I also believe the valiant Puerto Rican loses that grudge match to his Mexican rival. In fact, I can see scenarios where every 160-pound champ (Andy Lee, Cotto and Jermain Taylor) not named Golovkin loses his title in 2015.
Will rise in 2015: Dmitry Chudinov – Erratic Russian can be brilliant or pedestrian, often in the same fight but has indisputable skills and ring intellect when properly focused. Made a name for himself sparring Mexican toughmen Alfredo Angulo and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on equal terms, which is not a surprise given his excellent amateur background and stocky physical dimensions. Came of age in 2014 besting fellow young gun Patrick Nielsen and veteran Mehdi Bouadla but needs to fight more often entering his best athletic period at age 28. As far as weaknesses, ideally would be a bit faster in hand speed department and rarely focuses on defense, allowing himself to be drawn into needles battles given his amateur credentials and sense of distance. Also considered Japan’s Olympic gold medalist Ryota Murata, Poland’s Maciej Sulecki and American prospect Hugo Centeno Jr. but Chudinov’s intangibles drew me to him.
Sadly, the most talented boxer (Andre Ward) won’t fight because of promotional problems but the division has not been in a holding pattern as others position themselves for a potential payday with Ward by challenging each other. As has been the case for nearly three decades, the bulk of talent at 168 pounds resides in Europe but Americans finally broke the stranglehold of the Europeans in the 2010s. There is some good American-based talent coming up the ranks.
Champion who will stay: Arthur Abraham – A risky pick, since the 34-year-old slugger has not been anywhere near as consistent at 168 pounds as he was as a dominant middleweight champion. Chose Abraham for his potential schedule in 2015 more than any belief I have that he is the best titleholder. Fights Paul Smith (whom he decisioned widely and somewhat controversially in September) next in a very winnable outing and will probably fight a third time against Robert Stieglitz to round out 2015. That is a tough fight to predict but the odds say Abraham has a better chance of winning that fight than Anthony Dirrell has of retaining his WBC title. I did not pick Andre Ward because he could be stripped for not defending his title as he has been out of the ring for 13 months and does not have a defense scheduled.
Champion who will go: Anthony Dirrell – Drew against and beat Sakio Bika in two close and ugly title fights but Bika is hardly a refined opponent and Dirrell has a murderer’s row of young talent rated by the WBC with George Groves, Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and James De Gale all sporting talent and big money backers. Dirrell has a great backstory of beating non-Hodgkin lymphoma but lacks that one defining skill to retain his title against potential challengers and the WBC will strip him in a heartbeat to get a bigger money maker in his place.
Will rise in 2015: Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez – Edges out Fedor Chudinov despite Sanchez facing a very dangerous Maxim Vlasov in his next fight. But if he wins, Sanchez could be a HBO headliner who demands a title shot by the end of 2015. Mexican mauler’s refined skills are hidden by his exciting southpaw style and are developing more and more since the 23-year-old is very active, already possessing 30 pro victories while stopping 24 of those victims. Has a charismatic presence in and out of the ring and a built-in Mexican fan base combined with Top Rank Promotions’ knowhow should open doors for Sanchez’s fists to fly through. Rocky Fielding and Jesse Hart were two Americans considered but have not had wins over notable names yet.
At last, two exciting punchers (Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson) have taken over a division ruled by spoilers like Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver in the past. Given managerial and network squabbles between HBO and Showtime, I doubt Kovalev meets Stevenson in 2015 but there are some decent challengers to keep both busy until that time comes.
Champion who will stay: Sergey Kovalev – The choice comes down to whom I think wins a fight between Kovalev and Stevenson and Kovalev’s dominant decision over Bernard Hopkins shows he can box at the highest level as well as slug, which Stevenson has not proven yet. List of challengers is not overwhelming since Kovalev beat the best challengers in 2014, leaving beatable foes Nadjib Mohammedi, Jürgen Brähmer and Jean Pascal as mandatory challengers for 2015.
Champion who will go: Adonis Stevenson – Before Stevenson looks too far ahead, he’d better focus on fellow Canadian-based mandatory challenger Eleider Alvarez of Colombia, who has the controlled aggression that is tailor-made to topple an unorthodox slugger like Stevenson. So that is not an easy title defense, which is another reason I am picking Stevenson instead of Kovalev, who has shown in the past that he likes to challenge himself – and Stevenson in a very brash manner (calling Stevenson “a piece of shit” in a post fight interview)!
Will rise in 2015: Artur Beterbiev – Russian terror (of Chechen heritage) is a considerable distance ahead of other prospects Egor Mekhontsev, Vasily Lepikhin and Erik Skoglund but only edges Eleider Alvarez on basis of beating fading former champion Tavoris Cloud. While Beterbiev is not on a Vasyl Lomachenko-like fast-track, he did dominate and knock Tavoris Cloud out in only his sixth fight and has an amateur pedigree that lead to two Olympic appearances despite his style being more suited for the pros. That shows in Beterbiev stopping all seven of his opponents, using what can be best described as a seek-and-annihilate mentality, with no foe lasting past the fourth round. At 29, is primed to take on big challenges and as an aside or way to build interest…Beterbiev defeated Sergey Kovalev twice in the amateurs.
Once thought of as a joke division, in which boxers moving up from light heavyweight but not big enough to take on the heavyweights hung out until they matured enough to take on the big boys. That is not the case anymore! The cruiserweight division is probably the most competitive in boxing and though not recognized for it in the last 10 years, has been one of the most exciting in boxing as well. The names may be unfamiliar and foreign but if you take the time to watch them on YouTube or live streaming sites, you will not be disappointed in the time you spend getting to know them.
Champion who will stay: Marco Huck – Maybe my favorite boxer of the 2000’s. Huck is an underappreciated boxer whose brawling style nearly led to a heavyweight title after dropping a very disputed decision to Alexander Povetkin in what may be the most dramatic heavyweight title fight this century. A throwback fighter but despite a reputation as a pure banger, Huck is deceptively adroit using specific tactics to generate positive results. Is very popular in Germany, the face and head of a campaign for immigrant integration into German society, Huck does not need to leave the country to make money. Number one challenger Krzysztof Glowacki is good but not excellent and Huck may try his luck at heavyweight again, leaving the title he defended in limbo until the end of 2015.
Champion who will go: Grigory Drozd – Don’t like making this pick, as I always backed the Russian as an undervalued competitor whose one loss to Firat Arslan in 2006 set him back five years…that is how deep this division is for challengers! It was a hard choice between Drozd and Denis Lebedev but I think Rakhim Chakhkiev is a more well-rounded, number one challenger than Youri Kalenga, whose style is not as conducive to “taking the title” from a champion. Given almost any cruiserweight title fight is a 50/50 proposition, I can see any champ losing his title but going straight by the odds, I am picking Drozd over a more shopworn Lebedev.
Will rise in 2015: Oleksandr Usyk – Character actor Michael Berryman lookalike Usyk [Editor’s note: Professor Mulcahey has a point! But a younger version at that…] is just about as scary an SOB in the ring, stopping all six of his pro foes in ruthless fashion. A two-time Olympian for Ukraine, he came home with the gold in 2012 and was quickly signed by the Klitschkos’ promotional team. Record of 335-15 in amateurs speaks to his abilities and there is brute force and aggression behind those numbers that is hard to measure but certain to gain him American fans. Goes to body and head in the same determined fashion and because punches come from southpaw stance, they lend the added impact of incalculability. Already scheduled for a 12-round fight but so far, no one been able to take Usyk past nine rounds. At 27, is in near physical prime and should be a force for years to come. There were plenty of other choices like Russian Dmitry Kudryashov, Cuban Yunier Dorticos or Latvian Mairis Briedis but there is a lack of Americans, with Jordan Shimmell being the best choice.
There has not been much drama in the division but it looks like a changing of the guard is near with Wladimir Klitschko signing an agreement with HBO that could see him to retirement in 2016. If you take out Klitschko, this is a intriguing realm featuring plenty of styles and personalities that could reignite interest in a moribund division. But until Klitschko vacates the battlefield, his superiority leaves little in terms of headline-making storylines.
Champion who will stay: Wladimir Klitschko – Not even the welcome distraction of a newborn son will dethrone King Wladimir, a first ballot Hall-of-Famer who does not lose focus. Yes, Klitschko is getting older but he has not shown any signs of losing steam and his style is based on intelligent ring movement and clinching instead of speed or reflexes. His ramrod jab and one-punch stopping power will be the last things to go and Klitschko is too intelligent to retire before it is too late on the back of a loss. 2015 will mark 11 years in a row without a loss, a fantastic legacy to leave behind.
Champion who will go: Bermane Stiverne – Given he holds the only title (WBC) not in the hands of a Klitschko, the Canadian (by way of Haiti) is the only logical choice. Stiverne has exceeded my expectations but has a tough defense coming his way against American Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder. There is an outside chance he rounds out the year with a showdown against Wladimir Klitschko. That power-packed line-up is not conducive to title retention in any weight class.
Will rise in 2015: Anthony Joshua – Could have gone with more rounded Andy Ruiz Jr. but the talented kid just can’t seem to get in optimal shape and may end up being a more technical Chris Arreola. Tyson Fury has already been in big fights, so I omitted him and German Erkan Teper is intriguing but untested. England may have found its perfect heavyweight in Anthony Joshua, a boxer who could combine the boxing ability of Lennox Lewis with the affability of beloved Frank Bruno. Joshua has only been boxing for six years, starting late at age 18, but is not intimated by that and reportedly did very well when invited to spar Wladimir Klitschko a couple months ago. Has the right size, sporting a 6’6” athletically chiseled 235-pound body, helping him stop all 10 of his opponents. Is on a fast track, fighting seven times in 2014, Joshua is scheduled to fight known spoiler Kevin Johnson, which should tell us more about his mental strength in dealing with the American’s frustrating style. At 25, has plenty of time to improve and his promoters are readying him to swoop in and reclaim British dominance once Wladimir Klitschko retires.