I said that? The 2015 Preview Review: Part two
In Part One of the annual “Preview Review,” I lamented journalists making predictions in 2015, certain in the knowledge that few readers will remember what was penned 365 days ago. To write for the Undisputed Champion Network is to be held to a higher standard and it is interesting to see how my thought process led to correct conclusions or pitiful pratfalls. It can be shocking (as was the case with Wladimir Klitschko) how a short time span, of one year, can change perceptions to large extents. To that end, I venture back in time to review my predictions for 2015, a yearly ritual of evaluating choices that fluctuates between self-abuse and narcissism. Again, I encourage readers to take a look around the ‘Net. I don’t think you will find another sports website or publication taking the time to analyze its editorials from the past year.
In Part Two, I revisit predictions from junior middleweight to featherweight, examining my deductions for a champion who will stay, a champion who will go and a boxer to keep an eye on. I do not make any changes to predictions, removing the temptation to make myself look better through minor or subtle removal of erroneous or irrelevant content. That forces me to separate this feature into three parts in order to keep the word count below that of a Victor Hugo 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: Floyd Mayweather Jr. – The only way Mayweather is losing his title is if he is stripped by the WBC since Saul Alvarez has worked his way back up to No. 1 contender (where he could force an unnecessary rematch). More than likely, Mayweather is elevated to “Champion Emeritus” and Alvarez fights for a “regular” belt, which leaves Mayweather a de facto No. 1 contender who can enforce a title shot at a moment’s notice. There is a possibility Erislandy Lara legally compels a title shot in the WBA but, more than likely, that will only result in a Mayweather elevation as well. I just can’t see Mayweather losing his title inside the ring in 2015.
Grade: A – Mr. Mayweather became a rare boxing legend who retired without a loss and did so in fine style, finally defeating longtime nemesis Manny Pacquiao. I did not like the way Mayweather went about his business, dominating with a safety-first style and taunting fans as well as media with his ill-mannered persona. There was also the cloud of domestic violence hanging above Mayweather’s head, which darkened our sport as the media spotlight shone on Mayweather. In all, Mayweather did much better for himself than he did for boxing as a whole but I give Mayweather begrudging respect for what he did in the ring…even if it was never worth the pay-per-view money.
Champion who will go: Cornelius Bundrage – I respect Bundrage for getting the most out of his skills and career but, if given a choice of whom to back between him and Demetrius Andrade, regarding keeping a title, I have to play the odds and go with the talented young champion over “K9” Bundrage. There is no No. 1 or 2 contender in place yet by the IBF but HBO’s new kid Jermall Charlo and experienced Vanes Martirosyan are lurking around with former champ Austin Trout. All would enter a fight with Bundrage as betting favorites and HBO wants to build an attraction at this weight, so a unification fight with Andrade is a possibility. All are good paydays for Bundrage, which he should invest wisely as I do not see a long-term future for the 41-year-old. After all, that’s 287 in dog years.
Grade: A – Only fought once last year but it was enough for my prediction to come through as Bundrage lost his belt via third round stoppage against hotshot Jermall Charlo (more on him below). Bundrage’s time in the title picture looks to be over; he is only rated in the Top 15 by the IBF and thus pretty much shut out of any optional title defense opportunities for other champions.
Will rise in 2015: Jermall Charlo – May face Bundrage this year, giving me a double payoff in one fight. Texan has great mix of athleticism and ingrained boxing intuition, only developed by taking up boxing before his teens. Charlo grew up in a boxing family (his father was a pro), boxing by age nine, ending his amateur stint with a 56-8 record and representing America in international bouts. Charlo sports two-fisted power, using both to punch opponents into inaction with creative combinations. Described his style to writer Jon Reynoso, “Whenever I’m the ring, I always make sure that my fans are enjoying it and being entertained by me. My style is more about technique but I still go in like a bull when I want. I keep things different so my opponents don’t know what to expect for the remaining rounds.” Aspired to become a pastor early in life but, if Charlo develops into the fighter many think he can be, his opponents won’t have a prayer. Beats out a favorite of mine in Brad Solomon, once-promising but now-stagnating Jack Culcay, intriguing Patrick Teixeira and fast-rising Philadelphian Julian Williams.
Grade: A – Had a great near, warming up with a 10-round decision before annexing the IBF title from Cornelius Bundrage and squeezing in a defense as well. At 25, is in his athletic prime, and it looks like Charlo is set for a lengthy title run if he can maintain mental sharpness to match his physical abilities.
Champion who will stay: Kell Brook – Has two limiting factors this year: First, he has to overcome a injury (12-inch stab wound to his thigh) after being attacked by a knife-wielding assailant while on vacation in Spain. Even when he recovers, Brook will be frozen out of big-money bouts as the new kid on block, allowing the older guys to settle things. A major threat would have been young gun Keith Thurman but he has decided to continue defending the WBA interim title so that showdown will not happen in 2015. Jo Jo Dan and Kevin Bizier are Brook’s most likely challengers, which are winnable bouts that should take place in England. There’s also an outside shot of a rematch with Shawn Porter if he can rehabilitate his image after being dominated by Brook.
Grade: A – As predicted, a relatively uneventful year for Brook. With no lucrative national showdown against Amir Khan, the beltholder marked time with two easy title defenses against Jo Jo Dan and Frankie Gavin. Brook’s stock did rise without needing to enter the ring, as Shawn Porter beat Adrien Broner, making Brook look good by comparison. Lets hope 2016 features at least one high-level showdown, in America against Keith Thurman or Khan in England, since Brook has the tools to compete at the highest level.
Champion who will go: Manny Pacquiao – This choice comes down to whom I think wins a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao – who I do not think will ever fight each other anyway. If they fight, I will be rooting for “Pac-Man” but will put my money on Mayweather, so I must reluctantly pick a Pacquiao who may just retire in 2015 out of frustration if he does not get that mega-million showdown.
Grade: A – Glad that I listened to my brain instead of my heart with this choice, though I was wrong about “Pac-Man” retiring as he has one more fight scheduled in 2016, that I hope is Pacquiao’s well-deserved swan song.
Will rise in 2015: Keith Thurman – While I think the 40-year-old Leonard Bundu was being underestimated by American audiences, I couldn’t see him pulling the upset and defeating a prime Thurman. A rangy puncher with frightening power, Thurman has star potential. Began boxing at age seven, training for power to accentuate his natural strength, emulating idols Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran. Employs a relaxed, fluid style, despite standing a bit straight and lacking a consistent jab (using it as a range finder), Thurman can hurt opponents with either hand but starts and finishes majority of victims with a striking left hook. Probably will never get a big payday against Mayweather or Pacquiao but has the potential to establish a legacy all on his own. Sadam Ali, Jose Zepeda and outsider Australian Jeff Horn were other considerations but are not as complete or tested as Thurman.
Grade: A – Yes, a safe pick but not without its dangers, given Thurman’s want to push himself against elite opposition before fully realizing his potential. Did win a world title when he was elevated to full champion by the WBA after Floyd Mayweather retired and looks ready for HBO main event-type challenges, showing heart and resilience in wins over Luis Collazo and Robert Guerrero.
Champion who will stay: Lamont Peterson – Tough call here; Danny Garcia has a good chance to lose his title, since he will have a difficult run of foes after having been given two easy defenses to make up for tough Lucas Matthysse fight that was pushed on him. Peterson’s mandatory challenger is undefeated Cesar Cuenca, who has all of two knockouts in 49 fights, and the rest of the IBF Top 10 is beatable, as Peterson is also likely to have a hometown crowd to back him. I doubt Peterson’s team puts him in against the same Matthysse who knocked him out in three rounds and that potential hurdle is also a hard sell to TV networks. It won’t be an exciting or overly profitable year for Peterson but uneventful means two title defenses and maybe a unification payday against Danny Garcia in early 2016.
Grade: D – Did not lose his title in the ring, deciding to give up his belt for a lucrative showdown with Danny Garcia that he lost, forcing me to make this a failing grade. Rebounded with a competent win over undefeated Felix Diaz and Peterson remains a threat for anyone from junior welterweight to welterweight. If he were to move back down to 140 pounds, Peterson would be a good bet to regain his title against Eduard Troyanovsky.
Champion who will go: Chris Algieri – Usually boxers who move up in weight have a hard time boiling back down to their regular division, especially a tall 140-pounder like Algieri, who is also likely to take extra time off after scoring the Manny Pacquiao payday. Even if Algieri makes weight, he then has the unenviable task of holding off hard-punching, mandatory challenger Lucas Matthysse. Never mind that many people think Algieri did not deserve to win a decision over Ruslan Provodnikov, who is also out there as a possible foe in 2015.
Grade: A – Algieri has no enviable options last year, paydays aside and ultimately was stripped of his WBO 140-pound title. Lost to Amir Khan in a lopsided but respectable fashion at welterweight. The setback showed Algieri will lose to the elite but, against anyone outside of the Top 8 or so, he remains a fun competitor to watch and even odds to exit with a victory.
Will rise in 2015: Viktor Postol – I hesitated picking the Ukrainian because he is already 30 years old and I was going to go with Thomas Dulorme before he again proved inconsistent against a B-level opponent. There was also Frankie Gomez but his personal life is too erratic while Antonio Orozco was at the opposite end of spectrum as he is too pedestrian in the flash department. There was also German Timo Schwarzkopf, who made himself a dark horse, defeating Junior Witter over a year ago. Amir Imam also got a look in but is with Don King, so he won’t get TV opportunities that drive title opportunities for American boxers. Postol is not the most glamorous choice but he is a good all-around boxer (over 200 amateur victories will do that for you) with good size. In his last fight, he knocked out Turkish terror Selcuk Aydin. Also beat Henry Lundy in a more conclusive fashion than Dulorme and the clincher is that Postol has won hard fights on the road.
Grade: A – If I were giving out “A-pluses”, one would be reserved for this choice, as Postol shocked the majority of the boxing world, stopping Argentine executioner Lucas Matthysse after dominating the majority of the fight. The lanky Ukrainian uses his size expertly and would not seem out of his depth against pound-for-pound entrant Terence Crawford if that showdown were to happen at the end of 2016!
Champion who will stay: Richar Abril – Consistent spoiler who no high-profile boxer wants to fight, thus will be challenged by first-time title hopefuls or invited overseas to defend his title for extra money. There is no denying Abril’s awkwardly effective skill set but those positives for him are shunned by American TV networks as Miguel Vazquez was before him. At 32, is not likely to develop a new approach and has a winnable defense against once-beaten (by Yuriorkis Gamboa) Venezuelan Darleys Perez, who is defending the “interim” WBA title in January. With a winnable mandatory and nobody marketable wanting to face Abril, he should celebrate another year with his belt intact.
Grade: F – The habitually under-motivated Abril (fighting once in 2012, 2013, 2014, and not at all in 2015) continues to disappoint, losing his title through inactivity, not entering a boxing ring all of last year. Too bad, I think Abril would have defended his title in Australia, as always in a boring but competent manner, against current WBA beltholder Anthony Crolla as he did against Swede Edis Tatli in 2014.
Champion who will go: Mickey Bey – I could cheat and list Terence Crawford or Omar Figueroa, who have made mission statements to leave the division but, at this time, still hold their title belts. However, I hesitate taking their words if there is a payday awaiting that would once more make cutting weight for a naturally smaller Mikey Garcia as an impetus. So, I am left with a Mickey Bey (suspended for testosterone use in 2013) who was pretty much gifted a decision over Miguel Vazquez in a dreadful fight, in which judges falling asleep seems a plausible excuse for their scoring. Bey is a solid boxer but if put in against Mikey Garcia, a rematch with Vazquez or mandatory challenger Denis Shafikov, is likely to end up leaving the ring minus one stained belt.
Grade: A – It was the year of inactivity at lightweight, as Bey was also stripped of his title for not defending in a timely manner. Bey did make a ring return two weeks ago, at lightweight, so weight was never an issue but, given his limited appeal, will have to rely on Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s promotional arm to get him an expensive title shot. That seems unlikely, given Bey lost his title because he backed out of a Denis Shafikov title defense because Bey’s share of the purse was only $58,500.
Will rise in 2015: Dejan Zlaticanin – Not only is the top of this division weak, I don’t see any relief in the future, as well as no real talented standout prospect knocking the door down, demanding a title shot. It came down to the very good but unexceptional Masayoshi Nakatani of Japan, Ghanaian Richard Commey, South Africa’s Xolisani Ndongeni, England’s Terry Flanagan and Russian Eduard Troyanovsky. All have flaws or lack the promotional muscle to paper over those flaws, so there is no surefire champion in that bunch. Settled on consistent work rate of burly Montenegran southpaw Zlaticanin, who is on a hot streak, defeating former champion Ricky Burns and solid contender Petr Petrov but, at age 30, does not have much time to capitalize on those wins.
Grade: A – I was not one of the American boxing pundits who thought it was an upset when Zlaticanin blitzed TV favorite Ivan Redkach over four one-sided rounds. Gave myself an A, despite this being Zlaticanin’s only fight in 2015, because it was a spectacular American debut and looks like a foreshadowing of things to come from the stocky Montenegran mauler.
Champion who will stay: Rances Barthelemy – There is a possibility countrymen and fellow titleholders Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura fight each other late in 2015. So I am going with a Cuban few well-managed contenders will want to fight anyhow for fear of looking bad or losing on the big stage. Puerto Rican Jose Pedraza is Barthelemy’s No. 1 contender but he has a history of losing to pure boxers at the highest levels in his long amateur career. Stylistically, Barthelemy is in a good position there. I have been pretty negative about Barthelemy’s style but, let’s not forget, he is an excellent boxer with great size who has the ability to beat any of the reigning champions, making this the logical pick.
Grade: C – I thought there was a possibility Barthelemy vacated his title, which came to pass but took a chance, given the lack of paydays at lightweight. Did not give myself a failing grade since Barthelemy won three times and would have surely defended his title at 130 pounds, given the opportunity.
Champion who will go: Orlando Salido – Aging Mexican brawler has never been a favorite of mine, even before proud pronouncements after his unprofessional weight farce that aided Salido’s questionable win over Vasyl Lomachenko. The 34-year-old showed his current weaknesses in a fantastically exciting title win over Terdsak Kokietgym in Mexico, in which Salido was floored three times before rallying to score an 11th round stoppage. Retains a puncher’s chance in any fight but he has two pure boxers rated No. 1 and No. 2 in Francisco Vargas and Diego Magdaleno (by the WBO) respectively, waiting for him in 2015, which I can’t see him luring into brawls…or he will come in overweight again and lose his title that way.
Grade: B – Could see an A here, since Salido lost his title while suffering knockdowns in third and fifth rounds (also had a point deducted in 11th) in a thrilling fight against Roman Martinez last April. Then, it looked like Salido won his title back in a September rematch, only to have it ruled a draw in another controversial Las Vegas judges’ decision. Still, come 2016, the veteran banger will not hold a title, so a more than passing grade seems applicable.
Will rise in 2015: Javier Fortuna – An obvious choice but sometimes the obvious is also best decision. Because of Fortuna’s exhilarating style and dynamic personality, the 25-year-old southpaw is almost sure to get a title shot in 2015, though he does have a troubling tendency to look either Hall of Fame-worthy or plain ordinary when frustrated. Despite looking out of control and off-balance at times, Fortuna remains accurate and balanced while winging hooks that make Ricardo Mayorga’s look compact. Has earned the type of profile that gets title shots but is only ranked in the Top 5 with the WBA and WBC, which sport Japanese champions. Not sure if either can be lured to America or if Fortuna can get an off-TV title shot in 2015. There are other good up-and-comers all around the world like Adrian Estrella, Francisco Vargas, Romain Jacob and Rikki Naito.
Grade: B – Another spot in which I could give myself an A. Fortuna won the WBA “regular” version of the world title but, once again, Fortuna did not impress, only showing flashes of his ability in a largely uneventful win over sturdy but one-dimensional Bryan Vasquez. An equally pedestrian stoppage of overvalued Carlos Ivan Velasquez continues to leave fans of Fortuna frustrated but hopeful that he will blossom into an exciting champion in 2016.
Champion who will stay: Vasyl Lomachenko – I hesitate to pick the Ukrainian because he is the type of fighter who constantly looks to challenge himself, so Lomachenko will seek out the best competition and thus put his title reign in constant jeopardy. However, if Lomachenko does face any of the other champions, he is a good bet to defeat them, this despite his obvious lack of pro experience winning the title in only his third fight. Defeated mandatory challenger Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo in his last outing, so Lomachenko has no sanctioning body politics holding his ambitions back in 2015.
Grade: B – Two easy wins over no-name opposition has me wondering if Lomachenko is just a bigger version of Guillermo Rigondeaux? Not that there is anything wrong with that; Lomachenko continues to be an excellent technician and favorite of boxing connoisseurs. Unless Lomachenko starts to defeat foes with name recognition, he will never mature into the type of attraction like Gennady Golovkin, which he was projected to become at the beginning of 2015. Ultimately, a disappointing year, which is why I only gave a grade of B.
Champion who will go: Evgeny Gradovich – With distance, the least talented of the titleholders but Gradovich makes up for it with determination and a punch volume that smothers foes’ offense and escape paths. Because Gradovich is the weakest of the bunch, he will be targeted by blue-chip prospects and their promoters. Beat back the challenge of Jayson Velez with a split draw in his last fight but may have Abner Mares or Nonito Donaire knocking on his door in the near future. Both are bouts in which Gradovich could become the crowd favorite but betting underdog.
Grade: A – Never jumped on the Gradovich bandwagon. I argued against Gradovich in weekly THE RING magazine ratings discussions, an opinion justified when Englishman Lee Selby scored a lopsided technical decision win over him. Admittedly, Gradovich was hampered by a headbutt-induced cut over his eye but he is a one-dimensional boxer whose pressure tactics will not find success against foes with solid foot work, which the featherweight class is full of.
Will rise in 2015: Lee Selby – Good thing there is a lot of star power at 126 pounds right now because there is not a wealth of blue-chip talent in the pipeline. In four of his last six fights, Selby took undefeated records from foes, dispatching various styles with his fluid movement and exceptional sense of distance that allows Selby to potshot off-balance opponents. While he does focus on defense first, Selby seeks to create mistakes and fill those holes with punches immediately or leading with punches, once he has figured out the timing an opponent’s timing. A gym rat of the highest order, you can find Selby sparring champions from Wales to Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s facility in Las Vegas. I seriously contemplated two-time Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez for this spot and, to a lesser degree, Josh Warrington or and Kamil Laszczyk.
Grade: A – It is not often I score a double whammy in which my boxer ‘who will rise’ defeats the ‘champion who will go’. That is the case here, as Lee Selby fashioned a comfortable win over Gradovich using his speed and movement to punish the champ from angles. A further dominant victory over one time standout Fernando Montiel, on American soil, has given Selby some valuable exposure on American TV that may help the Welshman get a showdown with Leo Santa Cruz or Vasyl Lomachenko.
In Part Three, I roll down the final six weight classes from junior featherweight to strawweight.