I said that? The 2015 Preview Review: Part one
It is that time of the year for me again, my yearly ritual of evaluating predictions I made the previous year. It is an annual act which fluctuates wildly between self-abuse and narcissism. Visitors to sports websites are sure to notice how easy it is for writers to make predictions for the upcoming year, certain in the knowledge that few will remember what they wrote 365 days from now. Here at the Undisputed Champion Network, we have higher standards and are held accountable for what is published. With those thoughts in mind, I venture back in time to review my predictions for 2015. Look around the ‘Net; I don’t think you will find another website or sports publication doing the same. A shame really, since journalists should be like the boxers we cover and learn from past mistakes while expounding the positives.
In this evaluation/review I revisit predictions in every weight class for a champion who will stay, a champion who will go and a boxer who will rise. I do not make changes or abridge the predictions from last year, thus removing any temptation to make myself look better through the 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 JRR Tolkien 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: 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.
Grade: F – Not an ideal start to my predictions. We saw the beginnings of Klitschko’s demise in the less-than-dominant win over Bryant Jennings to start 2015, which were fully exposed by a awkward, bigger and quicker Tyson Fury. No matter, this was a clear failing grade for me. Simply put…I did not see this one coming!
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.
Grade: A – Was disheartened by the way Stiverne let his title go (even if it got me a good grade) against a more physically adept Deontay Wilder, since I was of the belief Stiverne could at least push the still-evolving Wilder to tough places. Instead, Stiverne looked lackluster as well as capitulant and an equally complacent comeback against Derric Rossy does not bode well for Stiverne’s return to titleholder status at age 37.
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-foot-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.
Grade: A – The Englishman looks like the real deal, steamrolling all five foes this year in less than eight rounds each. I like the mix of opponents defeated as well, from well-traveled gatekeeper Kevin Johnson to fellow aspiring young gun Dillian Whyte. The sky seems the limit for Joshua, already cracking the Top 10 in THE RING magazine rankings. If he continues to develop at this pace, will be ready to challenge Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury by early 2017. Lets hope he is not rushed in 2016, since Joshua is developing into an attractive heavyweight attraction both inside and outside of the ring.
Champion who will stay: Marco Huck – Maybe my favorite boxer of the 2000s. 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.
Grade: D – I did not give myself an F because Huck lost his title the way a champion should, in my opinion, running into a bomb of a punch trying to finish a foe he had dominated, since knocking him down in the sixth round. Huck led on every scorecard against Glowacki as he pushed for a definitive victory, so it was lamentable that this was Huck’s USA debut but at least the American audience got to appreciate Huck’s “all in” style of fighting that defined his title reign.
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, No.1 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.
Grade: D- Drozd only fought once this year, against unheralded Lukasz Janik, who was a late replacement for injured Krzysztof Wlodarczyk and I would have given myself an F if he had defended the title more than once. Drozd was favored to beat former champion Wlodarczyk but it certainly would have been a sterner test. At age 36, Drozd may be a repeat pick for me in 2016.
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.
Grade: B- I expected more than three ring appearances from Usyk but can’t complain about what the Ukrainian monster did when he stepped inside the ring stopping three competent foes. The other disappointment is he did not fight outside of his homeland, which is why I gave myself a B, as I see Usyk as the type of bold future champion who will travel well, facing challengers in all parts of the globe. It would be nice to see a great cruiserweight grace American shores again after such a length of dominance by European combatants and promoters on home soil.
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.
Grade: A- OK, this was not a hard pick but, given Kovalev’s willingness to challenge the best, it was the bolder of two choices and I graded accordingly. Kovalev took out his mandatory challenger and the toughest possible WBC challenger in Jean Pascal, so you have to respect the Russian for what he has done inside the ring even if his Tweets disappoint on a human level.
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)!
Grade: D – The 38-year-old continued avoiding tough challenges defeating Tommy Karpency and Sakio Bika, which almost everyone saw coming and protested to no effect. Stevenson was the only choice I had, given Kovalev holds the other titles, and I chose him as a matter of pride, so I won’t give myself an F given he probably loses to Eleider Alvarez or Kovalev if they ever get pushed into a challenging position by the WBC. (Editor’s note: In a sense, the Mad Professor is correct. THE RING stripped Stevenson of their belt due to “Superman” failing to defend it against one of its Top 5 contenders for 18 months.
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 led 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.
Grade: A – Beterbiev did about as good as you could without winning a title in 2015, achieving a Top 10 ranking in THE RING and stopping all nine career opponents to date. Unlike Usyk, he has fought in America and Canada, defeating two former world titleholders in the process. Only wish he had made more than two appearances in 2015 but is being navigated towards a title shot so he should be featured on Showtime or HBO many times this year.
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.
Grade: A – German veteran came through defending his title three times, though his last win was a split decision over always tough Martin Murray. Doubt I will ride Abraham next year given he is 35 and been through a lot of wars, not to mention Gilberto Ramirez is his No. 1 challenger.
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 DeGale all sporting talent and big money backers. Dirrell has a great backstory of beating non-Hodgkins 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.
Grade: A – I would not have put money on Badou Jack derailing Dirrell but Dirrell never looked the part of a long-reigning champion since his inconsistency from round to round was as prominent as his punching power. Given how his manager, Al Haymon, continually featured Dirrell in Premier Boxing Champions events, I look for him to get another crack at Badou Jack and a second reign is not out of the question, give both men’s past.
Will rise in 2015: Gilberto Ramirez – 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’ know-how 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.
Grade: B – I gave myself a B not because Ramirez did not impress in 2015 but I should have went with Fedor Chudinov, who annexed the WBA title in 2015 beating Felix Sturm. Still, Sanchez continued his rise, beating three solid foes by convincing decisions displaying the type of diverse boxing skills that lend to a title win once he gets an opportunity. So, while Chudinov beat Ramirez to a belt, I think Ramirez may hold on to a title for a lengthier time in the long run.
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.
Grade: A – Pretty much a “no brainer” pick, but there was a chance of Golovkin losing his belt by jumping weight classes in search of paydays or a quality foe willing to face him. Also, Golovkin is one of few champions who squeezes in voluntary title defenses between mandatories in which, if he is not 100% focused, there is the possibility of an upset.
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.
Grade: A – Nailed the loss to Alvarez but was honestly surprised when Cotto beat a (in hindsight) shot Sergio Martinez. I just wish he and his successor would present themselves as legitimate 160-pound middleweights, not negotiating with challengers or fellow titleholders to come in below the 160-pound limit that has been associated middleweights for 100 years.
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 needless 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.
Grade: F – Chudinov was stopped in the final round, of a WBA interim middleweight title fight, by English prospect Chris Eubank Jr., showing valor, fighting through two bad cuts from the second round on. Rebounded with three wins since but, given Chudinov’s erratic nature, not sure any champion will take a chance of running into the hot version in a voluntary defense.
In Part II, will feature choices from junior middleweight down to featherweight.