By Derek Bonnett: As we encounter another new year, the landscape of the boxing scene continues to evolve. With old champions acting out the final stages of their careers and new ones emerging to fill the void, boxing maintains a state of homeostasis and keeps fight fans intrigued even amid the dubious officiating and cries of scandal. Boxing, as always, will endure; however, not every participant with an alphabet title will be so lucky. Inevitably, the mighty will eventually fall and, sometimes, the unlikely will thrive.
I finished 8-2* at SecondsOut in regard to my ten 2015 picks, sort of (We’ll revisit this later in the article). Three of my champions held onto their belts, one title became vacant, and one champion was dethroned. Takashi Miura defended his WBC super featherweight title once against Billy Dib before being dethroned in what many saw as 2015’s Fight of the Year. By the time his fight with Francisco Vargas was signed, I actually picked Vargas for the win going against my earlier prediction of Miura as a champion to stay. Nicholas Walters failed to make weight prior to his bout with Miguel Marriaga and was stripped of the WBA featherweight title; however, he soundly outpointed Marriaga on fight night. Walters then moved up in weight and received a controversial draw against Jason Sosa, thus remaining unbeaten. Carl Frampton twice defended his title last year. First, he pounded Chris Avalos for a fifth round TKO, but later in the year he had to get off the canvas in the opening round to outpoint Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. I got a scare, but got the win as Frampton remained champion. Naoya Inoue was sidelined for most of the year due to a hand injury, but he returned to the ring in the closing hours of 2015 for a second round stoppage of Warlito Parenas to keep the WBO super flyweight belt around his waist. Roman Gonzalez performed well enough to be named SecondsOut’s Fighter of the Year. After a non-title affair to start the year, Gonzalez twice defended his WBC flyweight title with stoppages over Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria.
Once again, I was highly effective in choosing who was going to lose their championship status in 2015 as well. However, I have a couple asterisks to explain. Yoan Pablo Hernandez, ripe for the taking, opted to retire than defend his IBF cruiserweight title. Anthony Dirrell fought a close contest against Badou Jack, but was dethroned as prognosticated, losing his WBC super middleweight championship. Jermain Taylor, so unlikely to regain a championship in 2014, also lost his title, but not inside the ring. Taylor’s legal troubles saw him inactive and stripped of his IBF strap. Mickey Bey misguidedly vacated his IBF lightweight belt to move on to bigger and better matters in 2015. Instead, he toiled in the same division with much less attention on him. Amnat Ruenroeng actually proved me wrong, somewhat. I expected Ruenroeng to get screwed on the cards against Zou Shiming. Instead, he won a unanimous decision. However, the Thai ex-con should have been disqualified six times over in his second defense of the year against John Riel Casimero. The champion used every foul in the book to get the win. The IBF flyweight champion retained his title for a third time in a less dirty affair to remain champion throughout 2015.
So, when all is said and done. My much prettier 8-2 record really was more of a 4-2 with 4 no-contests! With boxing it can be increasingly difficult to determine which champions will do what, but fight aficionados can determine those results for themselves. If not, here’s my take on 2016 and which champions will remain and those who will go.
Those Who Will Remain:
Danny Jacobs sure has one hell of a story. The WBA’s "regular" champion positioned himself as the most credible threat to Gennady Golovkin at 160 pounds after sparking Peter Quillin in the first round just last month. Even though Jacobs looked a tad shaky against "The Latin Snake" Sergio Mora in his previous outing, I am predicting that the WBA titlist’s chin holds out and his boxing skills and punch prevail through 2016. Regrettably, I do not see a fight with Golovkin coming off. HBO and Premiere Boxing Champions will not work together on this one; at least not yet. So, that leaves a lot less intimidating field of contenders. The WBA’s number one rated interim titlist Alfonso Blanco has managed to go twelve rounds and defeat one quality foe, but not that "quality" of a foe. He lacks the big-time power that often comes with a South American unbeaten record, but sure has the filler we have come to expect resume-wise. Routine defense for Jacobs. The greater possibility could be Chris Eubank Jr., who at least brings a name into the ring with him even if it is his father’s. This Eubank is still a quality contender though and could provide Jacobs with a tense moment or two. His chin may not hold up and his stamina certainly won’t help if he finds himself matched with the "Miracle Man". There are other decent contenders or prospects in the mix, but my hunch is that Jacobs is head and shoulders above them as well. Should come-backing conqueror Dmitry Pirog find himself back at 160, I would expect Jacobs to get sweet revenge as well. I could envision an Andy Lee bout as well now that Lee is a ranked contender again. However, I see a beautiful KO for Jacobs if that contest happens. Look forward to another strong year from Jacobs in 2016. One that hopefully puts him in line for a "big drama show". Jacobs keep his belt through 2016.
Viktor Postol surprised many with his dominant decimation of Lucas Martin Matthysse in 2015. That victory and his KO of Selcuk Aydin really peak the imagination with just how far the Ukrainian super lightweight can go in today’s division. The talk right now is that Mauricio Herrera and Ruslan Provodnikov will be tussling in a rematch in the spring. With both men rated in the WBC’s top-three, it is easy to imagine Postol fighting the eventual winner. Both should be clear underdogs in that one and I would pick Postol to be victorious in either scenario. Antonio Orozco is another top-rated contender who has fought on HBO, but he struggled against tough veteran Humberto Soto and, unless he has a huge growth spurt of ability, I see another comfortable win for Postol. Upset-minded Adrian Granados is a likely first defense for Postol in the wake of his surprise win over Amir Imam. However, as tough as Granados is, Postol is simply in another league. Since HBO is friendly with both Postol and Terence Crawford, it is easy to get carried away and too hopeful for that match-up. I don’t see either man backing down from that one and it just might happen in late 2016. Again, I see business prevailing and that fight being allowed to simmer a little longer. Crawford appears to be out of the Pacquiao sweepstakes for the moment. If a Postol fight were to happen, I am not sure that he is a much easier assignment. In fact, I think Postol could upset the applecart against Crawford. Regardless of the road he ends up on, I see Postol remaining champion throughout 2016.
Rances Barthelemy has developed into a real professional over the last two years. After a dubious win over Arash Usmanee in 2013, the Cuban looked on shaky ground. However, in 2015 he posted two of his biggest wins as a pro with easy decisions over Antonio Demarco and Denis Shafikov. In becoming a two-division titlist, Barthelemy proved he’s a guy who has staying power. In today’s lightweight division, the talent is copious, but it doesn’t run deep. Most of the top ten is pretty close without a clear number one. However, IBF champion Barthelemy just might be that guy. With Shafikov out of the way, Barthelemy has his toughest assignment taken care of. The IBF’s top two spots at lightweight are vacant. Ghana’s Richard Commey leads the pack ratings-wise, but he is still very green. As is Emiliano Marsili in spite of nice numbers. I would expect a defense against one of the two to start 2016. Old rival Argenis Mendez also sits favorable in the IBF rankings, but only after a gift decision last year. Felix Verdejo will be rushed to a title fight and Barthelemy could be the guy they opt for, but I see no sure win there and favor the champion. The Cuban has the style and work rate to defeat the remainder of his top ten. Unification bouts would pose greater challenges, but title-mergers aren’t as likely as for some other champions. My hunch is that we will see Barthelemy as champion come 2017; however, if I had to pick someone who might vacate or outgrow his weight class on this list, Barthelemy would be the guy.
Terry Flanagan also holds a lightweight title. That WBO belt will be on the line in a few weeks against tough fellow Brit Derry Mathews. Flanagan already holds a three round Prize Fighter victory over "Dirty" Derry, but that win isn’t a great indicator of much. Flanagan has developed greatly in the past year and Mathews, rated tenth, is still the same man. Expect a routine defense for Flanagan over twelve rounds. Jose Zepeda, who Flanagan won the title against under unfortunate circumstances, still rates first. However, the ill-fated contender has as much of a chance of getting crushed by the ring lights as he does of fighting an injury free bout these days. Another interesting domestic clash would be with Ricky Burns, who used to hold this belt and still can give a good tussle. However, Burns has been doing just enough to lose against the top ten these days. Felix Verdejo may fit more easily into Flanagan’s future than Barthelemy’s for the simple fact that he already holds the smaller WBO Latino title. A victory in his upcoming defense should enhance his stature for the full title, which already sees him ranked sixth. I’m willing to roll the dice though. While I think Barthelemy will prove the better champion, Flanagan is his closest competitor and I foresee him also remaining a title holder over the next twelve months. Flanagan stays champion.
Wanheng Menayothin is, at worst, the second best 105 pounder in the planet. I go back in forth between he and Hekkie Budler. Budler has the more proven resume, but Menayothin appears the better schooled technician. It’s a shame so few fans outside of Asian countries are familiar with his work. The WBC champion has a pretty tough top five list of contenders overall. Saul Juarez has dropped in weight after significant success at higher weights. Misfortune prevented him from earning a title shot in his last bout, a technical draw after just forty-two seconds. Byron Rojas looks to be a deserving contender, but one not in the same league as the Thai champion. Carlos Buitrago is arguably the most dangerous contender in the division, but his luck on the cards has twice prevented him from taking home big titles. Menayothin is a class above either of those previous Buitrago opponents. Xiong Chao Zhong is always exciting and formidable, but the Thai technician could probably hand the Chinaman his most lopsided defeat. The rest of his top ten looks considerably less threatening. Should title unification bouts arise, I would favor Menayothin over Budler, Jose Argumendo, and Tanaka, who has plans to vacate his title soon anyway. Of the five fighters listed as Champions Who Will Remain, Menayothin is the one I am most certain will be champion come the final toll of 2016.
Those Who Will Go:
Krzysztof Glowacki deserves nothing but praise for his title winning effort against Marco Huck in 2015. However, the Gatti-esque showing is exactly why Glowacki finds himself on the list of Champions Who Will Go. The WBO cruiserweight boss just might meet Huck again if the fans have their way and rightfully so. Their back and forth affair was one of the best fights of 2015 if not the Fight of the Year. With Glowacki on the canvas and hurt throughout the bout, it’s easy to imagine the future all-time great Huck reversing the outcome. Currently, one of the sport’s most well-regarded prospects and punchers, Oleksandr Usyk resides in the number one spot. The Ukrainian’s thunder could be enough to separate the Polish champion from his senses and his title. Noel Gevor and Tony Bellew have proven themselves to be worthy contenders and given Glowacki’s vulnerabilities, they might be able to provide some rough patches or get the win. If unification comes Glowacki’s way, he will find even greater struggles as Grigory Drozd and Denis Lebedev would surely be favored. Stylistically, Glowacki would figure to find himself in the middle of another cruiserweight war. For me, the odds are against Glowacki to retain his title all the way through 2016.
Badou Jack could be called lucky to have his belt to begin with. The Swiss fighter came back well in 2015, but both of his wins came by split verdict against Anthony Dirrell and George Groves in the two biggest fights of his career. A single point earned him the title and debatable cards brought him his first defense. It’s great to be lucky, but, inevitably, luck runs out. With both Dirrell and Groves still looming in the top ten, rematches are likely and no "gimme" proposition. Callum Smith and Andre Dirrell also reside in the top five and their recent form is nothing to shake a stick at. Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez is set to meet Arthur Abraham in the coming months, so he likely can be taken out of the equation. However, there’s enough odds against Jack to bet against him to be the WBC belt-holder come the close of 2016.
Carlos Cuadras has a target on his back. Depending on your source, Roman Gonzalez is either fighting Giovani Segura in the spring to gear up for a summer showdown with Cuadras or the current number one fighter Pound for Pound will be going directly for Cuadras WBC super flyweight belt. With Gonzalez sitting as a WBC champion just three pounds south, that match-up is as good as done. Cuadras’ top five is not easy ground either outside of Sonny Boy Jaro, who has seen at least one proposed bout with Cuadras fail to materialize. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai surrendered the WBC belt to Cuadras by close technical decision after the Mexican was cut. The Thai puncher is no easy prospect in a rematch. Oleydong Sithsamerchai and Zolani Tete are very dangerous former champions, with the latter very much on the rise. Even SecondsOut 2015 Prospect of the Year Takuma Inoue could surprise Cuadras given his boxing bloodlines and technique. Although still green, crazier things have happened. My money is on the Gonzalez fight and Gonzalez and victory go hand and hand. Cuadras’ title clock is ticking. Expect him to be beltless before the end of 2016.
Yu Kimura defeated Pedro Guevara in one of 2016’s biggest upsets. The scores were questionable though and I felt Guevara did more than enough to retain, but it was one of those fights where you had to decide which you preferred: power or accuracy. Kimura’s top three are a pretty tall order. Jonathon Taconing, Guevara, and Rey Loreto all present very different threats, but considerable ones nonetheless. Kimura’s lack of pop and defense leaves him as a vulnerable champion. However, he is riding high off a great win, but I think he will be hard-pressed to turn back the challenge of any of these contenders. Kimura’s name may also appeal to any number of his countrymen. The domestic level is no safer a route for the Japanese fighter. With previous conqueror Ryoichi Taguchi also reigning at 108, unification could entice a rematch. Akira Yaegashi also holds a belt at light flyweight. With Kosei Tanaka rising in weight and Katsunari Takayama a distinct possibility as well, Kimura’s reign looks troubled. Ryo Miyazaki also rates number twelve for the WBC and his name has already been mentioned for a 2016 defense. Inside of the next twelve months, I see Kimura’s scalp adorning someone’s trophy case.
Jose Argumendo was better than I expected in 2015 as I labeled him a contender unworthy of his title shot against Katsunari Takayama; the upset winner sure showed me. Yet, I am going to dismiss him again in 2016. I am not sure Argumendo can repeat his title winning effort which was granted by ninth round technical decision after Takayama sustained cuts over both eyes. However, if a rematch comes off, I might pick him to win similarly. I won’t say the same against any of his other contenders. With Zhong, Rojas, and Buitrago all holding top ten rankings, it’s easy to imagine Argumendo falling to any of them. Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. and Ryuji Hara also hold top ten rankings and are just as easy to imagine as winners against the Mexican upstart. Maybe Argumendo will continue to prove me wrong -- all power to him--, but I see him beltless by the end of 2016. Argumendo is going down.
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