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.
Once again, I finished 6-4 at SecondsOut in regard to my ten 2013 picks. Three of my champions to remain did just that (barely in two cases) and two were dethroned (again, barely). Both Carl Froch and I got lucky this year. While the tide had slightly turned in his favor against George Groves, the stoppage win Froch received was not warranted, but allowed Froch to keep his title. Ricky Burns and I also shared some luck in regard to him keeping his title. In his first defense of the year, he had to rally to win and in his second he received an unpopular draw in a competitive fight. Yet, he remained a champion throughout the calendar year to give me another correct pick. Shinsuke Yamanaka produced a comfortable year for me as he stopped three opponents without controversy to earn me a third point. Both Daniel Geale and Austin Trout cost me two defeats in losing their titles. Both lost close and, mildly, controversial outcomes. At the time of the pick, I did not see a bout with Canelo Alvarez coming off and that cost me. The Geale-Barker match-up was a coin flip truly and still warrants a rematch.
My best picks came in choosing who was going to lose their championship status. Last year’s article received myriad complaints from Brian Viloria supporters about my prognostication, but, alas, I was correct in banking on Viloria’s inconsistent past and Juan Francisco Estrada unseated him. Also riding high was Abner Mares and I received similar rebuttals about the brave champion with a remarkable strength of schedule. However, that was just it, I saw Mares rising in weight and opposition and felt he would stumble. I did not see it coming against Jhonny Gonzalez in a single round, but made the right call for the year. Chad Dawson’s dismissal was an easy call for me, but one that was not completely supported either. Adonis Stevenson looked like the worst match-up for him on paper and it turned into a reality pretty quickly. I was incorrect in shooting down Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, who had a great 2013 after an unimpressive 2012. The Polish champion not only kept his title, but put forth one of the best fights of the year in defeating Rakhim Chakhkiev. Miguel Vazquez cheated me! He simply did not fight in 2013, but will return early in 2014. I’m not going to use him again, but I think he loses to Denis Shafikov in February if the fight happens.
With boxing it can be increasingly difficult to determine which champions will will do what, but fight aficionados can determine those results for themselves. If not, here’s my take on 2014 and which champions will remain and those who will go.
Those Who Will Remain:
Sergey Kovalev, 30, was a breakout performer in 2013 and I expect him to roll right along in 2014. It doesn’t really matter who Kovalev is matched with in 2014. I simply cannot pick against him right now. Reinforcing my pick of him retaining his WBO light heavyweight title by year’s end is that I don’t see his greatest challenge in WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson facing him. Stevenson and Kovalev fought on the same card in November and, once they each completed their night’s work, only Kovalev seemed interested in unification. With that said, Kovalev could also unify against the aged Bernard Hopkins, but that is a fight I think the Exec...er, Alien will steadfastly avoid. Amid the WBO rankings at 175, number one ranked Andrej Fonfara presents a meaningful challenge, but I don’t think he poses a threat enough to see the champion dethroned. I feel similarly about number nine ranked Dmitry Sukhotsky, who I see as the next biggest threat. I’d like to see it happen, but it won’t end well for Kovalev’s Russian countryman any more than the Pole. Number two Eleider Alvarez doesn’t appear to be much of a threat and may not get past Thomas Oosthuizen in his next bout. What if Andre Ward should rise in weight? Well, if he met Kovalev, I’d be taking the Russian to upset the number two P4P star. I’d lay my house down that Sergey Kovalev,23-0-1 (21), has his belt (and possibly another one) when the final bell rings on 2014.
Adonis Stevenson, 36, is the only man standing in Sergey Kovalev’s way for 2014 title retention and vice versa. Yes, I am even making the same bold assertion if Andre Ward peaks his head into the 175 pound waters. After his most recent outing, the WBC light heavyweight champion called on Bernard Hopkins and I think that is the fight he wants. It’s a smart move for the busy champion, who I expect will be a little less active in 2014. Stevenson will have the winner of Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute to consider throughout the year. Neither man looks fit to dethrone the champion, but the winner of this bout will certainly deserve his shot. Fonfara might also fit in the title picture, but I see him in with Kovalev more. Regardless, the Pole contender will have to find another champion to dethrone because it won’t happen with Stevenson. Most likely, I see Stevenson taking on one of the 168 pound champions in 2014. Car Froch could be a likely candidate in which case I would see Stevenson in a good fight, but one I think he wins. In a 2014 without Kovalev, Stevenson, 23-1 (20), is another lock to remain champion over the next twelve months.
Gennady Golovkin, 31, has the goods. However, that has nothing to do with my reasoning for picking him here. I think he could move up in weight and take on most of the super middleweight champions and still remain wearing a belt around his waist. He could stay at 160 and meet the remainder of the SecondsOut top-five rated middleweights and we won’t see him lose. Regrettably, we won’t see him do either of these. He will be active, but he will seem feasting upon second and third tier challengers. His February challenger Osumanu Adama will prove little challenge. Martin Murray might be the best we can hope for Triple G in 2014 and that’s a fine fight. However, Murray’s lack of power will make it a difficult task for the top-rated WBA contender even if he successfully wins the interim belt on the same card as Golovkin’s next bout. Number two ranked Daniel Geale will likely focus on a rematch with Felix Sturm for the IBF title and his chances against Golovkin are only modest at best in spite of his pedigree as a fighter. Patrick Nielsen and Max Bursak are very likely opponents for Golovkin in 2014 as top five contenders. Yet, neither stands a chance of even being competitive. James Kirkland is a big hitting 154 contender, whom HBO loves; could he fit into Golovkin’s 2014 plans? I would not be surprised and the beating he would absorb inside of a three minute loss would surprise me less. Golovkin, 28-0 (25), will be champion at the end of 2014, but for many of the wrong reasons.
Tomoki Kameda, 22, represents the youngest and least know champion on this year’s list. He also could have a tough road to survive 2014 given his lack of experience against the elites. With his brother Koki reigning as WBA champion there will be no pressure for unification there. WBC champion Shinsuke Yamanaka is also his countryman, but if an all-Japanese clash were to emerge it would likely be without Tomoki and include his more popular brother Koki instead. I expect the young champion to stick with the WBO rankings. Number one ranked Pungluang Sor Singyu is a very likely challenger for Tomoki as he is a former holder of the WBO title. A rematch with number five Paulus Ambunda, whom Tomoki dethroned, could be another. The Japanese champion would be a solid favorite to defend his title against either man, particularly at home. The greatest threat in the WBO ranking, in my opinion, could be number two Daniel Rosas. Tomoki has great popularity in Mexico, so a fight in the challenger’s home country could be a likely reality. The Distrito Federal resident is unbeaten and has some nice wins on his resume. He is also use to fighting bigger men of late. Even still, Kameda, 29-0 (18) could still pass this test and would be my favorite to do so. Upon celebrating the New Year, Kameda’s trinket will still be affixed to his waist.
Juan Francisco Estrada, 23, is one of boxing’s most under-appreciated champions right now after a great 2013. After claiming his title from Brian Viloria and defending against Milan Melindo, Estrada has cleared two giant threats out of his way. However, as WBA and WBO champion in boxing’s most stacked division, Estrada will have his work cut out for him. As long as the fight most fans want, a rematch with Roman Gonzalez, doesn’t happen, Estrada will still be unified champion at the end of 2014. He has a tough road ahead of his though. The rumored next defense for Estrada is WBO number one ranked Giovani Segura, who would be favored to defeat most other flyweights. Segura is also number two in the eyes of the WBA. It’s a tough defense, but one I think Estrada can get through given his ability to absorb punishment from both Gonzalez and Viloria. Segura probably hits harder, but he is not nearly as accurate and Estrada is more defense minded than Hernan Marquez and Jonathon Gonzalez, whom Segura recently stopped. Estrada’s top WBA challenger Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep could prove an exciting challenger, but would be a huge underdog to win. A rematch with Viloria would be nice as he is still ranked number two by the WBO, but the possibility has not created much of a vibe and seems unlikely right now. Estrada, 25-2 (18), is on a march up the P4P ladder and I think his 2014 schedule will support that climb and his defense of his titles throughout 2014.
Those Who Will Go:
Sakio Bika, 34, had cause for celebration in 2013, winning and defending his first world title. However, the WBC champion was hard-pressed to do either. He deserved both decisions in my opinion, but had he drew in both or lost either, there would not have been much of a public outcry due to the close natures of his two bouts. I think 2014 will be an even bigger year for Bika in terms of opposition and finances. Slipping passed Marco Antonio Periban and drawing with Anthony Dirrell will be much easier tasks than what he will likely face in Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the WBC’s number two ranked contender or Carl Froch in a unification match with the IBF champion. Bika has always fought the best opposition and these two guys are two of the few he has not already met. Either bout will pay him handsomely and, given the most recent form of both fighters, now is the time for Bika to seek these fight contracts. Chavez Jr. is likely the more lucrative and easier route, but the son of Mexico’s greatest icon has been known to be difficult to beat on points. A KO for Bika is unlikely. Froch may have stumbled against George Groves, but Bika is not capable of duplicating that type of performance and his style plays more to Froch’s favor. Even still, Periban is rated number one and he fought Bika very tightly backed in June. The chances of him avenging his lone loss seem respectable. I am confident that by the time the ball drops on 2014, Sakio Bika, 32-5-2 (21), will once again be a contender.
Carlos Molina, 30, worked hard, like Bika to get his first world title. He also fought myriad contenders with mixed and, often, controversial results. Now that he is finally the IBF world champion at 154, it seems highly unlikely that he will be allowed to hang on to the belt long. His rankings pose few obvious threats near the top, his future may be determined by strong promotional or network interests. You see, Molina is not a sexy fighter. His style is not that appealing to the eye and is often difficult to score. Molina will likely be served up as a sacrificial lamb. The most likely candidate to benefit from this fact is Saul Alvarez, who probably won’t be able to beat Molina easily, but as long as it is close he will win the decision. James Kirkland is another tough contender with network support and a DQ win over Molina in a fight which the verdict was still on the table. Jermell Charlo is a fine prospect with a high ranking in the IBF and a bright future ahead of him should be matched with Molina. I am not sure how his year will go, but I never bet on a fighter with a history of getting screwed as much as Molina has. I expect to see Molina, 22-5-2 (6), without his fancy trinket come the end of 2014.
Ruslan Provodnikov, 29, has the love of the boxing world after losing a narrow war to Timothy Bradley and stopping Mike Alvarado. I have followed Provodnikov since he debuted and have been quite pleased with his progress. Given his offensive first, defense be damned style, I can’t see a lengthy reign in his future. This is magnified by the fact that he seems intent on competing in both the 140 and 147 pounds divisions. The top two fighters at junior welterweight are Danny Garcia and Lucas Martin Matthysse. I would favor either guy to defeat Ruslan should their paths cross in 2014. Juan Manuel Marquez is rated number one by the WBO at 140 still. He may be aged, I would still peg the Mexican legend as savvy enough to exploit Ruslan’s lack of defense and footwork. Rankings may not factor into Provodnikov’s matchmaking in 2014. Immediately after beating Alvarado he suddenly entered the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao sweepstakes. Of late, the rumored talk has focused on the Siberian champion meeting his Filipino stable mate. Provodnikov’s marketability is being based on his value as an exciting fighter and that won’t always be in his best interest, particularly if either of the two Super Fight names come to fruition. Ruslan Provodnikov, 23-2 (16), may not even need a big name across from his as rising contender Karim Mayfield seems capable of dethroning him as well. If Terrence Crawford claims the WBO lightweight belt, I envision a quick move to 140 where Provodnikov would certainly be in his sights. I predict an exciting reign and a short one; Provodnikov will lose his WBO title at some point over the next year.
Ricky Burns, 30, dodged two bullet to keep his belt last year, so I must reward him by moving him to the "other" category for 2014. Of course, this theory did not work so well with Krzysztof Wlodarczyk! This time, I think Burns is a lock to lose his belt early this year. Burns looked both disinterested and scared in his last two title defenses. He tasted canvas and had his jaw busted up; he’s looked every bit the fighter in decline. The plan right now is to make his next defense against Terrence Crawford on March 1. That does it for me. The Burns of late won’t even be able to compete with Crawford, so he better bring his A-Game if he wants to keep his trunks up passed 2014. Let’s say the Crawford match falls through or he surprises me? Well, Burns still has Ray Beltran waiting for his rematch in the number two slot. Burns, 36-2-1 (11), has a brass pair, so I don’t see him taking any easier of a route. His reign has been very fun, but it is coming to an end.
Mikey Garcia, 26, may be believing too much of his own hype. After winning the featherweight title, he quickly moved up to take a super featherweight belt. However, in both title winning efforts he showed by glimpses of greatness and mortality. He lost his nerve after dominating Salido and getting his nose busted in spite of a dominant start. He was dropped early on by Roman Martinez last time up at 130. The talk since that win has focused greatly on continued rises in weight without giving himself proper time to grow into his current weight. The two fights will never happen, but Garcia has his hands more than full with fellow titlists Takashi Uchiyama or Takahashi Miura. Garcia has a January 25 date with Juan Carlos Burgos, which I wholeheartedly expect him to pass. However, like Provodnikov, there are numerous rumors abound concerning Garcia. Briefly, it was spun that he would rise to welterweight to meet his stable mate Marcos Rene Maidana in the wake of his defeating Adrian Broner for the WBA 147 title. Then, just the other day, Dan Raphael was spinning a new one about Garcia being considered for Manny Pacquiao. This type of thinking is going to get Garcia, 33-0 (28), beaten. His title may not be on the line, but in 2014 that "0" is going to go.
For further boxing discussion contact Derek DBO Bonnett on Facebook or at email@example.com.