I am not one for looking back so what’s ahead for us in 2017. We have already had one unification fight. The James DeGale vs. Badou Jack fight was an interesting mix of styles, a close one with both having a claim to victory. Unfortunately the draw just muddied the waters with Jack immediately relinquishing his WBC title and moving up to light heavy. The WBC have already given the nod for Jack to challenge Adonis Stevenson meaning the super-middle division will continue to have the title split four ways. Even though he failed to unify the titles a James DeGale vs. Callum Smith fight with DeGale’s IBF title on the line along with the vacant WBC crown (where Smith is the No 1 challenger) would be huge draw in Britain. However that will need the WBC’s No 2 Anthony Dirrell agreeing to wait for a fight with the winner and the Venezuelan IBF No 1 Jose Uzcategui doing the same, and that won’t happen.
It also rules out for some time the possibility of a totally unified title at light heavy between three title champion Andre Ward and Stevenson.
One huge fight already signed and sealed and to be delivered on April 29 in London is the Anthony Joshua and Wlad Klitschko clash. They have already sold 80,000 tickets for the fight at Wembley Stadium. I remember going there to watch the first Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper fight and I would be surprised if there were more than 10,000 in attendance but as the Carl Froch vs. George Groves fight showed for the right fight there is a huge audience both for TV and live boxing in Britain right now. It will be only the third time that two winners of the Olympic heavyweight title (which became the super heavyweight title) have gone on to fight each other for a version of the heavyweight title as professionals. The first was George Foreman (Olympic Champion in 1968) vs. Joe Frazier (1964) and the other Wlad Klitschko (1996) vs. Alex Povetkin (2004). Both Lennox Lewis 1988) and Tyrell Biggs (1984) were Olympic Champions but when they fought each other as pros there was no title at stake.
The Joshua vs. Klitschko fight hopefully will be a unifier with the vacant WBA title on the line. They have Klitschko at No 2. He has not fought since November 2015 but that is not his fault with delays and then the cancellation of the Tyson Fury fight but at 41 and by fight time 17 months out of the ring, he has not had the best preparation.
Can’t get too excited over Deontay Wilder and Andre Wawrzyk for the WBC title on 25 February. Wawrzyk was floored in each of the three rounds his 2013 fight with Alex Povetkin for the WBA secondary title lasted. Of his six wins since then three have been against guys over 40, two against guys just a smidgen away from their 40th birthday and a guy with a 3-14 record. Not a fight for the WBC to be proud of.
Interestingly David Haye is now the mandatory challenger for Joseph Parker’s WBO title giving Britain a big say in the division.
Obviously the line up for 2017 will depend also on Manny Pacquiao’s plans. There is not much clarity here apart from Pac-Man’s defence of his WBO welter title against Jeff Horn in Brisbane on April 23 and a mention of perhaps four more fights before retirement. Pacquiao has talked about another fight with Juan Manuel Marquez this time in the Philippines. We won’t know what the campaign plan is until Bob Arum tells us. Nacho Beristan has indicated that the 43-year-old Marquez wants to have three more fights and that the knee injury that has plagued Marquez for so long has cleared up, but no mention of Pacquiao there. Horn is obviously very much an outsider but it has been a marvellous achievement for Horn’s team to get such a high profile fighter as Pacquiao to come to Brisbane and you can be sure “The Hornet” will not roll over.
In the past if you mentioned Pacquiao then the name Floyd Mayweather Jr would probably appear in the same sentence. Thankfully there is no sign that “Money” is contemplating a return to boxing. I can’t see $25 million enticing him to fight Conor McGregor and even if it did it would be irrelevant to boxing. Mayweather has a growing stable of good young fighters – as Gervonta Davis proved in destroying Jose Pedraza so hopefully that will keep him occupied.
Saul Alvarez vs. Jesus Chavez Jr on May 6 will be big in Mexico. Both fighters better make the weight as there is reportedly a $1 million penalty for every pound over the 164.5lbs contract weight each fighter comes in at. Chavez has failed to make the weight for other fights. I can see both fighters adding a surgeon to their camp ready to have a leg sawn off if they are in danger of going over the limit.
At middle we have Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs on March 18 in New York. If “GGG” wins he will have to look outside the middleweight division for a big fight. WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders needs a better performance than his close decision over Artur Akavov in December as on the back of that a Golovkin fight would be a very hard sell. As for the listed challengers they have all already been crushed by “GGG” or would start as rank outsiders. Golovkin vs. Alvarez would sell big but despite the posturing there seems to be no real enthusiasm for the fight from the Alvarez camp so it may never get done and there’s the danger that Golovkin might never get that career defining fight he needs and deserves.
At super welter without Alvarez then Jermell Charlo vs. Demetrius Andrade would be interesting fight but first Andrade needs to get past Jack Culcay in Germany on March 11 and winning in Germany will be no easier in 2017 than it has been in any other year.
Miguel Cotto is still in the picture and he fights James Kirkland in Frisco Texas on 25 February at 153lbs but at 37 Cotto is unlikely to play a big part in the picture in 2017.
At welterweight we are getting Danny Garcia vs. Keith Thurman on March 4 to unify the WBC and WBA titles and there seems to be serious discussions over a Kell Brook vs. Amir Khan fight with May 20 or 27 as the possible date, another huge event British fans. Errol Spence will get his title shots this year and they all have to be looking over their shoulders with Terrence Crawford aiming to become a three division champion.
There will be a unification match at super light when Ricky Burns puts his WBA title on the line against IBF champion Julius Indongo April 15 in Glasgow. It is a fight that will show us how much the three division champion Burns has left in the tank and whether the shocking 40 seconds one punch kayo of Eduard Troyanovsky was a genuine measure of the power and potential of the Namibian or just a non-repeatable flash. He only a 50% inside the distance wins measure before the Troyanovsky fight and that against a much lower level of opponent than the unbeaten Russian.
At lightweight whilst Jorge Linares (WBC & WBA), Robert Easter (IBF) and Terry Flanagan (WBO) are all good fighters a lot of interest will be in how Felix Verdejo, Mikey Garcia, Richard Commey and Luke Campbell perform in 2017 and a move up by Vasyl Lomachenko would open up all sorts of possibilities for Linares, Easter and Flanagan. Verdejo returns from injuries he received in a motor bike crash when he fights in Puerto Rico on February 3 so it will be important for him to show he is 100% recovered
If Lomachenko doesn’t move up then there are some good but not really high profile fights at super feather. The featherweight could catch fire in 2017 starting with an intriguing return between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas on January 28. You can make a case for either fighter winning but you can be sure there will be fireworks. If Frampton wins then again British fans could be in for a treat with a unification fight against IBF champion Lee Selby a distinct possibility. With Gary Russell Jr (WBC) and Oscar Valdez (WBO) holding the other titles it is an exciting division.
Rey Vargas (28-0) and Gavin McDonnell (16-0-2) will contest the vacant WBC super bantam title on February 25 in Britain and it will be interesting to see how Jessie Magdaleno grows into his WBO tile. Once again Guillermo Rigondeaux will struggle to find a suitable challenger and get any recognition for his highly skilled but clinical performances.
Rau’shee Warren defends his WBA bantam title against Zhanat Zhakiyanov in Ohio on February 10. It would be nice to think that the two champions from Britain, IBF champion Lee Haskins and WBA secondary title holder Jamie McDonnell might get together but there is no sign of that. There is a dearth of good challengers for either WBC champion Shinsuke Yamanaka or WBO champion Marlon Tapales.
It would be great if there was a chance of Roman Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue clashing at super fly but Gonzalez’s dance card is already marked with a defence of his WBC title against No 2 Srisaket and after that a return with Carlos Cuadras is mandated.
A WBO flyweight title defence for Shiming Zou against his No 1 Donnie Nietes would be a big fight in the Far East but no news yet on when and if it will take place and there is not too much to get interested in at light fly or minimumweight.
We have already had Gervonta Davis burst onto the scene in a big way this year and you can be sure that more young, emerging fighter will make a big breakthrough and who knows there might be another Mayweather, Pacquiao, Ward or Golovkin out there.
We have a saying in Britain that after the Lord Mayor’s show comes the dust cart (rubbish truck). Well after Joshua vs. Klitschko the WBA have ordered a fight between Shannon Briggs and Fres Oquendo for their secondary heavyweight title. Briggs wants the fight to be in London. Please no! Oquendo, a 43-year-old who has not had a fight for almost three years against a 45-year-old Briggs who has fought only selected low level opponents since losing to Vitali Klitschko in 2010. It was reported that the last circus in Britain closed recently – obviously not.
Interesting super welter match in Montreal on January 28 with Brandon Cook (17-0) from Ontario up against outstanding local prospect Steven Butler (18-0-1). A couple of minor sanction body titles on the line and an important fight for both boxers. Unbeaten Canadian Olympic heavyweight Simon Kean with former Canadian World Championship representative Yves Ulysse (11-0) facing his biggest test against experienced Mexican Jose Emilio Perea.
Despite having been rated No 1 by the WBC for a considerable while Argentinian Jorge Heiland will have to go through an elimination tournament to qualify for a shot at Gennady Golovkin. With No 2 Ievgen Khytrov getting blown away by unrated (not in the WBC top 40) Immanuwel Aleem the next mandatory could be the winner of David Lemieux vs. Curtis Stevens match on March 11. Golovkin has beaten them both inside the distance which again goes back to the lack of real opposition for the Kazak fighter apart from Daniel Jacobs.
Another former champion from Argentina, Omar Narvaez, has not given up hope on becoming a three division champion. At 41, and with 31 world title fights behind him the former WBO fly and super fly champion, is now slated to face unbeaten Puerto Rican Emmanuel Rodriguez in an IBF final eliminator with the winner to be the next mandatory for Lee Haskins. The first two positions in the IBF ratings are vacant as none of the rated fighters has beaten another rated fighter (so what are they doing there) so they can’t fill those first two positions. Narvaez is currently No 3 and Rodriguez No 5 which will resolve that dilemma. Narvaez is a candidate for a WBO loyalty award as every one of his 31 title fights has featured a WBO world title.
Another eliminator on the cards is Filipino Arthur Villanueva vs. South African Zolani Tete. They are respectively No 1 and No 2 in the WBO bantamweight ratings. A victory for Villanueva would set up an all-Filipino title fight against his Japanese-based fellow-countryman and current WBO champion Marlon Tapales.
Filipino Jerwin Ancajas (25-1-1) makes the first defence of his IBF super fly title in Macau on 29 January against the former interim WBA champion from Mexican Jose Alfredo Rodriguez (32-4). Ancajas is reported to be getting his highest career purse of $40,000 for the defence.
Boxing in Italy should get a boost when one of their former amateur stars turns pro on February 24. Domenico Valentino won a hat full of titles at 60kg, including gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships, multi Italian national titles, Olympic appearances and a World Military title but at 32 he has left it late to take off his vest.
A couple of lighter notes to finish with. I sometimes wonder about the quality and content of some of the tattoos sported by a large percentage of professional fighters. So anything goes unless you are a Cuban amateur boxer. Double World Championships gold medallist and Pan American Games champion Lazaro Alvarez has been dropped from the Cuban national team-for dying his hair!
I sometimes wonder how much research some matchmakers do before putting a fight together. Last weekend in China local fighter Xing Xin Yang knocked out Thai Vachayan. Yang, 24, is 5’11 ½” (182cm) and 40-year-old Vachayan is 5’4” (163cm)! Someone should be incarcerated in Xing Xin for that.