Predicting Risers and Fallers in Boxing During 2013
The sport of boxing had a great year in 2012, and 2013 has the potential to be just as big. But in a one-on-one sport like boxing, even in the greatest of years, there must be losers. Usually, for one fighter to rise, another must fall.
Between the start and end of last year, the pound-for-pound rankings and the rankings for numerous individual divisions underwent substantial overhauls. Expect to see similar shifts by the end of this year as well.
The rising and falling of the following individual fighters will have a substantial impact on what the sport looks like during the coming year.
Riser: Adrien Broner
Still only 23, Adrien Broner emerged in 2012 as one of the sport's newest superstar. Already among the most talked about young fighters in the game, in November Broner stepped up to lightweight and captured the WBC belt by destroying Antonio Demarco with a round 8 TKO.
The Ring's ratings panel had seen enough and bumped Broner all the way up to six in their pound-for-pound rankings. It might be a little bit premature. But it also seems inevitable.
The brash Cincinnati native is already developing into the sort of personality that some fans want to see lose. They should be prepared for a long wait, because Broner is unlikely to get stopped anytime soon.
Broner already has a fight set for the first part of the year against former light welterweight belt-holder Gavin Rees. After that, expect him to either collect another lightweight belt or make a superfight against the likes of Yuri Gamboa or Brandon Rios.
Faller: Victor Ortiz
Not very long ago, Victor Ortiz seemed set to become one of the biggest stars in the sport. In April of 2011 he captured Andre Berto's WBC welterweight title in a Fight-of-the-Year effort. By late summer, Ortiz was starring on HBO's 24/7 reality program, preparing to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. on pay-per-view.
Since then, things have gone downhill. People can hate on Mayweather all they want for the manner in which he knocked out Ortiz, but there can be no denying that Ortiz abandoned the fundamental rule of the ring: Protect yourself at all times.
The entire episode revealed Ortiz's basic weakness as a prizefighter—that he is prone to becoming flustered. He became frustrated by Mayweather's shell game on the ropes, and he responded with a flying headbutt—a flagrant foul.
Then he turned around and tried to hug Mayweather after the ref had ruled time in, leaving himself wide open to get clocked.
That was the part to me which most clearly demonstrated Ortiz's lack of maturity as a fighter. If you are going to be that guy who throws a dirty head butt to fill his opponent's mouth with blood, then okay, be that guy. But don't be that guy and then become immediately remorseful and try to hug and make up.
In 2012 Ortiz had everything set up to come back strong. Then in July he got his jaw broken by Josesito Lopez, a replacement fighter for Andre Berto, who had failed a PED test.
Ortiz was up on the cards over Lopez, and his corner seemed to want him to continue when he quit in the corner after Round 9.
I don't actually fault Ortiz for making a good choice for his safety, but I also think he was going to lose the fight anyway. Momentum was shifting towards Lopez, who made up for the fact that Ortiz was the bigger, better athlete by being the smarter, tougher fighter.
After the fight, Ortiz split with his longtime trainer, Danny Garcia.
I think Ortiz will get a rematch with Lopez in 2013. I do not think he will win it.
Riser: Bryant Jennings
Philadelphia heavyweight Bryant Jennings had a terrific year in 2012, going 5-0 and moving from prospect to legit contender status.
He started the year by besting fellow undefeated prospect Maurice Byarm by 10-round unanimous decision on an NBC Sports broadcast. Other highlights of the year included a Round 9 TKO of former world champion Siarhei Liakhovich and a Round 5 destruction of the anvil-headed Bowie Tupou.
Jennings is not big for a heavyweight, only 6'2" and about 225 pounds, but he has an absurd, 84-inch reach. That is a wingspan you would normally find on a seven-footer.
Besides the obvious offensive advantages from such long arms, Jennings makes great defensive use of them as well. When he has his fists up in guard, there isn't much room to punch around or through his gigantic arms.
I think Jennings is unlikely to fight for a world title in 2013, but he is already a fixture on NBC Sports, and there are a number of interesting possible opponents for him, including fellow unbeaten American heavyweight Deontay Wilder.
Faller: Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury is a 6'9" Irish-English heavyweight with a perfect 20-0 record and 14 KOs. The Ring has him ranked No. 10, and he gets mentioned frequently as a possible Klitschko opponent.
I think he is going to lose in 2013. Ideally he would lose to fellow British giant David Price, against whom he made homophobic slurs last year. But the fact that the two heavyweights have conflicting promotional and television contracts makes that fight difficult to land.
Fury did look impressive in his end-of-year near-shutout of Kevin Johnson, and Johnson is a pretty big name in the division. But he was also a good matchup for the Brit—a thick, relatively immobile target Fury was able pick apart with his superior range.
I think a quicker, more athletic and explosive heavyweight would disrupt Tyson's footwork and swarm him inside. I would not give him good odds against fellow Englishman David Haye. And I don't make a habit of going around complimenting Haye.
Fury moves very well for a nearly seven-foot tall man, but I still think he has a bad habit of leaning forward and that a big puncher like Magomed Abdusalamov or Mike Perez could slip his jab and put him in a world of trouble quickly as he moves forward.
I also have my doubts about how he might fare against a tough southpaw like Ruslan Chagaev or Francesco Pianeta.
Of course recent developments indicate Fury might be looking to pull a James Toney and switch to MMA. Recently he took to Twitter to disparage newly crowned UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez as a "midget," claiming he would beat the former All-American wrestler in a fight.
I suspect the big guy was just blowing off some steam, and I am positive Dana White would never pursue this anyway. But if it comes to pass, be quite sure that Fury won't just fall—he'll fall hard.
Riser: Saul Alvarez
I know not everybody in hardcore boxing circles is sold on Saul Alvarez, but I think that while he isn't as good as his superstar status would suggest, he is still the top guy his weight in the world, excluding Floyd Mayweather.
That should add up to big moments for him in 2013. Alvarez had potential big fights with Paul Williams and Victor Ortiz fall through in 2012, and Miguel Cotto's December loss to Austin Trout complicated what looked to be shaping up as a potential major showdown in the spring between Canelo and the Puerto Rican legend.
But I would maintain that Trout's win was ultimately good for Canelo, as it represented the emergence of another big name in the division. If he still wants to fight Cotto, the matchup will still do monster numbers, and now he has another rival.
I am nearly at the point of assuming now that we will see Alvarez fight Floyd Mayweather next September on Mexican Independence Day weekend. If that fight ends up going through, I am already willing to predict now that Alvarez will give him a much tougher fight than people will expect.
Faller: Miguel Cotto
When Miguel Cotto faced undefeated belt-holder Austin Trout in Madison Square Garden last December 1, I think the majority of boxing fans viewed it as a stay-busy fight for Cotto—a chance for him to collect another belt in front of his devoted NYC fans before his big showdown with Saul Alvarez next spring.
Instead he was outworked and outboxed by a bigger, younger fighter. While I thought the fight was closer than the 119-109 score turned in by two of the judges, Cotto lost decisively.
I expect Cotto to return to action in 2013, probably against Alvarez, but perhaps in a rematch with Trout. In either case, I expect him to lose. He has been one of my favorite fighters of this era, but I think Cotto's days at the top of the food chain are over.
Riser: Nonito Donaire
Nonito Donaire was the consensus Fighter of the Year for 2012. If he gets the two big fights that everybody wants to see him fight in 2013, I believe he could very well end this year as the pound-for-pound No. 1.
Nobody questions Donaire's right to lay claim to the crown at 122 pounds, but he has two elite, world-class challengers standing eagerly in line: Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Beating either would be a great year for Donaire.
If Donaire is able to beat both those fighters within the next twelve months, I believe it will bump him to the top of a lot of pound-for-pound rankings.
Of course, Donaire is with Top Rank and Mares is with Golden Boy, so the fight could be complicated to make happen. But not impossible, especially not if both fighters really want the matchup and lobby hard for it.
Meanwhile, Donaire should at least get Rigondeaux, a fellow Top Rank fighter. I have been torn on who to pick, but have come around to the idea that Donaire's unworldly timing and explosiveness would end up catching up to the extremely skilled Cuban.
Faller: Tomasz Adamek
In my opinion, Tomasz Adamek got two major gift decisions in 2012, first against Eddie Chambers and then at the end of the year against Steve Cunningham. The Cunningham decision was particularly bad.
Adamek is 36 now, and as a small heavyweight, an aging body is not going to be his friend. He just didn't look like the same fighter in 2012. Chambers was fighting against him with one arm and still outworked him on my card.
Adamek made a gallant stand against Vitali Klitschko in September of 2011, going down to a Round 10 TKO. He has been remarkably successful transitioning up to heavyweight from light heavyweight, a monster jump in today's heavyweight game.
That's a testament to his tremendous skill. But if he fights another legitimate top-10 heavyweight in 2013, he is going to get beaten.
Riser: Kubrat Pulev
If Kubrat Pulev were based out of the United States, writers like me would never shut up about him. In my opinion he is the hands-down rising star of the heavyweight division entering 2013 and the fighter with the best shot on the planet for taking out Wladimir Klitschko.
In 2012, he stopped gigantic undefeated Russian Alexander Ustinov and the once-beaten, highly regarded Alexander Dimitrenko, both in Round 11. These wins have earned the former Bulgarian Olympian a spot near the top of the world heavyweight rankings.
Pulev is a big heavyweight, roughly 6'4"and 250 pounds, with skillful and efficient footwork. He uses good head movement and an extremely stiff jab to control distance very well. He also uses his jab expertly to blind his opponents in advance of his crushing overhand right.
Pulev still has fewer than twenty fights, but he is reasonably well seasoned. He fought the very tough journeyman Dominick Guinn in only his ninth pro fight and beat him by a unanimous decision in eight.
Faller: Alexander Povetkin
Once upon a time Alexander Povetkin was viewed as the future of the heavyweight division, the heir to the Klitschko brothers. After he handed Eddie Chambers the first loss of his career in 2008, Povetkin was viewed as a heavyweight with a major upside.
To say he has been brought along slowly since then is an understatement of epic proportions. In 2011 the WBA even made Wladimir Klitschko a "super" world champion so that they could free up their "regular" world championship belt and give Povetkin the opportunity to win it without fighting the actual world champ.
Instead Povetkin captured the newly vacated WBA crown by taking a hard-fought unanimous decision from Ruslan Chagaev in August of 2011. Since collecting his alphabet soup belt, he has fought Cedric Boswell, cruiserweight Marco Huck (who earned a draw on one judge's card) and 40-year-old Hasim Rahman.
That's not exactly a murderer's row. Fans are beginning to wonder if Povetkin will ever fight one of the Klitschkos, or even if he will ever fight anybody at all who is a legitimate threat.
If Povetkin fights Wladimir Klitschko in 2013, I predict he will lose. Still, I feel like he has gotten to the point in his career that if he doesn't fight Wladi, he loses credibility.