10 Bold Predictions for Boxing in 2014

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

10 Bold Predictions for Boxing in 2014

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    With 2013 now in the rearview mirror and reflections in the past, it's time to consider what the year ahead will bring to the sport of boxing.

    As fans, we were blessed last year with plenty of great fighters and fights, a little bit of controversy and even some disappointment. 

    It was just another day at the office in boxing.

    If 2014 gives us half as much great action as we saw in 2013, we'll all be sitting here a year from now with smiles on our faces.

    Here we'll set you up right for the year ahead. These are 10 bold predictions for the year that's to come in boxing.

Floyd Mayweather Will Still Be Undefeated at This Time Next Year

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    Let's get this one out of the way right at the outset.

    At first glance, this prediction may not appear to be bold. And there's a reason for that. 

    Picking against boxing's undisputed pound-for-pound king is a fool's errand, and at this point, most believe Floyd Mayweather will be beaten only if and when it happens. And it won't happen in 2014.

    On the heels of his dominant 2013 that netted him Bleacher Report's Fighter of the Year award, "Money" is once again at the drawing board, trying to lock down the next man who will get a chance to snatch his elusive zero. 

    The leading contenders, at least if you listen to rumors coming from Team Mayweather and Showtime, are reportedly former junior welterweight champion Amir Khan and newly crowned WBA welterweight champion Marcos Maidana. 

    It's not an earth-shattering statement to say that Mayweather would be a massive favorite over either one, and he would have a much harder time selling them as opponents than he did with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.

    Canelo was bigger, physically stronger and younger than Mayweather. The threat he posed to the champ's continued dominance was real and palpable. And you could easily make the case that Canelo lost every round.

    Neither Khan nor Maidana carries with him anything remotely near that level of threat.

    The only non-Manny Pacquiao fighter on the planet—who is also with Showtime, carries a level of risk and is a reasonable optionis junior welterweight kingpin Danny Garcia. That fight could take place either in the fall or in May 2015. 

    Either way, don't expect him to be the one to topple Mayweather either. The man who can beat Money just might not be out there right now, and with only four fights remaining on Mayweather's contract, the chances of him retiring undefeated seem very real.

Manny Pacquiao Will Lose a Rematch Against Timothy Bradley

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    It's amazing what a difference a year makes. 

    It was around this time last year that boxing fans were wondering whether they'd ever see Manny Pacquiao step into a boxing ring again. He had just suffered his second consecutive defeat—this one was legitimate and scary—and the questions about whether or not he'd return and what shape he'd be in if he did, were very real.

    He quelled many of those doubts in November when he put a drubbing on the game but overmatched Brandon Rios in Macau. But as fun as he is to watch, Rios isn't an elite fighter. He's tough, comes to fight and makes for exciting scraps, but he's a notch or two below the level of fighters that Pacquiao was blitzing through during his rise to the top.

    With a dominant victory and lingering issues with the taxman causing financial uncertainty, Pacquiao should remain in the sport. 

    In 2014, he will set out to right a wrong that was perpetrated on him by judges CJ Ross and Duane Ford at the MGM Grand in 2012. 

    The chorus of voices calling for him to settle the score with WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley is growing. "Desert Storm" may not have deserved victory on that fateful June night, but he made a strong case as a top-three pound-for-pound fighter in 2013.

    He went to war with Ruslan Provodnikov in March—in what many consider to be fight of the year—and then captured a convincing decision over Juan Manuel Marquez in October. 

    Bradley is definitely on the upswing—while Pacquiao may be heading in the other direction—and has earned a shot at "avenging" his victory over Pac-Man.

    Bradley will capture a clean, non-controversial unanimous decision over Pacquiao this spring.

Miguel Cotto Will Win a Middleweight Championship

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    Miguel Cotto is in a rare and enviable position in boxing. 

    He's one of the few fighters to have good relationships with basically everybody. He can work with HBO or Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions or Top Rank, and that means that all options are available to him.

    Earlier this year, he put in his best performance in quite some time, blasting the overmatched Delvin Rodriguez with the the type of power and aggression that were hallmarks of his elite years. 

    Soon after the fight, the Puerto Rican legend saw his cup runneth over with huge offers for big fights from every direction.

    According to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, Cotto turned down an eight-figure offer from Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer to fight Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on pay-per-view early in 2014. He is instead locked in serious negotiations to face WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in June in or around New York City.

    For Cotto, a victory would secure him a world championship in a fourth weight division. That would make him the first Puerto Rican fighter to accomplish the feat, and it would provide icing on the cake of an already legendary career.

    And he just might be getting Martinez at the perfect time. The lineal middleweight champion has suffered serious, year-ending injuries in his last two fights. What's more, he's been sent to the canvas in each of his last three fights and looked thoroughly unimpressive in narrowly defeating the nondescript Martin Murray last April.

    It might be that at age 38—he'll be 39 by the time the proposed Cotto fight comes off—Martinez is just on the decline. He was a late-bloomer in the sport, and unfortunately for him, his run at the top could be coming to an end.

    Picking Cotto in this fight is a tad bold, but that's why this list features bold predictions. He'll be fighting for history and at home. Add that to Martinez's recent injury history, and you have the makings of an upset.

    Look for Cotto to snatch up a bit of history this year by defeating Martinez for the legitimate middleweight crown.

Andre Ward Will Face Gennady Golovkin Late in the Year

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    Andre Ward just can't seem to get any love outside the hardcore boxing community. He's ranked second on most pound-for-pound lists, he's the undisputed champion at his weight, and he has cleared out his neighborhood by beating basically every other top fighter. 

    As good as he is in the ring, he has had a hard time selling himself outside of it. 

    Ward rarely travels far from his native Bay Area for fights, and he's going to have to start looking elsewhere if he wants to make some hay using his phenomenal physical gifts.

    That means that Ward, like it or not, will have to look outside his own orbit for potential foes. Luckily for him, HBO's cupboard is stacked in the weight classes both below and above him.

    At light heavyweight, Ward could travel north to challenge the man who finished what he started against Chad Dawson: Adonis Stevenson. "Superman" has the type of punching power to challenge any fighter and has recently come into his own.

    Or he could try and entice Gennady Golovkin to pack on a couple of pounds and challenge him at super middleweight.

    The fact that HBO has hyped up Golovkin as its next big star over the man considered to be one of the top two fighters in the sport tells you all you need to know about Ward's marketability. He needs a big fight, and what's more, he needs a compelling opponent.

    Golovkin is the definition of high risk, but he satisfies both needs.

    This fight will happen late in 2014.

Canelo Alvarez Will Regain His Star...and Belt

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    Saul "Canelo" Alvarez punched his ticket to the biggest fight in boxing history by defeating Austin Trout in April. The hype surrounding him was immense, and a fair number of people were convinced that he would be the first to upend pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather.

    Canelo was bigger, physically stronger and younger, and for the first time—possibly ever—there was a sense that Mayweather might have bitten off more than he could chew. 

    And then he went out and took basically every round from his younger, more hyped foe.

    You could make the case that Canelo deserves the award for biggest bust of the year for his performance, but that is unfair. Lost in all the hype for the fight was the fact that Alvarez was still just a relatively inexperienced 23-year-old. 

    Now, that's not to take anything away from Mayweather, but to point out that those who are dismissing Canelo on the basis of that performance are falling into the same trap as those who felt he was a lock to win the fight.

    Everyone just needs to take a step back and breathe. 

    Canelo is still young, and his potential remains huge. He will get back on track early in 2014 by snagging a second junior middleweight title with a victory over current IBF champion Carlos Molina. 

    And in his ideal situation, he'll face a big name—such as Miguel Cotto—by the end of the year. 

    Those are both intriguing fights, and Canelo will once again be a champion and sit at the top of everyone's lists of the most promising young fighters by the time we head to 2015.

Mikey Garcia Will Be 2014's Breakout Star

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    Mikey Garcia has all the makings of a huge star, and he'll be the breakout fighter of 2014.

    The 26-year-old two-time world champion won all three of his fights in 2013, and each one was more impressive than the last. He blitzed Orlando Salido in January to win a world title at featherweight, lost it on the scale before dominating and stopping former champ Juan Manuel Lopez in June and then stopped Roman Martinez to win a super featherweight title in November.

    Garcia will make the first defense of his newly won crown on Jan. 25 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden against veteran contender Juan Carlos Burgos. Many felt that Burgos had done more than enough to win that same belt a year ago when he was saddled with a controversial draw against Martinez.

    If Garcia can get by Burgos, and he should, another jump in weight could be in the offing. He's said in the past that he would have no trouble making the 130-pound super featherweight limit, but he could soon jump to lightweight or even beyond.

    At 135 pounds and above, he'd find a plethora of huge potential challengers.

    Yuriorkis Gamboa campaigns at lightweight and is badly in need of an opponent who can bring out his best. That fight has been mentioned in the past and could finally come off this year. 

    Further north in the weight scale, you get into some hypothetical matchups against Timothy Bradley or even Manny Pacquiao.

    That might be a stretch at this point, although the Bradley fight at least seems to have some legs, according to Brian Campbell of ESPN.com. 

    Neither of those bouts is likely to take place in 2014, mainly due to the necessity of moving up in weight, but Garcia will emerge as boxing's breakout star this year. As a result, he'll throw his hat in the mix for big fights in 2015.

Adrien Broner Will Challenge for a Fourth World Title

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    Adrien Broner finished his 2013 campaign in about the worst possible way you could imagine. He made a fool of himself before, during and after his first career defeat and has a serious brand rebuilding challenge in front of him. 

    It wasn't just that Marcos Maidana beat him, it's that he beat him up and made him look like an overhyped, spoiled kid in the aftermath.

    Broner's biggest problem is that so many of his wounds are self-inflicted.

    Fighters lose all the time, even ones who carry hype with them into the ring. But "The Problem" rubbed so many people the wrong way with his brash demeanor and outlandish comparisons to his idol Floyd Mayweather that he's not getting much sympathy or goodwill from fans. 

    All that being said, he's still young and talented. You don't walk into the ring and capture three world championships in three weight divisions without having something to back up the talk. 

    He will likely heed the advice of his mentor Mayweather and drop back down in weight to 140 pounds. His punches didn't seem to carry the same steam at welterweight as they did when he was winning world titles at super featherweight and lightweight, and a lot of that may have been due to the increased weight.

    A move to 140 pounds could be beneficial and help him to rebuild his tattered reputation. Golden Boy Promotions still believes in him, and it doesn't hurt to have the power of Mayweather behind him. 

    He will get a comeback fight in May—possibly on Mayweather's undercard—before challenging for a fourth world title in the fall.

Nonito Donaire's Crisis of Confidence Will Plague Him

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    Nonito Donaire ended 2012 as the fastest-rising star in the sport, but unfortunately for him, the situation is reversed as we plow ahead into 2014.

    "The Filipino Flash" captured Fighter of the Year honors in 2012 after an impressive campaign that saw him go 4-0 and capture two world championships at super bantamweight.

    His first fight of 2013, however, proved to be an absolute disaster. 

    Guillermo Rigondeaux thoroughly dominated and outboxed him in a fight that wasn't nearly as close as the scorecards would indicate. Rigo was in complete control throughout, and a Donaire knockdown in the 10th round should take little away from what was one of the biggest washouts in a big fight in recent memory.

    After taking six months off from the ring to spend time with a growing family that now includes a child, Donaire returned to stop former foe Vic Darchinyan in a November rematch of their 2007 fight. But he looked unimpressive in doing so, and he was well behind on the scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

    The worst part of that performance was his seeming lack of confidence. He was a shell of the fighter who had risen through the ranks to as high as the third spot on many pound-for-pound lists. He was reluctant to let his hands go and seemed nervous every time his foe did. 

    Does he still have the potential to be a major player in the sport going forward? Yes.

    But his crisis of confidence will prevent him from ascending to his 2012 heights.

HBO Will Gain, but Showtime Will Remain King of the Hill

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    HBO, for years the dominant brand in cable boxing, found itself in an unusual position in 2013: that of second-best.

    Showtime scored the coup of the year in February when it inked pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather to an exclusive six-fight contract. Shortly after, HBO announced that it would no longer do business with Golden Boy Promotions, which placed its deep roster of fighters exclusively on Showtime.

    That allowed Showtime to televise cards that often went three good fights deep, while HBO was relegated to one good fight with no undercard at all or one that was exceptionally weak.

    For example, take Showtime's signature event of the year: The One: Mayweather vs. Canelo.

    That card featured not only the huge main event between Mayweather and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez but also gave the fans some additional bang for their buck in the form of a main event worthy co-feature between Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse.

    In contrast, HBO's biggest show of the year on PPV featured Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios in the main event.

    The co-feature? Evgeny Gradovich vs. Billy Dib.

    That's not exactly a PPV-worthy fight. 

    In 2014, HBO will make some inroads back toward the top, but it will still need to heed a few lessons from Showtime. Namely, the channel has to put more than one solid fight on a card if it expects people to tune in or part with their hard-earned cash.

    Until HBO gets that message, Showtime will remain the king of the mountain.

Bernard Hopkins Will Still Be a Champ at Nearly 50 Years Old

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    There is a growing sense in the boxing community that IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins might actually be an alien. How else do you explain his continued dominance when he's pushing 50 years old?

    The soon-to-be 49-year-old remains a factor in the light heavyweight division, and he fought twice in 2013. In his first bout in March, he broke his own record by once again becoming the oldest man to capture a world title, when he easily outpointed Tavoris Cloud. He followed that up with another impressive performance, dispatching Karo Murat in October.

    The obvious question—which we seem to have been asking for years now—is what could possibly be left for him to prove?

    He's a guaranteed Hall of Famer, one of the greatest fighters of any generation and has made more than enough money to last him a few lifetimes. 

    At this point, just about the only thing worth accomplishing is becoming the first man to hold a world championship on his 50th birthday.  

    Hopkins will reach that milestone age in mid-January 2015, and there doesn't seem to be much, if anything, stopping him.

    He'll reportedly face WBA light heavyweight champion Beibut Shumenov in a unification bout some time early this year. The Kazakh is a decent fighter who looked impressive his last time out, but Hopkins has made a career out of frustrating younger men. 

    Expect him to do the same to Shumenov. B-Hop will enter 2015 with a world title still around his waist on his 50th birthday.