5 British Fighters Who Need to Fight Tougher Opponents in 2014

James GarnerContributor IFebruary 20, 2014

5 British Fighters Who Need to Fight Tougher Opponents in 2014

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    Moving a fighter up through the ranks is more of an art than a science. Even one defeat can be disproportionately harmful to a boxer's career so it's no surprise than promoters err on the side of caution.

    Early in a career it is important to be exposed to different styles of fighter and to build a well of experience that can be drawn upon in tougher contests further up the ranks.

    Even so, there is only so much patience fans have before they start losing interest and, ultimately, the only way to become a world-class fighter is to fight at world-class level.

    No doubt this time last year there were calls for David Price to move up in class but those calls were not mistaken—what went wrong was that Price went from fighting guys 50th in the world to a top-15 fighter in Tony Thompson, without first facing a couple of guys 30th or 25th in the world as a bridge.

    One British fighter who has already accepted a big challenge for 2014 is Ricky Burns (pictured). He defends his WBO lightweight title against unbeaten American Terence Crawford on March 1.

    Crawford is arguably the first truly world-class opponent Burns has faced, and the Scotsman is the betting underdog, a very unusual circumstance for a British world-title holder defending on home soil.

    Having nominally been a world champion since 2010, it is long overdue that Burns fight a top contender. Here are five more British fighters who need to make a leap forward in their careers this year.

5. Darren Hamilton

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    Darren Hamilton still flies under the radar, but he has been the British light welterweight champion since May 2012 when he upset the champion Ashley Theophane.

    Hamilton fights this Saturday against Curtis Woodhouse in Hull—a win will secure him a Lonsdale belt but do little for his wider standing.

    Aged 35, Hamilton only has a small window of opportunity to made his mark in the sport, and after Saturday he needs a serious step up to give a better measure of his full potential.

    After the Theophane win, Hamilton has struggled for fights and Woodhouse is only his third fight since May 2012. Having signed with Matchroom Sport in November, his chances of securing a better contest should have increased.

    Hamilton is a reactive boxer who operates best as a spoiler and therefore, to some extent, he boxes to the level of his opposition. That means that we won't know how good he is until he is tested to the limit of his capabilities.

    Eddie Hearn has suggested he wants Hamilton to fight for the European title against Michele Di Rocco, but Di Rocco doesn't have much of a reputation so even a win there wouldn't prove much.

    An ideal opponent would be Humberto Soto, who is on the comeback trail after his loss to Lucas Matthysse in 2012. A veteran of 73 fights at age 33, Soto is a name opponent who is beatable for anyone capable of mixing it at world class.

    That would be a formidable test for Hamilton but with father time ticking loudly in his ear, slow, cautious progress is not an option.

4. Stuart Hall

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    Stuart Hall became only Britain's third fighter to currently hold a full world title by winning a unanimous decision over Vusi Malinga in Leeds for the vacant IBF bantamweight championship just before Christmas.

    That belt has been held by marquee fighters such as Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares and Rafael Marquez in recent years, but victory over the middling Malinga does not confer the same authority to Hall as to those previous champions.

    Hall needs a signature win to announce himself to the division and to the British fight fans—because despite his title, he is still far from well known.

    Next up for Hall is a fairly pointless defence against Martin Ward, who was stopped in five by Lee Haskins only last year.

    Haskins won a comfortable decision over Hall himself back in July 2012 and has been justly critical of the IBF title chances afforded to Hall and Jamie McDonnell, who he also recorded a win over, albeit six years ago.

    For Hall to have any credibility as a world champion, he must first prove himself the best in Britain by fighting McDonnell and Haskins.

    If showdowns between Hall, McDonnell and Haskins are well promoted, then whoever emerges as the top dog should have developed a strong domestic fanbase, and that would give them the perfect platform to then push to unify world titles.

3. Frankie Gavin

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    The fact eternally trotted out about Frankie Gavin is that he is Britain's only ever world champion at the amateur championships. That this—five years into his career as a pro—is still the most notable thing you can say about him should be a cause for some concern.

    Gavin did win the British welterweight title against a faded Junior Witter in late 2012 and followed it up with a career-best performance, stopping Denton Vassell in the seventh round of a title defence in June last year.

    Since then, however, Gavin has had two nothing fights and his career is once again stuck in neutral. If his Twitter account is to be believed, things aren't about to improve.

    I'm fighting sacky shikukutu next  had 21 fights lost 2 wbo no14 for my commonwealth title

    — Frankie Gavin ₯ (@frankiegavin1) February 19, 2014

    The extravagantly named Sacky Shikukutu may have found a home in the notoriously arbitrary rankings of a sanctioning body, but the unbiased listings at BoxRec don't even make him the No. 1 welterweight in Namibia. For a fighter like Gavin who is supposedly on the brink of world-title contention, this is another sideways step.

    An obvious immediate test would be European champion Leonard Bundu, who made his UK debut in December, outclassing Lee Purdy and stopping him in Round 12. Looking across the Atlantic, Luis Collazo, who put himself back in the mix by beating Victor Ortiz, would provide a good barometer.

2. James DeGale

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    Like Gavin, James DeGale turned pro with expectations running high after his 2008 Olympic gold medal win capped an impressive amateur campaign. He made a quick start to his career, winning the British super middleweight title in his ninth fight with a classy dismantling of Paul Smith.

    DeGale lost that belt to George Groves in a razor-tight fight in 2011 when a draw would probably have been the fairest outcome. He bounced straight back to win the European title against Piotr Wilczewski in December 2011, but since then he has not faced sufficiently challenging competition.

    Promoter Mick Hennessy has focused efforts on the WBC rankings, where DeGale is now ranked as the No. 2 contender. A final eliminator for the title held by Sakio Bika is expected against Mayweather Promotions fighter Badou Jack.

    In the meantime, DeGale faces Gevorg Khatchikian in yet another stay busy fight that is unlikely to do much for the fans or his standing.

    DeGale has to hope that the WBC play fair and he gets the opportunities he has pursued. The wild card in the pack is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.— godson of recently deceased WBC president Jose Sulaiman, whose son Mauricio is the new honcho.

    In the middleweight division, the WBC's treatment of Chavez raised the ire of Sergio Martinez, and there is the danger to DeGale that if Chavez wins their super middleweight title, he will again be able to call his own tunes.

    In recent interviews, DeGale has expressed the awareness that he needs to step things up and the expected fight with Jack later in the year would be a good start. Beyond that, he will hope for the WBC champion, be that Bika or Chavez—a win could set up a massive unification clash against the winner of Froch-Groves.

1. Kell Brook

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    This time last year, Kell Brook was supposed to challenge Devon Alexander for the IBF welterweight title. The fight had already been rearranged once due to an injury to Brook. An injury to Alexander postponed it until May 2013 when Brook pulled out again and the fight was finally called off.

    Brook has seemingly been on the fringes of world-level competition since 2011, but the fights have never come to fruition and he still has not fought a clear top-10 opponent. 2013 was a wasted year with wins over Carson Jones in a rematch at a catchweight and then versus the one-paced Vyacheslav Senchenko.

    To add to the frustration, Brook saw Shawn Porter emerge from nowhere to win the IBF title from Alexander in December. Alexander looked vulnerable all night long and Brook would surely have fancied his chances against the American.

    Brook should be able to fight Porter in 2014 so long as the new champion doesn't line up a unification bout against Marcos Maidana, or a more US TV-friendly contest against the likes of Keith Thurman.

    The Sheffield fighter is expected to fight in Liverpool in March, but with no opponent yet named, it is highly unlikely that it will be a meaningful matchup.

    If Brook does face a delay in getting a shot against Porter, it would make sense to fight an opponent that would help announce him to US audiences. The obvious candidates would be Jesus Soto Karass and Paulie Malignaggi, both of whom should be very beatable for Brook when he fires on all cylinders.