Predictions for Boxing's Biggest Fights Scheduled in 2014
This spring, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will return to action. Unfortunately, they won't be returning to action against each other. In April, Pacquiao faces Timothy Bradley in a rematch of their controversial 2011 split decision, and in May, Mayweather takes on Argentinian knockout artist Marcos Maidana.
It's too soon to guess what big fights will be made for next fall. But the boxing schedule is already filled with compelling title fights and eliminators.
The welterweight and light heavyweight divisions are providing a lion's share of the biggest bouts. But for the first time in what seems like forever, the heavyweight division will have meaningful fights.
Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alex Leapai; WBA, WBO, IBF and Lineal Heavyweight Titles
I have so much disdain for this laughable matchup scheduled for April 26 in Germany that I almost didn't include it here at all. Only my respect of the heavyweight championship makes me feel obligated to give it a mention.
Alex Leapai is a 6' heavyweight with limited skills. He was stopped by Kevin Johnson in April 2012. He "earned" this shot at Wladimir Klitschko by beating undefeated Denis Boytsov last November.
The win over Boytsov is a good one, but the Russian was also among the most protected contenders in the division. Leapai has decent power, so there's always the outside chance he'll manage to touch Klitschko's notoriously vulnerable chin and become an Australian version of Rocky Balboa.
But realistically, Leapai strikes me as the ideal candidate for Klitschko to do what he does best: jab and lean while looking for chances to land the big right hand. The champion should knock him out within eight rounds, but I won't be shocked to see this one go the distance.
Sergey Kovalev vs. Cedric Agnew; WBO Light Heavyweight Title
On March 29, Russian wrecking ball Sergey Kovalev returns to action against relatively unknown Cedric Agnew. The Chicago native is undefeated in his career to date, but he has hardly compiled his resume against legitimate contenders.
Four of his last six opponents had losing records. Of the two who were above .500, journeyman Otis Griffin has gone 1-8 since 2011. Fringe contender Yusaf Mack, who Agnew beat by unanimous decision, has gone 3-5 in his last eight fights.
Agnew's win over Mack was a good one, but it's a huge step up from Mack to Kovalev. Kovalev has knocked out seven straight since a 2010 technical draw against Grover Young.
Expect to see him keep that KO streak alive against Agnew. I'd be surprised if this fight makes it to the sixth round.
Tyson Fury vs. Dereck Chisora; British Heavyweight Title
This July 26 fight will be a rematch of the July 2011 tilt between these two, which the still undefeated Tyson Fury won by unanimous decision. But Chisora has become a more experienced and better conditioned fighter over the past three years.
Fury is a giant with an aggressive attitude and some boxing skill. He's a dangerous man in the ring.
But I think the new and improved version of "Del Boy" will have too much athleticism for Fury to contend with over the entire fight. I expect this to be a proper scrap that will once more go the distance.
But this time I am predicting that the outcome will change. Chisora will out-hustle Fury in the championship rounds and secure a narrow win.
Bernard Hopkins vs. Beibut Shumenov; IBF and WBA Light Heavyweight Titles
On April 19, legendary champion Bernard Hopkins will attempt to once more defeat Father Time as he puts his IBF light heavyweight belt on the line in a unification fight with WBA champion Beibut Shumenov.
The fact that Hopkins is heading into yet another world title fight at age 49 is nearly impossible to comprehend. When Bernard Hopkins made his professional debut in 1988, the elder George Bush was still president and iPhones with Face Time were a Jetsons-like science fiction fantasy.
Based on how good Hopkins looked against Karo Murat last fall, I am predicting he will add to his amazing record against Shumenov. The Kazakh is a probably at least a slightly better fighter than Murat but not by any significant order of magnitude.
Hopkins will win by unanimous decision, unless the years have finally caught up to him over the past few months. This close to 50, it is certainly a possibility.
Adonis Stevenson vs. Andrzej Fonfara; WBC and Lineal Light Heavyweight Titles
In May, Adonis Stevenson returns to action in his home city of fight-mad Montreal to face Andrzej Fonfara. The Pole is probably a little bit off the radar for the more casual fans, but in my own opinion, he is a definite top-10 light heavyweight.
He looked terrific in his July 2012 unanimous-decision victory over Glen Johnson. His come-from-behind, Round 9 knockout of Gabriel Campillo last August showed he has the power to turn fights around when necessary.
Still, Stevenson looks like he could be something special. Last June, he shocked the boxing world by knocking out champion Chad Dawson in Round 1 to seize the crown. His first two defenses against former champion Tavoris Cloud and highly ranked contender Tony Bellew both yielded impressive stoppages.
Fonfara will be Stevenson's toughest defense yet, but ultimately I expect "Superman" to be too athletic and powerful. After a competitive fight early, Fonfara will start to break down in the middle rounds and be out of there before the end of Round 10.
Shawn Porter vs. Paulie Malignaggi; IBF Welterweight Title
Last December, Shawn Porter outworked Devon Alexander to remain unbeaten and capture the IBF welterweight belt in a bruising and bloody fight. By defeating the talented Alexander, the 26-year-old proved he is one of the hottest young stars in the sport.
On April 19, he will make his first defense against one of the cagiest veterans in the sport, Paulie Malignaggi. There's no way Paulie Mags can match Porter in a straight-up physical battle. But the "Magic Man" has a high boxing IQ, a very durable chin and a lot of craft, so I expect him to make this fight very competitive.
But Porter is a well-schooled young fighter. I think he'll win this fight and in a lot more decisive manner than the overhyped Adrien Broner beat Malignaggi last year.
I expect Porter to take this fight by unanimous decision, at about eight rounds to four.
Bermane Stiverne vs. Chris Arreola; WBC Heavyweight Title
This May 10 engagement will be the first legitimate heavyweight title fight in years that does not involve a Klitschko brother. When older brother Vitali vacated his portion of the crown at the end of last year to focus on the Ukrainian political situation, the WBC ordered a rematch of Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola's April 2013 battle to fill the void.
Stiverne won that battle in decisive fashion, breaking Arreola's nose and knocking him down in Round 3 en route to a unanimous-decision victory by scores of 118-109 once and 117-110 twice.
Arreola is a longtime contender who fought for the WBC belt against Vitali Klitschko in 2009, losing by Round 10 TKO in a fight where he won only two rounds total on all three judges' cards. This is very likely his last shot at the world title, and I expect him to give everything he has for it.
But I don't see why things should be so much different in May than they were a year ago, when Stiverne cleaned his clock. Arreola's one-round destruction of Seth Mitchell last September was impressive but doesn't prove much.
Arreola was only five pounds lighter for Mitchell than he was for Stiverne, which is a negligible percentage of weight for a guy who weights more than 240 pounds. He looked like he was more or less the same fighter against Mitchell as he was against Stiverne, only facing a lesser professional.
I think this fight will be closer than the last one. But come May 10, I expect to see Stiverne crowned as the first Canadian world heavyweight champion since Trevor Berbick nearly 30 years ago.
Carl Froch vs. George Groves; IBF and WBA Super Middleweight Titles
Andre Ward is clearly the No. 1 fighter in the world at super middleweight, but he has nothing scheduled so far for 2014. Meanwhile, IBF and WBA 168-pound champion Carl Froch will meet fellow Brit George Groves on May 31 in sold-out Wembley Stadium, in a fight that the entire world will be paying attention to.
This is a rematch of their fight last November, when Groves shocked the champion with a first-round knockdown and was leading on the cards when Froch won by Round 9 TKO in the year's most controversial stoppage.
The conditions under which the fight ended demanded a rematch, and Froch is not the sort of champion to deny the fans. The fact that Part 2 will occur in front of a packed soccer stadium no doubt made the return engagement more alluring.
The first fight was a classic example of a hungry young fighter taking the battle to the champion and forcing a full-blown war. I don't expect anything different in this one. It's going to be a barnburner.
Both fighters have seen each other in person now, and that will play into the outcome this time. Groves has the physical advantages that come with youth, but Froch has always been a smart fighter, and he'll continue with the same adjustments we were starting to see late in the first fight.
This time around I expect Froch to grind out a narrow decision. But Groves is just 25, and I predict he'll be an important fighter for years to come at 168 and 175.
Sergio Martinez vs. Miguel Cotto; WBC and Lineal Middleweight Titles
The cynic inside of me can't help wondering what Miguel Cotto did to deserve this June 7 shot at Sergio Martinez's middleweight crown. He went 0-2 in 2012, dropping his light middleweight belt to Floyd Mayweather and then losing his next fight against Austin Trout.
In his comeback fight in 2013, he looked impressive TKOing Delvin Rodriguez. But Rodriguez is on the bubble for the 154-pound top 10, at best. How does beating him earn Cotto a title fight at 160?
And with two other undefeated titleholders at 160, Gennady Golovkin and Peter Quillin, it's fair to wonder why Martinez would pick an opponent who is arguably not even top five at 154.
But the pure boxing fan inside of me is fine with all of this. Cotto and Martinez are both future Hall of Famers and two of the best of their generation. This superfight exists merely to generate big paydays for the two of them as they wind down their careers, and they frankly deserve it.
While the fight will be entertaining, I'm not sure it will be very close. Martinez is a bigger, quicker fighter with far more explosive power. He has seven inches of reach on Cotto.
Cotto is a smart tactical fighter, and if anybody can find a way to win in the face of such physical disadvantages, it's him, particularly with Freddie Roach in his corner.
Martinez is 40 and is coming off multiple surgeries in the past two years. If he was sure he was 100 percent of what he was three years ago, he'd be fighting Golovkin.
Just the same, until I see that Martinez is completely shot with my own eyes, there's no way I can pick Cotto to win. Martinez wins this by Round 10 TKO.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Mike Alvarado; WBO Welterweight Title Eliminator
On May 17, 40-year-old Juan Manuel Marquez will make one last push to become a five-division world champion when he faces Mike Alvarado. As reported by Sports Illustrated and other outlets, Top Rank is already stating that the winner of this fight will face the winner of Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley for the WBO welterweight belt in the fall.
Cynics are going to be in the background on this one, accusing Marquez of ducking Ruslan Provodnikov. The Russian called out the future Hall of Famer last February, and Marquez told The Ring and other media outlets that a fight with "The Siberian Rocky" would "mean little for my legacy."
Yet now he is fighting Alvarado, who got completely smashed by Provodnikov last fall.
Still, I can appreciate the aging veteran's tactical play here. Marquez desperately wants a last shot at either Bradley or Pacquiao for the welterweight belt. A win would make him the first five-division world champion in Mexican boxing history.
A fight with the monstrous Provodnikov, in the meantime, could easily derail that goal, and he knows it.
A fight with Alvarado is no sure thing at this point in his career. The American is a powerful, gutsy fighter, and he'll be stronger at 147 than he was after sucking himself dry to make 140 against Provodnikov last year.
But I still feel like this is a case of a very good young fighter facing a great old one. I thought Marquez deserved to lose to Timothy Bradley last fall. But he didn't take significant damage and should have more than enough left in the tank to win this one.
I expect to see a fairly easy unanimous decision for Marquez.
Timothy Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao; WBO Welterweight Title
On April 12, Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao will finally face off in a rematch of their June 2012 bout, which Bradley won in one the most controversial split decisions in recent years.
Like most people, I think Pacquiao deserved to win that fight. I had him by eight rounds to four. At the same time, Pacquiao didn't look anything like his usual self against the rugged and crafty Bradley.
And one factor that a lot of people seem to overlook when discussing that fight is that Bradley spent most of it fighting with two badly injured legs. That doesn't mean he deserved to win. But it does make a person wonder how things will go next time if he's 100 percent.
So I am going out on a limb here and picking Bradley in a very close and exciting decision victory. I think he's become a better fighter since 2012, while Pacquiao has diminished to some degree.
I think we'll see the best possible Pacquiao we could see in this one, but at this point, that's not enough to beat Bradley. Pac-Man got robbed in the last one, but this time, he will legitimately deserve to lose.
Floyd Mayweather vs. Marcos Maidana; WBC and WBA Welterweight Titles
This time a year ago, I doubt many fans or writers were predicting Marcos Maidana as Floyd Mayweather's likely opponent for Cinco De Mayo Weekend in 2014. But last December, Maidana handed Mayweather protege Adrien Broner the beatdown that so many had been longing to see.
The surge in the Argentinian tough guy's popularity made him the best possible candidate in a relatively sparse field.
But Mayweather is not Broner. He's has much more experience and the sort of discipline that I'm not sure Broner can even comprehend. I saw the pound-for-pound king at a card he was promoting last month, and he looked ready to step on the scale and make the welterweight limit that very night.
Maidana is a warrior, and he's never going to show respect to anybody between the time the bell rings for the opening round and the end of the fight. He'll come after Mayweather and make the fight exciting at times.
But Mayweather thrives on that sort of pressure. He'll slow Maidana down with his tricky lead right from the outside and then shoulder roll and lace him with uppercuts on the inside.
I don't think Mayweather will get the stoppage, but the fight will be one-sided and Maidana will take a beating. Expect a near shutout on the cards.