This is the third and final installment of my annual preview-review, featuring boxing’s traditional glory divisions from middleweight to heavyweight. In the previous two segments I rationalized that readers who visit various boxing websites must notice how easy it is for journalists to make lofty predictions. Many writers are certain in the knowledge that few will remember what they wrote in a year’s time. So, every year I venture back in time and review my predictions from the previous year. I, again, encourage readers to take a look around the ‘Net. I don’t think you will find another boxing website or publication taking the time to analyze their editorials from the recent past.
In this 2009 Preview Review, I revisit my predictions in every weight class for a champion who will stay, a champion who will go and a boxer to watch out for. I do not make any changes to the predictions from last year; removing any temptation to make myself look better through minor removal of irrelevant content. This means I have to separate this feature into three parts, in order to keep the word count below that of a Stephen King novel. At the end of each prediction I apply a simple grade, from A to F, along with an opinion on how the prognostication turned out.
Champion who will stay: Arthur Abraham
What I said: Those who have been read my articles in the past know that I was a backer of Abraham from the start, and maintain he has been the best middleweight for the last three years. I think he bests any middleweight put in front of him, and has already shown he can compete above the 160 pound limit with little problems. He will have one weak mandatory defense to make in 2009, but could also clash with both Felix Sturm and Kelley Pavlik before the year is over. Despite what should be a full schedule and two tough fights, he is the type of fighter that will adapt and overcome a wide range of styles.
Grade B- : I give myself a passing grade despite Abraham no longer holding an alphabet belt. And why not? My pick did not lose a fight last year, and only moved up in weight out of frustration born from not being able to get Kelly Pavlik or Felix Sturm in the ring with him. Abraham abdicated his title by moving up in weight, but the German slugger also made two title defenses in 2009. Late in the year moved up to hand Jermain Taylor an impressive beat down at 168 pounds. It’s likely Abraham would have retained the title if he chose to stay at middleweight for the rest of the year, even if the opponents name was Kelly Pavlik or Felix Sturm. Too bad neither bout materialized, and maybe Pavlik and Sturm are better off fighting each other given what Abraham is doing at a higher weight class.
Champion who will go: Felix Sturm
What I said: A tough choice between the German and our own Kelly Pavlik. I went with Sturm because he has a higher caliber of challenger within the WBA’s top ten, and Pavlik should be able to avoid Abraham longer then Sturm. The number one challenger to Sturm’s title is the capable Anthony Mundine, and Sturm has been untracked by a quality banger with good boxing skills. I am also concerned about Pavlik keeping his weight down, or that Top Rank moves him up in weight to avoid a clash with Abraham then announce. After which they announce a non-title clash with Abraham would not be monetarily unfeasible. In the end an all German grudge match between Abraham and Sturm is likely for 2009, so that is the main reason I am picking Sturm to lose his title.
Grade D : I could not have gotten a passing grade with either of my choices, but would have looked slightly better had I picked Pavlik. I believed money would dictate a Sturm Abraham bout last year, but Abraham got tired of waiting and moved up to 168 pounds in search of glory after he was rebuffed in negotiations by team Sturm. That fight would have been a great match-up, and probably would have resulted in a passing grade for me in this category. No “F” though, since this was not a glaring failure.
Will rise in 2009: Daniel Geale
What I said: Aussie prospects have been letting me down recently, but I find myself left with Geale on the strength of one big victory and a lack of other quality upstarts. The best of a mediocre batch, beating out the overrated John Duddy (as my last name suggests, it hurts me to say that) and East Europeans Dmitry Pirog and Grzegorz Proksa on the basis of his win over Daniel Dawson. In that victory Geale took a drastic step up in competition, comprehensively outboxing his undefeated countryman. It is the only really good victory on his resume, but it showed off the amateur stars mix of speed, accuracy, and movement. In that fight he did well to ignore a cut over his left eye, and absorbed good punches in the middle rounds. Has attracted Jeff Fenech to his side as well, a man that can get Geale big fights against the worlds elite.
Grade C- : I gave myself the lowest possible passing grade because Geale lost a fight last year, but the Aussie entered most worldwide rankings in the process. Geale’s setback was a controversial split decision to countryman Anthony Mundine, but the closeness of the bout was reflected by Geale entering The Ring magazines top ten rankings. Returned with a win over Samir Barbosa to round out the year. In general elevated his status in 2009, proving once-again that a loss is not always a bad thing for young fighters.
Champion who will stay: Mikkel Kessler
What I said: Not only is Kessler the best boxer in this weight class, he is also the only one who does not have Jermain Taylor rated in his sanction bodies top 15. I have never heard of his mandatory challenger, Gusmyl Perdoma of Venezuela, and if he is featured in an American bout it will most likely be against on again off again Allan Green. Even if a fight with Taylor materializes, I think Kessler wins that match-up. Only the surprising Carl Froch looks like he has the combination of speed, strength, and power to derail the great Dane. I am playing the odds here, no matter who Kessler faces he has the skill set to defeat them.
Grade F : Wow, did the Showtime super-middleweight tourney catch me byt surprise and screw up this prediction! That tourney came out of nowhere, and I am overjoyed with it so far. Despite the fact that the super-six tourney handed me a failing grade here. Even if I had known of the tourney, I still might have gone with Kessler in this spot. Kessler did handle Perdoma with no problems, but I was shocked at how easily Andre Ward manipulated the Dane. I believe Kessler has the right combination of skills to defeat Froch in an exciting bout, as long as Kessler’s confidence is not shaken. Still, an “F” is more than deserved given his lopsided loss.
Champion who will go: Denis Inkin
What I said: This choice came down to who is most likely to face Jermain Taylor, or who has the best list of challengers in their sanctioning body. Now, I am not certain Inkin will fight Taylor, but his top ten is filled with the likes of Andre Dirrell, Andre Ward, Jermain Taylor, Edison Miranda, and Jean Paul Mendy. His mandatory is Hungarian southpaw Karoly Balzsay, who could defeat him on the 10th of this month. Inkin is decent boxer, but he is the weakest of the lot of champions and simply the most logical choice.
Grade A: The Russian only fought once in 2009, but it was enough for me since he lost a decision to upstart Karoly Balzsay. I noted Balzsay’s southpaw stance in the preview, and it was a factor since Inkin needed time to adjust and lost on the scorecards by two and four points. At 32 Inkin will have a tough time reaching title contention again, especially if he does not get back in the ring soon. As of this writing Inkin has no fight scheduled for 2010.
Will rise in 2009: Karo Murat
What I said: I have grown impatient with Americans Andre Direll and Andre Ward, who are the obvious choice at 168, and will feature an European since they have dominated this division over the last fifteen years. Murat did not have much of an amateur career, but is being coached up by Ulli Wegner (who has guided the likes of Arthur Abraham and Sven Ottke to a world titles) nicely. Murat has won the European super middleweight title, and other then one gimmie fight has elevated his level of opposition consistently since 2007. Murat does not have the speed or skills of Ward and Direll, but has been more willing to test himself. Murat is solidly build, and will give either Direll or Ward trouble if he gets his hand on a belt before they do.
Grade B : Fought twice in 2009, defending his European title against tough Italian Cristian Sanavia and beating Sergey Demchenko for a regional WBO title. The second is significant for a future shot at WBO champion Robert Stieglitz, and Murat is scheduled to fight a beatable Mariano Plotinsky this month. I expected a little more from Murat’s level of opposition, which is why I limited myself to a “B”.
Champion who will stay: Zsolt Erdei
What I said: Looks like another Sven Ottke. The Hungarian, fighting out of Germany, has excellent boxing skills but is not marketable enough for anyone with name recognition outside of Germany to square off against. The risk vs. reward theory rears its ugly head again. Bernard Hopkins is his mandatory challenger, ironically Hopkins will do all he can not to get a title shot while Erdei will be seeking it out. That usually works in reverse. The rest of the WBO’s top ten is a mediocre lot, except for Glen Johnson who will likely call out bigger game in America. Number two rated Aleksy Kuziemski should be an easy win, and then a good money showdown with under achieving German Jurgen Brahmer will probably round out his year. All winnable bouts, that should ensure another year on top of the WBO heap.
Grade C- : Once again I was caught off guard by a boxer who moved up in weight, but give myself a passing grade because Erdei did not lose a fight. This move up in weight was more of a shock then Abraham’s, since there had been no hint of Erdei having issues with weight. Made one title defense at 175 pounds against Yuri Barashian, scoring an easy decision, before moving up to take a cruiserweight belt from Giacobbe Fragomeni. That fight was a hotly disputed contest, and Erdei had to survive a championship round rally by Fragomeni. Here is one prediction. Holding on to a title a cruiserweight will be much tougher then dealing with the ordinary list of challenger at light-heavyweight for Erdei.
Champion who will go: Hugo Garay
What I said: A physically strong Argentine boxer, who represented his country in the Olympics, with underrated boxing skills. He has only lost twice (plus one D.Q), to Zsolt Erdei by close margins, and I think he is good enough to hang on to the title if Glen Johnson gets a WBA title shot. I do not think any of the light heavyweights will lose their titles, but Garay will most likely have to defend his title on the road. Not an easy chore, and is the only reason I am picking him. Ukrainian Vyacheslav Uzelkov is the number one challenger, who sports a vast amateur background, and poses a credible threat if the fight takes place in the Ukraine.
Grade A: Only fought once in 2009, and I was surprised that Garay did not retain the title against a then undervalued Spaniard Gabriel Campillo. Truthfully, I got lucky with this selection. But all credit to Campillo, who traveled to Argentina and took the title via a majority decision with only a point separating the duo on the scorecards. Garay has yet to return from the loss, but given Campillo’s subsequent success Garay has nothing to be ashamed of. At 29 Garay remains a viable contender once he returns to the ring. Still, I was surprised to see him lose the title at home, in what was a case of lack of scouting by Garay’s team for a voluntary title defense.
Will rise in 2009: Tavoris Cloud
What I said: The light heavyweights had the weakest crop of young talent last year, a shame since the current top ten is inhabited by the elder statesmen of boxing like Hopkins, Jones, Tarver, and Glen Johnson. Florida seems to be a breeding ground for American light heavies (Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver), and this thundering Cloud could be the man to carry on that lofty tradition. Cloud is a fast fisted banger, who earned respect last year by dominating the tough and test Julio Cesar Gonzalez, who uses both hands well. His defense might be a bit underrated, slipped a lot of punches from Gonzalez, since his offense overshadows everything else. Has knocked out all but one of his nineteen opponents, and is likely to crack my top ten with another win on par with that of Gonzalez. Also watch out for Kazak Beibut Shumenov, who looked impressive against Epifanio Mendoza in only his seventh bout.
Grade A : Cloud stepped up in competition and delivered in a big way. The slugger from Florida won the IBF title by outpointing Clinton Woods, looking impressive enough to be a viable attraction on Showtime and perhaps HBO with another solid win. I wish Cloud had fought more than once in 2009 (he waited out a title shot instead of keeping busy), but I cannot argue against a strategy that made him a belt holder. Watching the aggressive Cloud is a joy, and I rate him as the only force at light heavyweight who I would pay to see challenge Chad Dawson.
Champion who will stay: Tomasz Adamek
What I said: This was not an easy choice, because a rematch with Steve Cunningham should happen this year. That would not be an easy defense! However, B.J Flores is the number one contender, and I think the Pole can win that fight and maybe another defense in Poland could push back a Cunningham rematch to 2010. Even if a Cunningham fight does materialize in 2009, Adamek has shown he can hurt and beat Cunningham. Overall Adamek is the best offensive force at cruiserweight, but really needs to show more dedication on defense. The cruiserweight division has improved immensely over the last decade, to the point where no champion is safe.
Grade A+ : Too bad a rematch with Cunningham never materialized, but Adamek did continue to test himself by moving up to heavyweight and knocking out Andrew Golota. At cruiserweight Adamek TKO’d highly touted Emmanuel Steward prospect Jonathan Banks, and scored a keep busy kayo over Bobby Gunn. The money is better at heavyweight, but there is still a good chance Adamek will return to cruiserweight and defend his Ring magazine title and IBF trinket.
Champion who will go: Guillermo Jones
What I said: First came to our attention as a jr. middleweight challenger, and has since expanded in girth to become one of the most unlikely champions of recent vintage. Opponents just keep underestimating the portly Panamanian. Jones walks through punches to deliver his awkward retaliatory blows, and he finds ways to keep opponents frustrated and within punching distance. And has done so effectively, to the point of TKO’ing (on cuts) a capable Firat Arslan to win the WBA title. If, and this is a big if, Jones has more then two fights this year I expect him to lose one on foreign turf. Russian Valery Brudov is his number one challenger, and that will not be an easy match-up in terms of style. Might also be put in an unification match with Tomasz Adamek, where he would be a considerable underdog.
Grade C- : Frankly, I am shocked and confused as to why Guillermo has not been stripped of his WBA belt? This titleholder has gone over one calendar without facing number one challenger Valery Brudov, and has not fought since September of 2008! There is no title defense scheduled either. I have not been able to find any reports of an injury that prevented a Brudov fight, which makes this freezing of the title inexplicable. Heck, the WBA usually crown’s an interim champ every week, so I am not sure what the holdup is at cruiserweight? Still, I give myself a passing grade, since by all laws of logic Jones should have been stripped of his title by now.
Will rise in 2009: Alexander Alexeev
What I said: No, I would not have chosen the winner of the Contender TV series if I knew the result. Alexeev brings a ton of amateur experience, a three time Russian heavyweight champion, and a big punch from the southpaw stance into his fights. Has reduced nicely in poundage from heavyweight, retaining his strength and punching power. Really upped the level of his progression in 2008 stopping tested Americans Rob Calloway and Talmadge Griffis, and adding former title challenger Louis Azille to his list of victims for good measure. A fast starter Alexeev goes for the body from the opening bell, but without neglecting defense. Although he stands a bit too upright for my liking, his delivery of punches and balance are excellent.
Grade D- : How can I give Alexeev a failing grade, despite the Russian fighting his way to the number four contender spot in the WBA, WBC, and WBO rankings? Easy, he was shockingly stopped by Victor Ramirez in the tenth round, but did rebound to score three solid wins to round out 2009. Ramirez was also better than advertised, and went on to gain full recognition as the WBO champion. While I do not put any faith in the alphabet boys rankings, Alexeev is a smart fighter who will have learned from his mistakes in the Ramriez fight. I do not rate him near the top ten yet, and it is why the former Olympian gets a failing grade.
Champion who will stay: Vitali Klitschko
What I said: The reason is quite simple... size! Is likely to fight blown up former cruiserweight champion Juan Carlos Gomez in his next fight (the speedier version of five or six years ago might have stood a chance), then square off against former cruiserweight king David Haye. That fight might pose some problems for Vitali, but Haye has shown he does not have a great chin. Those could be Vitali’s only bouts of 2009, and that is if he gets through those training camps without injuries that could postpone the events. If a fight against the WBA champ, either Valuev or Chagaev, comes off he should be favored to win that fight as well. Although Chagaev has shown he can cope with size.
Grade A+ : Was surprisingly active in 2009, scoring three victories against two solid foes and one unworthy opponent who showed his lack of quality in the ring. Klitschko delivered stoppage victories over Juan Carlos Gomez and Chris Arreola, the two best guys he faced, and would have knocked out Kevin Johnson if Johnson had done anything other than curl up in a defensive shell along the ropes. My simple prediction of “size” played out in the two kayo wins, where Gomez and Arreola could not match Klitschko in the strength department. Surprisingly, they also had no answer for Klitschko’s underrated boxing ability and tight defense. Klitschko’s accomplishments in 2009 are an A+ year for any heavyweight in today’s weak era.
Champion who will go: Ruslan Chagaev
What I said: Yes, Chagaev is the real WBA heavyweight champ, since he did not lose it in the ring, and holds a victory over Nikolay Valuev. I think Chagaev has the best combination of skills of all the heavyweight champions, when every aspect is evaluated. He has shown better stamina and determination then Wladimir, and his offense does not seem as systematic and more flowing. I would pick Chagaev to beat Wladimir Klitschko, after a tune-up, but think he would struggle against a more measured and purposeful Vitali. The way it looks the Klitschko’s will put Vitaly in against him, and the styles favor Vitali in that fight. A rematch with Nicolai Valuev is just as likely, and Chagaev did not win that fight with much room to spare. So even though I rate Chagaev highly, his route to retaining the title could be stylistically tougher than that of the others.
Grade A : Turns out Chagaev could not match Wladimir Klitschko, when thrown in as an opponent after Klitschko’s fight with David Haye fell apart. I got lucky in that sense, since the Klitschko’s are the only heavyweights I saw with the abilities to take down Chagaev. The root of Chagaev’s problems seems to be activity (only fought once in 2007,2008, and twice in 2009), and it did not help that he was hampered by an Achilles tendon injury as well. Is still only 31 years old, and if given a good schedule should be right back in the title mix. So far there is nothing scheduled for Chagaev in 2010.
Will rise in 2009: Alexander Dimitrenko
What I said: Last year I picked Alexander Povetkin and he would be an obvious choice this year, but I don’t like repeating myself. I am sure American Chris Arreola will make many other lists, but his opposition is just a notch below that of Dimitrenko so far. The Ukrainian impressively dispatched of European mainstays Luan Krasniqi and Timo Hoffmann last year, and has knocked out all five of his opponents over the last two years. At 6’7 and 250 pounds he has the right size, and does not lumber or seem labored chasing down smaller heavyweights. The only question I have about Dimitrenko is how he would react against a fighter with a lot of handspeed, since he was floored from a punch by Timo Hoffman that he did not see coming. But he recovered from it well, and I like the way he retaliated and came after Hoffman in subsequent rounds. Ideally he would fight Arreola (like Povetkin and Eddie Chambers squared off on HBO), in a fight that would produce a fresh young heavyweight force who has fought his way to title the old fashioned way.
Grade F- : I get the biggest possible failing grade, since it should be easier to chart path of heavyweight prospects given the dearth of talent in the division. The Ukrainian ran into a buzzsaw by the name of Eddie Chambers, and lost a wide decision in his home-base of Germany. Just as bad, the young Dimitrenko has not returned since that loss in July. It is a sign of just how weak the division is that Dimitrenko is still rated in the top ten of The Ring magazine, and even sadder that it is a justifiable ranking! I do not want to write of the 27 year old, and the failing grade and my harsh words are directed at me instead of the boxer. When evaluating Dimitrenko I asked, “The only question I have about Dimitrenko is how he would react against a fighter with a lot of handspeed.” We now have that answer, not good!