The past 12 months have seen the public regain a healthy appetite for boxing and I predict 2015 will be the year of the hungry heavyweights, with the ring’s juggernauts restoring the glitz and glory of the division on which the fight game’s history largely rests. The new year heralds a new dawn for big men and big punchers.
What’s more, the Yanks are coming – again. At last, after years of heavyweight humiliation at the hands of the family Klitschko, they believe they have unearthed a real gem rather than just another ersatz contender.
Deontay Wilder, 29, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is the name on the lips of US fight fans. He fights for Bermane Stiverne’s WBC title on 17 January at the MGM in Las Vegas, a pairing that will determine whether America’s latest heavyweight hope is for real.
Wilder’s record of 32 bouts all ending with opponents battered or bloodied – usually both – inside four rounds is as breathtaking as his brutal punching. He comes in swinging relentlessly from the start and so far no one has had the temerity – or opportunity – to hit him back.
Wilder is aware the United States has not had a great heavyweight since Evander Holyfield was at his peak more than a decade ago. He might be the man to change that – if he can take it as well as dish it out.
Stiverne, a Canadian citizen who was born in Haiti and now lives in Las Vegas, picked up the belt relinquished by Vitali Klitschko with an impressive stoppage of Chris Arreola. However, unlike the 6ft 6in Wilder, Stiverne’s 26-fight record is not unblemished, as he was once ko’d by the journeyman Demetrice King.
With TV network HBO back in the heavyweight game, boxing is having a similar resurgence in America to that over here, where younger audiences are packing the big arenas, obviously appreciative of a sport that is now ticking all the boxes for entertainment and excitement.
In Britain, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua may not yet be the biggest name in boxing but it is certainly the longest.
Like Wilder, Big Josh has the world at his fists – provided he too knows when to duck. Joshua has charm and charisma, and is the most athletic-looking young heavyweight in the game.
Pro rata he has an even better record of swift dispatches than Wilder, his 10 opponents lasting a total of 17 rounds, all falling inside three. That opposition has been somewhat very average, as you might expect at this formative stage of his career. As an Olympian he probably encountered a better class of foe than he has so far as a pro.
He takes a timely step up in class against the durable American veteran Kevin Johnson, never halted in 36 fights, in his next outing on 31 January, when his stamina is more likely to be tested than his chin.
But talk of matching Joshua with the likes of Tyson Fury, or even David Price (who is rumoured to have put him down in sparring) is ridiculously premature. He is still on a vital learning curve and is potentially far too good to hurry.
Whether Joshua can absorb a decent punch will be the acid test. Don’t let’s forget that 18 months ago the talk was of Scouser Price, also an Olympic medallist, being the next British world heavyweight champion. Then along came a 42-year-old warhorse named Tony Thompson and bingo! It was goodnight nurse – twice.
That was a big shock for boxing – though not quite as seismic as the subsequent revelation last year by Price’s former promoter Frank Maloney that he had become a transsexual, henceforth to be known as Kellie. I doubt any punch thrown in boxing in 2015 will be quite as gobsmacking as that.
Another home heavyweight, Tyson Fury, leads a powerful British world title assault this year. He will fight for the WBO belt one way or another – either challenging the holder Wladimir Klitschko or for the vacant title should the enduring Ukrainian elect not to defend it against the new British and European champion. After dextrously dismantling Dereck Chisora, Fury faces the Hamburg-based Romanian Christian Hammer, a KO specialist who, having won his last 10 contests, threatens to prove he is as dangerous as he sounds at London’s O2 arena on Saturday 28 February.
Fury is an enigma. He can be outrageously offensive, incurring the wrath of the Board of Control for wildly intemperate language and behaviour, yet when the mood takes him he is engaging, witty and fascinatingly knowledgeable about boxing history. Just like a certain other Tyson. What’s in a name, eh?
British boxing’s global boom continues with upcoming world title fights for the middleweight Billy Joe Saunders against Ireland’s new sporting icon, Andy Lee; Carl Frampton, the super-bantamweight champion, against Californian Chris Avalos in Belfast; and perhaps the biggest ask of all, Martin Murray against the Kazakh middleweight Gennady Golovkin in Monte Carlo.
Paul Butler will get his crack at the IBF world super-flyweight title champion Zolani Tete on 6 March in Liverpool as he aims to become Britain’s first boxer in more than 100 years to win a second world title at a lighter weight. The exciting Manchester lightweight Terry Flanagan is looking at a world title shot this year and he’s in competition against Ireland’s Stephen Ormond. Birmingham’s Frankie Gavin is set for a second attempt at the European title and a potential world title challenge by the end of the year.
On the cusp of big things this year are the unbeaten British and Commonwealth super-featherweight champion Liam Walsh; British light-middleweight champion Liam Smith; British, Commonwealth and European flyweight champion Kevin Satchell; new Commonwealth light-middleweight champion Liam Williams; WBO European super-featherweight champion Mitchell Smith; WBA international super-bantamweight champion Lewis Pettitt; and English welterweight champion Ahmet Patterson.
Chris Eubank Jnr will make a high-level return to the ring against the interim WBA world middleweight champion Dmitry Chudinov at the O2 arena. I’m also really excited about some of the young prospects now coming through, especially 21-year-old Chorley light-welter Jack Catterall.
There are some cracking young fighters I guide, with 10 fights and under, who will continue to develop this year, including Joe Costello, Josh Leather, Romeo Romaeo, Macaulay McGowan, Gary Corcoran, Michael Gomez Jnr, Louis Adolphe, Jay Harris, Simon Barclay, Kirk Garvey and Mason Cartright.
On the international front, among the names you will hear is Artur Beterbiev, yet another talented slugger from eastern Europe who threatens to dominate world boxing. He has won all seven bouts by KO, with the former world champ Tavoris Cloud among his victims.
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