By Alejandro Berrios
3 BOXING WORLD CHAMPIONS WHO COULD LOSE BELTS IN 2015
While 2014 was not the most eventful or memorable year in boxing, 2015 is already shaping up to be a much better year for the sport with the possibilities of big fights across the professional landscape. However, the year could be even more memorable in that there are three reigning champions who could find themselves dethroned and flung back into the circuit as contenders before the year is out.
This list has less to do about the champions’ shortcomings or flaws, but more so the talent of the opposition they may or will face.
1. ADONIS STEVENSON (WBC LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION)
Stevenson is a champion many fans and critics alike have long been skeptical of, and for good reason. His claim to fame was a sensational one-punch knockout of Chad Dawson in the summer of 2013. The knockout was electrifying and had many fans thinking that the light heavyweight division had yet another Hercules to fear. However, since then he has proven to be not so godly. His knockout wins over Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew were decent as he did not have much trouble in dispatching both, but did those wins really offer any reason to exalt Stevenson?
Cloud’s inability to keep up with a moving target like Stevenson were exposed by both Gabriel Campillo and Bernard Hopkins; Bellew also is not the most adept at out-boxing a moving target, and he struggled finding Stevenson before the referee stopped the fight. While good wins, nobody doubted that the division’s other Herculean punchers Sergey Kovalev or Jean Pascal could also defeat those men.
Stevenson showed his mortality in his win over Andrzej Fonfara. Fonfara does not hit as hard as Cloud, and probably does not hit as hard as Bellew. He certainly does not move around the ring substantially better than Bellew, and yet after withstanding knockdowns in which he was badly hurt, Fonfara was able to knock down a tired Stevenson with a right hand in the 9th round.
Stevenson’s only loss was a knockout loss to Darnell Boone in 2010 so his chin has always been questioned among fans. The trouble with the Fonfara knockdown was not that he was caught, it was how tired he appeared to be after he rose from the canvas and for the duration of the fight. Fonfara could not finish the job on Stevenson, but Fonfara is not world-class. Unfortunately for Stevenson, he is slated to face world-class competition, which is to be determined by the winner of Pascal-Kovalev. Both Pascal and Kovalev while known for their power, have recently shown the ability to easily outbox opponents late in fights to win decisions.
Stevenson’s money punch is his left hand, and that is about it. His jab is really a range-finder, there is no threat of a damaging right hook or uppercut that we have seen as of yet, all the power is in the left hand. Kovalev has just handily beaten the best boxer in that division and Pascal has beaten two very talented southpaws in Chad Dawson and Lucian Bute. If Stevenson cannot knockout either man early, and begins to fade in the later rounds, he better develop the defense of Pernell Whitaker to survive against the two other monsters of the division.
2. LEO SANTA CRUZ (WBC JUNIOR FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION)
This is a big maybe because so few promoters are willing to test their young prospects against the genius of WBO and WBA junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, but if fans get this fight which many have called for, it is highly likely that Rigondeaux outboxes Santa Cruz for 12 rounds and adds another strap to his collection. This fight would also be very interesting in that it is the most even of all the fights in this list, as Rigondeaux has shown a questionable chin, and Santa Cruz often throws more than 100 punches a round.
People have complained that Santa Cruz is not knocking opponents out quickly enough or he has lost power, but he has fought a lot of opponents who, like himself, take punches to give punches. Rigondeaux is the complete opposite. As defensively sound as Rigondeaux is, could he survive a fight unscathed where a taller, longer armed opponent throws over 1,000 punches? And can Rigondeaux’s movement and counter punching significantly reduce Santa Cruz’s volume? I would bet that it can and that Rigondeaux outboxes him to win a decision, but that fight could be very entertaining. Hopefully it happens.
3. CARL FROCH (IBF SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPION)
There is a major, major threat to Carl Froch that is not just threatening to take Froch’s title, but is threatening to take over the entire division. The name of that threat is James DeGale. DeGale is Froch’s biggest threat only because he has made it clear that he wants to challenge Froch for the title and both men have the same promoter, Eddie Hearn…oh yes, and also the IBF ordered Froch to begin negotiations with DeGale earlier this month. If this fight is made it is entirely possible that Britain would have a new IBF super middleweight champion. Why? Because out of a pool of incredible young British talent including the likes of Tyson Fury, Frankie Gavin, George Groves, Scott Quigg, etc. DeGale, at this moment, is certainly the best.
In fact his only loss was a highly disputed decision loss to Groves, who was absolutely at the top of his game, and confused DeGale in the middle rounds boxing off of his back foot and constantly moving around the ring. Groves’ latest performance was very poor though, and compared to DeGale’s last three fights there is no question that this DeGale beats that George Groves. DeGale was dangerous enough when he was out-boxing opponents using his phenomenal defense, very quick hand-speed, and excellent footwork and foot-speed.
But now he is far more threatening as he is knocking opponents out, and doing so very quickly. DeGale’s last two opponents were Andre Ward’s stablemate Brandon Gonzales and tough Mexican contender Marco Antonio Periban. Gonzales, while certainly not Andre Ward, is a very good fighter with a Ward-like style that can give opponents fits. DeGale had little trouble with him as he out-boxed him from the outside, fought Gonzales’ fight by allowing Gonzales to get inside of him in the second round and parts of the third, and then badly hurt and dropped Gonzales in the fourth with a magnificent combination. Gonzales got up but did not have his legs completely under him, and as he tried to fight on the referee stopped the fight. The stoppage was not very good, Gonzales certainly could have continued at the time of the stoppage but the shape he was in indicates that DeGale likely would have stopped him that round or the next anyway.
The Periban stoppage also was questionable. DeGale knocked down Periban in the third round with a beautiful left hand that caught Periban right on the chin. He goes down and the referee waves off the fight, Periban gets up on shaky legs and looks at the referee in bewilderment as he waves the fight off again for clarity. Periban should have been given a 10-count and in my opinion could have continued but like the Gonzales fight he was dazed and shaken.
DeGale is on a mission to not only win fights, but to end them, and the last time Froch fought a young British talent who brought the fight to him, he benefited from another awful stoppage by the referee. Of course in the rematch, George Groves did not bring the fight to Froch, instead choosing to be very conservative and the result was Froch putting his lights out.
DeGale will not be so cautious, and his ability to beat opponents inside or outmaneuver them outside makes him a nightmarish match-up for an aging, not-so-slick but always dangerous Carl Froch. “The Cobra” has always shown that he should never be underestimated, but boxing is a young man’s game, and at this time DeGale is exactly the kind of young man an older champion like Froch should stay away from. If this fight happens, I expect DeGale to thoroughly outbox Carl Froch and earn a clear unanimous decision.