By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
2016 was an up and down year for boxing fans. There were many elite match-ups between the likes of Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz, Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev and Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol. However, there were several mooted bouts that failed to materialise, with the middleweight division in particular suffering from a dearth of candidates ready and willing to face the divisional kingpin Gennady Golovkin.
Hopefully 2017 will see promotional wrangling take a back seat to top level fights, but excuse me if I don’t hold my breath. With that being said, the end of the year is a good time to look ahead at the dream bouts that could take place in the next 12 months. Fights that are already booked will not be mentioned here, so Frampton-Santa Cruz II and Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko miss out…
Gennady Golovkin vs. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez
The elephant in the room.
It was hoped that these two would face off this year but, alas, we continue to wait. Both men had to reach down for opponents in 2016, with Canelo brutally knocking out welterweight Amir Khan in six rounds in May and Golovkin forcing Kell Brook’s corner to pull him out after five in September. This was as much a consequence of those opponents’ bravery as it was their inability to secure a fight with one other.
Golovkin is slated to face Danny Jacobs early next year, himself an elite middleweight, but if the Kazakh comes through that fight then the only viable option is a contest with boxing’s cash cow Canelo. The Mexican still needs to commit to a move up to the 160lbs weightclass, but this is the only fight that makes sense for both men in 2017.
Many spectators saw flaws in Golovkin’s win over Brook, where the challenger caused GGG problems early on, and he appeared human for the briefest of moments. Canelo, too, will have taken confidence from that, and hopefully that confidence will spur him to sign on the dotted line for a fight with Golovkin next year.
Kell Brook vs Errol Spence Jr.
Speaking of Brook, the Brit jumped in the deep end at middleweight when he took on Golovkin. But after that fight, he spoke of his desire to return to the welterweight division and defend the IBF belt that he worked so hard to get. He made three lacklustre defences of the strap before taking on GGG in the big fight he was craving.
There are big fights for him at welterweight, too. The winner of the Keith Thurman vs. Danny Garcia fight would surely be a target for Brook in a unification contest, while the spectre of Amir Khan looms over him once more. The toughest fight out there for ‘Special K’ however, could well be his mandatory challenger.
Errol Spence Jr. has been tipped for greatness from the moment he turned professional, making the transition from decorated amateur into fearsome pro with ease. It was his stoppage of Chris Algieri in April that announced him as a true contender, as he knocked out a man who had previously taken both Khan and Manny Pacquiao the distance. Another KO, this time of the tough Leonard Bundu in August kept him ticking over as he waits for Brook to recover from the eye injury he suffered against Golovkin.
This would be a huge step up for Spence, while it would represent a brutal return to the division for Brook. But for fans, this is one of the most mouth-watering mandatory defences in recent memory.
Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev II
The most eagerly-anticipated fight of 2016 did not disappoint, as Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev exchanged blows over a fascinating 12 rounds last month. The biggest blow was dealt to ‘Krusher’ when the scorecards were read out and Ward was judged to have recovered from an early knockdown to claim victory.
Whatever your thoughts on the scoring of the bout, there can be no argument that these two need to meet in the ring once again. The stylistic match-up of Ward’s intelligent in-fighting and Kovalev’s calculated pressure led to the most interesting contest we’ve seen for a long time. Ward showed his heart to come back from that knockdown, while Kovalev proved he wasn’t the uneducated brawler many took him to be going into this one.
With a multitude of silverware on the line, these two need to settle their differences once and for all. Ward staked a claim for pound-for-pound supremacy with the win over Kovalev, and the Russian will be looking to right what he sees as a wrong on the part of the judges. Who doesn’t want to see this fight again?
Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder
Anthony Joshua has to see off former ruler of the division Wladimir Klitschko in April, but if he manages that feat, claiming the vacant WBA belt to go with his IBF trinket, then a unification bout with WBC champion Deontay Wilder should be next on his agenda.
The public have been clamouring for AJ to step up his level of competition for some time, with his trio of wins over hapless Americans this year doing little to quench his critics’ thirst. To Joshua’s credit he stopped his most recent victim, Eric Molina, in far quicker and more impressive fashion than Wilder did in 2015.
These are arguably the two heaviest hitters in the weightclass and it could simply be a matter of who connects first. Both men have been rocked before, Joshua by Dillian Whyte and Wilder by the aforementioned Molina, although neither seemed in serious danger of being stopped. So their chins are vulnerable to a big shot, and we know both men can administer one of those.
2017 could be the year that the heavyweight division emerges once and for all from the Klitschko era, either that or it re-enters it. For the sake of this contest let’s hope that’s not the case.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs Orlando Salido II
Just one man has been able to derail the devastating career trajectory of amateur sensation Vasyl Lomachenko. The experienced and rugged veteran Orlando Salido succeeded in his employment of roughhouse tactics and a failed weight cut to best Lomachenko via split decision in 2014. Since then the Ukrainian has won six fights and two world titles in two different weightclasses.
Lomachenko’s devastations of Roman Martinez and Nicholas Walters this year elevated him to an unheralded upper echelon at this stage of his young career. He appears nigh on unbeatable, possessing the perfect mix of offensive punch variety and defensive wizardry. He is constantly moving, peppering his opponent with hard shots while circling in and out of range.
The intrigue lies in Salido’s ability to get the better of Lomachenko two years ago. Loma has undoubtedly improved since then and will surely want to demonstrate as much, while Salido will want to prove that win wasn’t a fluke. Here’s hoping these two run the tape back at some point in 2017.by