By Jack Price

Boxing fans worldwide have been given a fantastic Christmas present of six big fights to look forward to in the first half of 2017. Followers of the sport’s mouths will be watering at the prospect of each and every one of the five world title fights and one serious grudge match.

First up in January we’ve got a unification fight between James DeGale and Badou Jack who both put their super-middleweight titles on the line in New York, and then two weeks later British Fighter Of The Year Carl Frampton defends his WBA super-bantamweight title in a highly-anticipated rematch against Leo Santa Cruz. Two wins for DeGale and Frampton will get British boxing off to a flying start.

Next up in March we’ve got three exciting fights in the form of David Haye vs. Tony Bellew, Danny Garcia vs. Keith Thurman and the recently-announced but long-awaited Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs. Three more barnstormers to look forward to.

And then finally we’ve got the big one in April at Wembley. Heavyweight star Anthony Joshua defends his IBF belt against the legend that is Wladimir Klitschko, who will be fighting in England for the first time ever in his career. You won’t meet one person who isn’t excited to see what happens in this one.

In this article I’m going to give a short preview and prediction for each fight to get us set for what we should expect in each of these six world-class fights:

James DeGale vs. Badou Jack – January 14th – New York

This one gets the year started off in style. It’s a fight that gives us what boxing should be about – the two top guys in the division getting in the ring and fighting to prove that they’re the best at their weight.

For me DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs), the IBF champion, goes into this as the slight favourite. The Brit was pretty inactive in 2016, only defending his belt once, but he proved to us just how good he can be when he puts in the work. Last year (2015) DeGale scored two big wins over Lucian Bute and Andre Dirrell. Jack (20-1-2, 12 KOs) who holds the WBC title and is a member of Floyd Mayweather’s superstar Money Team has also only fought once this year. It was actually on the same show as DeGale when he drew with Bute. A draw however, probably wasn’t a fair result. Most people had the Swede up by a few rounds but the draw meant he held on to his title anyway.

Jack also has a win over the only man that has beaten DeGale – George Groves. The 33-year-old beat the Brit via split decision in September of last year. But we can’t really look too much into this as DeGale has improved massively since his close loss to Groves back in 2011.

This is set to be an intriguing match-up between two skilful boxers. It might not be the most action-packed fight but if their styles don’t clash then I think it will be a 50/50 interesting fight the whole way through. I lean towards DeGale slightly because I think the slick southpaw just has that little bit more and he is in fine form right now. If he pushes the pace and boxes with a high work rate I think we’ll see him walk away with a close decision win.

Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz 2 – January 28th – Las Vegas

I’m sure this rematch doesn’t even need a preview or a build-up to get you hyped. The first fight between these two took place back in July and the action was incredible. The two men went toe-to-toe in a close contender for ‘Fight Of The Year.’ Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) shocked the world and put on a career-best performance to walk away with the WBA featherweight world title and an undefeated two-weight world champion. However, Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) didn’t disappoint with his efforts and still put on a performance that deserves a rematch.

The key factor to Frampton winning the first fight via majority decision, was his ability to do everything well. Santa Cruz was good, as always, when he was on the front foot trying to push the Irishman back but it was Frampton that for the majority of the fight showed variation in his work and that he can do a bit of everything. He set traps and constantly countered his arguably stronger opponent, and also managed to hold his own on the inside for the first eight or nine rounds, something that not many people would be able to do against Cruz.

Santa Cruz, a three-weight world champion himself, had his best success in the last few rounds when Frampton clearly started to tire. The 28-year-old landed some very heavy shots on his Irish opponent in the final three minutes. This is something I can think he can take confidence from going into the rematch. If he can cause Frampton to tire earlier, he may be able to start taking over in the later rounds, which I’m sure was probably the game plan going into the first fight. To do this, the Mexican will have to do a lot more work to the body and keep on the front foot trying to break Frampton down.

However, I expect this to only play into Frampton’s hands once again, which means I can only predict that we will see the same result at the end of this fight. Maybe even a wider unanimous decision for Frampton this time. It’s guaranteed to be another explosive, competitive one but when you look at it stylistically, Cruz only has one way of winning and one way of doing it whereas Frampton can go through all the gears and fight in various different styles. I expect another top-class performance from ‘The Jackal’, cementing himself in the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world right now.

Tony Bellew vs. David Haye – March 4th – London

If you are a British boxing fan I’m sure you already know all about this fight. A grudge match to rival even Whyte and Chisora – Tony ‘The Bomber’ Bellew (28-2-1, 18 KOs) and David ‘The Hayemaker’ Haye (28-2, 26 KO’s) really dislike each other.

The rivalry has been going for a while but it went public when Bellew jumped out the ring and ran at David Haye after defending his WBC cruiserweight world title with a knockout over Haye’s mate BJ Flores. The Evertonian then went on to roast Haye in his post-fight interview, claiming that he is conning the public and making fun of his “Sideshow Bob” hairstyle. This got everyone talking about a match-up between the two but it still came as a shock to us all when the fight was announced out of nowhere back in November.

The fight takes place at heavyweight, which is why this preview and prediction will be kept short and sweet. Whilst the rivalry and build-up might have us all on the edge of our seat, I don’t think there’s really going to be much to talk about concerning the actual fight in the ring. At heavyweight, Haye, for me, will be simply too big, strong and explosive for Bellew who has only recently stepped up to cruiserweight from light-heavyweight.

You’ve got to respect Bellew for taking the fight and actually believing he’s going to win but in reality he only really has a punchers chance, and a small one at that. I expect the Hayemaker to control the fight from the off and knock Bellew out within four rounds.

Danny Garcia vs. Keith Thurman – March 4th – New York

Like Cruz vs. Frampton, this is another fight that you just can’t see being disappointing. You’ve got two of the most explosive young fighters in the world going head-to-head in a highly-anticipated unification fight at welterweight. Danny Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) holds the WBC world title and Keith Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) holds the WBA counterpart and they both hit extremely hard. That’s what makes this fight so exciting – both men pack a punch and have eye-catching styles.

Someone’s 0 has to go and I guarantee both will be desperate for it not to be them. Staying undefeated seems to be of big importance to these two which means we could see them be a little cagey and hesitant at first but once they’ve warmed into things, hopefully it will be bombs away.

Thurman goes into this one as the favourite, which is understandable considering he’s looked unstoppable in his career so far. The man nicknamed ‘One Time’ has big wins over the likes of Shawn Porter, Luis Collazo, Robert Guerrero and Diego Chaves. Only five men he’s fought have managed to go the distance with him, showing just how powerful the guy is at welterweight. Garcia will definitely be his toughest test so far but if he’s the real deal like he says he is we can expect another show-stopping performance from the Florida-native.

Garcia, however, has some big wins himself! Robert Guerrero, Paulie Malignaggi, Lamont Peterson, Lucas Matthysse & Amir Khan are all names that appear on the Philadelphian’s list of victims. However, although he’s looked incredibly explosive at times, he’s struggled to impress fans as of late. The 28-year old has been accused of cherry picking his opponents and not taking any “real” tests lately. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a solid champion. If you look at the wins he does have, they are very impressive.

I’m actually going to go against the general consensus with this one and pick Garcia to win. The guy has impressed me immensely at times when he has been at his best and if he can turn it on for this fight I think we may see a great performance from the young man, hopefully earning back those fans that he’s lost over recent years.

I think we will see a knockout either way at one point in this fight, and I do think it will come from Garcia. I can see Thurman being busy early and becoming over-confident in the mid-stages and walking on to one of Garcia’s perfectly timed over hand rights. This may not send him over at first but it will be sure to wobble him to his boots and mess up his senses. From this point onwards I would expect a slug-fest to emerge and Garcia to start landing more and more bombs. If I had to say an exact point in the fight I would say Garcia via stoppage in rounds 8-12. Let’s hope I’m right.

Gennady Golovkin vs. Danny Jacobs – March 18th – New York

The formidable Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin (36-0, 3 KOs) faces, for me, his toughest test to date when he steps in the ring to face Danny ‘Miracle Man’ Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs) on March 8th at Madison Square Gardens in New York. Three of the four respected world titles are on the line, and for most people, it’s the two best middleweights in the world meeting to prove who is No.1.

Obviously Golovkin goes into this one as a big favourite once again. But Jacobs does pose a threat. The 29-year-old American has been in fine form since he remarkably overcame life-threatening cancer and returned to the ring in 2012. He hits very hard, stopping 29 of his 33 opponents, but can also box too. This is a necessity if you are going to beat a man like Golovkin. We saw Kell Brook out-box the Kazakhstani in the early stages back in September but he just didn’t have the power to trouble him or keep him away. Jacobs, the bigger man with a longer reach, from what we’ve seen, should have heavy enough hands to at least keep Golovkin at bay – and that’s what you need to do against him. There’s no doubt at all that GGG has the ability, ring smarts, and power to stop any man in the division if you let him get in close and on top. So for Jacobs to be successful he has to do his best to keep the beast on the outside, by landing big power shots from long range. Whether this will be enough to deter Golovkin, I do not know.

For my prediction I still have to side with Golovkin for the sheer fact that he has knocked out his last 23 opponents with ease and never really looked like being in much trouble throughout his whole career. It’s a record you just can’t argue with. You could argue that he hasn’t fought any real elite level fighters as of yet, but that’s not necessarily his fault.

I expect to see Jacobs have success early on, probably winning the majority of the rounds in the first half of the fight. I don’t think we’ll see him in complete control of the fight but I think the American will do enough to enter the second half of the fight with a lead on the scorecards. However, if Golovkin can do what he’s been used to doing, it should only be a matter of time before he catches up with him. It then depends how Jacobs reacts. Can he dig deep and mix it with Golovkin when the Kazakhstani gets going? Or will he crumble like the rest? That’s something we will just have to wait to find out on the night.

I don’t see Golovkin stopping Jacobs but I do see him doing enough in the later rounds to win the fight on the scorecards. But don’t rule Jacobs out. He may be a big underdog but I think the man stands a real chance. Just think, if he’s beaten cancer, the man can beat anything!

Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko – April 29th – London

And finally the big men. Probably for many, the most highly-anticipated fight of the year – Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) defends his IBF heavyweight world title against the heavyweight legend that is Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs) . The vacant WBA and IBO titles are also on the line.

Once again, this is a fight that needs absolutely no introduction, for a number of reasons. We will finally find out if Anthony Joshua is really the real deal at world level, see if Klitschko, now 40-years old, has enough left to still mix it at the top, and the winner of the fight will most likely be considered the No.1 heavyweight in the world for the time being.

And because of all these questions around the fight, it’s hard to make a confident prediction. If we were talking about the Klitschko of three or four years ago then I would have no trouble picking him to win this fight. Yes Joshua has looked like an unstoppable talent in his career so far but I won’t believe the hype to he’s been in with a real world-class fighter. Klitschko is still very much a world class fighter – he hasn’t declined that much yet – but he just hasn’t seemed to have it in him in his last couple of fights. You can argue though that British heavyweight Tyson Fury just made him look old and average in his last fight with his incredibly awkward style and performance. Fury is very good at doing that to people. So if that is the case, Klitschko does stand a very good chance because Joshua is the complete opposite of Fury. He’s actually quite similar to Klitschko – stiff, upright, works behind the jab and does everything by the book. If Klitschko’s on point then this could play into his hands and it will be a winnable fight for the two-time world champ.

Joshua, the great British heavyweight hope for most people, is adored by the casual fans and many hardcore boxing fans too. He does look like a real talent, but if you know your boxing you should know not to believe anyone’s hype until they’ve faced some real tests. He may be a world champion but has he faced any world-class opponents? No. He does everything very well though and has incredible power in both hands, and should go into this fight with extreme confidence if he goes by what we’ve seen of Klitschko lately.

I can’t see this fight being a very exciting one to be honest. But it will be intriguing either way. It’s guaranteed to be a battle of the jabs early on with both men being wary and respectful of each other. I don’t know who will win this battle. It will probably be very evenly matched and dull in the first few rounds. It’s most likely going to come down to who starts taking those risks first. And once again, I’m unsure of who that will be. Both men have something very big to prove so at one point they both need to put the work in and show us what they’ve got.

Like I said, it’s very hard to make a prediction in this fight especially so early on in the build-up, but I’m going to have to go against the legend Wlad and side with AJ for this one. If I’m honest, I would love to see one last great performance from Klitschko but I think it’s more likely to be a coming-out party for Joshua, leading him onto many more great fights in his career. But I’m sure Wladimir Klitschko will be looking to tear up the script and write another chapter in his story. And the man’s a legend, so don’t rule him out.

Follow Jack @PriceyJ97

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