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Previewing The 6 Big Fights Of Early 2017

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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Don’t write off Klitschko in Joshua mega-fight

By Asif ‘Doc’ Mahmood

Controversial as ever the Doc thinks it would be a mistake to write off Wlad but he also rates Joshua and labels Fury a “bottle job”

On November 2015, when the unconventional but exceptional boxing skills of Tyson Fury dethroned long time lineal and unified heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it supposedly opened up the division and made it interesting again. As a result 2016 pledged to be an exciting year for heavyweight boxing with the eagerly awaited rematch between Fury and Wladimir along with Deontay Wilder’s date with destiny against Alexander Povetkin. Sadly we got neither. The latter due to Povetkin controversial drug tests and Tyson Fury’s cowardly route to avoiding Wladimir through self-inflicted drug use and playing the victim card soon after.

The most exciting fight of the year thus far was the hate-filled war between Chisora and Whyte with the latter edging a close decision where the veteran Chisora gained a lot of respect.  I don’t think anyone would argue against seeing a rematch. However, both fighters in reality are short of world level in my opinion and Whyte will likely get stopped by a more skilful boxer.

The biggest heavyweight news of 2016 was ultimately the announcement of the rising star in world boxing, Anthony Joshua, against future hall-of-famer Wladimir Klitschko. The fight will be a sell out at Wembley stadium and likely smash UK box office records in terms of buys in addition to gate revenue.  It certainly puts into perspective Joshua’s pulling power given that the Fury vs. Wladimir rematch only sold around 11,000 before Fury bottled it.

The fight between the two former Olympic gold medallists will take place on the 29th of April when Klitschko will be 41 years old. In addition to his growing age, he will be 16th months out of the ring and 24 months since his last win (over the then undefeated Bryant Jennings). In his last victory Wladimir showed signs of ageing, with a reluctance to throw punches.

This fight has got fight fans talking which is great for the sport. There are many theories and opinions with regards to who is the favourite, how the fight will pan out, is AJ still green or is Wladimir too old now (despite being a great physical specimen)?

In this piece I will be devil’s advocate and have a look at the pros of cons of both fighters but I will be making a case why Wladimir can win this and should not be overlooked for many reasons.

One of the obvious disadvantages is the age of Klitschko and it doesn’t take a genius to know that the body declines if anything a few years before. We rarely see footballers, cricketers and rugby players in their 40s. Even golfers and snooker players decline at this stage of their careers too. So it’s not just a physical decline but a mental decline whereby the thought process and concentration levels are not as sharp.

In Klitschko’s defence about his age one can make a case he lives an athlete’s lifestyle and keeps himself in excellent shape. Over the years he has proven to be a prime example in living the life one would expect of a dominant champion, which cannot be seen in other boxers at a similar age like Tony Thompson and even those younger such as Chisora, Arreola, Sam Peter, etc. These fighters have ballooned up in weight between fights and the results has been shown in lacklustre performances. One boxer who Wladimir could be compared to is his iron chinned brother Vitali Klitschko whom at the age of 40 was still in excellent condition to defeat Chisora, Charr and stop Adamek whom at the time was top a five heavyweight based on performances.

Cringe-fest: The two fighters announce their fight after Molina gets blown away

The next obvious thing people have been tweeting about is the fact that Wladimir will have been 16 months out of the ring by the time the fight comes round and that ring rust will play a factor. In theory yes this is also true but once again Klitschko goes against the exception. Vitali was out for FOUR years before returning to crush WBC champion Sam Peter (who came off a crushing victory over Maskaev) and showed no ring rust. Bear in mind he was returning at the age of 38 and not like Floyd Mayweather who was in his early 30s each time he returned from his hiatus and dominated world class opponents. Wladimir has also been in two intense camps where he looked sharp and powerful in preparation for putting Fury on his arse, so I don’t see any problem with his conditioning.

The next thing is, which itself may not be a big factor but amplified by the previous two discussion, he is coming off a loss where he looked poor against Tyson Fury.  Now coming off a loss of that magnitude is significant but many boxers like Froch (vs. ward) have thrown themselves in at the deep end after a loss after being deemed damaged goods and recorded sensational victories (Bute).

With all this in mind there are many reasons why Wladimir can win, without pointing the finger at his opponent. Wladimir is known for his excellent jab which he has used to control fights and a lot of the previous great heavyweights prolonged their career with use of their jab. He is very good at staying out of range and utilising with what is in my opinion his biggest weapon.  Next, his power, where he has one punch knockout power in both hands as seen with Pulev and Calvin Brock as examples. His power has unlikely diminished in any way given the way he looks and no one would argue against this.

This brings me on to his speed which includes both hand and foot speed. I will be the first to admit his hand speed has shown decline especially when I observed him in the build up to the Tyson Fury fight. Yes he looked quicker in training in preparation for his rematch but that is not significant anymore. It is fair to say his jab will be quicker than the super slow motion effect shown by Joshua’s previous opponents, especially Breazeale.

I think Wladimir has great footspeed, not just for a heavyweight into his forties but for any heavyweight.

Using his last fight as a benchmark, people forget despite his miserable offensive work that day (due to Tyson Fury’s excellent feints, head movement and even superior footwork) his own foot speed was decent. He was not easy to hit or pin down even against shorter nippier opponents such as David Haye and Alexander Povetkin. Wladimir uses his foot speed for defensive rather than offensive purposes, using his right foot to back out of range after jabbing or pressing into the opponent for the effective clinch.  Yes he has been punched in the face by everyone over the last 10 years (with the exception of Mormeck) but has never really been troubled or rocked which is to his credit.

Finally, the last time a heavyweight fight had this feel to it was Klitschko vs. Haye where the latter was seen by the British public as the saviour of the heavyweight division but stank out the joint in Hamburg which didn’t help the many Brits who were already soaking in the rain.

Now let’s move on to why Wladimir can win the fight by pointing the finger in Joshua’s direction. All boxers have weaknesses and strengths but focusing on the former here is what would play to Wladimir’s advantage.

I’m not too fussed about Joshua’s lack of experience as he has destroyed whatever has been put in front of him and Tyson Fury also had a lack of quality opponents going into a fight of identical stature. Fury did however overcome adversity in knockdowns to Pajkic and Cunningham before getting off the canvas to stop them in emphatic fashion. This caused Fury to change his style to a back foot approach with effective jabbing, stinking the joint out but doing the job in hand.

There have been questions about Joshua’s chin and response to being punched hard on the face. We know about the sparring rumours which are now factual that Price dropped him hard. He was also recently dropped by a GB amateur boxer in sparring prior to the Molina fight announcement (which was the reason David Price was removed from the forefront). Like many boxers, when caught, Joshua’s legs turn very stiff and appear to be stuck in concrete. When his chin was checked by Whyte for the remainder of the round he was swinging wildly, almost causing himself to fall forward as his shoes were glued to the canvas and  he shuffled his way back to his stool after the bell rang.

Joshua is a front-foot fighter but has changed his game after the Whyte fight where he now uses his jab more and keeps his range. However coming forward or going toe-to-toe will only play into Wladimir’s hands as he pops his jab and if he has the courage will let his right hand shoot down the middle instead of having to chase his opponent in the ring. Wladimir has been in many fights where he has had to chase the opponent like Rocky Balboa chases chickens, leading to anticlimactic fights. Examples of which include: Ibragimov, Chambers, Haye and Fury.

Joshua hasn’t really faced anyone who has tried to walk him down and I doubt the cautious Klitschko will either. It will be like cat and mouse out there for the first couple of rounds which is where both fighters will try to set the theme of the fight. Wladimir will clinch and use his strength to frustrate Joshua who will struggle as the fight goes the distance in my opinion. Joshua has to try and end this fight inside six rounds is the common theme fans are echoing about this match-up. Klitschko has good stamina as seen against Jennings, Povetkin and Wach but I must admit he looked tired versus Tyson Fury and I think his age is the reason for this.

The stage is set for both fighters. In Joshua’s case, the prodigal son, a sports personality and already a boxing icon stepping up in the biggest stage in boxing in front of 80,000 proud British fans. In Wladimir’s case, a legend bidding to overcome adversity, to overcome the dimension of time, to overcome the cauldron of boos he will experience on April 29 and to overcome the so-called Hype that surrounded the David Haye fight (if not more).

As we end I’m sure people would want a prediction from me which is tough as I have openly been a Klitschko supporter over the years. I was confident over all his opponents except against Tyson Fury. I feel Joshua is an easier fight for Wladimir but at the same time Joshua is a more dangerous fight than Tyson Fury (in terms of being knocked out). I think the fight will be over inside 5 rounds and that is where I will sit on the fence……#warwlad

Follow the Doc on Twitter @Doc_Asif

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Photo Credits: Mirror.co.uk and Sky Sports