By Donavan Leonard: Each year brings surprises to the sport, and 2017 was no different. Few pundits would have anticipated losses by Manny Pacquiao, James DeGale, Shinsuke Yamanaka, and Roman Gonzalez, especially in light of the men who would wrest the belt from their waists.
2018 is already building up to more drama, as the cruiserweight tournament all but assures that two more belt holders will see their reigns end, and the schedules of many of the top fighters seem to point toward showdowns with other top-notch opponents. Some fights are still in the Twitter and chat room stage, but many of those seem feasible, with the participants seemingly willing and able. This will shake up their respective divisions. Here is the list of the biggest names who will lose their belts this year.
Deontay Wilder WBC Heavyweight Champion. Wilder is already scheduled to face the formidable Luis Ortiz, PED tests willing, in March. If he can get past the Cuban slugger, a very real possibility exists for squaring off with Anthony Joshua in the fall. If the schedule holds up, it is doubtful that the raw slugger will come through with two wins. If he does, and wins convincingly, he will probably earn fighter of the year. The smart money says he won’t.
Adonis Stevenson WBC Light Heavyweight Champion. All good things must come to an end, and the lineal reign of Stevenson will be derailed by Badou Jack. No date has been set, but this bout is on the verge of completion. Stevenson may have some moments, but the underrated Jack, whose victims over the past 30 months have been Nathan Cleverly, James DeGale (highly disputed draw), Lucian Bute, George Groves, and Anthony Dirrell, will be ready for Stevenson. Jack will be validated for quickly vacating the WBA trinket that he won against Cleverly.
Gennady Golovkin WBC, WBA, IBF Middleweight Champion. Had Golovkin remained in Kazakhstan prior to 2017 and mysteriously appeared on the boxing scene with a win over Daniel Jacobs and a win, in most observers’ eyes, over Saul Alvarez, he would have been lauded with praise. However, 2017 had just the opposite effect. His string of 23 consecutive victories by knockout was broken when Jacobs lasted the full 12 rounds. The Alvarez bout was to have been the jewel in his crown, a la Bernard Hopkins/Felix Trinidad. It was not, as not only did the “155 lb champ” Alvarez end the bout on his feet, Golovkin was held to a draw on the scorecards. 2018 will not be any kinder. Rather than take a soft touch to restore his knockout ways, he is waiting until May to get in the ring again for a rematch with Alvarez. It is possible that eight months of aging will not slow Golovkin’s reflexes, but it is also possible that it makes Canelo eight months of experience better. If Golovkin does manage to get past Canelo, he will be put in a position to make a mandatory defense against either Jermall Charlo or Sergey Deravyanchenko, or a fight for “all the belts” with Billy Joe Saunders. Saunders might not have beaten down Lemieux the way Golovkin did, but he took his heart in more humiliating fashion. If not Alvarez, Saunders puts the first defeat on Golovkin’s ledger. Father Time is undefeated.
Erislandy Lara WBA Junior Middleweight Champion. For many, the end of his reign cannot come soon enough. After earning a reputation as being a stellar fighter with a perceived robbery versus Paul Williams and a tight loss to Canelo Alvarez, the shine on Lara’s star has been extinguished. Instead of battles with other champions for legacy and greatness, exhibitions with Delvin Rodriguez, Jan Zaveck and Terrell Gausha have been the level of fighters he has faced. This year he appears to be headed for a showdown with the young gun Jarrett Hurd. Hurd is bigger and stronger, and seems to keep coming like the Terminator of movie lore. Lara has more experience and his skill level might be greater, but Hurd should be able to grind Lara down and take his belt. His 6″ 1″ frame and 76″ reach should allow him to touch Lara much more than the 5’9″, 69″ reach Alfred Angulo, who deposited Lara on the deck twice.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai WBC Superflyweight Champion. Rungvisai is good. He is also brave. While Lara has feasted on lighter fare, Rungvisai has beaten the pound-for-pound fighter in Roman Gonzalez, knocked him out cold in a rematch, and is now stepping in the ring with the very good, and dangerous, Juan Francisco Estrada. In a 16-fight span, Estrada was the lone opponent of Gonzalez’ to hear the bell of the final round (2012). He has not lost since then, and his most recent was over former Rungvisai conqueror Carlos Cuadras. Rungvisai has shown his mettle, but the attrition on his body may determine the outcome of his 2018. With a win over Estrada, it has been mentioned that he would like a rematch with Cuadras. Wins over Estrada and Cuadras in the same year, following his 2017 campaign, might be a hill too steep to climb.
Others losing their belts this year: Heavyweight Joseph Parker (Anthony Joshua), Cruiserweights Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis (WBSS to Oleksandr Usyk), Super Middleweights George Groves (WBSS to Chris Eubank/Callum Smith) and Caleb Truax (DeGale/?), Welterweights Jeff Horn (Terence Crawford) and Keith Thurman (Jessie Vargas/Shawn Porter), Junior Welterweight Sergey Lipinets (Mikey Garcia), Lightweight Jorge Linares (Mikey Garcia), Junior Lightweights Albert Machado (?) and Miguel Berchelt (Vasyl Lomachenko), and Featherweight Oscar Valdez (Scott Quigg).
Some of the fights are not lined up, but have been discussed. They also make sense in terms of what the fighters say they would like to accomplish. Truax and Machado seem to be champions who are not extremely gifted and do not seem to have the teams around them who will be able to assure them of winnable fights. The question is not when they will lose, but who will take their crown. Regardless of the predictions, this should be another great year, with excellent choices for fighter of the year and fight of the year.