2016 so far - Review & Preview

2016.  It started with a lot of promise for UK boxing; the newly crowned world heavyweight champion in Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders picking up a version of the world middleweight title in defeating Andy Lee, both events taking place towards the tail end of 2015.  Anthony Joshua had put to bed (albeit maybe only temporarily) his feud with Dillian Whyte as he left him laid out on the canvas, held up by the ropes.  There was finally a domestic showdown signed off, a blockbuster title unification at super bantamweight between Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg at the MEN in Manchester.  We then got word that another all domestic title fight would take place between WBO world lightweight champion Terry Flanagan and the hard working Derry Matthews. 
I write this on March 15th and well………it’s all been a bit damp.  Quigg vs Frampton failed to catch fire and without a high quality undercard to back up the main event, the fans were left feeling short changed for their Pay Per View money.  Flanagan against Matthews can fall under a similar bracket as Flanagan always seemed a step ahead of the Liverpool challenger.  There was never quite enough of a challenge from Matthews and never quite enough of a push from Flanagan to finish the job before the final bell.  Again, there was an empty feeling over the event as a whole. 
So with the end of the first quarter of the year approaching and a couple of damp squibs behind us, is it doom and gloom for the rest of 2016?  Let us not forget there are still 12……count them, 12, world champions in the UK.  With the fights that are already scheduled, which only goes up until May with no doubt more to add soon, there is the potential for a total of adding six more world champions to that list (granted this includes the much maligned WBA regular titles).  But what it indicates is there are some big fights to come, and it’s not just the potential world champions that have big dates looming.  There are current world champions in the running and some intriguing fights just under that level. 
With a whole raft of new fights being announced by Showtime in America over the last week let us take a look through what the next couple of months have got in store for British boxing…….

March 26th:
Chris Eubank Jr (21-1-0) vs Nick Blackwell (19-3-1), British middleweight championship

An intriguing matchup this one.  Arrogant and cocksure Eubank versus hardworking and down to earth Blackwell.  Both hold a loss to Billy Joe Saunders, Blackwell also does to Max Bursak and Martin Murray earlier in his career.  But since then Blackwell has shown he perhaps took those bigger fights too early on and has started to carve out a nice career, in 2015 claiming the British title.  This is his third defence.  For Eubank it is a surprising move given that he was lining himself up to take on Danny Jacobs for a world title as part of his Sky contract but instead has opted for a (potentially) one time move to Channel 5 to take on Blackwell at the SSE Arena in London.
Blackwell has his much famed background in the unlicenced scene of boxing and is maturing into a quality fighter, whereas Eubank handled Spike O’Sullivan well in his last outing back in December.  A quality domestic fight over a British title and one that promises fireworks – this is exactly the type of fight to fire up the British boxing scene.

Kell Brook (35-0-0) vs Kevin Bizier (25-2-0), IBF welterweight title
One fight that isn’t going to light up the British boxing scene is Brook versus Bizier.  Brook won his title back in August 2014, almost two years ago against Shawn Porter.  Since then he has had two defences, Ionut Dan and Frankie Gavin.  In a division stacked with big names and exciting fights it is fair to say that Brook has massively underwhelmed with the belt.  Does the belt hold him back?  Maybe, as he seems perennially injured and then when he is fit he then has a mandatory to take on.  This Bizier matchup does nothing for Brook, he is a man who has twice lost to Ionut Dan himself.  With the Amir Khan fight seemingly further away than ever it seems that Brook needs to get some investment in his career to get a big name over in the Summer. 

April 1st:
Adrien Broner (31-2-0) vs Ashley Theophane (39-6-1) WBA super lightweight
What an opportunity for Londoner Theophane, a man who has won and lost British titles through numerous setbacks in a 13 year career.  Now aligned to Floyd Mayweather’s Money Team, Theophane has had his last seven fights out of the USA and will continue this against the loudmouth Broner.  Broner, a three weight world champion, is making the first defence of his title won in October 2015.  This looks a step too far for Theophane in reality, a fight seemingly setup more for the Broner vs Money Team aspect than the two fighters involved.

April 9th:
Anthony Joshua (15-0) vs Charles Martin (23-0-1), IBF heavyweight championship

The British golden child of boxing, the Olympic gold medallist and knock out artist  Anthony Joshua is taking a world title fight in only his 16th professional bout.  Promoter Eddie Hearn has done him a massive favour by getting the bout at the O2 in London against probably the weakest champion in the division (although granted he is untested).  
Since Fury beat Klitschko the belts have started to divide up, the IBF title being stripped almost immediately when it was clear a Klitschko rematch was going to be required and therefore Fury couldn’t meet his mandatory defence requirements.  
Both fighters are heavy handed, southpaw Martin has 21 knockout wins from 23 victories.  Chances are this doesn’t go the scheduled 12 rounds and is the biggest test of both fighters careers.

Lee Selby (22-1) vs Eric Hunter (21-3), IBF featherweight championship
On the undercard of Joshua sees Selby make another defence of his featherweight title. A less than impressive American debut against Fernando Montiel may mean Selby focuses his attention back on the UK market for now. Hunter isn't a household name so it's no surprise that this isn't a headline fight and can be seen as more of a building fight to enhance the reputation of Selby as they seem to be steering him towards a potential summer showdown with domestic rival Josh Warrington. This fight is a good addition to a PPV card.

April 16th:
Gary Russell Jr (26-1) vs Patrick Hyland (31-1), WBC featherweight championship

Holland is an Irishman who has been making a name for himself in America of late. His sole loss came back in 2012 and now he is looking at his first world title shot out in America. It's far from an easy task, Russell Jr is a well schooled fighter whose only loss came against amateur legend and now fellow world title holder Vasyll Lomachenko. This is an uphill battle for Hyland but a win opens up doors for him in a division that has Lee Selby as another champion and the potential for Carl Frampton to move up to this year. Both Selby and Frampton have started their own American journeys of late and an all Irish unification could do huge numbers both back home and in the States. First though Hyland has to get through the American Russell Jr, which is by no means an easy task.

Jose Pedraza (21-0) vs Stephen Smith (23-1), IBF super featherweight championship
Smith has the opportunity to become the second of four brothers to get himself a world title as he takes on Jose Pedraza. Smith has come a long way since his stoppage loss to alee Selby in 2011 and is taking on arguably an even bigger challenge in unbeaten Puerto Rican Pedraza, a man ranked as number on in the division. This is possibly the hardest of all the British world title fights that are forthcoming, Pedraza has shown few weaknesses in his career so far and it will take a special night for Smith to bring the belt home with him.

April 30th:
James DeGale (22-1) vs Rogelio Medina (32-3), IBF super middleweight title

DeGale continues his overseas defences, this time against under the radar Medina. DeGale is coming off the back of a points win over Lucian Bute in Canada that did little to enhance his profile in the UK. Seemingly he is now in the Al Haymon US camp and this card sees his former foe Bute somehow get another crack straight away at a world title as he faces Badou Jack for the WBC version of the title. Neither holder should face too much trouble here, so it would seem all paths lead to a DeGale versus Jack unification sometime up over the course of this year.

Billy Joe Saunders (23-0-0) vs Max Bursak (32-4-1)
At the Copperbox Arena Saunders make the first defence of his WBO title against unfancied Bursak. Bursak has some reasonable names on his record, including British title holder Nick Blackwell, but the history of the WBO rankings don't lie. In November he wasn't in their top 15 and with only one win in the meantime against a poor opponent he has somehow found himself in a position to be picked as a voluntary defence. Saunders deserves better than this fight for a homecoming as a world title holder. His promoter Frank Warren has promised a big fight in the summer, but having already turned down Golovkin who is now seemingly tied up until late this year, it is a wonder who they will pick for his big fight. A Eubank Jr rematch perhaps? If he comes through Blackwell it may be the most sense financially.

Reece Macmillan
May 7th:
Amir Khan (31-3-0) vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (46-1-1), WBC middleweight title

Not a lot can be added to this fight that hasn't been said. In an era when the best seem to have a knack of avoiding the biggest challenges in their weight class, Amir Khan shook the world by announcing he was jumping two weight divisions to take on Canelo. A fight from absolute left field, Khan comes out of this a winner either way. If he does pick up the victory he has achieved something few believe possible. If he loses, he can go right back to the welterweight mix and a potential Kell Brook showdown. Mayweather is the only fighter to hold a win over Canelo, whether Khan can emulate the elusiveness of the retired champ will only be seen on May 7th.

Dereck Chisora (25-5-0) vs Kubrat Pulev (22-1-0), European heavyweight title
Chisora keeps bouncing back. Many thought the second defeat to Tyson Fury could signal the end for the London heavyweight, but he has regrouped with wins over lesser opposition and finds himself fighting Pulev for the European title. Pulev has a single loss on his record to Wladimir Klitschko. In theory he should have too much for the veteran Chisora but in the twilight of his career, the man who famously brawled David Haye at a press conference could find himself catapulted back to the world scene.

Anthony Crolla (30-4-3) vs Ismael Barroso (30-4-3), WBA lightweight title
Crolla hasn't had the easy route. Throughout his career he has taken hard fights and is a prime example of why fighters should carry on through losses. This is the first defence of his title and is a mandatory, so don't be fooled into thinking he has hand picked the fight. The opponent is hard hitting southpaw Barroso, a man who in December beat and retired Kevin Mitchell. Crolla will enter as an underdog as he has many times in fights in the past, but win this fight and he could set up a Manchester showdown with WBO champion Terry Flanagan. TV issues would have to be overcome but it is another potential domestic clash that would invigorate British boxing. First though, he has Barroso in his path and it is not a challenge he will take lightly.

May 21st:
Ricky Burns (39-5-1) vs Michele Di Rocco (40-1-1), vacant WBA super lightweight title (regular)
You have to admire the tenacity of Burns.  Already a world champion at super featherweight and lightweight, he is looking to claim a third world title, albeit the maligned WBA 'regular' title.  He faces Di Rocco, a man who hasn't lost in nine years but equally hasn't had stellar opposition to work against.
Burns looked like a man who was drifting with his career, being sent to America last year where he lost a decision to Omar Figeuroa.  Credit has to go to his promoter Eddie Hearn though for securing a world title shot against Di Rocco - a win here would set him up for the real world title and face the winner of Broner versus Theophane.  Either way that is a big fight.  Burns and Broner have history dating back to when they were both world lightweight title holders, or a dust up with Theophane can be billed as England vs Scotland.  One final run with a world title?  We could see it in 2016 for Burns, but we have to put up with the bullshit 'regular' belt issue first.

June 4th (Rumoured):
Tony Bellew (26-2-1) vs Ilunga Makabu (18-1-0), WBC Cruiserweight title

The fight is confirmed, the date and venue are yet to be decided but it's looking like Tony Bellew will get to live out his dream (and replicate his role in Creed) by getting to fight for a world title at his beloved Goodison Park, home of Everton Football Club.  The opportunity has come about as the reigning WBC champion, Grigory Drozd, has been out injured since May of last year and has not confirmed a date he will be able to defend his belt.  He is being placed 'in recess' by the WBC and now Makabu and Bellew will duke it out for his belt.  Bellew has yet to face a cruiserweight with the power of Makabu, who has a highlight reel of knockouts.  With 17 from his 18 wins and being a southpaw who has fought at the weight since 2010 he could have too much for Bellew on what would undoubtedly be his biggest night in his 3rd world title shot.

Those are the matches that are banked (injury permitting).  That leaves a host of other big named Brits looking for opponents and/or dates by the Summer.  Carl Frampton is coming off the back of his win against Scott Quigg and rumour has it will move up to featherweight to face Leo Santa Cruz, likely out in America.He could of course face Rigondeaux, but it's not likely to happen.  It won't surprise too many if he goes up to face a man that looks beatable but it would be a big ask, despite Santa Cruz having only recently joined that weight division himself.  

There's Tyson Fury and his eagerly anticipated rematch with Wladimir Klitschko.  When and where are unknown, but as a contractual obligation it does seem 99% certain to be happening.  Another heavyweight without a dance partner at present is David Haye.  21st May he is booked for the O2 but no opponent is confirmed.  Malik Scott and Shannon Briggs have been heavily rumoured, only for Haye to release a statement saying he is looking into getting WBA regular title holder Lucas Browne over from Australia.  Browne has gone on record saying he isn't in talks and will continue down his path of the WBA tournament where he is scheduled to face Fres Oquendo.

In the bantamweight division we have two champions in Lee Haskins and Jamie McDonnell.  Haskins has yet to defend his belt that he won when Randy Caballero failed to make weight for his defence.  He has openly stated he would go up in weight to face Scott Quigg or Carl Fampton but neither have taken the bait.  He has also called out former foe McDonnell but he seems to have his sights elsewhere despite what could be a lucrative domestic unification.  News is expected of McDonnell's next opponent shortly.  He has openly stated he is looking to gain as much money in as short a time as possible to leave the sport, something that has to be admired in an era of smoke, mirrors and PR.  Expect him to continue defending his titles overseas.

Finally, the WBO light middleweight champion Liam Smith is a title holder also looking for an opponent and date.  Since his win over Jimmy Kelly in his first defence there have been rumours of a fight with ring legend Miguel Cotto.  It doesn't seem that the fight is close to crossing the line at present and word is quiet on potential matchups for the first of the four Smith brothers to pick up a world title.  It will be interesting to see if his promoter Frank Warren can pull out a big name for the next defence.

Overall we head into the second quarter of 2016 underwhelmed by what has past but brightly looking at what is in store.  A number of good clashes are lined up and a number are seemingly in the pipeline.  British boxing needs an injection of life to carry on the good work of 2015 - hopefully there are some more surprises to be announced soon.