(Note: As part of a week long breakdown, boxing scribe Vivek “Vito” Wallace analyzes where today’s top fighters stand, and whether or not 2015 could be the year many of them fall. This week long analysis will cover over 30 fighters from around the world)
Throughout Boxing history we’ve seen drugs, alcohol, crime, and a host of other demons strip precious time away from distracted talents which they could never get back. In the case of Andre Ward, 2014 proved that even for a focused “Son of God” the ills of the sport can be far too much of a cross to bear. For Ward, a stiff game of politics has been more of a test outside the ring than his incredible talent ever allowed inside of it.
Despite the unfortunate death of his promoter, Ward remains trapped between political lines with no angle to escape. While names like Golovkin, Stevenson, and Kovalev continue to gain steam, the ever-cool Andre Ward hasn’t been able to rise in the midst of such hot air. Those close to him will attest that he remains eager to prove himself on the sports highest stage. Those afar judge him as a hard-to-sell talent whose arrogance has cost him precious opportunity that no effort can buy back.
Somewhere in the middle lies a reality which says despite his absence from the ring, Ward could be precisely where fate wants him, as it relates to his position amongst todays opposition. While warriors like Stevenson and Kovalev recently earned credibility, Ward’s history makes him both a benchmark and a target. Despite limited activity, this truth keeps him relevant.
At its best, the Olympic Gold and Super 6 Tournament victory mean very little today. But what he does in 2015 could ultimately decide whether or not they mean something tomorrow when he finally walks away. All eyes on Ward…..
2014 was a very solid year for the young Adrien Broner. On the heels of his first career loss to Maidana in December of 2013, the Cincinnati born and bred Champ bounced back, letting his critics know that there was in fact more to his arsenal than a bootleg version of Mayweather’s shoulder roll! Broner has always demonstrated a certain toughness and willingness to step up. Add this to his new found ring maturity, and suddenly the plot thickens for everyone around him in a division purely rich with talent.
Holding a strap and entering on the strength of a two-fight winning streak, 2015 could be the bridge to a blockbuster career for Broner. There are several men most would like to see him face, but if underground rumblings hold any truth, Matthysse and Danny Garcia could both share airspace with him before the year ends. A victory over these two young guns would inevitably pave the way for a 2016 welterweight division splash where another crop of young talent awaits.
What we learned in 2014 is that the only thing holding Broner back is Broner. If he can remain focused and stay hungry, it’s conceivable to think that he could ultimately live up to the hype many envisioned from the beginning. 2015 will be a game of ‘focus’ for Broner. The skies the limit for a man many felt was already destined to become a star!
Although Maidana likely won’t be getting any paychecks the size of those received in 2014 against Mayweather, clearly, he remains in position to elevate his career a few notches. In a welterweight division thick with talent, Maidana represents what could be described as the second tier amongst the top, as most consider him a clean cut favorite to defeat anyone not named Mayweather or Pacquiao.
Just a few years ago after suffering defeat to Devon Alexander, many viewed Maidana as a journeyman entering the lowly “DMW” status (dead man walking). Fast forward to 2014 and after a union with trainer Robert Garcia, it seems Maidana’s evolution could be no better. Entering the ring against Floyd Mayweather last May, over zealous oddsmakers had Maidana a 12-1 underdog. By the end of the night the level of respect he would earn forced Mayweather to do something he has only done once in an 18yr career: grant a rematch.
The second time around Maidana fell short again, but the respect he earned would live on. As we enter 2015, Maidana has a chance to see his stock rise yet again, as the new found respect between Goldenboy Promotions and Top Rank could lead to a few more high profile performances. Timothy Bradley, Keith Thurman, and even Manny Pacquiao could all fall into the equation. A victory over either man places him on a different level, while defeat to any would hardly be a bad thing. 2015 will be whatever Chino makes it. Past victories mean he can’t lose!
JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
At age 41, with 7 losses and nearly 500 professional rounds in the books, the only thing one can ask is “why”? Why is Marquez still fighting? 2014 wasn’t his greatest year as a pro, but the fact that he won in his only outing (against Alvarado) simply means that he maintains the option to continue, despite the calls from those close to him to stop.
Victory aside, where does Marquez truly stand in today’s landscape of welterweights? The top tier veterans offer little chance of victory (Pacquiao, Mayweather, etc); while the younger, hungry lions offer potentially too much risk. If a skilled but powerless Bradley found success against him, how much of a shot does Marquez truly have against a Kell Brook, or oddly enough, perhaps even an Amir Khan?
Ring intelligence alone gives Marquez a path to victory against most, but in the twilight of his career with money in the bank a a stellar resume in tow, personally, I’d say it’s time for one of Mexico’s most fundamentally talented ever to go! There’s little to gain, yet so much to lose! There’s no way to forecast exactly what 2015 will bring, but one thing for certain, it will inevitably include the final bout of Marquez’s career. If he faces the UK’s Kell Brook, sadly, it’ll be one and done.
2014 was anything but stellar for Florida’s power punching Keith Thurman. Present was a higher quality of opposition; absent was the vicious KO’s that had many thinking he was something he probably is not. Fundamentally, Thurman presents better actual skills than most would give credit for. Unfortunately, self-imposed pressure to stop every opponent he faces has produced an almost nervous energy that has seemed to strip him of any and all excitement we’ve come to love.
2015 will be a very important year in the development of the young Keith Thurman. All of the hype and bravado egged on by past vicious KO’s has everyone eager to see an element of his game which doesn’t exist at the highest level. The relatively unknown Leonard Bundu of Italy took Thurman into deep waters. This revelation shed light on the fact that there’s no better time than the present for Thurman to polish up his fundamental skills and abandon the “KO at all cost” strategy.
Having a penchant to bruise easily and a limited playbook beyond a ‘one-hitter-quitter’ could be Thurman’s ultimate undoing. Reality says he’d be better served getting in some more meaningful rounds. Society says he’d be better served stepping up his level of competition and taking more risk. Which direction he goes next will dictate failure or success. When ‘talk’ is your navigator, it often results in more stress! This is a make or break year for Thurman! Bad matchmaking could make it a very painful one, too. Stay tuned.
Of all the young and rising fighters in the sport, Danny Garcia was easily the most disappointing and least productive of 2014. What started out bad ended up worst. In what was a poor PR attempt to sell him to Puerto Rican purist, the only thing worse than his media day ‘Span-glish’ was his performance on the Boricua island in what was a clear loss to Mauricio Herrera. How did he follow that effort up? By taking on a barely known opponent unearthed by Al Haymon in the bowels of Pittsburgh.
On the heels of what can be adequately dubbed a “horrendous” year, Danny Garcia has basically boxed himself into a corner which gives him no option but to come out swinging! (Literally). We’ve heard talks about a potential move to welterweight, and we’ve also heard that conversation followed by talks of him facing one or two more marquee challengers at jr. welterweight. Seems the only certainty these days with Danny Garcia is that there are no certainties. 2015 is a make or break year for Philadelphia’s own.
Mismanagement and poor quest navigation has left Danny Garcia with no answers for the present and no meaningful response relative to the past. He will have to take major risk and attempt to elevate himself immediately. Currently, the entire sports media and fan base questions him….which means one loss, (no matter how legitimate), and he may never be viewed the same again. Terms like “Cherry Picker” and “Exposed” flood his presence. In a time like this, a man can only go in one direction! Let’s hope he’s ready…..
If asked to narrow Kell Brook’s career down into one short theme, it would probably be “under the radar, but above the rim”! For years, the American media shunned the developing Kell Brook, likening him to amateur and untested fighters undeserving of the Vegas spotlights and scrolling marquees. Fast forward a few performances, and suddenly, America has taken notice, as has the rest of the world.
It wasn’t until he dispatched the once highly regarded Shawn Porter that many realized exactly how good he really is. When you look at his pure fundamental style and his very cerebral approach, it’s very evident that similar to Calzaghe, Froch, and Hatton, the UK has just introduced us around the world to one of the sports finest!
2015 will be a huge year for Brook, as he will now get the chance to test his mettle against the likes of America’s best, and he isn’t afraid to leave his comfort zone to take those test! Bradley, Marquez, Pacquiao, Mayweather…each of these men have fallen within the scope of his radar. Oddly enough, he has the ability to give each of them pure hell….Mayweather included. Of all the men around the sport with a strong chance to serve as the proverbial “dark horse”, this is the man that I feel is most capable of turning any logic we have upside down. Stay tuned.
(Vivek “Vito” Wallace can be reached at 754.307.7747. He can also be reached on Tuesday night’s live broadcast of “Left-Hook Lounge Radio”, Instagram (ViveksView), Twitter (@lefthooklounge1), and Facebook).