The year 2017 has gotten off to a solid start for the sport of Boxing and has already provided some interesting questions and possibilities that could play out in the coming months. Unified WBA/IBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Erislandy Lara started his year by successfully defending his unified WBA/IBO Jr. Middleweight world championship with a devastating third round knockout of former WBA Jr. Middleweight world champion Yuri Foreman on January 13th at Hialeah Park Racing and Casino in Hialeah, FL. Although I thought that this would be a tactical chess match between two highly skilled world-class boxers, in actuality all it took was one punch as Lara ended the night for Foreman with a flush left uppercut that sent Foreman down for the count.
For a fighter in Erislandy Lara who is not particularly known for his punching power and at times does not get the credit he truly deserves for his overall skill as a fighter, this was as solid a performance as one could ask for. Some may wonder what may be next for Lara, some other events that have taken place during the month might play a role in determining what route Lara might take in the future. Before discussing the potential options which may be available to Lara however, there were other noteworthy events that took place in the ring over the last couple of weeks.
The most noteworthy of those events one might argue took place on January 14th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY where WBC Super-Middleweight world champion Badou Jack squared off with IBF Super-Middleweight world champion James DeGale in an attempt to further unify the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division. In what was a highly competitive give and take battle, both fighters were able to score knockdowns of each other. Jack was the first to suffer a knockdown by being floored by DeGale in the first round and then returned the favor by sending DeGale to the canvas in the twelfth and final round.
It was a very close fight where there is a difference of opinion as to who had the upper hand. In this observer’s eyes DeGale had a slight edge during the first half of the fight, but Jack was able to win the second half with overall aggression as well as seeming to land the more effective punches of the two as I ended up scoring the fight 114-112 in his favor. DeGale however, was also able to have his share of moments during the second half of the bout and the fight was very much on the table in the latter stages. It was no surprise to see the three judges split in their opinion of the fight and for the result to ultimately be declared a majority draw resulting in the fight becoming a “Non-Unification” as both retained their respective world championships.
The month of January has also seen the return of former multi-division world champion Zab Judah after a three year layoff. Judah scored a second round knockout of journeyman contender Jorge Munguia on January 21st at the Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton, NJ. What always interests me when a fighter attempts a comeback is to see how active that fighter will be out of the gate. For the thirty-nine year old Judah it is crucial in my eyes that he remain active going forward if he intends on attempting to put himself in contention for an opportunity at a world championship. It will also be interesting to see if Judah, who faced a fighter in Munguia with a 13-7 record with only four of those thirteen wins coming by knockout, will face a fighter that some may consider a more stern test in his second fight on the comeback trail.
Although some might be critical of a former world champion for facing a fighter of the caliber of Munguia, fights like that are used to evaluate things like a fighter’s physical condition as well as where that fighter might be in terms of their skills. It is important that the Boxing fan keep in mind that even if a fight might appear to look as though it is a mismatch on paper between a former world champion as Judah and a fighter such as Munguia, fights like this do serve a purpose in not only the early stages of a fighter’s comeback, but also as a way to build confidence. We will have to wait and see what Judah does going forward to see how he progresses in his comeback.
As for the future for Erislandy Lara, Badou Jack, and James DeGale each one might argue is in a similar scenario. Lara for his part called out Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin shortly after his knockout of Yuri Foreman. Both Alvarez, who Lara lost a razor thin decision to in 2014, and Gennady Golovkin have fights scheduled in the coming months. Golovkin, the undefeated unified WBA/IBO/IBF/WBC Middleweight world champion will attempt to make the eighteenth defense of his world championship when he faces current WBA number one contender Daniel Jacobs on March 18th at Madison Square Garden in a bout that will be televised by HBO Pay-Per-View in the United States. Alvarez will meet former Middleweight world champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6th in Las Vegas at a catch weight of 164lbs. in the main event of a card also televised by HBO Pay-Per-View.
This would seem to put the potential of Lara facing either Alvarez or Golovkin on the back burner at least until sometime later this year. Badou Jack meanwhile vacated his WBC Super-Middleweight world championship to move up in weight to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division. Jack’s move would indicate that if a rematch between he and DeGale were to take place it would have to be at Light-Heavyweight.
This puts fighters like Lara and DeGale in a similar situation of being in a weight class that is either known as a “Jr.” or “Super” and as is the case most of the time the top fighters in those weight classes often seek more lucrative opportunities in a higher weight division. If Lara is not interested in attempting to fully unify the world Jr. Middleweight championship, he could certainly seek a fight in the Middleweight division while waiting on a potential fight with either Golovkin or Alvarez. Perhaps potential opponents like undefeated top contender Rob Brant, who recently scored a first round knockout over an overmatched Alexis Hiloros on January 20th in Hinckley, MN or undefeated rising prospect Immanuwel Aleem, who scored a thrilling knockout over previously unbeaten prospect Ievgen Khytrov on the undercard of the attempted unification bout between Badou Jack and James DeGale could offer Lara an opportunity to work his way up the Middleweight ratings to possibly force an encounter with Gennady Golovkin or potentially a rematch with Alvarez should Alvarez, who currently holds the WBO Jr. Middleweight world championship elect to remain in the Middleweight division.
Although James DeGale still holds the IBF Super-Middleweight world championship and very well could continue in his attempt to unify the division, this observer believes given the competitive nature of his bout with Badou Jack that a rematch in the Light-Heavyweight division is probably the most lucrative option available at least for now. As for what is upcoming, the month of January will close out with the highly anticipated rematch for the WBA Featherweight world championship between undefeated two-division world champion Carl Frampton and former two-division world champion Leo Santa Cruz on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV.
Many remember the first encounter between the two in July of last year. Much like the recent encounter between Badou Jack and James DeGale, the fight between Frampton and Santa Cruz pitted two highly skilled world-class boxer/punchers against each other. As was the case in the fight between Jack and DeGale, the first encounter between Frampton and Santa Cruz was a highly competitive bout where there was a difference of opinion as to who got the upper hand in what was one of the best fights of 2016 and some feel was the fight of the year. Although at times rematches do not live up to the intensity and competitiveness of the original meeting between two fighters, I would be lying if I said that I was not looking forward to this fight and I do believe that the sequel between Frampton and Santa Cruz has a very strong chance to be as good or maybe even better than the first encounter. We will see if Frampton and Santa Cruz can close out what has been a strong first month of 2017 with a bang.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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