Boxing comment: British boxing commences 2013 in fine shape with three excellent world champions in Carl Froch, Ricky Burns and Nathan Cleverly. However the year ahead holds no easy assignment for them if they are to end the year with one or more titles.
Super-middleweight Froch and lightweight Burns enjoyed an immensely fruitful 2012, the duo proving themselves the best of British.
Froch silenced his army of critics by dismantling the previously unbeaten IBF ruler Lucian Bute last May with a breathtaking display that was recognised as the performance of the year, while Scotsman Burns equally made light work of domestic rival Kevin Mitchell in a bout that was genuinely billed as an even match.
Being consistent models of discipline will stand Froch and Burns in good stead as both men now face career-defining unification contests.
Froch finally gets his long-awaited rematch with his previous nemesis and WBA champion Mikkel Kessler in a bout tipped for London’s O2 or the Manchester Arena in May. Burns faces IBF holder Miguel Vazquez in a potentially exciting bout on March 16 at London’s Wembley Arena.
Dane Kessler (46-2) ended Froch’s unbeaten record in April 2010 by winning a slightly fortunate unanimous points decision in a memorable battle during which Froch failed to capitalise on his mid-fight superiority with the judges giving Kessler, who was the home fighter, the nod.
Froch (30-2) still believes he deserved the decision, but soon dusted himself down and outclassed Arthur Abraham in his next contest.
At 35, Froch has continued to improve, showing age is no barrier, and I envisage him exacting revenge in clinical fashion.
The Nottingham man will have the huge advantage of a passionate home support and he remains supremely confident off the momentum built on the back of the Bute win.
With two belts in his hand, Froch will plot another revenge mission over the 12st chief Andre Ward, but may find the impressive US pugilist superior once again.
Beyond those two bouts, Froch has already declared his interest in fighting 2008 Olympic gold medallist James DeGale and he could then step up a division to challenge fellow Brit and WBO champion Cleverly.
Meanwhile, Burns (35-2) has recently come of age, becoming a two-weight world champion with impressive displays against Roman Martinez, Michael Katsidis and Kevin Mitchell.
Currently on an impressive 20-fight winning streak, 29-year-old Burns, who hails from Coatbridge, now looks to cement his place among Britain’s greats and the likes of Vazquez (33-3) will reveal if the likeable Scot can further secure his legacy.
Vazquez, who is most famous for inflicting the first defeat on Amir Khan’s conqueror Breidis Prescott, has made five successful defences of the crown he won in 2010 and could present Ricky with a tricky night.
Yet I fancy Burns to pip him in a tight contest which will see him set up a huge bout with the brash WBC owner Adrien Broner who defends his prize next month against the unfancied Welshman and former world champion Gavin Rees.
Broner, 23, is being built up as the next crossover star with his lightning speed, devastating power and outlandish boasts, and a Rees victory would rank alongside Lloyd Honeyghan’s amazing 1986 display when he destroyed a pound-for-pound leader in Don Curry.
Rees’s fellow Welshman Cleverly endured a frustrating 2012 when he failed to land a big name or a unification bout.
Two easy defences did little to enhance the 25-year-old’s reputation, but he is determined to prove he is the 175lb leader as he gears up to defend his title against the mandatory challenger Robin Krasniqi on the Burns bill.
A focused Cleverly (25-0) should see the German off which could put him in line to face the winner of the IBF tussle between holder Tavoris Cloud and the evergreen Bernard Hopkins.
The intelligent maths graduate seems to thrive on a challenge and we will only see the best of him when he faces Cloud, Hopkins or the WBC champion Chad Dawson.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Cleverly ends the year as the world’s leading light-heavyweight.
Outside the current world champions, Kell Brook looks to join the top table next month when he challenges IBF king Devon Alexander of the United States.
The undefeated Sheffield starlet, 29-0, successfully came through a huge scare against Carson Jones last July in a gruesome fight that saw him suffer a broken nose and subsequently prompted an overhaul of his pre-fight preparations.
Alexander is clearly 26-year-old Brook’s toughest opponent to date with the Saint Louis champion operating at world level for several years and having a reputation for being a spoiler.
His style could prove highly frustrating for Brook who will have to produce a career-best performance to take the victory on foreign territory.
It gets no easier for the Brits in April when St Helens middleweight Martin Murray has his second tilt at a world title against the 11st 6lb leader Sergio Martinez.
The fearsome Argentinian (50-2-2) has already seen off both Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin and, although some think he is past his best, Martinez will probably still have too much for Murray making him the third Brit he has defeated.
However, the half-year report should still see Britain with at least three global belt-holders.
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