Five Boxers to Watch Out For in 2017

After a disappointing year for boxing in 2016, many are hoping for better things in 2017. At the moment, all the signs point to the state of the sport improving with some quality match-ups made for the spring period. The super-middleweight unification bout of Badou Jack vs James DeGale and the rematch of Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz for supremacy in the featherweight division both take place in January before March delivers another unification fight, this time at welterweight, between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia and, similarly to Frampton/Santa Cruz, the bout between Gennady Golovkin and Danny Jacobs is fight many see as the number one vs the number two at middleweight. All these epic match-ups take place before Anthony Joshua bids to become a unified heavyweight world champion against one of the greatest heavyweights of his generation, Wladimir Klitschko at an expected sold-out Wembley Stadium.

Such anticipated contests aren’t limited to these big name match-ups however and below I have listed some fighters who also look set for a huge 12 months. Deliberately, I have excluded the obvious big names such as Joshua, David Haye or Amir Khan and instead looked to focus on fighters who could break into that small group of elite fighters in 2017.

Heavyweight: Luis Ortiz (27-0, 23 KO’s)

The heavyweight to look out for in 2017 has to be one of Matchroom Boxing’s latest signings, Luis Ortiz. Despite formerly being ranked as the world number one heavyweight in some quarters, namely BoxRec, the undefeated Cuban is scarcely recognised to the majority of British fight fans. Given his lowly profile, Ortiz has been made immediately active by his new promoter Eddie Hearn as he fought twice within the space of just a month.

luis-ortiz

Ortiz headlined Matchroom’s Monte-Carlo show in November as he comfortably defeated Malik Scott by unanimous decision, knocking down the American on three occasions, to win the vacant WBA Inter-Continental heavyweight title. Less than a month later, “King Kong” was in action again on the Anthony Joshua vs Eric Molina undercard on December 10th at the Manchester Arena. Ortiz earned his 23rd professional knockout victory over Britain’s Dave Allen with a late stoppage in round seven of the eight round contest.

Following his victory over Allen, numerous sources reported that Ortiz was now in line to fight former lineal world champion Shannon Briggs for the WBA’s ‘Regular’ world title in first quarter of 2017, with the ‘Super’ version of the WBA world title to be contested between Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on April 29th. However, since then such reports have been fairly muted and instead it has emerged that Ortiz will be made the mandatory challenger by the WBA to the winner of Joshua vs Klitschko as confirmed by WBA President Gilberto Mendoza earlier last month.

In the meantime, Ortiz’s next opponent remains unknown. With the opportunity to face either Joshua, another fighter in the Matchroom stable which should make negotiations easier in theory, or Klitschko, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, for the WBA ‘Super’ world title, the big question for Ortiz is whether he should to choose to take on a big-name opponent, in order to increase his profile and the magnitude of the potential fight against Joshua or Klitschko, or take on a lesser fighter, in order to preserve his place as the WBA’s mandatory challenger.

Given that Ortiz has previously faced two former unified world title challengers, Tony Thompson and Bryant Jennings, in the past 13 months, hopefully Hearn and Ortiz will choose the former and fight a top fighter who is ranked the WBA’s top 15 with David Price and Dereck Chisora potential opponents.

2017 looks set to be a huge year for Ortiz with a long-awaited world title fight finally set to be delivered. Hearn has said that March has been targeted as being the month of Ortiz’s return to the ring and that there is also a “small chance” that he could feature on the undercard to David Haye vs Tony Bellew on March 4th at the O2 Arena. Despite winning comfortably against Malik Scott and Dave Allen, plenty more is expected of a fighter ranked as the world number one and hopefully we can see that and more in the new year.

Light Heavyweight: Joe Smith Jr (23-1, 19 KO’s)

For years the saga of a potential fight between unified world champion Sergey Kovalev and WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson had captured all the headlines in the light-heavyweight division. However, things have now drastically changed with the rise of New York prospect Joe Smith Jr a big factor in this.

joe-smith-jr

Smith Jr had a sensational year in 2016 as he shocked the boxing world twice with two huge upset victories. On June 18th, Smith Jr recorded a stunning first round technical knockout win over Andrzej Forfana, who defeated former world champions Nathan Cleverly and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in his previous two fights, to win the WBC International light heavyweight title.

Six months later, Smith Jr entered the biggest fight of his career as he took on former unified light-heavyweight and middleweight world champion Bernard Hopkins in the final fight of the 51-year-old’s professional career. Smith Jr went onto earn a career-defining victory as he stunningly, and most importantly, legally, knocked Hopkins out of the ring in the eighth round. So impressive were Smith Jr’s performances against Forfana and Hopkins that the American earned a nomination for the Sugar Ray Robinson Fighter of the Year as voted for by the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Smith Jr heads into 2017 ranked fifth in the light-heavyweight rankings by both the WBC and the WBA and, after two huge wins in the latter half of the year, a world title shot looks on the cards in the new year. The question for Smith Jr is which world title route he will choose to go down, the WBC or the WBA?

Long-reigning WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson has been named as a potential opponent by Smith Jr’s promoter Joe DeGuardia, but the WBC have ordered Stevenson to face the winner of Eleider Alvarez vs Lucian Bute on February 24th. With the Canadian having not made a mandatory defence of his world title in three years, it would be extremely unlikely to see them sanction a bout against Smith Jr for the first half of 2016.

Although the WBC doesn’t seem like the best route to a world title in the short term, the WBC may yet prove to be Smith Jr’s most viable option. Aged 39, Stevenson is entering the twilight of his career and, at the moment he looks a far less dangerous proposition than current WBA, WBO and IBF world champion Andre Ward or Ward’s likely next opponent Sergey Kovalev.

As wins over Forfana and Hopkins have shown however, Smith Jr is not afraid of taking on the big names and if he chasing division supremacy, then the WBA path may the one he chooses with a fight against either Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev, two fighters ranked in the pound-for-pound top five by many.

Aged just 27, time is on Smith Jr’s side and following such a dramatic and strong year in 2016, let’s hope we can expect more of the same from the American in 2017.

 Super Middleweight: Gilberto Ramirez (34-0, 24 KO’s)

At super-middleweight, much of the attention has been focused upon the trio of British superstars, James DeGale, George Groves and Callum Smith. IBF world champion DeGale is set to fight WBC world champion Badou Jack for the unified world titles in January, three-time world title challenger Groves is set to fight Fedor Chudinov for the WBA ‘Super’ world title in the first half of the year whilst unbeaten British champion Smith is the mandatory challenger to the winner of the DeGale/Jack bout.

gilberto-ramirez

Throw into the mix Martin Murray, the WBA Continental champion who is ranked in the top ten by the WBC and WBA, and Rockie Fielding, the WBC International champion who is ranked 12th by the WBC and the WBO, and the super-middleweight division looks by far the most exciting in Britain.

However, with the wealth of British talent at super-middleweight, it is easy to forget about the quality of WBO world champion Gilberto Ramirez. The undefeated Mexican recorded arguably the most impressive victory of 2016 at super-middleweight as he comfortably out-pointed three-time world champion Artur Abraham, winning 120-108 on all three of the judges’ scorecards.

Ramirez is yet to make a defence of his world title however after suffering an injury to a knuckle in right hand which meant he had to pull out of a scheduled bout against Germany’s Dominik Britsch in July. However, last month, Ramirez announced that he had fully recovered from his injury and his promoter, Bob Arum, has spoken of plans to put Ramirez on the same event as fellow Mexican world champion Oscar Valdez, who holds the WBO’s featherweight belt, in March.

Heading into 2017, Ramirez’s next career moves seem a lot more intriguing than the average newly crowned world champion. The Mexican is likely to face a contender ranked in the WBO’s top fifteen in March, but any future plans to unify the division may be difficult for the Top Rank fighter. The winner of the WBC and IBF unification bout Badou Jack vs James DeGale will be mandated by the WBC to fight Callum Smith, making it hugely difficult for Ramirez to face the Jack/DeGale winner. Furthermore, if, as he’s expected to, DeGale wins fights against Jack later this month then against Smith in the summer, then “Chunky” may look past Ramirez and choose to fight potential WBA ‘Super’ George Groves, who is expected to fight Fedor Chudinov early this year, in a huge domestic unification fight with the extra appeal of a grudge rivalry and it being a rematch for a fight Groves won in 2011, DeGale’s only professional loss to date.

With such limited opportunities available for Ramirez in the short term, the WBO world champion could drop down a weight division to middleweight. Unified WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin has said that wants to fight four times in 2017 and with a fight already confirmed in March against WBA ‘Regular’ world champion Danny Jacobs and on-going talks for a lucrative fight against Canelo Alvarez for September, there seems to be a potential gap for Golovkin to fight in June. Ramirez has repeatedly stated his interest in facing Triple G and in May he said “If Gennady Golovkin wants to fight a real Mexican, here I am”. Golovkin has face criticism from many for sticking at middleweight so the opportunity to face a super-middleweight world champion may be appealing to him whilst for Ramirez a win against an unbeaten unified world champion would most certainly represent the biggest victory of his professional career.

Super Welterweight/Light Middleweight: Liam Williams (16-0-1, 11 KO’s)

One of the brightest young British stars has to beaten unbeaten Welsh sensation Liam Williams. The current European, Commonwealth and British champion bounced back from a disappointing 2015, which saw him restricted to just one fight in the year due to hand surgery, as he earned three TKO victories to bring his record up to 16-0-1. After a comfortable third round tune-up win over little-known Argentine Gustavo Alberto Sanchez in June, Williams went onto make the first defence of his British title against previously unbeaten Gary Corcoran in what is largely seen as the best victory of his career.

liam-williams

In November, Williams was set for another huge domestic showdown against unbeaten then-IBF International champion and WBO ranked number 14 Ahmet Patterson with the winner potentially set to fight WBO world champion Canelo Alvarez. However, just days before the contest, Patterson was forced to pull out of the fight after sustaining an injury after being attacking in the street late one night. Hungarian Gabor Gorbics, a fighter who had lost to 3-0 23-year-old Radzhab Butaev by unanimous decision just a week earlier, stepped in as Patterson’s replacement with the vacant WBO European title on the line. As expected, Williams’ power proved too much for Gorbics as the bout ended in an eight round stoppage win for the Welshman.

Having missed out on those big fights in recent months, Williams will surely he eager that his promoter Frank Warren can deliver bigger and better names in 2017, with the hope of a potential forthcoming world title shot. Current WBO junior middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez is widely expected to face either Julio Cesar Chavez Jr at a catch weight of 165 pounds or Billy Joe Saunders at middleweight in May this year, meaning that it is likely that he will vacate his title later this month, once his next fight has been officially confirmed. Given this, Williams, who is ranked at number three by the WBO may be in line to fight for the vacant title in the first third of the year. Further enhancing Williams’ prospects of a shot at the potentially WBO world title is the positions of the WBO’s number one and two contenders. The number one contender is the WBO International champion Demetrius Andrade, but, the former world champion seems unlikely to feature in a vacant title bout as he goes about pursuing a significantly bigger fight against WBC world champion Jermell Charlo, after winning a WBC final title eliminator against Willie Nelson in June. Similarly, number two contender and former four-weight world champion Miguel Cotto already has a fight scheduled for February 25th against James Kirkland and, given that his next fight is expected to be his last, he will likely chase a bigger name than Williams.

For British fans, the big hope is that Williams will fight former world champion and the number six ranked contender Liam Smith, in a bout which could potentially be contested for the vacant WBO world title. Given that Frank Warren, who has a strong relationship with the WBO, promotes both fighters then a match-up between the two fighters would make sense. Furthermore, with Warren recently agreeing a huge new broadcast deal between BoxNation and BT Sport, a huge domestic world title fight between Williams and Smith would a brilliant way to kick-start the new partnership.

Featherweight: Lee Selby (23-1, 8 KO’s)

Another Welsh star who could have a breakthrough 12 months in 2017 is IBF featherweight world champion Lee Selby. The Barry Island-born star had a year to forgot in 2016 as he made just one defence of his world title against little-known American Eric Hunter in April. Given the stellar year Selby enjoyed in 2015 by defeating the then-unbeaten and long-reigning champion Evgeny Gradovich in May before winning by unanimous decision against former three-weight world champion Fernando Montiel in October.

lee-selby

After his victory over Hunter, the boxing world was crying out for Selby to face undefeated WBC International champion and fellow British rival Josh Warrington in the summer. For months, Warrington had been calling out Selby to take the fight, however it is since emerged that the advisors to Warrington had put the potential Selby fight on hold, according to Warrington’s former promoter Eddie Hearn.

Selby has since turned his attention to the bigger fish in the featherweight division, particularly the winner of Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz II who will fight for the WBA world title once again on January 28th in Las Vegas following Frampton majority decision win in July in New York. Although Selby’s hopes to face either Frampton or Santa Cruz seem over-optimistic on paper, he does have good reason to be confident that his team can deliver the fight. Selby is currently advised by influential American Al Haymon, who also advises Frampton, Santa Cruz and WBC world champion Gary Russell Jr, meaning that Selby’s stake at the negotiation table should be strong.

Encouragingly, Frampton and Santa Cruz have both stated their interest in fighting Selby, depending on whether they triumph or not in the rematch in Vegas. Frampton declared his interest in taking on the Welshman when he said “if I get through this one (Santa Cruz), the Lee Selby fight is one that I want”, with the Northern Irish star going on to say that “25,000 tickets” could be sold in “an outdoor stadium in Belfast”. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz has similarly stated his intentions to pursue a unification bout against either Selby or Russell Jr, if he defeats Frampton convincingly.

But, before Selby even starts to begin thinking about fighting for featherweight supremacy against either Frampton or Santa Cruz, he must first concentrate on his forthcoming fight later this month. Selby takes on his mandatory challenger, Jonathan Victor Barros, a former world champion at 126 pounds between 2010 to 2011 who is on a seven fight winning streak since losing by knockout to unbeaten two-weight world champion Mikey Garcia in November 2012. The world champion is heavy favourite to make a third successful defence of his world title, and perhaps rightfully so after Barros narrowly beat Japanese domestic level fighter Satoshi Hosono by split decision in October. With such huge rewards potentially at stake, Selby cannot afford to be complacent against an experienced boxer who enters his 47th professional bout.

Advertisements

Week 10: Podcasts

The tenth week of the Journalism Technologies module centered around the world of audio technology, and in particular, podcasting.

Coinciding with the rise of the Apple iPod, which recorded huge sales figures of just over 50 million in the years 2007 to 2010,  podcasts have become massive in this last decade. Both professional radio stations and independent start-up content makers are involved in podcasts given the low cost nature of producing a podcast, particularly those where the majority of the content is dialogue.

Personally, I have never regularly continued listening to a particular podcast series, as I instead prefer to listen to radio stations such as talkSPORT, BBC Radio 5 Live or BBC Radio Leeds. However, I certainly see the appeal of the listening to podcasts given their easy usage and the ability, on some platforms, to download them and listen to them later, even if you are without access to the internet.

Lecturer and seminar tutor Richard recommended we listen to a podcast on FiveThirtyEight.com titled ‘How One Man’s Bad Math Helped Ruin Decades Of English Soccer’ (http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-one-mans-bad-math-helped-ruin-decades-of-english-soccer/). As the title may suggest, this was indeed an American podcast which meant that on some occasions the content was a little basic. However, I was fascinated by the story of Charles Reep, who seems to have founded analytics and stats-driven tactics in football, which of course, plays such an influencial role in modern-day world football. Although his particular story was of strong interest, I felt that for the programme to draw the fairly huge conclusion that he alone was to blame for the failings of the England national football team was just plain wrong.

On the whole though, I enjoyed the podcast and over the Christmas I may go about attempting to discover more like these.

Week 9: YouTube

Week nine of the Journalism Technologies module saw us study the world’s biggest video hosting website, YouTube and it’s significance in the journalism and media industries.

In Richard’s lecture, we learned about the history of videos on the internet and how it had evolved from videos being slow and frustrating in the 1990’s to YouTube becoming the second biggest website on the internet and being bought by Google for $1.65 billion.

The lecture also raised one of the key points of controversy surrounding the rise of YouTube, copyright. For instance, Jeff Zucker, the former President of NBC, said “they built YouTube on the back of our content and they wouldn’t pay us” in regards to popularity of videos of Saturday Night Live on YouTube. Similarly, YouTube vastly changed the music industry as people turned away from buying albums to listening to music online for free.

In the week’s seminar, we learned how to make basic YouTube videos using the website’s sample video footage. Using YouTube’s video editor software, we were able to edit our videos by using fade, background audio and text.

youtube-video-editor
The Video Editor interface

In regards to journalism, news outlets use YouTube to upload small clips, around five to ten minutes, on particular issues rather than uploading a whole 30 minute news programme. This is because the average time spent on YouTube by users in only 40 minutes and during this time they will watch various different videos and are unlikely to sit and watch a whole half hour news programme.

Week 8: Newsworthy Photos

The eighth week of the Journalism Technologies module saw lecturer Richard task each of us with going out and taking a photo on our smart phones of something “newsworthy” during our reading week.

As the featured image at the top of this blog post shows, I choose to take a photo of the Leeds United vs Newcastle United Championship match, a minute or so before kick off, which took place on Sunday afternoon at Elland Road. This particular game had a strong news value attached to it for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the attendance. Just over 36,000 people were inside Elland Road for the game, making it the first sell out at the ground since Leeds’ 3-1 FA Cup defeat to Premier League side Arsenal in January 2011 and the first sell out for a league fixture since their 2-1 victory over Bristol Rovers in 2010 which secured promotion from League One.

The game also has significant news value due to the away side, Newcastle United given that they were the league leaders, having won their six league matches, and they could move five points clear at the top if they won the game.

Finally, given the large fan bases and high profile standings of both clubs, the game was shown by the the Sky Sports cameras who broadcast the game live on Sky Sports 1.

Week 7: Twitter

Week seven of the Journalism Technologies modules saw the attention turn to the social network which has the most significance over the journalism industry, Twitter, and the ways in which we, as trainee sports journalists, can use Twitter for journalistic purposes.

Firstly, in Richard’s Monday morning lecture, we learned about the history of Twitter as well as reasons for the stagnation in Twitter’s growth. These includes the rise in abuse on Twitter, and the difficulties of preventing and stopping this, and has seen Twitter lose around $2 billion during the last ten years.

In regards to its impact upon journalism, Twitter has been described as the “most useful tool since the telephone” by a former Guardian journalist, with the lecture highlighting the Hudson plane crash in 2009 as an example of users of Twitter breaking the news before the American mainstream media outlets.

In the seminar later in the day, we discussed whether Twitter could fairly be described as a “public sphere” in relation to the theory by German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. Theoretically, a wide range of users all with access to huge amounts of information should create a broad and strong debate within a public sphere. However, some may argue, in reality, the limited numbers of characters per tweet and Twitter’s reactionary tendencies mean debate is often poor.

Week 5 – Facebook Live

Week Five of the Journalism Technologies module saw our focus turn to the world’s biggest social network, Facebook and the ways in which journalists can used it for professional purposes.

In our Monday afternoon seminar, Richard introduced us to Facebook Live a tool which allows its users to live stream videos to their friends and followers. From previous personal use of Facebook, I’d rarely thought of Facebook Live as an important tool, merely seeing it as a gimmick that had limited purposes.

However, Richard explained to use that Facebook Live had formed an integral part of BBC Sport’s coverage of the football European Championships in France during the summer. They had used Facebook Live to stream live coverage of match previews and half-time reviews.

Also in the seminar, we begun using Facebook Live and I interviewed Declan about his thoughts on his first few weeks at studying Sports Journalism at the University of Huddersfield.

img_1219

In the Monday morning lecture, Caroline taught us about the history of Facebook and how a group of Harvard students went on to develop one of the most successful businesses’ in the world. The lecture also furthered on the concept of vertical integration as well as introducing the concept of the filter bubble.

Week 4 at Uni: Facebook and Amazon

Having thus far studied Apple, Google and Blogging, week four saw out attentions turn to Facebook and Amazon. These two companies make up half of the so-called “big four”, alongside both Apple and Google, which has seen the process of vertical integration in the last few years (more on that later).

In order to learn about the inner workings of Facebook we were introduced to an article by technology writer Will Oremus which discussed the numerous algorithms used by Facebook in order to work their Newsfeed system. The article gave a huge insight into the ways in which Facebook aim to rank posts from an individual’s set of friends, groups and liked pages in order of their preferences based upon various factors, such as the number of likes, clicks, shares and comments on certain posts.

Oremus’ piece reveals that Facebook uses an algorithm called “Prediction Algorithm” which gives the hundreds of posts of an individual’s feed a “relevancy score” based upon the actions of the user. Then, the posts with the highest “relevancy score” are ranked at the top the user’s Newsfeed and those of little relevance are disregarded.

Surprisingly, the article also revealed the qualitative surveys that Facebook have increasingly used during the past few years. Rather than being merely using qualitative data to order posts based upon data such the number of likes, shares, comments etc, Facebook began interviewing thousands of its users in order to refine the accuracy of its Newsfeed. Participants were shown numerous examples of typical posts and asked to rank which of them they prefer as well as being asked why they had liked certain posts and not others.

On the whole, the article changed my perception of Facebook and made me question why certain posts on my own Facebook Newsfeed were ranked above others.

This week also saw us introduced to the Amazon Kindle app on the smartphones. The app allows users to add various articles, stories and reports to their reading lists which gives a far better user interface reading on the Kindle app. Although it’s practical applications seem limited to me at the moment, I’m sure with time the app will become more and more useful to me throughout my time on the course.

My First Fortnight studying Sports Journalism

When applying to study Sports Journalism last year, I wouldn’t have  believed you if you told me that within the first week I would have been in a Press Box recording a radio match report on a Yorkshire Derby between Leeds United and Barnsley in front of over 27,000 people at Elland Road.

In the induction week (with the course yet to formally begin), I expected a guided tour of the University campus and a lighthearted welcome, before studying started properly the following week. But, on just the second day, we were told of our first assignment to record a 90 second radio match report at an official press box at a game of our choice with a month’s deadline.

Later that week and much to my surprise, I’d managed to organise myself a place in the Elland Road press box with one fairly short email to the Leeds United press officer. Before I knew it, myself and about half a dozen other students from the course were sat at back of the tiny press room surrounded by writers and broadcasters from Sky Sports, the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Barnsley Chronicle.

elland-road-vs-barnsley
Elland Road minutes before kick off

As the full-time whistle sounded, I felt fairly confident having made plenty of notes on what had been an tight yet eventful 2-1 victory for Leeds. Then, having recorded my report, I attempted to submit it online only to find that my laptop, unlike any else’s, disconnected from the stadium WiFi. After failed numerous attempts to disconnect and reconnect, I ultimately had to borrow one of the other student’s laptops and with just 5 minutes of the one hour deadline remaining I managed to submit the report.

Despite the post-match stress of submitting my report, I’d thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of a sitting in a press box. The game itself had been an entertaining view, the atmosphere was lively, I’d exchanged notes and thoughts with my mates in the press box and I’d been able to sit in the same place as writers that for years, I’d spent following on Twitter and reading their articles.

Of course, sitting in press boxes and writing and recording match reports is only one aspect to the degree as I’ve learned from lectures on technology, the PR industry and the media, there is most certainly more of an academic basis to the course than I first imagined. Some of the readings thus far, which have been centered around concepts such as “Imagined Communities” and “The Public Sphere”, have extremely challenged my academic abilities and I have questioned their relevance and applicability. But, as I’ve been told my lecturers, continuing to read difficult academic texts and journals will only make us better our chances of earning what is ultimately an academic qualification.