Boxing predictions for 2012
Manny Pacquiao will finally lose in 2012 and it won't be against Floyd Mayweather
Cruiserweight is one of boxing's most promising, under-the-rader weight divisions
Look for the rapid ascent of Gary Russell Jr. to continue as 2012 enters full swing
1. Cruiserweight will become cool. Not heavyweight cool. Maybe not even welterweight cool, either. But there are some interesting talents in the 200-pound weight class. In Europe there is Marco Huck, Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. There is talent in Russia (Denis Lebedev), Australia (Danny Green) and Nigeria (Lateef Kayode). And in the U.S. there is Steve Cunningham and a resurgent Antonio Tarver, giving the division a true global flavor. It's the kind of talented-but-anonymous weight class that would make for an interesting tournament. You hear that HBO and Showtime?
2. Vitali Klitschko will retire. Klitschko, 40, has scarcely lost a round since coming out of retirement in 2008. But the WBC titleholder has hinted that his Hall of Fame career is winding down and has been open about his political ambitions in the Ukraine. Klitschko has two fights in the works for 2012 -- against Dereck Chisora in February and a summertime showdown with longtime antagonizer David Haye -- and may even take one more after that. But before the end of the year he will officially cede the division to his younger brother Wladimir.
3. Manny Pacquiao will lose ... to Juan Manuel Marquez. The two rivals have seen their careers become as intertwined as Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. In 36 rounds only one -- Pacquiao's three-knockdown first round in the first fight -- has been truly decisive. And as much as Bob Arum would like to serve Pacquiao a softball (like Tim Bradley) in his next fight, if Floyd Mayweather is unavailable in June then a fourth fight with Marquez is the only natural option. And in another back-and-forth battle (likely fought in front of 50,000-plus fans at Cowboys Stadium) Marquez will finally get the win that has eluded him.
4. Pacquiao will not fight Mayweather. Mayweather's recently handed down jail sentence likely ruins any chance of making Mayweather-Pacquiao in the first half of the year. Pacquiao won't wait though, and as much as Bob Arum would like to match him with an easy-to-hit Bradley, the next richest fight out there is Marquez, who helped Pacquiao sell out the MGM Grand Garden Arena in November and generate north of 1.3 million pay-per-view buys. If Pacquiao loses (see above) there will undoubtedly be a fifth fight between the two, pushing any matchup with Mayweather into 2013.
5. The rise of Gary Russell Jr. will continue. Powerful with blurring hand speed, featherweight Russell is the most heavily hyped U.S. prospect we have seen in a long time. Already a darling of HBO, Russell will step up his competition early next year and win a world title by the end of it. By next December, the buzz will be all the possible superfights -- against Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuri Gamboa or Adrien Broner -- that Russell could be ready for in early 2013.
6. As will the fall of Kelly Pavlik. Pavlik's battle with alcoholism took another trying turn this month, when the former middleweight champion was arrested and charged with DUI at his home in Canfield, Ohio. Pavlik's handlers say the plan is still for Pavlik to move to California and train with Robert Garcia early next year. But Pavlik has too many inner demons to chase, something he has shown little interest in doing. At 168 pounds, the strength and power Pavlik was known for as a middleweight won't be the same. Pavlik will win a fight or two on a Top Rank pay-per-view undercard but will get drilled by Andre Ward or Lucien Bute at the end of next year.
7. Lucien Bute will have two classic wars with Carl Froch. The overwhelming opinion in boxing is that a Bute-Andre Ward matchup would be a dud. That's good, because Ward has shown little interest in fighting Bute right now, anyway. That opens the door for Bute-Froch, a much more aesthetically pleasing fight between a tactician willing to take chances (Bute) and a volume-punching brawler (Froch). The two sides have reportedly already had discussions about a two-fight deal, one in Montreal, one in England. That buzz around Bute-Froch would be big and would open the door for a potential rubber match on neutral turf (Madison Square Garden?) at the end of the year.
8. Promoters will start to get it. The lure of Las Vegas and the dollars offered by casinos has seen fewer fighters developed in one area. But the box office success of Andre Ward (Oakland), Tomasz Adamek (New Jersey) and Miguel Cotto (New York) and the recent sellout crowd that packed the Washington Convention Center will make promoters rethink that strategy. In 2012, promoters will endeavor to home grow more fighters, which will create better atmospheres at big fights in the future.
9. Nonito Donaire-Yuri Gamboa? Yes, please. Overlooked in the buzz about a Gamboa-Brandon Rios showdown is that a Gamboa-Donaire fight could be equally as appealing. It's not the fight in a phone booth that Gamboa and Rios would be but Gamboa and Donaire are both explosive talents that always look for the knockout. Though separated by weight -- Donaire will make his debut at super bantamweight (122 pounds) in February while Gamboa will move up to super featherweight (130) in March -- the lack of quality, marketable opponents for either will lead to a matchup between the two Top Rank promoted fighters by the end of the year.
10. Wladimir Klitschko's dominant run will continue. Every year there is an opponent who offers a glimmer of hope that Klitschko's chokehold on the heavyweight division could end. That opponent this year was David Haye, a tough-talking Brit who taunted both Wladimir and Vitali for more than two years. Haye didn't have much to say after July 2, when Wladimir wiped the mat with him over 12 lopsided rounds. With Klitschko set to face former cruiserweight titleholder Jean-Marc Mormeck in March, with a mandatory defense against Tony Thompson or a fight with Chris Arreola next in line and with American Seth Mitchell still a year (at least) away from being ready, the younger Klitschko will continue to reign atop boxing's glamour division.
SI Now: Is it a good idea to expand the NFL playoffs?
SI Now: Mack Brown denies reports of decision to stepping down