Britain’s Next World Champ

November 28, 2009

With David Haye, Carl Froch and Amir Khan all holding one of the established world titles in their respective divisions, times are good for British boxing.

There is also a healthy list of British boxers closing in on a world title shot. So, who is going to get there first? Here, I examine some of the leading contenders and their chances of world championship glory.

6. Ryan Rhodes

Rhodes wouldn’t have appeared on this list before his stunning victory over Jamie Moore. I would have picked Moore as a leading candidate for future world honours had Rhodes not turned his world upside down in Bolton in October. In a contender for domestic fight of the year, all three judges rightly had the fight very close when Rhodes produced the round of his life to stop Moore in the 7th. The fight was billed as a WBC title eliminator, and with current WBC champ Sergio Martinez scheduled to fight Paul Williams in a non title bout it remains to be seen if, when and who Rhodes will get to fight for the WBC crown.

Rhodes is one of British boxing’s most likeable characters. Known as the “Spice Boy” in his highly promising early days as a pro, his career drifted somewhat following a failed shot at the WBO title before a remarkable renaissance that has taken him once more to the brink of world honours. I’d love to see him do it, but at 33 and with the likes of Martinez, Williams, Yuri Foreman and the brilliant but troubled James Kirkland in his division, I fear he may struggle.

5. John Murray

When Breidis Prescott made Amir Khan feel all sleepy fifty-something seconds into their showdown in Spetember 2008 I would have confidently predicted John Murray had a better chance of becoming champion of the world than then fellow lightweight Khan. I take nothing away from the supremely talented Khan and his achievements, but being the poster boy of British boxing most certainly helped him secure the tutelage of Freddie Roach, the best trainer in the world. Not to mention an early shot at a beatable world champion, albeit a weight level up at light-welter.

Murray meanwhile lost his British title on the scales amid farcical scenes this summer prior to his match with Scott Lawton. Murray was a mere 2 ounces over the limit at the deadline and was quite rightly punished heavily. Murray managed to put that out of his mind to take care of Lawton in six, and since regained his title against John Thaxton. If the stoppage was a little premature in that one, I have no doubt Murray would have gone on to win anyway.

Murray is an excellent prospect but is untested at world level. With the outstanding Juan Manuel Marquez likely to vacate his titles to go after prize names in higher weight divisions, titles could be up for grabs at lightweight sooner rather than later. That said, there is no shortage of competition. The likes of Paulus Moses, Antonio de Marco, Michael Katsidis and Roland Reyes are all excellent campaigners. Meanwhile Joan Guzman and Ali Funeka square off for the IBF version of the title this very weekend.

One fighter Murray should be wary of is WBC champ Edwin Valero. Valero was banned from boxing in much of the US because of injuries resulting from piling headfirst off his motorbike into the back off a vehicle. Without a helmet. Despite this, he has amassed a record of 25-0-0 with 25 knockouts, 19 in the first round. The boy can bang!

I think it may be just too soon for world honours for Murray. If and when he does get there, a mouth watering domestic showdown with Khan would be one hell of a prospect.

4. Nathan Cleverly

I am confident that classy light-heavyweight Cleverly will one day win a world title. With stoppage wins in his last five fights he looks like a fighter who is gaining power as he matures. Perhaps the most impressive of those wins was the British title victory over the previously unbeaten Danny McIntosh.

In January, final year Mathematics student Cleverly gets his shot at the European title against the tough but beatable Italian, Antonio Brancalion. Cleverly will have to go to Italy to win the belt after losing the purse bid. His likelihood of a world title tilt in 2010 will increase greatly if he can put on an impressive performance against Brancalion who has only been stopped once.

If we assume that ring legends Roy Jones Jr and Bernard Hopkins will continue to operate above world title level, the figure that dominates this division is the outstanding Chad Dawson. Cleverly will most likely be eyeing up opportunities against any of the other major title holders. The likes of Tavoris Cloud, Jean Pascal and Jurgen Braehmer would also be exceptionally difficult assignments for Cleverly next year, so perhaps WBA champ Gabriel Campillo would be the best bet for the Welshman.

I really like Cleverly. I like the way he conducts himself in and out of the ring. Due to the difficulty of the competition in the light heavyweight division, however, I fear he may have to wait a little longer to win a world championship. Remember, he is still only 22 after all!

3. Rendell Munroe

Rendell “Two Tone” Munroe, the boxing binman from Leicester is fast becoming one of Britain’s best loved fighters. Early last year he upset the excellent Spaniard Kiko Martinez to claim the European super bantamweight crown. Since then he has defended his title no fewer than five times including an even more convincing win over Martinez and a battling come-from-behind victory over tough Italian Simone Maludrottu. Munroe has also managed to claim the Commonwealth title during this time.

Munroe has to look to challenge for a world title early next year. I believe the brilliant Celestine Caballero would have far too much for Munroe, as would the unbeaten knockout merchant Juan Manuel Lopez, who is also moving up to featherweight for his next fight. Japanese WBC titlist Toshiaki Nishioka is the man many believe Munroe will go after. Whilst this will be by far the toughest challenge Munroe has faced, he has a chance. Nishioka is 33, and if Munroe can somehow secure a title shot in the UK, I think he might just do it. As Irishman Bernard Dunne recently discovered, however, the gap between European and World level in this division is not a small one.

2. Matthew Macklin

Birmingham’s Matt Macklin announced himself at world level in September of this year with a sensational one round demolition of Finland’s Amin Asikainen to claim the European middleweight title. Since stepping up from light middleweight following his 2006 defeat to Jamie Moore, Macklin hasn’t looked back. He was probably weight drained in that excellent domestic tear up and has managed to carry his power with him as he has moved up to 160 lbs. With Moore now struggling to make the light middleweight limit, the prospect of a rematch at some stage, possibly with a major title on the line is an exciting one for British fight fans. Proud of his Irish routes, Macklin is an entertaining, come forward fighter who can also really hit.

One man looms large over the glamour middleweight division at world level, the superstar Kelly Pavlik. As he continues his comeback from a shock defeat to the ageless Bernard Hopkins, I suspect Pavlik will be looking for marquee name fights in 2010. Other than Pavlik, the list of top level campaigners in this division is strangely devoid of Americans. German Felix Sturm is the WBA champ and would be a tough proposition for “Mack the Knife”.

The IBF champion is another German, Sebastian Sylvester. Macklin has expressed a strong interest in taking on Sylvester, and I am not surprised. If this fight can be made I would make Macklin the favourite.

1. Ola Afolabi

So, to the number one fighter on my list. The man I’m picking as most likely to be Britain’s next world champion, and many British fight fans would not even be aware of his existence were it not for one shock victory early this year.

Ola Afolabi was born in London but moved to California as a teenager. Afolabi turned pro at light heavyweight in 2002 and suffered and early setback against fellow prospect Allan Green. Afolabi moved up to cruiserweight and moved steadily up the rankings before being lined up as an expected victim for Enzo Maccarinelli who was trying to work his way back up to world honours after being sparked by David Haye. Afolabi hadn’t read the script, however, and took the Welshman to the cleaners, stopping him in nine rounds.

That fight was a WBO title eliminator, so Afolabi gets his shot against the brilliantly nicknamed German, Marco ‘Captain’ Huck on 5th December. A British boxer fighting for a major world title and there has barely been a whisper in the UK press. It’s a disgrace! Huck is a clear betting favourite. Afolabi’s record is solid but unspectacular, and Maccarinelli was clearly not at his best during their encounter. Huck is tough, strong and never takes a backwards step, but he is beatable. Afolabi is a clever fighter who can also dig, and I have a sneaky feeling he might just create an upset. Win, lose or draw, I hope he gets the profile and credit he deserves here in the UK.

Other Contenders

Apart from these six, there are plenty of others who could jump the queue and win a world title first. If Kevin Mitchell can steer clear of injuries and beat the aforementioned Prescott on the Khan vs Dimitriy Salita undercard, he won’t be far away from a shot at either super featherweight or lightweight. The Ingle schooled Kell Brook is an outstanding young prospect, though he campaigns at welterweight, arguably the toughest division of all right now. Paul McCloskey, Jamie Moore, Darren Barker, Alex Arthur, Anthony Small and Martin Lindsay are all outside bets.

The observant amongst you will have noticed one glaring omission from this list. If Ricky Hatton decides he wants to win a world title again, and trains like he means it, he will jump to the top of my list immediately. Hatton is one of my all time sporting heroes and was a top class world champion. He fell short against the two best pound-for-pound fighters of our times, however, so why carry on at a lower level? I hope he doesn’t.

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