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The Fighters That Have To Step It Up This Year

Amir Khan Chad Dawson Edwin Valero Juan Manuel LopezBy Adam Lialo: Stepping up from safe and mediocre territory into a world class zone is a massive gap to bridge. But it’s also a very fine line between the two. Fighters on the outskirts of the top level, through choice, poor management or lack of pulling power or in some cases all three, have to make the decision whether they’re happy with what they’ve achieved or have the hunger and drive to be greater. These are the five fighters that should be believing that this is their year.

Mikkel Kessler

The Dane is without doubt, the top man at super middleweight. But after gaining fans with a spirited and technically sound display against Joe Calzaghe, he was expected to take over from the Welshman and bulldoze his way through the division. It didn’t play out that way, after a 6 month layoff after the Calzaghe fight with little or no news on a prospective fight, people began to get frustrated.

A near risk-less fight against Dimitri Sartison pleased few, but it gave Kessler a route one back to a title, the vacant WBA belt. Follow that up with an easy defense against Danilo Haussler and you get the impression Kessler has gone backwards in the past year not forwards. In a year, he could have taken the vacant title shot against Sartison to get in the groove again after a loss, then seek to unify against Lucian Bute for example and now be on the verge of a massive fight on PPV.

In an open letter from Kessler himself, he explains that he wanted all the major fighters in big box office fights last year around his weight. But none would take the bait, and it’s purely down to his PPV draw. At 30, he’s got a few good years in him, but now is the time for him to step up and take some risks.

Edwin Valero

Where to start with Valero is hard, because he has been held back by not being allowed to fight in the US until recently being given clearance by Texas. At the moment he is an unknown, no one’s taken him the distance, fired back shots as good as his or even make him take a step backwards. Records can be deceiving sometimes, with virtually no A class opposition on his record the only assessment that can be made is that when he hits you, he breaks you.

But he needs to be tested, there are more unanswered questions around Valero than probably any other fighter. He’s chased Pacquiao yes, but Manny is a shrewd businessman and wouldn’t take the risk for little or no PPV money.

Valero needs to concentrate in and around his weight, making the best fights available to him. 200 may be the year when we find out if Valero really is the knockout machine we crave, or just a one punch specialist with a sparkling untested record which doesn’t tell the whole truth. Some gaps have opened up in the lightweights that were full of world class talent last year, Valero could be the person to step in to that position.

Amir Khan

Its seems strange to say this about Amir, considering he’s chosen a harder fight than most people would expect, but this has to be the year he gets himself into title contention. Forget 2008, he needs to look forward. Don’t be placing deadlines on winning titles by the age of 21 or saying this n that about whoever, concentrate on his own career.

There are some real tests for Khan above him in lightweight, he needs to be climbing those rankings and beating quality fighters, not spoon fed Oisin Fagan and the likes. The first test has got to be a Prescott rematch, which would clear the chip off Amir’s shoulder and would do him the world of good mentally.

In the hands of Freddie Roach, he won’t be letting Amir hide anywhere in the lightweight division and it was a good choice fighting Barrera, the right test to take, whether the risk pays off remains to be seen. But this year Amir has got to make his mark on the division, going from over-rated Olympian to fully fledged world class professional. A title shot wouldn’t be out of his range in a year, but he’d have to beat some quality fighters and box at least 4 times this year. 2009 has got to eradicate the headache 2008 probably gave him, otherwise he’ll slip into obscurity and join the exclusive club of ‘what-could-have-beens’.

Chad Dawson

Proclamations from Floyd Mayweather Jr. of Chad being pound for pound may have been premature, but the ingredients are there. I’m not Bad Chad’s biggest fan, but good fights are good fights. Going after Calzaghe was pointless, I think he just wanted the world the know he put his name into the hat, like everyone else from Glen Johnson to Jermain Taylor, just so Calzaghe could turn them down by retiring.

But what he really should be doing is working on where he goes next. A Dawson-Tarver rematch isn’t high on anyone’s wish list, nor is a Johnson rematch and there are other options. Considering Dawson is hardly a megastar, fights against super middleweight champions Froch, Taylor or Kessler aren’t unrealistic, considering the dryness in talent in the light heavyweight at the moment. Maybe even an all American bout with Kelly Pavlik, with Pavlik conceding its getting harder and harder to make 154.

If Chad is going to be the star he believes he can be, this year he has to fight some fresher and younger opposition. He could stick in light heavyweight and dominate for the next 5 years but where would the rewards be from that? in 2009 Dawson needs to fight fighters from his own generation, not fighters from yesteryear. Clashes with the top super middleweights either coming up to meet him or him going down to a catch weight, are the fights to chase.

Juan Manuel Lopez

The natural heir to Trinidad’s throne, he’s probably fought fewer rounds in 2008 than any other top 10 rated fighter. A demolition job on Ponce De Leon, a knockout specialist himself, opened everyone’s eyes to this talent. Then he did the same to Medina and Figueroa, and with a 3rd round KO earlier in the year that amounts to six rounds of fighting. 48 weeks of intense physical training for 6 rounds of boxing. There’s no denying the pure talent, but this year I believe we’ll see Juanma step up to the plate. Currently lined up to fight Penalosa, he has one eye with a potential bout with Israel Vasquez.

Someone needs to take up the mantle in the lower weights, and Juanma shines brightest. But this year he has to fight the best fighters, he is still only a prospect, albeit a dangerous one, but a prospect nevertheless. Moving up in weight wouldn’t be a bad idea, but hopefully not before a bout with number 1 in the super bantams, Celestine Caballero.

Vasquez wouldn’t come down in weight, so for Juanma to get to where he wants to be, featherweight and beyond the place to do it. After Pacquiao and Marquez and even Barrera all disappearing so quickly, there’s room for a dominant champion in and around featherweight. Vasquez and Marquez don’t have much in the tank after 3 grueling bouts, dethroning either or both would be a great 2009.

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