Champions Who Will Lose their Belts in 2019
By Donavan Leonard: Each year of boxing brings hope, wishes, and intrigue for the promise of what it can deliver. Last year this column was penned, seeking to predict which of the most respected champions would fail to keep belts around their waists. While not all of the predictions were correct, youth was served at light heavyweight, middleweight, and junior middleweight. Long reigning titlist Adonis Stevenson (light heavyweight) lost in a battle against Oleksandr Gvozdyk (as of this writing Stevenson has only recently awoken from his induced coma, and heartfelt wishes for a speedy and complete recovery are in order for him and any fighter who has given blood to entertain the masses). Erislandy Lara, who had held a junior middleweight title for nearly 5 years, was dethroned by the seemingly unstoppable force Jarrett Hurd.
Gennady Golovkin, who (depending on the source) was tied for the most middleweight defenses in history, had his historic reign come crashing down with yet another disputed decision versus Saul Alvarez. This time the official verdict was a loss which ended his string of defenses, and for the first time since 2010 he will enter a calendar year without a belt.
The group in 2019 will be more difficult to identify, as very few bouts involving true world champions (read: not Manny Pacquiao) have been signed. This leaves much room for speculation on future opponents and the desire to fill it with world class foes. With that in mind, here are the top fighters who will be on the outside looking in during 2019:
Deontay Wilder, WBC Heavyweight Champion. Wilder was fortunate to retain his belt versus a rejuvenated Tyson Fury, and with talks of an immediate rematch underway, it is very difficult to imagine him performing any better. He is 33 years old. Talk of him working on his jab, straightening his right hand, making adjustments, etc. is just that– talk. He will continue to throw wide shots. He will continue to hesitate and not throw enough punches. And he will be outworked, out-thought, and out-boxed by Tyson Fury. Should he manage to escape with a victory (or draw as in the first bout), World Champion Anthony Joshua is next man up, and Wilder becomes an ex-champ.
Saul Alvarez, WBC and WBA Middleweight Champion. Call it karma, but the deal with DAZN seems too good to be true. Plus, DAZN has had a difficult time keeping their best bouts together (Billy Joe Saunders-Demetrius Andrade, David Lemieux-Tureano Johnson). There is a heavy push from DAZN to match Alvarez with IBF champion Danny Jacobs, and it may be the ‘Miracle Man’ who does just enough work to take his belts, throw a wrench into the Alvarez machine, and thwart the over-ballyhooed trilogy between Alvarez and Golovkin. The match-up could be difficult as Jacobs has quicker hands and feet than Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin, and could also have a considerable weight advantage when he walks into the ring.
Miguel Berchelt, WBC Junior Lightweight Champion. The hard-nosed, hard-punching Berchelt would probably be favored over any current 130-pound champion, including Gervonta Davis. The reason he will lose his title this year is politics…and Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko resides five pounds north at lightweight, but there are no real fights left for him at this moment. WBC Lightweight champion Mikey Garcia will be selling his ‘0’ to the fists of Errol Spence, and the WBO belt is vacant. Lomachenko has said he wants to only fight champions, but also stated that his body is not ready for 140 pounds. His best weight is probably 130 pounds, and a bout with Berchelt seems more doable in the kingdoms of boxing than Davis (PBC), or IBF titlist Tevin Farmer (DAZN). A drop down in weight certainly is not the norm, especially if Lomachenko has to give up his titles, but if he feels 130 is indeed his best weight and best opportunity for future fights, this could occur. If it does, Berchelt will put up a spirited fight, but Lomachenko will relieve him of his belt.
Leo Santa Cruz, WBA Featherweight Champion. Leo Santa Cruz is good. He throws tons of leather. He has bested Carl Frampton and Abner Mares, among others. There is another scalp that he would like to add–Gary Russell Jr. Russell Jr fights one time a year, and after Santa Cruz dispatches of Miguel Flores (loser of two of his last three bouts), there is talk to put these two top-level pugilists together. It certainly will not be a walk in the park for Russell, but the hand-speed that he displayed versus Joseph Diaz should be enough to help him to partially unify the featherweight division, and add the WBA belt to his green WBC trinket.
Zolani Tete, WBO Bantamweight Champion. The advent of the World Boxing Super Series makes some of these choices seem easier than others. Tete should be rightfully favored to defeat the long-in-the-tooth Nonito Donaire in the semi-finals of the WBSS, but that means meeting the Monster, Naoya Inoue, in the finals. Tete has been a champion since 2014, and has even provided fans with an eleven-second knockout versus Siboniso Gonya. However, Inoue seems to be a truly special fighter with dynamite for fists. His knockout of tough as nails Juan Carlos Payano seems to solidify his extraordinary power. If all goes as planned with Inoue defeating Emmanuel Rodriguez and Tete besting Donaire, Inoue will be taking Tete’s belts with him when he wins the WBSS at bantamweight.
Other champions who will fall: Junior Middleweight: Tony Harrison (Jermell Charlo), Junior Welterweight: Kiryl Relikh (Regis Prograis), Ivan Baranchyk (Josh Taylor), Josh Taylor (winning IBF from Baranchyk), losing to Prograis, Featherweight: Oscar Valdez (Josh Warrington), Bantamweight: Nonito Donire (Tete), Emmanuel Rodriguez (Inoue), Super flyweight: Jerwin Ancajas (Sor Runvisai).
Unfortunately some divisions will not hold a great deal of excitement in their match-ups due to new champions who will most likely get a soft bout or two to help solidify their standings and reigns (175, 168), while others are divided by the power brokers preventing salivating bouts (147, 130). Expect 2019 to be a down year after two incredible years in the sport. There will be some great action at 140 and 118 with the true champions determined as they should be, in the ring. There is also an excellent chance that there will be a unified heavyweight champion. That, if nothing else, should give hope to fans of the sweet science.