Those Who Will Go:
Jorge Linares, 41-3-0 (27), has proven me wrong before. Most recently, he defeated Anthony Crolla in a fight I expected to turn sour for him after Crolla crowded him early on and wore his stamina down for a stoppage late. Instead, Linares put in one of his best performances in dominating Crolla. Well, they are going to do it again in March as Linares will return to Manchester Arena. I still think Crolla can do it, but he has to fight the right game plan and be much more active than he was last time. He left Linares body alone for far too long. If Linares repeats his win over Crolla, I expect his team to steer more toward unification with either Terry Flanagan or the Dejan Zlaticanin-Mikey Garcia winner. Linares is among the most gifted boxers in terms of skill, but he lacks some durability and a grinder like Zlaticanin would be a nightmare for him. There are some other danger men like Petr Petrov, who is rated number one for the WBA at lightweight. Win or lose, Linares, 31, is always entertaining. Call it a hunch, but I think Linares’ time with a title runs out in 2017.
Jason Sosa, 20-1-4 (15), is such a likable guy and it’s hard to root against him, but I think Sosa’s reached his ceiling in one of boxing’s most stacked divisions. There is some good talent in Sosa’s top fifteen and it’s conceivable that he could be upset by a name we might not expect. After all, Sosa was very fortunate to get a draw with Nicholas Walters and he was way behind when he rallied to stop Javier Fortuna for the title. Sosa has a lot going for him and I could see Bob Arum using Sosa to help build Vasyl Lomachenko’s resume. Sosa’s a good looking fighter and has the support of Puerto Rican fans, which helps at the box office, particularly if Lomachenko were to seek a fight at Madison Square Garden. Plus, Fortuna is rated fourth and it’s entirely possible he could secure a rematch in the next twelve months. Sosa has risen pretty high with heart, will, and a little bit of power. I see a smooth boxer having his way with him though. Gervonta Davis is hot right now and a battle between the New Jersey and Maryland boxers would be a natural clash of styles. I don’t know who it will be, but I would lay money on Sosa not keeping his belt long enough to see the New Year.
Francisco Vargas, 23-0-2 (17), easily has the most challenging top ten list of challengers for his WBC super featherweight title. Couple that with the fact that he’s had two life and death encounters in his last two outings and you have to wonder how long this thrill-a-minute champion can last. Vargas meets his number seven contender, Miguel Berchelt, this weekend. I expect Vargas to win this bout, but you never know with a guy like Vargas. With Takashi Miura and Orlando Salido still rated highly and the desire for rematches pretty high for fans, it’s likely either of those could take place. Miguel Roman also is stalking Vargas at number two in the rankings and if he gets passed Miura, he’ll earn his own title shot. Tevin Farmer, Javier Fortuna, Jhonny Gonzalez, and Andres Gutierrez all are ranked as well. Vargas has a lot to handle and that doesn’t even include possible unification bouts with Sosa, Lomachenko, and Davis right at his weight. Styles make fights and Vargas’ makes for great ones. However, his style does not make for a lengthy reign. Vargas says adios to his title in 2017.
Carl Frampton, 23-0-0 (14), fights the best fighters in the world. Once you do that long enough, you "0" tends to go. Boxing’s 2016 Fighter of the Year is on a big high right now and it’s been a great ride, but I think Frampton hits a speed bump in 2017. In fact, I am picking him to lose his rematch with Leo Santa Cruz this weekend. In his last two fights with Santa Cruz and Scott Quigg, Frampton faded down the stretch after some great work early on. In both cases, he let his opponent back into the fight and showed less than great stamina. At the very least Quigg and Santa Cruz made the scorecards interesting over the last six rounds. Having already gone twelve with Frampton, I think Santa Cruz has what it takes to improve on his game plan and get started earlier. He stung Frampton a couple of times and he has the stamina to throw all night. Frampton has some other interesting challenges at featherweight including Lee Selby, a fellow champion fighting on the same card. If Frampton gets passed Santa Cruz, Selby is likely to be next and the preparation for this big fights might do Frampton in as much as the opponents themselves. Abner Mares also holds a title now too and he is no easy walk through the park. I don’t like saying it, but Frampton’s belt get ripped away from him in 2017.
Ryoichi Taguchi, 25-2-2 (11), just might be boxing’s version of a dead man walking. Taguchi looked solid in winning his title against Albert Rossel in 2014, but he has struggled and looked mediocre in most of his championship defenses. There are some legitimate threats in Taguchi’s rankings and he looked lucky to keep his title last month in receiving a draw against unheralded Carlos Canizales. Taguchi is rumored to be fighting Robert Barrera next. He is rated number one and lost a split decision to Canizales as a prospect. Hekkie Budler and Jesse Espinas are two other highly-rated contenders, who could provide trouble for the lanky Japanese boxer. However, the real threat is in Kosei Tanaka, who has been talking unification and Taguchi’s people might be listening. The idea has been entertained and it might be one of those end of the year showdowns in the final hours of 2017. It’s okay, I can wait to be right. However, it doesn’t take a Tanaka to beat Taguchi. I am certain that Taguchi will be title-less by the end of the year. Take it to the bank.
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January 21, 2017