Testing time for British boxing in 2012
By George Ogier, MirrorSport boxing blogger
2011 was an interesting year for boxing. As always it provided us with interesting and compelling battles both inside and outside the ring. It wasn't a wonderful year for Britons on the world stage but hopefully we will see them all bounce back. What of 2012? The Mayans warned us that it wouldn't end well. Should the world manage to avoid coming to a shuddering end this year what do we, as boxing fans have to look forward to in the next twelve months?
Nathan Cleverly (Pic: Getty Images)
As is now tradition in January talk has inevitably turned to a possible fight at welterweight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to this year's planning of the “richest fight in history” is Mayweather's incarceration in a Las Vegas jail. From the sixth of January Mayweather is due to serve 90 days on 'battery and harassment' charges relating to the mother of his two children. Even without the matter of prison Manny Pacquiao's camp have been unusually silent with regards to a Mayweather super-fight. This is in no small part due to a less than stellar 2011 for Pacquiao.
Pac Man fought twice last year, first against Shane Mosley and then against Juan Manuel Marquez. Whilst the Filipino star won both bouts he looked far from his imperious best. There has been much talk of a fourth fight against Marquez and light-welterweight title holder, Timothy Bradley has made no secret of the fact that he would like to fight Pacquiao. Whatever happens in the tumultuous lives of both Mayweather and Pacquiao it would seem that, as usual it's a game of wait and see.
Another man hoping to make a mark on the welterweight division in the future is Britain's Amir Khan. It really was a tale of three fights in 2011 for the former world champion. A match against Northern Ireland's Paul McCloskey saw the Ulsterman stopped after an innocuous cut from an accidental clash of heads was ruled too severe for him to continue.
Khan then made short work of Zab Judah in July to claim Judah's IBF light welterweight crown and it seemed as though the sky may be the limit for Khan. All that apparently stood between the Bolton man and a move up to more lucrative fights at welterweight was a mandatory defence against America's unfancied Lamont Peterson. Khan lost all of his titles on a night of controversy in the US capital.
Docked two points for, in the eyes of the referee, repeated pushing Khan was defeated by split decision and even now is trying to force a change of the result in the courts. A year that started with such promise for the Olympic Silver medallist has ended in acrimonious ignominy. It remains to be seen if Amir Khan will get the desired rematch against Peterson. This week Khan's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya mentioned both Breidis Prescott and Shane Mosley as possible opponents for Amir in 2012. It is a far cry from the mooted contests against Mayweather and Pacquiao that Khan had been suggesting after the Judah fight.
2011 saw Britain's other world champions fare little better than Amir Khan. David Haye failed to back up his spectacular boasts as he was beaten comprehensively by Wladimir Klitschko in their long awaited meeting in the summer. We may yet see the return of the “retired” Haye in 2012 as he is reported to be in negotiations with Wladimir's older brother Vitali Klitschko over a bout in June or July.
Nottingham's Carl Froch came to the end the Super Six road as he was outclassed in the final of the World Boxing Classic in Atlantic City last month. Froch, who had beaten a string of elite boxers before meeting the excellent Andre Ward simply found the fight a step too far. His promoter, Eddie Hearn has hinted at a home-and-away style two fight deal with IBF super middleweight king Lucian Bute. One fight would be a home-coming for Froch, possibly at Nottingham Forest's City Ground and the second fight would be in Bute's adopted home town of Montreal in Canada.
It wasn't doom and gloom for the UK's finest on the world stage. Scotland's Ricky Burns finally gave up the struggle to make the super featherweight limit and moved up to lightweight. On his debut in the heavier division he provided a boxing master class in beating Australian hard man, Michael Katsidis. Few people, myself included gave Burns a chance against big puncher Katsidis but the man from Coatbridge near Glasgow proved that he belongs at world level in his new weight class. Many names have been mentioned for Burns in 2012 but the one being spoken the loudest is that of Kevin Mitchell with the winner possibly going on to face America's Brandon Rios.
All of that leaves just one British world champion, Nathan Cleverly. The man from the Cefn Forest in Wales is the WBO light heavyweight king but I think it is fair to say that his reign as champion hasn't been the most inspiring. Former British, Commonwealth and European title holder Cleverly was due to fight for the WBO belt against then champion Juergen Braehmer in May last year.
Personal problems and legal issues meant the fight was an on/off affair and then shortly before the finalised bout Braehmer cried off citing an unhealed eye injury. He was subsequently stripped of the title and it was announced that Cleverly would face Liverpool's Tony Bellew for the vacant title. Due to the last minute call Bellew failed to make the weight and a third opponent in the shape of Poland's Alexi Kuziemski was drafted in. Cleverly stopped the Pole and was duly crowned WBO champion.
Whilst many thought that the Welshman would have beaten Braehmer it was a deflating way to win a world title in many ways. Cleverly defended his belt in a fight of the year candidate against Bellew in October but he has really struggled to shrug off the claims that he is not a world class operator. His next fight this February has done little to change those opinions either. Cleverly has made noises about unification fights with the other light heavyweight champions, Bernard Hopkins, Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov. Instead of these opponents Cleverly will face unheard of American Tommy Karpency in the Welshman's US debut.
Cleverly's management team have suggested that it is a fight that will raise Cleverly's profile in the US but many see it as Frank Warren wrapping his fighter in cotton wool and I am inclined to agree. A world champion should not need a fight of this nature just to get noticed and again, it puts into question Cleverly's ability at the elite level. I genuinely hope that Nathan Cleverly can go on to prove all his doubters wrong. He seems like a throughly decent man and he is clearly very talented. I do think however that 2012 is the year that he needs to be tested.
Follow George Ogier on Twitter @george_ogier