The January 2015 boxing schedule is all filled up and ready to review. I’ll take you through the three most notable bouts with a preview and my picks on who will win. It could be a big year for the heavyweight division as a massive title eliminator is coming this month and the rumor of Wladimir Klitschko defending his titles against Bryant Jennings in Brooklyn, New York in April are closer to a reality.

Not too much changed from my extensive Mid-Year 2014 Awards article http://thisissportszone.com/mid-year-2014-boxing-awards/, but there is a new Fighter of the Year. The award was ripped away from Miguel Cotto, who turned the middleweight division on its head by crushing the longstanding kingpin, Sergio Martinez in June but didn’t follow it up with another fight.

Fighter of the Year – Gennady Golovkin

gennady-golovkin-vs-marco-antonio-rubio-06-photo-by-naoki-fukudaMy fighter of the year is Gennady Golovkin. He hasn’t taken on A-level opponents yet but delivered a 3-0 year with 3 knockouts against solid opponents. The way he dominated Osumanu Adama (3 knockdowns), Daniel Geale (never previously stopped) and Marco Antonio Rubio proves Golovkin passes the eye test. It may be one year early because 2015 could shape up as Golovkin’s biggest year with fights against Martin Murray and potentially the Miguel Cotto/Canelo Alvarez winner but 2014 was a massively impressive success for Gennady as he destroyed everyone who he faced.

January 16 – ESPN2 – Willie Monroe Jr. vs Bryan Vera – Middleweights

monroe v vera2014 couldn’t have gone much differently for Willie Monroe Jr (18-1, 6 KO) and Bryan Vera (23-8, 14 KO). Monroe’s star was born as the Rochester, New Yorker won the middleweight Boxcino tournament with clear decisions over Donatas Bondovaras and previously unbeatens Vitaliy Kopylenko and Brandon Adams. After that grueling stretch of three fights from February 28th through May 23rd, Monroe deservedly took off the balance of 2014 and he now returns to his biggest test to date in the form of Texan tough guy Bryan Vera. After losing for the second time to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (this time without controversy), Vera tried something unconventional and went to BKB for a fight with Philly brawler Gabriel Rosado. It didn’t go so well. (The end occurs between the 14:00 – 14:25 mark of the video).

This is a perfect test for Monroe and just the right kind of name on the resume for the 28 year old nicknamed The Mongoose to parlay into a title fight. I believe Monroe will seize the momentum he gained from 2014 and win a unanimous decision over Vera and start 2015 flying.

January 17 – Showtime – Bermane Stiverne vs Deontay Wilder – (for Stiverne’s WBC heavyweight title)

Stiverne-vs.-Wilder-1227The WBC heavyweight title in on the line and it won’t be for the faint of heart as Bermane Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KO) makes his first title defense against fellow knockout artist Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KO). The winner of this bout will not only have the title and the respect of every fight fan in the world but will also be the mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko (or Bryant Jennings). No pressure. Stiverne is coming off back-to-back crushing and impressive wins over Chris Arreola. The 36-year-old Haitian is the last big name in the stable of legendary promoter Don King and can be his ticket to another unified heavyweight title holder. Standing in the way is a 6 foot, 6 inch Alabama crusher in Wilder. Deontay has been widely criticized for fighting low-level opponents but this is a great match on paper and it will show exactly how “real” he is.

This fight could be as simple as which fighter gets caught first and to a lesser extent, how he deals with that adversity. I’m taking Stiverne by 7th round knockout. No one has seen Wilder in deep waters and I don’t think this is a good opponent to try that out on the first time. Stiverne is the kind of fighter you work your way up to and I don’t think any of the soft touches Wilder has smashed have prepared him for what will come back at him this time.

January 24 – HBO – Mike Alvarado vs Brandon Rios III – Welterweights

rios-alvarado-final-v4-nouclr1-530x317When Mike Alvarado (34-3, 23 KO) and Brandon Rios (32-2-1, 23 KO) meet fireworks happen. It’s the best rivalry of this decade and it likely concludes this month with the rubber match to see who the real winner is. When the two threw down in October 2012 it was Rios scoring a punishing 7th round TKO as referee Pat Russell stepped in and stopped the fight in a tough spot. He knew, as we all did, he was witnessing a historic war but wanted to save Alvarado from himself. It was the kind of fight that everyone knew would call for a rematch and that of course happened without delay in March 2013. This time it was Alvarado delivering a close (and correct) unanimous decision win.

Each fighter has had two bouts from that time to now and it hasn’t been inspiring. Alvarado is 0-2, getting stopped by Ruslan Provodnikov in his first title defense then he was outclassed by Juan Manuel Marquez in his only 2014 ring appearance. Rios is 1-1 and has looked out of sorts at times. He was embarrassed by legend Manny Pacquiao in November 2013 and followed that up with an uneven disqualification win over Diego Chaves in his lone 2014 fight in August. The Chaves fight is best known for having poor officiating and seemingly random point deductions, not for in-ring action by either fighter.

This fight won’t be great art but it will be a great brawl with lots of drama and it’s really anyone’s fight. I’m going with Rios by 10th round stoppage. I think the 28-year-old may have a little more gas in his tank than the 34-year-old Alvarado and I believe this style of fight and this historic rivalry brings out the best in Rios.

I hope you all have a chance to tune in and check out the best fights in January and I’ll be back on SportsZone next month for more previews of the best action.

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