Boxing: Five Fighters who will win world titles in 2018

The Finger Post Boxing (December 31, 2017)

 

Well, 2017 is coming to a close and this seems a good opportunity to look at the coming year in boxing. In particular, who might explode on the scene in 2018.  Well, there are no shortage of talented young fighters set to emerge as world class contenders. But stepping up is one thing…winning a world championship is another. That takes more than just talent and skill…it takes connections, a world ranking and being at the right place at the right time.  So with that being said here is my list of five fighters who I think meet all the requirements of becoming world champions in 2018.

1. Issac Dogboe (17-0, 11 KOs)

OK, most of you know I covered Dogboe’s fight against Javier Chacon in Accra back in July. The super bantamweight impressed me against the seasoned Chacon, who went into the fight on the heels of a five fight win streak and was undefeated since a loss in a fight for the WBA bantamweight belt in 2014.  And after covering Dogboe’s last two fights and watching a half dozen more online what was most impressive is that the undefeated Ghanaian is improving with each fight. Now Dogboe is slated to fight for the vacant WBO interim  junior featherweight belt against Cesar Juarez next weekend. So it goes without saying that I think he beats Juarez. But I don’t think it will end there in 2018.

So am I picking him to follow up his win over Juarez with a win over undefeated WBO champion Jessie Magdaleno?  Not exactly.

In all honesty I don’t think he will be fighting Magdaleno at all in 2018. It seems clear to most insiders that Magdaleno is having trouble making weight and my prediction is that Magdaleno will vacate his world title and move up to featherweight. That means the interim champion becomes the WBO world champion. And I think that man will be Isaac Dogboe.

 

2.  Kanat Islam (25-0, 20 KOs)

It’s pretty clear to me that the former 2008 Olympic bronze medalist is making up for a lot of wasted time and I think 2018 is going to be his year.  After competing in the Olympics in 2004 and 2008 his professional career was delayed until September of 2012  but initially it looked like he would make up for lost time when he won his first regional belt just three months later against the 49-fight veteran Humberto Toledo.  He crushed Toledo in the opening round (capturing the WBA Fedacaribe title)  and if you asked me then I would have said he should punch his way into a world title fight no later than 2015.  Well, as is often the case in boxing his career never really took off and for awhile he looked to be the latest in the long line of talented Eastern European and Central Asian fighters who simply couldn’t register on the radar of boxing fans or the sanctioning organizations.  But in the last two years Nelson Lopez and NelSons Promotions have done a masterful job of positioning Islam into the #1 ranking in the WBA and #2 with the WBO.  Last month the WBA ordered Islam to take on #2 ranked John Vera Jr. In an eliminator and although I feel Vera is very much a live underdog right now I would have to give the edge to Islam.  But as of yet the fight has not been announced. Now if that fight doesn’t materialize (just to stress, I have not heard anything to indicate it won’t go forward other than it has passed the WBA’s 30-day deadline, and with that being said I expect it to go to purse bids) there is an interesting second option: Dubai.

You can stop searching Boxrec, I’m not talking about a fighter.  I mean the city. Now Dubai has sadly earned something of a reputation in boxing as it always seems like there is a promoter or manager who was contacted by a “sheik” looking to pump a few million dollars of oil money into hosting a professional boxing event…only for the whole thing to end up being a pipe dream at best and a Nigerian email scam at worse. Most recently the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight was nearly derailed when Manny was made an outrageously lucrative offer to defend his title in the UAE. Well, that turned out to be wishful thinking as there was no money behind the offer and Pacquiao decidedly to accept Horn’s offer to fight him in Australia.

But I think the time may be right for Dubai to finally put the peices together for a world title fight and there are three fighters who I think would be a huge draw in Dubai: Manny Pacquiao (still to expensive), Amir Khan (still hasn’t fought since he was knocked out by Canelo Alvarez in 2016) and the new WBO 154-pound champion: Sadam Ali.

Ali’s win over Miguel Cotto for the belt propelled him to the top of the world but I can’t help but think that had more to do with Cotto finally showing his age than Ali being a pound for pound contender.  And from what I saw in Islam’s fight with Brandon Cook I think he beats Ali.  If Ali does end up being the fighter who ends the Dubai boxing drought then I would expect Islam to be the most likely opponent for the Brooklyn native. Even if that doesn’t happen then it means he fights John Vera and then undefeated WBA champion Brian Castaño after that.  Again, I see Islam winning both of those fights if he goes that route instead.  Make no mistake, it’s been a long wait for Kanat Islam, but he is very much poised to finish the year with a world title.

 

3.  Jose Carlos Ramirez (21-0, 16 KOs)

Ramirez is quickly emerging as one of the hottest young prospects in the sport and he is currently scheduled to fight fellow prospect Amir Imam on March 17, 2018 in a fight for the vacant WBC super lightweight title.  Imam is an attractive prospect but Ramirez simply looks like a superstar ready to explode onto the scene.  In my opinion Ramirez  wins this fight…and wins the WBC belt.

 

4.  Moises Calleros (28-7-1, 16 KOs)

Now it would be easy to look at Calleros’s less than flashy record and close the book on him, but sometimes it’s about being at the right place at the right time.  Calleros engaged in one of the best 105-pound fights in recent memory when he took on Tatsuya Fukuhara  for the vacant WBO interim belt. Since then Fukuhara dropped a decision to the  slick boxing Ryo Yamanaka while “Taz” clawed his way into a #4 ranking, winning three fights against limited opposition.  But Calleros reminds me of a fellow Mexican who also racked up more than a few losses early on only to position himself into another title fight: Miguel Roman.  Like Mickey Roman, Calleros combines relentless pressure with explosive punching power and like Roman “Taz” has shown a knack for never letting a loss hold him back.  The interesting thing is if I were Yamanaka  would avoid Calleros like the plague (Yamanaka has shown a suspect chin in the past) and fight the undefeated #1 contender Robert Paradero instead.  Paradero cleary is a talented fighter but he is still somewhat green and he throws  wide, looping punches that he tends to load up on.  He’s only going to get better so the smart move would be to catch him early, before he refines his game.  But reports from Mexico indicate that the champion is electing to go with Calleros, which I think is a mistake for the slick boxing champion.

Because unlike Paradero, who throws wide looping punches, Calleros tends to throw short, compact bombs.

And he throws a whole lot of them.

If Yamanaka does go with Calleros for his first title defense I think the Mexican leaves Japan with the belt.

 

5.  Aston Palicte (24-2, 20 KOs)

This one is honestly a tougher pick for me and it’s tough for one reason: because I really don’t know how good WBO #1 ranked junior bantamweight Rex Tso is. Tso is undefeated (22-0, 13 KOs) and won the WBO International junior bantamweight title back in October against a tough 36-year old Japanese boxer named Kohei Kono.  Kono had a solid career but it’s hard to gauge what he had left when he fought Tso (he lost two of his previous three going into the Tso fight).

But back to my pick, Aston Palicte.  None of this about Tso and Palicte would normally matter when looking for a future world champion except for one detail: Palicte is ranked #2 by the WBO and the champion, Naoya Inoue, will almost certainly move up to 118-pounds. Which means in a few months the WBO will order a fight between the next two availble contenders for the vacant world title.  And right now that is Tso and the Filipino puncher Palicte.

And right now my gut tells me Palicte wins that fight. He clearly has improved tremendously since his last loss to Junior Granados in March of 2016 and he seems to be in the zone ever since he scored the upset over undefeated Oscar Cantu for the NABF belt in December of 2016. Tso may be the real deal, but he hasn’t fought a fighter like Palicte yet and I think the Filipino will be the man holding the WBO belt over his head in 2018.

Travel: A long layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Part Two)

The Finger Post Travel (December 20, 2017)

(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 24-25, 2017)

 

Ethiopia is an interesting place. It is a place of antiquity and prehistory. It is a nation that claims to possess the Arc of the Covenant, the Danakil Depression, and the world’s most famous 3.2 million year old fossil: Lucy.

But oddly enough that’s not what jumps out at you when you take a day tour of Addis Ababa. For a nation that can make a serious claim to the Ark of the Covenant, it’s not the ancient history that they proudly put on display. Instead a tour of Addis Ababa becomes a lesson in Ethiopia’s recent history starting with the Italian Invasion in 1935.

Ethiopia, like pretty much every African country, suffered under colonialism. Although Ethiopia was able to avoid the fate of pretty much every other African nation (except Liberia) during the 19th century, a brief occupation by the Italians from 1935-1940 clearly shaped the nation in a way that will nonetheless be felt for many centuries. And what is perhaps most significant is how their eventual expulsion of the Italian occupiers also shaped a nation image (and dare I say a national pride) that you don’t often find in former colonial nations. They may have suffered under Italian rule (they did) but against all odds the plucky Africans did the impossible: the drove the European interlopers out of their nation. For a country that can trace their history to 1137 it says a lot about how much that meant to them. How much that one victory meant to them as a nation.

After leaving the Red Terror Museum Zola, who I hired to drive me around the city for the day, prepared to take me to our second stop of the day: the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is widely regarded as the second holiest site in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It’s an interesting distinction since it was built in the 20th century to commemorate Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation. Yes, in a country that (maybe) has a church with the Arc of the Covenant housed in it, in a country that can trace it’s Christian heritage to the first century…it is a cathedral that was built to commemorate the defeat of the Italians during World War II that is the second holiest site in the nation.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa

Did I mention how much that victory meant to the Ethiopians?

Arriving at the cathedral I forked over a somewhat steep 200 Birr (about $7.30) for admission, but once I stepped in I was glad I did. A guide began to take me on a tour of the interior of the cathedral, which was unlike any cathedral I had ever been in. For one thing, it was in many ways a shrine to the former Emperor Haile Selassie. That was understandable since this was where the last Emperor of Ethiopia was buried. But I still had never seen a church mural featuring a speech to the United Nations before.

After a quick tour of the cathedral, which included a photo op with the priest on duty, we made our way outside.

It was there where hundreds of martyrs from the war with the Italians were buried as well as the grave of the former President Meles Zenawi.

It was at this time that the guide informed me that he was working freelance and was not part of my 200 Birr admission and that he charged 300 Birr for the tour. I informed him that since he didn’t tell me he was charging me before hand I had no intention of paying him 300 Birr. I always hate turning into a jerk over this, but I realize a lot of tourist get hustled by guys like this and always take the path of least resistance.  I figured I needed to stand my ground and make sure this guy knew I was onto his gig before I gave him the 100 Birr I was going to give him anyways as a tip. He started combative but quickly switched gears to the pleading, which convinced me to give him an extra 50 Birr as part of his tip. It was an expensive tour by Ethiopian standards, but at the end of the day it was around $5, and in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have made such an issue over what amounted to $3.

I was ready for the next stop but no trip to a country is complete without trying the food and it was lunch time. I asked Zola if he had a recommendation for a restaurant popular with the locals. The fact of the matter was that I didn’t want to eat at a tourist restaurant because, to the best of my knowledge, I hated Ethiopian food.

I know, I know…but here me out. I only ate at Ethiopian restaurants twice in my life. The first time was in college when I was a student at the University of Windsor in Ontario. I was eager to try something different but after my meal I was convinced that this was the worst food ever. Ten years after that I gave Ethiopian food a second chance when I lived in Denver and again, wasn’t feeling it. So I closed the book on Ethiopian food and just assumed it wasn’t my thing.

But then I remembered how I gave hummus a fair shake even though I hated it the first time I tried it and how that really worked out for me in the long run. If there was a restaurant that could change my view of Ethiopian food I was fairly confident that Zola could show me where it was. We were going to get real Ethiopian food, not the stuff they made for the tourist but the stuff the locals ate.

I was stoked.

Then I saw the butcher selling raw meat outside the restaurant.

“What is that?” I asked Zola.

“Tere siga. It’s good.”

He advised me that Ethiopians ate raw beef. It was considered something of a delicacy.

I realize that eating raw beef is generally frowned upon, and considering that I was going to this place to give Ethiopian food a “fair shake”, I realized I wasn’t really setting them up for success. But this looked like a culinary adventure that I had to try.

So I did. I ate raw beef from a street butcher in Africa.

And it was awesome.

I can’t recommend it to everyone, and I was sick the next day when I arrived in Rwanda. But like my favorite cat meme, I regret nothing.

It was delicious and took me outside my comfort zone. Although I will stress, it’s a lot better with the pepper and bread.

We then went inside and I deferred to Zola on what to order. He proved to be a ideal guide for a crash course on Ethiopian food. The first dish was Tibs, or Ethiopian roasted meat.

And any reservations I had about Ethiopian food went out the door once I tried it. As an American I realize we have a somewhat mixed reputation when it comes to food but I like to think we got the roasted meat thing down pat. And this was amazing. It was served on a small charcoal filled bowl that looked almost like a hookah but the flavor was simply out of this world.

The next dish was another popular local dish, and I realized this would be the true test. I wasn’t sure, but this looked like the same dish I ate in Canada. It even sounded like the same thing I ordered all those years ago in Windsor: chick pea stew, aka Shiro Wot.

I was already pretty stuffed from all the raw and roasted meat, but once I tasted the Shiro I realized that my grudge against Ethiopian food was entirely unwarranted. Shiro was, like everything else I tried that afternoon, simply amazing. I topped the meal off with a macchiato since some random guy at the airport told me the coffee in Ehtiopia was to die for (it was pretty damn good) and then we made our way to our next stop.

Now this is a good time to mention that any tour of Addis Ababa becomes a lesson on Ethiopia’s recent history and the history of one of the twentieth centuries most controversial and complex world leaders: Emperor Haile Selassie. Selassie was the last emperor of 704-year old Solomonic Dynasty, a House that traced it’s lineage to King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba. He was revered and respected by many in the West, and became a messiah to Rastafarians in Jamaica. But domestically his reputation was considerably more checkered. After being driven from power by Benito Mussolini’s Italy in 1936 he returned a liberating hero in 1941. But his subsequent reign was dogged by a general lack of freedom and by accusations of widespread corruption.

Our next stop was the National Museum and again I was greeted with what appeared to be a statute of Haile Selassie as a substitute teacher in front of a group of young students.

I could tell that there was a legitimate nostalgia towards Selassie by many Ethiopians, including my driver Zola. There is recognition that although he was hardly perfect, he still represented a proud time in their history. They recognize that the world looked upon Ethiopia with deference and respect when Selassie was Emperor.

The National Museum was a nice change of pace, with a $0.42 admission fee and a souvenir shop that had posters and t-shirts for dirt cheap. I also enjoyed the display on the art from Ethiopia as well as the basement display on the history of Lucy and prehistoric man in Ethiopia.

From there we made our way to another museum, the Ethiopian Ethnological Museum located in the former residence of Haile Selassie and inside the grounds of the University of Addis Ababa. Now although I was becoming somewhat overloaded on museums, I found this to be a great stop with a fun balance of history, culture, and just overall cool stuff. After paying the 100 Birr admission I couldn’t help but notice that this was very much a University. Passing through the main hallway I read about the history of the building during the 20th century before I made my way upstairs to check out the display on Ethiopia’s ethnic groups and religions as well as a stuffed lion.

From there I went to the part of the museum that was the former residence of the Emperor, which had numerous displays of uniforms and gifts given to Haile Selassie over the years like a vase from Greece, a musical instrument from Burma, and a miniature tank from the Soviet Union, which in hindsight was somewhat prophetic.

After touring the Emperor’s bedroom I was able to check out his bathroom, which thanks to the movie Coming to America is impossible to do without picturing a unsmiling Paul Bates in a suit.

Taking a selfie in the Emperor’s bathroom mirror

Outside the museum was one of the most unique displays in Addis Ababa, the Italian made stairway to nowhere.

Zola took me to a few other stops including a drive through the marketplace and a quick stop at the Lion of Judah statue.

But I only had one day and it was time to make my way back to the airport and on to my next stop: Rwanda.

Still, I had one last stop I had to make. The random guy in the airport who swore that Ethiopian coffee was the best coffee in the world. I had to find out if he was telling me the truth. So Zola took me to a coffee shop near the airport where I got the full Ethiopian coffee shop experience, with straw on the ground and the smell of roasted beans that would put any Starbucks to shame.

It’s a funny thing about getting travel tips from random people in the airport.

Sometimes they are 100% correct.

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