High hopes amid the gloom for Canadian boxing
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MONTREAL - The new year will begin without a Canadian boxer holding a world title.
And 2013 will also start with its former champions, Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute, either injured or looking to restore a battered reputation.
But promoter Yvon Michel could not be more optimistic.
"It's been a difficult year," he acknowledged last week. "But I'm convinced that by December 2013 there will be two world champions in our organization — Jean Pascal and Adonis Stevenson."
Rival Montreal-based promotion company InterBox is just as upbeat on the chances of former IBF super-middleweight king Bute becoming a champion again.
And there are high hopes for Stevenson, David Lemieux, Bermane Stiverne, Dierry Jean, Logan McGuinness, Antonin Decarie and others either getting title fights from the four main sanctioning bodies, or at least moving into position for one in 2014.
So while the sport took a hit in Canada in the last 12 months, there are intriguing fights still to be had.
It starts when Stiverne (22-1-1), the 34-year-old from Montreal, ranked as the No. 2 heavyweight contender by the WBC, fights an elimination bout with top-ranked Chris Arreola (35-2) on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles.
The winner becomes mandatory challenger to WBC champion Vitali Klitschko.
However, the long-standing title holder is 41 and may choose to retire from the ring after his recent election to the Ukrainian parliament. The WBC would then need to make choices, one of which could be to name the Stevenson-Arreola winner its interim champion, or have the winner face 24-year-old Briton Tyson Fury (20-0) for the title.
(Klitschko, leader of the UDAR Party, was one of the few members who reportedly didn't throw punches as the parliament degenerated into fisticuffs last week over the appointment of a controversial speaker.)
Unlike most top Canadian boxers, the Haitian-born Stiverne left Montreal to make his career in the United States. He's a heavy hitter who now needs to show he has the speed and skill to be heavyweight champion.
Pascal (27-2-1) had a fight for the WBC light heavyweight title lined up on March 23 on HBO against (Bad) Chad Dawson, but that was put in doubt when the former champ from Laval, Que., injured his left shoulder early in a one-handed, unanimous decision over Aleksy Kuziemski on Friday night.
It was a first fight in 19 months for the flashy Pascal, who lost the belt in May, 2011 to veteran Bernard Hopkins and then had two fights cancelled due to shoulder and hand injuries.
Depending on how long he takes to heal, he could still fight for a title some time in 2013. If not against Dawson, it may be IBF champ Tavoris Cloud or another top light heavyweight.
It's more complicated with lefthanders Bute (31-1) and Stevenson (19-1), who both lay claim to a fight with Carl Froch for the IBF super-middleweight title.
Bute's perfect record and aura of invincibility built up in nine defences of the IBF belt he won in 2007 came crashing down when, in a rare fight on hostile turf, he was pounded out in five rounds by Froch in Nottingham, England in May.
Thereafter he was seen as over-protected and over-rated, and with a suspect chin. His doubters were left unconvinced when he struggled to beat the tenacious Denis Grachev over 12 rounds in his bounce-back bout in November.
Bute's contract with Froch included a rematch clause to be held in Montreal.
In the midst of Bute's troubles, the hammer-fisted Stevenson was piling up impressive wins, including a 12th round TKO of Don George in November that made him the mandatory challenger to Froch.
Michel is convinced the IBF will give Stevenson priority over Bute. Froch would then have to vacate the IBF title if he wants to face Bute first. Froch has said that this year he wants to face Bute and the two opponents who have beaten him in the past, Mikkel Kessler of Denmark and WBC and WBA champ Andre Ward of the U.S.
If Froch vacates the title, Michel said a deal is in place with promoter Lou DiBella and HBO to have Stevenson fight Thomas Oosthuizen for the belt.
It is expected to be sorted out before Jan. 1. A report said Bute may face rising contender Edwin Rogriguez (22-0) first, then take on Froch in the summer.
The 35-year-old Stevenson's rise to contention came after he began work under Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who died this year from a colon ailment. Stevenson has continued to work under Steward's assistants, and won his last fight without the veteran trainer who he credits with turning a one-dimensional puncher into to more well-rounded boxer.
There are others knocking at the door.
Lemieux is an enigma.
An entertaining middleweight with a devastating right hand, Lemieux (28-2) fell off the radar of the U.S. boxing channels when he dropped a pair of fights last year. His matchmakers then found the 23-year-old experienced opponents to force him to gain experience by going late into fights.
The result was wins in two, one, and two rounds.
A win Feb. 8 at the Bell Centre over the respectable Jose Miguel Torres (26-5) should get the TV people excited again.
Decarie (27-1), scored an impressive win over Alex Perez on U.S. television in September to take a North American belt and could be in the welterweight title mix in a year or so.
Same with light welterweight Dierry Jean (23-0), now ranked as the No. 2 contender by the WBC.
McGuinness (19-0-1), of Orangeville, Ont., who is ranked seventh by the WBA and one of the few fighters from outside Quebec in the mix, light heavyweight Eleider Alvarez (11-0) of Montreal and welterweight Kevin Bizier (19-0) of Quebec City will be looking to position themselves for world title shots in 2014.
So even without a world champion, Michel said the situation is not as bad as in 2003, when Eric Lucas lost his super-middleweight belt and former lightweight champ Leonard Dorin had a meltdown in Romania.
"That was a difficult year," he said. "When I was feeling a bit down, I thought of that year and then I felt life was great.
"We always knew we had good talent. It was a matter of time before we developed them."