My boxing predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
1. Wladimir Klitschko will become the undisputed heavyweight champion: Vitali Klitschko doesn't have many, if any, fights left in him. Whether he retires next month or takes one or two more fights, that WBC belt he holds will likely become vacant in 2013. Wladimir yearns to be the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis, and though he would never urge his big brother to quit, he will jump on the opportunity to unify all the titles when Vitali walks away. After blasting out Alexander Povetkin in the spring, Wladimir -- an active heavyweight champion -- will claim the fourth piece of the title in the fall.
2. Random blood and urine testing will become more common: I mean it has to, doesn't it? Speculation about the use of performance enhancing drugs at an all-time high in boxing. Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson's positive tests provided hard evidence while the chiseled physiques of former tinyweights Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao offered the circumstantial kind.
State drug testing is a joke. New York had information that Erik Morales flunked a drug test conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency before his fight in October and still allowed the fight to go on. Add that to the employment of admitted PED peddlers like Victor Conte and Angel Heredia as "conditioning coaches," which has doused the sport with a stink it can't get off. Nonito Donaire -- the rare elite fighter who is blood and urine tested year-round -- will be the standard bearer for it and organizations like the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, which offers cheaper testing than USADA, will be used more often.
3. Jose Ramirez will emerge as a top prospect: The disaster that was the 2012 men's Olympic boxing team wasn't without a few good prospects, the brightest of which was Ramirez, a tall (5-foot-10) lightweight (135-pounds) who Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach says reminds him of Oscar De La Hoya. Chalk some of Ramirez's struggles in London up to the chaos on the U.S. team's coaching staff; as a pro, Ramirez has the size and skill to be a factor. He will be brought along slowly by Top Rank but by the end of 2013 Ramirez will emerge as one of the top prospects in boxing.
4. Floyd Mayweather will lose: Mayweather's relentless, often bizarre, work ethic and his slick defensive style has beaten back Father Time the last few years. But Mayweather will be 36 when he steps back into the ring next May, is coming off a two-month jail sentence that took him out of his routine for the first time since, well, ever and has a pair of possible opponents -- Robert Guerrero and Saul Alvarez -- with the skills to beat him. Mayweather clearly won his last fight, against Miguel Cotto, but equally as clear was that Mayweather no longer has the same bounce in his legs. Next year, as it did with Pacquiao in '12, that decline will catch up to him.
5. The war between premium networks and top promoters will be resolved...: As 2013 winds down, battle lines have been drawn. Top Rank has aligned itself almost exclusively with HBO while Showtime -- now run by Stephen Espinoza, an attorney who worked closely with Golden Boy Promotions for years -- has become the primary television provider for Golden Boy's shows. It worked reasonably well in 2012, but it's a flawed formula. To maximize ratings, networks must put on the biggest fights, which means opening its doors up to all promoters. The hostility between Bob Arum and Espinoza has been palpable but there are cooler heads working behind the scenes on both sides who will bring Top Rank shows back to Showtime by the end of next year.
6. ...But the war between promoters will remain as chilly as ever: The battle between Top Rank and Golden Boy? That's another story. The refusal of either side to move on negotiations for a blockbuster showdown between Nonito Donaire and Abner Mares is an ominous sign for 2013. Both sides have been steadfast in their disinterest in a co-promotion for Donaire-Mares, or any hypothetical fight between them. The disdain between Arum and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer is stronger than ever, and it will make next year another year where many potential matchups will fall by the wayside.
7. Pressure for better judging will mount: This past year was a bad one for boxing judges: Tavoris Cloud's decision over Gabriel Campillo, Tim Bradley's win over Manny Pacquiao, Tomasz Adamek's victory over Steve Cunningham. Good judges are out there but there is no national oversight to ensure that the best ones are selected for the biggest fights. "When will they learn," tweeted HBO's unofficial judge, Harold Lederman. "In a high profile fight like Cunningham-Adamek, you use the three best judges you can find." Social media has created an outlet for fans to voice frustration and that outlet will put enormous pressure on state commissions to develop an effective rating system for judges and a system -- like the NBA has appointing Finals officials or the NFL with referees in the Super Bowl -- that makes sure the best judges are on the big stages.
8. A heavyweight star will emerge: Quietly, the heavyweight division has started to rebuild itself. David Price and Tyson Fury are two big, heavy handed heavyweights fighting out of the U.K. while stateside Bryant Jennings and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder have built some momentum. The temptation for these heavyweights is to wait for a lucrative title shot against Wladimir Klitschko but with Klitschko eyeing unification (see above) and with Alexander Povetkin and the winner of Tomasz Adamek-Kubrat Pulev on his radar, there may not be an opportunity. With a title shot off the table, the young guns will face each other, stirring a dormant division.
9. Bernard Hopkins will break his own record: It has been a forgettable 18 months for Hopkins, who after separating his shoulder in a no contest against Chad Dawson in 2011 was waxed by Dawson over 12 lopsided rounds in October. Yet Hopkins -- who turns 48 next month -- has no plans to retire. Instead, he will likely face IBF light heavyweight title holder Tavoris Cloud in March. Like Jean Pascal -- who Hopkins beat in '11 to become the oldest fighter to win a major title -- Cloud is a heavy handed puncher. But he lacks Hopkins polish in the ring, and the spry fighter from Philadelphia will surprise everyone again and best his own record.
10. Boxing will become a staple on network TV: CBS, which featured a super bantamweight card headlined by prospect Leo Santa Cruz, attracted 1.3 million viewers for its telecast on Dec. 22. NBC, which aired the rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham, exceeded 1 million viewers as well. Those kind of ratings will bring boxing -- once persona non grata on network TV -- back to it, quickly, giving the sport a badly needed mainstream jolt.