Perhaps the most overrated commodity in boxing is the unbeaten record. It can look great at face value but is completely meaningless without context.
As we approach the end of 2012, it's an opportune time to dust off the crystal ball and apply the Russell Grant treatment to Britain's top ten unbeaten fighters (according to BoxRec's own pound for pound rankings). Who is likely to be kissing goodbye to undefeated status during 2013?
First up and highest ranked of the unbeaten Brit pack is welterweight Kell Brook. Brook of course came through an unexpectedly tough test against Carson Jones in July, winning by majority decision in one of the best tussles seen in a British ring during 2012.
Interestingly, Jones burst the bubble of a certain Tyrone Brunson back in 2009 - stopping him in three rounds. Brunson was 21-0-1 at the time with 19 wins coming by first round KO. The fact Jones was Brunson's first opponent who could actually fight back tells you everything you need to know about the perils of an unblemished slate.
Now boasting a record of 29-0, Brook could well be the first on the list to lose the "0" as he has tackles Devon Alexander for the IBF title in February. Home advantage is crucial as one imagines this will be a 12-round distance fight. Fingers will be crossed that Brook can take heart from stablemate Carl Froch's performances on foreign soil, and assert enough authority on proceedings to come home with the belt. My suspicion however is that Brook and Alexander are evenly matched at this stage of their respective careers. I would back either man to win this fight on their own turf. Brook will win the IBF title but in a UK rematch. His unbeaten record disappears first.
Next is the enigma known as Tyson Fury. Now unbeaten in 20 fights and a four year professional, 2013 should become the year Fury fights for a championship belt. Although the fight most fans want to see is a showdown with David Price, it looks more and more likely they will only meet with a world title at stake somewhere in the future, and probably not during 2013.
Since being handed a Terry O'Connor gift against John McDermott in 2009, Tyson hasn't done much wrong. He's scored a couple of notable wins against Derek Chisora and the unbelievably irritating Kevin Johnson. He was dropped heavily against Nevken Pajkic and rose to stop Pajkic in the following round. Whatever your thoughts on Fury, and his questionable use of social media, he has shown heart in the ring. If Fury stays away from a Klitschko he will remain unbeaten next year. Perhaps it's Chris Arreola, Bermane Stiverne, Jonathan Banks or Tomasz Adamek next. My money is on Fury keeping his "0" intact with a few solid victories over fighters not called Klitschko.....or Price.
George Groves will have been pleased to round off a frustrating year with a solid victory over Glencoffe Johnson. Although Old Man Johnson's performance was more of the Kevin variety than Jack. At 16-0, Groves has reached the stage of his career where talks of meetings with world class fighters Froch and Kessler don't seem far fetched. In fact, if it weren't for injuries, Groves could well be WBO champion already, having had to cancel a proposed match with then-champion Robert Stieglitz back in May.
Realistically, Groves will probably have to wait until 2014 for a Froch / Kessler level fight. But for 2013, George will remain unbeaten, most likely picking up that WBO strap by taking care of Arthur Abraham somewhere along the way.
Nathan Cleverly could be forgiven for wondering exactly where he is heading. Now 25-0 with 12 knockouts, Cleverly needs a big 2013. A marquee showdown with Bernard Hopkins should be filed under "careful what you wish for" leaving a limited few credible names in the 175lbs division. Nathan may well prove to perform according to the occasion, as was certainly the case with Joe Calzaghe during his long championship reign. For Tommy Karpency, Shawn Hawk and Aleksy Kuziemski read Branko Sobot, Mger Mkrtchian and Will McIntyre. Cleverly however needs a Charles Brewer, Chris Eubank or Jeff Lacy to redress the balance. A fight materialising against Chad Dawson, Beibut Shumenov or Jean Pascal would do for starters.
The light-heavyweight division does not boast the talent pool of other weight categories. Expect Cleverly to stay unbeaten during 2013, taking at least one notable scalp during the year.
The most daunting mission scheduled on this list falls to middleweight Martin Murray. The St. Helens hardman faces one of the sport's best in Sergio Martinez in April. Tough jobs can often be packaged these days as a "great opportunity". But nobody should be fooled by the size of the task facing Murray. With the fight taking place in Argentina, this is a homecoming celebration for Martinez. He last fought in Argentina ten years ago, a time far removed from his current status as boxing superstar and the number one sportsman in his country - even eclipsing Lionel Messi in their recent sports awards.
Martinez is a sublime operator who will be keen to put on a show. Martin however, showed his refusal to be intimidated on overseas assignments, pushing WBA champion Felix Sturm to a draw in Germany 12 months ago. Although it’s hard to see past Martinez retaining his title, this really is a no-lose situation for Murray. A sterling effort even in defeat will guarantee worldwide exposure, and potentially lucrative future fights. A Murray victory and we will be talking about a performance right up there with Lloyd Honeyghan and John H. Stracey as famous overseas triumphs. I predict Murray will secure a big win over Darren Barker or Matthew Macklin in the second half of 2013 after first surrendering his zero in South America.
2012 was very productive for David Price. He brought clarity to domestic matters, brutally taking care of John McDermott, Sam Sexton, Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton. Now punching with alarming power, Price looks set to continue his one man wrecking mission against world rated Tony Thompson in February. An early career setback aside, Thompson has only been beaten by Wladimir Klitschko (twice). Yet I don't expect Thompson to see the third round against Price. Talk of a Derek Chisora showdown after that must surely only be a precursor to a Klitschko challenge in the autumn.
Price has the power to take out anybody in the heavyweight division. The question may be how will David respond to pressure himself....can he take a shot? The 2003/2004 version of Wladimir certainly couldn't and was exposed. Regardless of opposition, 2013 will see David Price tear up more heavyweight trees to preserve his "0", even if he faces a Klitschko.
Frankie Gavin's progress so far hasn't matched the expectation when he turned professional. Big things were expected of the former world amateur champion. Although Frankie recently declared designs on a European title, a scheduled defence of the British welterweight title he won against Junior Witter is most likely to be followed with a couple more defences to secure the Lonsdale belt for keeps. With the British welterweight scene boasting a mix of experienced campaigners (Matthew Hatton, Colin Lynes, Craig Watson) and hungry young fighters (Denton Vassell, Lee Purdy, Bradley Skeete), it is unlikely Gavin will run out of options during 2013. The controversial pick is for one of them to cause Frankie enough trouble to take his unbeaten record before the year is out.
Contrary to Nathan Cleverly's predicament at light-heavyweight, Bury's Scott Quigg (25-0-1) finds himself slap bang in the mix with some of boxing's finest operators courtesy of his tremendous stoppage of Rendall Munroe at super-bantamweight. Nonito Donaire, Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux all currently claim world championships in the 8 stone 10 division. Throw in Alejandro Lopez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr along with established names Fernando Montiel, Vic Darchinyan, Takalani Ndlovu, Jeffrey Mathebula and you have all kinds of permutations to conjure with.
The name inextricably linked with Quigg though is that of Carl Frampton (15-0). Whilst Scott has come through tests against Munroe and before that Jason Booth, Carl scored the biggest win of his career so far with a dominant performance over former two-time world champion Steve Molitor in September. Frampton meets another solid opponent in Kiko Martinez in February whilst the next move for Quigg is likely to be high on the agenda for discussion by his team at Hatton Promotions. The prospect of a Quigg v Frampton fight is likely to be determined by the alternative options available to each camp.
Perhaps as WBA interim champion, a fight with full champion Rigondeaux may be a possibility for Quigg, although Rigondeaux fights tend to be either one-sided routs or appalling spectacles. I can see an audacious world title challenge on a big U.S. bill for Scott during 2013, with Carl continuing his own progress on these shores. Quigg's "0" goes, Frampton's stays intact.
The final fighter on the list and third 2008 Olympian to feature is British and Commonwealth middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. The 23 year-old southpaw has made significant progress during 2012, picking up the aforementioned titles and looking a handful in the process. Possessing great speed and balance, Saunders has looked sensational at times. In addition to the world class trio of Barker, Macklin and Murray, Saunders is also joined at middleweight by young guns John Ryder and Chris Eubank Jr. Expect more progress to be made by Saunders in 2013. An assault on the European scene could feature bouts against solid opposition such as Serhiy Dzinziruk, Sebastian Zbik or Grzegorz Proksa. A sterling 2013 and Saunders could be knocking on the door of a fight with Britain's top boys at middleweight in 12 months time, unless natural growth sees him migrate north to super middle. Either way, Billy Joe won't be beaten next year.
So the final verdict sees Kell Brook, Martin Murray, Frankie Gavin and Scott Quigg tasting defeat for the first time during 2013. Tyson Fury, George Groves, Nathan Cleverly, David Price, Carl Frampton and Billy Joe Saunders all stay unbeaten. I also predict Paddy McGuinness will say something funny around July time. But don't hold your breath.