Now that heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko has polished off Tony Thompson for the second time, dominating him and then knocking him out in the sixth round of a mandatory defense on Saturday in Berne, Switzerland, what's next for him?
The good news is that Klitschko, 36, who has fought three times in one year just once since 2004 (and that was in 2008), is going to fight for a third time in 2012. Bernd Boente, Klitschko's manager, told me Klitschko will fight again in either November or December. It will depend on the date from RTL, their German television partner.
The unfortunate news is that there is no obvious opponent for him to make his 13th defense against. But Klitschko (58-3, 51 KOs overall; 19-2, 16 KOs in world title fights; 12-0, 10 KOs in his current and second title reign) is a dominant champion, and it's good for boxing that he wants to be more active.
There are a handful of heavyweights on the rise who aren't quite ready for Klitschko, but who ever really is? It would be more interesting to see some of the newer guys on the scene face him perhaps a tad early than to see another retread opponent in with the champ.
The fight at the end of the year could go to Dereck Chisora if he defeats David Haye on Saturday. Because the 6-foot-6, 249-pound Klitschko and older brother and fellow heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko have already more or less cleaned out the top 10 (with the exception of Alexander Povetkin, who has run from the brothers like a thief in the night), it's now time for Wladimir to turn to the next generation.
So let's take a look at the fighters, in no particular order, who could be in Klitschko's future, albeit not necessarily for the bout at the end of the year:
Tyson Fury (19-0, 14 KOs), 24, England: Klitschko mentions Fury often as a possible opponent -- and with good reason. Fury, a giant at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, has the backing of big British TV network Ch. 5 and has been getting better with each fight. He owns a July 2011 win against Chisora, and he destroyed club fighter Vinny Maddalone in five rounds on the same day that Klitschko knocked out Thompson. This fight would be huge.
Seth Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs), 30, Brandywine, Md.: Klitschko has mentioned Mitchell many times as a possible future opponent, mainly because he is American and Klitschko wants a reason to come back to the United States to fight. Klitschko probably hopes as much as Mitchell's own team does that the prospect develops. Compared to Klitschko, Mitchell, a former college football player, is undersized at 6-2, 240, and he isn't close to being ready yet. But this is a business, and if the fight was offered, it might be too much for Mitchell to turn down given how much money he could make.
Robert Helenius (17-0, 11 KOs), 28, Finland: At 6-6, 240 pounds, he matches up to Klitschko physically. He got a lot of hype after knockout wins against faded former titleholders Lamon Brewster, Sergei Liakhovich and Samuel Peter, but then he got a gift hometown split decision in Helsinki against Chisora in December. Helenius has been out of action since then because of a right shoulder injury, but he's expected back in the fall.
David Price (13-0, 11 KOs), 29, England: The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist (6-8, 245 pounds) also has the size to match Klitschko. He's the British and Commonwealth champion, but he's untested, with his best win being a fourth-round knockout of Sam Sexton in May. Price has been impressive, though, and he has great right-handed power and is most definitely on Klitschko's radar. The champ has mentioned Price as a possible opponent for the near future.
Kubrat Pulev (16-0, 8 KOs), 31, Bulgaria: Pulev is a solid 6-4, 245 pounds and is coming off an 11th-round knockout of Alexander Dimitrenko -- a fringe contender who is the same size as Klitschko -- in May to win the vacant European title. Pulev is based in Germany, where a fight with Klitschko would probably be a big deal.
Denis Boytsov (31-0, 25 KOs), 26, Russia: Boytsov, who is based in Germany and has a lot of ability but has one significant mark against him as a potential Klitschko opponent: his size. He is only 6-1, 220 pounds. Klitschko would be his worst nightmare. Boytsov has also been beset by hand injuries. Still, he has beaten all of the usual suspects, including a shutout decision of one-time contender Dominick Guinn in April.
Mariusz Wach (27-0, 15 KOs), 32, Poland: Although not well known, he has been on the radar of Klitschko's team. The New Jersey-based Wach was one of the names under discussion to face Vitali Klitschko in the fall before that assignment went to Manuel Charr, so he could potentially fit into Wladimir's plans. He's 6-7, 250 pounds but painfully slow. Although Wach has a glossy record, his best win was a sixth-round knockout of the one and only Tye Fields in March.
Francesco Pianeta (26-0-1, 14 KOs), 27, Italy: Based in Germany, Pianeta is a 6-5, 240-pound southpaw who is coming off a May decision win against long-faded 47-year-old former titleholder Oliver McCall. The draw on his record came against Albert Sosnowski, who was knocked out by Vitali Klitschko in a 2010 title fight. Pianeta also owns a 2009 knockout of former title challenger Matt Skelton.