For everything that the sport of boxing failed to deliver throughout a difficult 2020, hope strings eternal upon a new year.
Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine many super-fights taking place until the COVID-19 pandemic is better controlled, thus allowing for large crowds and huge live gates to once again fuel the promotion of major events. But one thing is certain entering 2021 — there are no shortage of fights that fans are clamoring for whether they are realistic and likely to happen or not.
Let’s take a closer look at this writer’s wish list for the five best boxing matches to make in the upcoming new year.
1. Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury
Outside of Floyd Mayweather coming out of retirement to fight a YouTuber or Mike Tyson continuing his comeback on the senior tour, this is the biggest fight boxing could make in 2021 among active competitors. But we all know the first match to crown a four-belt undisputed heavyweight champion won’t be easy to make, even if all parties sound interested in doing just that. Both fighters have potentially difficult mandatory tests in front of them that either need to be consummated to avoid being stripped of titles or the fighters need to be paid hefty step-aside fees. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the new year, though.
Don’t overlook how important live crowds will be to this fight being made, however. Joshua-Fury is the biggest fight in the rich history of British boxing and could easily attract close to 100,000 fans into a stadium. Both fighters are personable and charismatic, which would help make this matchup a dream for casual fans craving the days of one division, one champion and one face atop the heavyweight division — and, by proxy, the entire sport.
2. Errol Spence Jr. vs. Terence Crawford
If Joshua-Fury is the biggest commercial fight to be made among active competitors in the same division, this welterweight unification is the best critical matchup to be had as it pairs unbeaten champions already affixed atop the sport’s pound-for-pound list. The problem is whether the fight can actually be made from a political standpoint given Spence’s public disdain for a reasonable financial split and Crawford’s isolated reality on the wrong side of the promotional and political tracks.
The good news is that “Bud” is expected to be free from his Top Rank deal this fall, which could go a long way in this fight being made should he entertain a move to PBC, where just about every fighter between 147 and 154 pounds that matters currently resides. As long as boxing doesn’t screw this up and wait too long, Spence-Crawford could become the Sugar Ray Leonard-Tommy Hearns of the modern era as both fighters appear to be all-time greats in the making.
3. Canelo Alvarez vs. Jermall Charlo
Casual fans would prefer Alvarez, boxing’s pound-for-pound and pay-per-view king, to fight Gennadiy Golovkin in a trilogy bout while more hardcore fans might clamor for the Mexican superstar to truly test himself at light heavyweight against unified titleholder Artur Beterbiev. Other observers, more knowledgeable on the reality of Alvarez’s 2021 goals, could offer up a handful of top super middleweights including Caleb Plant, David Benavidez and Billy Joe Saunders. But the best matchup to test Alvarez’s skills that is also the closest to his preferred weight of 168 pounds remains Jermall Charlo, who has indicated his willingness to move up to super middleweight to chase it.
While the fight doesn’t seem likely for 2021 given Alvarez’s focus on unifying titles, Charlo has the combination of size, speed, power and a growing level of marketability as a brash American star to make the perfect dance partner for Alvarez on the biggest stage. Watching Canelo be forced to navigate Charlo’s foot speed and patience as a counter-puncher would be fun knowing he has the power to make Alvarez respect him. This could be the kind of all-action instant classic overflowing with elite skill that both of Alvarez’s fights with GGG were a few years back before the Kazakh slugger showed glimpses of decline.
4. Teofimo Lopez Jr. vs. Gervonta Davis
Lopez’s upset win over former P4P king Vasiliy Lomachenko put the rest of the sport on notice as the unified (and undisputed, depending upon your definition) lightweight champion backed up every single bold prediction his father/trainer had made. There are no shortage of huge fights to make for Lopez at 135 pounds, provided he can keep making the weight. But the best of that group is Davis, which raises him above Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney as the preferred option for fans of Lopez.
Davis, a two-division beltholder, is the most proven box office attraction below 147 pounds, and likely brings the most danger as a boxer/puncher. The bad news is that this fight probably has no chance of being made in 2021 given the age of both and the fact that they operate in separate network and promotional spheres. But it’s among the best fights that could be made in the sport and challenges even the most discerning boxing expert to truly sit back and examine how it might play out.
5. Shakur Stevenson vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko
This crossroads fight at 130 pounds would likely need Lomachenko to agree to move back down to his more comfortable home of junior lightweight considering Stevenson just moved up after a run as WBO featherweight champion. But it’s a fight that wouldn’t be hard to make given both are promoted by Top Rank. The unbeaten Stevenson, at 23, has somehow lived up to his comparisons to a young Mayweather at just about every turn. He has been outspoken in his desire to face Lomachenko and boasted he would defeat him “even easier” than Lopez did in 2020.
It just depends upon whether the 32-year-old Lomachenko would be interested in such a challenge. Given the collective hand and foot speed in this matchup, it would likely be high-speed chess of the highest order and, in many ways, a pick ’em on paper as Stevenson would look to make a huge statement early in his career against a living legend of the sport.
Honorable Mentions: Canelo Alvarez-Gennadiy Golovkin III, Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez-Juan Francisco Estrada II, Caleb Plant-David Benavidez, Artur Beterbiev-Dmitry Bivol.
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