Don’t look now, but boxing is on a roll in 2021.
Gradually relegated from the mainstream by the rise of MMA and a prolonged dearth of transcendent stars, the sweet science finished 2020 with a momentum unseen in years.
Several of the sport’s top names were in action over the pandemic-ravaged calendar’s final few months – including pay-per-view stalwart Canelo Alvarez, welterweight elites Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, social media lightning rods Teofimo Lopez and Ryan Garcia and even AARP-eligible heavyweight menace Mike Tyson.
And just a few weeks into the new year, it’ll be Floyd Mayweather, too.
So whether it’s active fighters in their primes, old-timers in a nostalgic exhibition or novices battling for the undisputed championship of YouTube, the buzz is palpable as 2021 begins.
That being the case, it seemed an appropriate time to consider the bouts I’d most like to see by the time the ball drops to welcome 2022.
Some are logical. Some are novel. But all, in my opinion, are needle-movers.
In no particular order.
Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas II
OK, some called Mike Tyson’s so-called 2020 return an embarrassment.
Others found it among the most compelling squared-circle events of the year.
But no matter where you fall on the modern-day Iron Mike continuum, it’s hard to argue the amount of pre-fight fan and media interest the eight-round exhibition with Roy Jones Jr. generated.
With that in mind, I’ll go all-in on the novelty and suggest – if he’s bound and determined to do it again – why not share the marquee with the guy who was the first to render him a mere mortal back in 1990?
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you James “Buster” Douglas.
“Sure, I would welcome the opportunity,” Douglas, now 60, said after Tyson met Jones. “Being a prizefighter all those years and still feeling pretty good today, you always feel you got one more fight in you.”
Douglas stopped a then-unbeaten Tyson in 10 rounds in February 1990 but lost his championship claim in his first defense eight months later against Evander Holyfield. He retired for nearly six full years before returning for eight wins in nine more fights through 1999, but he never faced Tyson again.
“I’ve been asked about it in casual conversation,” Douglas said. “They always ask, ‘Why didn’t you guys have a rematch?’ It was just never presented really, as far as a rematch. It was often mentioned. That’s about it.”
No time like the present.
Edgar Berlanga vs. Gabe Rosado
Make no mistake, this one is far more about the A-side than the B-side.
Brooklyn-based super middleweight Edgar Berlanga was easily the most interesting boxing breakout story of 2020, thanks to a ridiculous streak of first-round KOs that reached 16 in early December.
And though he’s not faced any elite foes since turning pro nearly five years ago, his defeats of veterans Lanell Bellows and Ulises Sierra gradually upped the competition ante – Bellows and Sierra entered with a combined record of 35-6-5 and zero losses by stoppage.
They lasted three minutes and 59 seconds, combined.
Still, though the streak has some fans fantasizing about matches with the world-class likes of Canelo Alvarez, I’ll be satisfied if Berlanga merely takes another tangible step up the quality ladder next time around by meeting two-time middleweight title challenger Gabe Rosado.
Now just six days from turning 35, Rosado was beaten in a pair of championship tries at 160 pounds in 2013, first on a seventh-round TKO by Gennady Golovkin in January and nine months later when a ringside doctor stopped his match against Peter Quillin due to a cut in Round 10.
He’s stayed relevant against some of the best at 160 and 168 in the meantime, most recently dropping a split decision to former middleweight claimant Daniel Jacobs on Nov. 27 in Hollywood, Fla.
Berlanga floated the idea of a Rosado bout during a recent Instagram Live session and suggested it would make a worthwhile main event on Puerto Rican Day weekend in New York.
“Shoutout to Gabe Rosado,” Berlanga said. “We could probably make that fight happen for the people, for Puerto Rico. For Puerto Rican Day weekend, we could make something happen. There ain’t no harsh feelings or none of that with (Rosado). At the end of the day, it’s about the fans and making good fights happening.”
Ryan Garcia vs. Gervonta Davis
If this were a Top 40 radio show, this fight would be listed with a bullet.
Thanks to a gutsy performance against former lightweight title challenger Luke Campbell in which he got off the floor to score a seventh-round KO on a body shot, Ryan Garcia is master of all he surveys.
Well, from a promotional standpoint, at least.
Backed by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy hype apparatus, Garcia, 22, arrived to the Campbell fight with a sizable social media following to go along with a pristine ring record. The UK veteran represented a substantial step up in class, however, and it looked like a disastrous endeavor early on when a left hook in the second round dropped the youngster for the first time in his career.
The self-proclaimed “King” rose, weathered a follow-up storm and reestablished control within a round or two, eventually catching his 33-year-old foe with a wicked left hook to the liver that rendered him unable to continue at 1:58 of the seventh.
In the giddy aftermath, the prodigy repeated a previous callout of two-division champ Gervonta Davis, who’s scored 23 KOs in 24 wins and is promoted by De La Hoya’s former foe and longtime rival Floyd Mayweather.
The verbal dustup continued during a taping of Mike Tyson’s HotBoxin’ podcast, when Davis called in after Garcia, who was a guest on the show, and repeated his desire to make the fight.
“You’re 5-(foot)-5. You’re going to need a ladder to hit me,” Garcia told Davis. “You’re going to need a StairMaster. You won’t be able to touch me. You ain’t never fought a 135-(pounder) in your life. This is different. I don’t care what you say. You ain’t got nothing.”
Josh Taylor vs. Jose Ramirez
To the casual fan, it’s a match of two anonymous champions.
But for the hardcore followers, it’s a unification that’s worth gushing about.
Scotland’s Josh Taylor and California’s Jose Ramirez are the creams of their respective crops at 140 pounds, where the former holds the IBF and WBA championship belts while the latter has the WBC and WBO title straps. They’re in their primes at 30 and 28 years old, respectively, and will presumably carry a combined record of 43-0 with 30 KOs when they meet sometime in 2021.
At least we hope so anyway.
Bob Arum, whose Top Rank conglomerate promotes Ramirez and works with Taylor, had targeted the match for late 2020 but was ultimately pushed off ESPN’s TV calendar by the return of college football.
These days, the promoter says he’s got it penciled in for this year but wants it to happen with fans in the building, which presumably means it’ll have to wait until pandemic-related restrictions are eased.
“We would really need a robust audience to make it work, whether it was here, or over in Scotland or London,” he said. “We need an audience. We just can’t do that fight without an audience.”
Taylor, a pro since 2015, is hoping it’ll happen sooner than later.
So are we.
“I don’t want to be fighting until I’m 36, 37, 38 and the body starts falling apart,” he said “Ideally, I want to retire at 32 or 33, get out of the game and live the rest of my life.
“Another four or five fights – if they’re big fights – and that’s hopefully it for me. These ones that are potentially coming around now are for life-changing money. If I win, I will quite happily retire at the top of the game. Live the rest of my life and enjoy it.”
Teofimo Lopez vs. Gervonta Davis
If there’s an interesting fight at 135 pounds this year, chances are Gervonta Davis will be in it.
The Baltimore-based “Tank’s” burgeoning rivalry with hotshot prospect Ryan Garcia was discussed a few frames earlier, but if the 130-/135-pound champion wants to skip right to the front of the lightweight line, he’ll find Teofimo Lopez there waiting for him.
A prodigy in his own right at age 23, Lopez ascended to the pound-for-pound stratosphere with a compelling and clear-cut decision over three-division champ Vasyl Lomachenko in October. And though a rematch of that bout would be entertaining as well, the new king seems more interested in other opportunities.
Namely Davis, who earned KO of the Year nods with a sixth-round-uppercut demolition of Leo Santa Cruz, providing his 23rd stoppage victory in 24 fights.
“I can throw a mean-ass uppercut as well and he’ll go out. It goes both ways,” Lopez said. “I’m a very smart fighter when it comes to it, and I’m the bigger guy at. I’m the kingpin of 135 pounds.”
Not surprisingly, Davis, 26, disagrees.
“I got the whole package,” he said. “Teofimo does not have the whole package. He does not have the footwork or any of that, I have the full package.
“If he’s willing to stay at 135 then we can definitely make the fight happen.”
Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin III
It’s a word that evokes visceral boxing images.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier beating each other around the globe from New York to Manila. Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward forging a friendship across 30 of the most brutal rounds in the sport’s long history.
And while the first two acts of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin haven’t reached quite that level of violence, the contentious twosome has managed 24 rounds of aggression tempered with technique.
Their first bout in 2017 ended in a disputed draw that allowed Golovkin to keep his cadre of middleweight belts, before the rematch a year later both ended the Kazakh’s 12-year unbeaten run and propelled Alvarez, a winner by majority decision, to the uppermost reaches of the pound-for-pound stratosphere.
Four subsequent wins have yielded belts in two more weight classes, while Golovkin has remained at middleweight and scored three wins over lesser competition while continuing to pine for another chance.
They fought within 24 hours of one another in mid-December, with Golovkin blasting Kamil Szeremeta in seven rounds before Alvarez took down previously unbeaten 168-pounder Callum Smith over 12.
In the aftermath, promoter Eddie Hearn banged the drums for a 2021 reunion.
“When he faces the best next year, you’re going to see an even better fight,” he said, after Golovkin’s win. “Gennady is the boss. He’s earned the right to fight who he wants to fight. We want to see him in the biggest fights. Trust me, guys, we’ll bring the best fight for next time.”
Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.
Remember Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao?
They were Nos. 1 and 2 on nearly every reputable pound-for-pound list and shared a weight class for several years but somehow never managed to get a fight done until 2015, when they were 38 and 36, respectively.
And though it was still a worthwhile match between world-class foes, it occurred well past vintage.
If we’re not careful, it’s going to happen again with Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.
The unbeaten Nebraskan and his fellow unbeaten Texan have shared championship status at welterweight every day for better than two-and-a-half years, but seem no nearer a duel on day 944 of their dual reign.
Crawford turned 33 in September. Spence will be 31 in March. And though both still occupy high-profile slots on The Ring’s pound-for-pound list – Crawford third, Spence fifth – the sell-by date will eventually arrive.
Still, neither seems too moved by the prospect.
Spence has said previously that the fight ought to happen in 2021 or not at all, and Crawford told The Ring in November that missing an opportunity with Spence isn’t a make-or-break for his career.
“I’ve accomplished so much in the sport of boxing that I (don’t) really need him,” Crawford said. “If that fight don’t happen, I don’t feel like it (would hurt) my legacy. It just hurts the legacy of the welterweight division.”
Tyson Fury vs. Anthony Joshua
When it comes to heavyweight boxing, it’s been a UK century.
The 2000s arrived with London-born Lennox Lewis in complete control of the division and reached a competitive zenith when he whacked Mike Tyson in his penultimate title defense in 2002, but to suggest the British hold on things is any less strong these days would be an exercise in misinformation.
The prestigious WBC title belt is in the possession of Tyson Fury, a 32-year-old from Manchester who earned the strap with a particularly brutal KO of Deontay Wilder last February.
Meanwhile, the rest of the significant hardware resides on the mantel of Anthony Joshua, a 2012 Olympic champion from Watford who’s won 24 pro bouts and avenged his lone loss in a rematch six months later.
And unlike Spence and Crawford before them, these guys actually sound like they want to fight each other.
“There is an even bigger pot of gold at the end of this rainbow and I want to take his head off his shoulders when that fight happens,” Joshua said in December. “I’m sure that I’ll win.”
Fury, no stranger to mind games and other verbal antics, suggests Joshua’s KO loss to Andy Ruiz has created a confidence issue that he’ll be happy to prolong.
“On his last two fights, he’s not in form,” he said. “On mine, I am, so momentum is with me and I just believe take him out early, very early, maybe even one round or two rounds.”
As for when it’ll happen, maybe sooner than later if the pandemic ebbs.
“Whenever the world gets back to normal, whatever normal may consist of after this pandemic, then that’s when this fight is going to happen,” Fury said. “This fight has been brewing for a long time. They’ve been avoiding me for a long time and now it’s finally got to happen. They either run away from the fight and announce it publicly or they take the fight. Either way it’s a lose-lose situation for him.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
No title fights scheduled.
Last week’s picks: None
Final 2020 picks record: 39-10 (79.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,156-375 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.