Sport Writer Will Rogers breaks down what to expect in the ring as boxers of all weights and nationalities look to make up for lost time in 2021
The world of boxing, like every sport, has been dramatically affected by COVID-19 as many mega fights have not been made due to the reduced commercial revenue. Of the top 20 pound-for-pound fighters (according to BoxRec), only Saul Alvarez and Alexander Povetkin have scheduled fights. Alvarez is taking a tune-up fight against Avni Yildirim before hopefully taking larger fights against Gennady Golovkin or Billy Joe Saunders in the summer. Povetkin’s fight against British heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte has been moved to Gibraltar for lockdown reasons and should lead to the winner getting a shot at the titles held by Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.
So far in 2021, we have witnessed some great fights, yet the lack of fans, atmospheres and Sweet Caroline has taken away the soul of some of these events. The biggest event so far was Ryan Garcia’s victory over Luke Campbell, with the social media sensation climbing off the canvas to stop the former Olympic Champion. Recently, we have seen the ‘Leeds Warrior’ shocked by the young Mexican Mauricio Lara and David Avanesyan stop Josh Kelly in a brutal war. Moreover, Adrien Broner has returned with an unconvincing victory and Oscar Valdez producing a knockout of the year contender against Miguel Berchelt. These fights have started the year off well given the circumstances, yet we are still yet to see any megastars step through the ropes.
Looking forward, from a British perspective the fight that everyone wants to see is the undisputed fight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. This fight will be the biggest in British boxing history but due to political and commercial issues, will not happen until Wembley can filled and the beer starts flowing. Arguably, Britain’s best fighter is Josh Taylor who is looking towards an undisputed fight with Jose Ramirez and then moving up to take on the stars of the welterweight division.
Carl Frampton, Kell Brook and Amir Khan are looking for fights to close out their successful careers, whilst Callum Smith will look to rebound from his loss to Saul Alvarez. British boxing’s popularity is currently being carried by its two heavyweight superstars, with the next generation slowly coming through, meaning that we should see the likes of Lawrence Okolie, Joshua Buatsi and Joe Cordina moving towards world title shots in the next 12 months.
Almost all of boxing’s established stars have fought since its return in June last year, yet we have not seen many unification fights throughout the weight classes. Terence Crawford destroyed Kell Brook in November yet like for most of his career, is struggling to get the likes of Errol Spence, Manny Pacquiao or Shawn Porter into a ring with him. Golovkin destroyed the unheralded Kamil Szeremata and is now looking for his trilogy fight against Canelo or a bout with up-and-coming star Jermall Charlo. Excellent, if less popular, fighters Artur Beterbiev and Naoya Inoue are still struggling to secure the big fights, with a fight between Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol being one of the most attractive to a boxing purist.
Oleksandr Usyk and Deontay Wilder offer different problems to the British heavyweights, with questions about whether Wilder can even return from his humiliation by Fury. Roman Gonzalez is one of the few stars to have a big fight already announced, with a rematch against the talented Juan Francisco Estrada set for 13th March. As these frustrations begin to grow, we should see many super fights towards the end of the year as fighters aim to make up for a lost year of their career.
Lots of younger talents from across the globe will look to grow and climb the ladder in 2021, with potential world title shots over the next 12 months. The lightweight division is one of the strongest in boxing, with young stars Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia creating the strongest young foursome in all of boxing. Lopez’s victory over the great Vasyl Lomachenko represented one of the best victories of the last few years. Other young champions include David Benavidez and Emanuel Navarrete, a duo that will look forward to unification fights in the next few years. Personally, the young welterweight Vergil Ortiz represents one of the most talented and hardest hitting fighters in recent years and will present a strong challenge to the stars of the division.
Finally, with the completion of the second series of the World Boxing Super Series in 2020, it would be fantastic to see tournaments in the light-heavyweight and super flyweight divisions (since the heavyweight, welterweight and lightweight divisions will prove to be too expensive). Boxing is working as well as any other sport in these tough times, and hopefully as we return to normality we will be treated to the best fighting the best in the best sport in the world.
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