As the sport continues to pick up amid the coronavirus pandemic, some of the fights added to the boxing schedule for the second half of the year are real head-scratchers. Mike Tyson’s return to the ring after 15 years away, at the age of 54, to fight 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. tops the list, but what about WBA “regular” lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis facing WBA featherweight world titlist Leo Santa Cruz with both 130- and 135-pound titles on the line?
With Errol Spence Jr. agreeing to face Danny Garcia, what will Terence Crawford do until he can secure the fight against Spence that boxing fans have wanted for years?
Steve Kim, Nick Parkinson, Ben Baby and Cameron Wolfe share their thoughts on these questions and debate the most underrated current champion in boxing.
If the Pacquiao and Spence fights can’t happen for Crawford next, whom can Crawford face who would pique your interest?
Kim: Shawn Porter. There was some talk of this fight a while ago, but nothing materialized. Porter isn’t unbeatable, but he is one of the game’s toughest outs. His only losses came against Kell Brook, Keith Thurman and, most recently, Spence in September. Porter is rough, tough and physical, and it would be interesting to see how the multifaceted Crawford would deal with the mauling style of Porter. Nobody has truly dominated Porter in a fight. Would “Bud” be the first to do so?
Looking beyond his next fight, should Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor ever meet for all four major titles at 140, the winner will most likely move up to welterweight. The winner of this matchup would be not only the king in this division but also considered among the best fighters in the game. A fight between the last two undisputed champions at 140 would be a very appealing matchup, and in this instance, it’s very realistic, given that all the fighters in this scenario are aligned with Top Rank.
Parkinson: Brook, 34, a former IBF titleholder, showed that he still has the appetite for elite boxing in his most recent fight, as he stopped Mark DeLuca in seven rounds. A return visit from Crawford (who won his first world title on British soil against Ricky Burns in 2014) would attract good television numbers.
Baby: The big question is if Crawford can fight one of the welterweights who are under Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions umbrella. For years, no one from Haymon’s stable has fought Crawford. Although none of them — including Spence — has a legitimate claim as the top welterweight without facing Crawford, the chances that the situation dynamics change seem unlikely.
This could be a little out there, but why not Brook? Sure, Brook will be the heavy underdog, and odds will be in favor of a Crawford stoppage, but with Brook being a notable name on the comeback trail and with the fervent English following, it should be an easy fight to sell to the public. Also, a dominant performance from Crawford could put more public pressure on the other welterweight titleholder for a unification fight the world has wanted for years.
Wolfe: Those are the two no-doubt Tier 1 opponents who would move the needle — and I can go on for days about how Crawford-Spence would be the fight of the decade we need to see — but it’s likely wishful thinking that we’d get Crawford against Spence or Pacquaio before the end of the year. I’d also be interested to see Crawford against Keith Thurman or Porter. They bring different styles, but both would be Crawford’s best win to date. One step below that, I’d be interested to see Crawford against Mikey Garcia or Brook. Any of those “other” four fighters would pique my interest for Crawford next as we impatiently wait for Spence or Pacquiao.
Will Luke Campbell be too big a step for Ryan Garcia?
Ryan Garcia shows off his impressive punching skills while wearing a blindfold and brings serious power for some practice punches.
Kim: No, but it’s certainly a significant jump in opponent. The past few years, Campbell’s only losses have come against Jorge Linares (a razor-thin split decision in 2017) and Vasiliy Lomachenko. Campbell is rated third at 135 by ESPN — and for good reason. He’s a long, angular southpaw with a high ring IQ. Campbell isn’t the type of guy you normally face in what would be a first legitimate step-up fight, but that’s the task at hand for Garcia.
Garcia and his handlers pressed for this fight, and they believe their time is now. Garcia’s crew thinks he’s on the path to superstardom, and they want to be paid very well for their troubles. That comes at a certain cost and against a certain level of competition.
Parkinson: Yes, it could be too much too soon for Garcia, who has not fought anyone in Campbell’s class. Southpaw Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs), 32, is skillful, rangy and an experienced boxer who took the best fighter in the world — Lomachenko — to points a year ago. He also came close to beating another top lightweight when he was beaten by a prime Jorge Linares by split decision three years ago. Campbell, a two-time world title challenger and a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, has far more experience than Garcia and has the ability to outbox him. At 32, the question is whether Campbell can deal with the speed of Garcia after he failed to deal with Lomachenko’s hand speed, footwork and array of punches.
Baby: Because of his social media prowess, Garcia is one of boxing’s most marketable fighters. However, it’s yet to be determined if Garcia’s in-ring skills match the magnitude of his following. Because he thinks he deserves more respect from others, including his promoters, he needs to face someone of Campbell’s caliber to get it.
If Garcia truly thinks he’s one of the top lightweight contenders, Campbell is a perfect opponent. With recent losses to Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jorge Linares, Campbell is a good but not great fighter. If Garcia can win that one, then it’s time to start taking him seriously when it comes to facing top names in the division.
Wolfe: It’s the perfect step. Garcia’s profile has gotten big enough that it’s time to see if he’s ready to sink or swim. All the talking and social media buzz have put Garcia in the conversation with the best boxers in the lightweight division. A win over Campbell would prove that he belongs. A loss, particularly a convincing one, would lead most of the boxing world to think he’s all hype. Campbell is dangerous, but this fight isn’t too big for Garcia. If he’s the boxer that many think he is, he should win and raise his profile heading toward an even bigger bout.
Who is the most underrated current champion?
Kim: Kosei Tanaka. Although unified bantamweight titleholder Naoya Inoue casts a considerable shadow over everyone else in Japan, the 25-year-old Tanaka is a three-division titlist after 15 fights. He won the WBO strawweight title in his fifth pro bout, three fights later he captured the WBO junior flyweight belt, and four fights after that, he defeated Sho Kimura for the WBO flyweight crown. He also has victories over Moises Fuentes, Angel Acosta and Ryoichi Taguchi.
Tanaka is an offensive dynamo with a full arsenal. He possesses a sharp jab, a powerful straight right hand and a lashing left hook that are delivered in fundamentally sound fashion and with great velocity. He weaves together long combinations with hand speed and ferocity and is one of those fighters who is not just effective but also entertaining.
Parkinson: The lighter weight divisions don’t get the attention of the bigger weight classes, so there are a few worthy candidates to get this tag of “most underrated current champion.” In the past decade, Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez have fought the best at flyweight and junior bantamweight, have rebounded from defeats and still hold world titles. Then there’s Thailand’s Wanheng Menayothin, who has been WBC strawweight world champion for more than six years and has a record of 54-0. But Japan’s Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) stands out not only as the world’s No. 1 bantamweight after unifying the titles in his most recent fight but also as someone who has conquered three weight divisions and is still getting better. Inoue has the potential to go through more weight divisions and has speed and power on his side. He is lauded in his native Japan but does not get as much attention as the other pound-for-pound stars. For me, only Lomachenko and Canelo Alvarez are better pound-for-pound, yet many fight fans have never heard of Inoue.
Baby: Do recent champions count? If so, give me Oleksandr Usyk. Usyk was the undisputed cruiserweight world champion before he moved to heavyweight at the end of 2019. The heavyweight division is as intriguing as it has been in recent years. However, Usyk doesn’t get nearly enough buzz in a weight class that features Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder (this will include Andy Ruiz Jr. once someone tracks him down).
Fury finally picked up a few tangible belts to go with his claim of being the lineal titlist, but by the end of 2020, will it be time to give Usyk a chance to claim one of the four major belts? It should be.
Here’s a fun fact: Usyk is the highest-ranked heavyweight in ESPN’s pound-for-pound list.
Wolfe: Jermall Charlo. Looking beyond boxers who are on most people’s pound-for-pound lists, Charlo is still considered relatively unproven as a champion, despite his being undefeated with good wins against contenders Julian Williams and Austin Trout. It seems that Charlo is most known for being part of a good twin duo with his talented brother, Jermell, rather than a strong champion in his own right. The power is real, and I believe he should start getting some pound-for-pound love. Charlo will get a chance to erase some doubters if he can get a win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Sept. 26.
How much will the larger gloves impact the Tyson-Jones fight? Who would benefit most?
Roy Jones Jr. is expecting Mike Tyson to come at him full-force in their exhibition fight on Sept. 12.
Kim: Well, given that “Iron” Mike is the (much) naturally bigger man, it seems that the advantage would lie with him. Also, Jones is about hand speed and quickness, and larger mitts would hinder that.
But remember this: Andy Foster, the executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, has made it clear that he considers this an exhibition bout and won’t let a “real” fight break out. The hope is that regardless of the size of gloves, Tyson and Jones will handle each other with kid gloves on the night of Sept. 12.
Parkinson: Bigger gloves will mean fewer concussive blows, in theory. Big gloves will spread the impact force over a wider area than smaller gloves. Tyson is the bigger puncher of the two, so you would think he has more to lose if they are wearing bigger gloves (12 or 16 ounces) because he relies on his knockout power. Jones is more fleet-footed, mobile and technically gifted, and if there is less danger from Tyson’s punches, bigger gloves benefit Jones.
Baby: This is more interesting than the fight itself. Do the bigger gloves have a bigger effect on Tyson’s power or Jones’ speed? An argument could be made for either side of the debate. I’d lean toward Jones benefiting the most.
Wolfe: Definitely Jones. We all know that Tyson has the power advantage, so larger gloves would help Jones to soften the blow a bit. They also should slow down the older Tyson if the fight goes beyond the first few rounds. I think it’ll make a notable impact on the fight overall because of the amount of energy needed to use larger gloves, which could slow the second half of the fight quite a bit if it goes the distance.
What are your thoughts on Gervonta-Santa Cruz fighting at one weight for two titles in different weights? Would you like to see more of that?
Kim: First of all, this isn’t new. When Ray Leonard fought Donny Lalonde in 1988, both the WBC super middleweight and light heavyweight titles were on the line. This was done so that Leonard could win two major world titles in one night. Here, it seems that this is an insurance policy in case Davis — who has had issues making both 130 and 135 — can’t make the junior lightweight limit at which Santa Cruz is the WBA “super” champion.
Worst-case scenario: Say Davis can’t or won’t cut below, say, 132 or 133. The onus then flips to Santa Cruz. Does he accept this scenario and perhaps get a few bucks more on his end but give up any physical advantage he might have had by making Davis come down to 130? The bottom line is that in championship fights, there should be one established weight limit in place. It shouldn’t be an either/or scenario, especially when one fighter really benefits from the heavier weight.
Parkinson: It seems unnecessary and a bit of a gimmick because fighting again at junior lightweight is not likely to be possible for Davis. If Davis wins, he will have to give up the junior lightweight belt if he has no ambitions of dropping to that weight once again. But it is good for Santa Cruz because should he win, he will have the option of which division to stay at. But it is unfair on the top contenders at junior lightweight should Davis win, as there would likely be a delay in fighting for the vacant title.
Baby: How in the world does this make any sense? On the surface, this seems like a way for the WBA to get extra sanctioning fees when the belts change hands. Boxing’s sanctioning bodies already do enough to confuse casual fans and keep them away from the sport with a multitude of titles in one division. The last thing the sport needs is this type of shenanigan.
Wolfe: It’s laughable. It’s either a 130-pound bout or a 135-pound bout. I’m not sure if this move was more about the WBA getting more sanctioning fees with the two belts or trying to protect Davis from not making the contracted 130-pound limit, but either way, it doesn’t feel right. Neither fighter can fairly defend two belts in a different weight class, so it feels silly. I get why Santa Cruz or Davis would love the opportunity to win belts in another weight class, but come on WBA, what are we doing here?