LWTC: 16 Fights By The End Of 2016 That Can Make Boxing A Mainstream Sport Again

 

If the PBC gets lucky enough to get a fight like this on major network TV, the sport will certainly grow and flourish.

With 2015 not yet halfway over, boxing has already had a banner year, at least in terms of widespread exposure to a mainstream sports audience. Long relegated to a niche audience by ghettoizing itself almost exclusively to premium cable and pay-per-view, boxing is now reaching more fans via Al Haymon’s PBC series than it has in two decades. Launched a couple months ago, PBC bouts featuring some of the top names in the sport began regularly appearing on various basic cable stations and major network TV, and are reportedly garnering a respectable number of viewers. While Haymon’s venture is still building steam and trying to build some of his fighters into recognizable stars, boxing’s two biggest stars recently squared off in a bout to which over four million viewers were willing to pay $100 to watch. So it’s safe to say boxing has reached more fans in recent months than it has in a long time, and it is primed to reach even more in the coming years.

Caveat emptor.

With this expanded access to American eyeballs comes a responsibility to provide a quality product (at least if the sport expects to grow). A generation ago, sports fans were turned on by the spectacle of Mike Tyson KOing guys with ferocious brevity, and subsequently turned off by the fact that they’d just paid $50 to watch him perform for less than 10 minutes. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, while a long-anticipated (five years too long) match up of top stars, fell well short of all the hype surrounding it. In the wake of the Mayweather-Pacquiao boregasm, it’s still too early to tell what effect the lack of action in that fight will have on those who paid so much to see so little, but boxing needs to continue to match up its best fighters in each weight class in significant bouts if it expects to expand its viewership.

Exactly.

So while fans were taken for a bit of ride, they certainly asked for it, and if we look at the bright side, there are strong possibilities for a lot of good, significant fights to take place relatively soon. Below, I’ve listed sixteen fights I’d love to see happen in the next 12 months, along with why they’re important, how they might play out, and what can stop them from happening. Even if only half of them happen, it  could still go a long way toward putting boxing back in a place of prominence in American sports culture.

  1. Wladimir Klitschko vs Deontay Wilder

Everyone wins. Except the guy who loses.

Why?

Is that really a question? This would be a fight for the unified Heavyweight Championship Of The World, contested by a pair of six and a half foot tall knockout machines. What can be bad about that? Wlad is notoriously chinny, and Wilder’s chin has yet to be tested, at least against someone with Wlad’s skill and power. This fight absolutely needs to happen, ASAP!

What Would Happen?

Could go either way, but I see a changing of the guard here. Wilder has the size, reach, and power to be a constant threat to Wlad’s glass chin, and my money says he’d be hitting it frequently enough to either put Wlad in a defensive shell or lay him out on the canvas.

What Could Prevent It?

This is more of a “who” question than a “what” question, and it has a two part answer. First, there’s Alexander Povetkin. Last week Povetkin KO’d Mike Perez, positioning himself as Wilder’s mandatory for the WBC title. It’s possible Povetkin would be offered “step aside” money so this fight can happen, but that brings us to the second part of our answer, which is is Al Haymon. Will Haymon pay Povetkin step aside money? If so, will he then insist this fight take place in America (if Wlad’s promoter, K2, wants it in Germany)? Will Haymon create his own PBC heavyweight belt that Wilder will fight for? My hope is that whether this fight takes place in Germany or the U.S., it’s broadcast on NBC or CBS in the States. The Heavyweight Championship Of The World is not as prestigious a title as it was 35 years ago, but if all the titles were held by a charismatic, American knockout machine like Wilder, there could be renewed mainstream interest in and regard for the title. And it would give a huge boost to Haymon’s efforts to bring boxing back into the mainstream of America’s sports consciousness. Al Haymon has more to gain than to lose by making this fight happen. Do it, Al. Do it!

2. Sergey Kovalev vs Adonis Stevenson.

You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but there is some serious bad blood between these guys.

Why?

Again, unifying titles. Kovalev holds three belts at light heavyweight, Stevenson holds one. This fight should have happened last year, but Stevenson fled HBO thinking he’d get a more lucrative (and less dangerous) fight against Bernard Hopkins on Showtime. Instead, Al Haymon tried to wait Hopkins out during negotiations so he’d be stripped of his belts, but Hopkins outsmarted him and walked across the street to HBO where he was able to get a very lucrative fight with Kovalev, which made Kovalev a star. Since then Kovalev has fought and beaten another top fighter Stevenson was supposed to fight, Jean Pascal, and then Kovalev’s manager, Kathy Duva, backed out of a purse bid she knew she couldn’t win against Haymon for the Kovalev-Stevenson fight. So there’s been bad blood in terms of the business end, but also Kovalev has repeatedly called out Stevenson in post-fight interviews (while Stevenson, until very recently, has dodged that same question in his post-fight interviews), referring to him as a “piece of shit.” There was also an apparently racist tweet from Kovalev, where he posted a photo of him pointing a t-shirt with an ape wearing boxing gloves and making disparaging remarks about Stevenson. As if all of that weren’t enough, both of these guys pack a huge punch and are very aggressive in the ring, this fight could be nothing but an explosive war.

What Would Happen?

Either guy could score a KO, but you have to go with the more skilled man, and that’s Kovalev. He’s also got the better chin. It would be fun while it lasted, but I think Kovalev would make relatively short work of Stevenson, shaking him in the early rounds with his right hand and taking him out by the 6th.

What Could Prevent It?

Promotional issues. In early 2014, this was a sure fire major bout, and now, since both guys have increased their individual profiles and brewed all this bad blood, it would certainly be a major event. But the redrawn lines of boxing’s “cold war” are between HBO and Al Haymon, and it seems at this point that there is more of a Berlin Wall between them than a mere line in the sand. So for now this fight isn’t happening, which sucks, but it looks like we’re going to get the next best thing…

  1. Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward

This guy is allegedly returning to his day job.

Why?

I know some of you are sitting there saying to yourself, “Andre Ward, Andre Ward… that name sounds so familiar…” He’s not that guy who won the Heisman Trophy and played point guard for the New York Knicks,

Not him…

and he’s not that guy who won the Heisman Trophy and played QB for the Detroit Lions;

…or him…

Andre Ward is that guy who won Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament and cleaned out the super middleweight division four years ago and has since alternated suing his promoter with calling out guys in the weight class below him, all the while acting like he’d never heard of Sergey Kovalev.

… there he is!

Well, now that Ward is emerging from his hibernation and apparently can’t make 168 lbs anymore, there is talk of a fight with Sergey Kovalev happening sometime in the next 12 months. This is great news for boxing fans, as this is a very compelling match up.

What Would Happen?

Like most of his fights, Ward would make this an ugly one. He’ll charge in at Kovalev with his head and forearms flying, trying to rough up and back up the bigger, harder hitting man. This may work in the early rounds, and if it does it will certainly set the tone for an ugly, foul-filled fight. However, if there’s a decent referee, I believe Ward will eventually be deducted a point and be forced to fight in a manner that is not only more within the spirit of the Marques of Queensbury rules, but also more advantageous to Kovalev. Kovalev will be able to land some power shots as Ward charges in sporting a more legal defensive shell, trying to do body work, but Kovalev will clip him on the temple with a compact, looping right hand or hit him on top of the head with a shot that jars Ward’s neck and makes his legs wobble. After that, it will be a matter of survival, but Ward won’t survive, Kovalev will get him on the ropes and finish him off in an ugly fight with a gratifying ending.

What Can Stop It?

A loss by either guy before this happens, or a more lucrative and less dangerous fight coming Ward’s way (like Stevenson, for instance). But I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t happen, and in the last couple weeks there have been rumors that it’s being talked about for 2016.

  1. Carl Froch vs Gennady Golovkin

Everybody wants it, that’s who.

Why?

I’ll admit this wasn’t on the list in my first draft of this article, but since then there’s been talks between the teams about doing this fight this year. And it’s a very compelling fight. Many fans are clamoring for Golovkin to face a top level fighters, and Carl Froch is looking to close out his career with a big fight and a big payday. This would be a win-win for everybody, especially the fans.

What Would Happen?

This is a tough one to call, it depends on a lot of factors. With Froch talking retirement, there’s a chance he’s just not as focused on fight night as he’s been throughout his career. If that’s the case, it could be a long night for him. Froch has one of the best chins in the game, and Golovkin is one of the hardest punchers; Froch could end up taking a lot of punishment in this fight if he doesn’t bring his “A” game.
On the other hand, Golovkin isn’t a big middle weight, and he’d likely have to take this fight at 168 lbs. How would he fare at that weight against a bigger man who will likely be able to stand up to his power? And how will he fare against a guy who remains on the fringes of most people’s pound-for-pound lists? Froch would be, by far, the most talented, accomplished fighter Golovkin has faced. There are huge question marks for both guys, but I suspect Golovkin would win, seeing how George Groves gave Froch some trouble, and since the second Kessler fight Froch has looked a bit slower of hand and foot.

What Could Stop It?

Unless something expedites Canelo Alvarez’s move up to middleweight, I can’t see either guy having a more lucrative opponent, so as long as Froch doesn’t decide to just retire without a farewell fight, this looks very likely to happen. Perhaps the most interesting question about it is where the fight will take place. You’d have to think they could get 50,000 fans in Wembley Stadium for it, perhaps more, but Froch has expressed a desire to fight in Las Vegas before his career is over.

  1. Miguel Cotto vs Canelo Alvarez

Let’s do this.

Why?

This is the most lucrative fight in boxing that doesn’t involve Floyd Mayweather. It’s for the lineal middleweight title, and it’s got that Puerto Rico vs Mexico thing going on. Cotto obtained the lineal middleweight title by beating up a crippled version of Sergio Martinez, and outsmarted himself out of this fight last month by trying to play Mayweather and Canelo off each other in what he hoped would become a bidding war, but Mayweather worked shit out with Pacquiao and Canelo decided he wasn’t going to wait for Cotto to stop acting like a bitch, so he fought James Kirkland, which left Cotto fighting Daniel Geale in a couple weeks for a lot less money.

This fight needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon. The WBC, in a rare move of principle, has said it will strip Cotto of their belt if he defeats Geale and doesn’t fight their #1 contender, Gennady Golovkin, next. My guess is that they’ll make an exception if Cotto comes to terms with Canelo, with the stipulation that the winner fights Golovkin. Or maybe Cotto pays Golovkin step-aside money (who am I kidding?), or Cotto just drops the title and fights Canelo purely for money at 156 lb catch weight.

What Happens?

Canelo is too big, too active, and too young for Cotto. Cotto would make it a fight early, and Canelo will learn a thing or two from him, but at the end of the day Canelo’s size and punching power will be too much for Cotto, who will wilt under the cumulative effect of Canelo’s intermittent, hammering flurries.

What Can Stop It?

Floyd Mayweather. The only way this doesn’t happen is if Floyd fights Cotto in September. Which I wouldn’t put past him, since he surely wasn’t happy with Canelo trying to take Cinco de Mayo weekend from him. In fact, I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be the scenario. Though that would likely only delay this fight, not prevent it.

Some of you might be thinking, “what if Geale beats Cotto?” I don’t think that would stop this fight, I suspect they’d just have it at junior middleweight.

  1. Gennady Golovkin vs Canelo Alvarez

Hopefully we don’t have to wait 5 years for this.

Why?

Either as a middleweight title unification fight, or just a big money fight for Golovkin, this promises a lot of hype, and fireworks to match. If Golvokin wins, he can move up to 168 or, if there are any decent guys left at middleweight he can dust them off and move up. If Canelo win, he can begin what might be a long reign at 160 lbs.

What Happens?

Golovkin wins a close, exciting fight in which both men receive numerous chin checks, and each unloads a ferocious body attack. I think it ends in the late rounds with a Golovkin hook to the liver in a fight in which Canelo is ahead on the scorecards. And there’s a rematch.

What Can Stop It?

Canelo. If he can stay at 154 lbs, maybe even do a pair of fights (or even a trilogy) with Cotto to pad his bank account, Golovkin might get sick of waiting for him and be enticed to move up to 168 after picking up the vacated WBC belt and realizing there’s nothing else for him to do at 160.

  1. Kell Brook vs Amir Khan

There’s only one person who doesn’t want this, unfortunately, his name is Amir Khan.

Why?

Because this is the fight all of England wants, right?

What Will Happen?

Brook will lose the first two or three rounds while he adjusts to Khan’s speed, then take Khan apart in the middle rounds and score a KO with a booming right uppercut as he’s backpedaling from an attacking Khan in the late rounds. Khan is rarely in a boring fight, and I expect this one to be exciting while it lasts, but Brook is too slick, to strong, and too talented not to find Khan’s chin frequently enough to take him out before the final bell.

What Can Stop It?

Khan doesn’t want this, but with Pacquiao on the shelf for at least a year (if not forever), and Mayweather exiting the scene, what excuse will Khan have to not take this fight? I believe Khan and Cotto are running neck-and-neck for the September Mayweather sweepstakes, but I suspect Cotto is going to get that fight. Maybe Khan gets a shot at Mayweather next spring and is able to delay this fight indefinitely? That wouldn’t surprise me. But even if it doesn’t happen, maybe instead we get…

  1. Kell Brook vs Keith Thurman

Will Haymon risk one of his guys losing to Kell Brook again?

Why?

Because these guys are the two best welterweight not named Mayweather. Each of these guys believes they are the best in the world, they’re both on the large side for welterweights, and both are blessed with equal amounts of skill and power. This would be a great fight.

What Would Happen?

This is a toss up. I think Brook is more skilled, but Thurman has more power. I have no idea what would happen, and that’s why it’s one of the 3 best fights on this list.

What Could Stop It?

Amir Khan or Al Haymon. If Khan does fight Brook and the fight is lucrative (guaranteed) and is close, there could be a rematch or a trilogy. The other possibility is Al Haymon, who has already watched one of his titlists lose his belt to Brook.

  1. Danny Garcia vs Lucas Matthysse II

If you don’t want to see this again, maybe boxing isn’t for you.

Why?

Did you see their first fight? This is guaranteed to be a barn burner, and they are still the two best guys at 140 lbs.

What Would Happen?

This is another toss up, as their first fight turned on Matthysse’s eye swelling up from what was ruled a punch but turned out to be a forearm. Though in the last 18 months Matthysse has been in a pair of absolute wars with John Molina and Ruslan Provodnikov, while Garcia has received a gift decision against Mauricio Herrera, , committed a legalized assault on Rod Salka, and had a competitive fight with Lamont Peterson. I’d love to see Garcia-Matthysse II, asap.

What Could Stop It?

This is dead in the water. Al Haymon isn’t going to let Lucas Matthysse back into the fold after ditching him for Golden Boy and HBO. It’s a shame, because this would be a great fight now, and frankly there should’ve been an immediate rematch after their first fight. Hopefully fans will get a couple of good consolation prizes, like…

  1. Lucas Matthysse vs Terrence Crawford

Let’s do this!

Why?

Both guys fight on HBO, both are 140 lbs, and both are two of the best fighters in their division.

What Would Happen?

This is another great match up, but I would have to go with Crawford. Matthysse has put some hard miles on himself the past couple of years, and Crawford is a rare talent who is able to not only switch effortlessly from an orthodox to a southpaw stance, but he’s able to change his approach and his game plan according to shifting variables in the fight. That said, his chin is a bit questionable, as he was severely buzzed by the much smaller Yuriorkis Gamboa, but he also responded well to that buzzing by knocking Gamboa out. This would be a great fight, but I think Crawford outboxes him and also has the judges on his side a bit as this would likely take place in his hometown of Omaha, where he’s able to pack the local basketball arena every time he fights. Unfortunately for Matthysse, this might be a significant psychological disadvantage, as he’s been robbed by hometown decisions in the past against Devon Alexander and Zab Judah.

What Could Stop It?

I don’t think anything can stop this from happening. Matthysee may take a well-deserved soft touch or two over the course of the next 6 months or so, but I can’t imagine this fight not happening in early 2016.

  1. Danny Garcia vs Adrien Broner

Which guy will be the top banana of the PBC?

Why?

Because both of these guys are going to herald in the first PBC belt at their own invented 144 lb weight class. I believe this fight has been in the works for over a year, as Broner has been fed a series of tomato cans and one limited contender since losing to Marcos Maidana, while Garcia only needed to win a fight the public demanded against Lamont Peterson to fulfill his end of the bargain.

What Will Happen?

Broner is probably possesses more raw athletic skill, but Garcia is a much smarter fighter and this will tell on fight night. Broner’s own worst enemy dwells between his ears; he’s the kind of guy who believes his own bullshit to such an extent that he forgets how hard he has to work to live up to all that bluster. Garcia has some trouble with guys who move their feet a lot, but he’s also busy enough when they’re in range that he doesn’t necessarily lose rounds to them. I see Broner using his mobility the same way he did against John Molina, but not getting the same results, as Garcia has much better hand speed and a much more dynamic arsenal. Broner will spend a lot of time circling the ring, shaking his head, after getting the worst of most of their brief exchanges, then he’ll be in a state of disbelief if the cards don’t go his way. Or maybe he gets a very controversial decision and it sets up a rematch.

What Can Stop It?

Broner. If Broner gets arrested for doing something stupid, or comes into training camp too heavy and sustains an injury. Otherwise, this is happening.

  1. Vasyl Lomachenko vs Nicholas Walters

This has Fight Of The Year written all over it.

Why?

Because boxing, that’s why. This is the most intriguing match up on this list and could produce the most entertaining fight. Lomachenko is the real deal, he can do it all and isn’t afraid of anybody, while Walters is an absolute brute of a fighter with heavy hands, lots of athleticism, and a killer instinct. This needs to happen.

What Would Happen?

I’d jizz in my pants, that’s what would happen. I have absolutely no idea who would win this, any outcome is possible, which is part of why it needs to happen.

What Could Stop It?

I don’t see either guy having a more lucrative opponent, so the short answer is: nothing. This has trilogy written all over it, think Morales-Barerra.

  1. Carl Frampton vs Scott Quigg

It would be a shame if this doesn’t happen.

Why?

This is becoming the British version of Mayweather-Pacquiao, at least in terms of all the drama involved in making this happen. This fight would be huge in England, it seems like there’s too much money on the table for it to not happen. And we’d get to find out if either of these guys (whoever wins) really wants anything to do with Guillermo Rigondeaux.

What Would Happen?

I think this might be a little anti-climactic, in that Frampton will either stop Quigg or win a wide decision.

What Could Stop It?

Egos. Either the fighters or their promoters could just be assholes. This is boxing, that shit happens all the time.

  1. Guillermo Rigondeaux vs Leo Santa Cruz

Only Photoshop could get Santa Cruz this close to Rigondeaux.

Why?

I used to love Leo Santa Cruz, I really did. But no one has fought such a long string of tomato cans since Butterbean. Santa Cruz’s level of opposition has dropped so low that he’d have accumulated less ring rust the last 18 months if he’d just sat on his couch watching reruns of Chico And The Man. Now I’d just like to watch someone pick him apart and beat the crap out of him. So that’s why.

What Would Happen?

Rigondeaux could finally get another name scalp on his resume by dominating Santa Cruz for 12 rounds of target practice. And then Rigo could start begging for either Frampton or Quigg, while politely ignoring the fact that several big name opponents await him only 4 pounds above at featherweight.

What Could Stop It?

Fan disinterest. Or either guy being unwilling to meet go up (in Rigo’s case) or down (Santa Cruz) a few pounds. Or promotional bullshit. Is Rigo still with Top Rank? I should know this, but I don’t care. I’d like for this fight to happen, but at the same time it’s hard to feel bad for Rigo, who at 34 years old ought to forget all these guys at 122 and move up to 126 where he can make some money before he’s too old to compete.

  1. Roman Gonzalez vs Juan Francisco Estrada II

Check out their first fight on youtube, it’s well worth your time.

Why?

Did you see their first fight? If not, go to youtube and watch it, it’s well worth your time (especially if you can watch it at work and you get paid by the hour). Gonzalez is easily one of the 3 best fighters in the world, and Estrada gave him his toughest test and is still the top rated flyweight. This simply has to happen.

What Would Happen?

As eager as I am to see this again, I actually think Gonzalez would win by a wider margin, or might even stop Estrada. Gonzalez is a special fighter and he just seems to keep getting better, which is a weird thing to say about a guy with 43 professional fights.

What Can Stop It?
Nothing. Gonzalez doesn’t seem to be particular about his match making, it’s hard to imagine him not wanting to defend his title against the top contender. And of course Estrada wants another crack at the title.

  1. Roman Gonzalez vs Naoye Inoue

Naoye Inoue is no joke.

Why?

They are the two best little guys in the world. Gonzalez is one of the best fighters in the world, period, and Inoue might be as well, but it’s too early to tell. At 8-0 with 7 KOs, Inoue is running neck-and-neck with Lomachenko for the titlist with the fewest pro fights. Inoue won the light flyweight title in only his 6th pro bout, and at 22 years old looks capable of reigning for a long time at 115 lbs after committing elder abuse against the 39 year-old former junior bantamweight champ, Omar Narvaez. Both Gonzalez and Inoue are heavy punchers with aggressive but crafty styles. This might end up being the best fight on the list.

What Would Happen?

I have to lean toward Gonzalez in this one, but it’s not a fight I’d bet money on (though I’d pay a good deal to see it).

What Can Stop It?

Gonzalez has no shortage of viable opponents at flyweight, so this might not happen within the next 12 months, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see it before the end of 2016.

How Many Of These Fights Will We Actually See Before Summer 2016?

Hopefully we’ll get half of them, maybe more. The only ones I definitely don’t see happening are Brook-Khan, and Garcia-Matthysse 2. We might never see Frampton-Quigg, or Rigondeaux-Santa Cruz, or Kovalev-Stevenson, and I’ll be surprised if we don’t have to wait more than 12 months for Golovkin-Alvarez. That leaves us with 10 of these fights that have a decent chance of happening before summer 2016, but this is boxing, you have to figure injuries, unexpected losses in the interim, or other kinds of weirdness will delay or prevent two or three of these fights from happening, so fans will be lucky to get half of them. If that sounds overly pessimistic, keep in mind that it’s extremely unlikely we’ll have to wait five years or pay $100 for any of these fights, and that in itself is good for the sport.

 

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