2016 has been a banner year thus far for the fledgling sport of boxing. There are some exciting new talented fighters making noise and it is getting more air time once again.
Boxing has returned to network television after CBS joined NBC this year, airing its first prime time boxing event in 38 years.
The sport got a jolt as champion Keith Thurman successfully defended his WBA Welterweight title by unanimous decision over fellow elite 147-pounder Shawn Porter in an exciting battle that saw plenty of sustained action and shifts in momentum throughout the match.
If the networks continue to air championship title fights featuring some of boxing’s higher profile young, up-and-coming talent with crowd-pleasing fighting styles and colorful personalities, viewership should grow and spark fan interest again.
Great Britain’s Tyson Fury shook up the boxing world last fall by annexing the heavyweight title from long reigning champion, Wladimir Klitchscko of Ukraine.
The flamboyant Englishman is certainly a colorful personality and we no longer have a linear, unified Heavyweight champion. Fury’s cautious, voluminous punching style, however, was never a crowd pleaser.
And the quest for sole supremacy in the division is now divided amongst talented, hard-punching titlists in IBF champion Anthony Joshua of Great Britain, the aforementioned WBC titlist Wilder of the United States and Cuban sensation, WBA “interim” champion Luis Ortiz is looming on the horizon for them in a possible unification battle that fans can be excited about.
Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr. will soon fight for the vacant WBO title in a battle of unbeaten contenders as well.
My feeling is that boxing ratings will get a huge boost if Joshua and Ortiz, chief among others, receive some of the same air time on the major networks as Wilder has, even if it is a rebroadcast, originally on HBO or Showtime.
Neither are household names and, therefore, not pay-per-view attractions yet but they have plenty of upside so the timing to reach a larger audience–chiefly those that do not enjoy subscriptions to the premium cable giants–is now.
Klitschko is still very much in the title picture to many fans’ dismay and Fury, I predict, will return in an attempt to reclaim his titles within the next couple of years. Until then, Fury will remain the undefeated, lineal Heavyweight champion.
The heavyweight division, in fact, is as deep in talent as it has been in nearly two decades. The four major sanctioning bodies are not as opposed to working towards a title unification as they were prior to the 2000’s and an inevitable clash of these powerful heavyweights will not only re-unify the titles again, but bring much excitement back to the sports’ once glamour division for at least the next couple of years.
Boxing, I believe, is always in a good state when the heavyweight division is strong, has one solidified champion and loaded with recognizable, exciting talent.
Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward will clash on November 19 in a much anticipated matchup to not only determine the top light heavyweight in the world but, arguably, the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
It will be a classic clash of styles between a Russian boxer-puncher in Kovelev and a supremely gifted stylist and defensive wizard in the American, Ward. Both have dominated their respective divisions (Ward moving up from Super Middleweight after cleaning out the competition in his weight class) the last few years, are undefeated and have been among boxing’s elite fighters for nearly as long.
Desperate for a challenge, they need each other as much as boxing needs this fight. A potential legacy match with everything on the line.
Gennady Golovkin–the sport’s most explosive offensive juggernaut and longest reigning champion–is hoping to fight WBA “regular” champion Daniel Jacobs in 2017. The Kazakh boxer has been on a seek-and-destroy mission to capture all the alphabet titles and clean up the middleweight division, but that one super fight with one of the game’s best continues to elude him.
GGG has already made more successful title defenses than any fighter not named Bernard Hopkins at 17 (only trailing Hopkins’ record 20) and also holds the highest knockout percentage–currently at 91.8 percent–in middleweight championship history. Golovkin made his first considerable step-up in class when he overwhelmed Kell Brook–the No. 1 welterweight in the world–in five brutal rounds.
Many felt Golovkin showed some real weaknesses in the fight, including the propensity to get hit cleanly often and particular vulnerability against a guy that can move. GGG hopes, in fact, this might encourage some of the game’s stars to step up and fight him now. He should get his wish next year, granted he takes care of Jacobs, when he looks to capture the WBO strap away from Billy Joe Saunders and, at last, that blockbuster match against Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez by the fall of 2017.
Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko may be the sport’s most electrifying new star–with uncanny timing, slick movement and exceptional hand speed–he has turned many heads and, with more exposure, will generate a lot more attention from fans starving to see more potential superstars.
Lomachenko certainly has the pedigree. Widely considered one of the greatest amateur boxers in history and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, he has made a meteoric rise through the professional ranks. “Hi-Tech” demanded and fought for a world title in only his second pro fight, losing by split decision to Orlando Salido for the WBO Featherweight title in 2014.
He did go on to capture the title in his very next bout, a majority decision win over Gary Russell Jr. (currently the WBC titlist) for the same WBO strap. In only seven professional fights, Lomachenko has already won two world titles in as many weight classes. A November 26, 2016 match against the talented, unbeaten Nicholas Walters could prove to be his most stern test as a pro.
Should he beat Walters, another jump in weight to the lightweight division seems inevitable. Hopefully, the supremely gifted and confident Lomachenko will have the opportunity to showcase his considerable talents in front of a wider audience. His quick transition into the pro ranks has been nearly seamless and his potential appears sky high.
WBC and WBO Light Welterweight champion Terence Crawford of the United States is unbeaten in 29 fights, a two division world champion and on the cusp of greatness. Having already dominated the likes of Yuriokis Gamboa and Viktor Postol, Crawford’s steady ascension towards boxing’s elite status has had no real hiccups and many foresee him soon challenging for one of the world title belts in the talent-enriched welterweight division against the likes of Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and possibly newly-crowned WBO champion Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s reported retirement earlier this year after his impressive rubber match victory over Timothy Bradley last April was obviously very short-lived, just seven months. The Pac Man–an international superstar and still one of its best pound-for-pound fighters–believes he has plenty left in the tank, but no one seems to care.
If a lucrative rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. never materializes, look for Pacquiao himself to be matched with the likes of Thurman, Garcia and Crawford as long as they all keeping winning. Even names like Canelo Alvarez and Golovkin are getting thrown around.
Any of these possible scenarios would make for a much more exciting option compared to Mayweather-Pacquiao II. Better still, the likelihood of making any of these matchups happen is far greater and fans would not have to “shell-out” a whopping $100 to watch them on pay-per-view.
Of course, as mentioned previously, the one fight everyone is demanding to see is a fight between Golvokin and Alvarez by the midpoint of next year. It is the biggest match that could be made right now. Golvokin, at the age of 35, may have already peaked, but Alvarez is only 26 and is probably closer to his prime.
Does the strong and powerful Alvarez have enough versatility and speed, like he showed when he beat the lineal Middleweight champion Miguel Cotto for the crown in 2015 against the naturally bigger and stronger Golvokin? Unlike the Mayweather-Pacquiao disaster, these powerful Middleweight fighters both employ an explosive, aggressive style and the fight is sure to live up to expectations.
Lastly, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez–Ring Magazine’s No. 1 pound-for-pound best fighter–has quietly rode his ticket into the International Boxing Hall of Fame already. Currently the WBC Super Flyweight champion, Gonzalez has captured four world titles in as many weight classes, having surpassed his mentor and idol, three division world champion Alexis Arguello.
In his prime at the age of 29, he is fast, punches hard and aggressive, versatile and difficult to hit with a clean shot. The game’s most complete fighter and its best for the last three years, Chocolatito is a treasure to watch and fans deserve to see him fight in front of a wider audience like on the same card of a major pay-per-view event. Hopefully, this will happen in 2017 as Gonzalez looks to improve on an already impressive resume against all viable and willing challengers.
Five of those currently residing on the sport’s pound-for-pound list rank very favorably among some of the best boxers in history and are certain future hall of famers including Gonzalez, Golovkin, Ward, Kovalev and Alvarez.
Boxing legends still active include Klitschko, Pacquiao and Cotto. There is also a good mix of exciting new talent like Crawford, Joshua, Wilder and Lomachenko.
If the Golovkin-Alvarez fight happens in 2017, as I predict, and boxing’s current stars get wider exposure that they are deserving of, the sport will see a renaissance. For the first time in years, perhaps even decades, the state of the game looks promising.
All graphics by Liam Brady/Round By Round Boxing