If there ever was a boxing season, these summer months would be as close as it comes. Capped off by none other than Cinco de Mayo’s new resident star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who heads into Las Vegas this weekend.
The month could very well remembered for its many rematches. Miguel Berchelt and Wanheng Menayothin, the two being WBC champions, are recycling challengers that they turned away in 2017. A return match with less “marination” is Emmanuel Navarrete and Isaac Dogboe. Often an upset like their first go lends itself to an immediate rematch. And that’s just what the two are doing.
All told, the fights below feature a give and take of high-level standing and imminent violence. In other words, a fight can be considered can’t-miss stuff based on talent—say, two world-ranked fighters, even if their styles aren’t as revered—or guaranteed action much like the Mike Perez and Illunga Makabu slobberknocker that just fell through last week.
These are the top 15 fights to watch in May.
The 21-year-old hopeful Vergil Ortiz (12-0, 12 KO) is wading into deep waters against Mauricio Herrera (24-8, 7 KO) on May 4. Golden Boy Promotions can’t afford anymore bumps from the few star pupils they have after Jaime Munguia’s hiccup last month. Herrera has long been the 140-pound spoiler of his time so boxing fandom is eager to see if Ortiz sinks or swims.
Jeyvier Cintron (10-0, 5 KO) is a two-time Olympian with every punch in the book. Set for ESPN on May 25, he has the stiffest test of his career against a blistering fighter in Koki Eto of Tokyo. The 31-year-old Japanese is amid his second hunt for a world title, riding a seven fight win streak, and ranked by all four major sanctioning bodies.
15. Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13 KO) vs. Jamel Herring (19-2, 10 KO)
Date: May 25
More surprising about Ito’s upset victory over Christopher Diaz last year than the odds he overcame (+350) was the way he did it, overpowering Top Rank’s surging prospect. Continuing his power display, Ito followed up that title-winning performance with a successful homecoming last December in the form of a seventh-round TKO over previously undefeated Evgeny Chuprakov. Now the super featherweight champion is back in the United States for his second title defense, taking on 2012 Olympian Jamel Herring who dropped from lightweight down to 130 pounds in 2018 to win three straight fights.
14. Can Xu (16-2, 2 KO) vs. Shun Kubo (13-1, 9 KO)
Date: May 26
Xu became boxing’s newest parvenue when he traveled to the Houston, Texas to upset Jesus Rojas for the WBA featherweight title. Never the cracking puncher, the Chinese champion has an engine not many can match and now a belt to protect as he makes a hero’s return to China at the end of the month against former champion Kubo. The opposing southpaw lost his title to Danny Roman one fight prior to his rough affair with Hiroshige Osawa that earned him a world title shot in his second division.
13. Michal Cieslak (18-0, 12 KO) vs. Olanrewaju Durodola (29-6, 27 KO)
Date: May 31
Cieslak is one bruising Polish fighter. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be ranked in every one of the major body’s Top 10 after stomping the warring Youri Kalenga—or more accurately, making Kalenga quit. Durodola doesn’t have any quit in him and the monstrous hitting power to boot. He’s punched in two knockout victories since an uncommonly dismal affair with Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. Both cruisers have something to prove and will let the power in their fists make that point.
12. Felix Alvarado (34-2, 30 KO) vs. Reiya Konishi (17-1, 7 KO)
Date: May 19
Alvarado could be the hardest hitter at 108 pounds. After another failed title shot in 2014, the Nivaraguan stopped 15 of his next 16 opponents. The year 2018 was all the same, pounding out Randy Petalcorin in seven rounds, finally lifting championship gold. A stoppage of Konishi would be an especially impressive feat considering the Japanese has never come unstuck, even after taking everything another intimidating puncher, Carlos Canizales had for him over the 12-round championship distance
11. Wanheng Menayothin (52-0, 18 KO) vs. Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6-6, 7 KO) II
Date: May 31
What an odd saga this fight has underwent, postponed no less than two times—first penciled in for March, then April and finally tentatively scheduled for the final day of May. Wanheng is the strawweight division’s head-to-head monster: a powerfully-built, counterpuncher. His resume leaves a lot to be desired with Fukuhara representing his best notch since the Thai’s title reign began. He hardly separated himself from the Japanese over 12 rounds in 2017. In addition to squeezing by Melvin Jersusalem, Wanheng had himself a tough year overall.
10. Miguel Berchelt (35-1, 31 KO) vs. Francisco Vargas (25-1-2, 18 KO) II
Date: May 11
When these two tangled in January 2017 there was fewer better fights to look forward to. But that was two years ago. Berchelt last bashed Mickey Roman in nine rounds to remain undefeated, capping off a 3-0 run in 2018. Vargas has competed just twice since being dinged up by his younger counterpart. Though he did gain partisan appeal for beating down Rod Salka, who was clad in President Trump-inspired trunks.
9. Moruti Mthlane (37-2, 25 KO) vs. Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16 KO)
Date: May 13
Despite a topsy-turvy career polluted by boxing politics, Mthlane is for now back near the top of the flyweight heap. Ranked No. 3 in the world, and with a shiny IBF belt in tow, the 36-year-old South African staved off Muhammad Waseem last time out, winning on points in a classicist’s dream come true. He followed that up with a punishing performance over Masahiro Sakamoto, swelling his challenger’s eyes shut en route to a corner stoppage ahead of Round 11. Kuroda will have his sights on avenging his countryman. Unlikely to outfox a master-boxer like Mthlane, this two-divisional Japanese champion never lets off the pedal and, on a six-fight win streak, is world ranked by TBRB.
8. Jarret Hurd (23-0, 16 KO) vs. Julian Williams (26-1-1, 16 KO)
Date: May 11
A speciman squeezing himself down to junior middleweight, Hurd is ranked No. 1 in the world by TBRB. He’s held onto the IBF belt for over two years now, defending it three times. After a back-and-forth contest with Erislandy Lara, the Maryland kid had an easier time last December pounding away at British champion Jason Welborn for a fourth-round knockout. Williams, world-rated at No. 7, should put up more of a fight. “J-Rock” came up short on his last title match. But he’s strung together four straight wins, outdueling Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore before five months ago on Showtime smashing Francisco Castro in two rounds.
7. Emmanuel Navarrete (26-1, 22 KO) vs. Isaac Dogboe (20-1, 14 KO) II
Date: May 11
If two fighters must square off again, at least it’s the two heaviest hitters in the class—not to mention two of the Top 5 super bantamweights on the planet. Last December, Navarrete extended his 21-fight winning streak against Dogboe, overcoming +500 dog odds, for the WBO strap. The Mexican ballista, enjoying a five-inch height advantage, was too big and too powerful, mashing right hands into the former champ before spinning wide left hooks into him. Even if Dogboe, 24, was outmatched in their first encounter, he’s used to facing larger men: turning his stout frame in his favor, keen on getting close and hammering his opponents from the inside-out.
6. Josh Taylor (14-0, 12 KO) vs. Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12 KO)
Date: May 18
Now without a few detours along the way, namely Baranchyk pulling out of the tourney before coming to terms, the WBSS semifinals are underway. Taylor looks like he’s on a collision course with WBC champion Regis Prograis. Undefeated in 14 fights after an Olympic bid and a first-place finish in the Commonwealth Games, he has more than proved his game is suited for the paid ranks. TBRB considers Baranchyk Top 10 in the world after a fearsome power display in 2018, abusing Anthony Yigit’s eye and dribbling Petr Petrov all over the canvas, scoring three knockdowns, en route to an eighth-round stoppage.
5. Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KO) vs. Radivoje Kalajdzic (24-1, 17 KO)
Date: May 4
Beterbiev may be Top 5 in the light heavyweight division, but he’s also among an excellent quartet of 175-pound belt holders. It’s going to take a huge win to separate this colossal hitter from the bunch. Kalajdic gives the IBF champ just that opportunity. Nicknamed “Hot Rod,” the challenger is a sharp shooter, who pierces his opponents with long, elongated straight rights and lefts. Thirteen first-round knockouts to his name the Florida transplant is 3-0 since an unpopular split-decision to WBA champion Marcus Browne.
4. Carlos Canizales (21-0-1, 17 KO) vs. Sho Kimura (18-2-2, 11 KO)
Date: May 26
Canizales, the world’s No. 4-ranked light flyweight, had a peculiar challenge in his previous defense of his WBA crown fighting Bin Lu, an amateur superstar whose BoxRec only showed one professional contest. Still the cutthroat Venezuelan hacked through Lu, breaking him down in the final frame for a TKO victory. It was Canizales’ first title defense. He picked up the strap in 2018 over Reiya Konishi, traveling to the latter’s backyard, marking his second start in Japan. Before that Canizales fought Ryoichi Taguchi to a disputed draw.
Still hungry for glory, Kimura moved down to 108 pounds after coming up just short against flyweight ruler Kosei Tanaka, in arguably the Fight of the Year. He got back on track at the end of March, crushing Pigmy Kokietgym in three rounds. Demonstrating the same two-fisted attack by which he drowned former champions Zou Shiming and Toshiyuki Igarashi. The elder in this one by four years, the 30-year-old Kimura is a human gatling gun, with a violent streak matched only by somebody like Canizales.
3. Oleksandr Usyk (16-0, 12 KO) vs. Carlos Takam (36-5-1, 28 KO)
Date: May 25
After a longstanding helm atop the cruiserweight class, Usyk is invading boxing’s maximum division. The Ukrainian maven isn’t a total stranger tackling the world’s foremost giants. Usyk followed up his successful Olympic run by entering the World Series of Boxing (not to be confused with the WBSS). Above 200 pounds, he outfought Olympian Joe Joyce as well as world amateur champion Magomedrasul Majidov. Usyk also technically holds a win over Michael Hunter, in cruiserweight fighting trim, before the American went 4-0 as a heavyweight in 2018. At 32, Usyk isn’t ancient but pushing his mid-30s after almost 400 bouts between the pros and in the singlet, no longer cutting weight seems like just what the doctor ordered.
Takam has for a while stood as the weight class’ barometer. He brought attention to Joseph Parker’s gas tank when he took on the Kiwi in 2016. A year later, a championship matchup with Anthony Joshua was awaiting him. In 2018, the Cameroonian-French diesel truck paired up with Dereck Chisora for a classic heavyweight slobberknocker. Now traveling to America for the first time, Takam isn’t letting his 39 years slow him down. He did after all recently blow away in seven rounds Senad Gashi—who this month extended Chisora the distance.
2. Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15 KO) vs. Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KO)
Date: May 18
Few little-weight boxers are as celebrated as much as Inoue. Just 26, the shadow of his body of work spans three weight divisions. And he only seems to be carrying more power the higher in weight he climbs. A first-round knockout of bantamweight exemplar Jamie McDonnell can attest to as much. In fact, the gifted Japanese outdid himself in his sophomore 118-pound contest as he stretched out Juan Carlos Payano with a one-two combo in 70 seconds. In all, Inoue has experienced a whole five minutes of ring time over the last 16 months, encompassing three fights.
Rodriguez, 26, began his ascent up the divisional hierarchy last year. The No. 6 fighter in the class for scoring decision victories over Paul Butler and Jason Moloney in the quarterfinals, the Puerto Rican was walking away with the fight in his last outing until Moloney found a second wind in the latter stages. He is a sharp boxer-puncher, a game refined by over 170 amateur wins. Both he and Inoue compete for a finale matchup with Nonito Donaire, which would bank either man the perfect stepping stone to mainstream success—and the riches that come with it.
1. Canelo Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KO) vs. Daniel Jacobs (35-2, 29 KO)
Date: May 4
Canelo’s mega-million deal with DAZN all but made him the king of boxing. His last fight was a pitstop at super middleweight, knocking out Rocky Fielding, for the Mexican cash cow’s third divisional championship. Now leveling back out at middleweight-proper, the 28-year-old Canelo is putting up his 160-pound WBA and WBC belts against Jacobs. The two share a common opponent in middleweight destroyer Gennady Golovkin. It took Canelo two tries to take one off Golovkin. Jacobs wasn’t so lucky.
Jacobs, 32, lost on points to Golovkin in 2017. But the American has remained focused and won his next three fights—all against undefeated foes. He beat standouts Maciej Sulecki and Sergiy Derevyanchenko. Against Canelo, Jacob’s IBF strap is on the line while he hopes to reclaim the WBA strap he once held and defended four times. This is yet another blockbuster put on by the streaming service, a week after the Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai rematch, making DAZN the provider of the month’s best fight for the second month in a row.
Cieslak photo: Norbert Barczyk/Pressfocus
Hurd photo: Ryan Hafey/PBC
Inoue photo: WBSS