There will be no feeling out process this month. The year 2017 is coming out swinging.
January is offering a spectacular slate of fights, set to air online and on cable and network TV alike. Outlets like Showtime and HBO, especially, are putting their best foot forward, offering championship bouts up and down multiple cards.
So get ready for a great year. To start, here are the top 5 bouts you can’t miss in January.
5. Dejan Zlaticanin vs. Mikey Garcia
It is hard to tell what to expect when boxing star Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KO) challenges WBC lightweight champion Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0, 15 KO) on Jan. 28 as part of a stacked Showtime bill.
Garcia is only 29 but was out of the fight game for two years before returning last year to squash Elio Rojas. From 2013 until his recent hiatus, Garcia established himself atop both the featherweight and junior lightweight classes. That pristine counterpunching of his, honed under the guidance of his older brother, the renowned Robert Garcia, made him a true pound-for-pound talent. But now he has a brute of a lightweight across from him in Zlaticanin.
The man out of Montenegro is undefeated and world champion after running over Franklin Mamani in three rounds this past June. Wins over Petr Petrov, Ricky Burns and Ivan Redkach help make him the No. 2 lightweight in the world, according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Garcia remains the much bigger name going in—a cable TV staple since he was a prospect—but his opponent has to be considered at least a slight favorite, given the defending champion’s size. Zlaticanin is a real 135 pounder and then some. Garcia’s only venture above 130 pounds was his last fight against, all things considered, a blown up featherweight.
But if anybody has the chops to overcome the odds, it’s Garcia.
4. Takashi Miura vs. Miguel Roman
A shot at the WBC super featherweight title is on the line for Takashi Miura (30-3-2, 23 KO) and Miguel “Mickey” Roman (56-11, 43 KO) on Jan. 28. And these are two bangers sure to spill blood over the opportunity.
Miura was once the WBC champ himself before his rumble with Francisco Vargas that secured most Fight of the Year nods. He’s fought once since, knocking out the unheralded Jimmy Borbon in under three minutes. The Japanese can crack. In addition to flooring Vargas, Miura decked the then-premier junior lightweight Takashi Uchiyama in a 2011 world title bid, and holds a stoppage over Mexico’s Dante Jardon, whose chin is second to none.
Mickey Roman, 31 and a veteran of nearly 70 fights, defeated Jardon too back in 2012. He dropped the rematch to his countryman but has since strung together 18 consecutive victories, knocking out former champs Daniel Ponce de Leon and Juan Carlos Salgado along the way. The highlight of Roman’s resurgence, however, just might be the brawl he had with Julie Giner in April 2016—violence untelevised and unadulterated. Eventually a Round 8 TKO for the Mexican, it was one of the most brutal scraps of the past year.
Everything suggests this bout here will be an early Fight of the Year candidate.
3. Francisco Vargas vs. Miguel Berchelt
After back-to-back Fight of the Year-worthy tussles, Francisco Vargas (23-0-2, 17 KO) is in for another violent outing as he defends his WBC crown against countryman and former titleholder Miguel Berchelt (30-1, 27 KO) on Jan. 28, live on HBO.
Vargas blends wonderfully between brawler extraordinaire and his Olympic boxing pedigree. The WBC champion is the No. 1 super featherweight on the planet, per TBRB, after out-slugging Miura to a Round 9 TKO and drawing with Orlando Salido. He is undefeated since turning professional in 2010 and also sports a win over former titlist Juan Manuel Lopez.
Vargas is the real deal but, while young, Berchelt is a fellow gunslinger capable of the pushing the older man to his limit.
The 25-year-old Mexican challenger is a crude puncher, and an extremely heavy one—stopping 27 men in 30 fights. He finally has a shot at glory after a short stint as interim WBO beltholder in 2016 where he watched an injury force Roman Martinez out of their scheduled matchup.
Mexican melee on deck.
2. James DeGale vs. Badou Jack
Showtime Championship Boxing is kicking the year off right on Jan. 14, showcasing a unification match between 168-pound beltholders James DeGale (23-1, 14 KO) and Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KO).
In 2015, DeGale became the first British Olympic gold medalist to earn a world title and two defenses of his IBF crown followed, including one over standout former champion Lucian Bute. That win along with a masterclass over ranked super middleweight Brandon Gonzales in 2014 help confirm DeGale as the crème de la crème of the class.
Jack happens to be a former Olympian himself and also picked up championship gold in 2015. Never the multifaceted southpaw DeGale is, “Jack The Ripper’s” fundamentally-sound attack and grit were enough to sign with Mayweather Promotions. He’s turned away the notable George Groves in defense of his WBC belt and fought Bute to a majority draw last year.
With the helm of the division at stake, the winner here makes for a proper successor to the throne left empty by departures from Carl Froch and Andre Ward.
1. Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz II
Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KO) and Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KO) are running it back on Jan. 28, this time Showtime is in charge of the broadcast.
Frampton’s tightly-contested points win over Santa Cruz was one half of what most publications are calling a Fighter of the Year
campaign. 2016 also saw him defeat bloodrival Scott Quigg in Manchester. Rangy punchers were supposed to be Frampton’s foil after Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. felled him twice. But “The Jackal” wrote a script all his own, becoming a two-divisional champion and entering the sport’s pound-for-pound pantheon.
Santa Cruz is familiar with the weight-class ladder too. He has lifted belts in three separate divisions. The loss to Frampton was the first of his career. After giving up an early lead, the Mexican-American stormed back behind the same insane two-fisted output that has turned away so many, such as one Abner Mares in 2015.
After so many years of crushing cans for Al Haymon, Santa Cruz is finally keen on taking on top opposition. And they don’t get much better than Frampton.
Fights don’t get much better than this one.
Header photo: Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing
Zlaticanin photo: David. A Smith/Getty Images
Vargas photo: Josh Hedges
Frampton photo: Esther Lin