Artur Beterbiev


A brand new calendar year is here boxing junkies and as I sit back and ponder the current state of boxing, one word keeps ringing in my head for 2022…and that’s LEGACY.

A brand new calendar year is here boxing junkies and as I sit back and ponder the current state of boxing, one word keeps ringing in my head for 2022…and that’s LEGACY.

That’s right, the dreaded “L” word that some like to boldly embrace, while others want to distance themselves from it.

When it comes to assessing the best boxers in the world today, there are things that they each can do “legacy-wise” to increase their standing in the sport and throughout history.

We’ll be examining 13 current, established, top-tier fighters who are: 

  1. Amongst the best pound-for-pound fighters in the boxing game 
  2. Are somewhere in the middle or near the end of their careers
  3. Likely heading or are on track to entering the Hall of Fame someday

The 13 fighters are Canelo Alvarez, Naoya Inoue, Errol Spence, Jr.,Tyson Fury, Terence Crawford, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Josh Taylor, Oleksandr Uysk, Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, Artur Beterbiev, Gennadiy Golovkin and Nonito Donaire. 

This list does not include young fighters still making their mark like David Benavidez, Shakur Stevenson, Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, Vergil Ortiz, Jaron Ennis, etc.

I’m zeroing in on what each fighter needs to do or can do to add to their legacy in the remaining time of their career, in terms of accomplishments, titles won or elite opponents they could face and beat before they hang their gloves up for good.

Let’s get into it.

Fighter: Naoya Inoue

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Nonito Donaire

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: Rematch with Nonito Donaire and fight with John Riel Casimero both at 118

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Bantamweight champion and win a title at Super Bantamweight to become a four-division champion

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: Moving up to Super Bantamweight to face unified champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev

Naoya Inoue, the WBA and IBF Bantamweight champion, is widely viewed as one of the five best pound-for-pound fighters in the business–he’s currently No. 3 on my personal list–and possesses one of the most complete arsenals in terms of ability of any fighter today.

However, after winning the World Boxing Super Series tournament in 2019 and making a title defense against top contender Jason Maloney in 2020, the momentum he once had has waned a little. Inoue (21-0, 18 KOs) had two strong performances in 2021 against overmatched opponents, but now the Japanese sensation is in dire need of a big fight to remind everyone just how terrific he is.

That signature fight at Bantamweight is obviously a rematch with WBC champion Nonito Donaire. Their 2019 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year in the World Boxing Super Series final was one to remember and showed Inoue’s resolve in being able to pullout a victory in a difficult fight.

They are the two best fighters in the division. It’s a proper unification fight with three belts on the line. They’ve both expressed they want the fight next. There’s no real obstacle getting in the way of putting it together in the first half of 2022.

Given what he’s done so far in his career, a second win over the future Hall of Famer and red-hot Donaire will bring Inoue a step closer to putting himself in the all-time conversation as one of the best fighters ever 118 pounds and below, plus he’ll have three of the four major belts. Out of all the big fights the boxing public is craving for in 2022, Inoue-Donaire 2 is at the top of the list for me. We need to see it.

A fight with WBO champion John Riel Casimero would be big too. They were scheduled to get it on in April 2020 before it was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now would be a better time than ever to set it up. It’s another unification fight where Inoue could pick up three of the four belts at 118, that would put him within reach of becoming undisputed Bantamweight champion. It’s totally doable for Inoue and with that feat, he creeps up higher on the list of the best Bantamweight fighters ever.  

A move to 122 has always been something Inoue has said he would likely make. A chance to be a four-division champion is of appeal and rare throughout history. The three-division champion’s most likely path to winning a title at Super Bantamweight is through unified champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who is seen as the top guy at 122.

Why Akhmadaliev, instead of the other unified champion in the division Stephen Fulton?

Because it would be easier to make the fight due to promotional ties. Akhmadaliev is with DAZN, while Inoue is with Top Rank/ESPN, and both have worked together in the past and are willing to do business together. Can’t say the same with PBC, who Fulton is promoted by and mainly like to make big fights with their fighters who are in-house.

A Inoue-Akhmadaliev fight (if MJ still has the belts) is probably more likely in 2023 but ruling the 122 division is certainly in Inoue’s future sights.

Fighter: Nonito Donaire

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Naoya Inoue

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: Rematch with Naoya Inoue and fight with John Riel Casimero both at 118

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Bantamweight champion and drop down to capture a title at 115 to become a five-division champion

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: Move down to Junior Bantamweight to face the winner of Roman Gonzalez-Juan Francisco Estrada

The great Nonito Donaire (42-6, 28 KOs) is in the middle of a career resurgence and at the age of 39, some believe he looks better than ever. Already a Hall of Fame lock entering 2021, Donaire had one fine year taking the WBC Bantamweight belt from Nordine Oubaali and defending it against Filipino countryman Reymart Gaballo. Right now, Donaire looks sharp, motivated and fully zoned in, and he is eager to unify the other titles at 118.

You know exactly where I’m going next. That’s right, Donaire-Inoue 2. It’s one of the best fights in the sport to make. Donaire is 39 and doesn’t have much time to waste. It’s for three belts. The first fight was superb and the second fight might be even better, especially given the form both fighters are in.

Think about it from this point of view. Donaire is already considered one of the 10-15 best fighters ever 122 pounds and below by most boxing minds with a firm understanding of the sport’s history, in a group with Wilfredo Gomez, Eder Jofre, Carlos Zarate, Ruben Olivares, Jimmy Wilde, Ricardo Lopez, Roman Gonzalez and more.

If a 39-year-old Donaire defeats a prime, pound-for-pound fighter like Inoue and becomes a unified three-belt Bantamweight champion, how many spots does he actually climb? It would be, in my opinion, the best win of his career.

Even a fight with WBO champ and fellow Filipino John Riel Casimero would be welcomed. They were scheduled to fight last summer, but Donaire called the fight off because of claims that Casimero’s team insulted his wife and manager, Rachel Donaire. There’s some bad blood there and a Donaire victory over a younger champion would be another feather in his cap for his career.

Being undisputed at 118 is there for Donaire to achieve and if he does (same for Inoue too), he would be the first fighter in the four-belt era to be undisputed in a division below 140 pounds. 

On the other hand, which was to my surprise when I first heard it, in the post-fight press conference after beating Gaballo in December, Donaire talked about the possibility of moving down to Junior Bantamweight for a big fight if he couldn’t unify within the division.

Then, I got the thinking…that’s right, Donaire is a four-division champion but he never won a major belt at 115 (he’s won titles at 112, 118, 122, 126) and as the WBC champion, I could totally see the WBC giving him the approval to move down where he’ll have an immediate title shot to face the WBC Junior Bantamweight champion, which was Juan Francisco Estrada, but the WBC ordered a four-fighter tournament last March to determine a winner.

I know, total confusion, but the point is, Donaire could–probably unlikely–face the winner of Estrada-Roman Gonzalez III bout, which is scheduled to take place on March 5. If Donaire beats one of those great fighters and wins a title at 115, that would make him a five-division champion (only five fighters in the history of the sport have ever done that) and you would have to consider him a Top 50 all-time fighter, right?

Crazy enough, there’s still more work for the Filipino Flash to do.

Fighter: Roman Gonzalez

Signature Fight He Needs: A third fight vs. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai at 115

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: A third fight vs. Juan Francisco Estrada at 115

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become a three-time champion at Junior Bantamweight

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A fight with four-division champion and current WBO Junior Bantamweight champion Kazuto Ioka

As I mentioned above, if Nonito Donaire is one of the best fighters 122 pounds and below, and Naoya Inoue is soon to become one of the best fighters 118 pounds and below, then Roman Gonzalez is certainly already one of the 10 best fighters ever 115 pounds and below.

Last year, Ring Magazine conducted a top five ranking for all 17 divisions in boxing history and Gonzalez (50-3, 41 KOs) was voted in the top five in both the Junior Flyweight and Strawweight divisions, while also being honorable mention in the Flyweight division. So yeah, the four-division champion is one of the finest little man fighters to lace em’ up and probably an all-time great right now. So, what more does he need to accomplish in his career?

Well, for the former pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter, it’s defeating the cream of the crop in the always enthralling and drama-filled Junior Bantamweight division (better known as “Super Flyweight”). There won’t be any moving up in weight for the 34-year-old Gonzalez given that he’s reached his limit at 115 pounds.

There’s the third fight with Juan Francisco Estrada that everyone is yearning to see, after they put on a Fight of the Year worthy unification bout last year, where Estrada came out the victor. He’s now 1-1 versus Estrada (Gonzalez won the first fight at Junior Flyweight), with the third and likely final fight expected to take place this year. What if Estrada wins again and Gonzalez ends the trilogy with a 1-2 head-to-head record against one of his biggest rivals? Would we think of him differently historically if another great fighter in his era got the better of him? It’s possible. I think it’s important for Gonzalez to win that third fight with Estrada.

As great as Gonzalez was and still is, he’s shown vulnerability at 115, where all three of his losses have come (he’s undefeated from divisions 105-112). That has mainly been due to how physically bigger and stronger the fighters are at the weight, whereas Gonzalez is not the sturdiest of fighters for the division, and it’s shown against the much larger and well-built Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.

Sor Rungvisai, a two-time Super Flyweight champion, has a 2-0 record against Gonzalez, where he won a close decision in the first fight and overwhelmed Gonzalez in the second fight, winning by knockout. If Gonzalez defeats Estrada and Sor Rungvisai beats Carlos Cuadras in the 115-pound mini-tournament the WBC ordered, then a third fight is likely. A victory over the bigger Sor Rungvisai would be a mega win for Gonzalez and even though he’ll still have a losing head-to-head record versus the Thai fighter, we’ll remember that he beat one of the best fighters in this top-heavy Super Flyweight generation that has simply had his number. 

A series of fights that hasn’t been brought up at all by boxing fans and critics that I think is tantalizing is undervalued four-division and current Super Flyweight WBO champion Kazuto Ioka going up against any of the top guys in the division like Estrada, Caudras, Sor Rungvisai and Gonzalez. He’s never faced any of them. A Gonzalez-Ioka matchup highly intrigues me. They’re both with DAZN, so it’s workable. If the man they call “Chocolatito” becomes a three-time Super Flyweight champion, it won’t make us think any more fondly of him but that would be some feat as he nears the end of his career. 

Fighter: Juan Francisco Estrada

Signature Fight He Needs: A third fight vs. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai at 115

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: A third fight vs. Roman Gonzalez at 115

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become a three-division champion by moving up and winning a title at Bantamweight

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A fight vs. Naoya Inoue or Nonito Donaire at Bantamweight

Juan Francisco Estrada is currently rated as the No. 1 Junior Bantamweight fighter by most boxing publications and rightfully so, especially after defeating Roman Gonzalez by split decision in their gripping title bout last March to unify the WBC and WBA titles, while also retaining his Ring Magazine belt.

Since then, the WBC has made Estrada the “franchise” WBC champion and is scheduled to clash with Gonzalez for the third time this year, with the winner likely to face whoever comes out on top in the second fight between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Carlos Cuadras.

In my book, Estrada (42-3, 28 KOs) has already done enough to be a Hall of Famer. He’s the only one of the “Four Kings at Super Flyweight” to have a win over the other. He has a combined record of 4-2 against Gonzalez, Caudras and Sor Rungvisai.

That’s why if Estrada is able to defeat Gonzalez in their trilogy fight, then possibly Sor Rungvisai in their third fight, he would finish with a 2-1 head-to-head record against both, also adding to the 2-0 record he presently has over Cuadras, making that a 6-2 record against his biggest contemporaries. If Estrada does that, then he would have to be regarded as the best Super Flyweight of his era over the other three.

I mean, Estrada wouldn’t rank higher than Chocolatito on an all-time list, even if he finished 2-1 against Gonzalez – given what the Nicaraguan has done in his career–but Estrada would have to take the title of “Best 115-pound Fighter of this Era” over him. Legacy-wise, that would be a big-time coup for Estrada.

An accomplishment that I feel is more than manageable for “El Gallo” is a move to Bantamweight where he could win a world title in a third division. Obviously, he needs to take care of business at 115, which will probably keep him occupied in 2022, but a move to 118 could be something he looks at in the future. Estrada is just 31 and doesn’t have too much wear and tear on his body, and if he wants to challenge himself, I believe he’s the likeliest of the four Super Flyweights to make that three pound jump.

What about a fight with Nonito Donaire for his WBC belt in 2023 (if he still has his title), who has said he could go down in weight for the right opportunity, or with Naoya Inoue, who I’m sure would welcome the challenge. I don’t believe boxing politics would get in the way of making these fights. Estrada is with DAZN and they’ve done business before with Top Rank/ESPN, who Inoue is backed by.

Donaire has recently fought on Showtime, but he’s not exclusively tied to Showtime/PBC, as he is signed with Probellum, a new boxing promotional and media company launched by promoter Richard Schaefer last year, who has had a longtime relationship with Donaire. That would put Donaire and his team in a good position to make fights with any promotional company, including DAZN. 

There will be no shortage of key fights and statements to make for Estrada moving forward, as he continues to stake his claim as one of the best small fighters of this era. 

Fighter: Josh Taylor

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Terence Crawford at 147

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: vs. Teofimo Lopez at 140

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become Welterweight champion

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A rematch with Regis Prograis at Junior Welterweight

What Josh Taylor has done in only 18 career pro fights is pretty darn impressive. The 30-year-old from Scotland has already cleaned out an entire division, becoming undisputed at Junior Welterweight, won the 140-pound World Boxing Super Series tournament in 2019 and now firmly sits in the Top 10 on practically every pound-for-pound list.

Yet, as far as Taylor (18-0, 13 KOs) finding the big fights he needs to elevate his career even more and leave no doubt he is a Hall of Famer – if you don’t think he is right now – I have a hard time believing he’ll find those legacy-changing fights at Junior Welterweight. He’s scheduled to make his first defense of his undisputed title versus WBO mandatory Jack Catterall in February, but if he wins, what’s after that?

I ask because, there’s seemingly nothing more he can do at 140 going forward. Top Rank basically controls the 140-pound division and he’s beaten nearly all the top fighters there like Jose Ramirez, Viktor Postol and Ivan Baranchyk. He hasn’t faced Top Rank affiliated and top contenders like Jose Pedraza and Jose Zepeda yet but I’m not convinced they are the type of measuring stick fights Taylor is looking for. They both would be quality fights, just not the ones that can push him up the pound-for-pound list.

A rematch with Jose Ramirez would be nice but if there’s a fight at 140 that would be worth Taylor’s time, I think it’s a rematch with Regis Prograis, who I believe is the second-best fighter in the division. The public might not be calling for it and the New Orleans native hasn’t exactly been as active since their intense scrap in the World Boxing Super Series final in October 2019, but it’s a fight that Taylor would get loads of credit for if he won again. Other than that, the 140 division is more like a “been there, done that” thing for Taylor. 

Some wanna bring up the possibility of former unified Lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez moving up to 140 to fight Taylor and the appeal still might be there, though the luster it once had is gone now. Lopez got upset by George Kambosos, Jr. and given the problems he’s had with Top Rank leading up to the fight, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s burned bridges with his promoter Bob Arum to the point where he won’t get the comfort of favorable matchmaking moving forward. Lopez in no way shape or form is ready for Taylor right now. If Lopez still had the belts at Lightweight, then I could’ve envisioned them getting in the ring maybe in the second half of this year or early 2023. Now, not so much.

A move to Welterweight to face Terence Crawford is the fight Taylor needs. If he beats Catterall and feels like there’s nothing left to prove at 140, then Taylor might push for it. He has said that the fight is on his mind and we all know a jump to 147 is inevitable. If Crawford was still with Top Rank, it’s fairly reasonable it could have been made but with him no longer there, it makes it a little trickier. Still, if Crawford can’t get the fights he wants with the other top Welterweights, don’t be surprised if he signs a one-fight deal with Top Rank to fight Taylor in the spring or summer. A win over Crawford and collecting a Welterweight title would surely do wonders for his budding reputation.

Fighter: Vasiliy Lomachenko

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Devin Haney and George Kambosos Jr. at 135 

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: vs. Gervonta Davis at 135

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Lightweight champion

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: vs. Shakur Stevenson or Oscar Valdez at Lightweight and/or Junior Lightweight

If you decided to rate the best fighters in the world based on pure and raw ability alone, then the top five (in no order) would easily be Canelo Alvarez, Terence Crawford, Naoya Inoue, Oleksandr Uysk and Vasiliy Lomachenko. The 33-year-old southpaw from Ukraine is and has been a delight to watch for years now on the pro scene and continues to bedazzle audiences, just like he did once more against top-10 foe and former 135-pound champion Richard Commey in December.

A shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, the fastest three-division champion in boxing history and former No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter now has his sights on becoming the undisputed champion at Lightweight. So it would make sense that the most significant fights he needs are with WBC champion Devin Haney and IBF, WBO, WBA and The Ring champion George Kambosos, Jr.

In my opinion, Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs) beats both and I could envision him overwhelming each with his incredible talent. If Loma becomes undisputed champion at Lightweight–which would make him a two-time Lightweight champion–where does that put him on the all-time Lightweight list?

He once held three of the four major Lightweight belts as recently as 2020, took the title from a prime Jorge Linares in 2018–the then No. 1 guy at 135–and has defeated a slew of top 5-10 contenders/former champions in the division, so becoming undisputed would have to push him higher on the list. Maybe Top 15-20? Maybe even higher? You tell me. The feat would also do wonders for Loma in reference to if the boxing media sees him as an all-time great fighter. I think he’s right on the cusp.

For the “Fight the Boxing Public Wants” group, the fight fans have had their eyes on was the rematch with Teofimo Lopez at Lightweight but since he got knocked off his perch and is likely to move to the 140-pound weight class, this fight seems all but doubtful. Too bad…I think Loma would have won the rematch. Who takes his place? Gervonta “Tank” Davis of course. It’s the graceful and skilled, ballet dancer vs. the tough and rough bully.

Stylistically, it’s a fight that has everyone’s attention and if he can notch a win over the younger, big-punching Davis, then that would be another career elite win for Loma. But everyone knows it ain’t happening due to Floyd Mayweather and CEO of Mayweather Promotions Leonard Ellerbe’s refusal to put Davis in any challenging fights anytime soon where he could suffer a loss. We can forget about this one.

Not too shortly ago, a bout between Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia was a huge talking point amongst boxing fans and media members. It was a legacy-defining 50-50 fight at Lightweight that was a real superfight and would have benefited both guys historically immensely. There probably isn’t a fight like that out there for Loma but, if you wanna find something that would get the masses talking then it’s against the rising Shakur Stevenson at 135 or 130, and Oscar Valdez, preferably at 130.

I’m sure Top Rank would be more than happy to make those matchups. The likelihood is that Valdez and Stevenson meet in a Junior Lightweight unification fight this year and the winner possibly gets a shot at Loma in 2023. If it’s an opportunity to add to his legacy, “The Matrix” has shown time again he’s running into the fire and not away from it.

Fighter: Artur Beterbiev

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Canelo Alvarez at 175

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: vs. Dmitry Bivol at 175

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Light Heavyweight champion

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: vs. David Benavidez at Light Heavyweight

The opponents keep lining up and Artur Beterbiev keeps knocking them out one by one. Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs), the unified Light Heavyweight champion, is a straight-up KO machine. He’s built like a bull; you can’t hurt him because his chin is constructed like a tank; his punches feel like bricks hitting you and his power is enormously painful. Not many fighters want anything to do with him and can you blame them.

He gives me Gennadiy Golovkin like vibes during his heyday at Middleweight in the early-to-mid 2010s when he was stopping guys left and right. That’s what Beterbiev is doing right now. The Russian doesn’t have a built-in following or hardcore fans in America or internationally like other fighters do but he is the clear No. 1 fighter at Light Heavyweight, but lacking those signature fights that one needs to gain more recognition.

At Light Heavyweight right now, the division is pretty thin from top to bottom, yet the fight that the boxing public has been calling for the last three years is Beterbeiv against the No. 2 Light Heavyweight in countryman and WBA champion Dmitry Bivol. It’s a mystery to me why these two haven’t gotten in the ring yet but they both need to because in reality, they’re both desperate for a big fight. The winner holds three of the four major belts and can really claim the title of “Best fighter at 175.”

If Beterbiev wanted to seize our attention, then how about a tussle with David Benavidez. Probably out of the realm given they’re both with different promoters and Benavidez is still campaigning at 168. Although a move up to Light Heavyweight is a jump most boxing insiders believe the two-time WBC Super Middleweight champion has always been destined to make and would be more comfortable at 175 pounds than at 168. Maybe in the near future, the fight can happen if Benavidez moves up and becomes a mandatory for one of Beterbiev’s titles. Wouldn’t rule it out down the line.

All that’s well and dandy, nonetheless the two things the 36-year-old can do that will keep him in our boxing conscience years from now is becoming the Light Heavyweight undisputed champion and beat Canelo Alvarez. He’s already halfway to becoming undisputed (holds the WBC and IBF titles) and would be favored over Bivol and WBO champion Joe Smith Jr.

Then there’s the colossal one with Boxing’s Golden Boy, which is one of the best fights the sport can offer. Obviously, Alvarez would have to make the jump to Light Heavyweight to challenge Beterbiev and I think before he walks away from the sport, he will. I think this year a Beterbiev-Alvarez tilt will happen. A win over a fighter of Alvarez’s caliber would be a career-defining victory that would stamp Beterbiev as the top 175-pounder of his generation.

Fighter: Gennadiy Golovkin

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Demetrius Andrade at 160

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: vs. Canelo Alvarez at 168

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Middleweight champion

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A unification fight vs. Jermall Charlo at Middleweight

If there’s an active great fighter who the boxing world has seemed to completely forget about in the last two years, it has to be Gennadiy Golovkin. It appears that the best Middleweight fighter of the 2010s decade and long-reigning Middleweight titleholder during that period now finds himself trying to regain his prominent place back into the boxing scene, especially after not fighting in 2021.

Golovkin’s (41-1-1, 36 KOs) place amongst the greatest Middleweight fighters of all-time I believe is somewhere in the top 20-25 with all the consecutive title defenses and 23-fight knockout streak to pull from, but what can he do to move up the ladder? Well for me, go undisputed at Middleweight. The fights are there for him at 160, if he wants them. He’s a big enough name in the sport where he can draw a number of guys in the ring to fight him.

The 39-year-old IBF champion is scheduled to fight WBA champion Ryota Murata in the first half of this year, which I expect him to win and become a unified champion again. Then the targets should be WBO champion Demetrius Andrade and WBC beltholder Jermall Charlo. The Andrade fight would be easy to make, since they’re both aligned with DAZN.

A fight with Charlo could be more difficult because of promotional ties but Charlo has spoken verbally about his desire to unify with Golovkin. Maybe if Charlo nudged his promoter Al Haymon enough, the fight could be made. Adding those wins to his career would garner massive respect from fans, particularly for a fighter approaching the age of 40. He does that and becomes undisputed, I’m thinking a place within the top 15 of greatest Middleweights is rational, wouldn’t you say? The body of work would be there to justify it.

Yet, the legacy fight we all know and want is the trilogy bout with rival Canelo Alvarez to settle the score, once and for all. I’m not going to give you a deep dive down of their two fights – which were both truly outstanding – and argue who won this and who won that. (I’ll save that for another day). But the current head-to-head reads: 1-0-1 in Canelo’s favor. The fight would take place at the 168 weight limit – since Canelo is calling the shots – which I don’t believe would be a problem for Golovkin to make.

All in all, it’s a legacy fight for Golovkin and if he can somehow muster a win from the best fighter in the world in his prime, it would truly be an historic win. Just maybe if that happened, we will come to appreciate Gennadiy Golovkin in more of an historic context than we do now.

Fighter: Tyson Fury

Signature Fight He Needs: With Oleksandr Uysk

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: With Anthony Joshua

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the first undisputed Heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A fight with former unified Heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz

The very top of the Heavyweight division has been one wild ride these last few years and the men leading the way have been Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Uysk, Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz and none other then Tyson Fury, the consensus choice right now for title of “The Baddest Heavyweight in the World.” I wouldn’t argue with that declaration either. Many already proclaim Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs) as the best Heavyweight fighter of his era, though I think that’s too big of a stretch at the moment. The WBC and The Ring champion still has more to prove in order to validate that assertion.

The 6’9” Fury is likely to face WBC-mandatory Dillian Whyte in the first half of this year but if he gets through that comfortably, the signature fight for him would be to lock horns with newly-crowned WBO, IBF and WBA champion Oleksandr Uysk this year, if he’s able to get past Anthony Joshua in their rematch. What a fascinating matchup that would be too.

Not only is it a chance to defeat a great pound-for-pound fighter – which Usyk undoubtedly is – but the opportunity to become the first undisputed Heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999 would be the highlight of his career. Would that be enough to say he is the best Heavyweight of his era? Nope. What Fury would need to do is beat every top Heavyweight of this period. He’s already stopped Deontay Wilder twice, so that chapter is closed. Up next would have to be Joshua, even if he lost again to Usyk and brings no belts to the table.

Fury-Usyk might be the better fight but if you ask people in the United Kingdom, the Fury-Joshua fight is the one they want to see. It’s the bigger and more glamorous fight that would be a gigantic sporting event in the UK but it’s also a more lucrative fight too that would sell well. Joshua agrees too. We seemed on the verge of a Joshua-Fury bout last summer but it didn’t come into fruition. Having a name like Joshua, a former two-time unified Heavyweight champion and someone who owns arguably the best resume of any Heavyweight today, in the win column on Fury’s record would be paramount. As far as beating another quality opponent, having the scalp of former unified Heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz on his resume wouldn’t be too bad either.

If Fury can run through that opposition with wins in the next few years, there will be no debate as to who the best Heavyweight fighter of this era is.

Fighter: Errol Spence, Jr.

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Terence Crawford at 147

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: vs. Terence Crawford at 147

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Welterweight champion and move up to Junior Middleweight to win a title

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A fight with former unified Welterweight champion Keith Thurman or Vergil Ortiz

I’ll just jump right into it. The signature fight Errol Spence needs and the fight the boxing world has long waited to see him in is obviously with Terence Crawford. They’ve both been playing the “will they or won’t they fight” game since the anticipation for the fight started brewing in 2018. Everything from promotional dividing lines to agreeing on a money split to one side maybe waiting for the other side to start regressing to just good old boxing business strategy all are reasons the fight hasn’t been made yet. Oh well. It is what it is. If they never fight, it’ll hurt both their legacies. Period. In order to be great, the best need to fight the best. Smart boxing fans know this.

On one hand, Spence has plenty on his plate as it is. He was involved in a near-fatal car accident in 2019 and he suffered a retinal tear in his left eye last year where he had to pull out of his huge fight with legend Manny Pacquiao. No one’s sure if he’s fully recovered yet but now he’s back and will face WBA champion Yordenis Ugas in a three-belt unification bout in the spring, and what do you know, if Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) wins that then maybe him and adviser Al Haymon will try to set up the fight with Crawford.

As a matter of fact, if the Spence-Crawford fight does happen in the second half of this year (don’t bet on it), then the fight becomes even more enormous because all four major belts would be on the line and we’ll likely get an undisputed champion at 147. Wouldn’t that be grand. But Spence has his work cut out for him against the long-ranging Cuban.

If Spence gets by Ugas and doesn’t fight Crawford afterwards, a potential big fight that’s not catching much buzz that once was one to look forward to is with former unified Welterweight champion Keith Thurman. Thurman, who has been out of the ring for 2 ½ years, will make his comeback versus Mario Barrios in February.

Why Thurman you ask? If Spence can put aside the dislike he has for Thurman, it’s another top Welterweight or former champion from his era he can put on his resume, alongside Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, a prime Kell Brook, Mikey Garcia, Lamont Peterson and possibly Ugas. What about young and hungry Vergil Oritz, Jr., who might just become the mandatory for Spence’s WBC belt this year. Wins like that – along with a victory over Crawford, if it ever happens – will certify Spence as the finest Welterweight of his generation.

The 5’10” southpaw has long said that becoming the undisputed Welterweight champion was his goal and has also stated that a move to 154 is likely to ensue considering he’s been having a tough time making 147. I know the aim for Spence would be to become a Junior Middleweight champion but I’m not sure if there is a clear path to accomplishing that, even if pretty much all the best fighters in the division are with PBC.

Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano (both with PBC) are scheduled to have a rematch in February to decide who the undisputed Junior Middleweight champion is. If Castano wins, then it’s fairly possible Spence could get a shot at him in the future, if he’s still holding onto the belts. But what if Charlo wins and obtains all the belts, then what? I bring this up because Charlo and Spence are friends. They train together. They have the same trainer in Derrick James. Will they actually fight each other? I don’t know. It’s a question that has to be proposed. 

Either way, if he can stay healthy, Spence will have a number of great opportunities to add to his legacy. 

Fighter: Terence Crawford

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Errol Spence, Jr. at 147

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: vs. Jaron Ennis at 147

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Welterweight champion and move up to Junior Middleweight to win a title

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A fight with current unified junior Middleweight champion Jermell Charlo

Whether you see it or not at this moment, Terence Crawford might be in a little bit of a conundrum. On one hand, Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs) finally got his big fight (which the WBO sanctioning body ordered to our surprise) with Shawn Porter last November that ended in a stoppage win for him and he became a promotional free agent after his contract with Top Rank expired after the fight. On the other hand, he now seems to be wandering in nowhere land as a free agent without a credible opponent to face.

At this stage of his career at the age of 34, the WBO champion needs to fight the best fighters in the Welterweight division not later but NOW. Time might not be on his side. The problem with that is most of the marquee names at 147, at this moment, have either retired (Manny Pacquiao, Shawn Porter), plan on moving up in weight (Danny Garcia) or have fights already lined up.

Vergil Oritz has a fight. Keith Thurman has a fight. Spence and Ugas are fighting each other. It’s no secret that the boxing universe wants the Crawford-Spence fight. It’s been dragging along for four years. It’s vital for both guys’ legacy, extremely for Crawford, who has a real shot at going down as an all-time great fighter. It would be even better if a fight with Spence took place with all four belts on the line in the second half of this year, if Spence is able to beat Ugas.

Waiting to fight the winner in probably the fall wouldn’t be ideal, plus you have the whole situation with Crawford and whether he needs to sign a multi-fight deal with Al Haymon and PBC to get the fights he wants or if he’s able to do just one-fight deals with the promotional company. What will Crawford and his team’s next move be? Well, there’s one Welterweight fighter that doesn’t have a fight scheduled right now that the switch-hitting Crawford could push to fight and that’s the uber-talented Jaron “Boots” Ennis.

Whether you think the kid is ready or not, fans are already salivating at how they think it might unfold. Ennis is the only top fighter within the division available but would it be too much of a risk for Crawford to take? Maybe. That will be up to his team to decide but I’ll tell you what, boxing fans want to see it. It’s quite probable he waits to fight Thurman in the summer, if he beats Mario Barros in February, or he could wait for Josh Taylor, if he gets past his title defense next month, to set up a bout in the summer or fall.

Crawford could sign a one-fight deal with Top Rank to do the fight, plus it’s something Bob Arum has said he’s interested in making happen. Also within the realm of possibility is Crawford moving up to Junior Middleweight to see if he can become a four-division champion. I’m not sure how he would fare against bigger guys at 154 that can crack but if he can accomplish everything he wants at 147, a jump up in weight might be the next best career move. PBC basically has all the best 154-pounders in their stable, so if Crawford wants a crack at winning a title there, he’ll probably need to sign with Haymon.

A tilt with Jermell Charlo would be tasty and a win for Crawford would better position himself to be seen as an all-time great by wise boxing heads. Charlo is widely viewed as the No. 1 fighter at 154 with a shot to be crowned undisputed if he’s able to topple Brian Castano in a rematch in February. The two already have a little beef going on, which would make the lead-up to the fight a doozy. If Crawford can’t get the Spence fight, then I think a bout with Charlo could be the next biggest thing. 

So, the ball is in Crawford’s court. Let’s hope he makes the right moves edging forward. 

Fighter: Oleksandr Usyk 

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Tyson Fury 

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: A rematch with Anthony Joshua

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Heavyweight champion that would make him undisputed in two weight classes

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A fight back down at Cruiserweight with Canelo Alvarez 

In my personal pound-for-pound rankings, Oleksandr Usyk sits in the No. 2 spot and deservedly so. Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) is a classic throwback fighter who’s willing to go anywhere and face anybody to achieve his goals, and he does it. The former undisputed Cruiserweight champion notched in my view, one of the biggest wins of the 21st century last year by defeating Anthony Joshua, who was a.) in his prime b.) the favorite heading into the fight c.) the much bigger man (Joshua is 6’6”) and more natural Heavyweight  d.) someone who had the best resume out of any Heavyweight fighter. Despite all that, Usyk was victorious, collected the IBF, WBA and WBO belts and demonstrated that he is a special breed.

Next is the likely rematch with Joshua, which Usyk has said that he will be even better in the second fight. Two wins for the naturally smaller Ukrainian over a legit Heavyweight of Joshua’s stature would be reminiscent of Michael Spinks moving up from Light Heavyweight to Heavyweight to defeat the great Larry Holmes twice in the mid-1980s.

If you think beating the Englishman is something, think about the idea of Usyk beating another Englishman in Tyson Fury. An anticipated bout between the 6’3” master boxer Usyk and the 6’9” versatile Fury would be compelling and finally give the sport an undisputed champion in the most prestige division in boxing history. If Usyk could pull that off, that would make him undisputed in two weight classes and we’ll have to seriously reevaluate his place pound-for-pound in boxing history. 

When thinking of big fights that might seem unlikely but not totally crazy for Usyk, Deontay Wilder came to mind. After a second thought, I honestly can’t see a scenario where Usyk fights Wilder unless he gets in position to become a mandatory for one of his titles. Although a superfight that I think is completely nuts but has a “you never know” type feel to it is Usyk dropping down to Cruiserweight to battle the pound-for-pound king in Canelo Alvarez.

Yeah, I think it’s borderline crazy too. Just know the idea didn’t come from me…Usyk himself threw it out there. Since Canelo is making the jump to fight for a Cruiserweight title this year, people started throwing out the possibility of the two best fighters in the world – in my view – going at it. I don’t think it will happen. Usyk would be just too big for Canelo and while I think he can make it competitive, the size difference will eventually show up during the fight. Regardless of how unrealistic it might be, an Usyk win over Canelo would still be noteworthy. Keep in mind that Uysk’s present stellar resume has a chance to get even better.

Fighter: Canelo Alvarez 

Signature Fight He Needs: vs. Artur Beterbiev at 175

Fight the Boxing Public Wants: A fight with David Benavidez at 168 or 175

Accomplishment That Will Enhance His Legacy/Historic Standing: Become the undisputed Light Heavyweight champion and win a Cruiserweight title

Big Fight That’s Probably Unlikely, but Not Beyond the Realm of Possibility: A trilogy fight with Gennadiy Golovkin at Super Middleweight.

I’ve saved the best for last. That’s right, it’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez–the face of boxing, the cash cow, the most active fighter in the sport and most importantly The best prizefighter in the world. 2021 was a banner year for Canelo, as he made history by becoming just the sixth boxer ever to be undisputed champion in the four-belt era, the first fighter to do it in the Super Middleweight division and all while cleaning out the division in just four fights in only 11 months.

He also won his second career Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year honor. Incredible stuff. Out of all 13 fighters in this writing piece, Canelo (57-1-2, 39 KOs) has the most historically to gain moving forward. He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer. He’s an all-time great. I believe if he walked away right now, he would go down as one of the 50 greatest fighters in the long history of the sweet science. Yeah, he’s put that much work in.

So, what else can the Mexican do to enhance his legacy?

As far as accomplishments go, Canelo has three important feats he can attain that would separate him from many of the all-time greats that came before him.

  1. By winning a Cruiserweight title – which he is planning on fighting for – Canelo would become a five-division champion and become the sixth fighter ever to win a world title in five divisions or more joining greats like Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.
  2. If he were to become undisputed champion at Light Heavyweight – which most believe he will aim for next – then he would be the first and only fighter to be undisputed in two weight classes in the four-belt era, unless another fighter beats him to it.
  3. He has already been a unified champion in more weight classes than any fighter in history (3), which took place at Junior Middleweight, Middleweight and Super Middleweight. He has a chance to do it in a record-extending four weight classes at Light Heavyweight, if he were to unify in the division.

Yep, plenty of history in store for Canelo to chase. What about opponents you ask? He has a plethora of options there too. I think most of the hate Canelo gets from fans surrounds certain fights they want him to take compared to the fights they feel he needs to take. We must distinguish the two. The public badly wants him to take on David Benavidez, the one guy at 168 people feel he needs to beat.

Maybe Benavidez chases Canelo up to 175 for a fight, which most believe that’s the weight he’ll fight at sooner rather than later. It’s a splendid matchup, which I favor Canelo in, at either weight. There’s Canelo-Golovkin III, that might look off the table because of the more likelier options Canelo will pursue but there’s still enough appeal in that fight. To a large group of fans, there’s no closure in the rivalry, with their two fights producing no clear winner. The third fight would presumably take place at 168 and Canelo could put a definitive end to this chapter, while shutting up some doubters in the process with a decisive win.  

Although, the fight to make either this year or in 2023 that would catapult him higher through the all-time rankings and for me, clinch the title as “Greatest Mexican Fighter Ever” over names like Salvador Sanchez, Carlos Zarate, Ruben Olivares, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricardo Lopez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and most people’s choice as the greatest Mexican pugilist of them all in Julio Caesar Chavez…is with unified Light Heavyweight beltholder Artur Beterbiev, maybe the most dangerous man in all of boxing.

Stylistically, it’s an exceptional fight with the come forward, hard punching Beterbiev matching wits with the slick-defensive, counterpunching, fast combination throwing Alvarez. If he’s able to get past the 175-pound division’s top guy, look for him to hunt down the other two titleholders, which right now are Dmitry Bivol and Joe Smith, Jr. to become undisputed. 

Regardless of how you feel about Canelo Alvarez, you gotta respect what he’s doing in the sport of boxing. He’s taking on all comers, beating them, adding major belt after major belt to his trophy case, and carving his name more and more into the history books. Don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.

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