1. Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin
With Alvarez beating Miguel Cotto on November 21 to win the lineal middleweight championship and the WBC belt, the biggest fight at 160 is now clear: Canelo vs GGG.
Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KO) was rock solid in his win over Cotto, but despite his post-match interview where he said he'd be happy to fight Golovkin (34-0, 31 KO) straight away, the Golden Boy side seems a little hesitant to go right into that. Alvarez will fight again on May 7, and while the Golovkin fight would be great on that date, it will likely only happen if Canelo flat-out demands it. As a promoter, Oscar De La Hoya has an understandable inclination to "protect" the lone true star fighter on the Golden Boy roster, but Canelo's position also gives him leverage and the ability to demand that the Golovkin fight happen right away if that's what he wants to do.
Still, running interim fights in the late winter and spring and setting this up for next September is not the worst thing, either. Canelo could rematch Cotto in May, perhaps, or take more of a "victory lap" fight. Whatever he does, it would be nice to see Alvarez commit and fight at a full 160, so that if/when we DO see him fight Golovkin, it won't be at another catchweight. I personally don't much care about catchweights one way or the other, but yes, ideally the middleweight championship would be contested at the middleweight limit, and if nothing else it gives people less things to complain about. We've got enough very valid things to complain about with boxing.
2. Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder
If Fury beats Wladimir Klitschko again in the rematch that he contractually owes the former champion, and Deontay Wilder takes care of business eventually against mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin, then this becomes THE heavyweight fight to make. Well, in reality, it already is, but "reality" doesn't often enter the boxing political landscape.
These two young heavyweight giants both move well for guys their size -- hell, Fury (25-0, 18 KO) moves well for a guy eight inches shorter. They both have some real athleticism. Wilder's a vicious puncher, Fury an oddly effective technician of sorts.
And they're both big talkers, with oversized personalities. There's just no way that a potential late 2016 matchup between Fury and Wilder (35-0, 34 KO) doesn't make for a big event. Even if the general public isn't totally aware of them, they'll make those casual fans aware of who they are, because they both have the gift of gab. For American fans, it would be easy for Wilder to paint himself the hero and Fury to paint himself the villain, and in the United Kingdom, the exact opposite. This thing has money written all over it. It's a no-brainer. So it probably won't happen.
3. Manny Pacquiao vs Terence Crawford
This is the fight that most excites me for Manny Pacquiao's April 9 return date, which is said to be his retirement fight. Pacquiao, who turns 37 in a couple of weeks, is likely to make his decision soon, and Crawford seems to be the frontrunner.
From Top Rank's perspective, this is the fight to make. Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KO) may not retire after April 9, but Bob Arum is operating under the belief that he will, and the ideal scenario for Arum and Top Rank is for one of their younger fighters to take the torch by beating Manny Pacquiao. That would be Terence Crawford, a titleholder at 135 and 140 pounds; someone who has become a fast rising star over the last two years; an unbeaten, quietly charismatic fighter from the heartland of America.
Of course, Pacquiao is a big step up from the guys Crawford (27-0, 19 KO) has been beating, so there is some risk involved there, too. Ricky Burns, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Ray Beltran, Thomas Dulorme, and Dierry Jean are all pretty good fighters, but none of them are Manny Pacquiao, even a faded version. Gamboa is the closest in pure talent, but he was small for 135 and just couldn't handle Crawford's power. Pacquiao has taken punches from top welterweights for years now. Crawford wants the fight, and there's probably nothing better out there for Manny. Amir Khan is the other name in the mix to date, but Top Rank will obviously try to steer Manny toward Crawford, though it will ultimately be Pacquiao's decision.
4. Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward
As much talk as there's been over the last couple of years about Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, to me the Andre Ward matchup is much more interesting. Ward (28-0, 15 KO) is a divisive figure in the sport, and the 31-year-old has done his stardom no favors by fighting all of once since 2013, and just three times since 2011. For someone who has all the tools to be the best fighter of his era, he's spent a lot of his prime on the outside looking in for various reasons, most of which had to do with a squabble with his former promoter Dan Goossen.
Now that he's with Roc Nation and set as an HBO fighter (although thankfully not commentating anymore, it seems), the Kovalev fight was been said to be all but done for the latter part of 2016. We'll see, of course. Kovalev first will have to get through Jean Pascal again in January, and will probably want to fight in the summer and not wait around on a fall date with Ward that might not even happen given Ward's recent history, including his backing out of a November 21 fight due to an injury in training camp, which he then talked about as more of a minor aggravation than anything that really prevented him from fighting.
Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KO) would be quite the opponent for Ward, too. The 32-year-old Russian is technically sound, smart, and devastatingly powerful. Sure, Bernard Hopkins was 116 years old when Kovalev beat him, but nobody has ever beaten Hopkins like that, either. Ward's made a career out of being sharper and smarter than his opponents, and also being deceptively strong, able to muscle guys around when he needs to do so. Can he do all that with Kovalev?
5. Roman Gonzalez vs Guillermo Rigondeaux
This idea has been floated a bit, including during Rigondeaux's last fight on HBO pay-per-view. The thought is that Rigondeaux, the 122-pound champ, and Gonzalez, the 112-pound champ, could meet in the middle at 118. Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KO) has been world champion at 105, 108, and now 112, and the Nicaraguan is an ambitious fighter who looks for challenges. He's dabbled twice around the super flyweight and bantamweight limits, beating Ronald Barrera at 116 pounds in 2013 (TKO-5) and Valentin Leon at 115½ in 2015 (TKO-3).
Of course, neither of those fighters are even near the level of Rigondeaux (16-0, 10 KO). The Cuban could be argued as the most technically proficient fighter in boxing, and although I am one of his many "haters" as far as his style goes, I said after his last fight that the key to promoting Rigondeaux is not so much promoting Rigondeaux, but finding fights where his style can really shine. Anyone's style can be somewhat interesting, really, if they have the right dance partner. Not all of Rigondeaux's fights have been unwatchable, and when presented with opponents who try to come at him, he has shown flashes of wicked power, coming largely through exceptional timing.
Gonzalez could be that sort of opponent for Rigondeaux. Is the fight exactly "fair"? I don't know. We didn't think De La Hoya-Pacquiao was going to be "fair." Gonzalez is 5'3" with a 64-inch reach. Rigondeaux is 5'4" with a 68-inch reach. Those four inches of reach are big, especially considering Rigondeaux is the counter-puncher in this scenario and would likely be attempting to pick off the smaller, aggressive "Chocolatito," but I'm curious to see how it would play out. Rigondeaux has never weighed in below 119½ in his pro career, which began in 2009, and he's 35 years old now. Cutting to 118 could leave him weakened and ineffective, similar to De La Hoya's ill-fated decision to fight again at 147 (and then come in obviously overtrained and light) for the Pacquiao bout.
So I'm sort of on the fence about this fight as a competitive event, but it's intriguing as a "special attraction" kind of matchup.