Boxing in 2020, like the rest of the year, was a largely chaotic mess that got fully interrupted for months, and while it came back about as strong as you could hope down the stretch of the year, it still felt when we wrapped things up for the year that the sport had really spent months mostly playing catch-up with itself.
That’s to be expected given the situation we had with an ongoing global pandemic, and that pandemic will also be a major factor in what happens in boxing in 2021. Trying to handicap for that as an issue — because it is one — let me run through some predictions for the year. Obviously all of this could go poof for any number of reasons, because we’re entering a new year with a volatility none of us have ever seen before.
1) Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua WILL happen in 2021
I’ve never thought it would be next, as I don’t expect anyone to vacate belts to make it happen. They want to call it “undisputed,” whatever your opinion on that.
But I do think it will happen late this year. Joshua will have to get through a WBO mandatory from Oleskandr Usyk in April or May, most likely, and Fury will probably fight Agit Kabayel or someone if he’s not forced into a third fight with Deontay Wilder, and then Fury-Joshua can happen.
I don’t think negotiations will be an issue. Fury is co-promoted by Top Rank and Queensberry Promotions, and Joshua by Matchroom Boxing, but there’s big money here, and the sides should be able to hammer out the deal. Oddly, I’ve never worried about that, in part because Fury’s one of the guys who, if he really wants a fight to be made, will stand his ground and force it to happen. And I give AJ the credit of thinking he’ll be the same.
Assuming they can get a crowd in a venue somewhere — and it’ll be a big venue for a lot of money on the site fee — I think we see Fury-Joshua late in the year, November or December.
2) Canelo Alvarez WILL NOT fight Gennadiy Golovkin in 2021
When Golovkin fought Dec. 18 and Canelo the next night, it seemed clear that once again, DAZN were trying to line up a third fight between the two, which they’ve wanted pretty much since their launch into the boxing world in late 2018.
It’s not happening. Canelo is not fighting again at middleweight, having finally vacated his WBA belt after beating Callum Smith to win the WBA and WBC belts at 168. Golovkin has never seemed particularly interested in moving up to super middleweight, and even if the money and prestige and settling of the personal rivalry with an Alvarez trilogy bout could get him to do it, Canelo has said his goal for this year is to fully unify at super middleweight.
That would mean fights against Billy Joe Saunders, which is already in the works for May, it seems, and Caleb Plant, at least as it stands now. Canelo is a broadcast free agent, even if he does a two-fight deal with DAZN for Avni Yildirim in February and Saunders in May, and if he wins those, working with PBC to do a fight with Plant probably won’t be hard, if Plant wants it.
Where does that leave Golovkin? He turns 39 in April, and the target right now seems to be Jaime Munguia, though Eddie Hearn is pitching a unification with Demetrius Andrade, too. Those are both pretty easy fights to make broadcast-wise and in terms of the promoters and all that. The biggest fight for him at 160 is Jermall Charlo, which would also be a unification, but that would take more work to get done.
3) Oscar De La Hoya WILL fight in 2021
Oscar De La Hoya is going to turn 48 years old in just under a month. He hasn’t fought since 2008. I don’t think he should fight again. I don’t think it’ll go well if he does.
But I think he will.
Whatever else you might think of Oscar — and heaven knows I have my own thoughts on him as a promoter and figure in the sport — he was a legit fighter, a very serious fighter who took big fights, didn’t shy away from risks, didn’t back down from challenges. Love him or hate him, he fought the best guys he could when the times were right to do it. You can make a solid Hall of Fame wing out of just guys Oscar De La Hoya fought.
Old fighters keep the itch to fight for a long time in many cases, and a genuine competitor like De La Hoya might have that going on more than ever. On the one hand, if he was going to do it, he could have done it in 2010 or 2012 or 2014. On the other hand, the time to even kinda consider it, even as a bad idea, is running out. It really is now or never.
This latest flirtation with fighting again isn’t his first in the last 12 years. It’s been rumored repeatedly. He’s spoken of having some interest. But this is the most serious it has seemed. He’s looking in decent shape physically, at least in t-shirts and stuff. And he’s taken it all slowly, and recently said he has wanted to see how he did physically before he even started sparring, which he plans to do soon.
Maybe he’ll spar and it becomes clear to him that it’s no longer for him. But I honestly have the feeling we see Oscar glove up again this year, and in a real fight, not an exhibition — he’s said he’s not interested in anything but the real deal. It will be a major event, no matter what he does, if he does it.
I actually hope I’m wrong about this one, but something like Oscar vs Spike O’Sullivan or Humberto Soto isn’t going to surprise me at all.
4) Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford WILL NOT happen in 2021
There’s absolutely a chance that Terence Crawford may see his Top Rank deal expire in October, if that is the correct date as has been reported, and make his way over to PBC to get the Errol Spence Jr fight finally.
And even if he does, I don’t think we get Spence-Crawford this year. We might get it in 2022, but we won’t get it this year.
I expect one of these guys to fight Manny Pacquiao this year, which will unify two belts if it’s Crawford and three if it’s Spence. I think Shawn Porter might fight whichever one doesn’t get Pacquiao — which seems to be the real target for both Crawford and Spence — and it’s entirely possible we only see one fight each from both Errol and Bud this year. If not, we could see, for instance, Spence fight Manny and then fight perhaps Kudratillo Abdukakhorov late in the year, while Terence fights Porter and then, maybe, has a sort of “PBC debut” fight late in 2021 if he does jump. Or Spence-Porter 2 and Pacquiao-Crawford, and one more smaller fight for each late in the year, perhaps. (This all assumes neither of them would lose to Pacquiao, which is not a guarantee, and frankly would be kind of deserved at this point.)
5) Teofimo Lopez WILL fight Devin Haney or Ryan Garcia in 2021
The WBC will order Haney-Garcia for Haney’s WBC title, which is a great fight to make for both, and I hope we get it. The winner of that facing Teofimo Lopez, who holds the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts, would be an extra treat. Whether you’re driven insane by the fact that Lopez is not actually undisputed at 135 or not, Lopez against the Haney-Garcia winner would settle it entirely, and that’s the way to do it.
We know Lopez is up for challenges and will take them. Garcia seems legitimately on that same path, and even Teofimo has said he thinks Ryan is the other guy at 135 who’s looking to prove himself. Haney hasn’t done it yet. Gervonta Davis, unfortunately, is probably not really in this conversation for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with his ability. He’s a danger against any of these guys.
Honestly, the best and perhaps most possible scenario is that Garcia does goad Tank into a fight that Mayweather/PBC and Golden Boy/DAZN work out somehow or other, and Lopez fights Haney for all the imitation leather and painted aluminum, then the winners somehow get together before the end of 2021.
That all probably won’t happen, but I really do think Lopez will fight one of Haney or Garcia, either the winner of Haney-Garcia, or independent of that actually happening.