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Canelo-Saunders, Ramirez-Taylor, and more: Boxing’s 10 best fights for May 2021

Canelo Alvarez is back in the biggest fight of the month, but is it the the best?

Mikey Williams/Top Rank, Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA, and Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

April was, admittedly, a bit of a slow patch for the boxing schedule.

May is coming hard, though. We’ve got a lot of good fights, marquee names in action, strong matchups, and no Paul brothers on the schedule.

Personally, I’m stoked for the coming month in boxing.

10) Derek Chisora vs Joseph Parker (May 1, DAZN)

Solid fight, and meaningful for the heavyweight division. If Parker wins, which most expect, he will stay in the title mix, with a stronger argument than he’s had, and it would be two solid wins already in 2021 for the former WBO titlist.

If Chisora wins, hell, Chisora’s easy to get to sign up for a fight against basically anyone. He doesn’t avoid people. As far as action goes, this could be a good one if Chisora’s pressure is effective at all. Parker’s no Oleksandr Usyk, he’s not some great stick-and-move guy. He’s going to be inside fairly often for Chisora to try and get something done.

9) Elwin Soto vs Katsunari Takayama (May 8, DAZN)

Elwin Soto v Carlos Buitrago Photo By Tom Hogan/Golden Boy/Getty Images

Soto is defending his WBO 108 lb title in this one, as the 24-year-old Mexican takes on 37-year-old Takayama, who will be fighting for the first time in the U.S. in his long career.

Takayama is past his best days, and just returned to the ring in December for a six-round win over Reiya Konishi. But Konishi is a credible fighter, too, and Takayama won handily. Before that, Takayama hadn’t fought since 2016, when he beat Riku Kano to win the WBO title at 105.

The Japanese veteran was a consistent contender for years, and more than that, a three-time champ at strawweight who has been in the ring with Chocolatito Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi, and other good opponents. Truth be told, he’s usually lost to his better opposition, but he’s also picked up good wins along the way, and this is kind of last chance for him, he’s taking the swing against an energetic, credible titlist. Soto is usually pretty fun to watch; flawed, will mix it up, is there to get hit. Could be a fun one.

8) Andy Ruiz Jr vs Chris Arreola (May 1, PPV)

At $49.99, I think we all generally agree that Ruiz-Arreola is ridiculous. Ruiz is a 20-to-1 favorite here, it’s not seen by many as something that’s going to be truly competitive, particularly with Ruiz back in shape (though Arreola is, too) and focused, at least for the time being.

But I really do think this is going to be a good fight between the bells, in the ring. Arreola always brings heat and Ruiz has the speed and willingness in the pocket to engage him in some fun exchanges. Ruiz, if he’s at his best, might also really dominate, which would be somewhat exciting for the division. But I think we’re going to get some action here at the very least, and “action” for me is a significant factor in whether or not I want to watch something that isn’t some marquee, great matchup, which I think is important because we don’t always get very many marquee, great matchups.

7) Terri Harper vs Hyun Mi Choi (May 15, DAZN)

A unification fight at 130, as Harper puts her WBC belt on the line against Choi’s WBA belt. Both are unbeaten, but Harper got quite a scare last August against Natasha Jonas, escaping with a draw many felt she was lucky to receive. She came back in November to stop Katharina Thanderz and show she really was on a different level there, but she also broke her right hand in that fight.

Harper is healthy now, and Choi is the opponent. Matchroom have three of the four titlists in the division (including Maiva Hamadouche, not including Mikaela Mayer) and Eddie Hearn has wanted to set up unification for a bit. Now he has. Choi, like Harper, doesn’t she away from a fight. Choi, like Harper, is far from flawless. Choi has fought most of her career at home in South Korea, but went to the States last December to breat Calista Silgado, and is clearly willing to fight abroad.

6) Katie Taylor vs Natasha Jonas (May 1, DAZN)

Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Taylor and Jonas were amateur contemporaries, and all these years later, they meet as pros. Taylor is the undisputed queen of the lightweights, holding all four belts and beating Delfine Persoon in a rematch of the only fight you could have argued Katie got a bit lucky in.

Jonas reemerged as a serious threat at 130/135 last year against the aforementioned Harper, and now has the chance to really go for a true crown, to knock off arguably the pound-for-pound best in women’s boxing. Jonas has some power and can box. Taylor can box and certainly has enough power to hold her ground. They both will fight if necessary, not afraid of getting into a fight. Someone is going to have to impose their will here, and it’s an absolutely enormous chance for Jonas to put herself in with the best in the world.

5) Luis Nery vs Brandon Figueroa (May 15, SHO)

A unification, because the WBA doesn’t give a damn about any of their “rules” as long as they get their sanctioning fees in. Murodjon Akhmadaliev holds the WBA “super world” title at 122, while Figueroa has the lesser “world” (“regular”) title, but that’s on the line here against Nery’s WBC belt.

Nery is a bit of a wild card at the moment. He didn’t look great in his move to 122 last year, beating the unheralded Aaron Alameda in a competitive fight to win the vacant WBC strap. But he’s also since split with Eddy Reynoso, and while Nery is generally one of the more unlikable guys in boxing, he can fight, and he may have just not fit well with Eddy. Not all good trainers and good fighters mesh.

Figueroa is a hard-working kid, throws a lot of punches, has the sort of in-ring temperament of his older brother Omar but has never had the constant questions about how serious he is in his career. He’s quite serious. But Nery could be a really big step up for him. There’s a chance Nery just isn’t at 122 what he was at 118, but there’s also a chance Figueroa finds it a lot tougher against this guy than the likes of Damien Vazquez and Javier Chacon. (We give him a slight pass on a tough fight with Julio Ceja, because Ceja has good and also blew weight so bad he was over 126, let alone 122.)

Good action potential, good matchup, winner fights WBO titlist Stephen Fulton Jr in further unification in September.

4) Devin Haney vs Jorge Linares (May 29, DAZN)

Melina Pizano/Matchroom

Everyone has wanted Haney to step it up, and he will. Less people have noted how little the other “top young fighters” at 135 really seem to want to get in with Haney, but that’s another story.

Linares is still a very good fighter. He’s slick, he’s clever, he punches hard enough at 135, he’s been in with a lot of good fighters. He also still cuts easy and doesn’t have the best chin in the world. He will be, however you slice it, by far Haney’s best opponent to date. Linares is a top 10 guy in the division, which is miles beyond the level of opponents Haney has fought so far.

Haney’s WBC belt is on the line, and sort of like the Garcia-Campbell fight in January was for Ryan Garcia, this is a chance for Devin to at least quiet the doubters, or some of them at any rate. Linares is 35 and looking to hold his ground, while the 22-year-old Haney seems to me one of those guys who just has to keep winning. He is not a natural “star” or “superstar,” but he’s a very talented young fighter. If he’s going to be a serious draw, it will be on the results. The real results start here, and this is no gimme.

3) Nordine Oubaali vs Nonito Donaire (May 29, SHO)

This was meant to happen in December, didn’t, and now it’s back on. Oubaali has the WBC title at 118 (it’s a long story, but he was at one point going to be champion-in-recess, now he’s not, and it’s fine) and Donaire is again right on the edge. He is still seen as a top contender, BUT...

Donaire is 38 years old. He hasn’t fought since November of 2019, when he lost his instant classic, Fight of the Year war with Naoya Inoue. You might think the guy who held his own with the “Monster” for 12 rounds might be a clear favorite, but do not overlook Oubaali, an unbeaten, very sound fighter and former Olympian. This guy is not a joke at all. Nonito knows that, and fans should know it going in, too.

That said, the Donaire we last saw would be easily Oubaali’s best opponent as a pro. That’s not to say Oubaali doesn’t have some nice wins, he beat Rau’shee Warren and Takuma Inoue clearly, but they’re not the level of Donaire, or at least Donaire as we most recently knew him. This could be a really great fight.

2) Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders (May 8, DAZN)

KSI VS. Logan Paul 2 Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Three belts on the line, as Canelo brings the WBC and WBA super middleweight titles, Saunders the WBO. Truth be told, Saunders ain’t wrong: Most are writing this off as a win for Canelo, who then figures to march on to full unification with Caleb Plant. (Maybe. We’ll see. The most obvious ideas are often the ones boxing over-complicates the most.)

Canelo is a great fighter right in his prime. Saunders has had years of “well, at his best,” but mostly people are still hanging on the time he went to Canada and routed David Lemieux, who is a very limited if certainly dangerous fighter. That was 2017, though, and Saunders has been inconsistent as hell in and out of the ring since then.

But this is Billy Joe’s shot. One gets the feeling Saunders really might be the sort of character who fights up to the level of opposition. Canelo doesn’t take anyone lightly, so don’t expect him to be all surprised that Saunders is a crafty, tricky, smart boxer.

I think you can legitimately expect the best Saunders. Whether that’s enough against a peaking Canelo is another story, but I’m glad we’re going to find out. I kind of doubt this fight has any high level of dramatic exchanges or whatever, but it could be a terrific chess match if both are on their game.

1) Jose Ramirez vs Josh Taylor (May 22, ESPN+ and ESPN)

Canelo’s probably the biggest name fighter globally, even if Anthony Joshua is at the very least right there with him in purse money, and even if Jake Paul might actually be the biggest pay-per-view draw in boxing.

But the best fight this month is not the very good Canelo fight, it’s Ramirez-Taylor. This is for the undisputed championship at 140, No. 1 vs No. 2 however you rank them, all the marbles, and the winner very well could skirt right on up to 147 and be a very, very credible opponent for Terence Crawford, who badly needs one.

Styles make fights and all that. They have a common opponent, and Josh Taylor did much better against Viktor Postol than Ramirez did. But I think Ramirez will be fully up here, and he’s a guy who has proved some doubters wrong along the way, too. And I think he does his best work when the opponent is really challenging him to do so; Postol sort of lulled him into the kind of fight that gave Postol a chance.

Taylor is very technically sound, but he’s got a fiery demeanor in the ring, too. He’ll throw, he’ll trade, he likes to prove a point. I don’t know if I personally would call this 50/50, but it’s not far off, and at this level, that’s rare. An interesting bit of the story here could be how Josh Taylor does against his first legitimate opponent — one who’s an actual threat — without Shane McGuigan in his corner.

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