July is going to be a spotty month for pro boxing in some ways, but we also have the Olympics beginning on July 23 (American time, anyway) and going into early August, and there are still some good fights this month for sure, enough to fairly comfortably make a solid top 10 for July, even if ... well, four of them are on the same card, and three are on one other card.
And there is a blockbuster event happening, plus an undisputed championship fight, making for a better top two than a lot of busier months might have.
10) Hector Tanajara Jr vs William Zepeda, July 9 (DAZN)
Why to Watch: Both Tanajara (19-0, 5 KO) and Zepeda (22-0, 20 KO) are young lightweights — 24 and 25, respectively — looking to make a mark in a good division where some of the top names are either refusing to fight each other or are trapped in boxing’s system where it’s just not going to happen.
Tanajara won’t be but an inch taller on the official measurements, but has a nearly six-inch reach advantage. He knows he’s not a big puncher — he’ll open up and he’s not dull, but he knows his best bet is to box. Zepeda isn’t a huge one-shot guy, but he’s got heavy hands and can break opponents down. The winner of this might be closer to a fight with Ryan Garcia than we would have thought a few months back, as Golden Boy will need opponents for Garcia, and an unbeaten young B-side beats a lot of options for marketing.
9) Tommy McCarthy vs Chris Billam-Smith, July 31 (DAZN)
Why to Watch: McCarthy (18-2, 9 KO) has gone on a surprising run in his last three fights, upsetting Fabio Turchi in Italy and then winning and defending the European cruiserweight title. He was basically written off as more than a domestic-level contender in 2019, but a win here and he’s got a shot to chase a world title.
Billam-Smith (12-1, 10 KO) is an always-welcome presence on Matchroom cards. Like McCarthy, he had a loss to Richard Riakporhe in 2019, but Billam-Smith’s was controversial. He’s won three straight and provided good action and entertainment every time out.
8) Tenkai Tsumani vs Seniesa Estrada, July 9 (DAZN)
Why to Watch: Estrada (20-0, 8 KO) is one of the rising stars in this newest wave of women’s pro boxers. The 29-year-old “Super Bad” just won her first world title at 105 lbs in March, and is going here for Tsunami’s 108 lb belt.
Tsunami (28-12-1, 16 KO) doesn’t have the most impressive W-L record, but it’s sort of an MMA-style record, as she’s been fighting at a top level in various divisions since 2009. She’s had staying power as a contender and titlist, going 8-4-1 in world title fights at 108, 112, 115, and 118. Estrada will be the favorite here, but Tsunami is not an easy out, and she can punch a bit, too, as can Estrada. I think there’s good action potential here.
7) Zurdo Ramirez vs Sullivan Barrera, July 9 (DAZN)
Why to Watch: No longer being called Gilberto officially, he is simply ZURDO! Ramirez, as Golden Boy attempt to turn a sometimes-dull Mexican fighter into a Mexican star. It can work, Canelo Alvarez isn’t exactly always exciting, but Canelo also just has the indefinable star quality. Ramirez doesn’t, I don’t think.
This is Ramirez’s first meaningful fight in, uh, a while. He beat Tommy Karpency in a 175 lb debut in 2019 before eventually leaving Top Rank, and self-promoted a win over Alfonso Lopez last December. Lopez is still best-known for a 2011 loss to Kelly Pavlik, if that tells you how far out of relevance Lopez was. Barrera (22-3, 14 KO) is 39 years old and hasn’t fought at all in over two years for various reasons, including canceled dates with Sergey Kovalev last year, but he’s a tough dude and will basically be fighting for his own career here, trying to stay in the conversation, or get back into it.
6) Robert Helenius vs Adam Kownacki 2, July 24 (PPV)
Why to Watch: Helenius (30-3, 19 KO) threw a wrench into some heavyweight plans when he upset Kownacki (20-1, 15 KO) in Mar. 2020, stopping the popular Polish-American slugger in the fourth round in Brooklyn in a FOX main event. Now he tries to do it again.
A win here, and the 37-year-old “Nordic Nightmare” — born in Sweden but fighting out of Finland — might finally, unexpectedly move toward a world title fight that most of us had written off as a chance for him years ago. This is kind of all-or-nothing for both, but Kowacnki, 32, may have more on the line mentally. He was real close to a title fight, by all accounts, and that loss to Helenius set him back badly. Helenius has been up-and-down in the sport, he’ll fight on or not, but this isn’t going to break him. A second straight loss to a guy he was supposed to beat in the first place might make Kownacki question if it’s worth it in a tough, dangerous game like boxing.
5) Chris Colbert vs Tugstsogt Nyambayar, July 3 (SHO)
Why to Watch: This is a really good fight all things considered. This was supposed to be Colbert (15-0, 6 KO) fighting washed veteran Yuriorkis Gamboa, but when Gamboa was injured and withdrew, featherweight contender Nyambayar (12-1, 9 KO) stepped up on short notice, and we’ve frankly got a better fight than was originally planned.
The 24-year-old Colbert is a hopeful contender at 130 who has shown good skills and flashed more power than the KO rate might lead you to believe. Mongolia’s Nyambayar, 29, has been inconsistent in recent outings, but at his best he can be an extremely tough guy for anybody to fight. Nyambayar deserves credit for taking a late notice fight like this, and Colbert’s side deserve credit for accepting it. This is not a fighter who is much of anything like Gamboa. Team Colbert are confident. We’ll see if it pays off or bites them.
4) Efe Ajagba vs Frank Sanchez, July 24 (PPV)
Why to Watch: Nigeria’s Ajagba (15-0, 12 KO) and Cuba’s Sanchez (18-0, 13 KO) occasionally show the potential to be real heavyweight contenders. Other times, they make you think their ceilings are pretty low. But boxing’s best fights aren’t always two top of the line contenders or champions facing one another; often, it’s just about well-matched fights. This is well-matched, and could bring the best out of both.
Sanchez, 28, won’t be allowed to so easily dominate and get lackadaisical, as he has in some fights. And Ajagba, 27, can’t afford the slip-ups we’ve seen at times, especially the defensive lapses. This fight might not prove that the winner is headed to the mountaintop, but both guys can crack and they’re fighting the sort of opponent that creates real intrigue.
3) Joseph Diaz Jr vs Javier Fortuna, July 9 (DAZN)
Why to Watch: Fortuna (36-2-1, 25 KO) was supposed to fight Luke Campbell and supposed to fight Jorge Linares, all of this was supposed to involve the WBC lightweight title (which is a multi-layered mess), and none of it happened. Then he was supposed to fight Ryan Garcia, who also withdrew.
Diaz (31-1-1, 15 KO) quickly threw his name into the hat, and the former 130 lb titlist was rewarded with a good matchup, the best on a very solid card from Golden Boy. Diaz, 28, missed weight and dropped his junior lightweight belt in February, before fighting to a draw with Shavkat Rakhimov. He’s an inconsistent fighter at times, but he’s talented, tough as hell, and fights with a chip on his shoulder. Fortuna is a talented guy, probably quicker and a sharper puncher than Daiz, but has himself not always turned in the most consistent performances. This is kind of a wild card fight; could be really good, could disappoint, the winner could look great and like a real threat to Devin Haney, or maybe not. But its upside is strong.
2) Jermell Charlo vs Brian Castano, July 17 (SHO)
Why to Watch: Well, it’s for a true undisputed championship, as Charlo (34-1, 18 KO) defends the WBC, WBA, and IBF titles, and Castano (17-0-1, 12 KO) defends his WBO belt. All four major titles, the clear top two guys in the division right now. It’s the best fight that can be made at 154 lbs, which thanks to political alignments lining up properly, has been the rare division where we’ve seen top guys fight one another regularly in the last few years.
Charlo will probably be a big favorite here, but Jermell has had nights where he’s lost rounds for sure. His L against Tony Harrison was hugely controversial, but he lost rounds in that fight. He lost rounds to Jeison Rosario and John Jackson before knocking them out, lost rounds to Vanes Martirosyan and Austin Trout, even Jorge Cota though he wiped Cota out in three, so whatever. But he’s won those fights. He is a beatable fighter who doesn’t deserve the only loss he has, which is weird. And Castano is no scrub. He’s mixed it at high level and proven he’s for real. This isn’t going to get monster buzz, but this is a damn good matchup on paper for more reasons than just the straps.
1) Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder 3, July 24 (PPV) Why to Watch: I mean, you know why. This one’s obvious. Depending on your feelings and aficionado status, you might say Charlo-Castano is the better fight. In some ways maybe it is. But this is two charismatic heavyweights in what has turned out to be a bitter rivalry, and no matter what you think of Wilder’s performance in either of the previous fights with Fury, and no matter how much Fury definitely dominated the second one, and no matter what you think of Wilder’s delusions since that rematch, there is a cold hard truth that Deontay Wilder can knock out anyone , at any time, if he lands the right hand bomb. It doesn’t seem likely to happen, I’ll give you that — he had 12 rounds to put away Fury the first time, and couldn’t despite two knockdowns, and he had another chance and got smashed to bits. But he’s far more dangerous than what people usually mean when they nicely say “puncher’s chance” for an underdog.
UPDATE (July 8, 8:14 pm ET): Well, fuck.