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Fury-Wilder 3, Herring-Stevenson, Lopez-Kambosos, more: Boxing’s 10 best fights for October 2021

Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder 3 headlines a much more promising month than the one we just finished.

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Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meet for the third time tonight on PPV Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Boy, did boxing mostly suck in September, huh? Outside of Joshua-Usyk exceeding any and all hype, it was a month of empty weekends, disappointing matchups, and one great big embarrassment courtesy the ambitious outside-the-bun thinkers of Triller Fight Club.

Thankfully, October is a lot more promising. As always these days, any fight on the schedule is at a higher risk than normal of not happening, but I couldn’t even do one of these posts for September, because there sincerely were not 10 interesting fights lined up, and that would have been including Figueroa-Fulton, which didn’t wind up happening on Sept. 18 as scheduled.

Some Honorable or At Least Notable Mentions

  • David Avanesyan vs Liam Taylor (Oct. 2, DAZN) has some sneaky potential. Avanesyan is on a career run right now, but he hasn’t suddenly become elite in his 30s, either.
  • The Oct. 9 DAZN card has three undercard fights worth a little attention. Kieron Conway vs JJ Metcalf at 154 could be good action. Shannon Courtenay’s WBA bantamweight title defense against Jamie Mitchell is not a fight Courtenay can look past; she’s game, tough as hell, and provides good action, but Mitchell at her best is a good boxer and a better puncher than most. Ted Cheeseman almost always provides quality action, and his British 154 lb title matchup with Troy Williamson could be another banger in a domestic scene that has provided many in recent years.
  • Mikey Garcia faces Sandor Martin Oct. 16, also on DAZN. It’s notable because there are still people who think Mikey Garcia is in it, I guess. Quite a step down from “Pacquiao will be official any day now” to Sandor Martin.
  • Showtime’s Oct. 30 card isn’t 100 percent official yet, hasn’t been announced, but is expected to feature two welterweight matchups: Jaron “Boots” Ennis vs Thomas Dulorme and Jamal James vs Radzhab Butaev. Both are solid for the moment. Ennis has publicly expressed some disappointment as he wanted a bigger name, but he’s taking what was available and staying active.
  • ESPN+ will have Jose Zepeda back on Oct. 30, headlining a show that was originally meant to feature Joe Smith Jr vs Umar Salamov, but Smith got COVID. Zepeda faces Josue Vargas. On his best nights, Zepeda hangs with anyone at 140. On his not-so-best nights, Zepeda has shown vulnerability against the likes of Kendo Castaneda and a faded Hank Lundy. Don’t fully sleep on Vargas.

10) Liam Smith vs Anthony Fowler (DAZN, Oct. 9)

Matthew Pover/Matchroom Boxing

With both headliners being from Liverpool, M&S Bank Arena should have tremendous atmosphere for this main event. It’s a good, well-matched fight, and the sort of fight Fowler (15-1, 12 KO) needs to win if he’s serious about graduating to world contender status. At 30, Fowler is neither old nor young in the game, and hanging around domestic level any longer would be a waste; he can lose here and still be a domestic contender at 154, but he can’t keep fighting at domestic level and hope that will advance him any further.

Smith (29-3-1, 16 KO) is still a very good meat and potatoes sort of fighter at age 33, coming off of a controversial loss to Magomed Kurbanov on the road in Russia. Fowler has been pretty easily going through very carefully chosen opposition since his 2019 loss to Scott Fitzgerald, and Smith is pretty easily the best opponent of his career so far. Win and he gets into the mix. Lose and it’s back to considering a Fitzgerald rematch or fighting the Cheeseman-Williamson winner.

9) Esteban Bermudez vs Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (DAZN, Oct. 16)

Bermudez (14-3-2, 10 KO) is coming off of a huge upset win over Carlos Canizales on May 28, giving the 25-year-old Mexican the WBA’s secondary 108 lb title, which will still be on the line here as the sanctioning body continues its campaign to clean up their title situation, which doesn’t actually include any promise of fully eliminating secondary belts in the event that they just don’t feel like it.

Rodriguez (13-0, 9 KO) is a 21-year-old Robert Garcia fighter, an explosive southpaw who looked great in a couple of “Bubble” bouts for Top Rank late last year. But he also hasn’t fought since December. This could be a great chance for him to make his name at 108, but it could also wind up being a step too far if Bermudez didn’t just have one great night in him.

8) Robert Helenius vs Adam Kownacki 2 (PPV, Oct. 9)

When these two met back in March 2020, the week before everything started getting shut down, Kownacki (20-1, 15 KO) was knocking on the door of a potential world title shot, not so much because he is some obvious great, top tier fighter, but because he’s well-connected, popular, and entertaining. There are worse reasons to get world title fights.

But the veteran Helenius (30-3, 19 KO) threw a wrench into those plans, stopping Kownacki inside of four rounds in a FOX main event from Brooklyn. Neither man has fought since, as this rematch has been planned and put on hold a few times, but now it’s coming. Does Kownacki get himself back in the running, or is “The Nordic Nightmare” simply a terrible stylistic matchup? Kownacki always brings heat, for better or worse, and Helenius showed last time he’s not afraid to step into that fire. It was an entertaining fight the first time, and I don’t see either of them boxing for 12 and jabbing to a decision here, either.

7) Emanuel Navarrete vs Joet Gonzalez (ESPN+, Oct. 15)

Navarrete (34-1, 29 KO) has become the most reliable headliner in the Top Rank stable, really; not their biggest star, but someone they can count on to turn up at least a couple of times per year, though the magical days of him fighting fighting a scrub title challenger four times in seven months seem to be gone, in part because he actually can and does headline shows now.

Navarrete will be defending the WBO 126 lb title here against Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KO), whose most notable fight was a one-sided loss in a boring “grudge match” against Shakur Stevenson in 2019. Stevenson was all wrong for Gonzalez, but while he’ll be a clear underdog against Navarrete, too, it’s a much more winnable style matchup, a fight where at least he might get some sustained offense in, because “Vaquero” is not hesitant to get into exchanges, feeling he’ll almost always win them.

6) Teofimo Lopez vs George Kambosos Jr (PPV, Oct. 16)

You know, knock on wood and all, but we’re almost there. It seems. For now. After June 5, June 19, Aug. 14, Sept. 11, and Oct. 4 didn’t go through, and after attempts to put this fight in a Miami baseball stadium or Australia or the Middle East or Madison Square Garden’s lil’ room were scuppered, Lopez-Kambosos finally seems to have a home, and will mark the first fight back at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center since the pre-pandemic days.

Lopez (16-0, 12 KO) is going to be a huge favorite here, no question about that. Triller seem confused that their great and reputable brand name has not added a whole lot to a matchup that wasn’t in demand and is happening only because a sanctioning body ordered it, but Kambosos (19-0, 10 KO) has a sincere confidence that he’s going to shock a lot of people, and it really isn’t all that hard to imagine Teofimo might be a star champion who is overlooking a guy in this matchup. Then again, Lopez is pretty ego-driven and seems to have a drive to make a real statement here. The two sides have seemingly annoyed each other plenty. Even if the fight doesn’t wind up being too competitive, I can’t imagine it being boring. The rest of the card is another story.

We may also hear Jim Lampley back on a boxing call for the first time since 2018, unless Lampley has fully changed his mind about coming back, instead of just reading the room and getting himself the hell away from the Holyfield-Belfort debacle.

Knocking on wood didn’t help.

5) Frank Sanchez vs Eje Ajagba (PPV, Oct. 9)

Getty and Mikey Williams/Top Rank/Getty

Is this as “significant” as some of the other fights listed behind it? Nah, no world title, no whatever, and maybe neither of these guys are going to become serious heavyweight contenders. But this is also a well-matched fight between two heavyweights who hope to be on the rise in their careers, risking something instead of taking more useless mismatches against hopeless opponents.

Ajagba (15-0, 12 KO) bounced from PBC to Top Rank in 2020, and the power-punching Nigerian (now based in Texas) is looking to start a real breakthrough at age 27. He has flashed frightening power, but also seems like he may top out at “effectively basic” with his overall skill set. Sanchez (18-0, 13 KO) is 29 or 34 or something, and his association with the Canelo team has given him chances to bounce around on various cards. Sanchez, in stereotypical Cuban fashion, has skills and also does have the ability to put pressure on and batter opponents, but sometimes gets a little complacent and dull. He may be the more dynamic fighter, and may be able to drag Ajagba into the sort of fight Efe can’t win, but any heavyweight fight can change on a dime when both can punch, and both of these guys have pop.

4) Elwin Soto vs Jonathan Gonzalez (DAZN, Oct. 16)

Ever since he knocked off Angel Acosta in an exciting fight with a controversial finish back in 2019 to win the WBO 108 lb title, Elwin Soto has been fun to watch, in part because he really never dominates fights.

Soto (19-1, 13 KO) and “Bomba” Gonzalez (24-3-1, 14 KO) renew the Mexico vs Puerto Rico rivalry with this title fight, and it should be a good one. Gonzalez has been inconsistent in his career and doesn’t have the best chin, while Soto is crude at times but effective and likes to push the pace. I figure we get some really good action here, however long it lasts. Don’t forget that Gonzalez was up on two cards and even on the third when he went to Japan to fight a heavily-favored Kosei Tanaka in 2019. He can box and isn’t without power. He got stopped in the seventh round, yes, but it was one of those fights where you see the quality in the guy who lost, and know that if he puts it together on the right night, he can absolutely win a world title.

3) Dillian Whyte vs Otto Wallin (DAZN, Oct. 30)

I’m probably higher on this than most, but I’m higher on Wallin (22-1, 14 KO) than most. However you or Tyson Fury would like to explain it away, Wallin gave gave the standing LINEAL!!!!!!!!! heavyweight champion a tougher night than anyone expected in their fight two years ago, pressing a 12-round distance and slashing up Fury’s face along the way, first with a legal shot and then, yes, making it worse with some dirty tactics.

The Swedish southpaw has a huge chance here, going to London to face Whyte (28-2, 19 KO) at the O2. Whyte is less than a year removed from getting blasted out by a faded Alexander Povetkin, and even in his best wins has had very tough moments against Oscar Rivas, Derek Chisora (twice), and Joseph Parker. Whyte is an exciting heavyweight, period, because he comes to fight and isn’t a particularly skilled boxer. Wallin’s skill set is pretty basic, but good enough to capitalize on the big mistakes Whyte has a habit of making.

2) Jamel Herring vs Shakur Stevenson (ESPN+ and ESPN, Oct. 23)

Who wins Jamel Herring vs Shakur Stevenson? Photo by Kyle Hess/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

I love this matchup. I wasn’t sure we’d get it, because Herring (23-2, 11 KO) obviously would have preferred to face Oscar Valdez in a 130 lb title unification, but once that was clearly not in the cards, he signed the fight with Stevenson (16-0, 8 KO), a Top Rank and ESPN house favorite and someone both sides see as a potential real star.

Stevenson, 24, has a level of talent that Herring, 35, just isn’t going to match. I don’t think Jamel himself would really argue that Stevenson isn’t extremely skilled, every bit as skilled as the hype says he is. What Jamel would probably argue, and it’s where I go with it, too, is that skills alone cannot carry fighters at the top level. There’s got to be a level of grit, determination, and desire that comes into play.

Stevenson needs to be challenged, even if just enough that he comes out of a fight knowing it’s not always going to be easy. Shakur has really not been tested as a professional, because the guys he’s fought couldn’t do anything with him, and most of them gave up trying at some point in the middle of the fight if it got to the middle. Herring is not that sort; if Shakur is boxing great, Herring figures to dip into the bag of tricks and see what he can try to do. At the very least, I just don’t expect he’ll quit on the fight.

1) Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder 3 (PPV, Oct. 9)

Deontay Wilder seemed to really go off the rails after his Feb. 2020 loss to Tyson Fury. The question is whether or not he’s back and focused now. You don’t have to like Wilder or the things he says or whatever else, but when he’s focused, he’s dangerous. Nobody will dispute that. Not even Tyson Fury.

Fury seems to truly resent that he has to do this at all, really. I don’t think he wanted to bother with it. I know Top Rank didn’t. And all things considered, this fight does not have the level of buzz anyone involved would want. But they’ll probably ramp it up in the final week, and it’s another one that I just don’t see be boring. It’s a big fight, there’s a deep personal grudge going both ways here, however delusional you may find the roots of it, and it’s star tier heavyweight boxing. It’s the clear most important and biggest fight of the month.

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