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Boxing’s Burning Questions for August: Usyk vs Joshua 2, Teofimo Lopez comeback, more

Oleksandr Usyk beat Anthony Joshua once, will he do it again? Plus Teofimo Lopez returning and more coming in August.

Oleksandr Usyk beat Anthony Joshua once, will he do it again?
Oleksandr Usyk beat Anthony Joshua once, will he do it again?
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

In the past, we’ve looked ahead to a coming month in boxing by listing the best and biggest fights on the calendar for that month.

That’s fallen by the wayside for a very specific reason: Boxing doesn’t always have much to talk about by way of its matchups for a given month. July, for instance, sucked! And some months are even worse.

But what the fights do always have is questions, even if there are only a couple matchups of real note or intrigue. The coming month of August, for instance, has some interesting stuff around some fights that, being honest, aren’t that interesting.

So we’ll take a look at the biggest questions coming for next month’s fights.

1) Will Oleksandr Usyk beat Anthony Joshua again?

Oleksandr Usyk upset Anthony Joshua last September in London, winning a clear and deserved decision at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The rematch probably would have come in the spring, but after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, everything was put on hold.

Usyk, who stayed in the country and joined an armed defense group, is now set to defend the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles in the contractually-obligated rematch, this time taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Matchroom were able to get the most money to host the fight, any other concerns or questions be damned. That move also led to the Saudi backers selling the fight to Sky Box Office in the United Kingdom, despite Joshua being a DAZN man through and through, and Matchroom completely tied to DAZN worldwide.

For the Aug. 20 rematch, Usyk (19-0, 13 KO) is the favorite. As of this moment, DraftKings Sportsbook have Usyk at -205, with Joshua at +155. Joshua (24-2, 22 KO) is working with a new trainer, Robert Garcia, and there are plenty of questions about how that will work. Garcia is a tremendous trainer with a formidable stable and a lot of success over his career, but he’s never worked with a heavyweight at this level, and the general style of a Garcia fighter is a lot different than what AJ has been known for over the years.

I almost phrased this as “Can Oleksandr Usyk beat Anthony Joshua again?” But that’s a very easy question to answer. Yes, he can. Of course he can. He did it convincingly once.

But this is one where there multiple questions within the main question.

  • What toll will being in Ukraine during a war have taken on Usyk? Those were certainly not months where he was on his normal routine, not to mention the psychological aspects.
  • What impact, positive or negative, will Garcia have on Joshua? In that regard, how will Joshua fight? Will he be more aggressive, will he try to simply use his height and reach advantages and jab his way to a points win?
  • What adjustments will Usyk have made? Surely, he can’t expect the exact same AJ again; if a changed Joshua isn’t a better Joshua, the tactics will definitely be different.

I think it’s arguably the most compelling matchup on the schedule right now, because there are so many things that could be different from last year.

2) How will Teofimo Lopez look in his return?

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Teofimo Lopez has gotten plenty of hype and coverage for his return against Pedro Campa (Aug. 13, ESPN), which has to be entirely about Lopez, because on paper, Campa is not a threat.

The 30-year-old Campa (34-1-1, 23 KO) has a decent record in terms of the W-L totals, but his opposition has been weak. He will also be fighting outside of Mexico for the first time since 2015, when to be fair he did win a dominant decision over Aaron Herrera; his blemishes have been at home, not abroad.

The questions about Lopez (16-1, 12 KO) will be all about mindset, not his ability to win this fight. It’s his official move up to 140, but he always figured to be OK in that division in terms of size and physicality and all that.

Teofimo is coming off of a loss he just didn’t handle well in the public eye, when he was beaten fair and square by George Kambosos Jr in November of last year, a mess of an event that, cosmically, called for the Lopez upset loss, though nobody was really going in predicting it other than Kambosos and his team.

This is not to armchair quarterback a man’s mental health, for the record. You may recall in the immediate aftermath of the Kambosos fight, I argued that we should give Lopez time to process a humbling defeat and poor performance, plus whatever else was going on in his life, before we snapped to any hard judgments. That was a losing argument and I knew that going in — people loving snapping to hard judgments — but it’s also one where, OK, we got some time, he got some time, and then he started coming up with completely illogical conspiracy theories.

Has he accepted that he lost to Kambosos? Has he accepted what went wrong? Will he ever? Teofimo is a guy who’s going to want to get back in the spotlight as soon as he can, he’ll want to be in big fights again. He’s got a legitimate hunger to be great.

Realistically, there’s probably not a lot he can fully prove against Campa, but what he can do is not look shaky in a fight he is expected to win easily.

3) Will Adrien Broner disappoint again?

Maybe Adrien Broner can’t really “disappoint” anymore since it’s been several years since he convincingly won a fight over a decent opponent, but yet again he says he’s focused and has been training really hard and all that. There are some questions about his mindset, though. I mean, of course there are.

But specifically, Broner (34-4-1, 24 KO) had a mini-meltdown over doing a media conference call over Zoom, which has become the standard for early media calls for Showtime events. To be fair, Broner hasn’t fought since Feb. 2021, and before that hadn’t fought since Jan. 2019, so he surely just wasn’t aware of the new way of doing things.

Now 33, Broner is purely a part-time fighter with severely dwindled interest even from the fans who stuck with him through some rough times when he at least fought pretty regularly. On Aug. 20, he faces Omar Figueroa Jr (28-2-1, 19 KO), who has plenty of questions, too. Loser of two straight, the 32-year-old Figueroa is a different sort of guy; as much as he’s been knocked for not training well or taking his career seriously enough to succeed at the top level, he does always show up to fight, even in his losses where he’s been overwhelmed.

Broner, not so much. He doesn’t throw his hands. Figueroa does. I think there’s a chance we get a surprisingly entertaining fight here, and if Broner loses because he just won’t throw, the post-fight interviews could be something, anyway.

4) Does Emanuel Navarrete move up to 130 if he wins his next fight?

Emanuel Navarrete v Joet Gonzalez Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Navarrete (35-1, 29 KO) is past the honeymoon phase where the boxing journos were cranking in glee because he fought four times between Aug. 2019 and Feb. 2020, easily beating a serious of over-matched, under-qualified title challengers. How old school! How fascinating! Instead of one or two bad fights, four of them! They don’t do it like that anymore!

I enjoy Navarrete, to be clear. He’s a uniquely good fighter in today’s landscape, awkward and extremely effective, never dull to watch. When he has a fight he should dominate and make spectacular, he does that. When he’s challenged, he proves his ability and toughness.

His opponent on Aug. 20 is Eduardo Baez (21-2-2, 7 KO), a decent veteran fighter who moved up to 126 in his last fight and beat Jose Enrique Vivas in March. His two losses are to Ra’eese Aleem in 2021 and Mauricio Lara back in 2017, when neither of them were anyone.

If Lara wins here, the question will be whether he moves up to 130 or not. There were (very briefly) talks about a fight with Shakur Stevenson this year, and that would be a big one. Stevenson has wanted it for a while. Staying at 126, there is a great fight to potentially be made between Navarrete and the aforementioned Lara, but there’s little left for him under the Top Rank banner.

5) Will Vergil Ortiz Jr pick up where he left off?

Being honest, the fifth question spot this month was going to be about Jake Paul’s fight with Hasim Rahman Jr, but obviously that’s not happening. Instead, Saturday’s headliner is now the return of Vergil Ortiz Jr.

Being honest again, few expect Ortiz (18-0, 18 KO) to have any real trouble with Michael McKinson (22-0, 2 KO), a good boxer who just has no puncher power, and also may not be as good a boxer as Ortiz. It’s good to see McKinson get a shot to take — he’s fought his way to one — but this is a major task.

On the Ortiz side, the biggest question really is how he’ll look after a year off and a medical scare that canceled this fight in March. Last week, Vergil told our John Hansen that he’s feeling good and ready to get back in the ring. Will that prove true? Probably, yeah. This isn’t that big a question, most likely, but I couldn’t come up with much for Pedraza vs Commey.

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