The following excerpt was first published on this week's edition of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which drops every Thursday at 6 AM EST.
Previewing 2018 In Boxing: Top Matches, Storylines, One Prediction For 2018
As we’re entering the new year, boxing looks to follow up on what is largely considered a successful year in boxing, but several big stories that started in 2017 will conclude or continue in 2018. Disregarding any potential fights that will happen in 2018, one of the biggest storylines that appear to conclude soon is the status of Tyson Fury’s career.
Fury has not fought since winning the unified heavyweight title in 2015, but a series of failed drug tests has delayed his return and on two occasions, pushed Fury into a brief retirement. Although those retirements were never genuine, there was always a chance that Fury may never get reinstated and be allowed to fight again. So far, Fury’s business with the UKAD has concluded and now it is his job to convince the British Boxing Board of Control to reinstate his boxing license. Fury’s return to the ring could signify a massive shift in a burgeoning heavyweight division in the wake of Fury’s 2015 title win and the emergence of other heavyweight stars such as Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
Should Fury get back to the ring, the end game for Fury is to get a fight with Joshua, the current WBA and IBF heavyweight champion. Joshua vs. Fury would not only be a heavyweight superfight if and when it ever happens, but it has the potential to be the biggest boxing match in British history if we’re looking at the potential revenue that would come from such a fight. In the British boxing scene, a Joshua vs. Fury fight could have as much buzz for its intended region as Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao’s buzz in the United States had when the two faced off in 2015.
But such a fight won’t take place until 2019 at the earliest if we are to believe that Joshua fights Wilder in the second half of 2018. The current superfight for 2018 is Joshua vs. Wilder and with Showtime in play to be the American broadcasters for the fight, the network is primed to truly get on rival HBO’s level in terms of viewership when it comes to their live boxing telecasts. Showtime, as well as ESPN, have seen their overall boxing viewership make a drastic increase from 2016 to 2017 while HBO’s numbers have decreased.
The American boxing television landscape also saw networks such as CBS and FOX have some of the biggest boxing fights take place on their networks after years of having relatively mediocre fights on those networks. CBS got its money’s worth with the Keith Thurman vs. Danny Garcia welterweight world title unification fight, which was a ratings hit with the network. FOX had some ups and downs with their PBC on FOX series, but being heavily involved with the Mayweather vs. McGregor undercard has given the network a greater sense of security when it comes to wanting to dish out more big boxing fights in the future. This alone gives boxing a much needed boost in its quest to return to the mainstream prominence it once enjoyed in the late 20th century, the same kind of attention that other sports and the UFC have garnered in the past several years, but boxing’s problems don’t just end with television exposure.
In the past few years, a common critique on the sport of boxing are the increasingly dwindling value of the world titles. The problem, according to many, is that there are too many world championships to keep track of with four main governing bodies, and those governing bodies may have more than one world champion in just one weight class. The complaints largely go towards the World Boxing Association (WBA) for that very same reason. Back in 2015, the organization announced that it would drastically cut down on the number of championships per weight class. While the organization has been doing that for the most part, it still hasn’t nearly done enough to satisfy many fans’ desire to see a single world champion. The sport has largely corrected itself with major unification fights in 2017 and appear to be headed for more unifications in 2018 and 2019.
One reason we’re seeing several unification matches in 2017 and 2018 is thanks in large part to the success of the World Boxing Super Series. The WBSS’s super middleweight and cruiserweight tournaments has given fans unique matchups in both of those divisions, allowing several world champions to fight other world champions and unify titles. Interest in the tournaments has been both up and down, but there has always been a desire to see this tournament succeed because the WBSS model could eventually be used in other divisions. The two tournaments in the WBSS has been focused in Europe, but it does appear that if the WBSS were to return with other weight classes then the focus could be shifted to the west. This experiment has been successful in the sense that such a concept can work and has been working thus far, barring any freak injuries or any other incidents that could derail this tournament.
But with all the potential storylines from behind the scenes, the focus will always remain on the fights and 2018 has no shortage of massive fights. Below are some of the biggest fights to watch out for in 2018 that could happen.
Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder: Without mentioning a certain rematch at middleweight, Joshua vs. Wilder is the biggest fight the sport can have in 2018, but certain obstacles need to be cleared first. Joshua and Wilder have to beat both Joseph Parker and Luis Ortiz, respectively and those two boxers are not pushovers, meaning the two champions have their work cut out for them before thinking of fighting each other. The sport of boxing is missing a big time fight at heavyweight and it got one in Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko last year. The fight gave the sport some momentum and got its big star in Joshua.
On the flipside, Wilder has had a rough time as champion thanks to his various opponents violating the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program in the past two years. Wilder is only trying to prove that he is the best heavyweight champion in the world and a fight with Joshua is exactly what he’s looking for.
Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin 2: This fight seems to be a done deal. All that’s missing are crossing some t’s and dotting some I’s, but everything seems to be in place for the rematch to take place on May 5. The first fight, as great as it was, had been marred by Adalaide Byrd’s highly controversial 118-110 scorecard in favor of Alvarez. As much as the scorecard highlighted one of boxing’s biggest problems (incompetent judging), the interest of demand for a rematch only grew tremendously among the public.
Before the first fight even happened, there had been discussions of this rivalry ultimately having a trilogy. Regardless of the result of the second fight, chances are a third fight is entirely possible, giving fans the chance to have the decade’s defining rivalry take place.
World Boxing Super Series Finals: Back in 2017, the concept of a global tournament featuring eight of the best boxers at both cruiserweight and super middleweight seemed interesting, but not everyone was sure of it being a homerun. But the World Boxing Super Series has more than delivered on the quality of fights as well as the presentation and list of big names competing. It’s hard in this day and age to organize something this big without behind-the-scenes politics from promoters and boxers ruining it. So far, the WBSS has been a success around most parts of the world.
Even though fans in the United States haven’t had much success in trying to get a television deal for the tournament, and there were only two cards taking place in San Antonio, Texas and Newark, New Jersey. That doesn’t take much away from the insane matchups and fantastic fights that have happened in the first round. With the semifinals for both tournaments starting very soon, I highly recommend readers to watch these fights because tournaments such as these are what boxing needs: a no-nonsense tournament to decide who the best of the best is.
As a reminder, here is the current tournament schedule for the semifinals:
- January 27: Oleksandr Usyk vs. Mairis Briedis: WBO/WBC Title Unification
- February 3: Murat Gassiev vs. Yunier Dorticos: IBF/WBA “Regular” Title Unification
Super Middleweight Tournament:
- February 17: George Groves vs. Chris Eubank Jr: WBA “Super”/IBO Title Unification
- Date TBD: Rob Smith vs. Juergen Braehmer
Keith Thurman vs. Errol Spence Jr.: Thurman appeared to have answered the question as to who is the best welterweight boxer in the world when he beat Danny Garcia back in March in front of record-setting television audience in the 21st century. Unfortunately for Thurman, he injured his elbow in that fight, shutting him down for the remainder of the year. Since then, Spence re-introduced that question when thrashed Kell Brook to win the IBF welterweight title just a couple of months later. Fans would then spend the year counting down the days a potential Thurman vs. Spence Jr. unification fight could take place.
Unfortunately for fans, that fight will not happen in the first half of 2018. Thurman had already told me last year that his first fight back won’t be against Spence or against mandatory challenger Shawn Porter. Thurman would have to deal with his return fight and Porter before thinking about a fight with the IBF champion. Given how careful Thurman is being with his injury, he’ll likely wait until the first half of 2019 before making that unification bout possible, but don’t count out 2018 just yet.
Mikey Garcia vs. Vasyl Lomachenko: Lomachenko turned into a major star with a career-defining performance against Guillermo Rigondeaux in one of the most-watched boxing fights on television in 2017. Without a doubt, Lomachenko is the next big thing in boxing, but now lacks an opponent that can provide the same level of intrigue as Rigondeaux. That is, except for one name: Mikey Garcia.
Garcia, the WBC lightweight champion, is about as tough as any other boxer in the world is. Garcia is 37-0, fighting for a world title in a fourth weight class in February and has a summer showdown against Jorge Linares looming over the horizon. If Garcia wins both of those fights, his spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame is all but guaranteed, but what would elevate Garcia’s legend is a fight against Lomachenko. A battle between those two could be one of the greatest boxing fights of the decade.
This fight happening in 2018 is a toss-up at this point. ESPN, who is the broadcasting home of Top Rank and Lomachenko, have big plans for the two-time Olympic gold medalist, including a potential pay-per-view fight. Garcia has a rough history with Bob Arum and Top Rank, but if ESPN’s executives are able to maneuver around that, the network has itself the most intriguing and exciting boxing match the network has put out since the start of the ESPN-Top Rank deal signed in 2017.
Jarrett Hurd vs. Jermell Charlo: These two boxers, world champions at 154 pounds, proved to be the most exciting fighters in the division when they fought back in October. Hurd beat former world champion Austin Trout in a fight of the year candidate, which contained a round of the year candidate, and Charlo knocked out Erickson Lubin with one of the most spectacular punches of 2017. Both Hurd and Charlo are interested in unifying the division’s world titles and Hurd, who holds the IBF championship, could get that chance with a rumored fight against WBA champion Erislandy Lara. While yes, that fight would be a unification, it would be far from the most exciting fight in the division. Should Hurd beat Lara, it opens up the possibility of him having a three-belt unification bout against Charlo, the WBC champion, in the fall or winter.
The 154-pound division has been in a bit of a slump in recent years, which is jarring giving that weight had the likes of Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao fight there not too long ago. It is a division devoid of stars, but putting on a fight between Hurd and Charlo could provide fans with the best sleeper fight of 2018.
One Bold Prediction For 2018
Canelo vs. GGG 2 will have more than 2.2 million pay-per-view buys: Now to some, this prediction is not all that relevant when it comes to the in-ring action, but many insiders value the potential gains a Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin rematch could bring. Their first encounter, hampered by its proximity to the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor pay-per-view, did a reported 1.3 million buys. Golden Boy Promotions has disputed that number, but let’s stick with that amount since it appears to be the lowest it can get.
So why 2.2 million buys and not have it an even 2 million? The simple reason is that 2.2 million buys was what Mayweather vs. Canelo did back in 2018. Since then, Canelo’s pay-per-view buys have fluctuated depending on the opponent. Canelo appears to have found his audience after doing at least a million buys in 2017. With the way the first fight between the two middleweight champions ended, interest in a rematch skyrocketed and in some rare cases, a sequel can have their pay-per-view buyrate skyrocket.
The same happened in 2011 when Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez’s third fight did a million more buys (1.4 million buys) than their second fight back in 2008 (400,000 buys) so getting from 1.3 million to 2.2 million buys for Canelo vs. GGG 2 would not be an impossible task. With the rematch likely happening on Cinco De Mayo (May 5) and with no other boxing pay-per-views happening around that time, the rematch is primed to do a better buyrate than the first fight.
This type of buyrate is important for the sport of boxing because this would mean that the sport can thrive in the post-Mayweather era and that a new superstar can carry boxing into the next generation. Canelo is already an established name and Golovkin as well to an extent, but without that fight doing a truly amazing buyrate number (such as 2.2 million buys), there will always be that one criticism that the sport doesn’t know how to make stars other Mayweather and Pacquiao and that alone will hurt the status and reputation of the sport.