The sport of boxing is primed for a big year after 2016 did not provide fans with many great moments and fights (save for a few). January is loaded with eight world title fights and several more exciting non-title fights.
One of the many problems that plagued the sport in the past few years is the lack of unification fights to fix the constant problem of too many world titles. The first month only has one unification bout, but several of these fights open up the path of having more unification fights occurring in the second half of the year.
Without further ado, here's a quick rundown of all the top boxing fights for the month of January.
January 13: Hialeah, Florida
Erislandy Lara (c) vs. Yuri Foreman: WBA junior middleweight championship bout.
Lara isn't exactly an exciting champion to watch, but it's hard to argue that he has tremendous skills as a boxer. He already had the big fight against Canelo Alvarez, but one would think he would move on to other potential big names. Yuri Foreman is about as far from a big name fight as you can imagine.
The last time we saw Foreman on the big stage, he was a victim of unfortunate circumstances when he fought Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium with essentially one leg. After that loss, the former Israeli world champion took a break from the sport and recently came back in 2015 with a couple of wins over relative unknown fighters. There was really no rhyme or reason Foreman deserves another title shot at this point. When he was champion, he was pretty much a textbook definition of a "paper champion" (a term often used for boxing champions whose world title reigns only serve to transition to the next big name titleholder, and it's a term I personally detest, but it's a symptom of having too many world titles in multiple weight classes).
Lara should get an easy win here and a television card headlined by Lara is certainly a solid choice for Premier Boxing Champions, who need a big 2017 to remain afloat.
January 14: Brooklyn, New York
James DeGale (c) vs. Badou Jack (c): WBC and IBF super middleweight unification bout. For The Ring super middleweight title.
This is the first "big" boxing fight of 2017, kicking off what looks to be an extremely promising year in the sport. DeGale is coming into this fight looking to cement himself as not only the best boxer at 168 pounds, but the best boxer in all of Great Britain.
As for Jack, he may have not lost in any of his past three fights, all world title fights, but he didn't convincingly came out of each match as the clear and decisive winner. He won the WBC title with a majority decision against Anthony Dirrell, he then won a split decision fight against George Groves in his first defense and in his most recent fight, he had a majority draw against hot-and-cold contender Lucian Bute, retaining the title. All of those fights were tough opponents, so Jack deserves a lot of credit for performing well enough in all of those fights.
This is a fight between arguably the top two boxers at 168 pounds and the winner should start thinking about another unification bout against undefeated WBO champion Gilberto Ramirez. Those two fights should make 2017 an extremely good year for the super middleweight division.
Jose Pedraza (c) vs. Gervonta Davis: IBF junior lightweight championship bout
This a battle between two young fighters who have been untested (Davis) or has not boxed superbly well (Pedraza). Davis is a Floyd Mayweather protégé who is undefeated and has nearly knocked out every single opponent that has been put out in front of him. Unfortunately, Davis has not really fought anyone noteworthy in his career.
Pedraza, on the other hand, has not looked great since winning the belt, winning a debatable split decision fight against Edner Cherry and beating Stephen Smith via unanimous decision. Pedraza can start winning fans over with a convincing win over an otherwise glorified prospect in Davis.
January 20: Atlantic City, New Jersey
Danny Roman vs. Adam Lopez
This fight among top prospects was recently announced as a WBA title eliminator for its secondary junior bantamweight world title.
Both Roman and Lopez are in the organization's top 4 in its official rankings, so this essentially opens up the path for a future unification match against "super" champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is defending his title next month.
If you want to talk about a fight that could create a top 10 junior bantamweight in 2017, look no further than this fight.
January 28: Las Vegas, Nevada
Carl Frampton (c) vs. Leo Santa Cruz: WBA featherweight championship bout.
The much anticipated rematch from their exciting match of the year contender last summer, Frampton and Santa Cruz are expected to once again produce fireworks. This time, they're going to be headlining Las Vegas on an absolutely stacked card that already is the best card within the first three months of 2017.
The story of this fight is that Frampton moved up in weight after being a world champion in a lower weight class early in 2016 and challenged Santa Cruz for the title. Frampton defeated Santa Cruz in one of the best fights of the year and Santa Cruz's camp wholeheartedly believed that they should have won, but admitted to taking Frampton lightly in the bout.
These two provided one of the best featherweight bouts in recent memory and the second go-around should provide more of the same.
Dejan Zlaticanin (c) vs. Mikey Garcia: WBC lightweight championship bout
Mikey Garcia's return tour finally reaches to the stage everyone is anticipating: can Garcia capture world title gold after being away from the sport for two-and-a-half years. He looked impressive in his first match since his return against Elio Rojas, a fifth-round TKO victory back in July.
Zlaticanin is not a household name, but he's amongst the elite at 135 pounds. He burst onto the scene back in 2014 and defeated Ricky Burns via split decision, which was thought by many to be a mild upset, but not a complete shock. After all, he defeated Petr Petrov the year prior and finally captured the world title last June when he defeated Franklin Mamani via TKO in the third round.
Zlaticanin is the first Montenegrin boxer to win a world title, but his first defense is against a guy in Garcia who is dead set on winning a world title in a third different weight class.
Lee Selby (c) vs. Jonathan Victor Barros: IBF featherweight championship bout
Selby is one of the toughest fighters in the featherweight division, with a 2015 decision victory over a tough opponent in Fernando Montiel and coming back from an early knockdown to beat Eric Hunter via unanimous decision last April. He was inactive for the rest of the year, but any talk of ring rust is silly at this point, since this isn't the first time Selby went nearly nine months without a fight.
Barros is a former featherweight world champion and has won his past seven fights, but is past his prime as a top 5 featherweight. The 32-year-old will get his first real test since 2012 when he lost to Mikey Garcia. Showtime put together an incredibly good fight card if Selby vs. Barros is the #3 fight. On paper, this televised card is an early contender for boxing card of the year.
January 28: Indio, California
Francisco Vargas (c) vs. Miguel Berchelt: WBC junior lightweight championship bout
On the other side of this big boxing day, HBO will be broadcasting a big televised card of their own. Vargas is a fight of the year factory (as evidenced by him winning the Fightful.com Boxing Fight of the Year award for his battle against Orlando Salido) and this Vargas is looking to continue his positive momentum with a win against Berchelt.
Berchelt is the WBO's interim champion, but this belt is not a unification bout, but a win here could set up one with WBO champion and one of the most exciting young boxers of this generation, Vasyl Lomachenko. Berchelt is coming to this fight on a nine-fight win streak. His most recent win came against Thailand's Suriya Tatakhun, who sports a 61-3 record, and have been one of Asia's top boxers in the division, but was never able to seal the deal when it comes to challenging for a world title (he's 0-3 in world title fights).
The odds on favorite is Vargas, and there's no reason to believe a Vargas vs. Takashi Miura rematch in the second half of 2016 won't be a reality.
Takashi Miura vs. Miguel Roman: WBC junior lightweight title eliminator
One of the best boxers in the junior lightweight division, Miura's nearly three-year reign as the WBC champion came to an end when he got stopped in the ninth round in November 2015 against Francisco Vargas. Some Japanese boxing fans may start to wonder if Miura truly can hang with the cream of the crop in the division and Miura will get a shot at revenge if he beats Roman.
Roman has not lost a fight since 2012 (18 straight wins), but don't let the streak fool you. He really hasn't beaten anyone who can even come close to Miura's level. Roman has stopped his last six opponents and Miura is not invincible, so a Roman win would be an upset, but not an earth-shattering one.
January 28: Puerto Rico
McJoe Arroyo vs. Teiru Kinoshita: IBF junior bantamweight title eliminator
Arroyo won a vacant world title in 2015, but it took 14 months for him to make his first, and only, defense of the title against current champion Jerwin Ancajas. The Puerto Rican boxer was then branded as slightly damaged goods by the Puerto Rican boxing community, not being able to take that next step into stardom. His pro career started in 2010, but he is already 31 years old, so time is not exactly on his side if he loses this bout.
Kinoshita is a former Japanese champion and won his last six fights. Unfortunately, his last three wins came against guys who either were making his debut or were winless in their career. The massive jump in competition might be a little too much for Kinoshita. The winner of this fight becomes the mandatory challenger to Ancajas' title, opening up the possibility for an Ancajas vs. Arroyo rematch down the line later this year.
January 29: Macau, China
Jerwin Ancajas (c) vs. Jose Alfredo Rodriguez: IBF junior bantamweight championship bout
Ancajas, the first Manny Pacquiao-promoted fighter to win a world title, upset Arroyo last September to win the title. Ancajas will travel to China for his first defense of the title against a man who somehow got a world title shot despite a 4-4 record in his last eight fights (he is on a three-fight win streak against three less than stellar opponents).
Rodriguez's career went downhill since winning the interim WBA junior flyweight title. He won the vacant Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) All America super flyweight title in his most recent fight, which shouldn't really inspire a whole lot of people who is thinking he has a shot at beating Ancajas, who is about to enter his prime as a professional athlete at 25 years old. He has won his last three fights, so it should give him a ot of momentum and confidence heading into this fight, however.
Fightful will have coverage for these cards throughout the month of January, from press conference recaps to live viewing parties. Fightful will be doing live coverage from the Barclays Center for the DeGale vs. Jack fight card on January 14 and from the Bally's Resort and Casino in Atlantic City for the roman vs. Lopez fight. Both of those fights will be broadcasted on Showtime.