By Donavan Leonard: 2017 was a banner year for boxing fans in terms of fights that should have taken place, as well as the resulting in-ring action. From one of the great heavyweight fights in recent memory between Anthony Joshua and Vladimir Klitschko, all the way down to the now 49-0 minimumweight Wanheng Menayothin, there were many intriguing bouts that were both wanted by the fans and delivered the action desired.
From top to bottom, here are the marquee bouts that helped define 2017 as one to remember, the bouts that need to occur in 2018 to sustain the momentum, and the chances of those bouts happening.
2017: Joshua v Klitschko. Fight of the Year, Round of the Year. This will be difficult to top.
2018: Joshua v Deontay Wilder. Chances: Very good, perhaps in late 2018. As long as Joshua can win his bout against Joseph Parker (he will be rightfully heavily favored), and Wilder can get past both Luis Ortiz (no small task) and his ego. The winner will probably reign for quite some time.
2017: The World Boxing Super Series bouts. Oleksandr Usyk, Murat Gassiev, and Mairis Briedis advanced in the manner expected, with Yunier Dorticos making a statement with his demolition of fellow bomber Dmitri Kudryashov.
2018: The same. Chances: Almost guaranteed, barring injuries and monetary disaster. The semis look great on paper, especially Gassiev-Dorticos. Perhaps there will be enough financial reward for other divisions to follow this business model.
2017: Andre Ward v Sergey Kovalev 2. Although the ending was controversial for different reasons than the first bout, it was one that needed to happen, and did.
2018: Kovalev-Dmitri Bivol. Chances: Good. There is no guarantee that Bivol defeats Sullivan Barrera, but he is the favorite. With Kovalev and Bivol both under the Main Events banner, this bout should be consummated. The only concern is that the promoter feels that this bout needs to marinate.
Alternate: Adonis Stevenson-Kovalev.
2017: World Boxing Super Series bouts. Callum Smith, George Groves, Chris Eubank Jr, and Juergen Braehmer may or may not be the top dogs in the division, but their willingness to participate in the tournament trumps fights by those not willing to throw their hats/belts into the competition (Gilberto Ramirez, David Benavides).
2018: The same. Chances: Good (see cruiserweight). Eubank Jr and Groves could prove to be every bit as special as Joshua-Klitschko. The winner will not be able to rest on their laurels, as the very talented Smith is favored to topple Braehmer to earn his place in the final. Groves/Eubank vs Smith in the final should not disappoint.
2017: Gennady Golovkin v Saul Alvarez. The action was fairly enjoyable, but the result left a bad taste in the mouth of almost everyone.
2018: The winner of GGG-Alvarez (assuming it takes place in May) vs Jermall Charlo or Sergiy Deravyanchenko. With GGG-Alvarez having a “been there, done that ” feel to it, the next bout on the winner’s schedule would hold a great deal of intrigue. If GGG wins, he will be gunning for the record for middleweight defenses, a feat that should rightfully be earned with a victory over a top-notch opponent. Chances: Low. With talk of a trilogy even before the first bout occurred, the money involved in a third bout could trump logic. If Alvarez wins, his popularity will allow him to dictate a second-tier opponent for his follow-up bout in September (perhaps Miguel Cotto conqueror Sadam Ali?). Alternate: Billy Joe Saunders vs Daniel Jacobs.
2017: Jermell Charlo v Erickson Lubin. Good action at this weight, with Jarrett Hurd v Austin Trout being another very entertaining fight, but the one-punch kayo of the highly touted prospect might have been the most unforeseen and impressive outcome of the year.
2018: Charlo v Hurd. Charlo drops bombs and Hurd advances forward like the Terminator. This would be an early favorite for fight of the year. Chances: Low to middle. Although both fighters are PBC fighters, their high-profile fighters do not tend to be very active or get matched together in a timely manner.
2017: Errol Spence v Kell Brook. Spence proved his worth, going across the pond to take the title from Spence, breaking his orbital bone in the process. Unfortunately, it was his only outing of the year.
2018: Spence v Keith Thurman. Chances: Low. As mentioned above, good inter-PBC fights do not seem to be coming together as quickly as would be ideal to the fans. Alternate: Terence Crawford v Spence/Thurman. Crawford’s move to welterweight could be interesting if he takes care of Manny Pacquiao – conqueror Aussie Jeff Horn as easily as expected.
2017: Crawford v Julius Indongo. It is true that belts do not make the fighter, but the rarity of one person being proclaimed the champion of the four major sanctioning organizations is worth mentioning. Bud put an exclamation point on who was truly king as he knocked out an outclassed Indongo in less than three rounds.
2018: Mikey Garcia v Regis Prograis. Chances: Zero. Garcia has stated that he plans to return to 135 to fight Jorge Linares for Lightweight supremacy after Garcia fights Sergey Lipinets for Lipinets’ 140-lb. title. If Garcia finds it too difficult to shed the weight, what next for him? Indongo? Eduard Troyanovsky? The biggest challenge at 140 may be the talented Prograis. Although inexperienced, his natural ability and skill make him a far riskier challenge than anyone else at that weight. With little additional monetary reward, Garcia would look elsewhere.
2017: Garcia v Dejan Zlaticanin. This marked Garcia’s re-emergence as a serious player in the boxing scene. The knockout was one of the most vicious in recent memory.
2018: Garcia v Linares. Chances: Medium to High. Both have stated that they want this fight to take place, and the schedule for their next bouts makes it look like it will take place in the fall of 2018. Alternate: Luke Campbell vs Robert Easter (but not in Ohio).
2017: Vasyl Lomachenko v Guillermo Rigondeaux. It is true that the fight was not competitive and that Rigo moved up two weight classes. However, it was one of the most-viewed bouts of the year, and the hype surrounding a bout between two, two-time gold medalists gave it a touch more credibility to the non-regular boxing viewer.
2018: Lomachenko v Miguel Berchelt. Chances: Low to Medium. Loma is tied to Top Rank and Berchelt appears to be an HBO commodity. The money to be made here may not be enough to bridge the great divide. That is a shame, because Berchelt seems to be the type of rugged fighter who can answer questions about Loma that have not been asked since his close loss to Orlando Salido. Alternate: Berchelt vs Kenichi Ogawa.
2017: Leo Santa Cruz v Carl Frampton 2. One of the early treats of 2017, Santa Cruz corrected his mistakes from the first bout, boxing beautifully to a 12-round decision.
2018: Santa Cruz v Gary Russell Jr. Chances: Very Low. Santa Cruz is working on a date with Abner Mares, and Russell has nothing on his calendar. This is another case of PBC fighters not being matched when it seems to make sense. Alternate: Frampton v Lee Selby.
2017: Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux. This fight resulted in Rigo being stripped of his belt. Perhaps Rigo was no longer the class of this division, but without a belt to attract opponents, his chances to appear in meaningful bouts are probably over.
2018: Rey Vargas v Jessie Magdaleno. Chances: Low. No financial reason for these two undefeated fighters to share the ring. Perhaps that will change over the next twelve months.
2017: Luis Nery v Shinsuke Yamanaka. Yamanaka had held the title since 2011, and Nery knocked him out in the fourth round….and tested positive for PEDs. Nery has since gained the blessings of the WBC to keep and defend the title. The two are scheduled for a rematch on March 1st. In a bout not involving a positive drug test, Ryan Martin’s victory over rugged champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov showed that he has the toughness to be a stern test for anyone in the division.
2018: Nery v Zolani Tete. Chances: Low. Assuming Nery is a as good as he looked versus Yamanaka without the help of PEDs, a bout with Tete could be explosive. Tete became an overnight sensation with his 11-second dispatching of Siboniso Gonya. First, he has a bout lined up with Omar Narvaez, whose only two professional losses are to Nonito Donaire (2011) and Naoya Inoue (2014). Alternate: Inoue vs Nery, should Inoue move up as he has hinted.
2017: Wisaksil Wangek v Roman Gonzalez 2. The first bout was one of the fights of the year, and despite the controversial decision, it established that Wangek belonged. The second left no doubt as to who was the better man. The brutal 4th round KO of Gonzalez signaled the end of one era, and possibly the beginning of a new one.
2018: Wangek v Juan Francisco Estrada. Chances: High–scheduled for February 24th. Estrada’s lone loss in the last five years was a competitive one to Gonzalez. This is his chance to beat the man who beat the man. Alternate: Wangek/Estrada vs Inoue if he stays at junior bantamweight. It would be a classic.
2017: Donnie Nietes v Komgrich Nantapech. Nietes has held a world title since 2007 (minmumweight, junior flyweight) , and this was his first title bout at flyweight. The now three-division champ hopes this reign ends like his others-undefeated.
2018: Nietes v Daigo Higa. Higa is 14-0 with 14 kayos. Chances: Low. Unification bouts at these weights seldom occur. This could be one of the better under-the-radar bouts should it happen.
2017: Ryoichi Taguchi v Milan Melindo. This barely made the cut, occurring on New Year’s Eve. Taguchi defended his title (WBA) and unified IBF) by beating Melindo over 12 rounds.
2018: Taguchi v Carlos Canizales. Chances: Medium to High. The only blemish on Canizales’ record is a draw with Taguchi. It is certain that both fighters want to show who truly is the better fighter.
2017: Wanheng Menayothin v Tatsuya Fukahara. Menayothin improved his record to 49-0 with the victory, moving him within one of matching Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record. That is not the record for most wins without a loss, but with May’s popularity it is sure to draw attention.
2018: Menayothin v Knockout CP Freshmart. Chances: Medium. Both fighters hail from Thailand, and it could be worth the risk for Menayothin. Menayothin has 8 defenses of his title, Freshmart has 7 defenses. Little interest has been paid to this weight class in quite some time (Ricardo Lopez retired in 2001), but this appears to be one full of history and significance. Maybe the boxing gods will smile down and bring this bout to fruition.
This is but a taste of how great a year could lie ahead. Perhaps in twelve months a retrospective will show how much the promoters/fighters/networks did right.