After a long hiatus, boxing returned in the early summer months with a series of fight cards designed to get the business going. Those cards featured a handful of recognizable names and a few solid, if not spectacular fights.
Heading into the fall, it’s time for the marquee events to take place — with or without a crowd. Promoters have lined up some of the biggest and most meaningful fights of the year, and there’s a lot to be excited about.
Here’s a look ahead at the best matchups boxing has to offer in the final four months of 2020.
1. Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr.
Oct.17, Las Vegas (on ESPN)
The matchup: Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) is the best lightweight in the world and holds the WBA and WBO world titles and the WBC “franchise” belt. He sits at No. 1 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings. At age 32 he isn’t old by any stretch, and his sublime skills are still undeniable. In 2019, he made easy work of Anthony Crolla (TKO4) and then won a one-sided unanimous decision over Luke Campbell. With his balletic movements in the ring, Lomachenko is still the “Baryshnikov of Boxing”.
The precocious Lopez (15-0 12 KOs) showed that perhaps everyone should believe the hype when he demolished Richard Commey in a second-round TKO victory in December to win the IBF lightweight world title. It was such a dominant and eye-opening performance that ESPN has him ranked at No. 2 at lightweight. He’s got size and youth on his side, as well as the confidence that is needed to become an elite boxer.
Why this fight matters: In an age when fights are over-marinated and take too long before they’re realized, this was one fight that broke the conventional norms of modern day boxing by coming together quickly. While Lopez just won his first world title, his team has been targeting Lomachenko for the past year. You have an elite fighter in Lomachenko, facing one of boxing’s brightest young talents in Lopez — and we really didn’t have to wait too long for it. Who knows when a circumstance like this will happen again?
The intrigue: Despite having the same number of professional bouts on their ledger (15), Lomachenko is the much more experienced boxer. Lomachenko faced Orlando Salido and Gary Russell Jr. in his second and third bouts as a pro, respectively. And given his prodigious amateur career (396-1, if you’ve forgotten), Lomachenko is the more seasoned boxer and nine years older than Lopez, who is 23. But at what point does the ring mileage impact Lomachenko? On the other end, how will Lopez deal with the ring wizardry of Lomachenko? Will this moment simply be too daunting for him?
2. Jermall Charlo vs. Sergey Derevyanchenko
Sept. 26, Uncasville, CT (Showtime PPV)
The matchup: Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) is the WBC middleweight world titlist, but many are still dubious of that claim because he was given that title when Canelo Alvarez was named the WBC “franchise champion.”. But Charlo is an explosive and hard-hitting fighter. Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs) is a solid, well-rounded fighter who has competed very well at the top level at middleweight. In 2018 he lost a close decision when he challenged Daniel Jacobs for his IBF belt, and in October he lost a close unanimous decision against Gennadiy Golovkin, in a fight many believed Derevyanchenko had won.
Why this fight matters: This is a matchup between the No. 4 (Charlo) and No. 5 (Derevyanchenko) middleweights, according to ESPN, and based on styles, this should be an old-fashioned shootout. Charlo likes to be the aggressor in the ring, while Derevyanchenko isn’t the type to back down from a fight. If Canelo decides to permanently move up in weight, the winner of this contest makes a strong claim for being the best fighter in the division.
The intrigue: For as much punishment as Derevyanchenko doled out to “GGG” last fall, he was also put through the grinder himself. There’s a chance that neither guy will ever be quite the same. After holding up against the heavy hands of Golovkin, we still have to see how he will take oncoming shots that will come in even faster from Charlo. If Derevyanchenko’s punch resistance hasn’t been too dulled, look for another memorable slugfest.
3. Jermell Charlo vs. Jeison Rosario
Sept. 26, Uncasville, CT (Showtime PPV)
The matchup: This fight isn’t just for three belts — it will clearly decide who the best junior middleweight on the planet is. Jermell, just like his identical twin brother Jermall, is a WBC world titlist, having regained the belt by stopping Tony Harrison in 11 rounds in their rematch. Rosario went into Julian Williams’ backyard in Philadelphia as a heavy underdog and promptly stopped him in five rounds to win the WBA and IBF world titles.
Why this fight matters: Anytime a unification bout occurs it’s important — and in recent years they have typically resulted in memorable fights, including last year’s 140-pound battle between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis. In an age when there are a plethora of “world champions” in every division, it’s always a good thing when there are fights that can reduce the noise. Based on the ESPN rankings, this is pairing of the top two fighters at 154 pounds — Charlo at No. 1, and Rosario right behind him.
The intrigue: Charlo may have recorded an 11th round KO over Harrison in December, but it was eye-opening to see Harrison have so much success inside, given that’s not his preferred style in the ring. In his fight against Williams, Rosario showed that he is a strong, physical fighter who seems comfortable when in close. But was that just one great night where he caught lightning in a bottle? Or can he replicate that against Charlo?
4. Ryan Garcia vs. Luke Campbell
The matchup: This fight is a true step-up bout for the ultra popular Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs) who, if you based it simply on social media following, is among the most popular boxers in the world. Now we find out if the telegenic 22-year-old is as skilled as he is marketable. Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs) is a stern test: he’s a long, lean, well-schooled left-hander. Campbell, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, is ranked No. 3 in the division by ESPN, and in recent years his only losses have been to Jorge Linares and Lomachenko — and he had strong moments in both bouts.
Why this fight matters: This fight will tell us if Garcia truly has some steak to go with the sizzle. If Garcia passes this test, the entirety of the boxing world will have no choice but to take him seriously. The winner of this fight could be catapulted into a bout with current WBC lightweight world titlist Devin Haney.
The intrigue: It’s very simple — is Garcia ready? It’s one thing to look impressive against Francisco Fonseca and Romero Duno, two of Garcia’s KO victims in the first round, but in Campbell he is facing an experienced pro that certainly won’t be blinded by all the flash surrounding Garcia. If Campbell is able to unfurl his right jab from the outside and stays away from the lethal left hook counter of Garcia, what’s Garcia’s plan B?
5. Errol Spence Jr. vs. Danny Garcia
Nov. 21, Uncasville, CT (PPV)
The matchup: Spence (26-0, 21 KOs), the reigning IBF and WBC welterweight titleholder, is coming off a hard-earned decision over Shawn Porter last September. But a lot has happened since then. Less than a month after that fight, Spence was involved in a one-car accident where he was violently ejected from his vehicle. Prior to that, this matchup with Garcia was scheduled for January. Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs), a former unified titlist at 140, has been a solid. if not dominant, welterweight, winning a vacant WBC belt against Robert Guerrero, and then dropping two close fights against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Garcia is rated No. 6 by ESPN at 147.
Why this fight matters: In terms of legacy, for Garcia, I think a victory could put Garcia on a path to Canastota and induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. As for Spence, who is ranked No. 1 at welterweight by ESPN, it could be another solid victory on his ledger and offer evidence if there are no long-lasting effects from his auto accident.
The intrigue: What version of Spence do we have at this moment? We can hear glowing reports about how Spence looks working out from his trainer (and what else do you expect Derrick James to really say?), but until we see him take a punch to his jaw — and Garcia has some serious power, especially with that left hook — Spence is the great unknown. It’s hard to imagine that being thrown out of the car, losing teeth and suffering lacerations on his face didn’t leave some kind of long-term physical toll. Until we see evidence proving otherwise, there will be doubts.
6. Daniel Dubois vs. Joe Joyce
Oct. 24, London, England
The matchup: The 22-year-old Dubois (15-0, 14 KOs) is considered the best young heavyweight in the sport, and this big, strong fighter is quickly improving from a technical standpoint. He seems to be on the fast track, as he’s already rated No. 3 by the WBO. Dubois scored five stoppage victories in 2019, and took care of Ricardo Snijders in his 2020 debut on Aug. 29. Joyce (11-0, 10 KOs) is a bit stiff and robotic, but he’s also a fighter that never stops throwing punches and has natural physical strength. Neither man is going to hesitate to push forward and pursue the knockout.
Why this fight matters: It’s rare that you see a matchup of two undefeated heavyweights before they get to a title shot. In this case you have a fight that looks to have plenty of fireworks. From this fight, a legitimate contender will emerge.
The intrigue: Dubois thus far has certainly passed the eye test. In Joyce, he’s facing the first fighter of a caliber that will be able to fight back. Dubois is the more fluid fighter, and he will beat Joyce to the punch consistently early on. But what happens if Joyce stands up to the early onslaught and takes Dubois into deep waters? In 15 professional bouts, Dubois has only reached the fifth round three times, with one fight, against Kevin Johnson, going to a 10-round decision.
7. Gervonta Davis vs. Leo Santa Cruz
Oct. 24, Uncasville, Connecticut (Showtime PPV)
The matchup: Davis (23-0, 22 KOs) is one of the young stars in the sport, and thanks to his hard-hitting style, he has become a legitimate ticket seller. Since his last fight, however, he’s had personal issues in recent months that include domestic violence charges filed against him in February.
Davis is currently ranked No. 4 by ESPN at lightweight. His toughest fight to date as a professional prizefighter has come against the scales. Davis was stripped of his first world title for failing to make weight for a title defense in 2017, and he has required multiple attempts to make the limit for several other key fights, including his most recent title defense against Yuriorkis Gamboa in December. In Santa Cruz (39-2-1, 19 KOs), Davis is facing an accomplished fighter who has won major world titles at 122, 126 and 130. At his best, Santa Cruz is an active puncher that relies more on volume than sheer power.
Why this fight matters: A victory over Santa Cruz will represent the most significant win of Davis’ career, while Santa Cruz could cement his Hall of Fame status by handing Davis his first professional loss. Stylistically this fight should be pretty entertaining. Davis is an aggressive puncher who has power in both hands and Santa Cruz has never been shy about mixing it up.
The intrigue: Will Davis make weight? That’s the key factor. The WBA just couldn’t help themselves by sanctioning this as both a 130- and 135-pound title fight. That could give Davis a safety net if he struggles to make 130. And that is key, because Santa Cruz has had one fight at 130 pounds, and he looked relatively unimpressive against Miguel Flores last November. If Davis makes 130, Santa Cruz (ranked No. 8 at junior lightweight by ESPN) has a real shot in this fight. At 135, this bout could be a blowout in favor of Davis.
8. Naoya Inoue vs. Jason Moloney
Oct. 31, Las Vegas (ESPN+)
The matchup: Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) isn’t just the premiere bantamweight in the world, but one of the very best fighters pound-for-pound (No. 4 by ESPN). He’s a dynamic offensive machine, and despite having just 16 fights on his record, Inoue has one of the best résumés in boxing. He has won major world titles in three divisions, and last year he added the Muhammad Ali Trophy to his mantle by winning the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, defeating future Hall-of-Famer Nonito Donaire in a memorable clash.
Moloney (21-1, 18 KOs) is a legitimate bantamweight contender, currently listed at No. 8 by ESPN, whose lone loss was a close decision challenging Emmanuel Rodriguez for the IBF bantamweight title in 2018. He’s a solid, well-rounded boxer/puncher.
Why this fight matters: Originally, Inoue was scheduled to face WBO 118-pound world titlist John Riel Casimero, but that fight was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic, and became a casualty of the new economics that presently exist in the sport. But in Moloney, Top Rank has found a respected opponent in what will be Inoue’s promotional debut.
The intrigue: Will Inoue be affected by ring rust? He hasn’t fought since last November. Moloney, on the other hand, fought on June 25 and scored a seventh round TKO of Leonardo Baez. Moloney is good enough that if Inoue has a bad night, it could be a difficult night for the champion.
9. Alexander Povetkin vs. Dillian Whyte II
Nov. 14 or 21, TBA
The matchup: This is a battle of two top-10 heavyweights (Povetkin No. 5, Whyte No. 7, respectively, in the ESPN rankings) and on Aug. 22 at Fight Camp, they put on one of the most memorable contests of 2020. Whyte (27-2, 18 KOs) seemed to be in full control after sending Povetkin (36-2-1, 25 KOs) down twice in the fourth round. The end looked inevitable for the 41-year-old Russian, until Povetkin uncorked a massive left uppercut in the following round that knocked Whyte out cold. It was one of the most dramatic and sudden turns in recent memory. And with that, Whyte, who had been the WBC mandatory challenger for almost three years, lost his number one position with the organization.
Why this fight matters: An inside track at the WBC title is on the line. Not too long after the first fight, Whtye and his promoter Eddie Hearn invoked the rematch clause that was in the fight contract. The WBC had finally stated before this fight that their WBC mandatory against current world titlist Tyson Fury would be due, but with Whyte losing that became a bit muddled. Whomever finds themselves as the winner of this rematch will find himself in a very good position for a title opportunity at some point in 2021.
The intrigue: While you have to admire the willingness of Whyte to go right back in there to right a wrong versus Povektin, you wonder if it’s prudent to come back so quickly after the circumstances of their first bout. He didn’t just lose, he was knocked out rather viciously. In any other situation, how many boxers would choose to go right back into the same fight so quickly? But perhaps the lure of that No. 1 spot in the WBC necessitates this decision.
Mark Kriegel breaks down Oscar Valdez’s latest win and wonders how he will fare against WBC lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt.
T-10 – Miguel Berchelt vs. Oscar Valdez
The matchup: Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs) currently holds the WBC junior lightweight world title, and the consensus is that he’s the world’s best 130-pounder. He’s an overwhelming physical force inside the ring, he has good size and attacks his foes with an avalanche of unrelenting offense. Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs), the former WBO featherweight world titlist, remains a fan favorite, and he stopped veteran Jayson Velez in 10 rounds back on July 21. Currently, ESPN lists him ninth at 130.
Why this fight matters: It’s your classic shootout between two proud Mexican-born prizefighters who have a rivalry that dates back to crossing paths in their amateur days. More than a belt is on the line here — pride is also at stake. For Berchelt, a victory over Valdez would represent one of the biggest name on his ledger, while Valdez is still looking to show that he is not damaged goods post-Scott Quigg. The truth of the matter is neither Berchelt nor Valdez has ever had as meaningful a fight as this one during their championship runs.
The intrigue: Once and for all, we will find out if Eddy Reynoso is the right fit for Valdez as a trainer, even though Valdez was undefeated with Manny Robles Jr. in his corner. Valdez and Reynoso have had four outings together, and the reviews have been mixed. They say that Rome was not built in a day, but it’s fair to say that they have had more than ample time to gel as a union. Whether it’s fair or not, this fight is a referendum on the Valdez-Reynoso tandem. Everything they have worked on the past year or so will now be judged on this fight.
T-10 – Yuniel Dorticos vs. Mairis Breidis
Sept. 26, Munich, Germany
The matchup: Finally, they meet. Originally, Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs) and Breidis (26-1, 19 KOs) were scheduled to meet in late March, and then May in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight division final, before the world shut down due to the coronavirus. Many wondered if the WBSS would resume, and here they are. It should be an entertaining fight between the hard-punching Dorticos and the well-rounded Breidis. This matchup now taking place in Germany probably favors Dorticos, as it’s a much more neutral setting than Breidis’ home country of Latvia, where this fight was originally scheduled.
Why this fight matters: First, it’s for the Muhammad Ali Trophy, which is given to the winner of the WBSS tournaments. In the past you’ve had such luminaries as Oleksandr Usyk, Josh Taylor and Naoya Inoue walk away with this hardware, and they each left the tournament with much higher profiles internationally. Winning the WBSS is a big deal. Also, this is another pairing of No. 1- (Dorticos) and No.2- (Breidis) ranked boxers in this division. It doesn’t happen nearly enough in boxing today, and when it does, it should be appreciated.
The intrigue: Which boxer will be more impacted by this fight being postponed twice? As you saw recently with the bout between unified junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez and Viktor Postol — who saw their bout get backed up twice as well — layoffs will affect different fighters in a variety of ways.