Another year is in the books, and for the sport of boxing, 2019 was certainly a memorable one. While we didn’t get all the fights we wanted (we never do, unfortunately), for the most part, boxing delivered.
There was no shortage of legitimate “fight of the year” candidates, and it showed once again that when you match the best fighters in the game against one another, good things happen inside that ring.
So as we look ahead to 2020, the hope is that boxing will give us another memorable 12 months of fights. I’ve put together a list of 20 matchups that would make that dream a reality.
Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez
This could be a case of be careful what you wish for, as Lopez (and really more so his boisterous father) have made a beeline for Lomachenko over the past few years, and now they got him. Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) captured the IBF lightweight title in emphatic fashion by dispatching the normally durable Richard Commey on Dec. 14 at Madison Square Garden with a highlight-reel stoppage. It set the stage perfectly for this spring showdown.
Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) is currently the unified lightweight champion, as he has the WBO and WBA titles around his waist. Lomachenko is also the WBC “franchise champion.”
Lomachenko-Lopez is a battle between one of the preeminent boxers of the generation and one of the most gifted young fighters boxing has to offer. Many believe it’s happening a bit too early for Lopez. The Lopez clan happens to think it’s happening just in time.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Shawn Porter
“Pacman” further cemented his legendary status in the summer by handing Keith Thurman his first loss to win the WBA welterweight belt. At age 41, Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) is still a formidable and elite fighter. It will take an elite fighter, or one who’s willing to take risks consistently, to defeat him.
In Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs), you have a fighter who never shies away from contact and is never afraid of sticking his nose in a pile. Back in September Porter pushed Errol Spence Jr. like he’d never been pushed before, but came up on the short end of a split decision. Even in defeat, Porter earned a measure of respect that had previously eluded him. Porter is the type of fighter who simply makes you uncomfortable in the ring, and only the sport’s elite — Kell Brook, Thurman and Spence — have bested him. While Manny would have the advantages offensively and in terms of overall skill, who has ever had an easy go of it with Porter?
Terence Crawford vs. Manny Pacquiao
OK, this is probably unlikely, given that Bob Arum couldn’t make this matchup when they were both promoted by Top Rank. But Crawford-Pacquiao is still a pairing of elite welterweights; they are ranked third and second, respectively, by ESPN.
Crawford, a three-division champion, is considered one of the most versatile and adaptable fighters in the sport. He is equally adept at dissecting his opponents from the orthodox and southpaw stance. And as he showed in his last fight versus Egidijus Kavaliauskas, he is one of the orneriest boxers in the game, as he out-meaned “The Mean Machine” in nine rounds to retain his WBO belt.
Pacquiao showed that age (40) is just a number as he handed the young whippersnapper Keith Thurman his first career loss back in July to capture the WBA welterweight title. No, he isn’t the whirlwind he was from 2009 to 2012, when he went on a historic run and rampaged through a few weight classes, but he is still a highly effective and lethal fighter.
“Pacman” is still making history, and Crawford is still looking for that star-making victory.
Canelo Alvarez vs. David Benavidez
It seems pretty clear that the days of Canelo being a middleweight are pretty over, after he stopped Sergey Kovalev back in November for the WBO 175-pound title. No, that doesn’t mean that Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) is a full-fledged light heavyweight now, and in fact, he just recently vacated that WBO belt. But given his star status and economic power, he basically has the option of fighting at Canelo-weight — which is basically any weight class or catchweight he chooses.
And fighting at super middleweight — as he did last year in blowing out the overmatched Rocky Fielding — seems to be a good middle ground for the 29-year-old Mexican star, who is at the peak of his skills. In WBC 168-pound titlist David Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs), he would be facing one of the boxing’s youngest belt holders (at 22), but also a talented all-around fighter with a vast offensive arsenal.
This would be a great matchup of styles and skills, where Alvarez could claim another impressive win and Benavidez could become a legitimate star in his own right.
Anthony Joshua vs. the winner of Wilder-Fury II
“AJ” exacted revenge and regained his belts on Dec. 7 by outpointing Andy Ruiz Jr. in their rematch in Saudi Arabia. No, it wasn’t necessarily the most breathtaking effort, but it was clean and efficient. When it was all said and done, Joshua once again had possession of the WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. Despite having the best résumé in the heavyweight division, he may not be the best in this weight class. But there’s no denying Joshua is its biggest draw.
On Feb. 22, WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and lineal champion Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) are scheduled to meet for the second chapter of their rivalry. In 2018 they fought to a disputed split draw. Regardless, they have a chance to settle the score and state their class as the best big man on the planet.
Whoever wins this fight should square off against Joshua to consolidate boxing’s biggest division. Any of the possible pairings are intriguing. Could Joshua outbox Wilder and evade his right hand for 36 minutes? Would he revert back to being more aggressive against Fury, who is the more natural boxer?
Let’s find out.
Terence Crawford vs. Shawn Porter
Much has been said about the possibility of this fight. But both Crawford and Spence have made it clear that this won’t be about Bob Arum and Al Haymon coming to an agreement — something which rarely happens — but rather two friends hashing things out and making sure that such a proposition is worth their while.
But should this happen, Crawford wouldn’t just be trying to beat the always difficult Porter. He would be looking to surpass the efforts of Kell Brook, Keith Thurman and Errol Spence, who thus far are the only men to defeat Porter. A round here, or a round there, and Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs) could very well be undefeated. Would “Bud” be the first guy to truly decipher the physical and grinding style of Porter?
While Porter is coming off a loss, it was a close split decision to the highly regarded Spence, which actually raised his stock, despite the final result. Porter is a hard-nosed fighter. He’s not always stylish or elegant, but he certainly has earned his place among the elite at 147 with victories over Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Adrien Broner, Andre Berto and Danny Garcia.
Will these friends end up as foes?
Jose Ramirez vs. Josh Taylor
Currently there are two unified belt holders at 140. Jose Ramirez stopped Maurice Hooker in six rounds in late July to consolidate the WBC and WBO titles, and he went into Hooker’s backyard in Dallas to get the job done. Now Ramirez will head to China to face his WBC mandatory, Viktor Postol, in February.
Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs), the WBA and IBF belt holder, scored a majority decision victory over Regis Prograis in one of the best fights of 2019 in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tourney. The southpaw from Scotland consistently beat Prograis to the punch in the middle rounds and surprisingly more than held his own on the inside. Taylor is a supremely confident fighter who can be sharp on the outside and hang tough from in close.
Both Ramirez (25-0, 17 KOs), 27, and Taylor, 28, are in their physical primes, but they could be growing out of the division soon and heading up to 147. I’d like to see both of these guys put their unbeaten records and all their belts on the line. Their different styles make it a must-see fight.
Naoya Inoue vs. John Riel Casimero
Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) has gained notoriety as one of the best fighters on the planet, and he recently captured the Muhammad Ali Trophy by beating Nonito Donaire in early November to win the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament. Inoue, who holds the WBA and IBF titles, is now associated with Top Rank and his first couple of fights in the upcoming year will take place in America.
Casimero (29-4, 20 KOs) is a three-time world titlist with a heavy punch. He knocked out Zolani Tete on Nov. 30 for the WBO crown and he is the consummate road warrior, having won fights in seven different countries. And he is more than willing to face “The Monster”… anywhere.
For all his offensive gifts, Inoue showed some defensive flaws against Donaire and suffered a cut over his right eye. While he would be favored over Casimero, Inoue would have to be weary of what would be thrown back at him the whole time.
Gervonta Davis vs. Devin Haney
OK, these guys have gone back and forth with great vigor over Twitter in the past, and perhaps they should actually do something about it in a real fight. “Tank” Davis (22-0, 21 KOs) is a former two-time belt holder at 130 and has moved up to lightweight. Outside of his title-winning fight against Jose Pedraza in 2017, Davis has faced flotsam and jetsam in subsequent fights. His run at junior lightweight could be best described as undistinguished, but there’s no doubting his talent.
Haney (24-0, 15 KOs), is one of the sport’s youngest world titlists at age 21. He just made his first defense of that belt by defeating the difficult Alfredo Santiago on Nov. 9.
Davis and Haney would be an interesting clash of styles. Davis is a hard-punching southpaw, while Haney is a well-schooled boxer. Chances are that Haney will soon be moving up to junior welterweight, so this fight can’t marinate for too long.
Daniel “Danny” Roman vs. Emanuel Navarette
For one reason or the other, despite being one of the handful of boxers who is a unified titlist, Roman (27-2-1, 10 KOs) isn’t given as much acclaim or respect as the others. But he is one of the most well-rounded craftsmen in the sport. About the only thing he doesn’t do at a high level is punch with power. Other than that, he has a complete arsenal and a great understanding of how to control distance and spacing, while putting on crowd-pleasing fights. That’s what he did once again as he dropped the tough TJ Doheny twice in late April, en route to a majority decision victory in a unification bout.
Navarette (29-1, 25 KOs) is one of the most difficult matchups in all of boxing, because at 5-foot-7 he is not just unusually tall for the weight class, he has a long reach to go with his height. And Navarette isn’t shy about letting his hands go. Since he defeated Isaac Dogboe to win the WBO 122-pound title last December, his subsequent efforts have become more and more dominant.
While Roman is the one with two of the major belts — WBA and IBF — it’s Navarette, the WBO titleholder, who many believe is actually the best in this division. Navarette’s size and activity will make him the favorite, but Roman has a history of methodically cutting down taller foes.
Vergil Ortiz vs. Maurice Hooker
Ortiz (14-0, 14 KOs) is on the very short list of the best young prospects in the world after the way he has blown through seasoned veterans Mauricio Herrera, Antonio Orozco and Brad Solomon in 2019. He’s a young kid going places — and he’s going fast. In 2020, Ortiz should be getting more tough opponents, as his promoter Golden Boy looks to move him up the welterweight rankings.
Hooker (26-1-3, 17), the former WBO 140-pound champion, is an experienced boxer who has been at the world-class level. He might have grown out of the junior welterweight division and his body might be much better suited for 147. You wonder just how fast GBP would pull the trigger on such a fight.
Ortiz-Hooker would be a battle of two fighters from the Dallas area, and would be a natural fit to be held in that city.
Miguel Berchelt vs. Jamel Herring
I believe that Berchelt (37-1 33 KOs) is the best 130-pounder on the planet. The current WBC champion has six successful title defenses and owns a solid set of victories that includes Francisco Vargas (twice), Takashi Miura and Miguel Roman. Berchelt most recently ran over Jason Sosa in a fourth-round stoppage. Berchelt is an all-out punching machine who lets his hands go liberally as he swarms his foes in a torrent of leather.
And perhaps it’s Herring (21-2, 10 KOs) who can neutralize the swarming, fast-paced attack of Berchelt. Herring, who is currently the WBO junior lightweight titlist, is a tall, rangy southpaw who has a good understanding of pacing and distance. When Herring beat Masayuki Ito by unanimous decision back in May to win the belt, Berchelt was in the audience with the plan of facing the winner.
Berchelt-Herring would be a classic and entertaining contrast of styles.
Jermell Charlo vs. Julian Williams
Three of the four major belts would be on the line here as Williams (27-1-1, 16 KOs) has the WBA and IBF belts around his waist after beating Jarrett Hurd, while Charlo just regained the WBC title by stopping Tony Harrison in 11 rounds in their rematch on Dec. 22.
Williams believed he was in line for a second chapter with Hurd, as he held a rematch clause, but the former champion has decided to take a tune-up fight versus Francisco Santana on Jan. 25, a fight that will be contested at a 156-pound catchweight. So there’s no guarantee that we see them fight again. In the meantime, Williams is facing Jeison Rosario on Jan. 18.
Now, if Williams-Hurd II doesn’t occur in the first half of 2020, well, we know that the fiery Charlo would be more than willing to tangle with Williams. And this bout would have a very interesting storyline, as Williams’ lone loss as a pro came to Charlo’s brother, Jermall, in five rounds in December 2016. But Williams, rated as the top 154-pounder by ESPN, has rehabilitated himself and rebuilt his career. He physically dismantled Hurd in their matchup by beating Hurd at his own game inside the pocket.
Charlo is an athletic, hard-hitting fighter who comes into fights with a bad attitude. He fights perpetually angry. Like Williams, he is 29, so you have two boxers right in the thick of their physical primes. The winner of this matchup is clearly the ruler of this weight class.
Ryan Garcia vs. Jorge Linares
There’s no denying the social media appeal of “KingRy” and he’s at the stage where you want to start finding out just how much steak there is to go with all the sizzle. Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs), the 2017 ESPN prospect of the year, is a fast, flashy fighter who has scored some highlight-reel knockouts. Garcia is 21, but he wants to go places … quickly. He believes he is destined to be one of boxing’s biggest and brightest stars — and based on his ability to go viral, he could be correct. But only if he can really fight against top-level competition.
Now it’s time to find Garcia a seasoned (which can be a euphemism for “past his prime”) foe — someone who is well known and still poses a threat, but ultimately might be a bit too long in the tooth. Well, perhaps it’s the accomplished Jorge Linares (46-5, 28 KOs), who throughout his career has won titles at 126, 130 and 135 pounds. Linares has always been one of the most stylish and elegant fighters in the world, but unfortunately, one of the most fragile.
Last year as he ventured up to junior welterweight, he was stopped in the first round by Pablo Cesar Cano. This was a harsh reality check for the 34-year-old Linares. The junior welterweight division simply was not for him. You get the sense that at lightweight, he could still be a threat.
A Garcia-Linares matchup will tell you exactly where Garcia stands as a player in the 135-pound division.
Mikey Garcia vs. Regis Prograis
Garcia’s optimal weight class is 140 and there are several viable options for him. He lost by shutout over 12 rounds against Spence in March at welterweight, and while he may have outgrown 135 (or no longer has the desire to make that weight), junior welterweight provides a reasonable middle ground for Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs), who has won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight. Garcia will begin his 2020 by facing Jessie Vargas on Feb. 29 in a welterweight contest, but going down to 140 could benefit him in the long run.
Prograis is an elite boxer/puncher who is coming off a tough decision loss to Taylor. Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs) employs smart, intelligent aggression and has a solid set of fundamentals. His style would mesh very well with the counterpunching tactics of Garcia, who is a sharpshooter.
This would be an intriguing matchup between two fighters coming off two high-profile defeats.
Leo Santa Cruz vs. Oscar Valdez
This is a pairing of two former featherweight belt holders who are now campaigning at 130. Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), at one time, was a fan favorite on an active schedule with an entertaining style. But in recent years that sentiment has waned. There was a palpable boredom as he slogged through his most recent fight on Nov. 23 against Miguel Flores. Santa Cruz is a fighter in need of a compelling fight — and fast.
And while he’s not based in Los Angeles per se, Valdez (27-0, 21 KOs) trained in the area for years, and a fight against Santa Cruz at a venue such as the Staples Center would be a significant event. The former WBO featherweight belt holder just recently moved up in weight and had to get off the canvas to defeat talented young upstart Adam Lopez by seventh-round TKO on Thanksgiving weekend. While he’s a former belt holder, Valdez still hasn’t really had a career-defining fight.
Santa Cruz-Valdez would hark back to the days when great local rivalries — oftentimes between Mexican boxers — regularly played out at the Forum and the LA Sports Arena.
Shakur Stevenson vs. Josh Warrington
Despite just recently winning the vacant WBO featherweight belt in late October against Joet Gonzalez, Stevenson, 22, doesn’t seem like he’s long for the division. And he doesn’t want to waste any time during his run as a titleholder. He has told his handlers and Top Rank that he wants significant bouts in 2020.
There has been plenty of chatter about him facing IBF titlist Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), an active, fast, hard-punching fighter who has significant victories on his ledger against Lee Selby and Carl Frampton. And unlike some of Stevenson’s past opponents, Warrington won’t be afraid to let his hands go. Another interesting variable to this potential fight is that it could take place in the U.K. There’s no doubting who would have the home advantage in this matchup.
Could the smooth, technical boxing of Stevenson offset the volume and tenacity of Warrington?
Gennadiy Golovkin vs. Jermall Charlo
Golovkin and DAZN are still angling for the third fight with Canelo, but the reality is that Alvarez may not want it and he may never return to middleweight. A fight between “GGG” and Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) might be the best pure slugfest that can be consummated at 160.
Golovkin (40-1-1, 35 KOs) captured the vacant IBF belt by defeating Sergiy Derevyanchenko, but he struggled mightily before leaving with a unanimous decision victory. For the first time in his career, Golovkin looked his age, which is now 37. He got banged up by Derevyanchenko, but GGG also showed he still has a set of very heavy hands.
Charlo, who just recently knocked out Dennis Hogan in Round 7, is a strong, fast, explosive athlete with pop in both hands. The problem is that his résumé as a middleweight is sorely lacking, although he has a notable victory at 154 against Julian Williams. Regardless, he’s a well-known commodity, and a fiery character.
Could Golovkin hold off this young lion from Houston?
Artur Beterbiev vs. Dmitry Bivol
Light heavyweight world titleholders are the very definition of “high risk, low reward” for other big names. While Canelo dipped his toe at 175, he just vacated the WBO belt he won by stopping longtime stalwart Sergey Kovalev in November.
Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) is among the hardest-punching men in the sport. In October he stopped Oleksandr Gvozdyk to become a unified titlist, adding the WBC belt to go with his IBF strap. Beterbiev is strong and stout, with power in both hands. Thus far, nobody has gone the distance with him.
The boxing skills of Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) could prove to be very difficult for Beterbiev. Bivol has proved to have enough power to keep opponents honest on the outside. Since bursting onto the scene with a set of eye-opening stoppages, Bivol has gone the distance in his past four defenses of his WBA belt. He needs a real test to elevate his profile and standing in the game.
The winner of this clash should be declared the best light heavyweight in the world.
Luis Ortiz vs. Adam Kownacki
How ’bout a good ol’ fashioned heavyweight donnybrook? Ortiz and Kownacki aren’t going to have a hard time finding one another in there. They are both heavy-handed punchers who have two-fisted attacks and aren’t afraid to mix it up.
If it wasn’t for the heat-seeking missile that is Wilder’s right hand, Ortiz (31-2, 26 KOs) might be undefeated and the heavyweight champion of the world. Unfortunately for Ortiz, in two bouts he wasn’t able to evade it despite long stretches of success, but “King Kong” is still a formidable heavyweight. But questions will linger about just how much he has left at age 40, especially after the damage he took from Wilder.
Kownacki (20-0, 15 KOs) is someone who isn’t particularly evasive or fast, but is tough, durable and strong. His last bout was a 12-round summer slugfest with Chris Arreola. What was alarming about that performance was that while Kownacki clearly held off the spirited challenge of Arreola, he was hit cleanly repeatedly by a fighter thought to be well past his prime.
For Ortiz, a win would show that he is still an elite big man. For Kownacki, it would solidify his standing as a top-tier heavyweight contender.
Jerwin Ancajas vs. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez
There was a time, not too long ago, when Gonzalez (47-2, 39 KOs) was considered the best fighter on the planet.
As he heads into the sunset of his career, you wonder if he can still compete at the world-class level. But make no doubt about it. If Gonzalez were to be involved in another title fight, hard-core fans would certainly be interested. Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KOs), the IBF belt holder at 115 who has been a world champion for a few years, has really failed to distinguish himself and needs a signature fight.
A guy like Ancajas needs a name like “Chocolatito” on his ledger. And Gonzalez isn’t ready to call it a day, just yet.