By the time we reach the weekend, the calendar will flip to 2021. The new year in the boxing world kicks off right away on Saturday, as one of the sport’s most intriguing prospects, Ryan Garcia, vies for the vacant WBC interim lightweight title against Luke Campbell.
The action is set to pick up in a major way with a trio of title fights in late January, as Stephen Fulton gets his delayed shot at the WBO junior featherweight title against Angelo Leo; and Caleb Plant defends his super middleweight belt against Caleb Truax.
But the biggest question of all, to the surprise of no one, is how the heavyweight division moves forward with the roadblocks still standing in the way of an Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury superfight. With implications of a willingness to vacate some or all of their titles to make it happen, could the opportunity for a long-awaited undisputed heavyweight champion of the world be derailed by politics?
Our panel of boxing writers is here to break through the noise and offer insight.
Real or not: The fight against Luke Campbell is the one that will make Ryan Garcia a boxing star.Ryan Garcia, right, shown here moments before his first-round TKO of Francisco Fonseca, has an opportunity on Saturday to become a star for his boxing, not just his social media presence. Tom Hogan/Golden Boy/Getty Images
Ben Baby: Real. Ever since Garcia entered the consciousness of boxing fans, many viewed him as a social media star first and a prospect second. And if we’re going to be honest about Garcia, let’s go ahead and acknowledge the obvious: He’s incredibly valuable because he captures a vastly younger audience, which boxing has been losing to other sports, including MMA.
But his ring prowess has grossly lagged behind his marketing acumen — until now. The upcoming bout against Luke Campbell will be a true test of where Garcia stands at this point in his career. Campbell is a legitimate lightweight who lost a split decision to Jorge Linares in 2017 and a unanimous decision to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2019. He’s no slouch.
Yes, Garcia is only 22. But because of what Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney are doing, there’s pressure on Garcia to accelerate his career path. If Garcia has the goods and beats Campbell, he has the potential to eventually become the biggest star in boxing.
Real or not: No belts will be on the line when Tyson Fury faces Anthony Joshua.play
While the chatter surrounds Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury for the heavyweight title, Mark Kriegel addresses the role Deontay Wilder will play.
Eric Woodyard: Not real. To quote a wise man by the name of Shawn Carter — aka Jay-Z — it’s “politics as usual.” It’s hard enough to make the megafights that fans want because of business and the conflicting governing bodies, but to think that all the championship belts won’t be on the line for a potential Joshua-Fury showdown is bizarre. That’s like playing for an NBA championship without receiving a ring for your performance. That’s wack.
The belts are what excites boxers. Outside of the huge paydays, it’s also what separates these bouts from being viewed as a glorified sparring matches. I hear what Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has said about not being afraid to proceed without any titles on the line, but I can’t see the fighters going for this without an opportunity to secure the crown as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. It means you’re the best of the best. King of the hill. I just can’t see that happening, and if it does, this would be another black eye for the sport, robbing the public of a heavyweight joining an exclusive club for the first time since Lennox Lewis 21 years ago.
Real or not: Devin Haney is next up for Teofimo Lopez.play
Teofimo Lopez withstands a late surge from Vasiliy Lomachenko, with a masterful 12th round, winning by unanimous decision to become the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.
Michael Rothstein: To me, this is a question of “should be” versus “will be” — and it’s part of the overarching problem for boxing to begin with, although there isn’t enough space to go into that. Lopez’s next fight absolutely should be against Haney. It is a unification bout and those tend to bring in some level of money. It would consolidate all four of the belts in another division into the possession of one man, which I believe is the best for the sport. So from a “should” happen standpoint, yes, this is real and a no-brainer — even if Lopez questions whether or not Haney is ready. In my head, if Lopez doesn’t think Haney is ready, that’s all the more reason to fight him, get the belt and move on as an undisputed champion.
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But will it happen? That’s always the question when it comes to boxing or MMA. The two Americans are young fighters, so there is time to make this fight happen, and it feels like the talk around this one might be the setup to get it to go. For Haney, the fight makes sense on every level. Lopez, to me, has more options, whether it’s his IBF mandatory challenger George Kambosos Jr., a rematch against Lomachenko or going up in weight to fight titlists Josh Taylor or Jose Ramirez at junior welterweight. There’s also the fight — and I’d hold off here for a bigger payday with fans and more hype — with Gervonta Davis.
All of that said, while Lopez has options, it might be best for him to take care of the immediate business in front of him and line up either Haney or Kambosos Jr. before making bigger moves out of the division.
Real or not: Caleb Truax will upset Caleb Plant.
Nick Parkinson: Not Real. Truax’s best form was when he deservedly won an upset decision over James DeGale in London in December 2017 to capture the IBF super middleweight title, before losing it back to DeGale four months later. Now 37, the Minneapolis native does not have the same appetite or energy, and he faces a boxer in IBF super middleweight world titlist Plant, 28, who is focused and in form with three good wins behind him.
The win over Jose Uzcategui, a more experienced fighter with knockout ability, was especially impressive from Plant, who knocked down Uzcategui twice on his way to a unanimous decision. After being linked with a fight against Canelo Alvarez in 2020, Plant knows the importance of defending his belt and staying in contention for a lucrative fight in 2021 against Alvarez, who recently won two other versions of the world super middleweight title.
Real or not: It was the right call to give Stephen Fulton another chance at Angelo Leo.
Cameron Wolfe: Real. Fulton shouldn’t lose his shot at the WBO junior featherweight title because he contracted COVID-19 in July. Leo won the vacant title easily against fill-in Tramaine Williams, but the true battle to show who deserves the belt is rightfully between Fulton and Leo on Jan. 23. Besides, Fulton vs. Leo should be a very entertaining fight between two undefeated 26-year-old top-10 contenders in the division. Leo, No. 10 on ESPN’s junior featherweight rankings, is a fair champion in giving No. 8 Fulton another chance, and boxing will likely be rewarded with a very competitive title fight.