By Cliff Rold
Whether you’re covering up from the cold on the top of the planet, or heading to the beach to the south, for every fight fan there is only one new season the New Year truly brings.
The first of every year is the first day of the new boxing season.
Fight fans already know a little bit about what to expect from 2019. We are a bit more than a week away from Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner, a little less than a month from Eleider Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev II, and a couple months out from Errol Spence-Mikey Garcia.
That’s what we know is coming.
What we don’t know is a big part of the fun. It’s common to see lists early in January of fights everyone would like to see. Often, those lists are made up of potential matches riddled with promotional hurdles; they are the sort of wishes that if made too heartily can only lead to disappointment.
What if this year we take a moment away from pining for a Spence-Terence Crawford or Joshua-Wilder? Sure, it would be great if those fights happen and the year would be the better for it. If they don’t happen it won’t be a surprise so why let it be a barrier to enjoyment?
Instead, what about taking a walk through the sport and looking at what might be the biggest or best matches of the year we have a better than even chance of seeing? A year can be great even without certain fights developing when we want them to. What matches might make 2019 plenty great with a more cynical view of the possibilities?
Let’s begin at heavyweight.
Heavyweight: Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder II
They’ve already done it once. There’s no reason to think they won’t find their way back to each other again. The first fight was a financial success and the rematch promises to be even bigger. Fury’s rise from the deck in the final round insured another healthy audience. In a rematch, can Deontay Wilder land earlier and out Fury away? Can Fury avoid the floor in the rematch and build another lead on the cards Wilder can’t ultimately overcome? It feels like we might find out.
Cruiserweight: The WBSS
The Sauerland Twitter account declared this week that dates for the World Boxing Super Series semi-final matches are coming. That means we should be seeing Yunier Dorticos-Andrew Tabiti and Mairis Briedis-Krzysztof Glowacki. The tournament will either crown a consensus top challenger for champion Oleksandr Usyk or, if Usyk moves up and vacates, a likely new consensus champion in the division. Reports of financial issues for the tournament were unfortunate. If those are resolved, and stay that way, fans have plenty to look forward to at 200 lbs.
Light Heavyweight: Oleksandr Gvozdyk-Eleider Alvarez
Top Rank has the lineal and WBC titlist, Gvozdyk, and WBO titlist Alvarez in their stable. Assuming Alvarez can again defeat Kovalev, and we won’t know until he does, this feels like the sort of big fight ESPN or its streaming service would highly benefit from. Fans would too.
Super Middleweight:Callum Smith-Eubank/DeGale Winner
Fresh off winning the WBSS last year, Smith now holds the WBA and Ring Magazine belts at 168 lbs. James DeGale and Chris Eubank face off in February. The winner facing Smith would likely be the biggest money fight in the division with a natural home in the red-hot UK boxing market. The only thing that could be bigger is if Saul Alvarez stuck around in the class and challenged Smith instead. That feels less realistic than Alvarez staying at…
Middleweight: Saul Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs
Jacobs has had a working relationship with Eddie Hearn. Hearn has a broadcasting relationship with DAZN. Alvarez is exclusive to the streaming service and will need some notable opponents to help drive subscribers. Alvarez-Jacobs was teased in the aftermath of Alvarez’s win over Rocky Fielding. It’s not as big a fight for Alvarez as a third with Gennady Golovkin would be but it’s a fresh match we haven’t seen yet and one with real potential for fireworks.
Jr. Middleweight: Jarret Hurd-Jermell Charlo
If Charlo gets by a rematch with Tony Harrison, and there are plenty of reasons to think he will, this brewing grudge match gets right on track. We’ve already seen Hurd-Harrison. Hurd-Charlo, with Charlo insisting he should still be undefeated through the hype along the way, would be a hell of a lot of fun. Whether it played out on Showtime or Fox, the PBC would have an easy sell here.
Welterweight: Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao/Adrien Broner Winner
Does anyone really think Floyd Mayweather is retired? Nothing is more likely to challenge his career status than a winnable fight worth a boatload of cash. Whether it’s a return with Pacquiao both men seem to be lightly teasing, or a chance to do press conferences with his mini-me, the thinking here is Mayweather steps back into the ring at least once more in 2019. Hardcore fans might pretend they aren’t interested. Some of them might even skip it. It would still be the event of the year and every year needs its event.
Jr. Welterweight: The WBSS
See: Cruiserweight. The semi-final matches currently scheduled are Regis Prograis-Kiryl Relikh and Joshua Taylor-Ivan Baranchyk. Both should be good fights with a final sure to be hotly anticipated.
Lightweight: Vasyl Lomachenko-Miguel Berchelt
Let’s be honest: lightweight is not a loaded class. It has a clear top two and one of them is currently testing the waters at welterweigt. Lomachenko being with Top Rank and ESPN limits some of his options. From the pool of fighters near his weight who have also competed recently on ESPN, WBC Jr. lightweight titlist Miguel Berchelt might be the most interesting option. He has the frame to go to lightweight, can punch, and makes good fights. Lomachenko would probably win. It doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be entertaining.
Jr. Lightweight: Gervonta Davis-Alberto Machado
This might not be a great fight, or the best the division could offer, but on principle it needs to happen. By all rights, Machado should be the WBA ‘super’ champion in the division. He beat Jezreel Corrales; Corrales beat Takashi Uchiyama. That’s the way this stuff is supposed to go. Instead, the WBA demoted Corrales and eventually invented a new super belt that Davis won. Sometime in 2019, the WBA should do the right thing and order this fight (assuming Davis gets by Abner Mares in his next fight).
Featherweight: Gary Russell Jr.-Leo Santa Cruz
The WBC titlist Russell hasn’t made his annual appearance known yet for the year. The WBA champ Santa Cruz has a fight in February and then he should be free to pursue unification. This is one of the best matches available in the PBC stable. There is no good reason for this year to go by without seeing them fight.
Jr. Featherweight: Danny Roman-TJ Doheny
Matchroom Sport is already pointing to this unification bout as a destination. Roman has quietly developed into a solid WBA titlist while Doheny scraped by Ryosuke Iwasa for the IBF belt last year. It might be the only unification bout we could reasonably expect to see this year at 122 lbs.
Bantamweight: The WBSS
See: Cruiserweight and Jr. Welterweight. The semi-finals will feature Naoya Inoue-Emanuel Rodriguez and Zolani Tete-Nonito Donaire. The biggest money final would be Inoue versus a Donaire in the midst of a Cinderella comeback. The most likely final feels like it will be Inoue-Tete. Either way, the tournament will end with one man holding three belts and there shouldn’t be a bad fight in this bunch.
Jr. Bantamweight: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai-Jerwin Ancajas
Ancajas didn’t impress many with his last defense of the IBF belt but he went to Thailand to hype a possible unification showdown and it feels within reach. The lineal and WBC king Sor Rungvisai ended the prime of the great Roman Gonzalez and then further proved his elite status last year with a win over Juan Francisco Estrada. This fight isn’t made yet but it’s something new and it’s fair to think the winner fights Estrada before the year is out.
Flyweight: Charlie Edwards-Andrew Selby
IBF titlist Moruti Mthalane deserves a big unification fight as much as any titlist in the sport but let’s be honest: unification at flyweight just doesn’t happen much. After a brief burst of star power earlier in the decade, flyweight is back to a status quo of regional separation that makes it far too easy to keep the top guys apart. It leaves one to look at what mandatory challenges loom for the titlists. The biggest attraction would probably be newly minted WBC titlist Charlie Edwards against Andrew Selby in an all UK throwdown.
Jr. Flyweight: Ken Shiro-Hiroto Kyoguchi
These two Japanese battlers would make for a hell of a unification fight at 108 lbs. Shiro has defended the WBC belt five times. Kyoguchi just won the WBA and Ring Magazine belts with a stoppage of Hekkie Budler and made clear he wants to see Shiro sooner than later. This would be the sort of attraction hardcore heads get up at 4AM for with a smile.
Strawweight: Wanheng Menayothin-Knockout CP Freshmart
Menayothin has ten WBC title defenses and a record of 52-0. Freshmart has seven WBA defenses. Both men are from Thailand. This fight probably won’t happen but at 105 lbs. it’s worth twisting the rules just a bit at the close. Menayothin, at 33, deserves a chance to close out his run in style.
So, there it is. It’s not perfect, and it wouldn’t deliver every fight fans want to see this year, but there is no need for the perfect to be the enemy of the good. If all of this played out in 2019, combined with a little bit of the unexpected along the way, everyone who loves boxing would be able to say we had plenty to enjoy as this decade draws to a close.
Realistic expectations can still deliver plenty to look forward to.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]