By Jack Varney
With 2017 over and officially in the past, we can definitively put it down as one of the best years of boxing in recent memory. The best being more willing to fight each other culminated in some huge matches last year including: Golovkin/Canelo, Ward/Kovalev, Joshua/Klitschko & DeGale/Jack to name just a few and one would hope we can expect more of the same in 2018. With that in mind, I look ahead and pick out what would be the one fight I’d love to see made this year.
Anthony Joshua v Deontay Wilder
This would be a lot of peoples pick for the one fight they’d like to see this year, period, and for good reason. This fight is guaranteed fireworks; both huge punches with 58 KO’s in 59 fights between them, both being vulnerable to being dropped at times, and both with the firm mentality that they will go out and destroy the other one. I just hope politics and purse demands don’t get in the way of this one.
Oleksandr Usyk v Murat Gassiev
We’ve already been spoiled for choice for match-ups at Cruiserweight in the backend of 2017. The inception of the World Boxing Super Series has been a breath of fresh air and caused big excitement amongst boxing fans. With the tournament at the semi-final stage, this fight could come around as early as May and would be to decide the winner of the Ali Trophy. It’s a fight I believe we will see just how good either fighter is, will the highly skilled Usyk be able to deal with a power punching pressure fighter on him for 12 rounds, and would Gassiev be able to solve the puzzle of Usyk’s trickery. Either way, it’s a fight I’d love to see.
Sergey Kovalev v Artur Beterbiev
With Andre Ward’s retirement after knocking Kovalev out in their rematch back in June, the Light-Heavyweight division has really opened up and allowed the new era of champions to step forward. As long as we get two of, Kovalev, Beterbiev, Dmitry Bivol, Oleksandr Gvozdyk or Adonis Stevenson fight each other I don’t mind, but this one is the one with the most history so it sticks out the most for me. They met twice as amateurs, Beterbiev winning both meetings, however Kovalev maintains he was robbed and there has already been back and forth between the two in the media. Hopefully we see this unification grudge match in 2018.
George Groves v Chris Eubank Jr
Luckily, because of the magic of the WBSS, this match-up is already set in stone and only 6 weeks away. Groves finally picked up his first Word Title at the 4th time of asking before entering the tournament and his confidence will be as high as it’s ever been. Eubank has improved a lot since his defeat to Billy Joe Saunders, but there are still question marks over his place at the top. He’s yet to fight someone not suited to his style or at Groves’ level since his loss Billy Joe Saunders but is by far the fresher man and this is the chance to prove all his doubters wrong. It’s a genuine 50-50 and one that I genuinely struggle to pick a winner in.
Gennady Golovkin v Billy Joe Saunders
Although it looks like the rematch between Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez looks likely to happen in May, the fight I would really like to see materialise is Golovkin v Saunders. Saunders looked like he had stagnated after his performance against Artur Akavov and the cancellation of his fight with Avtandil Khurtsidze but a move to Sheffield to link up with Dominic Ingle has injected some much-needed life into his career. A win against Willie Monroe Jr and an outstanding performance in Canada against David Lemieux last time out has seen his stock rise massively. He’s proved himself worthy of being able to challenge but would he be able to tame the monster that is Golovkin?
Jermell Charlo v Jarrett Hurd
Light-Middleweight isn’t exactly a division ripe with huge match ups, but this is one that is bound to be explosive. Being two of the biggest in the division and two of the biggest punchers has seen them go on a good run of form as of late. Charlo finishing his last three opponents in John Jackson, Charles Hatley & Erickson Lubin with highlight reel KO’s and Hurd capturing the IBF title against Tony Harrison before beating Austin Trout in a fashion he hasn’t been beaten in before. With both being with Al Haymon, this is a fight we could well see in 2018.
Errol Spence Jr v Terence Crawford
Crawford seen by many as being Pound for Pound #1, Spence seen as future Pound for Pound king, this is a fight every boxing fan wants to see. Crawford moving up, after becoming the first four-belt undisputed champion since Jermain Taylor in 2005, will see the skilled Nebraskan native challenging Jeff Horn for his WBO title in his debut at 147lbs. Assuming he comes through that and Spence defeats Lamont Peterson on the 20th January, this will be one of the most sought after fights in boxing and one many will be clamouring for.
Josh Taylor v Regis Prograis:
Like the Light-Heavyweight division, it has been blown wide open since the departure of its King. With Garcia stating he will be returning to 135lbs after his title fight against Sergey Lipinets, the division will be devoid of a real star and be begging for one to breakout. Both Taylor and Prograis have been gaining rave reviews, Prograis with his explosive power backed up by some real skill and Taylor administering educated beatdowns, people are eager for these fighters to take the next step up to fight for a title. With the rate Cyclone are moving Taylor and Prograis eager for a big test, they both could look to each other for a real hard test in 2018.
Mikey Garcia v Jorge Linares
This is another fight that actually looks like it will be happening this year. With Garcia returning to the division once he is done at 140lbs, the fight being ordered by the WBC and both claiming they want the fight, with Garcia saying the fight will happen in the summer, these two could collide in 2018. Garcia has looked like he’s going from strength to strength since his return following his absence due to promotional problems, knocking out Dejan Zlaticanin before beating Adrien Broner over 12 rounds to win a Unanimous Division in July. Jorge Linares has earned the nickname of ‘The Brit-Slayer’ after beating Kevin Mitchell & Anthony Crolla twice, and fights Mercito Gesta on the 27th January in an apparent warm-up before an exciting match-up against Garcia.
Vasyl Lomachenko v Gervonta Davis
Although Floyd Mayweather has moved to dispel ideas of a fight between the two, it is still a fight I would love to see. Lomachenko needs no explaining and is looking for a fight that can really challenge him. Guillermo Rigondeaux purportedly would offer that challenge, but as it turned out, the fight was anything but convincing and Lomachenko walked all over him. In Gervonta Davis, Lomachenko would have to face another skilful southpaw with knockout power, however one not as talented as Rigondeaux but one much bigger than Rigo. Lomachenko would rightly go in as favourite but Lomachenko needs to fight the best available and Davis is definitely one of those people.
Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz III
With the Lee Selby v Josh Warrington winner ostensibly fighting Carl Frampton in the summer, as the 3 are all promoted by Frank Warren, this one that would happen in the second half of 2018 but one I really want to see, and think it needs to happen. It’s 1-1 now, with both rightly winning one each, this is an ‘anti-rivalry’, with both being very friendly and respectful outside of the ring, fans will want to see a conclusion. Can Frampton find his way back to his performance in the first fight under new trainer Jamie Moore, can Santa Cruz continue to box as cleverly as he did in the rematch and who will become the definitive victor between the pair?
Rey Vargas v Isaac Dogboe
Isaac Dogboe announced himself on the world stage last Saturday by knocking Cesar Juarez out with a hellacious left hook to claim the Interim WBO belt and with Guillermo Rigondeaux not announcing which division he will be returning to, the division is wide open for a new kingpin and the power punching Ghanaian could be the man to do that. Rey Vargas captured the WBC title with a convincing win over Gavin McDonnell, before successful defences against Ronny Rios & Oscar Negrete. With the lack of real exciting match-ups in the division, this could be the pick of the bunch.
Zolani Tete v Naoya Inoue
This one is one fight in particular that I really hope gets made in 2018. With Tete & Inoue both steamrolling through their recent opponents, the former setting a new world record for fastest knockout in a World Title fight in his last outing. They are not only powerful punchers but also skilled operators, both of which equally capable of beating the other on their day. With Frank Warren and Inoue expressing a desire to make this fight, hopefully it’s another huge fight for fight fans in 2018
Sor Rungvisai v Jerwin Ancajas
With a style like Rungvisai’s, every fight involving him is bound to be a barnstormer, but pair him with a fighter with a style like Ancajas’ then you’ve got a potential fight of the year. Rungvisai will obviously have the experience with a close decision win over many people’s pound for pound #1 and then decisively knocking him out in the subsequent rematch. Ancajas announced himself to UK fans in his destructive win over Jamie Conlan in Northern Ireland last year and looked a real talent, he is due a hard test now and hopefully a unification with Rungvisai will materialise.
Daigo Higa v Kosei Tanaka
Although, typically, these last 3 divisions aren’t followed as closely as the rest, there are still many top fighters around and great fights that could happen. Higa has been cutting a swathe through the flyweight division, winning the WBC title in his 13th fight. He has the power to change a fight at any time, and makes sure he’s always in the position to do that with constant pressure. Tanaka is yet to debut at 112 after relinquishing his WBO light-flyweight title, but he is one exceptional talent. He captured the WBO Minimumweight belt in his 5th fight before moving up to Light-Flyweight, eventually defeating fellow highly touted Angel Acosta in a WBO title defence. Not much attention comes to the little guys, but this fight would be worthy of it.
Ryoichi Taguchi v Ken Shiro
Taguchi claimed the Ring magazine belt in a unification match with IBF champion Milan Melindo to earn the right to call himself the best in his division back on New Year’s Day in a back and forth fight. He has gone from a defeat to now much known ‘Monster’ Naoya Inoue, arguably giving him his toughest fight in taking him the distance. Ken Shiro is another vastly talented Japanese fighter who, himself is a champion and thought of very highly in Asia. He won his WBC title in his 10th fight and he too was involved in a New Year’s showing as he destroyed Gilberto Pedroza in 4 rounds. It seems to be the next natural step for the two fighters.
Wanheng Menayothin v Knockout CP Freshmart
Menayothin’s name is one that, despite his weight, some fight fans may have heard of. Mainly, because he is closing in on Floyd Mayweather’s record of 50-0 after a close fought win against Tatsuya Fukuhara back in November, which put him on 49-0. The problem is, he has done this by fighting fighters clearly at a level below he is, with a lot of fights come against boxers with journeyman type records. However, when he has stepped up to world title level, he has won every time. His real challenge though would come against, who many feel, is the real #1 Knockout CP Freshmart. With not a lot of challenges around them and Menayothin coming close to retirement, maybe now is the time ot prove himself worthy of his record.