A potential Anthony Joshua heavyweight unification bout against Tyson Fury could be the biggest fight of the year, but will it happen? When? And what should be next for lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez? A rematch against Vasiliy Lomachenko? A unification fight against Devin Haney?
While these fights have all the ingredients to be big events in 2021, a proposed showdown between former pound-for-pound great Floyd Mayweather and YouTube sensation-turned-boxer Logan Paul could turn into one of the most entertaining events inside a boxing ring this year.
With an eye toward the short term, Angelo Leo is the WBO junior featherweight world titlist and he's in action on Saturday, when he faces Stephen Fulton. But is he the best fighter in the division? He has a good chance to strengthen his claim by beating Fulton.
Four-division titlist Adrien Broner announced his return to the ring more than two years since his last bout, a unanimous decision loss to Manny Pacquiao in January 2019. Broner is 0-2-1 in his past three fights and has dealt with legal issues outside the ring -- one as recently as November. But somehow, Broner has always been a must-see fighter. Can he revive his career and get back to title contention by the end of 2021?
ESPN's Andre Ward, Timothy Bradley Jr., Joe Tessitore, Mark Kriegel and Ben Baby break down these topics and share their thoughts.
Real or not: Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury will be the biggest fight of 2021
Real. I don't like talking about fights that have been talked about so unremittingly for so damn long. The idea itself tends to grow stale, and by the time the protagonists get around to actually fighting they can be north of their primes (exhibit A: Mayweather-Pacquiao; exhibit B: Errol Spence Jr.-Terence Crawford, which you can pencil in as a lock for the last year of President Biden's first term). But the Joshua-Fury fight will in fact happen this year ("99 percent" sure, according to my sources). Tyson Fury is 32, and Anthony Joshua is 31; each man is in his heavyweight prime. The powers that be -- in this case, Bob Arum's Top Rank, Eddie Hearn's Matchroom and Tyson's advisers, MTK, are already deep in discussion. They don't need a huge stadium full of fans, just a huge site fee from the Middle East, presumably Saudi Arabia.
So, is this the best fight? On paper, I'm partial to the 140-pound unification between Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez, a fight that promises not just accomplished champions, or mere skill, but relentless ferocity.
But it is the biggest, no question. Not only is Fury-Joshua or Joshua-Fury, however they parse it, a four-belt unification, it's a chance to crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in 1999.
It might feel odd, to those of a certain age, that this comes down to a battle of Brits. But the Fleet Street papers in London will be fully energized, which is a great thing -- especially when you have the most nimble heavyweight champion -- physically and verbally -- since Muhammad Ali.
That would be Fury, of course. And his talent for provocation will make even the American media take notice.
He wins by TKO in the second half of a great fight, then retires to inaugurate a new tradition: Fury's seasonal engagement as Crooner-In-Residence at the MGM Grand. -- Kriegel
Real or not: Angelo Leo is the best 122-pounder in the division
Not real. For starters, let's just take a look at the odds for this weekend's WBO 122-pound title fight between Leo and Stephen Fulton. Despite being the challenger, Fulton (-150) is the slight favorite on most sportsbooks, which means Leo (+125) will be in the strange position of being the underdog looking to defend his title.
That being said, the winner of the Leo-Fulton fight will have the most momentum of anybody at junior featherweight. Rey Vargas, ESPN's No. 1 fighter in the division, has moved up to featherweight, leaving a void in the 122-pound division. Luis Nery (WBC) and Murodjon Akhmadaliev (IBF, WBA) hold the other major belts.
Akhmadaliev hasn't fought since January 2020. Nery's last bout was a win in September against Aaron Alameda, who had an undefeated record as thin as paper-mache.
If Fulton beats Leo, it makes sense for him to get a crack at Nery since both are under the Premier Boxing Champions umbrella. Right now, we need more big fights at junior featherweight before determining who is the best junior featherweight in the world. -- Baby
Real or not: Adrien Broner will fight for a title in 2021
Before I answer that, my first question is -- at what weight? The welterweight division is stacked (and dangerous) and there isn't an easy road at 140 pounds either. Broner has been on hiatus. He hasn't been in a live fight since his loss to Pacquiao in January 2019 and no one really knows the life he has lived outside the ring during his time off. For a professional prizefighter, your lifestyle outside the ring during a layoff is everything. That could be the difference between a successful return that leaves people clamoring for more, or a disastrous outcome that has folks calling for the end of your career.
Broner can probably fight for a title sometime in late 2021. I just don't think he will and I don't feel he should. This should be a year where Broner knocks off some ring rust, allows himself to adjust to this new COVID era and gives himself time to fall back in love with the sport of boxing. If Broner has aspirations to fight for another strap, 2022 is the year. -- Ward
Real or not: Floyd Mayweather-Logan Paul takes sideshow fights too far
Why Helwani isn't convinced Mayweather vs. Paul is legit
Ariel Helwani explains why he is not convinced the exhibition fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Logan Paul is legitimate.
Not real. In fact it doesn't take things far enough! Asking "too far" would assume that we're applying some standard of actual boxing.
If Mayweather-Paul actually happens it should have puddles of oil on the canvas, disappearing ring ropes and WWE's Braun Strowman as the guest referee choke slamming each cash-grabbing participant. I'm serious. Why not?! It's strictly an entertainment event, so produce it up as much as possible.
I greatly respect the PPV event purely as a full-throttle capitalistic opportunity. Not as boxing, c'mon.
Mayweather-Paul is simply using the staging of boxing. Not unlike the way Nik Wallenda's high-wire walk over a volcano used the vehicle of fear-based anticipation TV. We all knew a safety-harnessed Nik wasn't falling in the lava. However, few in the YouTube generation realize that Floyd isn't really fighting. The event needs to raise its level of absurdity so that we don't have to condemn a state-run athletic commission for insulting itself by even sanctioning it. An actual top-level world championship fight between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez is on ESPN that same night, but if the PPV can offer up something far more exotic than Floyd carrying Paul and feigning a challenge, then I'd like to see it after the real champs brawl. -- Tessitore
Real or not: Devin Haney will be Teofimo Lopez's next opponent
Haney looking past Garcia, focusing on Lopez
Devin Haney tells Cameron Wolfe that he doesn't think Ryan Garcia will fight him and is focusing on Teofimo Lopez instead.
Both fighters are young and ambitious and Lopez has already conquered an extremely difficult challenge in defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko. If I were in his position (driver's seat) I would either rematch Lomachenko and negotiate a third fight agreement but without money limits, only percentages, just in case things don't go well the second time around.
Secondly, once Lopez is completely healthy he should look to fight his mandatory, whatever is first depending on sanctioning bodies' expectations. Lopez must continue to build on what he has started and stay relevant by fighting more often. The money will increase with his popularity, as he has only 16 fights and has already been to the mountaintop.
For Haney, I would like to see him in a fight where we have to think twice before we pick a winner. After he was elevated to full champion by the WBC, Haney has yet to fight anyone with recognition. No disrespect to Gamboa, but he is way past his prime. Richard Commey, Masayoshi Nakatani and Felix Verdejo are fighters who would make me say hmmmmm. -- Bradley Jr.