We’re nearing a month into this bouncing baby of a decade, and as such we’ve seen our share of boxing match-up wish lists for the new year. But let’s think about it slightly differently. If there are just a handful of fights we simply have to see in 2020 — by virtue of the general excellence of the match-up or how determinative they would be in some particular way, and how much of a gulf we’d feel in our soul if they didn’t happen — what are they?
Be it enacted by The Queensberry Rules boxing blog (or, at least, one writer who asked the others if this was a bad list, as amended):
TYSON FURY VS DEONTAY WILDER 2
Why: The first meeting between these two heavyweights was, if not a classic brawl, a super-intense tactical match-up punctuated by one of the most amazing single moments in boxing in some time. Watching Wilder (it’s no longer absurd to identify him as one of the single most powerful punchers in the history of the sport) hunt Fury (a ridiculously good defensive technician for such a large man) for 12 rounds, knowing that Wilder could end it at any moment, had anyone watching on the edge of their seats. That Fury went down once only accelerated the drama. That he went down in the final round again in what looked like a surefire knockout, only to summon some kind of necromancy to rise and fight to a draw, made it all the better. The unsatisfactory draw made a rematch a must. And now, should someone win the second time around, it will crown a Transnational Boxing Rankings champion.
Chances: Absent a big injury or a failed drug test or some other unforeseeable catastrophe, 100 percent. It’s booked for Feb. 22.
ANTHONY JOSHUA VS THE WINNER OF TYSON FURY VS DEONTAY WILDER 2
Why: The resolution gained by crowning a true champion at heavyweight in the bout just above this one will still leave one thing unresolved — the years and years of edging toward finally knowing who’s the best between Fury, Wilder and Joshua. Given Joshua’s financial clout in the U.K., it would likely be the richest fight the sport could make outside of a less-appealing rematch between retired Floyd Mayweather and aging Manny Pacquiao. Fury and Wilder have established themselves as the two best heavyweights by ring accomplishment. Joshua, coming off his first loss (a knockout to Andy Ruiz) and a rematch victory that was somehow simultaneously impressive and a little shaky, is the clear third. But do we really, really know what would happen? And don’t we want to find out? Joshua vs Fury is a U.K. extravaganza between a conventional fighter and the opposite, while Joshua vs Wilder is a fun battle between traditional power puncher and a wild, unhinged force of nature.
Chances: Joshua and the other two have longed talked about getting in the ring, and it still, sadly, feels distant. It seems like it will probably happen at some point if Joshua and the victor of Fury/Wilder 2 continue winning, but probably not in 2020.
TERRENCE CRAWFORD VS ERROL SPENCE
Why: Stating the obvious to begin — this one comes with a big asterisk. Spence was in a horrific-looking car accident and charged with a DUI, so it’s hard to say when he will return to the ring, although signs suggest as of now he should be able to resume his boxing career without major physical impediment, at some point. Setting that mystery aside, these are two of boxing’s elite young talents, in the U.S. or anywhere else, both highly skilled and aggressive boxer punchers and both currently campaigning in the welterweight division. If the previous bouts mentioned would crown a heavyweight champ and then wrap up the major questions there, Crawford vs Spence might crown a new pound-for-pound king.
Chances: They’re lo-to-nil for 2020, sadly. Spence is talking about making a return this year. Even the most diehard advocates for this match-up would have to concede that Spence would be foolish to go straight to Crawford coming off such a massive trauma. A warm-up bout to see how he’s doing off a long layoff and to test whether he’s fully well makes far more sense.
JOSH TAYLOR VS JOSE CARLOS RAMIREZ
Why: The dynamic at junior welterweight is fairly similar to that at heavyweight, albeit with a story that’s advanced a touch further. Taylor, Regis Prograis and Ramirez are the three top men at 140, in that order. We saw Taylor defeat Prograis with little controversy, yet with plenty of competitiveness. Ramirez wasn’t in the World Series of Boxing last year, though, so we don’t know how he’d fair against each of the others. Taylor vs Prograis was a Fight of the Year-caliber battle, but because Prograis has eased off on the brawling toward Taylor’s boxer-puncher style, Ramirez is probably the most aggressive of the three on the boxer-puncher scale. The winner facing Prograis would settle the clear “Man” at 140.
Chances: Pretty good! Both have fought on DAZN, eliminating the whole promoter vs promoter/network vs network thing that gets in the way of some of the biggest, best fights. They each say they want to fight the other. Ramirez has a bout booked against Viktor Postol first, so look for it later in the year.
VASYL LOMACHENKO VS TEOFIMO LOPEZ
Why: It’s arguably the world’s current P4P king vs his most dangerous threat. Lomachenko has incandescent skill. Lopez has incandescent power. Lopez can box some, but he’s not in Loma’s league there. Loma can punch some, but he’s not in Lopez’s league there. As Loma has aged some and moved up to lightweight, he’s appeared a bit more vulnerable. You can see it having a similar dynamic to Fury-Wilder 1, albeit with a bit more contact and less stalk/defend and a lesser chance of an automatic KO should the more powerful man connect.
Chances: This one’s as close to done as they can get without being all the way done. Top Rank says it’s a go for sure, with only the location and final date before the end of May to be settled.
NAOYA INOUE VS JUAN FRANCISCO ESTRADA
Why: You won’t see this one out there as often on comparable lists, but think about it. Estrada is the clear champ at junior bantamweight, while Inoue is the #1 man at bantamweight, and yet they’re just about the same size. Both have climbed up from lower classes and carried their strength with them. Inoue may very well be on the verge of becoming the clear champ of his division, too, with a fight booked against #2 John Riel Casimero for April. No disrespect to Casimero — that’s not an easy fight — but Inoue ought to win it. After that, what would be better than the champ of one division facing the next? We’re talking two pound-for-pound top-10 fighters as it is, one of whom is an underdog (Estrada) who has a habit of raising his game against top-notch opponents.
Chances: Estrada has said he wants it. It doesn’t ping on much of anyone else’s radar. With Estrada relatively recently signed with Eddie Hearn and Inoue even more recently signed with Bob Arum, it might never happen at all, let alone 2020. Estrada’s injury history also adds another impediment in a fight that didn’t need many more.
ARTUR BETERBIEV VS DMITRY BIVOL
Why: When’s the last time the light heavyweight division felt truly like matters had been resolved? Longtime champ Adonis Stevenson played keep-away from his top contenders. Oleksandr Gvozdyk finally wrested the crown from him, then lost it to Beterbiev two fights later. Beterbiev would prove he truly belonged by taking on #1 contender Dmitry Bivol and defeating him. Beterbiev has superior power to Bivol’s sharp technique. Both, however, engage plenty. The winner can worry about Canelo Alvarez whenever he decides to make a permanent home above the middleweight division he currently rules. For now, Beterbiev vs Bivol would give us some sense of closure. It also would give Russia one hell of a countryman-vs-countryman battle.
Chances: Let’s put the odds at 50-50. Bivol declared he would like to face Beterbiev, Beterbiev declared he was open to it, and the usual promoter differences don’t feel unbridgeable for now. Bivol has a bout scheduled in the short term, making this another “maybe later in the year.”