As diehard fight fans, every so often we take a long and thoughtful look at the assemblage of talent in the boxing world, all the top contenders and champions, and we shake our heads and utter a cry of pain and bewilderment which echoes through the land and translates, roughly, into the following: “Ay, caramba! So many terrific dream fights that will never happen!!! How can the boxing gods be so cruel?”
We’ve made “dream fight” lists before, and no doubt we will again, but this one is different in that we are halfway through 2017 and it’s no doubt just a bit ungrateful to be asking more of a hamstrung sport that this year has given us such excellent tilts as DeGale vs Jack, Miura vs Roman, Vargas vs Berchelt, Chocolatito vs Sor Rungvisai, Brook vs Spence, Ward vs Kovalev II, and Joshua vs Klitschko, just to name a few.
But the state of boxing today is such that one can argue that rarely has it been so difficult to make the obvious, quality clashes among the top fighters in each division. With the now taken for granted and never-ending “cold war” between HBO and Showtime, and all of the other associated promotional rivalries, lucrative marquee match-ups, which in decades past would have been more or less compulsory, are now like cakes and confections behind a display window which fight fans can gaze at but can never, ever taste. Instead we are offered the hollow meringue that is Mayweather vs McGregor, a circus-like diversion more than a meaningful prizefight, and to which we say, “No thank you!!!”
And thus, in a year otherwise rich in riveting battles and meaningful match-ups, not to mention a legit high-stakes showdown in Canelo vs Golovkin still on its way, as starved as we otherwise are for the matches which competition should dictate, we can’t refrain from meekly holding out our bowl, like the pathetic foundling in Dickens’ classic tale, and at the risk of shocking the boxing gods with our ingratitude, boldly asking for “more.” More drama; more action; more clashes for which we will gladly put down our hard-won shekels. Not pointless sideshows, but real battles between real warriors. Inspired by a banner year for boxing, herewith, in no particular order, the fantasy fights which could and should happen sometime soon. Are we asking too much? Are we being too greedy? Maybe, but there’s no harm in dreaming. Or in having the admirable boldness and nerve of young Oliver.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs Mikey Garcia: This match represents the stiffest test available for either fighter. Neither has truly been challenged thus far, save for Vasyl losing a close decision to Salido in his second pro fight, but everyone agrees he has advanced by leaps and bounds since then. Garcia too has dominated virtually every opponent he’s faced and showed no signs of ring rust despite his long layoff. Lomachenko needs to find serious challenges establish a legacy as one of the greats of his generation and Garcia definitely represents such a challenge.
Against Garcia, the Ukranian won’t be able to dance on the outside against his bigger and rangier foe. He must close the distance and try to out-land his opponent, which would make him susceptible to Garcia’s powerful counters. Another reason for intrigue is the fact that Lomachenko’s chin has yet to be tested, a question that Garcia will force him to answer. Garcia needs to make up for lost time and beating one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world would surely do that. I see Vasyl having to overcome some serious adversity but out-landing and out-hustling Garcia in a very close battle.
Errol Spence Jr. vs Terence Crawford: “Bud” is in a similar position to Lomachenko, completely outclassing his foes while looking untouchable. He too has dispatched all contenders in his division and needs to move up to where greater challenges lie and where the most intriguing match would involve fellow rising star Errol “The Truth” Spence. Having claimed his first world title by stopping Kell Brook, Spence appears ready to be the face of the welterweight division for years to come. This match would pit arguably the two best finishers in the sport, both with low-key personalities but undeniable killer instincts.
Ideally, Crawford should first move up and score a couple of wins at 147 to get comfortable at the weight, and during that time Spence could face dangerous rivals in Thurman, Garcia, or Porter. Thus Crawford vs Spence would ripen into a real superfight, a match that would determine genuine welterweight supremacy. I would give a slight edge to Crawford given his versatility and ability to change up his style, even if he is the smaller man. Either way, the fans would be guaranteed a tremendous fight, high-speed chess at its finest. — Jamie Rebner
Carl Frampton v Lee Selby: This showdown would’ve been bigger if Frampton had won the rematch with Leo Santa Cruz, but screw it, it’s still a major fight in the featherweight ranks. IBF champion Selby hasn’t lost since 2009 and would be massively confident of scalping Frampton, who seemed jaded last time out. Selby vs Frampton pits the Welshman’s range, work rate and awkwardness against the Irishman’s compact explosiveness. The time is right: Frampton is keen to re-enter the title picture while Selby craves a marquee fight.
It’s difficult to see this being anything other than a high-stakes chess match, with Selby looking to keep Frampton on the end of his long levers and steadily work him over. The Jackal will do what he does best: box behind a quick jab and aim to bring the heavy artillery into play. One wonders whose strength will win the day at close quarters as Selby is a massive featherweight, but Fernando Montiel did have surprising success against him. Can Frampton, a natural super-bantamweight, hurt his man? Can the Selby match the Irishman for speed? Many questions swirl around this one and it promises to be a compelling encounter.
Chris Eubank Jr. vs Billy Joe Saunders II: The Eubank vs Saunders rivalry is as real as any in boxing. Though a rematch seemed likely after Saunders edged his nemesis in late 2014, for one reason or another it hasn’t happened. Eubank holds the lightly-regarded IBO super-middleweight strap and on Saturday will face Arthur Abraham. Saunders, the WBO middleweight champ, has failed to capitalise on dethroning Andy Lee and is now scheduled to face Willie Monroe in September. Should the two Britons prevail, a rematch seems like a natural next step for both.
The first Eubank vs Saunders clash had all the hallmarks of a British boxing classic as far as build-up and atmosphere were concerned, and though the fight itself fell just short of such status, it was a stirring battle. Saunders outfoxed Eubank early, with the tide turning midway through and Junior sweeping most of the late rounds. With world honours on the line, a rematch would undoubtedly be bigger and better. What happens if Eubank fights for 12, rather than six, rounds? Can Saunders stay switched-on and repel Junior’s assault? British boxing is flying high at the moment, and this rematch could ride that wave. — Ronnie McCluskey
James DeGale vs George Groves II: DeGale and Groves have an historic rivalry stretching back to their amateur days, punctuated by a closely fought battle for the British and Commonwealth titles six years ago that went to Groves. Since that night their paths diverged and it was actually the loser, DeGale, who went on to claim the IBF crown in 2015. With Groves recently winning his own version of a world title at his fourth attempt, the stage is finally set for a renewal of hostilities.
Assuming Groves can emerge victorious from the World Boxing Super Series, the long-running rivalry could then culminate in a unification match in front of a huge throng of excitable, drunken Brits. The winner would lay a strong claim to being the consensus No.1 super middleweight in the world, but more importantly secure eternal bragging rights over their bitter rival. Both have matured since that first clash six years ago, physically and stylistically, and the bottom line is it’s hard to envision anything other than a competitive and fiery contest. I’ll take some of that, please.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs Guillermo Rigondeaux: If you like your boxing matches to be action-packed brawls, this is probably not for you, but for fans of the technical and tactical aspects of The Sweet Science, than this meeting between two highly skilled craftsmen most certainly is. As amateurs, they collected multiple Olympic and World championships, compiling two of the most outstanding records of all time: Rigondeaux turned pro with a reported 463 wins and 12 losses; Lomachenko with an incredible 396 wins against a single defeat. As professionals, both won world honours with minimal experience, “The Jackal” in only his seventh pro outing and “High Tech” in his third. The contrast in recent activity has been stark though, with Rigondeaux maddeningly inactive. The Cuban has competed in just six contests since his signature win over Nonito Donaire back in 2013, as fellow champions and contenders have shamelessly avoided him like the plague.
Although two weight divisions separate these phenomenal talents, Rigondeaux has relentlessly called out the Ukrainian on social media and offered to meet him at super featherweight. If it does happen, the youth and size advantages of Loma would make him the favourite, but it would be fascinating to witness a strategic, high-stakes chess battle unfold between these two pugilistic “Grandmasters.”
Kell Brook vs Amir Khan: With Brook recently losing his welterweight title to Errol Spence Jr., this fight has certainly lost a bit of its lustre. But it’s just one of those rivalries that will forever be regarded as “unfinished business” until the two finally settle their long-running feud in the ring. The fight would be a stadium event in the UK, with or without a title on the line, and the build-up is sure to be fun.
These men genuinely do not like each other but both are coming off damaging defeats and are vulnerable enough that you could make a good case for either prevailing. The styles promise to gel well in the ring and one can easily imagine a dramatic contest unfolding in front of a raucous English crowd, the kind of memorable night that the sport is all about. Khan’s noted hand speed would likely cause the “Special One” some problems, but the Sheffield man is a precise puncher and I think sooner or later he’ll gauge the distance and time some heavy shots. When he does, I can’t see Khan’s chin holding up.
Roman Gonzalez vs Naoya Inoue: It’s fair to say that boxing’s little men typically struggle to garner the attention and money commanded in the heavier divisions. Roman Gonzalez vs Naoya Inoue promises to buck that trend and deliver the best match-up in boxing’s lower-weight classes since Michael Carbajal and Humberto Gonzalez became the first light-flyweights to headline a major PPV card, way back in March 1993. Their amazing seesaw unification fight served up one of the finest battles of recent decades, and it is no exaggeration to say Gonzalez vs Inoue could well do the same.
Nicaragua’s four-weight world champion had his incredible 46-fight undefeated run snapped in his previous outing, losing a controversial decision to Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai but “Chocolatito” still showed why he’s regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound boxers of the modern era, displaying the kind of heart, grit and savvy skills that separate the great from the very good. He will get a chance to reclaim the WBC title in an immediate rematch in September, hopefully paving the way for a blockbuster showdown with WBO counterpart, Naoya “the Monster” Inoue.
Japan’s 24-year-old, undefeated prodigy is already a two-weight champion himself, having claimed the WBC light-flyweight strap in just his sixth pro outing, days before his 21st birthday. Since moving up to super-flyweight the young phenom has looked sensational, obliterating the more-experienced WBO champ Omar Navarez and then making five successful defences. His fluid, rangy technique and vicious body attack is one of the most pleasing styles to watch in the sport. The naturally bigger man will probably be the favourite against the great Nicaraguan, but what a splendid clash of styles and elite skills it would be. — Matt O’Brien
Sergey Kovalev vs Artur Beterbiev: The light heavyweight division is like a crate of TNT with a long, fat wick trailing from it just begging to be lit. For me, it’s the most intriguing division in the sport right now largely because I can get lost daydreaming about all the terrific match-ups that should and could be made. So here’s two that are, for me, definite dream fights that need to happen as soon as possible. First, Kovalev vs Beterbiev, the Russian vs the Chechen, old foes who locked up twice in the amateurs and should do so again in the pros. Featuring two tough-as-nails knockout artists with extraordinary punching power, this has the makings of a real thriller, maybe even a light heavyweight, Eastern European version of George Foreman vs Ron Lyle, with both warriors throwing and catching and tasting the canvas.
I anticipate Beterbiev, who won both amateur tilts, would be the aggressor, as the slightly more patient and methodical “Krusher” takes his time and looks to establish his distance. But he may not have the chance. As Beterbiev has demonstrated more than once, most recently in his first round stoppage of Isidro Prieto, he is ready from the opening bell to exploit any mistake. A lazy jab or poorly timed counter is all it takes and suddenly Kovalev might find himself on the floor. But when “King Artur” moves in to finish the job, his own butt may hit the deck courtesy of one of “Krusher’s” big right hands. Bottom line: this shouldn’t be anything less than an intense and riveting shoot-out.
Artur Beterbiev vs Adonis Stevenson: And assuming that Kovalev vs Beterbiev actually happens, let’s unleash our imaginations on an even more unlikely scenario: Beterbiev gets past Kovalev in a thriller, and Andre Ward takes on Adonis Stevenson and “Superman” shocks everyone by knocking out “S.O.G.” with one of his lethal left hands. The stage is set: the two best light heavyweights in the world clash in their adopted home of Montreal for the undisputed title, a sell-out crowd on the edge of their seats as the two power punchers square off. Stevenson’s southpaw jab creates problems for Beterbiev and soon “Superman” starts throwing one heavy left hand after another. But then Beterbiev counters with a perfectly timed right and puts Stevenson on the canvas. Adonis beats the count and “King Artur” attacks, only to walk into a huge left and find himself on the floor. He rises and the two lock horns in ring centre, punch after punch raining down and the winner is … anybody’s guess. I know, I know, it will never happen, but that’s why they call ’em “dream fights,” right? — Michael Carbert