With boxing hit hard by the ongoing global coronavirus crisis, training and travel schedules have been disrupted, live gates are limited, and fights have been postponed or cancelled altogether. Of course, even before the pandemic swept across the globe it was a rare thing for the fights fans most wanted to actually happen. As we close out 2020, the bouts scheduled for December may not quite deliver in terms of the long-awaited clashes fans still clamor for, but the month will feature some of the best fighters active today in quality match-ups.
Everyone wants to see Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford face Errol Spence Jr., and pressure continues to build on the heels of Crawford’s statement win over Britain’s Kell Brook in November, and the now-public spat between Omaha’s favorite son and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. “Bud” now hopes to face either Manny Pacquiao or Errol Spence (26-0) before his 34th birthday and there can be little doubt that the more compelling of those two matches would be against “The Truth” who takes on Danny Garcia (36-2) tomorrow night. The two losses that tarnish Garcia’s record are close decisions against top-rated welterweights Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman, and with 21 knockouts in his 36 wins, Danny is a big enough puncher to threaten the undefeated champion.
This will be Errol’s first fight back after surviving a high-speed, single-car accident in October of 2019. Declining a ‘tune-up’ fight, Spence seems to know what he’s getting himself into, saying “[I] picked Danny Garcia so that I could rise to the occasion. Fighting Danny will show how great a fighter I am.” Serious fans know this is a must-watch match-up. Spence, who will enjoy four inches in reach over Garcia, is rightly the favorite, and claims to be feeling “one hundred percent.” But if there is any residual effects of his near-death mishap, he could be in for a long night and a trip home stripped of both his WBC and IBF belts, and his undefeated record.
The following week, we have a quality heavyweight clash in London, England with Anthony Joshua (23-1) putting his collection of title belts on the line against Kubrat Pulev (28-1), live on DAZN. After Joshua vs Ruiz I, it’s hard to count any of AJ’s opponents out, but it would be an Andy Ruiz-sized upset to see the 39-year-old Kubrat ‘The Cobra’ hand Joshua his second pro defeat. The Bulgarian isn’t likely to outbox Anthony Joshua, who, given the division’s recent addition of Oleksandr Usyk, may have slipped to just second in terms of ‘pure’ boxing skill in the big man division. If he can’t win on the cards, Pulev must end the contest early, but with only 14 knockouts, just three of which he’s scored since his brutal 2014 loss to Wladimir Klitschko, he might not even have the proverbial ‘puncher’s chance’ here.
Assuming AJ can avoid the upset loss, he’s likely to move on to a 2021 superfight with “The Gypsy King,” Tyson Fury, a potentially massive event which Eddie Hearn is in a hurry to make. “Fury wants to fight AJ, unquestionably, and AJ wants to fight Fury,” says the promoter. “It’s no conversation to be had until AJ’s hand is raised on December 12th. Once that is made, let’s get it on. Let’s give everyone the fight they want and deserve.”
Meanwhile, also on the 12th, boxing returns to “The Bubble” at the MGM Grand for Top Rank’s last card of the calendar year as Newark’s undefeated Shakur Stevenson defends his WBO strap against fellow southpaw Tokha Kahn Clary. Stevenson is shaping up to be a breakout talent, and at only 23 years old, has great potential at 130, 135, and, given his frame and age, maybe even up to welterweight. Clary, at 28, is no pushover, but he has neither the pedigree nor the raw skills to threaten Stevenson.
Top Rank and Stevenson’s management team, which includes Andre Ward, have brought Stevenson along nicely and, presuming a big win on the 12th, will need to offer their young fighter another step-up fight against stiffer competition in 2021. One such match-up might be with Brooklyn 130-pounder Chris Colbert, who headlines a competing Showtime card on the same night, facing a step-up of his own against the powerful Jamie Arboleda.
Fans of short fights, or students of boxing minutiae who are tracking challenges to Ali Raymi’s record of 21 straight first-round knockout wins, will want to tune into the Stevenson vs Clary undercard, which will feature super-middleweight Edgar Berlanga. His as-yet unannounced opponent will hope to snap his win streak, or at least make it into the second round, a feat which his first fifteen opponents were unable to achieve.
In a late addition to the month’s boxing schedule, Gennadiy Golovkin will likely face mandatory challenger Kamil Szeremeta on December 18th to headline that night’s DAZN card. This is a match that has been delayed all year due to Covid-19 and GGG’s calf injury, and few would complain if it were cancelled altogether. Szeremeta is likely to fold under Golovkin’s still-potent power in this tune-up fight for the Kazakh. At 38, GGG is widely thought to be in the twilight of his career, raising the question: what is he ‘tuning-up’ for? A possible trilogy match with Canelo Alvarez in 2021?
Speaking of Canelo, like most everyone these days, Saul Alvarez (53-2-1) has had a different year than he was originally envisioning. First his Cinco de Mayo fight against Billy Joe Saunders was cancelled due to Covid-19, and then the rescheduled bout, planned for September, was nixed as well. Around the same time, Alvarez filed a suit against Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and DAZN, which ultimately saw him released from his contract. Credible rumors circulated that Caleb Plant was scheduled to be his opponent before the end of the year, but ultimately that, too, fell through.
This was all quite a bit of confusion and maneuvering outside the ring to arrive at a promising December 19th matchup inside the ring with Callum Smith (27-0). While Smith won on the cards against John Ryder last year, he was lucky to sneak by with his undefeated record intact. Nonetheless, his length, pedigree, and strong fundamentals could make for a real threat to Alvarez. Just for good measure, add in a bit of family intrigue: Canelo knocked out Liam Smith, Callum’s older brother, in 2016.
For all of the churn outside of the ring, this match is one of the best that fans could realistically hope for. That said, if Smith’s issues against John Ryder have not been sorted out, or are indicative of trouble with smaller, stockier opponents, that could spell disaster, both for Smith and for fans looking forward to a competitive fight to close out the year. But if the Callum Smith who won the 2017-2018 Super Six Series steps between the ropes, there’s a chance we could have a very interesting affair indeed.
If you’re inclined to toggle between shows on the 19th to catch as much boxing as you can, Showtime is offering the return of Nonito Donaire (40-6) after his 2019 Fight of the Year performance against Naoya Inoue. This card will also feature Philadelphia welterweight Jaron “Boots” Ennis, who looks to improve to 26-0, and add a 17th straight knockout victory to his record. If you can only watch one card on the 19th, it should still be Canelo vs Smith, but there’s good reason to at least try and catch Ennis’ performance, as the 23 year-old is rightly thought to be a future star at welterweight, and his defensive prowess, creative combination punching, and knockout power is sure to thrill.
Finally, on New Year’s Eve, one of the most intriguing contests of the year goes down in Tokyo as four-division titlist Kazuto Ioka (25-2) will defend his super flyweight title against unbeaten three-division champ, Kosei Tanaka (15-0). This has the makings of a real barn-burner as Ioka vs Tanaka means a high stakes battle between two top champions with national pride and bragging rights on the line, not to mention an intriguing experience vs youth match-up. Bottom line: don’t be shocked if 2020’s Fight of the Year happens right at the very end of the year.
December closes out a tumultuous year the world over. Despite this, the last few months of boxing have delivered a small measure of respite and distraction from the year’s plethora of bad news. In just the last three months of the year, we will have seen nine of the current top pound-for-pound fighters, as well as many of the top young lightweight talents (Haney, Stevenson, Davis, Lopez) and a host of skilled boxers across other weight classes. Sure, not all of these fights have been competitive, or even against credible opposition, but we can always hope that they will serve as a prelude to an even more intriguing 2021. Until then, take care and stay safe! — Harry Meyerson