No one can dispute the fact that 2019 was a strong year for boxing with some excellent fights we’ll remember for a long time to come. Match-ups such as Inoue vs Donaire, Golovkin vs Derevyanchenko, and Prograis vs Taylor all more than lived up to expectations, and then there were the under-the-radar duels, such as Lipinets vs Peterson, Lemieux vs Bursak and Roman vs Doheny, which provided terrific action of their own. So who can blame us for being optimistic and offering up our ranking of the best fights that, realistically, could be made in 2020. If these battles happen, we’re in for one hell of a year.
That said, the two biggest fights we’re all hoping to see — Joshua vs Wilder and Spence vs Crawford — likely won’t materialize any time soon, so they’re excluded from this list, as are fights which have already been announced, like Wilder vs Fury II and Lomachenko vs Lopez. So, moving forward, let’s cross our fingers and hope the boxing gods make the following match-ups sooner rather than later, which in turn should make 2020 even more enthralling than the year just finished. Check ’em out:
12. Caleb Plant vs David Benavidez: While super-middleweight stars Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders, who hold the WBA and WBO belts respectively, continue to chase a big money fight with Canelo Alvarez, the other two belt-holders at 168 could do worse than face each other. Plant should come through his February fight against Vincent Feigenbutz without too much trouble, setting up a tantalizing showdown with the hard-punching Benavidez. Both undefeated, Plant and Benavidez are relatively young in boxing terms, so who knows, maybe this could turn into the kind of rivalry that unfolds over a few years. Whether it’s one meeting or more, we’re expecting serious fireworks given what seems to be some genuine dislike between the pair.
11. Demetrius Andrade vs Jermall Charlo: Andrade may be defending his WBO middleweight title against the unheralded Luke Keeler at the end of this month, but what fight fans really want to see involves “Boo Boo” tackling WBC champ Jermall Charlo. Both have been accused of avoiding difficult match-ups and need each other to silence the doubters and generate some hype. Looking past their different promotional affiliations, the two undefeated titlists could very well face off this year. With Canelo moving up and Gennadiy Golovkin nearing the end of his career, this could be a clash to decide the new top man at 160.
10. Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders: Speaking of Canelo, there is perhaps no other active boxer so relentlessly linked to potential matches, across several weight classes. It should be no surprise he is a wanted man, given that he is the top financial draw and possibly its pound-for-pound king. The most likely outcome is a return to super middleweight where Saunders presently holds a belt. The Briton hasn’t looked particularly impressive since his win against David Lemieux over two years ago, but remains a slippery operator who, his supporters claim, raises his game for the big fights. There’s nothing bigger than a chance to battle Canelo and this is definitely one of the most intriguing matches to be made at 168.
9. Josh Warrington vs Shakur Stevenson: Another unification clash, this time between featherweight belt holders, Warrington vs Stevenson is a tricky match to call. While the American is arguably the more polished boxer, Warrington has an unrivaled work ethic and more championship experience than the younger WBO belt-holder. Promoters Frank Warren and Bob Arum have repeatedly teased the bout, and both boxers seem up for it. A win for Stevenson would reaffirm his claim as arguably the most gifted young boxer around, while a Warrington victory would catapult him towards a meeting with WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz.
8. Regis Prograis vs Mikey Garcia: Mikey has joined the Matchroom stable, opening doors to a number of prospective fights for the American. He faces Jessie Vargas in February but, assuming he prevails, he could then take on the man who narrowly lost to Josh Taylor back in September, either at super lightweight or welterweight. Prograis certainly wants the fight, and has the power and speed to cause Garcia some serious problems. Then again, if Mikey lets his hands go more than he did against Errol Spence last year it could prove to be a thrilling dust-up.
7. Naoya Inoue vs Guillermo Rigondeaux: Once he recovers from the fractured orbital bone he sustained in his Super Series final win over Nonito Donaire, Inoue will most likely seek a unification fight against Nordine Oubaali or John Riel Casimero. And while both matches are interesting in their own right, our Fighter of the Year will be heavily favoured and neither will enhance his profile in America. Having signed with Top Rank, “Monster” needs to chase fights with bigger names and Guillermo Rigondeaux certainly fits the bill. While the Cuban is nearing forty, he still possesses otherworldly technical ability and impressive power. If the best version of the old master shows up, not the flat-footed slugger who struggled against Julio Ceja in June, “Monster” vs “El Chacal” could be a thriller.
6. Juan Francisco Estrada vs Roman Gonzalez II: These two super-flyweights fought more than seven years ago, when ‘Chocolatito’ decisioned a 22-year-old Estrada, but both look very different now. El Gallo’s win in his rematch with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai last year cemented his status as a top ten pound-for-pound fighter, while Gonzalez is no longer the unbeatable, decade-defining fighter he once was. If the Nicaraguan can overcome undefeated WBA champion Kal Yafai at the end of February, a unification bout with Estrada is the logical next step. After a long lay-off, the possibility of ‘Chocolatito’ reclaiming his place at the top of the super-flyweight tree is undeniably romantic, and he might just have the skills to do it.
5. Miguel Berchelt vs Gervonta Davis: Davis has moved up to lightweight and don’t be surprised to see Berchelt follow him from super-featherweight. “Tank” took longer than expected to put away veteran Yuriokis Gamboa, but he still got the stoppage to take his record to 23-0, with 22 KO’s. The Mexican has a similarly impressive knockout ratio, and this meeting of punchers would almost certainly produce a “Fight of the Year” contender, with the winner well-placed to take on the victor of the upcoming Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez clash.
4. Artur Beterbiev vs Dmitry Bivol: Beterbiev’s demolition of previously unbeaten Oleksandr Gvozdyk in October was one of the most scarily assured performances of the year. He appears to be the man to beat at light heavyweight and, after a mandatory defence of his IBF title against Weng Fanlong of China, will be free to unify against WBA belt holder and fellow undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol. Bivol is a clever, patient fighter, but Beterbiev’s brute strength and underrated ring IQ would make for a tall order. Either way, this would be an intriguing boxer versus puncher match-up, not to mention a showdown between the two best light heavyweights in the world.
3. Terence Crawford vs Shawn Porter: Spence vs Crawford is not happening, at least not in 2020. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Spence’s car accident has made this dream fight as far away as ever. In the meantime, one of the best opponents that can be found for Bud is Shawn Porter. Crawford has stated recently that he doesn’t want the fight, but beggars can’t be choosers and he might just have to face the one PBC boxer who’s willing to take on all comers. Porter’s relentless style could nullify Bud’s counter-punching and changes in stance, and it would be fascinating to watch how the WBO champion deals with what would almost certainly be his toughest challenge to date.
2. Josh Taylor vs Jose Ramirez: Both men became unified champions in 2019, Taylor deservedly outpointing Prograis, and Ramirez spectacularly knocking out Maurice Hooker. Should the Californian Ramirez come through his February test against Viktor Postol, the logical next step is to arrange a match to decide the top guy in the light-welterweight division. Undisputed champions are a rare breed in modern boxing, and both Taylor and Ramirez deserve to be in any pound-for-pound discussion. There’s little doubt that they would provide one of the best fights possible in 2020.
1. Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk: Joshua’s first fight of the new decade looks set to be IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev, but that uninspiring prospect could be followed by something altogether more competitive. We need to see more of Usyk at heavyweight before we can make any particularly lofty assertions, but his precision and work-rate would make him a very live dog against a revitalised, slimmed-down AJ. If he can win an eliminator against someone of the calibre of, say, Joseph Parker, Usyk more than deserves his shot in the latter half of the year and Joshua vs Usyk has the makings of a genuine heavyweight superfight.
Honourable mentions: Vergil Ortiz vs Keith Thurman; Daniel Dubois vs Joe Joyce; Julian Williams vs Jarrett Hurd II; Kosei Tanaka vs Julio Cesar Martinez; Andy Ruiz vs Dillian Whyte; Manny Pacquiao vs Danny Garcia.