By Michael Rosenthal
I have to acknowledge that I had a tough time coming up with candidates when I was asked to identify possible fights of the year, which is never a good sign. And we all endure pain when the matchups we want to see fail to materialize, a self-imposed curse that has been particularly frustrating this year.
At the same, there HAS been drama in 2019 and I believe more lies ahead. In other words, there’s reason for optimism.
Andy Ruiz’s stunning destruction of Anthony Joshua, 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Keith Thurman and Deontay Wilder’s one-punch annihilation of Dominic Breazeale were events that touched people worldwide because of their unusual qualities – Ruiz’s belly, Pacquiao’s age and Wilder’s power. Three unforgettable fights in seven months isn’t bad.
I know superstar Canelo Alvarez is having difficulty nailing down his next opponent – and his reluctance to face Gennadiy Golovkin a third time doesn’t help – but he did fight top contender Daniel Jacobs in May. That was a legitimate risk on Alvarez’s part, which is all we can expect of him.
I also thought of Julian Williams’ upset of then-unbeaten and fearsome Jarrett Hurd a few weeks before Ruiz-Joshua, another entertaining reminder that anything is possible in boxing. Perhaps this is “The Year of the Upset.”
I could go on but you get the point: There have been some memorable fights even if there haven’t been as many as we’d like. There never is.
And, yes, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the immediate future as some fighters and their representatives seem to work harder to avoid meaningful matchups than they do to make them. But I wouldn’t throw in the towel if I were you.
Alvarez’s stance in regard to Golovkin has frustrated fans, but, again, he did face a legitimate threat in Jacobs and might move up to 175 pounds to take on Sergey Kovalev if the Russian beats Anthony Yarde next week. Jacobs and Kovalev? That would be another solid year for Canelo.
The heavyweight division seems to have squandered the momentum it gained when Wilder and Fury gave the world a fascinating draw in December but I don’t think things are dire.
The fact that Fury will have fought Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin in succession when the world wants to see a rematch with Wilder is hard to swallow and bad for the sport, but it’ll probably happen early next year if Wilder beats Luis Ortiz in their rematch. Patience is a necessary evil in boxing.
Ruiz and Joshua are dickering over the site of their rematch, set for December 7, but I believe it’ll happen on that date somewhere and it will be riveting.
Another source of fan frustration – the inability of Wilder and Joshua to fight one another – won’t be resolved soon because of Ruiz’s historic upset, but compelling matchups among Wilder, Joshua, Fury and Ruiz must be on the horizon. There’s too much money on the table for these fights NOT to happen.
The other stars? Golovkin will not have had a memorable year, which started with a knockout of overmatched Steve Rolls but could conclude with a competitive matchup with Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF belt in October. At least we’ll see a title fight.
The two best fighters in the world – Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford – also will not have had a special 2019. Lomachenko overwhemled Anthony Crolla in April but faces an interesting challenge in Luke Campbell in a battle of Olympic champions at the end of this month. Could be worse.
Crawford is in an impossible situation, which is yet another source of ire among fans. The unbeaten welterweight titleholder is promoted by Top Rank but the rest of the top 147-pounders fight for Premier Boxing Champions, which leaves the entertaining Crawford out in the cold. Everyone wants to see him fight PBC-managed Errol Spence but don’t hold your breath.
On the upside, Spence will face Shawn Porter in a title-unification bout on September 28, evidence that there is life in the division.
Again, one can argue that things aren’t great at the moment. Promotional and network rivalries – as well as demands made by the fighters and their handlers – seem to be bigger obstacles to overcome every day. That’s why some believe the sport is slowly, but surely killing itself.
At the same time, those tribulations shouldn’t cloud the fact that we’re treated to absolute gems intermittently. Cherish those. And we can only hope that the powers that be in boxing are hearing exasperated fans when they mutter, “Just make the fights.”
Call me overly optimistic but I see a brighter future.
Michael Rosenthal was the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades. Follow him at @mrosenthal_box.