In the words of Canelo Alvarez, it’s time to “be bold.”
There’s no offseason when it comes to boxing, but as the calendar turns to 2021, and without any big fights scheduled just yet, it is time to indeed follow that catchphrase, be bold and offer up our biggest prognostications for the year.
Some are more realistic than others, perhaps, but all of them would make an impact on the sport, for this year and beyond.
Shakur Stevenson will win multiple junior lightweight titles and become the No. 1 fighter in the division: Fresh off moving up to 130, Stevenson will be title hunting in 2021. He has plans to face the winner of the Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton WBO title bout in the spring, then set his eyes on WBC champion Miguel Berchelt and IBF champion JoJo Diaz. That’s an ambitious plan for the 23-year-old Stevenson, but he will be successful in winning two or three of those titles in 2021.
By year’s end, Stevenson will be No.1 in ESPN’s junior lightweight rankings and he’ll appear in the back end of ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings as well. — Cameron Wolfe
Tyson Fury knocks out Anthony Joshua to become undisputed heavyweight champion: Ultimately neither Joshua nor Fury decide to vacate their belts, so this fight doesn’t happen in the first half of 2021. Instead, Joshua beats his WBO mandatory challenger Oleskandr Usyk in the spring while Fury goes through with his trilogy with Deontay Wilder… or fights someone else in a stay-busy bout.
But before the end of the year, Fury-Joshua does happen in front of a full arena of fans with Fury scoring a memorable knockout to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999. — Cameron Wolfe
The lightweight division will be boxing’s best as we see Gervonta “Tank” Davis vs. Ryan Garcia AND Teofimo Lopez vs. Devin Haney: Comparing this lightweight division to the “Four Kings” (Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran) is ambitious at best at this point, but what made that era special is the “kings” all fought one another. The lightweight division of 2021 begins to separate itself from the rest as its young fighters aren’t afraid of losing their “0”. They want to make the megafights happen now instead of letting them marinate. The round-robin tournament begins in 2021.
Garcia and Davis have been yapping at each other for years, but it has escalated in recent weeks and the two look headed for a collision course this year. Two power punchers with questionable defense is a recipe for a fight of the year candidate, and they each have the fan base and social media followings to make this fight as big as it can get in the sport.
That leaves Lopez and Haney in a battle for the disputed true WBC title. Both say they want to fight the other before moving up to the junior welterweight division, and since it appears Garcia and Davis only desire to fight each other right now, Lopez and Haney become perfect dance partners. — Cameron Wolfe
Jermell Charlo becomes undisputed champion, Jermall Charlo becomes unified champion: 2021 will be a huge year for the Charlo brothers. Jermell, who currently holds the WBC, IBF and WBA junior middleweight titles will face the winner of the February’s Patrick Teixera-Brian Castano WBO title bout, probably in the summer, and he will win to become undisputed champion at 154.
In a mission not to let his brother have all the fun, Jermall Charlo will beat either WBO champion Demetrius Andrade, IBF champion Gennadiy Golovokin or WBA champion Ryota Murata adding to his WBC belt becoming an unified middleweight champion. — Cameron Wolfe
Backstage at the Hooker-Saucedo fight, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. get into an argument that ends with Crawford saying he could knock out Spence.
Terence Crawford will fight Errol Spence Jr. for the undisputed welterweight title: This prediction gets a bit tricky because, at the moment, Crawford and Spence only hold three of the four major welterweight belts. One of them would have to defeat Manny Pacquiao would have to vacate the belt at some point before July.
For the sake of this prediction, Pacquiao returns in June to unify the titles against Spence and loses a narrow decision. In the meantime, Crawford defends his title against Shawn Porter, which not only eliminates his number one challenger but Spence’s as well. With mandatory challengers a non-issue, Crawford takes the dreaded 40-60 deal to fight Spence on pay-per-view and prove he’s the best welterweight in the world. — Kel Dansby
Full houses of fans are back: Maybe this is more of a hope or a wish or a pipe dream, but by the end of the year we get stadiums full of fans back for fight cards, which would play very well for some potential unification bouts at the end of 2021. The energy and buzz around big-time title fights — in MMA or boxing — is unlike anything else in American sports other than the Super Bowl. Without it, even on television, that feel has been somewhat missing.
The promoters have done what they could to continue putting fight cards on — some better than others — with television and fan-less presentation. But by the end of the year, fans return to stadiums to watch some big-time headlining fights. — Michael Rothstein
Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin III happens — and Alvarez knocks GGG out: It would be a fitting end to the trilogy and to all of the questions surrounding these two fighters and their legacies. This fight doesn’t take place until the end of the year — in front of a crowd — but it ends up being the fight of the year and the first time Golovkin gets knocked out in his career.
The fight also ends up being Golovkin’s last, as the then-39-year-old decides he’s had enough. For Alvarez, it opens up new paths to new opponents and another chapter of his career. The fight also does enough to make sure Alvarez is the year-end pound-for-pound No. 1. — Michael Rothstein
Mikaela Mayer unifies her division — and sets up a fight with Katie Taylor for 2022: This has been Mayer’s goal for a while and in women’s boxing, the big fights are the only fights to set up.
Mayer fights only unification bouts in 2021, beating Terri Harper and Maiva Hamadouche. This opens up a chance for Mayer to move up and create a women’s superfight with lightweight undisputed champion Taylor — putting in the ring two of the three biggest names in women’s boxing along with Claressa Shields. — Michael Rothstein
Relive the rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997, that is forever remembered as the fight where Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear.
Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield III will be the biggest boxing PPV event since Mayweather-McGregor: It may sound outlandish, but a trilogy between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, even as an exhibition, has the potential to do monster numbers. The Tyson-Jones exhibition in 2020 was a pay-per-view success as the Legends Only League reported upwards of 1.6 million total buys. There’s also the fact that both Tyson-Holyfield fights did extremely well in the ’90s, with 1.5 and 1.99 million buys, respectively.
Add 24 years of anticipation and you have a fan base thirsty to see these two heavyweights to complete their trilogy. Mayweather vs. McGregor sold a behemoth 4.3 million pay-per-views in 2017 — this fight won’t do half of that number, but even cracking 2 million buys will make it the most successful boxing event since May-Mac and eclipse both of their previous bouts. — Kel Dansby
Claressa Shields fights three times — twice in boxing, once in MMA — and wins all three: The boxing piece of this admittedly isn’t very bold, but Shields makes her debut in the Professional Fighters League (PFL) and ends up winning in the first round. It won’t be the most difficult of opponents in the special presentation fight, but it’ll be enough to give her more of a taste of what the other side of combat sports is like.
That fight makes her an even more appealing crossover-combat star and opens more opportunities in both sports for her in 2022. She takes her chance, too, at using her multi-sport platform to continue to push for more equality and better pay for female boxers. — Michael Rothstein
Josh Taylor will clean up at junior welterweight… and emerge as an option for Terence Crawford: After blowing away Apinun Khongsong in one round last September, Taylor, the IBF and WBA junior welterweight titlist, served notice that he is not hanging around. The Scot turned 30 in January, and wants to stop boxing in a few years so expect some big moves from him in 2021.
First up is a world title unification fight with rival 140-pound unified titlist Jose Ramirez, which is already in the works. Taylor’s form and technical ability will see him edge a classic clash between two pressure fighters on points, with the victory catapulting Taylor into an even bigger fight against ESPN’s pound-for-pound No. 1 Crawford late in 2021. — Nick Parkinson
Vasiliy Lomachenko will regain a world lightweight title with a win over Gervonta Davis: Teofimo Lopez does not sound as though he will give Lomachenko a rematch in 2021 after pulling off one of the biggest upsets of 2020 to win three of the major lightweight world titles.
But the California-based Ukrainian has not become a finished fighter overnight, so expect him to be more motivated and back on form in 2021. Davis would be a risk for Lomachenko, who turns 33 in February, especially after Davis’ stunning knockout win over Leo Santa Cruz in October. But a fight against Davis would give Lomachenko the perfect opportunity to repair his reputation.
Lomachenko has the defensive and counter-punching skills to capitalize on Davis’ aggressive style. It is the biggest fight for both at lightweight (not involving Lopez), and would be one of the boxing highlights of 2021. — Nick Parkinson
Anthony Joshua beats Tyson Fury in battle of heavyweight champions: It’s yet to be confirmed if championship boxing will resume with fans in attendance in the first half of 2021, but let’s be hopeful. No fight in boxing is bigger right now and Fury is most people’s favorite based on his brilliant stoppage win over Deontay Wilder in February 2020, and Joshua’s knockout loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in June 2019.
But I have shifted from Fury to AJ based on Joshua’s last performance, a dominant victory over Kubrat Pulev to defend his WBO, WBA, and IBF world titles, which will have restored his confidence and belief. After avenging the loss to Ruiz, Joshua demolished Kubrat Pulev to display a lot more of the explosive Joshua we were used to seeing early on in his first reign as champion. Fury will have been out of the ring well over a year by the time they meet (if it is to be their next fight) and this will sway the balance towards Joshua in their first clash and restore him as the man to beat in the heavyweight division. — Nick Parkinson
Deontay Wilder fights twice in 2021 and wins both by knockout: Outside of claims of cheating and injustice, fans haven’t heard much from Wilder since his loss to Fury. Wilder would be best served by regaining his mystique and rebuilding his confidence inside of the ring, and there are plenty of heavyweights for him to regain his swagger.
Fights against Dillian Whyte, who was recently knocked out by Alexander Povetkin, and Andy Ruiz Jr., would go a long way to getting Wilder another shot at a heavyweight title. Prior to his most recent loss, Whyte was the mandatory challenger for Tyson Fury’s WBC title. Ruiz hasn’t fought since losing his rematch against Joshua, but he’s a recognizable name and a former unified heavyweight champion. Knocking out those two fighters will put Wilder in a position to fight the winner of Fury-Joshua. — Kel Dansby
Teofimo Lopez vacates his lightweight titles and fights the undisputed junior welterweight champion: The lightweight division is the talk of the boxing world. Lopez upset top pound-for-pound fighter Lomachenko, Davis had arguably the knockout of 2020 with his uppercut of Santa Cruz, Garcia’s star grew brighter with his comeback knockout of Campbell, and Haney was virtually unhittable in his title defense against veteran Yuriorkis Gamboa.
The options are plentiful and everyone wants to see these young stars fight, but there are bigger and better options for Lopez. Sure, fights against Davis or Haney would draw a lot of eyes now, but imagine how big it’d be if he was a two-division undisputed champion?
That’s what’s possible if Lopez opts to move up to junior welterweight and face the winner of Taylor and Ramirez. Lopez could stay active by facing George Kambosos Jr. at lightweight this spring, and then facing Jose Zepeda this summer in a number one contender fight at 140-pounds. He’d have to vacate his lightweight titles after the Zepeda fight to justify his undisputed title opportunity at 140, but it will be worth the trade-off. — Kel Dansby