Boxing has plenty of starpower at present, and that comes from the top. As the old adage in the sport spells out, “as goes the heavyweight division goes boxing”, and in spite of no major clashes between the very best for over a year, there is still the prospect of a thrilling 2020.
That anticipation weighs in around the three heavyweights in vogue, the two champions in possession of the belts – America’s Deontay Wilder and the UK’s Anthony Joshua – and the undefeated former No 1 who wishes to chase and challenge them, Tyson Fury.
Britain has two genuine mainstream stars in the heavyweight division. Fury has three out of five fights left on a deal with ESPN in the USA, worth £80million, and Joshua has an even bigger fight-by-fight contract with digital streaming service DAZN, also American-based.
The second contest between Wilder and Fury was recently announced – February 22 in Las Vegas – and its outcome will shape the form and fiscal year of the sport.
You would think that Wilder vs Fury II would not need selling, but that is not the view of the sport’s insiders. “Don’t ever say that,” suggested Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. “Even the biggest fights always need their story told.”
Even so, the fact is that the decade is beginning with a mega-fight, and one which is made even more enticing by the controversial outcome of the drawn first encounter 12 months ago. The winner potentially moves on to meet Joshua.
It is time for the powerbrokers to allow the prospect of a truly undisputed heavyweight champion to be crowned in 2020. It would mark the first time since Lennox Lewis in 2002, and that is too long.
Outside the triumvirate, though, the heavyweight division has a resonance, with British heavyweights to the fore such as Dillian Whyte, Dereck Chisora and Joe Joyce. In the wings, the young heavyweight Daniel Dubois, being built by promoter Frank Warren, starts the decade as arguably the greatest prospect in world boxing, or certainly in the heavyweight division.
Outside the heavyweights, the Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is the greatest star, purely by numbers, and arguably sits atop the sport in the pound-for-pound stakes. Alvarez signed a mammoth $365m (£276m), 11-fight deal with streaming service DAZN last year, and an estimated 30 million Mexicans stop every time he fights. His feats from light middleweight to light heavyweight over the last five years have made him a genuine mega-star.
In the women’s arena, the retirement of London 2012 and Tokyo 2016 flyweight gold medallist Nicola Adams due to an eye injury has left a hole in the British market, but Ireland’s Katie Taylor is the fighter with the prowess in the ring and the pulling power at the box office. She is now headlining fight nights on her own, and should only get bigger in 2020.
Strength in depth
Top down, the sport is booming, and from the bottom up, they are coming. There is always a conveyor belt of talent in boxing, but it is the heavyweight, welterweight and lightweight divisions where the greatest potential match-ups, and champions, lie with deep talent pools.
Outside Terence Crawford at welterweight, there is Errol Spence, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Manny Pacquiao, and two new stars emerging in the division in the unbeaten Americans Vergil Ortiz and Jaron Ennis. At lightweight, Vasyl Lomachenko has a brilliant, dangerous rising challenger in Teofimo Lopez.
In women’s boxing, the impact of women fighting at the Olympic Games in London eight years ago is finally being felt in the sport, and the three gold medallists from London have all shone in the last year.
Middleweight champion Claressa Shields claimed a Ring Magazine belt in 2019 and is the clear No1 fighter in her division, while the welterweight Cecilia Braekhus also made her 25th title defence last year, and having signed with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing stable, looks sets to drop a weight class for a super-fight with Ireland’s all-conquering Taylor in 2020.
Biggest off-field headache
There are too many world champions, which makes it difficult for the mainstream fan to follow, even if this has been the case for many, many years.
Doping will always be an issue, but transparency is needed from the drug testers and administrators over cases which confuse both the public and the media.
The hottest ticket of 2020
The World Boxing Super Series. Its tournaments in some of boxing’s most overlooked divisions at cruiserweight, bantamweight and super-middleweight have been special, creating an undisputed champion in Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk at cruiserweight, and in Japan’s Naoya Inoue at bantamweight.
The WBSS is an old-school concept which brings the best to fight the best. If only the rest of the sport could take notice and follow the format.
The one-off fight which is a must-watch this year, has to reside within the heavyweight division. Wilder versus Fury II starts the year with a moment to savour, but it is the match-up of the winner of that against Anthony Joshua to create an undisputed heavyweight champion which stands above everything else in the fight firmament. Should it be Wilder vs Joshua, it will be the battle of the big hitters. Should it be Joshua vs Fury, at Wembley Stadium, we will be witnessing one of the major single sporting events ever seen in this country. Tickets will be at a premium, and two boxers on a collision course for many years with deeply divided and different stories, will create a blockbuster event.
My prediction for 2020
The Dubois family will be celebrating a bonanza year: 19-year-old Caroline Dubois will qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo and claim a gold medal for Great Britain. Then, her 22-year-old brother Daniel Dubois will have boxed his way into being a mandatory challenger for the world heavyweight title, and that world title fight could be signed by the end of the year.
The Londoner still needs tests, but he is clearly the most dangerous, most talented rising force in the blue-riband division.