Canelo Alvarez is still looking for an opponent to fight later this year, but the rest of the 2021 boxing schedule is quickly filling up with title fights. Shakur Stevenson will face a test in WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring, Andrew Moloney and Joshua Franco will complete their trilogy, Josh Taylor will make his first defense of the undisputed junior welterweight championship, and Anthony Joshua will defend his three heavyweight titles against former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk.
A lot of the boxing world was focused on Tokyo over the past few weeks, where the U.S. men’s Olympic team narrowly missed out on breaking its 16-year gold-medal drought, settling for three silvers. Two of the medalists — Keyshawn Davis and Duke Ragan — are already professionals, and team captain Richard Torrez Jr. also reached the podium. With the 2020 Olympic Games in the rearview mirror, will they find the gold they’re after on the professional level?
Mike Coppinger, Timothy Bradley, Michael Rothstein and Ben Baby look at these topics and more as they sort out what’s real from what’s not.
Shakur Stevenson will dethrone Jamel Herring as WBO junior lightweight champion
Rothstein: Real. Herring deserves a lot of respect for what he has done as both a fighter and a person, as he has helped people in various walks of life by sharing his story. He’s inspirational. But Stevenson just seems like a different level of fighter than those Herring has faced in the past.
Yes, Herring beat Carl Frampton, a familiar name, but Frampton was in his last career fight when Herring knocked him out in April.
Herring will be Stevenson’s toughest fight, though, and this won’t be any sort of cakewalk for Shakur. Herring can fight and cause Stevenson some problems, especially if he finds the proper range early. But Stevenson’s defense is going to be problematic for Herring, and likely will be too much for Herring to handle as the fight goes on. I would not expect a knockout here, and would expect a close fight. While Herring could find a way to pull it off, it’s a fight Stevenson should win.
Joshua Franco vs. Andrew Moloney 3 will be as good as their first fight
Bradley: Not real. They’ve already faced each other. They will make small adjustments, but they’ve felt each other’s power and know what they are up against. In their first fight they didn’t know each other much, and they each did some things that were successful and that made for an entertaining fight. It was a great action fight. When they watched the film after the fight they saw things that they didn’t do or see the first time around, and I think they’ll both be more measured and strategic.
In the second meeting Franco was weight-drained. I remember him at the scales and remember his coach picking him up from his chair and helping him to the scales during the weigh-in, and then Franco went back to the chair. You could see how lethargic he was in the first two rounds before the fight was stopped, ending with that controversial no-contest decision. I think that in this trilogy fight, you will see a more efficient Franco, more calculated, more like in the first fight.
They will both incorporate things they learned from the first two fights into the third. I think Moloney understands what he needs to do and how he needs to be more precise against the champion Franco. I think Moloney knows where he has to be in the ring, what he needs to do and how to beat Franco, but he needs to do it for 12 rounds, and that’s going to be difficult.
Moloney has all the tools, but he has to put it together. In their second fight, the momentum was definitely in his favor and he was doing everything right. He was all the way on the inside, dictating the fight from the outside with the jab. He’s going to have to do all that and more to keep Franco from getting inside this third time around.
Jack Catterall is a stay-busy fight for Josh Taylor
Josh Taylor discusses his December title defense against Jack Catterall in Glasgow, Scotland.
Coppinger: Real. Catterall is undefeated through 26 fights, but all but one of those bouts took place on home soil in the U.K., against fighters nowhere near the level of Taylor. Caterall’s two best wins came in 2018: a decision over Ohara Davies in a closely contested 12-round fight, which immediately followed a 10-round win over Tyrone McKenna that was even closer on the judges’ scorecards.
Catterall will now step up several levels in class in a fight against one of the best boxers in the world. Josh Taylor is No. 7 on ESPN’s pound-for-pound list, and he might be even better than that. His resume is one of the best in the sport, with wins over former champions Regis Prograis, Jose Ramirez, Ivan Baranchyk and Viktor Postol. Considering that level of consistent competition and Taylor’s ambitions of fighting Terence Crawford for the welterweight championship in the future, the Catterall bout amounts to a stay-busy fight.
It’s just too bad the bout is taking place seven months after Taylor beat Ramirez. Ideally, Taylor would have handled his business with the mandatory challenger sooner, so he could squeeze in another marquee fight before the end of 2021.
Surely, Taylor will land such a fight in 2022, especially if he indeed moves up to 147 pounds. Even if he doesn’t, Teofimo Lopez and Gervonta Davis have been calling him out as both of them eye a move up to 140 to meet him in a superfight.
While Catterall doesn’t figure to present too much of a threat, he certainly will be stiffer competition than Taylor’s last mandatory obligation. Taylor scored a first-round KO of Apinun Khongsong in September.
Each of the three U.S. men’s boxing Olympic silver medalists will win a title as a pro
Coppinger: We’ll get to Keyshawn Davis and Duke Ragan, who have both turned pro already, in a moment. But it’s far too early to know how Richard Torrez Jr. will project as a pro, and as a heavyweight, he’ll be competing in a stacked weight class led by Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
Of course, by the time the 22-year-old is ready to fight in 12-rounders, that trio will likely be on the tail-end of their careers. To win a heavyweight championship, Torrez will have to prove he has a heavyweight chin. He did show significant improvement after getting brutally knocked out by Bakhodir Jalolov in the amateurs. In the rematch with Jalolov for the gold medal at super heavyweight, Torrez won the first round on three out of five judges’ scorecards, but Jalolov took over in the last two rounds. Torrez is undersized, but what he does possess is big power and tremendous guts.
Still, when you consider his punch resistance and frame, it’s hard to predict he’ll win the heavyweight championship. For that alone, I’ll say not real.
Ragan surprised some by claiming a silver medal, and perhaps the confidence he gained in the Olympics will carry over into the pros. He’s 4-0 at featherweight, with one KO.
Of the three, Davis certainly projects as the most likely future champion. The southpaw has quick hands, great footwork, and most importantly, an impressive ring IQ. Those traits served him well against Andy Cruz in a very close gold-medal fight, which Davis ultimately lost by split decision.
Davis has shown power in the pros with two KOs in his first three fights, and of the Olympians who competed in Tokyo, he has the brightest future of all.
Joshua-Usyk will be a more competitive fight than Fury-Wilder 3
Baby: One thousand percent real. Anyone who paid the slightest attention to Fury-Wilder II remembers how lopsided it was. Wilder isn’t technically proficient enough to keep Fury from backing him down in this third fight, a position from which Fury can inflict the necessary damage to produce a stoppage. Aside from Wilder landing a big right hand to knock out Fury — a punch he famously landed in the first fight, and Fury still recovered from — there is little drama in a third fight.
Joshua’s fight against Usyk, however, is way more intriguing than people might realize. Sure, Usyk might not have the requisite power to be an intimidating heavyweight. But the former undisputed cruiserweight champion has a ton of ring chops. And as we know from Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019, a smaller fighter who works well in compact spaces can give the British champion plenty of problems.
Don’t get me wrong, Joshua is terrific. But because his defense is lacking at times and Usyk is a strong boxer, Joshua-Usyk will be a fascinating fight.