Boxing’s not likely to solve all its problems in 2021, but some first quarter action point to a continued effort
Boxing, along with the rest of the sports and real world, is on the cusp of closing the book on a uniquely difficult year. The global impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic took humankind’s best shot. And it’s yet to take a single step backwards. As the vaccination effort gets into full swing, promoters will monitor progress regarding the approval for when fans will be able to attend live events.
Some fans might have disregarded boxing’s efforts in 2020. Perhaps many give very little thought to the additional burden coronavirus creates for a sport that’s already beyond difficult to get anything truly meaningful, or exceptional, done.
There’s a great deal of real-world impediments that must be addressed in order for the best to fight the best. Meeting that expectation – one echoed by both fans and media alike – was a challenge in 2019 and will be either equally or more difficult in 2021.
However, boxing isn’t propped up by the same mix of infrastructure and resources as the major sports – NFL, NBA, and MLB. Collectively, they lost billions of dollars while operating the past six months, but the NBA just started its regular season which is its second round, or rematch, with COVID-19 – and all of its protocol. Without the benefits of the bubble environment the NBA recently had in Orlando, the weekly schedule could be as vulnerable as a young champion in the first defense without their long-time trainer. Think Rocky Balboa in Rocky III when Mickey got banged around in the scuffle created by Clubber… never mind, let’s not get off track.
Boxing isn’t likely to deliver a unification bout between Welterweight WBC and IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. and WBO champion Terence Crawford in 2021. The jury’s still out, literally, on any chances for the trilogy fight between WBC Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former champion Deontay Wilder. Even if Team Wilder’s current legal move is successful, who knows how the finances of that fight can be put together on U.S. soil?
With the likelihood of those two high-profile bouts being slim, last year’s highly dissatisfied fans will assuredly be among the loudest and most displeased in 2021. If you are either realistic, patient or interested in a larger range of boxing there are already some early signs of who’s trying to be pragmatic in the coming year.
Maybe you’re committed to one of the subscriptions required to follow the sport as closely as you’d like.
You should approach the year optimistically knowing that most of the sport’s bigger players are showing their hands. A small group of world championship fights already have dates on the major platforms with a paywall. Additionally, Golden Boy Promotions’ long-awaited Ryan Garcia versus 2012 Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell event is slated to stream on DAZN this weekend, and will determine the interim WBC Lightweight champion. Most pundits view Campbell as the opponent to properly valuate Garcia’s stock as a legitimate contender – for those of us who aren’t enamored with the number of his Instagram followers. Franchon Crews-Dezurn may also appear on the stream versus Ashleigh Curry. The former champion could possibly regain one, or both, of the WBC and WBO Super Middleweight titles she lost in her controversial bout with Alejandra Jimenez last January.
Check the list below for the other standout dates just inside of 2021. Showtime Championship Boxing’s Angelo Leo vs Stephen Fulton WBO Super Bantamweight title defense, scheduled for Saturday, January 23, features a fantastic co-main event between undefeated division contenders Ra’eese Aleem and Vic Pasillas. A few years ago Showtime held a de facto tournament with all its Premier Boxing Champion talent at Super Welterweight. Next year the premium cable network has the depth at 122 pounds to conduct something similar.
On ESPN, former IBF Lightweight champion Richard Commey makes his return versus the well-rounded Jackson Marinez as the co-main event for Top Rank’s Las Vegas Bubble-bound vacant WBO Light Heavyweight championship battle between Joe Smith Jr. and veteran Maxim Vlasov on Saturday, February 13.
This short list of title fights doesn’t foreshadow the arrival of the aforementioned marquee fights, but boxing fans can’t scoff at the March 13 rematch between highly-skilled Super Flyweight champions Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Feel free to join in on all the negative online palaver concerning the difficult match-ups boxing couldn’t get done during a year badly ravaged by COVID-19. Those are the same fights for which talks won’t even begin to be held in 2021. Not without significant improvement with worldwide infection rates.
Fans can choose to commiserate with their favorite boxing source and be convinced the sport is all doom and gloom. Things are bad if you solely focus on the sport’s Western-Power 5 Conference(s). However, maybe it’s time to familiarize yourself with the other divisions that routinely go overlooked year after year. That could be more time consuming, but also more rewarding.
Thankfully in boxing, somebody’s always somewhere fighting.
*Just as this post was being published unified Light Heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev’s title defense was postponed to due to him testing positive for COVID-19.
Boxing's First Quarter of 2020 Schedule
|Ryan Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs)||vs||Luke Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs)||Saturday, January 2, 2021||interim WBC Lightweight||DAZN|
|Leo Angelo (20-0, 9 KOs)||vs||Stephen Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs)||Saturday, January 23, 2021||WBO Super Bantamweight title defense||Showtime Championship Boxing|
|Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs)||vs||Adam Deines (19-1-1, 10 KOs)||Saturday, January 23, 2021||IBF Light Heavyweight title defense||ESPN+|
|Caleb Plant (20-0, 12 KOs)||vs||Caleb Truax (31-4-2 , 19 KOs)||Saturday, January 30, 2021||IBF Super Middleweight title defense||Fox Sports|
|Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, KOs)||vs||Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs)||Saturday, February 13, 2021||vac. WBO Light Heavyweight||ESPN|
|Juan Francisco Estrada (41-3, 28 KOs)||vs||Roman Gonzalez (50-2, 41 KOs)||Saturday, March 13, 2021||WBC, WBA & Ring Magazine Super Flyweight unification||DAZN|
Featured image by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing