There won't be any boxing events for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the sport will return and there will be much to talk about when that happens. In the meantime, the hiatus gives the sport, which typically never stops, a unique opportunity to take a step back and take stock.
Dan Rafael and Steve Kim offer up their thoughts on the best division in boxing, what fight they would like to see when boxing resumes, the most underrated boxer, among other things.
What's the best division in boxing right now?
Kim: I'm going to shuffle the deck here a bit -- my choice is the junior middleweight division. You have IBF and WBA "super" unified titleholder Jeison Rosario, WBC titlist Jermell Charlo and WBO belt holder Patrick Teixeira. Combined, this trio has a mark of 84-3-2, 53 KOs. And all three earned their current titles the hard way.
The unheralded Rosario pulled a significant upset by stopping Julian Williams in January. Charlo, who suffered his first defeat as a pro against Tony Harrison in December of 2018, gained revenge and won back his belt by stopping Harrison in their rematch in December. Teixeira was considered the underdog as he took on the highly regarded Carlos Adames in late November, and overtook him in the late rounds to win the WBO interim belt with a unanimous decision. Days later, Teixeira was elevated to full titleholder when Jaime Munguia vacated the belt and moved up to the middleweight division.
There is talk of a unification bout between Rosario and Charlo. Teixeira has a mandatory due against Brian Castano, but that fight was scheduled for April 25 before fight cards across the world were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This division has an enticing set of fights that are realistic and makeable -- which really can't be said in a lot of other divisions. There is some real depth at 154. Erislandy Lara, the WBA "regular" titleholder, former titlists Jarrett Hurd, Harrison and Williams who are still lurking around and still very much in play, along with a rejuvenated Kell Brook. And don't forget about top contenders Erickson Lubin and Bakhram Murtazaliev. And the future is bright at 154 with prospects such as Israil Madrimov, who is being moved very quickly and getting close to a title opportunity with just five bouts under his belt, as well as Charles Conwell and Sergii Bohachuk.
You can mix and match just about all these names, and chances are that you'll end up with a very good fight on your hands.
Rafael: There are several divisions with a lot of talent and exciting potential bouts -- heavyweight, light heavyweight, super middleweight, middleweight, junior middleweight, welterweight, lightweight and junior lightweight among them. As for the best, the obvious answer in recent years has been welterweight, home to such top guys as Manny Pacquiao, Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman.
But in this instance, I am going to go with lightweight, where there is major talent and several terrific potential fights we want to see. The 135-pound division is home to unified world champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko and titleholder Teofimo Lopez Jr., one of boxing's best and most exciting young guns. They are supposed to fight each other in a unification bout this year. The division also boasts titlist Gervonta Davis, who is super talented and exciting (despite his legal woes) and two of boxing's most talented young fighters who have years of big fights ahead of them: former titlist Devin Haney (stripped of a belt due to injury) and Ryan Garcia. Even behind them there is depth with contenders such as Luke Campbell and Jorge Linares, who can give anyone a tough night. The division could soon be home to junior lightweight titlist Miguel Berchelt, who has his eye on moving up after a likely defense against Oscar Valdez.
What recently retired fighter is most likely to make a comeback?
Kim: Lamont Peterson. The last time we saw Peterson he was announcing his retirement in the ring after a 10th-round TKO loss to Sergey Lipinets in March 2019 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. To his credit, Peterson fought very well throughout the early-to-middle stages of that fight before succumbing to the grinding pressure of Lipinets, who is a former belt holder at 140, and whose only loss came to Mikey Garcia two years ago.
I believe that Peterson (35-5-1, 17 KOs) still has some gas left in the tank and that he just needed a break. No, maybe he can't really compete at the upper levels at 147, as was shown by his knockout loss to Spence in 2018, but he is still a very solid and serviceable prizefighter -- one that is in a weight class where there are good fights and money to be made.
He's 36, which certainly isn't young by any stretch, but since 2015 Peterson has had just three fights. While that may result in some ring rust, you could argue that he's also relatively well preserved as a boxer. And he's had a year off to rest his body.
Rafael: While there have been rumblings at various times about the prospect of Floyd Mayweather, Wladimir Klitschko and Andre Ward coming out of retirement, I think when it's all said and done none of them will fight again. So here's a shot in the dark: former two-time super middleweight world titlist James DeGale. A week after a competitive decision loss to Chris Eubank Jr., the 2008 British Olympic gold medalist retired in February 2019 on the 10th anniversary of his pro debut. DeGale (25-3-1, 15 KOs), who is only 34, had various injuries in the final couple of years of his career, but after a good rest I can see him looking for a return to the ring.
Who's the most underrated fighter in boxing?
Kim: Porter. He's not the most stylish or elegant boxer, and he's not the type of guy that during your free time you go onto Youtube and look for his highlight reel. But he is very much prime steak, not just sizzle. Just look at his career; his record is 30-3-1 with 17 KOs, and he is a two-time welterweight titleholder.
His win over Devon Alexander earned Porter his first belt in 2013. He also has victories over Paulie Malignaggi, Adrien Broner, Andre Berto and Danny Garcia, who he beat to win his second world title in 2018. But if you look at his losses -- to Kell Brook, Keith Thurman and, most recently, Spence back in September -- this also bolsters this claim. All three of these losses were close, hard-fought affairs. A round here or a round there for Porter, and you could make the argument that he's very close to being undefeated. On the other end of the spectrum, to be fair, the Garcia victory could've gone either way, and many believed Porter was very fortunate to get a decision win against Yordenis Ugas.
Regardless, the point is that no opponent has ever had an easy fight against Porter.
Rafael: Two-time junior middleweight world titlist and reigning middleweight titleholder Demetrius Andrade is vastly underrated. He has enormous talent and would be a nightmare for anyone in and around his division because he is a very smart fighter with superb defense and quickness. There is a reason why he is one of the most avoided fighters in the sport. None of his potential opponents will even say his name, which has led him to even say he would move up to super middleweight for a good fight.
Canelo Alvarez could have sought a fight with Andrade for the undisputed middleweight title -- which he claimed was a goal of his -- but never made any serious overtures to making a deal. The other titleholders don't dare say Andrade's name either. Perhaps they have watched his recent fights and saw that even though he is not a devastating puncher and scores few knockouts, he has scored plenty of knockdowns, can befuddle opponents and rarely loses any rounds. Fighters know who represents a danger to them. That's why they avoid him -- high risk, low reward. Andrade is that guy. He just needs a big name to give him a chance the way Shane Mosley gave an opportunity to Winky Wright years ago. Wright was Andrade before Andrade.
What's the one fight nobody is talking about that you would like to see to restart boxing?
Rafael: A super middleweight title unification fight between David Benavidez and Caleb Plant. It is very makeable since both of these men are with Premier Boxing Champions. They are both undefeated -- a combined 42-0 with 31 KOs -- and both own world titles. They are in their 20s. They have contrasting styles. They can both talk smack. Please, please bring it on!
Kim: When boxing returns in 2020 the industry as a whole needs to come out of the gate with some events that will capture the fancy of the general public. While bouts such as Lomachenko-Lopez will certainly be anticipated, I'm going to go with one that wasn't basically already on the schedule for 2020 -- Spence vs. Crawford.
Assuming that Spence is medically cleared and physically able to fight after the one-car accident he suffered back in October, this is a fight that has been anticipated for at least a year or so, and it's a pure boxing matchup that could be made. In the past, it had been bogged down by boxing politics and network alliances, but as you saw with the recent collaboration between ESPN and FOX/Top Rank and PBC for the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury in February, these gaps can now be bridged with some cooperation.
Boxing can't just put on fights for its hardcore base, but ones that will capture the general public, which Wilder-Fury II did for the most part. What better way to re-introduce the sport to the masses with those two networks once again hooking up and using their vast platforms to push not only this particular fight, but the sport overall?