What should be boxing's next tournament? We take a look at the options

Unified welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr., right, against titleholder Manny Pacquiao, left, would be a must-see fight. Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports

There have been attempts at tournaments in boxing through the years, to varying degrees of success. Over the past 20 years, a few tournaments in particular stick out.

There was the Middleweight World Championship Series in 2001, a four-man tournament that crowned Bernard Hopkins as the undisputed 160-pound champion. There was the 2009 to 2011 Super Six World Boxing Classic, a six-man tournament that culminated with Andre Ward handily outpointing Carl Froch to unify two super middleweight world titles in the final.

In the past few years, there have been eight-man World Boxing Super Series tournaments in the cruiserweight, super middleweight, junior welterweight and bantamweight divisions. They have culminated with Oleksandr Usyk becoming undisputed cruiserweight champion, Callum Smith winning a super middleweight world title, Josh Taylor unifying a pair of junior welterweight belts and Naoya Inoue unifying bantamweight belts, all in memorable performances.

What if we could pick any division to hold eight-man tournaments and pit the best fighters at each weight against one another without the worry of promotional entanglements or broadcast contracts?

Dan Rafael and Steve Kim picked two divisions each, based on the likelihood of high-level bouts throughout the tournament, the entertainment value each could provide and whether clarity was needed at the top of these divisions.

Rafael went with junior middleweight, which does not have a major star but is stocked with talent to make even-money and fan-friendly fights, and welterweight, which has for the past several years been widely viewed as the most talent-rich among boxing's 17 weight classes, as well as one loaded with star fighters.

Kim picked featherweight, a talented division with top-flight belt-holders. It has been a while since there has been a unification bout in this weight class. Kim also went with junior lightweight, a division with talent and a variety of styles.

Here's a look at each fantasy division tournament:

Junior middleweights

The participants and seeding:

1. Titleholder Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs)

Charlo likely has the best résumé in the division. He flattened Erickson Lubin in the first round in 2017, defeated respected former titlist Austin Trout, lost a disputed decision to Tony Harrison and then beat Harrison in the rematch in December to regain his belt.

2. Unified titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs)

Rosario is a hard puncher who pulled an upset when he went to Williams' hometown of Philadelphia in January and knocked him out in the fifth round to take Williams' two belts. Although I picked Williams to win, I was pretty familiar with Rosario and did not consider it that big of an upset because of his power and the fact that Williams had been stopped in his only other loss.

3. Former unified titlist Julian Williams (27-2-1, 16 KOs)

Although Williams lost his belts to Rosario, he is one of the division's most crowd-pleasing fighters, and he scored a huge win in May 2019, when he traveled to Jarrett Hurd's home region, knocked him down and took his unified belts in a contender for fight of the year. Although Williams lost the belts to Rosario in his first defense, he is always capable of beating anyone in the division.

4. Former unified titlist Jarrett Hurd (24-1, 16 KOs)

Rarely is Hurd in anything but a good fight. He earned stoppage wins over Harrison and Trout and slugged it out with Erislandy Lara to unify two belts. He edged out Lara thanks to a knockdown in the 12th round of what was the 2018 fight of the year. Although Hurd lost unexpectedly to Williams in May 2019, he rebounded for a one-sided decision win over Francisco Santana on Jan. 25.

5. Secondary titlist Erislandy Lara (26-3-3, 15 KOs)

For much of Lara's career, he was a slick fighter who won by boxing and moving in fights that were not always crowd-pleasing. Now that he is 36 and his legs are not what they once were, Lara has to stand and fight a bit more, which has made his bouts far more entertaining.

6. Former titlist Tony Harrison (28-3, 21 KOs)

Harrison comes to fight every time he is in the ring, but he's likely to either win by knockout or get knocked out. He has lost all three of his fights by stoppage, including a pair of title fights to Hurd and Charlo, but he also beat Charlo in their first fight and was awfully competitive with Hurd until the KO. He'll make any tournament fight interesting.

7. Former title challenger Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs)

Lubin was the 2016 prospect of the year but was too young and inexperienced when he was matched with Charlo in 2017, and he paid the price by getting knocked out in the first round. He has rebounded with four wins in a row (three by knockout) since that defeat, against reasonable opposition, and he is ready to unleash his talent.

8. Former welterweight titlist Kell Brook (39-2, 27 KOs)

England's Brook did not fight at all in 2019, but he returned in February to knock out Mark DeLuca in the seventh round and looked very good after a 14-month layoff. It was his third win in a row since he moved up to junior middleweight following his welterweight title loss to Errol Spence Jr. in May 2017.

Who's the favorite to win it?

Everybody is so evenly matched and capable of beating the other guy on any given night, as we have seen in fights involving Charlo, Harrison, Hurd and Williams. But rematches of any of those fights would still be interesting without big favorites. The best cases for a winner of the tournament can probably be made for Charlo and Hurd, based on their résumés, chins and overall experience.

Who's the dark horse or the one who can steal the show?

Although Brook has had injuries and layoffs and has yet to face a formidable opponent at 154 pounds -- he has beaten DeLuca, Michael Zarafa and Sergei Rabchenko in the division -- he is a quality fighter. If Brook is focused and in shape, he could give anybody in the division a run for his money.


The participants with seeding:

1. Unified titlist Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs)

Spence is viewed by almost everybody as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and he knocked out Kell Brook and Lamont Peterson, easily outpointed Mikey Garcia and won a hard-fought split decision over Shawn Porter to unify belts in September. However, there are questions about where he is now because of the terrible car accident he was in a few weeks after the Porter fight.

2. Titleholder Terence Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs)

Crawford knocks down Kavaliauskas in seventh

Terence Crawford knocks down Egidijus Kavaliauskas with a strong right hand in the seventh round. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up for ESPN+: https://plus.espn.com/.

Crawford, who has won titles in three divisions, is one of the world's best fighters pound-for-pound. He is 4-0 at welterweight, all by knockout, since moving up in weight, but he has not yet had the opportunity to face an elite opponent. Still, Crawford has looked excellent in stopping Jeff Horn, Jose Benavidez Jr., Amir Khan and Egidijus Kavaliauskas.

3. Titleholder Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs)

The Pacman is an all-time legend and a massive superstar who has won world titles in a record eight divisions. He is still going strong at age 41 after a 2019 in which he easily outpointed Adrien Broner and took a title from the much younger and then-undefeated Keith Thurman in a sterling performance.

4. Former titlist Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs)

Although the injury-riddled Thurman suffered his lone loss to Pacquiao in July, he owns important decision wins -- in exciting fights -- over Porter and Danny Garcia to unify two belts. He also consistently makes good fights.

5. Former two-time titlist Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs)

Porter is a grinder who will give anyone a tough fight, win or lose. He had a tight loss to Spence in his most recent bout and recorded losses in title fights to Thurman and Brook, but he also has wins over Danny Garcia, Yordenis Ugas, Andre Berto, Broner and Devon Alexander.

6. Former two-division titlist Danny Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs)

Garcia's two losses were very close decisions to Porter and Thurman in world title bouts. He is clearly one of the division's top fighters and might be a little underrated.

7. Former four-division titlist Mikey Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs)

Garcia has won titles in four divisions, and though he is certainly undersized for welterweight, he has a big name and a big fan base and is generally in fan-friendly fights. Garcia was shutout by Spence when he jumped up two divisions to challenge him in 2019, but then he rebounded for a very solid decision win over former titlist Jessie Vargas on Feb. 29. Garcia said he plans to stay at welterweight, even though he would be best served going back to junior welterweight. Even so, as long as he's at 147, I want to see him in a tournament.

8. Former title challenger Yordenis Ugas (25-4, 12 KOs)

The 2008 Cuban Olympic bronze medalist was a tremendous amateur and has had a good pro career. He owns wins over Jamal James, Thomas Dulorme and Ray Robinson, but his claim to fame is a highly controversial decision loss to Porter when challenging for his title in March 2019. No tournament at 147 is complete without Ugas' inclusion.

Who's the favorite to win it?

Crawford, Spence exchange words

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.

It's pretty clear that this one comes down to the fight most boxing fans want to see: a summit meeting/unification fight between Spence and Crawford. They should meet in the final. Flip a coin.

Who's the dark horse or the one who can steal the show?

As accomplished and great as Pacquiao is, you have to wonder how much longer he can fight at such a high level. Even though he would not be favored against Spence or Crawford, how can anyone write him off? Plus, no matter what Pacquiao does in the ring, it is usually highly entertaining.


The participants with seeding:

1. Titleholder Gary Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KOs)

Russell, who represented the United States in the 2008 Olympics, is one of the great enigmas in the game. There's no doubting his talent and overall ability, but since he won the WBC title in 2015, he has defended the belt five times. There's no denying his ability and talent. He has it all: speed, quickness, ring IQ, above-average power and quick feet. So far, his lone loss has come to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2014. If there is a boxer who could use a tournament of this nature, it's Russell.

2. Titleholder Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs)

Warrington, of Leeds, England, burst onto the scene in 2018 by first toppling Lee Selby for the IBF belt and then defeating the highly accomplished Carl Frampton in a hard-earned decision. Warrington is all about activity and pressure. What he lacks in power he more than makes up for in punch output.

3. Titleholder Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs)

Stevenson, Gonzalez trade blows in fifth

Shakur Stevenson and Joet Gonzalez trade punches in the fifth round of their main event bout in Reno. To watch more Top Rank and catch the rest of this bout, sign up for ESPN+.

Precocious could be the best way to describe Stevenson, of Newark, New Jersey, who captured a silver medal for the United States in the 2016 Olympics. Signed by Top Rank as he turned professional, Stevenson matured physically and got into his groove as a professional prizefighter. He easily defeated the then-undefeated Joet Gonzalez in October to win the vacant WBO featherweight world title, and he was scheduled to make the first defense of his belt against veteran Miguel Marriaga on March 14 before the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

4. Secondary titleholder Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs)

If you like to see an abundance of punches in a fight, Can is your man. His basic strategy is to throw a multitude of punches of all varieties -- and then throw more. Power is not his forte, but he has an amazing ability to maintain his work rate over 12 rounds. Can was an unknown commodity from China at the beginning of 2019, before he defeated Jesus Rojas in Houston in an entertaining scrap. He has become more dominant in his outings since then, defeating Shun Kubo (TKO6) and Manny Robles III (W12).

5. Former title challenger Kid Galahad (27-1, 16 KOs)

Galahad is a solid all-around boxer who many believe did enough to defeat Warrington in June. Galahad will freely switch back and forth between the orthodox and southpaw stances, and he is rangy. He has a win over Toka Kahn Clary to his credit, and in his most recent bout in February, he stopped Claudio Marrero in the eighth round.

6. Former title challenger Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-1, 9 KOs)

Mongolia's Nyambayar fell short in his bid for a world title in a decision loss to Gary Russell Jr. on Feb. 8 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was the type of fight in which he didn't get his hands raised in victory, but it could make him a better fighter down the line. Since the end of 2017, he has fought just three times. Getting into a tournament will keep him busier.

7. Former junior featherweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KOs)

The former WBO junior featherweight titlist is slowly working up his ranks as a featherweight. He won a belt at 122 in 2016 by defeating future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire, then made one successful defense before he was knocked out by Isaac Dogboe in a fight in which he had trouble making weight. Although Magdaleno scored an early knockdown, he faded in the middle rounds and was stopped in Round 11. In 2019, his first year as a featherweight, he earned victories over Rico Ramos and Rafael Rivera.

8. Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14 KOs)

Magsayo could be the next standout prizefighter from the Philippines, and he recently signed a contract with MP Promotions, which is fronted by the iconic Manny Pacquiao. Magsayo is an aggressive fighter who isn't afraid to mix it up. He lacks experience, and though he has 20 bouts under his belt, he has been inactive due to managerial and promotional issues that kept him out of action in 2018 before he bounced back with two wins last year. Moving forward, he will be trained by Freddie Roach, one of the best trainers in boxing.

Who's the favorite to win it?

Russell. No, he isn't the most active fighter, and though you can question his overall love of the game, nobody has ever questioned his talent. He has shown that he can handle a variety of styles, from Diaz to Nyambayar. Until somebody proves otherwise, Russell has to be the lead dog here.

Who's the dark horse or the one who can steal the show?

Magdaleno. Talent has never been the issue with him. Since his loss to Dogboe, Magdaleno has a newfound commitment to the sport. On any given night, he's a real threat to anyone at 126.

Junior lightweights

The participants with seeding:

1. Titleholder Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 28 KOs)

Berchelt's vicious body shot forces Sosa to a knee

Miguel Berchelt rocks Jason Sosa with a massive body shot to send Sosa to a knee. For more Top Rank Boxing action, sign up for ESPN+: http://plus.espn.com/.

"El Alacran" Berchelt has by far the most distinguished résumé at 130, having won the title against Francisco Vargas in 2017. Berchelt has defended the belt six times in impressive fashion, with his past five coming inside the distance. Berchelt overwhelms his opponents with a barrage of punches, and he seems to ramp things up as the fights go on. In his most recent bout in November, Berchelt dominated Jason Sosa in a fourth-round stoppage.

2. Titleholder Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KOs)

Herring lands knockdown of Roach

Jamel Herring lands a punch to the side of the head of Lamont Roach Jr. to knock him down in the eighth round of their bout. To watch more Top Rank, sign up for ESPN+: http://plus.espn.com/.

Herring has come a long way since he suffered losses to Denis Shafikov in 2016 and Ladarius Miller in 2017. Since signing with Top Rank in 2018, Herring has accumulated five straight victories, including an upset win over Masayuki Ito for the WBO crown in May. In that fight, he boxed and moved intelligently and never let Ito get on track. He followed that by outpointing then-undefeated Lamont Roach in his first title defense. Herring joined Terence Crawford's camp and trains under the guidance of Brian McIntyre.

3. Titleholder Joseph Diaz Jr. (31-1, 15 KOs)

In January, Diaz climbed up to 130 and had no issues with the slick style of Tevin Farmer. He not only beat Farmer, but for much of the night, he was also the bully, fighting inside, as he took Farmer's IBF world title in a fight that wasn't nearly as close as the official scorecards indicated (115-113 twice and 116-112). One word to describe Diaz? Sharp. Although not a powerful puncher, he throws quick, accurate blows, and he is crafty from the southpaw stance.

4. Titleholder Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs)

Santa Cruz won a belt in a fourth weight class when he beat Miguel Flores in November for the WBA "super" title. Although he won comfortably on points, you were left wondering if he belonged at junior lightweight. Santa Cruz still lets his hands go often, but his punches lacked pop, and it was a relatively monotonous affair. But perhaps that was more a function of his dance partner than anything else.

5. Former titlist Tevin Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KOs)

His title reign came to an end against Diaz on a night when Farmer didn't look good physically. When Farmer is at his best, he is a very elusive and tricky boxer who relies on guile and moxie, as he isn't much of a puncher. To his credit, Farmer overcame a rocky start to his career -- going 2-2-1 in his first five fights -- to become a boxer good enough to win a world title and make a few defenses -- and good money -- along the way. Based on his history, it's too early to count him out.

6. Secondary titlist Rene Alvarado (32-8, 21 KOs)

Alvarado is the typical boxing story of perseverance. For a while, it seemed as though Alvarado would be a stepping-stone-type fighter, the one who can beat a lot of guys but at a certain level hits the wall. He also suffered losses to Jezreel Corrales, Rocky Juarez, Eric Hunter, Andrew Cancio, Diaz and Yuriorkis Gamboa. But since that loss to Gamboa in 2017, Alvarado has racked up eight consecutive victories (five by stoppage), and he gained revenge on Cancio in November, stopping him in seven rounds to win the WBA "regular" title.

7. Interim titlist Chris Colbert (14-0, 5 KOs)

"Prime Time" Colbert is a fast and talented boxer who is just now coming up on people's radars. In his most recent fight, Colbert scored a 12-round unanimous decision over the experienced Jezreel Corrales to win the WBA interim junior lightweight title. It will be interesting to see how Colbert -- whose former nickname was "Lil B-Hop," in light of his similarities to Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins -- handles the pressure of superior offensive fighters as he faces better opposition.

8. Former title challenger Jono Carroll (18-1-1, 4 KOs)

Ireland's Carroll opened a few eyes last year in a losing effort to Farmer in Philadelphia. Although he didn't get the victory, Carroll was able to connect punches on the normally difficult-to-hit Farmer, showing that he is a tough out for anyone in the division. Carroll isn't a heavy-handed puncher, but he throws good combinations out of the southpaw stance, and he has good physical strength. On March 7, Carroll defeated veteran Scott Quigg in the 11th round to send him into retirement.

Who's the favorite to win it?

Berchelt. Until someone proves otherwise, he's the top guy in this weight class. Wins over Vargas (twice), Takashi Miura, Miguel Roman and Sosa make for a solid set of victories. Right now, nobody has as strong a résumé as Berchelt does at 130 pounds. It will take a very good fighter on a very good night to overcome Berchelt's blend of physicality and activity.

Who's the dark horse or the one who can steal the show?

This will sound strange, but it's Carroll. Yeah, he is a decided underdog against Berchelt, but he's a scrappy, tough fighter who will give anyone a hard night's work -- even in defeat. In boxing, while the results are absolutely important, sometimes the way you fight can be just as important.