Last weekend, Jake Paul “treated” us to the latest chapter in his boxing odyssey. Next Saturday, the 48-year-old shadow of Oscar De La Hoya returns to the ring to face Vitor Belfort, the 44-year-old UFC legend with a 1-0 boxing record. On that same card, David Haye will move around with holiday pal Joe Fournier, while Tito Ortiz and Anderson Silva will be trading their fingerless gloves for boxing ones in a fight that should have taken place over a decade ago, and in a different sport.
Boxing is increasingly being polluted by the intoxicating chemical of celebrity, where the names on the marquee matter more than the skills of those they belong to. But boxing does have some counter-punches in its arsenal, to knock back the tide of exhibitions and exhibitonists that have littered fight schedules. World champions, stadium showdowns and title unifications await as boxing offers up something for the purists over the coming months.
Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk
While it isn’t the undisputed clash with a certain ‘Gypsy King’ that everyone anticipated, Joshua’s WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight title defence screams quality. Usyk reigned as undisputed cruiserweight king, dominating Tony Bellew along the way, and is 2-0 as a heavyweight. In his last outing, he had far too much for Dereck Chisora, but did not manage to stop ‘Del Boy’.
This question mark over whether the Ukrainian has carried his power up from cruiserweight into the blue riband division has yet to be answered. Joshua’s chin has been tested by big punchers, but Usyk does not seem likely to force the stoppage. What he does offer is elite boxing skills and a wealth of championship experience. ‘AJ’ looked cautious when decisioning his only conqueror, Andy Ruiz Jr, but appeared back to his concussive best when taking apart Kubrat Pulev in nine rounds last December.
Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder III
As with Joshua, this is not the fight anyone outside Team Wilder would have chosen for Fury. It is, however, a fine appetiser as we wait for the decorated Brits to finally unify their respective crowns.
After a thrilling draw that essentially launched Fury from world class boxer to mainstream celebrity, the ‘Gypsy King’ tore Wilder apart in as one-sided a heavyweight title rematch as you’re likely to see. As a result, Wilder comes into this third outing with something to prove, and he has pursued a lengthy legal battle to do it. The Fury camp insisted the rematch clause Wilder activated after their second bout had expired, but the ruling went in the former champion’s favour.
Finally, this rivalry can enjoy a final chapter played out in the ring, rather than in the courtroom. Fury boxed the perfect fight last time, stopping the ‘Bronze Bomber’ in seven rounds. But Wilder has proven he carries the firepower to hurt Tyson. Can he stop the WBC champion from rising from the canvas again, like he did in their first meeting?
Jamel Herring vs Shakur Stevenson
Unbeaten former WBO featherweight king Stevenson faces the biggest test of his young career so far as he challenges Herring for that organisation’s super featherweight belt. The Olympic silver medallist has dazzled audiences so far with his hand and foot speed, in a series of standout displays.
Herring is coming off a dominant display against Carl Frampton, after which the beaten Belfast man retired. Such a comprehensive display against a former world champion will be cause for concern for Stevenson, but the 24-year-old has looked supremely confident in his 16 fights so far. In terms of physical stature and name value, Herring and Stevenson is far from the biggest fight on this list. But in terms of match-making and potential, this is the most finely-balanced and exciting fight boxing has to look forward to in the coming months.
Saul Alvarez vs Caleb Plant
Canelo’s mission is almost complete. The WBC/WBA/WBO super middleweight champion is one belt away from becoming the division’s first undisputed ruler. After cutting a swathe through the 168Ib weight class over the past year, Alvarez is contesting what will be his fourth fight in eleven months. After outpointing Callum Smith, the Mexican has destroyed Avni Yildirim and walked through Billy Joe Saunders in a remarkable year.
There is perhaps an argument that IBF kingpin Caleb Plant is the best fighter Canelo will have faced on this run. He carries an unblemished 21-0 record into the ring, and boasts victories over former IBF champion and James DeGale conqueror Caleb Truax and Jose Uzcategui.
Professional irritant Jake Paul has listed Canelo as a possible future opponent. The fact Alvarez is taking his third unification bout, and fourth fight overall, in under a year demonstrates exactly why he is too much of a fighter’s fighter to ever entertain such nonsense.
Beyond these, there is no shortage of quality fights to look forward to, proving that beneath the freak show facade there is the makings of a healthy sport. Tonight, Josh Warrington vies for revenge against the man who stopped him last time out, Mauricio Lara. Pound-for-pound candidate Teofimo Lopez is hoping to finally have his long-delayed fight with George Kambosos Jr, while Liam Smith and Anthony Fowler are scheduled to clash in a real “pick ‘em” battle of Britain. To close out the year, Scotsman Josh Taylor will put his undisputed 140Ib crown on the line against unbeaten Jack Catterall.
In short, there is plenty of quality fisticuffs taking place, if you know where to look. While next weekend will see the return of some ghosts of boxing’s past, in the form of De La Hoya and Haye, the real fights are taking place with the greats of boxing’s present and the prospects of its future. Log out of YouTube, and remind yourself why you fell in love with this grand old sport in the first place.