After a slow start to the year, the boxing schedule heats up starting next month. April 9 really kicks the action off and features a number of big fights, including the return of Ryan Garcia, Mikaela Mayer and Gennadiy Golovkin.
Golovkin’s stakes are high as the middleweight champion could finally land the fight he’s been waiting for: a trilogy against nemesis Canelo Alvarez. Golovkin faces fellow champ Ryota Murata in his first fight in 16 months. Murata himself hasn’t stepped inside the ring since December 2019. Can Golovkin KO Murata and gain momentum ahead of the Alvarez fight?
A bit further down the road we’ll finally get the bout to end the discussion about the undisputed lightweight championship between George Kambosos Jr. and Devin Haney. Kambosos, owner of the WBO, IBF and WBA belts, and the “franchise” WBC titleholder, will face Haney, the WBC champion, on June 5 in Australia. Former lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko was in line to face Kambosos but he decided to stay in Ukraine to fight for his country. Will Haney seize the moment? And how about Teofimo Lopez Jr. — the fighter that Kambosos took the titles from — can he be the next king at 140 pounds?
Heavyweight Anthony Joshua exercised his right to a rematch with Oleksandr Usyk after losing his belts in September, but the fight appeared to be in jeopardy after Usyk enlisted in his home country of Ukraine’s territorial defense battalion. Usyk has since left Ukraine and announced on social media Friday that he is getting ready for the fight, but will their timeframes line up? Will he still be Joshua’s next opponent?
Mike Coppinger and Nick Parkinson separate what’s real and what’s not.
This is the best matchup for Kambosos
Coppinger: Real. Even before Lomachenko decided to remain in Ukraine rather than head to Australia for the fight, Haney was the most appealing option.
After all, Haney broke out in 2021 with decision wins over former champions Jorge Linares and Joseph Diaz Jr., cementing his status as a rising star. At just 23, and already boasting an impressive social media following, Haney had a genuine chance to establish himself as a bonafide attraction.
A victory over Kambosos in Australia will bring him to stardom, and he has the ESPN platform to push him to the next level. If Haney can emerge undisputed, he could find himself in a very lucrative rematch with Kambosos, and/or a tantalizing matchup with Lomachenko next year, the fight Haney wanted all along.
Now that he’s aligned with Top Rank and ESPN, a fight with Lopez at 140 is also a real possibility in 2023. But first, he needs to beat Kambosos on hostile ground.
Haney will finally get the credit he deserves as a lightweight champion
Coppinger: Real. Haney’s claim as champion is tenuous, not due to any fault of his, but because of the WBC’s greed — the organization wished to extract sanctioning fees from two champions in the same division.
Haney won the WBC interim title in September 2019 when Lomachenko held the WBC title. Rather than order Lomachenko to defend against Haney, Lomachenko was elevated to “franchise” champion one month later.
So it was Haney who was left to fulfill mandatory obligations while Lomachenko pursued the biggest fight. Lomachenko lost his three titles to Lopez in October 2020, leading many to regard Lopez as undisputed champion since he held all four belts.
Haney, of course, wasn’t among that group. When Kambosos upset Lopez in November, Kambosos then had a claim as undisputed champion. Now, the long-burning debate can be settled in the ring. There can be no dispute after this.
Anthony Joshua will still fight this summer, but not against Oleksandr Usyk
Parkinson: Not real. Joshua’s target for his next fight has always been Usyk since the Ukrainian outpointed him in a commanding performance last September to win the WBO, IBF and WBA heavyweight world titles. It looks like he will get his wish despite some recent doubts the fight would happen next.
Usyk and his team have, understandably, been facing bigger challenges than figuring out his next fight.
Usyk has been on the frontline assisting Ukraine’s effort, after enlisting in a Kyiv territorial defense battalion, but according to reports Usyk has traveled to Poland to start training for a return bout with Joshua, most likely mid to late June, and at latest July 2.
Joshua’s team had considered alternative plans and an interim bout after the outbreak of war, with Otto Wallin and Joe Joyce mentioned as possible opponents. Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn and Usyk’s promoter Alex Krassyuk are now discussing venue offers from the United Kingdom, United States and the Middle East.
Usyk looked fantastic against Joshua last year, when he outboxed the former champ in front of a crowd of 60,000+ at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The biggest question over this rematch is probably whether Joshua’s new trainer, Angel Fernandez, can make the correct adjustments, not whether the fight will happen this summer.
Gennadiy Golovkin will KO Ryota Murata
Parkinson: Not real. The knockout machine that Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KOs) once was has gathered rust and has not been as reliable in producing early finishes in recent years. Four of Golovkin’s last seven fights have gone the distance, and at 39 (he turns 40 a day before the Murata fight) GGG is not the feared force he once was.
However, despite this and WBA “super” middleweight world champion Murata having home-field advantage for the title unification clash in Japan on April 9, Golovkin, the IBF champion, should prevail by decision in what might turn out to be a close fight. Don’t rule out Golovkin’s power deciding the fight early — Kamil Szeremeta spent a lot of time on the canvas as he crumbled in seven rounds at the hands of Golovkin in the Kazakh’s last fight in December 2020 — but a points verdict seems more likely.
Murata has never fought anyone close to Golovkin’s pedigree, and being three years younger is not going to be a defining factor. What is more likely to decide this unification title fight is Golovkin’s experience and his burning desire to face Alvarez again, after one defeat and a controversial draw with the Mexican. Assuming Alvarez defeats Russia’s Dmitry Bivol on May 7, the California-based Golovkin, ESPN’s No. 2 middleweight, will get a trilogy fight with Canelo on Sept. 17.
Teofimo Lopez will be the next king at 140 pounds after Josh Taylor vacates
Coppinger: Not real. Lopez is ultra-talented and also proved the hype was real with the aforementioned win over Lomachenko. Despite all the success at 135 pounds, it’s too soon to say if Lopez will replicate those achievements at 140 pounds.
On the one hand, you can argue that Lopez will be even better at his new weight class since he won’t be weight-drained. But he’ll still have to regain his confidence following the shock defeat to Kambosos and recover from various ailments.
Lopez fought Kambosos with a slight tear in his esophagus, complicating breathing. He’s also been dealing with an assortment of nagging injuries since the Lomachenko fight, and recently had surgery on his elbow and wrist.
Lopez is looking at a July return, and even then, he’ll likely be eased back into the ring. When he is ready for a title shot at 140 pounds, perhaps later this year, he’ll be eyeing down a formidable mix of contenders striving to take over the division. Jack Catterall proved he’s a player with his controversial loss to Josh Taylor, and there’s also Regis Prograis, who returned last week with a one-sided beating of Tyrone McKenna.
The 140-pounder who truly continues to fly under the radar is Subriel Matias, the volume-punching Puerto Rican with PBC. Lopez surely will be squarely in the mix, but he’ll have to shake off another layoff first.