Fresh off a loaded Saturday of dramatic fights that felt like a shot in the arm to the sport's overall viability, boxing is back in a big way this weekend with a pair of must-see main events focused on the talent-rich lightweight division.
Gervonta "Tank" Davis continues his march toward superstardom when he headlines Sunday's Showtime pay-per-view card against late replacement Isaac Cruz in defense of his WBA "regular" title at 135 pounds. One night earlier, unbeaten WBC champion Devin Haney enters what's expected to be a difficult title defense against former 130-pound beltholder Joseph Diaz Jr. on DAZN.
Considering former unified champion Teofimo Lopez Jr.'s upset loss to upstart George Kambosos Jr. last week, there are no shortage of storylines surrounding the division as a whole. Let's take a closer look at what to watch for.
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1. The George Kambosos Jr. sweepstakes is about to heat up
Let's consider that a sentence no boxing fan ever expected to hear entering last weekend. But the unbeaten Kambosos, a native of Australia, turned in a performance for the ages when he survived a late knockdown to edge the pound-for-pound ranked Lopez in a fight that didn't appear to be as close as the split decision on the scorecards indicated. Whether or not the fight's result was more the result of Kambosos overachieving or Lopez completing an epic turn of self-destructive behavior (both inside and out of the ring) is irrelevant as it pertains to the future. As a network free agent in the U.S., it's Kambosos who now calls the shots as it pertains to his next fight. Although Kambosos has said that Haney, as things stand now, is the frontrunner to face him next (provided Haney defeats Diaz on Saturday), the reality is more likely that Kambosos will fight against whomever's promoter and/or network ponies up the most amount of money.
From that perspective, this weekend's pair of lightweight tilts could turn into a tryout of sorts for the winners of both fights to make their case to challenge the new unified titleholder. Haney, as the WBC champion, makes sense as the frontrunner given the added clout that could come for Kambosos to fight for the undisputed title. Either way, the future looks bright at lightweight as Kambosos has found an unlikely path to bridge the gap between a group of top young fighters who, thanks to posturing and politics, have yet to share the ring with one another.
2. Gervonta Davis' replacement opponent is nothing short of an upgrade
Whether it be due to injury, weight issues or drug-test failures, boxing is no stranger to last-minute scrambling when a big fight falls apart and a replacement opponent is summoned. Rare, however, is the substitute a better fighter than the original opponent. Davis' return to PPV on Sunday was originally slated to be against hard-hitting Rolando Romero in a matchup that promised no shortage of trash talk and bizarre moments thanks to the mercurial "Rolly," but not necessarily a fight that hard-core fans expected would be competitive at all. A slew of bad press related to multiple sexual assault accusations made against Romero led to him being removed from the fight altogether. The good news, however, is that Cruz, a rugged Mexican slugger who is unbeaten in his last 18 fights, is a much more viable opponent. The 23-year-old Cruz, who aptly goes by the nickname "Pitbull," is expected to put the pressure on the talented Davis in ways the raw Romero simply isn't equipped to pull off. Make no mistake, Cruz enters as a sizable betting underdog, but he's skilled and aggressive enough to force Davis to have to dig in and fight.
3. How much longer until Davis draws universal pound-for-pound praise?
There was a narrative in the not-so-distant past when "Tank" was regularly criticized as the protected face of Mayweather Promotions who constantly seeks easy (and keyword: smaller) opponents coming up in weight. Granted, Davis hasn't always been his greatest advocate from a public relations standpoint to fight against such criticism, as constant legal trouble outside the ring and a very uninspired performance (after losing his 130-pound world title on the scales) in the co-main event of the 2017 Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor conspired to make him somewhat of a boxing villain. But Davis has done well of late to repair much of his reputation, at least from an in-ring perspective, by seeking big fights and proving to be a consistent draw each step of his way up the ladder given his exciting penchant for knockouts.
Just look at Davis' last three fights as indication of his ambition as he won title bouts at three different weight divisions in succession. Among those impressive conquests was Davis handing multi-division champion Leo Santa Cruz his first stoppage defeat via brutal one-punch knockout. And in his next fight in June, Davis moved up to 140 pounds for the first time to stop unbeaten Mario Barrios in Round 11 of their all-action thriller. If you take a gander at most major publications' P4P lists, the 27-year-old Davis is typically on the outside looking in. Sometimes in P4P voting, the eye test can be just as important as who a fighter has faced and what he has accomplished. In Davis' case, he has shown over the past year just how evolved his craft has become from his defense and head movement to his ability to box. Will a victory over Cruz prove to be Davis' breakthrough moment in eliciting universal respect for just how skilled he really is, in ways that his gaudy knockout percentage doesn't always explain? Only time will tell.
4. How concerned should we be with the ending of Devin Haney's last fight?
At 23, there's little question that Haney has the goods to be the future of the 135-pound division, let alone the sport as a whole. But his step-up challenge against former champion Jorge Linares in May offered critics just as much a showcase of his all-around talent as it did a few hold-your-breath moments in the championship rounds. Haney, who was criticized for how passively he boxed in a whitewashing of Yuriorkis Gamboa in 2020, looked to make a statement late by pushing the pace against Linares. But the veteran sharpshooter rocked him with clean shots and Haney was forced to spend the final two rounds clinching for survival. Was this merely a hiccup in an overall strong performance from the young boxer-puncher? Or a bit of a harbinger to the potential doom that might come his way once Haney finally draws the likes of the elites like Davis, Lopez, Ryan Garcia or Vasiliy Lomachenko? It's still too early to tell. Expect the aggressive Diaz to look to try and find that answer early in what should be a fun shootout.
5. Paging Ryan Garcia
The somewhat forgotten man in the overall lightweight picture throughout most of 2021 has been the 23-year-old Garcia, who pulled out of an expected summer return against Javier Fortuna to focus on his mental health. He was then slated to take on JoJo Diaz on Nov. 27, only to pull out of that bout after suffering a hand injury in training camp. Garcia passed the biggest test of his career to open the year by rising from the canvas to knock out Luke Campbell and the flashy social media sensation has been quiet of late, with the exception of him entering his name in the Kambosos sweepstakes after last weekend. The hardest part in watching such a talented group of young lightweights not fight one another due to their respective promotional and network affiliations is the fact that Garcia and Haney both fight on the same platform (DAZN) and have a long history with one another after having squared off six times as amateurs. Will Garcia be ringside in Las Vegas for Haney's fight against Diaz? While both fighters having interest in facing Kambosos is understandable given both the titles at stake and the fact that both would be likely favored to win, there's no reason their respective promoters shouldn't be sitting down to figure out some kind of succession plan for them to finally meet as professionals.