Boxing in 2020: Six burning questions surrounding the sport's biggest stars heading into a new year
Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao have plenty to ponder while unification fights might not be so easy to make
Boxing this year has the potential to really light the sports world up with breakout stars ready to claim their shine and big name champions trying to etch themselves into the history books. With so much to choose from, the writers at CBS Sports took it upon themselves to answer some of the biggest questions at the forefront as a fresh 12 months of fighting is set to begin this weekend.
Let's dive right in to the questions and predictions from the staff.
1. Will we end the year with an undisputed heavyweight champion?
Brian Campbell, writer: Relentless optimism aside, this one is almost certainly a no-go. Not only do lineal champion Tyson Fury and WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder have the potential to face off twice in 2020 (on Feb. 22) but the current broadcast landscape makes it very difficult. No, unified champion Anthony Joshua is not exclusively signed on with DAZN. His promoter, Eddie Hearn, certainly has millions of reasons to keep the British star, who has multiple mandatory bouts due entering the new year, on the all-sports streaming app. DAZN isn't in the traditional pay-per-view business like ESPN and Fox, who are joining forces for Wilder-Fury II. It's possible that a two-fight series can be constructed between Joshua and the Wilder-Fury winner in which each platform gets to broadcast its own fight, but it just isn't likely this year.
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Brent Brookhouse, writer: While the concept of an undisputed heavyweight champion should be appealing to everyone, boxing, for better or worse, is a business. And we already know how the business breaks down when it comes to Fury and Wilder. They're set to fight in February, a rematch of their clash 2018 draw. There's already an agreement for a third fight in place should the loser demand it. And which of these two men would turn down a huge money fight and attempt to right a wrong? If they fight in February, they could conceivably have the third fight by the end of summer. So the possibility exists for a unification bout with Joshua to close the year, but you have to go back to 2015 to get to the last time Wilder fought three times in a calendar year. Fury fought three times in 2018, but a pair of fights with Wilder aren't Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta. Prior to his 2018 return, Fury hasn't fought three times in a year since 2012. So even if Joshua and his team could get past the promotional differences that stand in the way of the fight -- and render it unlikely -- the schedule likely doesn't work out to make the unification happen in 2020.
2. Is Vasiliy Lomachenko still the face of lightweight?
Campbell: Given his standing as unified champion and ranking among the pound-for-pound best, there's little question that Lomachenko is currently the 135-pound king. The real question is whether he ends 2020 in the same position thanks to the danger he will face this spring when he squares off with 22-year-old sensation and IBF champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. The division is entering a new era thanks to an influx of young and marketable talent from Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia to Lopez and Gervonta Davis. Considering Lomachenko, who turns 32 in February, is already fighting over his head a bit at this weight, watching him attempt to hold serve atop the division should be create drama.
Brookhouse: For now, lightweight is still the land of Lomachenko. Lopez has every opportunity to change that and he has as unique and explosive a style as someone could ask in a showdown with Loma. What Lopez did to Richard Commey was incredibly impressive. Commey is the definition of a "tough out" and Lopez blew him away like he was just some random lower-tier opponent. Loma is something different. He's as elite as anyone in boxing, but he's yet to capture the public's imagination like a boxer of his level should. Maybe what he needs to become one of the faces of boxing, rather than "the face of lightweight" is a rival like Lopez. Teofimo Sr. has been calling out Loma at every opportunity for years now, and doing so in an over-the-top way, and Teofimo Jr. fought his way to the showdown. Now the two can fight to build the visibility of the division, with the winner as a bigger star.
3. Who is to blame if Crawford and Spence don't fight in 2020?
Campbell: That's an interesting question. First off, the fact that both unbeaten welterweight champions are hyping up a showdown by calling each other out over social media is great sign we are getting closer. As is the Wilder-Fury rematch in February that will see Fox and ESPN, the two networks linked to Spence and Crawford, respectively, joining forces for the first time to promote the PPV. Should things go smoothly, it could open the door for the kind of collaboration that would produce a year-ending Spence-Crawford showdown that is likely the best fight that could be made in the sport. The problem is that both fighters, networks and promoters need to be on the same page. Should the fight not happen, it would be easy to blame the side more unwilling to make the deal, provided all things were equal. The truth, however, is they aren't. Crawford and promoter Bob Arum are out of big-name opponents on their "side of the street" and need this fight much more, which means there is added pressure to bend in order to insure the fight takes place.
Brookhouse: Top Rank and Crawford. Crawford spent a lot of time talking about how he doesn't need the PBC welterweights, they need him. That is, of course, completely untrue. Spence has fresh and interesting fights within the PBC stable, Crawford has almost nothing. If Crawford wants to stay relevant as anything more than a highly skilled fighter dominating mid-tier opponents, he and Top Rank have to accept that PBC and Spence have the power. Both sides have a responsibility to make the fight happen, but no one could claim Spence vs. Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Manny Pacquiao or Shawn Porter II would be inappropriate fights for PBC to make. Another Crawford vs. Amir Khan or Egidijus Kavaliauskas-style fight would be inexcusable for a man of Crawford's talent.
4. Who is a breakout star in 2020 and why?
Campbell: From the standpoint of a prospect stepping up to the level of becoming a viable contender, look no further than Golden Boy's Vergil Ortiz Jr. The 21-year-old slugger can finish opponents with both hands and employs a full-throttle style that is bound to build him fans quickly. But stardom has many different levels and, with respect to Teofimo Lopez Jr., the one fighter with the biggest shot at exiting 2020 in the best position commercially is fellow lightweight star Gervonta Davis. Already a proven brand as a ticket seller, "Tank" has been marketed as a Mike Tyson of the lower weight classes. His promoter, Floyd Mayweather, feels he is ready for the PPV level fights with Leo Santa Cruz being a possible opponent. Davis, 25, has built a giant audience through social media that is both young and vibrant, with multiple crossovers into the hip-hop community that have already been established. This could be Year 1 in Davis' ascension to becoming one of the sport's most recognizable brands given his power, swagger and connections.
Brookhouse: Jaron "Boots" Ennis had legal issues knock his career back a few steps, but he has a tremendous combination of power, speed and technique while fighting in a premier division (welterweight). We're going to see very quickly how Ennis' development is coming along. He faces Bakhtiyar Eyubov on Jan. 10's Showtime card. It's a fight Ennis should win, but also an appropriate step in the development of the prospect. Should he fight frequently enough throughout the year, he could end 2020 as a new star in the sport.
5. What will Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao do in 2020?
Brookhouse: Canelo could certainly fight GGG again, but he hasn't seemed as keen on making the fight happen as everyone else involved. The Callum Smith fight seems like a very real possibility after some long chatter from some fans who think Smith's size will trouble the CBS Sports 2019 Boxer of the Year. Beyond that, there's Demetrius Andrade as a viable option. But, let's say Callum Smith first and GGG to end the year for Canelo. Pacquiao fighting Danny Garcia makes sense, but a lot of what happens for Manny depends on what happens with Spence. There's been talk of Mikey Garcia as well. So, one of the Garcias could take up part of his schedule. I'm not of the belief Floyd Mayweather returns, so his other big fight later in the year could be a big money fight with Spence, should Spence not be able to make a fight with Crawford happen.
Campbell: Fresh off an incredible resurgence in 2019, the 41-year-old Pacquiao has shown interest in matching himself just as tough as he did in handing Keith Thurman his first defeat last summer. Given Pacquiao's standing as a PPV draw, that means he should have his pick among the welterweights of his choice. With Pacquiao's PBC contract expected to end this year, there's also the possibility of a fight against Mikey Garcia given DAZN's deep pockets. The bigger question for Alvarez is whether he is done competing as a middleweight. If so, that would mean the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Demetrius Andrade would need to follow him up the scale in order to meet him. The Mexican star is rumored to be returning in May at 168 pounds with unbeaten champions Callum Smith (WBA) and Billy Joe Saunders (WBO) as likely candidates.
6. Does Floyd Mayweather actually fight?
Campbell: If you listen to interviews with UFC president Dana White, the answer is yes. White said he made a handshake deal with Mayweather, who turns 43 in February, when the two randomly sat courtside together at a recent NBA game. Given White's outspoken interest in making headway as a boxing promoter and his confidence that the two will team up at the end of 2020, it's much more likely that Mayweather goes the circus route in terms of matchmaking. While a rematch with Pacquiao would be undeniably viable, Mayweather is simply too smart when it comes to analyzing the risk. If he can make nearly as much cash boxing the UFC star of the moment, it might be hard for "Money" not to go back to the well once more before his physical skills go away completely.
Brookhouse: I don't believe so. Mayweather will likely spend the year making vague statements about returning or upcoming big announcements that really don't mean anything. His undefeated record means too much to him to come back as a rusty fighter with fading skills who puts that record at risk. Unless, you know, he could face off with another Conor McGregor mix of personality and lack of skills.
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