An entertaining year for the sport of boxing just ended. There were plenty of unification bouts and an abundance of legitimate fight of the year candidates. And that momentum should carry into 2020.
The first couple of months in 2020 look promising, with these top 10 fights standing out among the rest.
1. Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury 2 — Feb. 22, Las Vegas
The matchup: Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs), the defending WBC heavyweight titleholder, is coming off two spectacular knockouts in 2019. Wider starched Dominic Breazeale in one round in May, then he scored an electrifying one-punch, seventh-round KO of Luis Ortiz in their rematch in November. There is no puncher more devastating than “The Bronze Bomber.” Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs), the lineal champion, has become one of the most colorful characters in the sport, and he enhanced that profile this past year as he made an appearance in the WWE and worked on expanding his exposure as an international figure. After making easy work of Tom Schwarz in June, he had a much tougher time in scoring a 12-round decision over Otto Wallin in September. He comes into this rematch with a new trainer in Javan “Sugar” Hill, who replaces Ben Davison.
Why this fight matters: Anthony Joshua has the other three major belts, but the winner of the Wilder-Fury rematch should be recognized as the heavyweight champion of the world. Currently, Wilder is ranked No. 1 by ESPN in the division, with Fury third. After fighting to a draw in their first meeting in 2018, they took all of 2019 marinating this rematch. With their outsize personalities, things could be fun all the way up to fight night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The intrigue: Who can improve the most from their first meeting? Can Fury stay away from the vaunted right hand of Wilder, after getting sent to the canvas twice in their initial bout? Will Wilder be able to mount a much more consistent offensive attack against the slick Fury and secure his 42nd stoppage victory?
2. Danny Roman vs. Murodjon Akhmadaliev — Jan. 30, Miami
The matchup: Roman (27-2-1, 10 KOs) is strangely overlooked. You don’t see him on any of the pound-for-pound lists despite being a junior featherweight unified titleholder. In fact, Rey Vargas and Emanuel Navarrete are ranked above him by ESPN. But Roman has not lost a bout since 2013 — a span of 19 fights — and in his most recent bout, he unified his WBA belt with the IBF title by outpointing TJ Doheny in an entertaining slugfest. In Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6 KOs), Roman is facing a fighter with limited experience; but Akhmadaliev is part of a wave of talented and ambitious fighters from Uzbekistan who are quickly making waves in the sport. The 25-year-old Akhmadaliev, who is trained by Joel Diaz, is more than just an underdog in this fight.
Why this fight matters: Roman is in a fight for respect. And sooner rather than later, he would like the chance to consolidate the belts in this weight class by facing Vargas and/or Navarrete. But Roman can only make that happen if he gets past the tough Akhmadaliev, who is his WBA mandatory challenger. This wasn’t a hand-picked optional defense; Roman is facing Akhmadaliev because he has to.
The intrigue: These two were scheduled to tangle in September, but when Roman suffered a shoulder injury, he had to pull out of the fight. Akhmadaliev’s team publicly questioned the extent of the injury, and that angered the normally soft-spoken and reserved Roman. This bout has become personal. Does that work for or against Roman?
3. Mikey Garcia vs. Jessie Vargas — Feb. 29, Frisco, Texas
The matchup: Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs) is coming off a lopsided loss to Errol Spence Jr. back in March. It was a welterweight fight for which Garcia moved up two full weight classes. You’d think that the nature of this defeat would hasten a return back down to at least junior welterweight, but Garcia insists he can compete at 147. Garcia is one of the most fundamentally sound boxers in the sport, regardless. Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KOs), who briefly held the WBO 147-pound belt, is a solid fighter who has competed against the likes of Timothy Bradley Jr., Sadam Ali, Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner.
Why this fight matters: The winner of this matchup will move onto bigger and better things in the welterweight division, where there are some high-profile fighters and titleholders such as Pacquiao, Spence and Terence Crawford.
The intrigue: It’s very simple. Did Garcia just have a very bad night versus a very good Spence? Or is Garcia a guy who isn’t cut out to be a welterweight? Vargas should be a good barometer of just where Garcia stands.
4. Jose Ramirez vs. Viktor Postol — Feb. 1, China
The matchup: Ramirez (25-0, 17 KOs) had a banner 2019. After a difficult defense of his WBC 140-pound title against crafty southpaw Jose Zepeda in February, Ramirez defeated fellow titleholder Maurice Hooker in Arlington, Texas, and added the WBO belt to his collection by scoring a sixth-round TKO. Ramirez is a pressure fighter who likes to close the gap and get busy inside with both hands. Postol (31-2, 12 KOs) is a disciplined boxer who has a way of stymieing his opponent’s offensive attack. Postol’s only two defeats have come against top opposition — Terence Crawford and Josh Taylor — in unanimous decisions.
Why this fight matters: There is a lot of talk of Ramirez facing Taylor — who holds the WBA and IBF titles — at some point in 2020, but Ramirez has some mandatory bouts to fulfill, and Postol is one of them. For all the unfortunate fights that are created by the sanctioning bodies, they just as often allow guys like Postol to get title opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be given to them. This is a very good junior welterweight matchup. Ramirez is No. 1 at 140, according to ESPN, while Postol is fifth.
The intrigue: After his electrifying win over Hooker, can Ramirez avoid a letdown and focus in on Postol? Oftentimes, the fights before or after a big assignment are the most difficult to prepare for. And if Ramirez has anything close to an off night, Postol is skilled enough to make it very difficult for him to retain his titles.
5. Tevin Farmer vs. Joseph Diaz — Jan. 30, Miami
The matchup: Currently the IBF junior lightweight belt holder, Farmer (30-4-1, 6 KOs), is one of the slickest boxers in the sport. The southpaw stylist from Philadelphia doesn’t pack much of a power punch, but he is a difficult target to find inside the ring. After a rocky start to his career (actually losing his pro debut and three of his first eight bouts), Farmer has gone undefeated in his past 24 outings. In “JoJo” Diaz (30-1, 15 KOs), Farmer has found a solid, well-known dance partner. Coming out of the 2012 Olympics, Diaz began his career as a featherweight and worked his way up to a fight against the talented Gary Russell Jr. for the WBC title. While Diaz came up short, he put up a respectable effort. Diaz is not a heavy-handed puncher but a sharpshooter with a strong, fundamental base.
Why this fight matters: Both boxers have been calling each other out or about a year, and both southpaws needed a meaningful fight. While Farmer was racking up title defenses, they weren’t resonating with the boxing public. Diaz was certainly getting restless as he awaited his next title shot, while figuring out which weight class he would campaign at. Farmer is rated second at 130 by ESPN, while Diaz is ninth.
The intrigue: This fight will tell us just how good Farmer is. While Russell was able to outpoint Diaz back in 2018, how will Farmer handle JoJo? Diaz was on the same U.S. Olympic team as Spence, Ramirez, Jamel Herring and Rau’shee Warren (who have all become world champions), and he has always believed that he is an elite talent. This is another chance for Diaz to prove it. Has he learned from that loss to Russell?
6. Gary Russell Jr. vs. Tugstsogt Nyambayar — Feb. 8, Allentown, Pennsylvania
The matchup: The talented Russell (30-1, 18 KOs) is considered by many the best featherweight on the planet. Last year he blew out the aged Kiko Martinez in five rounds. Russell then publicly called out Leo Santa Cruz (who at the time was a fellow belt-holder at 126), to no avail. So his career hibernated for the rest of 2019. “King Tug” Nyambayar (11-0, 9 KOs) doesn’t have many fights as a professional, but he’s been moved quickly and has some recognizable names like Oscar Escandon and Claudio Marrero on his ledger.
Why this fight matters: If the pattern holds to form, this will be Russell’s only fight in 2020. Since wining the title in 2015 by stopping Jhonny Gonzalez, Russell has defended the belt once every calendar year. You wonder, since he’s fighting so early in 2020, is there any chance he actually sticks in another title defense in by the end of 2020.
The intrigue: You can make a strong argument that Nyambayar, alongside Joseph Diaz Jr., is the most talented of all the guys who have challenged Russell for his belt. And unlike Diaz, Nyambayar has legitimate power in both hands. Russell has not only been inactive as a champion, but he’s now on the other side of 30. Will we see some slippage here? Nyambayar is strong, tough and rugged, and he will put consistent pressure on the quick silver southpaw.
7. Eleider Alvarez vs. Michael Seals — Jan. 18, Verona, New York
The matchup: Alvarez (24-1, 12 KOs) is the former WBO light heavyweight titlist. He won this belt by knocking out Sergey Kovalev in seven rounds in 2018, and he was then shutout in their rematch at the beginning of 2019. Alvarez is a physically strong, stout fighter, who has been in the light heavyweight rankings for years. Currently, he is rated sixth by ESPN. The resurgent Seals (24-2, 18 KOs) is one of the hardest punchers in the sport. He can be as vulnerable as he is dangerous.
Why this fight matters: Both boxers are affiliated with Top Rank, which is deeply invested in the light heavyweight division, as they promote Artur Beterbiev (who holds the WBC and IBF titles), Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Gilberto Ramirez. The winner of this bout will take an important step toward landing a significant bout in this division later on in 2020.
The intrigue: Alvarez is a sturdy fighter, the type that is very difficult to dent. Can Seals hurt him? And if not, can Alvarez show consistency over the long haul to win this fight? Alvarez is 35 and Seals 37. This really is a must-win situation for both veterans.
8. Jaime Munguia vs. Spike O’Sullivan — Jan. 11, San Antonio
The matchup: Munguia (34-0, 27 KOs) recently vacated the WBO junior middleweight belt and is making his maiden voyage as a middleweight. After becoming one of the youngest titlists in the sport in 2018 as he defeated Sadam Ali, Munguia seemed to plateau in his development. Hall of Famer Erik Morales is now working as his head trainer to get him back on track and return Munguia to his proper ring identity. O’Sullivan (30-3, 21 KOs) is a fan-friendly fighter, who will be more than willing to mix it up with Munguia at the Alamodome.
Why this fight matters: Now that Munguia is at 160 he brings another interesting name to an already deep and talented division. This is the type of fight that will not only gauge how he acclimates to the weight class, but how Munguia is bonding with “Terrible” Morales.
The intrigue: This should be an entertaining scrap. O’Sullivan brings a very favorable style for Munguia, who despite having a world title belt around his waist, is still a developing prospect. People forget that he is just 23 and was bulging at the seams in his most recent fights at 154. It will be interesting to see how he fares as a middleweight.
9. Jesse Hart vs. Joe Smith Jr. — Jan. 11, Atlantic City, New Jersey
The matchup: Smith (24-3, 20 KOs) was the Cinderella story of 2016 as he upset Andrzej Fonfara in a first-round TKO and then sent Bernard Hopkins out of the ring (literally) and into retirement. Since then it’s been tough sledding for the construction worker from Long Island, New York. Smith has taken unanimous decision losses to Sullivan Barrera (who broke Smith’s jaw) and WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol. Hart (26-2, 21 KOs) is a relative newcomer to 175, as he defeated Barrera back in June in his light heavyweight debut. At super middleweight, he had two close losses to then-WBO belt-holder Gilberto Ramirez.
Why this fight matters: Like the Alvarez-Seals fight, the winner of Hart-Smith will move up the ladder and put themselves in prime position for a title shot in the upcoming year. What’s interesting is that despite having just one fight in the division, Hart is rated by all four major sanctioning bodies. A victory by Smith would certainly catapult him into a possible title fight.
The intrigue: While Hart comes in as the rated contender, it’s actually Smith who has a much deeper track record in the division. Hart doesn’t have the greatest punch resistance, while Smith has legitimate power.
10. Julian Williams vs. Jeison Rosario — Jan. 18, Philadelphia
The matchup: Williams (27-1-1, 16 KOs) scored one of the most notable upsets in boxing in 2019 by stifling the swarming attack of previously undefeated Jarrett Hurd over 12 rounds. Not only did Williams capture the WBA and IBF junior middleweight belts, he announced his return to the world-class scene. This victory validated the accolades laid upon “J-Roc” when he was a developing young prospect. Rosario (19-1-1, 13 KOs) is a pretty good offensive fighter who isn’t afraid to mix it up. Since his lone loss to Nathaniel Gallimore in 2017, he has solid wins against Justin Deloach and Jamontay Clark to his credit. Rosario is 7-0-1 in his past eight fights, with four stoppage wins.
Why this fight matters: Should Williams — the top rated junior middleweight by ESPN — take care of this title defense against Rosario, he could be paired with Jermell Charlo (who recently won back his WBC title from Tony Harrison) in a highly anticipated unification bout in the summer. But to get to that fight, Williams has to get through this one first.
The intrigue: This fight is taking place at the Liacouras Center in Williams’ hometown of Philadelphia. How many times have we seen boxers make homecomings and struggle to deal with the distractions that come with it? And Rosario is good enough that if Williams has a bad night or overlooks him, Rosario can make it really difficult.