By David Greisman
If the first few months are an indication of things to come, then this will be another big year for boxing. Several notable fights are scheduled for the first few months. And there will of course be more to come.
Here are eight things we think will happen in 2019:
Floyd Mayweather Will Return Once Again.
It’s inevitable. And can you blame him?
Mayweather was last truly active in the sport in 2015, when he finally fought and beat Manny Pacquiao in their long-awaited mega-fight, earning hundreds of million of dollars in the process. He then said goodbye with a win over Andre Berto.
But when your nickname is “Money,” it can be hard to stay away when earning that money is relatively easy.
Mayweather padded his bank account even further in 2017 with another huge payday thanks to a boxing match with superstar mixed martial artist Conor McGregor. And he reappeared again on New Year’s Eve at the end of 2018, taking a much smaller payday but still earning millions to easily dispatch a much smaller kickboxer named Tenshin Nasukawa.
Mayweather will turn 42 in February. It’s easy to wonder whether he could face Pacquiao in a rematch. Mayweather and his team have been resourceful about finding opportunities, cashing in on his name value while they still can.
Light Heavyweight Will Complete its Changing of the Guard
For years, the top two fighters at 175 were Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev, though they maddeningly never fought to decide who was No. 1. Instead, that mantle ended up belonging to Andre Ward after a pair of controversial victories over Kovalev — one by a disputed decision, the other by body blows that veered low.
Ward has retired. Stevenson lost to Oleksandr Gvozdyk last December and unfortunately suffered a serious brain injury; he’s thankfully now beginning to show signs of recovery. Kovalev lost to Eleider Alvarez last August; it was a competitive fight until Alvarez hurt Kovalev, dropping him three times for a seventh-round victory.
Alvarez-Kovalev 2 is scheduled for February. If Alvarez wins again, then the changing of the guard will truly be complete. Many of the names who’d been talked up as prospects and contenders are now either in the spotlight or about to enter it, including Artur Beterbiev, Dmitry Bivol, Marcus Browne, Gvozdyk, and Badou Jack. This is an exciting time at light heavyweight, which now has more than two big names.
Lots and Lots and Lots of Fights…
Yes, HBO’s decision last year to no longer broadcast boxing was a sad end for a network that had aired so many huge fights and superstar fighters over the past four decades. But the sport of boxing will continue to thrive in its absence.
It certainly helps that there’ve been a few big deals: ESPN working with Top Rank to show fights on its network as well as its ESPN+ streaming service; Premier Boxing Champions signing a landmark deal with Fox; and the launch of the DAZN streaming service, which has big stars such as Anthony Joshua and Canelo Alvarez.
That’s in addition to the networks that have already been carrying boxing, including Showtime, which also works with the PBC.
…But Politics and Business Will Still Get in the Way
The downside of these big deals is that they will likely prevent fights from happening. For example, welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford is with Top Rank while fellow titleholder Errol Spence is with PBC. Neither is likely to let their fighter go on a competing network; they would prefer to protect their investments and have their star fighters appear on the networks they’re already aligned with.
It would take a big opportunity for that kind of thing not to matter. Anthony Joshua (DAZN) and Deontay Wilder (PBC) can make big money on their own, but they also know they can make even more if they make a deal to fight, likely on pay-per-view. The same could be said for Jermall Charlo, who is with PBC but would likely leap at the chance to challenge Canelo. (Alas, we’re more likely to see Canelo’s team defend against others instead.)
Aleksandr Usyk Will Try to be the Next Evander Holyfield
The consensus Fighter of the Year in 2018 was an easy pick — Aleksandr Usyk, who wrapped up the World Boxing Super Series tournament at cruiserweight by edging Mairis Briedis in the semifinals, beating Murat Gassiev by a wide decision in the finale to unify all four major world titles at 200 pounds, and then wrapping up the year by stopping Tony Bellew. And what makes this even more impressive is that Usyk went into hostile territory for each fight, triumphing on his opponents’ home turf.
He’s about to dive into difficult waters once again, likely moving up to heavyweight in 2019. That’s the path that plenty of cruiserweights have taken before, often because the spotlight is just so much brighter there. Evander Holyfield is the most notable example. David Haye is a more recent one.
Usyk is 6-foot-3, which is typically a good height for a heavyweight, though this is a division with fighters who are 6-foot-6 (Anthony Joshua), 6-foot-7 (Deontay Wilder) and 6-foot-9 (Tyson Fury). Usyk’s impressive skills will help him compensate for that disadvantage.
Another Huge Heavyweight Showdown
But while Usyk will be in the process of establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with at heavyweight, you should expect the trio of top stars to mix it up once again.
The boxing world was left buzzing after December’s dramatic draw between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. There’s been talk for some time about a collision between Wilder and Anthony Joshua, though they’ve yet to agree to a deal. Fury could face Joshua in a big domestic clash, or he could have a much-deserved rematch with Wilder to settle the score.
If any of these fights happen, it won’t be until later in 2019. Fights of this magnitude will need plenty of time to promote them and make them into even bigger events at the box office.
More of a Focus on Women’s Boxing
Mixed martial arts learned that it could headline with female fighters. Pro wrestling at last began to take women’s wrestling seriously. While boxing had done so in other countries, other parts of the world had lagged behind. They are now scatching up.
In the United States, two-time gold medalist Claressa Shields has become a fixture on TV, even though the quality of opposition has not yet been close to her level. That could change soon. She may face Christina Hammer this year; their fight had been scheduled for 2018 but was postponed when Hammer had a medical issue.
Gold medalist Katie Taylor is being built up as a star in the United Kingdom and has also begun to fight in the United States. Mikaela Mayer is being groomed by Top Rank in America. They are the new generation of female fighters, and the hope is that they will bring more attention to a side of the sport that deserves it.
Three Tournaments Will Continue to Produce Compelling Action
The second season of the World Boxing Super Series could be just as fun — and just as important — as the first season was.
The first season produced Aleksandr Usyk as the undisputed champion at cruiserweight, while the super middleweight tournament ended with Callum Smith as the division’s clear No. 1 — though not all of the best 168-pounders took part.
With Usyk heading to heavyweight, it’s good that the WBSS decided to run another tournament at 200. The semifinalists are Mairis Briedis, Yunier Dorticos, Krzystztof Glowacki, and Andrew Tabiti. The winner will be the frontrunner in a division that no longer has Usyk atop it, though Murat Gassiev — the runner-up in the first tournament — also has a claim to the top spot now.
At 140, the semifinalists are Ivan Barnchyk, Regis Prograis, Kiryl Relikh and Josh Taylor. The winner will end up with two of the four major world titles. And with the possibility that the two other titleholders not participating — Maurice Hooker and Jose Ramirez — could also face each other this year, we could end 2019 with momentum toward a must-see fight in 2020.
And at 118, the semifinalists Are Nonito Donaire, Naoya Inoue, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Zolani Tete. The favorites are Inoue, who has been sensational while fighing at junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and now at bantamweight, and Tete, who at last is beginning to get the respect and attention commensurate with his talent.
These names might not be as familiar to many of this website’s readers. But these fights are worth watching — and unlike the first season, which lacked a major American broadcaster, this season is being aired on DAZN.