When the biggest middleweight fight of the year took place, a fight that we’d been waiting nearly two years to see, it didn’t involve Daniel Jacobs.
And when the biggest heavyweight fight in seemingly forever brought a record-setting crowd to the stadium and then left the world buzzing, it didn’t involve Deontay Wilder.
These are the events Jacobs and Wilder want to be a part of. This shouldn’t be thought of as, well, wishful thinking.
Jacobs is perhaps the third-best 160-pounder in the world, behind only Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez. Wilder is a heavyweight titleholder who deserves a tough test in a big fight; a unification bout with Anthony Joshua meets both criteria.
That is what both men will be looking forward to as they step into the ring this November — Jacobs against Luis Arias, Wilder against Bermane Stiverne. Pretty much every boxer will issue the standard line that they can’t look beyond their next opponent. Yet it is possible to be fully aware of what you are up against while also motivated by what is at stake.
With that, we preview their upcoming fights and what could come after should they come out triumphant.
NOVEMBER 4: DEONTAY WILDER VS. BERMANE STIVERNE
The boxing world has been waiting for Deontay Wilder to step up since, well, the last time he fought Bermane Stiverne.
That was in the beginning of 2015. Wilder knocked Stiverne down once, out-boxed him en route to a wide unanimous decision, and earned a world title in the process.
Since then, he’s taken on a series of opponents who never would be confused with the top heavyweights: Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka, Chris Arreola and Gerald Washington. Wilder’s beaten them all by knockout or technical knockout. He’s also had moments where he seemed surprisingly stymied by what his foes were doing, something that shouldn’t be the case for someone striving to be the best in his division going in against someone who clearly is not.
But this lack of a murderer’s row hasn’t wholly been Wilder’s fault. He’s had injuries that have sidelined him and necessitated shaking off rust upon his return. And, most frustratingly, he’s had three different fights get called off when his opponents came up positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Wilder was willing to fly all the way to Russia a year and a half ago to take on his mandatory challenger at the time, Alexander Povetkin. But then Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance. The fight was off. Wilder returned home and stayed busy against Chris Arreola instead.
Wilder suffered multiple injuries in his win over Arreola. His return fight was supposed to be this past February against Andrzej Wawrzyk, not a top-notch foe but an excusable comeback opponent. Wawrzyk, too, tested positive. Gerald Washington stepped in.
Wilder’s Nov. 4 date was supposed to be against Luis Ortiz, a highly skilled, unbeaten heavyweight contender. And then Ortiz — you guessed it — came up positive for a substance that he said was part of his medication for high blood pressure. However, Ortiz hadn’t informed the testing agency that he was taking it, which meant he didn’t have an exemption allowing it to be taken. The drug is otherwise on the banned list because it can be used as a masking substance to hide the existence of other performance enhancing drugs.
Stiverne was already supposed to be part of the undercard. He’s stepped in.
As wide and uncompetitive as their first fight was, a rematch between Wilder and Stiverne at least once would’ve made sense. Stiverne spent two days in the hospital after the fight, suffering from severe dehydration and a condition called rhabdomyolysis that can be brought on by overtraining, among other causes. Perhaps a rematch with a healthy Stiverne would be more competitive. Perhaps not. But it seemed plausible so long as Stiverne bounced back and looked good in subsequent fights.
Stiverne struggled against Derric Rossy later in 2015, needing to get off the canvas to take a close win. He hasn’t fought in two years — he was supposed to face Povetkin last year, only for Povetkin to have another positive test for a banned substance.
Maybe the Wilder-Stiverne rematch will be better than anticipated. But otherwise it will be a reminder of sorts about the fight we really want to see in 2018 against Anthony Joshua.
Wilder-Joshua would pit power puncher against power puncher, with the best young heavyweight in America against the best young heavyweight in the United Kingdom.
And there’s little getting in the way of the fight being made. Both men are often featured on Showtime, so there are no network issues. Wilder was willing to travel for Povetkin, so he’d likely be willing to travel for the huge money that would come with Joshua filling another huge stadium in his home country thanks to another huge fight, an exciting event along the lines of Joshua’s victory over Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 people earlier this year.
Joshua and Wilder can help build that fight even further by looking good until then. Joshua faces Carlos Takam this weekend. Wilder’s rematch with Stiverne is a week later.
And then we’ll all begin looking forward to 2018.
NOVEMBER 11: DANIEL JACOBS VS. LUIS ARIAS
Daniel Jacobs had his shot. He deserves another.
Jacobs challenged Gennady Golovkin earlier this year, falling short in a close unanimous decision. There are many who argued that Golovkin was the clear victor. But there are others who made the case that Jacobs deserved to have his hands raised in the air.
No matter what, it was a performance that elevated Jacobs, even in defeat. He showed that he belonged in there with the best middleweight in the world, that he had the speed and power to pose trouble. He boxed wisely and kept Golovkin wary.
There’s unfinished business between Jacobs and GGG. He’ll have to wait a year, if not longer, to get another shot at the top.
Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez fought to a draw in September. They are expected to have a rematch in 2018, likely in May. It’s doubtful that either would then immediately go on to facing yet another tough opponent — a sad but true statement in a world where many of the most notable fighters only tend to perform twice a year.
Don’t expect Jacobs to get a shot at either until 2019, at the earliest.
Don’t think that Jacobs will just bide his time until then.
Jacobs has made sure that he won’t be glossed over. He signed a deal with HBO, which features both Golovkin and Canelo and has an interest in building up their logical next opponents. The network also spotlighted Demetrius Andrade this past weekend; Andrade is a former 154-pound titleholder making a move up to middleweight. And HBO will air a title fight between Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux this December.
Jacobs’ first fight under this deal comes against Luis Arias, an undefeated prospect who will be taking a big step up. Arias might be a familiar name to some of you; he appeared on the pay-per-view undercard of the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev rematch in June, clearly outclassing Arif Magomedov, throwing faster and harder punches and breaking Magomedov down for a fifth-round stoppage.
Jacobs needs to make the case that he shouldn’t be ducked — that the Golovkin-Canelo rematch winner must face him for the same reasons that Golovkin-Canelo needed to happen in the first place. He needs to be the best available contender, dominating all remaining comers. And in doing so, he should try to elevate himself into a bigger star, ensuring that there’s plenty of reward to go along with the risk. Golovkin-Jacobs didn’t do very well on pay-per-view, after all.
Perhaps it’s best that Jacobs will have to wait for the winner of that rematch. Making Jacobs a greater attraction will be a multi-step process.
The next step, if he gets beyond Arias, could be against the winner of Saunders vs. Lemieux. Jermall Charlo is also a name to watch at middleweight; he’s been featured on Showtime rather than HBO, though Charlo and Jacobs are both advised by Al Haymon.
Jacobs was once known as “The Golden Child.” Ever since his return from cancer five years ago, Jacobs has rightly been calling himself “The Miracle Man.”
For his next act, he’s hoping to someday just be known as “The Man” at middleweight.