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Boxing fights we want to see in 2019

Unification fights between welterweights Terence Crawford and Erroll Spence Jr. and lightweights Vasiliy Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia could get done in 2019. ESPN Illustration

There's already a full slate of fights on the boxing schedule as the calendar turns to 2019, but just how many of them are the ones fans are truly yearning for?

The reality is that most contemporary matchups are ones that are made out of convenience more than public demand. In other words, they are consummated because boxers are under the same promotional banner or aligned with a particular network.

Admittedly, there are some solid bouts that have been constructed, but there are a multitude of others that never occur. The unfortunate reality is that while boxing is a worldwide sport, it's one that is greatly fractured and divided across many "political" lines.

Here's a list of fights that truly represent the best the sport has to offer, regardless of whatever real life hurdles exist in the boxing business. We are not taking into account who the promoters are or what networks has the rights to these fighters. The only caveat to this particular list is that none of these bouts are currently on the upcoming itinerary.

These are the fights we really want to see in 2019.


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Crawford, Spence exchange words

Backstage at the Hooker-Saucedo fight, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. get into an argument that ends with Crawford saying he could knockout Spence.

Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.

This is quite simply one of the premiere matchups in the sport of boxing. Both are currently welterweight belt holders, with Spence (24-0, 21 KO) the IBF titlist and Crawford (34-0, 25 KO) the WBO champion. Spence, 28, is a physically imposing southpaw wrecking ball with solid skills. Every one of his punches is delivered with bad intentions. The 31-year-old Crawford is an all-around technician, who can dissect his foes from both the orthodox and southpaw stances. He's not only sound, but he's ornery inside that squared circle.

As you see the ESPN pound-for-pound list, it's Crawford -- who has won titles at 135 and was the undisputed king at 140 - who is listed at No. 2, while Spence is at No. 6. But based on being the natural 147-pounder, it is Spence who is rated higher in the welterweight division.

There's no doubt that these two talented American-born boxers are well aware of one another. Back on Nov. 16 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, during a card featuring Maurice Hooker's defense of his WBO junior welterweight title, both champions were in the building and weren't afraid to confront one another. Let's hope it's not the only time they ever come face to face.


Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury II

Hey, nobody said we couldn't list any rematches, and based on the buzz the first edition of Wilder-Fury created and the disputed nature of the draw -- why not run it back again? Especially since it doesn't look like unified champion, Anthony Joshua, will face either man in the near future.

There is plenty of intrigue in the rematch: Can Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KO), the defending WBC champion, be more consistent in landing his vaunted right hand on Fury (27-0-1, 19 KO)? In their first meeting back on Dec. 1 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Wilder, 33, was outboxed for large stretches of the fight but was able to salvage the draw due to knockdowns of Fury in rounds ninth and 12. On the flipside, will Fury, 30, be even better in the rematch now that he has fully knocked off all the ring rust from his sabbatical that kept him out of the ring for a couple of years after his 2015 victory over Wladimir Klitschko?

The first edition of Wilder-Fury wasn't necessarily a great fight, but with the dramatic nature of the fight and the two larger-than-life personalities involved, there is significant interest in a return bout.


Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Mikey Garcia

Some believe Garcia, who scored a unanimous decision victory over Robert Easter in the summer to become the IBF and WBA lightweight champion, is simply too small to handle welterweight world titleholder Spence when they meet on March 17. Yeah, Garcia (39-0, 30 KO) has the requisite skills, but as they say -- size matters. With that said, regardless of the result against Spence, Garcia would be welcome back with open arms to the lightweight class.

And waiting for him would be Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KO), who on Dec. 8 unified the WBA and WBO belts at 135 by defeating the game Jose Pedraza over 12 rounds. The 30-year-old Ukrainian is one of the game's true stylists and is generally considered the best boxer in the world. He has captured major world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight. But what makes this achievement truly stand out in an era of multiple titles is that during his stay in each of those weight classes, Lomachenko was considered the best in that particular division.

But in Garcia, 30, he would face a fighter who has won titles in multiple weight classes as well (ranging from 126 to 140) and who is a master counterpuncher with deft timing and precision. While Lomachenko is a free-flowing artist in the ring, Garcia is a textbook on fundamental craftsmanship.

Lomachenko is more fleet of foot, but it's Garcia who has the size and power advantage.


Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin III

Yeah, perhaps there is a bit of fatigue over this matchup and the surrounding storylines that became tiresome by the end of the last promotion. But ask yourself this: How many fights in 2018 were better than their rematch this past September? And which contest moving forward would garner as much interest as the third chapter of this rivalry, which has become quite contentious?

Back in September at the T-Mobile, it was Golovkin (38-1-1, 34) who closed hard down the stretch but was unable to retain his middleweight titles. Regardless of the decision, the rematch was a superior fight to the original, which took place in 2017 and ended in a controversial draw. But you wonder if at age 36, Golovkin can sustain the type of effort he did in the late stages of the second bout with the Mexican star.

Canelo, 28, has many options and currently he is in the beginning stage of a lucrative deal (reported to be worth over $300 million for the next five years) with DAZN, with whom a good number of the other notable middleweights reside.


Danny Jacobs vs. Jermall Charlo

This is a bit of a grudge match of sorts as they got into a bit of a verbal altercation back on March 3 at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn on the night Wilder faced Luis Ortiz. It's clear that there is some bad blood between the two proud American middleweights.

Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) just recently picked up the IBF title by defeating Sergiy Derevyanchenko over 12 rounds in October, and has clearly established himself as one of the elite 160-pounders in the world through his body of work.

Charlo (28-0, 21 KO), a former belt-holder at 154, is more a product of the eye-test at middleweight, having only defeated the likes of a hobbled Jorge Sebastian Heiland (TKO4) and Hugo Centeno Jr. (KO2) during his short stint in the division. His fearsome reputation took a hit as he was extended the distance in his latest bout on Dec. 22 by Matt Korobov, a late replacement, who some believe may have done enough to get his hand raised in victory.

Regardless, both are still highly regarded: Jacobs, 31, is rated third by ESPN, while Charlo, 28, is rated fifth. Both are big, athletic middleweights with solid punching power. And the winner of this showdown clearly establishes himself as the top middleweight in the world not named Alvarez or Golovkin.


Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman

Now, this is assuming that Pacquiao defeats Adrien Broner on January 19. If he does, the most well-known senator from the Philippines will focus his attention on another crack at one Floyd Mayweather, which quite frankly, brings about audible groans from most boxing fans.

Sorry, been there, done that. And unlike Canelo-GGG, the first installment of Mayweather-Pacquiao was a dud. This is the kind of fight that you don't make a sequel to.

But Pacquiao (60-7- 2, 39 KO), at age 40, facing one of the young guns is still very fascinating.

With him signing on with Premier Boxing Champions, he has a few options. And Thurman (28-0, 22 KO), the one time unified welterweight world titleholder, would be an entertaining pairing. It will be interesting to see how Thurman looks on Jan. 26, as he comes off what is nearly a two-year layoff to face Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KO).

How will this protracted layoff effect the 31 year old Thurman? And what does Pacquiao have left at this stage?


Dmitry Bivol vs. Badou Jack

So here are two guys that need each other. Bivol (15-0, 11 KO) is the defending WBA light heavyweight champion, and he's coming off two decision victories against Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. While he was never in danger, some questions were raised as Bivol was made to go the distance versus these aging veterans.

Jack (22-1-3, 13 KO) was hoping for a rematch against former WBC titlist, Adonis Stevenson, but Stevenson is recovering from a brain injury suffered when he was knocked out by Oleksandr Gvozdyk on Dec. 1.

Since getting stopped in one round by Derek Edwards as a prospect in 2014, Jack has steadily improved and developed into a world class prizefighter. He was able to capture a super middleweight title by defeating Anthony Dirrell in 2015 and then proceeded to make successful title defenses with George Groves and Lucien Bute. Soon after he won the same WBA title that Bivol has currently by defeating Nathan Cleverly in five rounds in 2017.

But as a mandatory defense with Bivol loomed, Jack vacated the title for more lucrative opportunities (a fight with Stevenson this past May, which ended in a majority draw). Bivol, 27, needs a credible opponent who's in his physical prime to boost his credibility. Jack, 35, can't wait around forever for another title shot.


Jarrett Hurd vs. Jaime Munguia

Forget about anything else, this is one of the best pure action fights that can be made in all of boxing. Two big, strong physical junior middleweights that would just continually chuck leather at each other all night long.

Hurd (23-0, 16 KO) has staked his claim as the best 154-pounder on the planet based on his victory over the still serviceable Austin Trout (TKO10) last year, and then his thrilling unification victory over Erislandy Lara in April, which gave him possession of both the IBF and WBA belts. The 28-year-old from Maryland is one of the most crowd-pleasing fighters in the game.

So is Munguia, the 22-year-old from Tijuana, Mexico, who burst onto the scene this past May when he came in as a late sub for Liam Smith and bludgeoned Sadam Ali in four rounds for the WBO strap. Munguia (31-0, 26 KO) had an incredibly productive 2018, making two more title defenses and fighting five times in total. He is poised to be the next popular Mexican fighter with his rugged, take-no-prisoners style.

Hurd-Munguia is the type of fight that doesn't come around often: two willing participants in a two-fisted game of demolition derby.


Jose Ramirez vs. Jorge Linares

They say that styles make fights, and the contrasting styles of Ramirez (23-0, 16 KO), the current WBC junior welterweight champion, and multi-divisional titlist, Linares (45-4, 28 KO), go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Ramirez, 26, is a high-volume puncher, who consistently moves forward and puts on pressure. While not heavy-handed, he more than makes up for it by throwing a multitude of punches. He won his belt by punishing Amir Imam over 12 rounds back in March and Ramirez simply outworked the game Antonio Orozco, who couldn't keep up with his work rate in his first title defense in September.

But could all of his frenetic activity be neutralized by the sharpshooting skills of the highly accomplished Linares? While his punch resistance has been his Achilles' heel (all four of his defeats were of the stoppage variety), Linares has always been one of the most elegant and graceful fighters in the sport with his intricate combinations and his nimble feet.

Ramirez-Linares would be the young bull against the veteran matador.


Oscar Valdez vs. Leo Santa Cruz

Not only is this a unification match at featherweight, but for years these two have trained in the same Los Angeles-area gyms. Both Valdez (24-0, 19 KO) and Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KO) have developed followings in Southern California and this is the type of matchup that belongs at Staples Center.

Valdez, the defending WBO titlist, is scheduled to return in the early months of 2019 as he is finally recovered from the fractured jaw that he suffered in a victory over the much heavier, Scott Quigg, who didn't bother to make weight for their bout in March. Valdez, 27, is now being trained by Eddy Reynoso (best known for his work with Canelo) in hopes of rounding out his game and not making every fight so physically grueling.

Santa Cruz, 30, is coming off his second victory over cross-town rival Abner Mares, and is scheduled to face Miguel Flores on a PBC card in Los Angeles on Feb. 16. Santa Cruz remains a nonstop windmill inside the ring who just keeps throwing punches round after round and drowns his opponents with his activity level.

Why is this fight on this list? Well, ask yourself this question: Just how many bad fights have either Valdez or Santa Cruz been involved in?


Danny Roman vs. Rey Vargas

OK, I was going to put Isaac Dogboe (20-1, 14 KO) in one of these slots, but he couldn't get past the tenacious and durable Emanuel Navarette (26-1, 22 KO), who took the WBO 122-pound title from him on Dec. 8. So as of now, it's Roman (26-2-1, 10 KO) and Rey Vargas (32-0, 22 KO) who are considered two of the best junior featherweights on the planet.

And if there's anybody who can deal with the length of the freakishly tall Vargas (who is listed at 5-foot-8) is Roman, the reigning WBA champion, who has consistently chopped down boxers who have more than a couple of inches of height on him. The latest victim was Gavin McDonnell, who was stopped in 10 rounds in Chicago in early October. The 28-year-old Roman has become one of the game's true technicians who makes up for a lack of real power with a myriad of other skills.

In Vargas, 28, you have one of the toughest outs in all of boxing, he's as tough as he is tall. While it looks like a stiff breeze could knock him over, the reality is that Vargas is a durable fighter that will simply outwork his foes over 12 rounds.


Oleksander Usyk vs. Luis Ortiz

So after unifying the cruiserweight division and putting an exclamation on his stint in the division by stopping Tony Bellew, Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) like Evander Holyfield and David Haye before him -- two other cruiserweight standouts -- will be making the move up to the land of the giants. And there is already talk of him challenging the unified champion, Anthony Joshua.'

Which is all well and good, except for the fact that we have no idea just how the talented Ukrainian will actually fare as a heavyweight. Well, how about taking a rather deep dive into the division by facing the respected Ortiz? The Cuban is considered one of the very best in the division -- ranked No. 4 by ESPN.com -- and his one loss was his back-and-forth slugfest versus Wilder in March. He is a well-schooled southpaw, and even at 39, Ortiz (30-1, 26 KOs) can still swat.

Usyk would no doubt have an advantage in foot speed and mobility. But will his punch resistance be the same at heavyweight?

Should Usyk win, he stamps himself as a bonafide heavyweight contender.


Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Francisco Estrada II

Yeah, another rematch of one of the better bouts of the past year. When Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41 KOs) met Estrada (38-3, 26 KOs) last February, it was at the Forum in Los Angeles on "SuperFly III" -- and it was Rungvisai who was able to retain his WBC 115-pound title by holding off the late charge of the challenger.

The Thai fighter built up an early lead by landing heavy left hands from his southpaw stance on Estrada, who looked overwhelmed early on by the strength of Sor Rungvisai, who had burst onto the scene in 2017 with a pair of victories over future Hall of Famer, Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez. But fighting in front of his Mexican partisans, Estrada, 28, rallied in the late rounds and started to back up Rungvisai with a series of accurate combinations. As the bell sounded at the conclusion of the final round, there was a real question as to just who would get their hands raised in victory.

And it was Rungvisai who came out ahead by the scores of 114-114 115-113 and 117-111.

With the competitive nature of the bout, the WBC ordered a rematch.


Gervonta Davis vs. Alberto Machado

OK, this is not only a really good matchup, but it will help the WBA clean up its mess (and they have a lot of them with their myriad of belts throughout various divisions) at junior lightweight. Despite Machado (21-0, 19 KOs) having won the title in October 2017 by stopping Jezreel Corrales in eight rounds, it's "Tank" Davis who is listed by the WBA as their "super" champion after he won this version of the title several months later by running over Jesus Cuellar in three rounds.

OK, regardless of all this, Davis-Machado pits two offensiv- minded southpaws who couldn't have more contrasting styles. The 24-year-old Davis is a stocky and well-built left-hander who doesn't hesitate to move forward and bang away with both hands. While Puerto Rico's Machado, 28, is a tall, angular puncher who seems to be coming into this own under the guidance of noted trainer, Freddie Roach.

Whoever controls the distance of this fight, has a huge advantage tactically. While Davis is just a shade above 5-foot 5, Machado is 5-foor-10.

Both can bang; both do it in different ways.


Gervonta Davis vs. Tevin Farmer

Currently the 130-pound class has some quality belt holders, including the likes of Alberto Machado ("regular" WBA), Masayuki Ito (WBO) and Miguel Berchelt (WBC), but there is nothing quite like the animosity between the WBA "super" champion, Davis, and Tevin Farmer, who possesses the IBF belt.

Whether it's in person or on social media, the disdain that these two have for each other is real. Both are southpaws, and that's about where their similarities end. Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) is a strong puncher who consistently comes forward and can run through his opponents, hence his moniker. Farmer (28-4-1, 6 KOs) is a smooth boxing technician who is slick as oil grease. It's the classic puncher-versus-boxer match-up.

Davis, who hails from Baltimore, had a very unproductive 2018, fighting just once -- halting Jesus Cuellar in three rounds in April -- and then spending the rest of the year grousing about how his career was being handled by Floyd Mayweather. While Farmer, who's Philly born and bred, became of the the sport's great reclamation projects by overcoming four early losses in his career to win the world title in August against Billy Dib and making two quick defenses to close out the year.

An old fashioned East Coast grudge match, just like the good ol' days.

It would be a shame if all they ever did was tweet at each other.