By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
The boxing year of 2016 has gifted us with some phenomenal performances from the likes of Anthony Crolla vs. Ismael Barroso, Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Roman Martinez, and Orlando Salido and Francisco Vargas against each other in their majority draw. We have also seen the emergence of future stars in the shape of Anthony Joshua, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. There is still plenty to come, however. Here we look at five of the best match-ups still to come in 2016.
Gennady Golovkin vs. Kell Brook
An obvious one to start us off as IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook moves up from 147 pounds to 160 to take on middleweight juggernaut Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin. September 10 sees GGG put his WBC, IBF and IBO middleweight titles on the line at the O2 Arena in London. This bout came out of nowhere with boxing fans expecting Chris Eubank Jr to face GGG next, before Brook swooped in out of nowhere to sign on the dotted line for the biggest fight of his life. Both fighters are unbeaten with Brook boasting a 36-0-KO25 record and Golovkin also unbeaten at 35-0-KO32, with GGG coming into the fight on the back of 22 straight knockouts. It’s obvious, of course, to say that this is the toughest test of Brook’s career, but the same most be said for Golovkin. The Kazakh superstar has never faced a boxer as savvy and as accomplished as Brook, and the contest represents a clear step up in class from April’s victim Dominic Wade. For Brook, he is not only going up in weight, but he is doing it to face the most fearsome fighter in the sport. Brook’s career-best win was when he took the IBF title from Shawn Porter in California in 2014, but he has failed to kick-on from there, stopping sub-par challengers Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier. Now, he’ll put it all on the line and there’s not one boxing fan who isn’t excited about this match-up.
Saul Alvarez vs. Liam Smith
Seven days after that contest, the man many thought would face Golovkin next will take on Liverpool’s Liam Smith for the latter’s WBO light middleweight title. The home of the Dallas Cowboys (AT&T Stadium) plays host to Canelo’s return to the light middleweight division following a catchweight-laden spell as WBC middleweight champion. Canelo (47-1-1-KO33) has world class names on his resume including Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan. Whereas Smith (23-0-1-KO13) is the new kid on the block in terms of the world scene. This is his first truly big fight, having taken the belt vacated by Demetrius Andrade with a stoppage of American John Thompson. Since then he has knocked out two fringe contenders before securing this bout. There is no question that Alvarez is the favourite for the fight – and it’s a contest that has failed to capture the imagination of many punters – but Smith is certainly no slouch. There will not be the size and power difference that was so evident in Canelo’s brutal knockout of Khan, and Smith will be coming in with a nothing-to-lose mentality that could push him to new heights. Bring it on.
Krzysztof Glowacki vs. Oleksandr Usyk
On the same night that Smith defends his title against Canelo, an arguably more intriguing contest will be taking place in Gdansk, Poland. WBO cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Glowacki (26-0-KO16) will be defending his belt against 2012 Olympic gold medal winner Oleksandr Usyk (9-0-KO9). Usyk has made a seamless transition to the professional ranks after a glittering amateur career, but is making a big step up in class as he challenges for a world title in just his 10th fight. His opponent burst onto the scene this time last year with a stunning 11th round knockout of Marco Huck, foiling the German’s hopes of defending his title for a division-record 14th time in a row. Poland’s Glowacki then defended his strap with a unanimous decision victory over tough veteran Steve Cunningham in April this year, knocking his man down four times. Glowacki will be looking to maintain his momentum with a win over by far the most exciting prospect in the cruiserweight division, while Usyk will look to mirror his countryman Lomachenko by securing a world title early on in his career. Let’s see what happens.
Anthony Crolla vs. Jorge Linares
One of the most-improved fighters in all of boxing, Anthony Crolla backed up his stunning stoppage of Darleys Perez – which won him the WBA lightweight title – with an unbelievable performance against Ismael Barroso which culminated in Crolla knocking his man out in the seventh. That win over Barroso – the most feared fighter in the division – showed the intelligence of the Manchester man and how well he could follow a game plan, as he absorbed the expected early barrage of Barroso before seizing the contest when his opponent tired. Crolla has evolved from a domestic level fighter beaten by Gary Sykes and Derry Mathews, to arguably the top lightweight in the world. Instead of taking on a slightly easier opponent after those two phenomenal wins, Crolla (31-4-3-KO13) chose to face off against WBC champ Jorge Linares (40-3-KO27) in a unification bout. Linares is known on British soil for his brutal 10th round stoppage of Kevin Mitchell in a back-and-forth contest in May 2015. He punches incredibly hard, and showed against Mitchell that he can face adversity and come back to win, a trait that has also been displayed by Crolla. This one will see two of the lightweight division’s best going head to head, and who doesn’t want to see that?
Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward
While the previous four fights certainly whet the appetite, they are merely the starter before the boxing fans’ main course of Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev vs. Andre ‘SOG’ Ward on November 18. Kovalev (30-0-1-KO26) is the light heavyweight division’s answer to Golovkin, but has far better names on his record. Wins over the likes of Nathan Cleverly, Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal and most recently Isaac Chilemba have showcased the Krusher’s perfect blend of power, footwork and ring generalship. Indeed, nobody has ever given Hopkins the kind of beating that Kovalev did. Now, though, he will take on arguably the finest pure boxer in the sport today. Andre Ward (30-0-KO15) has all the skills that you could ever want in a fighter, but missed a significant chunk of his prime due to contractual issues. Before that, Ward reigned supreme as the undisputed king of the super middleweight division following his victory in the Super Six competition which saw him beat Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch, and has since moved up to light heavyweight. Wins over Paul Smith, Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand have paved the way for a monumental match-up between two of the best in the business. Here we will find out how good Ward’s chin is, how well Kovalev will be able to deal with Ward’s boxing skills, and which man can rise to the occasion in one of the most eagerly-anticipated fights in a long time.by