Following the big fights to start the year, the boxing schedule has plenty of storylines to follow this spring, including, most recently, Tim Tszyu’s knockout win over Tony Harrison for the interim WBO junior middleweight title.
After the big win, how would Tszyu match up with undisputed junior middleweight champ Jermell Charlo? What about Joe Cordina in his upcoming title fight? Could he be the next fighter out of the U.K. to claim a world title? Joseph Diaz is also on the hunt for a title at 135 pounds. Could movement at the top of the division land him a title soon?
As it stands, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. are available for a fight later in the year. Could 2023 be the year that the two stars actually meet in the ring? And has Gilberto Ramirez done enough to be considered the best active Mexican boxer behind Canelo Alvarez?
Ben Baby, Mike Coppinger, Nick Parkinson and Salvador Rodriguez separate what’s real and what’s not.
Real or not: Tim Tszyu can beat Jermell Charlo for the undisputed championship
Coppinger: Real. Before Tszyu’s performance against Tony Harrison on Saturday, it was difficult to consider the Australian boxer as anything but a decided underdog against Charlo. After all, Charlo is not just the undisputed champion at 154 pounds, but a battle-tested elite fighter.
Tszyu, on the other hand, was inexperienced; his best win came vs. Terrell Gausha last year, and there was nothing in that outing to suggest Tszyu could topple the division kingpin.
But over nine rounds vs. Harrison in Sydney, Tzsyu appeared a dramatically improved fighter. The 28-year-old showed a keen sense of range, picked off shots while pressured and impressed with his punch variety. Tszyu even countered while coming forward and took a step back when he needed to.
Most of all, perhaps, Tszyu was patient against a career-best opponent. Harrison is a former champion who scored a disputed decision win over Charlo in 2018 and was ahead on one scorecard when Charlo stopped him in the 11th round of their rematch.
Against Tszyu, Harrison won only one round on my scorecard. Tszyu dominated. He consistently beat Harrison to the punch and landed the cleaner shots. And, of course, he finished the show with that barrage of uppercuts in Round 9.
When Charlo withdrew from his planned January fight vs. Tszyu because of a hand injury, Tszyu could have waited for Charlo to recover. Instead, he took on an experienced boxer and was rewarded. He gained valuable experience and exposure over those nine rounds and is far more prepared for a Charlo matchup.
Charlo still deserves to be the favorite against Tszyu. He’s a tremendous puncher who knows how to set up his shots. But don’t count out Tszyu. Brian Castano tested Charlo twice — and arguably won the first fight — and the Argentine boxer has a similar style to Tszyu, the son of Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu.
No matter who wins when they face each other later this year, Charlo-Tszyu will be far more anticipated after Tszyu’s showing this weekend.
Real or not: Joe Cordina will be the next U.K. fighter to win a world title
Parkinson: Real. Cordina challenges Shavkat Rakhimov for the IBF junior lightweight title in Cardiff, Wales, on April 22 and can regain the belt.
Cordina was stripped of that same world title without making a defense after withdrawing from a bout against Rakhimov (17-0-1, 14 KOs), 28, from Tajikistan, because of a broken hand in October, a month before the scheduled match. He will not be short of appetite or motivation for this fight.
“Worked my whole life to become a world champion, and I haven’t even had the chance to defend the title,” Cordina said after being stripped of the title. “Feel like I’ve been robbed.”
Cordina (15-0, 9 KOs), 31, won the belt in June 2022 by knocking out Kenichi Ogawa at Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, the same venue where he will face Rakhimov and has the support from his home city’s fans. Much will depend on how Cordina has recovered from surgery on his right hand and the latest injury setback in his career.
Rakhimov, trained by Freddie Roach, won the vacant belt by stopping England’s Zelfa Barrett in the ninth round in November and represents the best opponent Cordina has faced. Rakhimov also gave a good account of himself when he held Joseph “JoJo” Diaz to a draw in a previous title attempt in 2021.
However, Rakhimov was behind on points when he stopped Barrett and was floored early by a right hand. Cordina is a smart boxer. He can win back the title if he avoids being drawn into a brawl.
Real or not: Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr. won’t happen in 2023
Baby: Not real. Sigh. I’ve been burned plenty on whether Spence-Crawford will happen. But let’s take a look at the facts. Both fighters want this to happen. Multiple sources indicated to ESPN that the fight was on the verge of occurring in 2022 before negotiations broke down regarding the details of the contract. That left each fighter pointing the finger at the other as fans required answers for yet another letdown.
However, Spence and Crawford are available at the year’s end. Spence’s next bout has yet to be announced, but ESPN’s Mike Coppinger has reported that Spence is finalizing a deal to face former champion Keith Thurman. Meanwhile, the WBO has ordered Crawford to defend his title against Alex Rocha.
Whether at welterweight or junior middleweight, the long-discussed Spence-Crawford showdown remains interesting. It’s too early to rule it out as a possibility at the end of the year.
Real or not: Joseph Diaz Jr. will win a title at 135 pounds
Baby: Not real. Even if Devin Haney defeats Vasiliy Lomachenko and then relinquishes his four lightweight world titles and moves up to junior welterweight, as expected, Diaz is in a tight spot. So far, his best win over the past three years came before the pandemic — a close win over Tevin Farmer in January 2020. And that was at junior lightweight, not in the 135-pound legacy division.
Diaz has also lost two straight bouts — one to Devin Haney for the WBC belt and, most recently, a lopsided unanimous decision to William Zepeda in a non-title bout.
Sure, the belts could be freed up, but Shakur Stevenson and others are still lurking in the division. Stevenson, the former unified junior lightweight champion moving up in weight, is positioned to be a force for the foreseeable future.
Real or not: Gilberto Ramirez is currently the best Mexican fighter after Canelo Alvarez
Rodriguez: Not real. Canelo Alvarez has long been the face of Mexican boxing despite setbacks in his career. However, it is not Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez who follows him in my list of best current Mexican fighters — not even Jaime Munguia, even though he’s fighting in a good division at middleweight.
The best current Mexican fighter after Canelo is Juan Francisco “Gallo” Estrada, who recently solidified his standing by beating future Hall of Famer Roman “Chocolatito” González in an all-action trilogy fight.
After all those names, I would list fighters like Emanuel Navarrete, Oscar Valdez, Luis Nery, Mauricio Lara, Luis Alberto Lopez or Julio Cesar Martinez.