We are six months into 2018, a boxing year that has had its ups and downs. There have been some tremendously exciting fights and some sleep-inducing wastes of time.
So halfway through the year, what are the biggest storylines? Here are my top four.
1. Canelo-GGG soap opera
After the middleweight stars fought to a draw in a blockbuster HBO PPV fight that most thought unified champion Gennady Golovkin clearly won last September, we all knew a rematch of Canelo Alvarez vs. GGG was coming. After tough negotiations, the sequel was set for May 5. But if only things were that easy.
You know the story by now: Alvarez failed two drug tests in February and got suspended for six months; GGG smoked late sub Vanes Martirosyan in a reconfigured event but got stripped of one his belts; GGG and Canelo ratcheted up the bad blood and smack talk; new negotiations went past the Golden Boy deadline; GGG refused Golden Boy's offer of 60-40 and held out for the short end of a 55-45 split, causing Golden Boy boss Oscar De La Hoya to make up the difference to Canelo out of his own pocket to get the deal done; and then they refused to meet each other face to face at a news conference. The rematch is set for September 15 in Las Vegas, and it's going to be a pay-per-view monster. It will be by far the year's biggest fight, even bigger than it would have been on May 5 -- assuming nobody fails a drug test, forcing it to be canceled again.
2. Joshua-Wilder negotiations crater
If Canelo-GGG II is the biggest fight of the year in terms of money, an Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder undisputed heavyweight championship fight would have been the most historically significant (and also a nine-figure fight financially). But after much back and forth, and accusations from both sides about the veracity of their interest in the fight, it went nowhere.
In the end, it seems the Joshua camp simply didn't want it to be the next fight. Instead, Joshua will fight Alexander Povetkin (not a bad fight) on September 22 at Wembley Stadium, with Wilder probably headed to some other fight this fall. I believe Wilder is serious when he says he desperately wants the AJ fight. After all, his team offered Joshua the $50 million that he said it would take to get the fight done and then later agreed to fight him in the United Kingdom. And when there was no movement there, Wilder agreed to accept a bad deal for the fight: a $15 million flat fee instead of participation in the profits.
Nonetheless, Joshua and Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn went for the smaller Povetkin fight with an offer to fight Wilder in April at Wembley still on the table, assuming Joshua beats Povetkin. Don't expect negotiations to get any easier now that Team Wilder has said it will no longer accept the kind of deal it had agreed to for a fall fight. This saga will continue to dominate the boxing landscape for the rest of the year and probably beyond.
3. Streaming is all the rage
The old model of big-time boxing has been turned on its head. Yes, Showtime still puts on major fights on its network, and ESPN does now, as well. Yes, HBO continues to dabble in non-pay-per-view events, although the fights aren't nearly as significant as they once were. But the future of boxing is clearly streaming.
Like it or not, it's the future, and the future is now. A massive part of Top Rank's deal with ESPN involves regular fights on its new streaming service ESPN+, be it Top Rank-promoted cards or securing the rights to notable international fights. Big fights and big names will still be on ESPN, but it will extend to ESPN+, as well. Terence Crawford fought on ESPN+ in June, and Manny Pacquiao headlines there on Saturday. Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko's return from shoulder surgery in December is being planned for the service.
It's not just ESPN making a bet on streaming. The Perform Group's DAZN all-sports streaming service, which is already available in several countries, launches in the United States in the fall with boxing a major part of its initial offerings. In May, it announced a $1 billion, eight-year deal for exclusive U.S. rights to Matchroom Boxing's events from Europe, as well as a slate of 16 cards that will take place in the U.S. DAZN also has secured rights to the second season of the World Boxing Series, which will put on three high-level tournaments beginning in September.
4. Unification fights en vogue
It's usually hard to get title unification fights made, but 2018 has been a great year for them so far. We are getting to see the best fight the best for clarity in some divisions.
While we won't get the undisputed heavyweight title fight this year, we did have Joshua defeating Joseph Parker to unify three heavyweight belts. Jarrett Hurd defeated Erislandy Lara in a leading fight of the year candidate to unify junior middleweight titles, Oleksandr Usyk unified two cruiserweight titles by beating Mairis Briedis in the World Boxing Super Series semifinals, and Murat Gassiev defeated Yunier Dorticos in a fantastic fight in the other semifinal to unify the other two major belts, with Usyk-Gassiev scheduled for the undisputed crown on July 21.
There are also other unification fights coming. On July 28, Mikey Garcia and Robert Easter Jr. will meet to unify lightweight belts, and Top Rank is eyeing a lightweight unification fight for December between Lomachenko and the Raymundo Beltran-Roman Andreev winner. We will also see belts unified at bantamweight and junior welterweight thanks to the lineup of fighters and titles that will be in the second season of the World Boxing Super Series. Plus, we could see eventual unifications late this year or in the first part of 2019 at welterweight (Errol Spence vs. the Shawn Porter-Danny Garcia winner), featherweight (Leo Santa Cruz vs. Gary Russell Jr.), junior featherweight (Isaac Dogboe vs. Danny Roman) and junior bantamweight (Jerwin Ancajas vs. Kal Yafai), along with a non-WBSS unification at junior welterweight (Jose Ramirez vs. the Maurice Hooker-Alex Saucedo winner).
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Astana, Kazakhstan: Cruiserweight Beibut Shumenov (18-2, 12 KOs) TKO9 Hizni Altunkaya (30-2, 17 KOs), wins a vacant cruiserweight title
The Las Vegas-based Shumenov, 34, a former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titlist, returned home to Kazakhstan as he ended a 26-month retirement caused by a serious right eye injury that he now says is healed. He took on Altunkaya, 30, of Germany, for the secondary belt he vacated upon his retirement and handed him his second loss in three fights.
Shumenov won handily. He dropped Altunkaya with a left to the body in the first round and dominated thereafter, dropping him again under heavy pressure in the ninth round, after which Altunkaya's corner stopped the fight. However, the title Shumenov claimed is as weak as they come because the WBA absurdly now has four titleholders in the same weight class: unified titleholder Murat Gassiev, Shumenov, interim titlist Arsen Goulamirian and inactive titleholder in recess Denis Lebedev.
Friday at Hollywood, Florida: Heavyweight Ivan Dychko (7-0, 7 KOs) KO1 Maurice Harris (26-22-3, 11 KOs)
Dychko, 27, is a two-time Olympic bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, who lost to eventual super heavyweight gold medalist Anthony Joshua in the 2012 semifinals and to silver medalist Joe Joyce in 2016. Now fighting out of Kissimmee, Florida, Dychko is one of the better heavyweight prospects in boxing but was matched in a disgraceful fight with Harris, 42, of Newark, New Jersey, who had not fought since 2015 and is more than a decade past his best days. He showed absolutely nothing against Dychko, who got the knockout at the 1:39 mark when he floored Harris for the count with an apparent left hook to the arm. Putting it kindly, Harris did not appear to have given his best effort.
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