There are a lot of good fights on the schedule for the rest of 2021, but there are a lot of good matchups still waiting to be made — some fights that have been talked about, and some that haven’t.
Former two-division world champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. picked 10 fights that he would like to see, based on the type of matchups that could help these fighters solidify their legacies.
“Sugar Ray Leonard didn’t become great until he had the right matchups,” Bradley said. “Muhammad Ali didn’t become ‘The Greatest’ until he got the right matchups. It’s not about just winning fights, it’s who you beat, that’s what legacy is all about. I think some of the matchups I picked are for that, fighters that need each other to give great fights and build or solidify their legacy. This is what boxing should be and I believe these fights are the type of matchups that could make fighters legends.”
1. Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr. at welterweight
Terence Crawford says a megafight with Errol Spence Jr. is inevitable and vows to defeat the unified champion when the time comes.
Overview: The winner will be the No. 1 welterweight in the world, and have a strong case to be called the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Crawford, stylistically, is the best fighter on the planet. Spence, as of right now, is considered by a lot of people to be the best welterweight on the planet. He can move, he can fight southpaw, he can switch things up, he has power on both hands, he has supreme timing. Spence is bigger, some would say stronger and has the will to win, just as much as Crawford does. Spence has supreme determination, excellent conditioning, throws punches in volume and lands with heavy shots. Spence is very dangerous with a lot of power in his hands.
Who wins: This is a 50-50 fight. I would have to go with the guy that does more inside the ring, and that’s “Bud” Crawford. Spence is a big southpaw, yes, and we saw Spence alter his game when he fought Mikey Garcia, but I think Crawford is a little smarter inside the ring than Spence.
2. Canelo Alvarez vs. Andre Ward, at super middleweight or light heavyweight
Overview: Alvarez recently showed that he’s levels above anyone near his weight class, anywhere from 168 to 175 pounds, and his skill set has improved immensely over the last few years. I remember talking a few years back about Canelo not being able to deliver a KO for the fans, and in 3 of his last 4 fights, he has produced knockouts against Billy Joe Saunders, Avni Yildirim and Sergey Kovalev.
It’s going to take a guy just as good as he is to beat him. A guy that boxes the same way inside the ring, not only fighting on the outside, but fighting inside. A guy that’s a little bigger than he is. And I think that guy is Andre Ward — he’s a guy that when his back is against the wall, he will deliver. Ward is 6-foot, cerebral and confident enough to withstand whatever Alvarez is dishing out.
Right now, Ward has been out of the game for some time (his last fight was in June 2017), so I’m sure many people will question me saying Ward can compete with Alvarez. But I’ve known Andre since he was a kid, I’ve been in the ring with him as an amateur, I’ve seen him grow. I’ve seen him capture his Olympic gold medal in 2004. Everything he does is calculated. Before Canelo, Ward was dominating the 168 and 175 divisions.
Who wins: Getting Andre back in the ring is another question. This is a fantasy fight for me, but I would love to see it happen.And if Ward comes back and has a tune-up fight or some sort of an exhibition fight where he can get his feet wet and then fight Alvarez, I would pick Ward over Alvarez.
3. Tyson Fury vs. Anthony Joshua at heavyweight
Overview: This fight has to happen, I mean it doesn’t matter if there are belts on the line. This is for British bragging rights, it’s the two best heavyweights in boxing and it could be the biggest fight in British boxing history.
The matchup is very interesting. Many people will pick Fury off the bat because he can just do more. He just backed up Deontay Wilder, he told everybody what he was going to do beforehand, and then delivered.
Then you have Joshua. He was an Olympic gold medalist, and I know amateur fights are different from pro fights, but between his pro career and the amateurs Joshua has beaten a lot of top quality guys, including Wladimir Klitschko.
Joshua’s a boxer-puncher, and he showed just how dangerous he can be when he knocked out Kubrat Pulev. But he can change his game, too. There were questions after he lost to Andy Ruiz Jr. in their first fight, but I always say, it’s how you come back from a loss that makes a great champion. He showed that versatility and ability when he fought Ruiz the second time and he boxed around him for 12 rounds.
Joshua jabs well to set up his right hand, underneath or over the top, and that’s typically his kill shot right there. He has that kind of power he can turn your lights out with one punch.
Who wins: Great fight, but I would favor the man with the most skills, who can do a little bit of everything. I have to go with Fury, who is also the bigger guy. I think Fury can back down Joshua and beat him.
4. Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia at lightweight
Overview: You have two young, exciting guys. One at the top of his game in Davis, and one that could be someone special, but still hasn’t proven it in Garcia. Garcia has the hype around him, the followers on social media. He has speed, and he has a size advantage over Davis. Garcia also has a tremendous left hook; he seems to be getting better training under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso and Canelo Alvarez’s camp.
Garcia got caught with a punch that he didn’t see against Luke Campbell, but the way he responded afterwards, that takes a lot of heart and mental toughness to get back in the fight.
I think Davis and Garcia need each other. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Davis. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Garcia. I think they can bring out the best of each other if they fight, because both have something to fear. Fear can take you to do great things, do something that you didn’t know you had in you.
I don’t think we have ever seen “Tank” Davis hurt or even down before, so how will he react if he’s put on the canvas?
Who wins: I have to go with the guy with more experience at a higher level and that’s Davis. “Tank” will set him up, he will play defense and lure Garcia in and he will find a way to land that kill shot and hurt Garcia. Davis is one of the best finishers in boxing, and once he hurts you, it’s over.
5. Teofimo Lopez vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko 2 at lightweight
Overview: After what we saw with Lomachenko against Masayoshi Nakatani back in June, I think everybody wants to see this rematch with Lopez.
Nakatani was coming off the biggest win of his career, against Felix Verdejo, and Lomachenko knocked him out in spectacular fashion. Lomachenko made it look easy, because he started sooner and didn’t sit back. The biggest problem in the first fight with Lopez was that Lomachenko started to pick up the pace too late.
If he starts sooner against Lopez, can Lomachenko gas out Lopez and take him to deep waters? Lomachenko almost had Lopez in the 11th round of their first fight, before Lopez came out blazing for Round 12.
Lomachenko’s shoulder injury going into the fight was real, but I would take nothing away from Lopez, because he came into that fight with an injury to his foot as well. But when you look at this rematch, stylistically, you have a young fighter in Lopez who hasn’t fought since he beat Lomachenko. He had COVID, which postponed his fight against George Kambosos Jr. four days out from the scheduled date. We have to see if that has any long-term effects.
Who wins: I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Even with Lomachenko starting faster against Nakatani, it was against a fighter that was perfectly made for his style of fighting. That’s not going to happen against Lopez. Going back to their first fight, I saw Lopez spinning with Lomachenko. Every time Loma was trying to get an angle, Lopez would spin with him, which is not an easy thing to do.
I saw Lopez landing some good punches on Lomachenko. The openings are still there against Loma. And if Loma gets too aggressive, he can get caught with those shots. It comes down to how Lopez is feeling by the time this fight happens. Realistically, I could see either of these two fighters winning, in a number of different ways.
6. Oscar Valdez vs. Shakur Stevenson at junior lightweight
Overview: People are going to judge Stevenson based on his last fight against Jeremia Nakathila, which Stevenson won, but he didn’t look too good. Stevenson was masterful with his boxing, but the one thing I saw was that Shakur didn’t like the power of Nakathila. You could tell he didn’t want to get touched and he wanted no part in mixing it up with Nakathila.
Then you have a guy like Valdez, who has punching power in both hands, plus a tremendous amount of experience. He’s also undefeated, and just knocked out the boogeyman of the division in Miguel Berchelt. Trainer Eddy Reynoso has turned Valdez into a boxer/puncher, but he can still come forward, can maul you, be aggressive, and that’s why I love this matchup.
But Stevenson doesn’t get hit that much, and he could make things very difficult and frustrating for Valdez. Valdez doesn’t mind the contact at all, and when he can’t land punches he gets more aggressive round after round — and could that become his demise? It could, because Stevenson is a sharpshooter. He’s gonna pick his spots, he’s OK with making a fight boring, staying on the outside.
Who wins: Last time I went against Valdez, when he fought Berchelt, I got embarrassed. And this is a tough one. I see this as a 50-50 fight. When a guy like Valdez gets against the wall, that’s fuel for him, too. But I have to go with the sweet science, and that favors Stevenson. I hate to do it, but I think Stevenson is disciplined enough to do what he needs to do and get the win.
7. Naoya Inoue vs. Nonito Donaire 2 at bantamweight
Overview: It’s crazy how you see a guy like Donaire get better with time. It’s about his experience and the way he takes care of himself outside of the ring. He knew how good Inoue was when he fought him in 2019, but that fight also made Donaire believe in how good he still was. He took Inoue out to deep waters, broke his face, and did a lot of damage to Inoue, who was kind of untouchable at the time.
Inoue knows what he’s up against the second time around. The one thing I saw after watching the first fight and studying that film, was the adjustments Inoue made during the fight, which changed the outcome. After he got hit by the left hook a few times, Inoue was able to take it away from Donaire, and that minor adjustment made all of the difference.
Both guys have punching power and great balance. Inoue generates his power from the ground out, like a baseball player. And when I think of Donaire, I think of a wizard. He’s smart, confident and calm, and that’s threatening. Both these guys are lethal.
Who wins: I would have to go with Inoue. Rematches are based on minor adjustments, not big ones. I think Inoue knows what he has to do in the rematch to stay away from that Donaire left hook. I think he figured it out in the second part of their first fight.
8. Emanuel Navarrete vs. Oscar Valdez at junior lightweight
Overview: Any Navarrete fight is going to be incredible. Navarrete’s fight against Christopher Diaz was unreal, and it was a throwback. Navarrete has shown he carries his power in whatever weight class he fights in. He knows how to maximize his leverage with every shot, and even though it looks very unorthodox, Navarrete makes it work for him. He has his own off rhythm type of style that, honestly, no one can match.
But the thing about Navarrete is that he gets hit, and gets hit often. If you hit a rock in the same spot over and over, eventually it is going to crack open. And I think that with the defensive flaws Navarrete has, even though he can punch with both hands, it would be an explosive fight, because these two guys have power.
Valdez can punch, and he can hurt Navarrete. I think the first couple of rounds would be very interesting. I think Valdez starts early with his good jab, his good hand speed, moving and covering up. But I can also see him getting in trouble trying to pressure Navarrete. Navarrete knows how to fight when pressured — he has the ability to do that, like we saw against Diaz. He was losing the fight and then suddenly he changed the whole rhythm and pace and the fight changed. He landed huge uppercuts, the left hook coming around. I can see the same thing against Valdez.
Who wins: You can call me out on this, but I’m gonna have to favor Navarrete on this one. I honestly haven’t seen many guys that can throw with the kind of ferocity and awkwardness Navarrete has, and be so accurate. It’s hard to dance with someone that doesn’t know how to dance. That’s Navarrete, he’s that guy at 130. He’s hard to dance with, hard to reach. It’s hard to face a fighter that doesn’t do things the “right way”.
9. Teofimo Lopez vs. Josh Taylor at junior welterweight
Overview: Taylor is as legit a champion as they come. Anybody that can deal with the relentlessness, power, pressure of a guy like Jose Ramirez and actually hurt him has my respect. And then you have a guy like Lopez, who is fast, twitchy, speedy, and likes to have his way on the outside. He likes to control range with big shots, time guys well when they move him in, and he mixes things a bit.
Lopez doesn’t fight a whole lot on the inside, while Taylor can do a little bit of everything. He’s bigger, taller, longer, can box on the outside, can press on the inside, can punch in spots. Taylor has a very good chin, and he showed that against Ramirez.
Who wins: In the past I would’ve picked Lopez, but right now I have to go with Taylor. He has shown me that he not only has the ability to adapt inside the ring, he showed me he’s also mentally strong. Against Ramirez he picked his spots wisely and fought on the outside. He was able to set up his left hand, that pull-counter off his feint, and caught Ramirez as he came in. That’s just brilliant stuff.
10. Canelo Alvarez vs. David Benavidez at super middleweight
Overview: We have to see this fight. More than 70,000 people saw Canelo beat Billy Joe Saunders at AT&T Stadium in Texas. If you want to sell out that stadium, this is the fight to do it. You want to put a warrior like David Benavidez against Alvarez. Benavidez’s a pressure fighter who likes to stay in front of his opponents, he has very quick hands, he throws very quick combinations, and can take punches well.
Against Benavidez, Canelo will have to bite down a little bit. I don’t think Benavidez is going to be afraid of Canelo, and he’s gonna let his hands go. Benavidez believes he has what it takes to beat Alvarez — and that matters.
I just think this matchup is explosive. You have the pressure and the hand speed of Benavidez, with his size and his length, against the savvy, quick on the feet, quick on the trigger, boxer-puncher, defensive type master in Alvarez.
Benavidez is still young, at 24, but he can hurt Alvarez. This is the fight I want to see right now. I just want to see if Canelo can deal with that pressure and size. Benavidez has very good hand speed and likes to throw punches when he has his opponent against the ropes, and we know that Canelo likes to hang against the ropes in a defensive position, which could be a perfect opportunity for Benavidez to let his hands go.
Who wins: I have Canelo winning. He’s a different kind of fighter, and he’s delivering spectacular KOs. It’s not just about winning, it’s how you win that’s important when it comes to being a star. Canelo is dominating the competition and that’s why he’s one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Rutschman carries O’s in historic 5-for-5 opener
BOSTON — Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman felt the Opening Day jitters. Last year was supposed to be his first season opener, but a right triceps strain delayed his debut until May. And so when he woke up on Thursday morning in Boston, hours away from first pitch, he felt the jitters up and down his body.
“I was hoping it would wait until I at least got to the field,” he said.
When the season officially kicked off, those jitters were nowhere to be found. Rutschman made a statement on Opening Day, going 5-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs, becoming the first player since 1937 to go 5-for-5 or better with a home run on Opening Day and the first catcher with five hits on Opening Day since at least 1900, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The offensive outburst from Rutschman carried the Orioles’ offense for the day, as Baltimore left Fenway on Thursday with a 10-9 victory, thanks in large part to the catcher’s four RBIs and one run scored.
“The hits are awesome,” Rutschman said. “But the winning for me is more important.”
Orioles fans had been waiting for this. The years of losing, all for the promise that one day the team would turn things around with a plethora of young, homegrown talent. At the center of that is Rutschman, who shined once he made his major league debut in 2022. The switch-hitter slashed .254/.362/.445 with 13 homers, 35 doubles and 42 RBIs with 5.2 fWAR, the second-highest total for a catcher in the majors behind the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto.
“There’s been a lot of great players who’ve worn this uniform,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s gonna be the doing other things that are the first as well.”
For the Orioles, Rutschman represents hope for the future. After finishing in last place in four of the five seasons from 2017 through 2021, the Orioles surprisingly finished in fourth place in 2022 in large part due to the catcher’s contributions to the team. After Rutschman arrived in the big leagues in 2022, the team played at an 89-win pace, going 16-24 before his major league debut.
That impact shined on Thursday. On his first swing of the season, Rutschman launched a sinker from Red Sox starter Corey Kluber into the right-field seats at a projected 402 feet, making him the youngest Oriole to homer in the first at-bat of Opening Day since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984. He singled in the third but was thrown out at second on an awkward slide that led to him kicking Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo in the head. After drawing a walk in the fourth, he gave the Orioles an 8-2 lead with a two-run single in the fifth. An RBI single followed in his next at-bat in the seventh, but Rutschman was thrown out at second again.
Rutschman reached on an infield single in the ninth in his final at-bat.
“Once I start playing the game, those kinds of things go away and I’m able to calm down and just play,” Rutschman said of his jitters. “I’m able to calm down and just play. But until those jets fly over and we get that first pitch, there’s definitely excitement.”
The only other catchers to reach base five or more times were Yogi Berra in 1956, Todd Hundley in 1995 and Jason Varitek in 2002. Rutschman — at 25 years, 52 days old — also became the youngest Orioles player since Adam Jones (24 year, 248 days) in 2010 to homer on Opening Day.
And while it’s just one game, the historic day for Rutschman represented why Baltimore can see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel. Reinforcements are coming, too, with infielder Gunnar Henderson believed to be a Rookie of the Year candidate and a pair of top prospects in pitcher Grayson Rodriguez and shortstop Jackson Holliday projected to be in the big leagues at some point in the next two seasons.
But for now, Rutschman is not thinking too far ahead, just trying to enjoy his first Opening Day in the big leagues. Hyde said he is not taking his star catcher for granted.
“He’s a super special player,” Hyde said. “A really good hitter, and he hasn’t played a full year yet. Good things coming.”
Judge launches 2023’s first homer in opening AB
NEW YORK — Yankees fans did not have to wait long for reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge‘s first home run of the 2023 season.
In the first inning on Opening Day, Judge saw a 93 mph sinker from San Francisco Giants ace Logan Webb and deposited it 422 feet over the Yankee Stadium center-field wall for his first home run of the year, his first one as Yankees captain and the first one leaguewide in 2023.
He later added a single as the Yankees rolled to a 5-0 victory.
Before taking the field Thursday, Judge had joked about Major League Baseball scheduling a Giants-Yankees Opening Day matchup for the first time ever, putting him up against the team that he rooted for growing up in Northern California and also pursued him in free agency as much as the Yankees did.
“I don’t know who at MLB did that to me,” Judge said with a smile, “but it’s great. Logan Webb’s a great pitcher, he’s had a couple great years, and looking forward to many more out of him. But it’s going to be a fun afternoon, that’s for sure, getting a chance to play the team I watched a lot as a kid.”
Judge had considered joining the Giants in the offseason before signing a nine-year, $360 million deal to remain with the Yankees.
“It was kind of a dream come true getting a chance to speak with them and get an opportunity to go there,” Judge said of the Giants. “But in the end, it just worked out for me to come back to the Yankees, and I’m happy with my decision.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the game that the “low point” of his winter was when he thought that Judge would sign with San Francisco.
“One of my lowest, darkest places this winter was when I thought maybe it was in jeopardy that he was coming back,” Boone said. “For whatever period of time, that was one of the darkest places I went, was picturing him on that third-base line in a Giants uniform on Opening Day. That’s something that was not a good thought or picture.”
In 2022, Judge was voted AL MVP after threatening for the Triple Crown, finishing first in home runs (62) and RBIs (131) and second in batting average (.311), recording an inordinate 1.111 OPS and breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old AL home run mark.
Before the game, Judge made sure to shift the focus on any expectations of another 60-homer season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last player with even back-to-back 45-homer seasons was Ryan Howard, who surpassed that total in four straight years from 2006 to 2009.
“I know very few followed up with 60. A couple I know hit 50 after that. But we’ll see what happens,” Judge said. “Maybe we can make a new list. We’ll see.”
Pitcher Gerrit Cole also had a banner 2023 debut on his fourth Opening Day start in pinstripes, striking out 11 Giants through six innings to set a franchise record previously held by Tim Leary (9 strikeouts, 1991). Webb also set a Giants Opening Day record when he recorded his 12th strikeout in the sixth inning.
Rockies closer Bard starting on IL due to anxiety
Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Bard will open the season on the injured list because of anxiety.
“From my experience, knowing myself, I think just taking a step back, taking time to work through things, get it right, is the best approach,” Bard told reporters Thursday, according to MLB.com.
The 37-year-old Bard was a member of Team USA at the just-completed World Baseball Classic, but control issues in a game against Venezuela included an inside pitch to Jose Altuve that broke the hand of the Houston Astros second baseman.
Bard was a standout reliever for the Boston Red Sox early in his career, posting a 1.93 ERA in 73 outings during his second major league season in 2010. But control issues surfaced, and after two outings in 2013, he stepped away from the game.
“It’s a hard thing to admit. But I’ve been through this before,” Bard told reporters Thursday, adding that he’s grateful to the Rockies for being understanding and accepting of his situation.
The Rockies gave Bard a look in spring training in 2020, and he made the roster, returning to his standout ways last season when he had a 1.79 ERA in 57 outings and finished 16th in National League MVP voting.
But in the fifth inning for Team USA against Venezuela, Bard gave up a walk and a single, threw a wild pitch, hit Altuve and issued a walk to force in a run. He ended up charged with four runs on one hit and two walks, while not recording an out.
“I can’t speak for Daniel because I’m just observing from 3,000 miles away, but I think he might have gotten caught up in the moment,” Rockies manager Bud Black said after the outing. “He’s pitching for his country in front of a big crowd. He only had three or four outings with us this spring and Daniel’s got a lot of moving parts in his delivery. He was just out of whack.”
Jake Bird, 27, is taking Bard’s spot on the roster. Bird made his major league debut last season, going 2-4 with a 4.91 ERA in 38 relief appearances.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who signed a minor league deal with Colorado late in the spring, also was named to the Rockies’ Opening Day roster.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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