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.
Sources: Phils add RHP Walker for 4 years, $72M
A day after reaching a blockbuster deal with shortstop Trea Turner, the Phillies add to their rotation with one of the top pitchers left on the free agent market.
Walker joins Philadelphia after one of the strongest seasons of his career in 2022, when he started 29 games for the New York Mets and posted a 3.49 ERA, 2.6 bWAR and a 1.19 WHIP in 157 innings pitched, striking out 132 batters while walking 45.
The 30-year-old righty served as a dependable back-of-the-rotation starter for the Mets throughout the course of the season before declining his $7.5 million player option for 2023, taking a $3 million buyout to explore free agency. The Mets declined to offer a qualifying offer to Walker.
Walker previously underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and missed the entire 2019 season. His 2022 campaign marked his most successful on the mound since undergoing treatment on a partial tear of a UCL in his right elbow.
Walker is the second pitcher to leave the Mets’ rotation, after Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers. New York subsequently responded by signing Justin Verlander to a two-year, $86 million deal.
Pirates win 1st MLB draft lottery, right to pick first
The Pittsburgh Pirates secured the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft on Tuesday, during Major League Baseball’s first ever draft lottery. The next five picks, respectively, went to the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics.
MLB and the MLB Players’ Association agreed to a draft lottery in the new collective bargaining agreement, whereby the 18 teams that did not reach the postseason would vie for the first six selections. Odds, based on 2022 winning percentage, ranged from 16.5% (for the Pirates, Nationals and A’s) to 0.2% (Milwaukee Brewers).
The A’s went in tied for the best chance at the No. 1 overall pick and finished with the No. 6 selection. The Twins took an even bigger step in the other direction, starting with the 13th-best odds and ultimately picking fifth.
The Nos. 7 to 18 picks in next year’s draft – slated for July from Seattle, site of the next All-Star Game – will be slotted by reverse winning percentage, followed by how teams finished in the postseason (the World Series-champion Houston Astros, for example, will pick 30th). Rounds 2 through 20 will navigate entirely in reverse order of winning percentage and postseason finish.
We will select 1st overall in the 2023 MLB Draft! pic.twitter.com/fHNpobdFGM
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) December 7, 2022
MLB placed more picks up for grabs than any other major spot in its first draft lottery. Only the first four picks of the NBA’s draft are attained through the draft lottery. In the NHL, it’s just the first two. The bottom three teams were all given the same odds for the No. 1 overall pick in an effort to disincentivize tanking for the worst record. Large-market teams (defined as those who do not receive revenue sharing) are prohibited from entering the draft lottery in back-to-back years; small-market teams can’t enter it three straight years.
MLB Network announced the results of the lottery inside a ballroom from the Hyatt hotel that is staging this year’s Winter Meetings, with executives from the 18 eligible clubs sitting at nearby tables and outfielder-turned-MLB-executive Raul Ibanez reading the results. But the process took place hours later, when a collection of sealed balls arrived in a suitcase and 1,000 four-number combinations were assigned to the 18 teams (the higher the odds for the No. 1 overall pick, the more combinations assigned to the team). Bill Francis, who helps run the MLB Draft, selected the six four-number combinations that determined the order. PricewaterhouseCoopers oversaw the process.
The top three players in next year’s draft, based on rankings from ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel in July, are: Wyatt Langford, a center fielder from Florida; Jacob Wilson, a shortstop from Grand Canyon; and Max Clark, a center fielder from Franklin Community High School in Indiana. This will mark the sixth time the Pirates select first overall. They did so as recently as 2021, selecting catcher Henry Davis out of Louisville.
Haniger to Giants; 3 years, $43.5M, sources say
The San Francisco Giants agreed to terms with outfielder Mitch Haniger, the team announced Tuesday, filling a hole in the Giants’ outfield as they continue their free agent pursuit of American League MVP Aaron Judge.
The deal is for three years and $43.5 million and includes a player opt-out after the second year, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Haniger, who turns 32 later this month, has posted star-caliber numbers in the two seasons he has been healthy, but has struggled with injuries throughout his major league career, most of which he spent in Seattle. With the Mariners last season, he hit .246/.308/.429 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs in 57 games, helping propel the team to its first playoff berth in two decades.
One season earlier, Haniger showed the sort of talent that led the Giants to consider a multiyear deal at $14.5 million a season. He hit 39 home runs, good for fifth in the AL, and drove in 100 runs while posting 3.9 Wins Above Replacement over 157 games, according to Baseball-Reference.
The Giants’ offseason began with outfielder Joc Pederson accepting a $19.65 million qualifying offer. It continues with Haniger and could include Judge, who last year spent a majority of his time in center field but has played most of his career in right. Along with Haniger and Mike Yastrzemski, Judge could be part of the outfield while Pederson spends most of his time at designated hitter.
Long a fan favorite and leader in Seattle, Haniger joined the Mariners in November 2016, when Arizona — which drafted him in the first round of the 2012 draft — traded him along with Jean Segura for infielder/outfielder Ketel Marte and pitcher Taijuan Walker.
Haniger immediately produced for Seattle, putting up an OPS of .843 in his first season. His best year came in 2018, when he played 157 games and hit .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs and played well above-average defense in right field.
The next season, in 2019, Haniger suffered a ruptured testicle after a foul ball took an unfortunate carom. The injury kept him out for the remainder of the season, and he missed significant time with back and core injuries, not playing in 2020.
His 2021 return was hailed in Seattle, where Haniger helped steer the Mariners to the cusp of the postseason with a bevy of clutch hits. He’ll now slot into the middle of a Giants lineup that ranked 11th in baseball in runs scored but lost three-quarters of its infield — first baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford and third baseman Evan Longoria — to free agency.
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