October has been a busy and wildly entertaining month in boxing, and the action wraps up with an action-packed weekend of fights on Friday and Saturday.
Boxing’s best athletes are stepping back into the ring, some for the first time in 2020, and there are plenty of questions looming over the sport as everyone tries to figure out their best path forward among the uncertainty.
It’s easy for fans and fighters alike to be uncertain about how things will turn out, and so we’ve turned to a panel of ESPN’s boxing experts to break down some of the most pressing questions and give their most informed answers on the topic.
Real or not: Gervonta Davis will KO Leo Santa Cruz
Cameron Wolfe: Real. Santa Cruz is a live underdog here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get up early on the scorecards. But once Davis starts landing them paws on him consistently, it’ll likely be a wrap. Davis is a much bigger fighter with the best power in either the 130- or 135-pound weight class. Santa Cruz has never been knocked out before as a pro, but he has never faced someone as dangerous as Davis, either. If it goes the distance, the fight leans more toward Santa Cruz. But assuming Davis comes in at 100% and in top shape without the weight cut hurting him, he should knock out Santa Cruz.
Real or not: Naoya Inoue will be undisputed bantamweight champion in 2021
Ben Baby: Real (with an asterisk). Make no mistake about it. Naoya Inoue is the best 118-pounder in the world. Inoue’s greatness was on full display in his scintillating victory over Nonito Donaire in 2019. Inoue has two of the four major bantamweight belts. John Riel Casimero and Nordine Oubaali are preventing Inoue from being the undisputed champion. There’s a strong argument for Inoue to face the winner of December’s title fight between Oubaali and Donaire.
The question about Inoue’s supremacy has nothing to do with his talent. It has everything to do with matchmaking. Inoue needs two fights against other titlists in one calendar year to become the undisputed bantamweight champion. If Top Rank can strike the right deals for Inoue, he will hold all four belts by the end of 2021.
Real or not: WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney deserves a shot at Teofimo Lopez if he beats Yuriorkis Gamboa
Steve Kim: Real (he deserves a shot); Not (because beating Gamboa isn’t the difference-maker). Should Lopez make the decision to stay at 135 for a few fights, Haney should absolutely be on the short list of opponents Lopez should consider before moving up to junior welterweight. A lot of people give Haney heat for winning his title via email. And though that’s true, it’s also because Vasiliy Lomachenko was elevated to being a “franchise” champion by the WBC. But a victory over Gamboa itself isn’t enough for him to “deserve” a shot at Lopez. There is some bright, young talent that campaigns at lightweight and is in the title mix, including Haney, Ryan Garcia and, I guess, Gervonta Davis, since he has a version of the WBA title. This generation of fighters needs to start mixing it up, and Haney should absolutely be in the mix moving forward.
Real or not: Mikaela Mayer should make the pound-for-pound list with a win Saturday vs. Ewa Brodnicka
Mikaela Mayer stays undefeated after dominating Helen Joseph by unanimous decision.
Eric Woodyard: Not. You can’t deny Mikaela Mayer’s résumé. Her record is unblemished as a professional (13-0, 5 KOs) after collecting several national titles as an amateur. But to truly enter the pound-for-pound rankings, you have to beat a formidable opponent who’s also on that elite level to earn that right, in my opinion. Although Mayer is stepping up in competition to challenge WBO female junior lightweight world titlist Ewa Brodnicka, even if she captures the title, the 2016 U.S. Olympian would need another marquee victory against premier talent to legitimately earn a P4P spot. That could happen either at or around her weight class, with possibilities including Terri Harper, Delfine Persoon or even Katie Taylor. She’s certainly moving in the right direction in her second fight of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. How she performs this weekend will be a big test, but it’s not quite enough yet.
Real or not: Teofimo Lopez Sr. is boxing’s trainer of the year
Teofimo Lopez Jr. is one of boxing’s biggest rising stars, but it doesn’t come without an enormous amount of help from his trainer, his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr.
Kim: Real. Some will penalize the outspoken father of Lopez for training only one guy. But he said he’s in this business only for his son. He believes his son is special. Lopez Sr. really doesn’t want to work with anyone else. And unlike many other trainers who inherit great natural talents who are already developed when they walk in the door of a gym, Lopez Sr. has crafted “The Takeover” from the very beginning. From the first time the younger Lopez laced on the gloves, all the way to him putting four major belts around his waist and torso, there has been one man in his corner the whole time — Teofimo Lopez Sr. That’s Lopez Sr.’s DNA out there, not just as a son, but as a boxer. And for that, he should be lauded. So, yeah, he’d get my vote.
Real or not: Tyson Fury will fight Carlos Takam on Dec. 5
Nick Parkinson: Real. Expect WBC world heavyweight champion Fury to fight on Dec. 5 — and Carlos Takam seems like a good choice of opponent.
“I would just like to announce that I am definitely fighting December 5 in London, opponent to be announced very, very soon,” Fury said in a recent social media video. “Just working on some opponents and will let you all know who it is going to be shortly. Watch this space.”
Big announcement The Gypsyking is back in Uk 🇬🇧 December 5 London opponent tbc
Can’t wait to get back in the ring and get back to what I do best. 🥊 2020#Returnofthemac@WBCBoxing @frankwarren_tv @trboxing @btsportboxing @espn @MTKGlobal @wowhydrate @MarbellaUk @goldstar pic.twitter.com/MQ6KhZ0K0J
— TYSON FURY (@Tyson_Fury) October 24, 2020
Takam (39-5-1, 28 KOs), who turns 40 on Dec. 6, is one of the leading contenders to be in the opposite corner from Fury. Takam, of France, is experienced, is a former world title challenger and can provide Fury with the sort of challenge Fury is looking for now that he will not be facing Deontay Wilder for a third time in December.
Germany’s Agit Kabayel (20-0, 13 KOs) — co-promoted by Top Rank, which guides Fury’s career — might be too dangerous, but Takam is eight inches shorter than Fury, who should be able to utilize his height, reach and boxing skills to avoid any danger.
Takam would be a good choice for Fury, and is best known for stepping in as a late-notice opponent to challenge Anthony Joshua for the WBA and IBF world titles in October 2017. Takam’s stubborn and brave resistance lasted until the 10th round against Joshua, and he was then stopped in eight rounds by another Englishman, Derek Chisora, in his next fight. But four wins since make Takam a credible opponent without posing too much danger to Fury.