Canelo’s next fight, Fury vs. Wilder 3 among boxing storylines to watch as the sport continues its return

As Golden Boy Promotions makes its return on DAZN this Friday with a card headlined by star welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Premier Boxing Champions reportedly close to announcing its second-half schedule, the sport of boxing is as close to being “back” as it’s been since the start of the quarantine in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those join Top Rank having already been regularly running 2-3 smaller shows per week in its Las Vegas bubble and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport announcing a four-card summer series to take place in the backyard of a mansion outside London. 

Boxing has joined many professional sports in executing a slow burn toward returning to full-time action during the coronavirus outbreak without the presence of a live gate to pay for the bottom line. But with the action expected to pick up in a big away across all major promotions over the second half of 2020, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines to follow amid this new normal. 

1. Pay-per-view has never been needed more

Fans have long had a love/hate relationship with PPV. On one hand, it’s the only way to access the biggest fights. But on the flip side, it’s a platform that has often been abused, particularly when cable network budgets couldn’t cover the purses and fights deemed unworthy of PPV ended up there out of necessity. 

For boxing to survive in this new culture, the biggest fights will need to be made. Without the return of large live gates to lean on for at least the rest of the calendar year, traditional PPV will be necessary to make sure these fights happen. The 2018 launch of the streaming app DAZN, which heavily advertised its intention to kill PPV, seemed to suggest the old way would die off, eventually. But even though UFC’s new exclusive PPV deal with ESPN+ is a marriage of the two ideals at best, the sport simply won’t survive without a reliance upon the PPV concept to afford the big purses. If Top Rank’s recent quarantine experiment on ESPN taught us anything, it’s that a steady stream of poorly-matched fights can set the sport back in the court of public opinion. The sweet science needs to swing big and make every effort to put its best foot forward, even if that means also embracing the idea of large foreign site fees similar to UFC’s current standing in Abu Dhabi. 

2. Canelo still can’t seem to find a fall opponent

The sport’s biggest star has been boxing’s most consistent brand in recent years from the standpoint of drawing PPV buys and subscriptions. Taking the baton from Floyd Mayweather, Mexican icon Canelo Alvarez still carries the clout that comes with the expectations he will fight twice a year, typically on the sport’s two biggest weekends of Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day in September. 

This year’s plans were flipped upside down, however. A spring super middleweight unification bout against unbeaten Billy Joe Saunders fell apart due to the quarantine, and Saunders wants no part of rescheduling. Alvarez’s initial hope for a fall trilogy bout against Gennadiy Golovkin also died when GGG revealed he’s more interested in a mandatory defense of his middleweight title. That leaves the likelihood that Alvarez will be facing a substantial step down in terms of competition for what will likely be his only appearance in 2020. Reports have swirled that he will also need to take somewhat of a pay cut from the $35 million or so he was originally guaranteed per fight. No live gate and a second-rate opponent doesn’t produce that big-fight feel. But staying active in this case will be key. The only problem is Alvarez would be considered a massive favorite against any of the names thought to be in play — from Jason Quigley and Willie Monroe Jr. to John Ryder and David Lemieux. 

3. Can Errol Spence Jr. put a forgetful year behind him?

It can be argued that no fighter in the sport was hotter than Spence for most of 2019 when he blanked Mikey Garcia in his first pay-per-view headlining role and came back in the fall to unify welterweight titles by edging Shawn Porter in a Fight-of-the-Year candidate. His disturbing car wreck months later was a major setback as Spence was ejected from his Ferrari and lucky to be alive after a solo car wreck in which he was under the influence and speeding. 

The quarantine only delayed a potential return while putting on hold a possible comeback fight against former champion Mikey Garcia. A pound-for-pound best fighter in the game, there’s nothing more reassuring he can do to kill any concerns that he’ll be different after the physical and mental fallout of the accident than returning with a big win against a credible name. Given Spence’s apparent want to match himself tough and not waste anytime, he should get that chance. 

4. Deontay Wilder could end up the biggest winner

It seems so long ago given the sport’s shutdown during the global pandemic, but Wilder and Tyson Fury took part in the biggest fight to date in 2020 when the pair of unbeaten heavyweight champions faced off in February. Fury’s surprising knockout win was everything he predicted leading up to the rematch. The fight was so one-sided, it also cast instant doubt as to whether a contractually-mandated trilogy fight between the two would even be competitive. 

The promoters in charge of the fight seemed determine to do the third fight as soon as early summer. That never materialized and, provided Wilder has spent his quarantine working on some much-needed improvement to his technique, this could be a game-changer later this year. The trilogy is currently targeted for December, and although Wilder will still be who he is at the end of the day as a raw and dangerous slugger, improvements to certain areas like fighting on the inside and figuring out how to still use his jab despite Fury’s herky-jerky motion would greatly enhance his chances. 

5. Lomachenko-Lopez remains the most important fight 

The good news for post-quarantine fight fans is that this lightweight unification bout is on track for a new date in October, regardless of where things stand with fans ever entering arenas again, per promoter Top Rank. Vasiliy Lomachenko, who has set up shop at or around the top of the pound-for-pound rankings for five years, faces potentially the toughest challenge on paper in his pro career. Teofimo Lopez Jr., meanwhile, is going all-in on his career in such an incredibly big move for just 22 years of age that its reminiscent of Fernando Vargas 20 years ago. Lopez will either prove it’s too much, too soon or he’ll be fast-tracked to become the next big star in the sport. 

The ramifications are as simple as that, which is just one part of why this fight is so good. 

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