Fights we want to see in 2024: Joshua-Ngannou; Teofimo-Matias and more

Boxing

2023 delivered more superfights than any other year in recent memory.

Gervonta DavisRyan Garcia. Errol Spence Jr.Terence Crawford. Even Canelo Alvarez‘s showdown against Jermell Charlo was highly anticipated, as was Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou.

And now, 2024 is getting off to a scorching start. Boxing will deliver the undisputed heavyweight championship bout between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk on Feb. 17. A few weeks later, Anthony Joshua will meet Ngannou, a former UFC heavyweight champion.

Those are the only two super fights scheduled so far, but there’s plenty of time for boxing’s promoters to matchup fellow stars in intriguing bouts that move the sport forward.


1. Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk

The stakes: Undisputed heavyweight championship
Feb. 17 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Fury and Usyk aren’t just the two best fighters in boxing’s glamour division; they’re two of the sport’s best boxers, period. It’s truly a historic matchup, one that will crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era.

Fury didn’t look anywhere near his best against Ngannou in October. By all accounts, “The Gypsy King” is reportedly already in far better shape for the upcoming clash in Saudi Arabia.

Fury was a dominant heavyweight champion until that scare against Ngannou, who knocked him down in Round 3, but Fury was able to escape with a decision victory. He surely knows he has his hands full against Usyk. While Fury is far bigger than Usyk, the Ukrainian is a masterful boxer with impeccable footwork and a keen ability to create punching angles.

Both Fury and Usyk are headed for the Hall of Fame, and this bout — which contains a two-way rematch clause — will go a long way toward determining their legacies. That the top matchup on this list is signed, sealed and delivered is an awfully great start to 2024’s big-fight boxing calendar.


2. Artur Beterbiev vs. Dmitry Bivol

The stakes: Undisputed light heavyweight championship

A fight between Beterbiev and Bivol was already hotly anticipated. Beterbiev’s brilliant performance Saturday vs. Callum Smith only makes the matchup more appetizing.

Even though Beterbiev turns 39 later this month, he has shown no signs of slowing down. He used his excellent change jab to change levels and touched Smith constantly to disrupt his rhythm.

Smith had never been down before, but that naturally changed vs. Beterbiev, boxing’s only champion with a 100% KO ratio.

With two brutal knockdowns in Round 7, Beterbiev scored the stoppage to continue his collision course with Bivol. Bivol said he already agreed to his side of the deal for a meeting with Beterbiev later this year in Riyadh. Turki Alalshikh, the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, said Monday he’s looking to stage the fight in June.

When they do finally step inside the ring, they will both face their toughest tests in a coin-flip matchup between two boxers on ESPN’s pound-for-pound list. Bivol is a classical boxer while Beterbiev is a boxer-puncher. And it’s Bivol who owns the best victory among them, a May 2022 rout of Canelo Alvarez over 12 rounds.

This fight can’t come soon enough, and it’s been built to perfection, unlike so many matchups over the years that have been over-marinated.


3. Canelo Alvarez vs. David Benavidez

The stakes: Undisputed super middleweight championship

Benavidez has been banging down the door for a fight with Alvarez, the face of boxing, both with his words and more loudly, with his actions inside the ring. His best campaign yet came in 2023, when he scored violent, decisive victories over Caleb Plant and Demetrius Andrade.

All along, Alvarez has said opponents must earn a shot at him, and there’s no doubt Benavidez has done exactly that. Despite the narrative that Alvarez is avoiding Benavidez, there’s no validity to the claim. After all, Alvarez has proven over the years that he’s more than willing to face deserving fighters that are avoided by most.

When Canelo defeated Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout, few boxers were in a rush to fight the pair of tricky southpaws who lacked name value. Alvarez remains one of the best fighters in the world, and he scored dominant wins over John Ryder and Jermell Charlo last year, dropping both opponents.

Alvarez would be favored to defeat Benavidez, too, in a matchup that would no doubt produce more commercial business than any other bout on this list. But Benavidez might also prove to be Alvarez’s best opponent not named Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin.


4. Terence Crawford vs. Tim Tszyu

The stakes: Junior middleweight title fight

Crawford has little left to prove at welterweight following his destruction of Spence last year to capture the undisputed championship. A fight against Jaron “Boots” Ennis is quite intriguing, but Crawford has shown little interest, writing this week on social media that Ennis is fighting in theaters.

If Crawford is looking for a tough challenge, a bout with rising Australian star and WBO junior middleweight champion Tim Tszyu more than fits the bill. Tszyu has knockout power in both hands and has improved greatly with each passing fight.

Crawford has already won titles in three weight classes — and captured all four belts in two of those divisions, 140 and 147 pounds — and has indicated he could jump to 154 pounds in the near future. At first, Crawford was interested in fighting Jermell Charlo for the undisputed junior middleweight championship, but the matchup lost much of its luster when Charlo failed to shine against Alvarez.

Tszyu, on the other hand, delivered action in each of his three fights during his breakout 2023 campaign. And he holds a title, too, lending Crawford the opportunity to become a four-division champion and add to his legacy.


5. Devin Haney vs. Jaron Ennis

The stakes: Welterweight title fight

Haney seamlessly transitioned to junior welterweight with a shutout decision win over Regis Prograis last month to win the WBC title. He showed more power and more strength, rehydrating to 165 pounds on fight night. He has also discussed a jump to welterweight in the foreseeable future.

If Haney settles in at welterweight, he could look to fight “Boots” Ennis, who is searching for a meaningful matchup that could take him to the next level. Ennis is an athletic puncher, but he hasn’t yet been afforded the opportunity to prove his ability against an elite fighter.

Haney, meanwhile, hasn’t even hit his prime and is coming off the best year of his career. Before the Prograis victory, Haney fended off Vasiliy Lomachenko to retain the undisputed lightweight championship.

The 25-year-old appears to be even better at his new weight and he would be well-suited for 147 pounds, too, where his footwork, jab and impeccable defense would be a handful for anyone.


6. Teofimo Lopez Jr. vs. Subriel Matias

The stakes: Junior welterweight title unification

Lopez is set to make the first defense of his WBO junior welterweight title against Jamaine Ortiz on Feb. 8, and if he gets past him as expected, a matchup with Matias, the IBF champ, would present the sort of can’t-miss fight the Puerto Rican has earned.

Lopez dazzled against Josh Taylor in June, showcasing his athleticism, power and creativity over 12 dominant rounds. Against Matias, Lopez would need all those attributes — and more — to fend off the hard-charging volume puncher.

Matias is quickly gaining a cult following with dedicated boxing fans owed to his thudding power, thrilling style and engine that keeps him dangerous as the fight wears on.

Matias has proven he can break opponents down with his swarming pressure, but he’s yet to do it on the top level as perhaps one of boxing’s most-avoided fighters. He called out Lopez earlier this week, and Lopez isn’t the kind of boxer to evade a tough challenger.

There’s a chance this intriguing matchup could materialize later this year if all falls into place.


7. Naoya Inoue vs. Luis Nery

The stakes: Undisputed junior featherweight championship

“The Monster,” fresh off his undisputed championship victory over Marlon Tapales last month, already has his next fight booked, and it comes in May in Tokyo against a fellow explosive puncher in Nery.

Inoue is a generational talent who shows us something special each time out. He’ll be a heavy favorite to defeat the Mexican, but Nery still presents a dangerous test.

Nery packs power in both hands and isn’t afraid to let his hands go. His TKO victory over Azat Hovhannisyan in February was ESPN’s runner-up for fight of the year, and his fight against Inoue is likely to be thrilling while it lasts.

Nery loves to attack, but can be reckless at times. There should be plenty of opportunities for Inoue to connect with his well-placed power shots. However, if Nery can lay his heavy hands on Inoue first, he could make this a real firefight where anything can happen.


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Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou have a tense stare down

Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou come face to face for the first time ahead of their much anticipated fight in Saudi Arabia next month.

8. Anthony Joshua vs. Francis Ngannou

The stakes: Heavyweight fight, lots of money
March 9 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Ngannou shocked the world when he floored Fury in October and won on one scorecard. The former UFC champion has a chance to prove that effort in his boxing debut was no fluke when he takes on another British heavyweight star in Joshua.

AJ looked resurgent last month when he broke Otto Wallin’s nose and forced him to retire on his stool following the fifth round. When he’s fighting with confidence and aggression, Joshua is a dangerous boxer.

But all it takes is one Ngannou power punch to remind Joshua of that fateful night when he was upset by Andy Ruiz Jr. This meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, presents plenty of intrigue. Ngannou’s opportunity is truly unprecedented — he’s fighting back-to-back future Hall of Fame fighters in his first two boxing matches.

Joshua, meanwhile, can remind everyone about his power and make a statement about his return to form by dispensing of Ngannou in explosive fashion. But if Ngannou’s performance against Fury offers any hints, it won’t be an easy night for Joshua.


9. Gervonta Davis vs. Shakur Stevenson

Lightweight title unification

“Tank” Davis hasn’t fought since his KO victory over Ryan Garcia in April’s superfight and has no fight scheduled. The Baltimore native could return in the spring in his first action since a brief prison stint, but it’s unclear whom it will come against.

It won’t be Stevenson next, but there’s a chance this fight could be an option later this year. Stevenson has one fight left on his contract with Top Rank and is set to be a promotional free agent afterward. That could open the door for a bout with Davis, who fights under the PBC banner.

Davis is one of the biggest stars in the sport and he’s also one of boxing’s most dynamic punchers. He’s a patient counter-puncher who knows how to find openings, but they’ll be hard to come across vs. Stevenson.

Stevenson is one of the best defensive fighters in the sport, but he’s coming off a lackluster performance against Edwin De Los Santos in November where neither boxer landed double-digit punches in a single round.

Stevenson is as talented as they come and will surely look to put that fight behind him next time out, which could set him up for the superfight he has been looking for later this year.


10. Caleb Plant vs. Jermall Charlo

The stakes: Super middleweight fight

This grudge match has been in the making since Plant and Charlo were involved in an altercation following the Crawford-Spence weigh-in in July. Plant apparently slapped Charlo, and since then there’s been plenty of words exchanged on social media.

Plant hasn’t competed since March, when he dropped a lopsided decision to Benavidez, but there’s surely no shame in losing to “The Mexican Monster.” He boxed well over the first half of the fight, and he owns name recognition after his entertaining promotion with Canelo in 2021.

Charlo, meanwhile, still holds the WBC middleweight title but hasn’t competed at 160 pounds since June 2021. He ended a 29-month layoff in November with a 165-pound catchweight win over Jose Benavidez Jr., and indicated he could settle in at super middleweight.

Charlo, when he’s at his best, owns a strong power jab and a sturdy chin. It’s a coin-flip bout that should propel the winner to a 168-pound title shot. And with both boxers fighting under the PBC banner, it’s a feasible fight to make.

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