How a 16-fighter boxing tournament would play out at 140 pounds

Boxing

The NCAA basketball tournament and knockout stages of soccer’s Champions League are dominating sports fans’ attention around the world. Boxing rarely does brackets or tournaments for various reasons like injuries and gaps between fights, but what if it did?

Ahead of the NCAA championship game on Monday, we decided to build a bracket of the top lightweights and junior welterweights in the world and predict who would come out on top in a traditional tournament format. We selected 140 pounds because it is a division loaded with talent, included some leading lightweights who could be moving up soon, and seeded them based on their accomplishments. Some of those in this tournament are among the best in the world in any weight division, and the winner could even emerge as the pound-for-pound king of boxing.

Our boxing team filled out their individual brackets, and here are the collective results and how our expert team of Mike Coppinger, Andres Ferrari, Andrew Feldman and myself believe the fights might play out. Are there any upsets and knockouts, or did favorites prevail? Check out the results below.

Sweet 16

(1) Devin Haney def. (16) Jamaine Ortiz: Everything indicates that 25-year-old Haney progresses by decision at the expense of Ortiz. Despite impressing in a contentious decision loss to Teofimo Lopez in February, Ortiz has not performed on the same level as Haney, a former undisputed lightweight champion whose career just gets better and better. In his last bout, Haney, of Las Vegas, floored Regis Prograis on his way to a shutout decision win in December. It wasn’t bad for a debut at 140 pounds, and immediately elevated him to No. 1 in the ESPN’s junior welterweight rankings.

(2) Gervonta “Tank” Davis def. (15) Rolando “Rolly” Romero: This looks like another stoppage win for Tank. Romero lost his world title in a damaging eighth-round stoppage loss to Isaac Cruz last month, and only lasted six rounds with Davis, from Baltimore, in a fight for the lightweight title in May 2022. Romero has now lost two of his last three fights — while Davis has since stopped Hector Luis Garcia and Ryan Garcia. Stepping up from lightweight will not be an issue for the diminutive powerhouse, who is in stunning form.

(3) Teofimo Lopez def. (14) Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz: This one depends on which Lopez turns up. If Lopez produces a repeat of his last performance against Jamaine Ortiz, or one on the same level of his defeat to George Kambosos Jr. in 2021, then he is likely to be separated from his WBO junior welterweight title against an in-form “Pitbull” Cruz, of Mexico. On March 31, Cruz battered Romero in an eighth-round win to earn the WBA junior welterweight world title and has now won four straight fights since losing a unanimous decision to Davis. Lopez, of New York, has beaten the likes of Vasiliy Lomachenko and Josh Taylor, but only held on to his title with a controversial points win over Ortiz in February. Lopez is unpredictable, which makes this a close one.

(4) Vasiliy Lomachenko def. (13) Frank Martin: At age 36, how much more does the great Lomachenko have left after achieving so much in a long career as a standout competitor as an amateur and professional? He was once pound-for-pound No. 1 with his breathtaking skills and balletic movement, but others are ahead of him in the P4P list now. Lomachenko dominated the later rounds in a close loss to Haney last May, and his team disputed the decision. The Ukrainian is still No. 1 at lightweight, and still has enough sparkle to outshine Martin.

(5) Shakur Stevenson def. (12) Jose Ramirez: This will be a tough fight for Stevenson, who is coming up in weight to face a seasoned 140-pound campaigner. Ramirez has height and reach advantages to make it difficult for Stevenson, an Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey. Ramirez, from Avenal, California, has not fought in over a year, while Stevenson was involved in a snoozer in his last fight against Edwin De Los Santos. Stevenson is better than that performance and the southpaw will be too slippery for Ramirez.

(6) Subriel Matias def. (11) Regis Prograis: This is a great matchup between a champion on the rise and a former champion who has seen better days. Puerto Rican Matias, the IBF champion, has stopped every fighter he has ever faced in the professional game. His only defeat, a decision setback to Petros Ananyan in February 2020, was avenged three fights later via ninth-round TKO in January 2022. Prograis, originally from New Orleans but now based in Houston, has faced better opposition but the 35-year-old was widely outpointed by Haney in his last fight and Matias looks the fresher of the two.

(7) William Zepeda def. (10) Jack Catterall: Zepeda’s punch output and attacks to the body have seen him rise through the lightweight division to No. 4 in ESPN’s latest divisional rankings, behind Lomachenko, Davis and Stevenson. Maxi Hughes, Catterall’s fellow Englishman, can testify to the viciousness of the Mexican’s body shots. Zepeda has also benefited from being active, boxing five times to Catterall’s two performances since Catterall lost a controversial decision to Taylor in February 2022. Zepeda is dangerous — he has stopped 26 of his 30 opponents — and his incessant pressure will be too much for Catterall.

(8) Josh Taylor def. (9) Ryan Garcia: Taylor may have lost his last fight, and an injury has delayed his rematch with Catterall, but despite a lack of momentum recently he still has too much class, experience and boxing IQ to be troubled by Garcia’s hand speed. Taylor’s fellow Briton Luke Campbell floored Garcia early in their 2021 meeting, before the Californian recovered to win a seventh-round TKO. But when Garcia faced another experienced boxer in Davis a year ago, he was brutally exposed. Despite his unanimous decision loss to Lopez last year, Taylor will use his reliable jab to nullify Garcia.


Elite Eight

(1) Haney def. (8) Taylor: Taylor, who has spoken about moving up in weight before, had a bad night against Lopez in his last world title fight, and on that evidence you can’t back him to beat the division’s No. 1. Taylor used to be king at 140 pounds, but his win over Ramirez to become undisputed champion was three years ago. If Taylor struggled with Lopez’s movement, he will have even more trouble with the slick footwork and dazzling speed of Haney, who will cruise through to the Final Four.

(2) Davis def. (7) Zepeda: This could be one of the best fights of the tournament and a good test of how Davis copes with a fellow southpaw at 140 pounds. Zepeda will apply pressure from the opening bell, and this could see Davis responding with power punches early on. Davis has more quality than Zepeda, and has stopped better opponents. On that note you have to go with Tank.

(6) Matias def. (3) Lopez: Matias likes to leave his opponents looking for the exit, and the Puerto Rican pressure-fighter’s relentless volume of punches, combined with an unorthodox style, will prevent Lopez from making any progress on the scorecards. Matias has now forced five consecutive opponents to retire in their corners, and in his current form he just has too much desire for the unpredictable Lopez. It is hard to back Lopez with real conviction when you consider his disappointing display against Ortiz, especially against someone who is in such ruthless form like Matias.

(5) Stevenson def. (4) Lomachenko: Lomachenko disputed the scores in his defeat to Haney, but Haney showed in parts of that fight how boxing at range limits the Ukrainian’s success. Size won’t be an issue for Stevenson in this one, and his defensive strengths can keep Lomachenko locked out. Lomachenko’s athleticism is still formidable as he showed in the latter rounds against Haney, but the younger Stevenson is as slippery as a bar of soap and his ability to stay out of range can see him win a decision over his fellow southpaw lightweight.


Final Four

(1) Haney def. (5) Stevenson: Critics of Haney and Stevenson have questioned their lack of knockout power, and this semifinal is likely to end up being more of a chess match than a bar-room brawl. Both are clever tactically and accomplished technically, but Haney will be stronger at junior welterweight. Haney has also proved he can handle quality southpaws in his last two fights (Prograis, Lomachenko). But crucially, Haney is already a world champion at 140 pounds after unanimously outpointing Prograis for the WBC belt in December. As elusive as Stevenson is, he has only had one championship fight at lightweight after previously campaigning at junior lightweight and featherweight. With a decision the expected outcome, rounds could be difficult to score and result in a controversial, wafer-thin decision.

(2) Davis def. (6) Matias: The 5-foot-5, unbeaten Davis has a 93% KO ratio, and his accuracy and power will combine to take out Matias. Tank has accounted for opponents with a variety of shots that are delivered with pinpoint accuracy. Matias has an unorthodox style, but Tank is brilliant at reading opponents. Matias is a pressure fighter who likes being on the front foot, cutting the ring off and trapping his opponents. But this will suit Davis, who is good under pressure and will spot an opening to end this matchup on the counter inside the distance.


Championship

(1) Haney def. (2) Davis: Haney seems to lack power, and if tries to engage, Davis comes out on top. But if Haney avoids turning the fight into a brawl, as surely he will, he will triumph by using his boxing skills, physical advantages and ring IQ. Davis lacks height/reach, and while he might have gotten away with it against Matias, Haney will not offer him as many openings. Haney will utilize his height and reach advantages just as he did when his busy jab contained Kambosos. At 5-foot-8 and 3 inches taller than Davis, Haney will not have to land any big shots or take risks to limit Tank, who will grow frustrated in the later rounds. Haney boxed beautifully against Lomachenko and Prograis, two southpaws like Davis, and another performance on that level against a dangerman like Davis may be enough for him to be promoted to boxing’s pound-for-pound No. 1.

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