Real or not: Will ‘Shu Shu’ get a title? Can Paul win again? Crawford vs. ‘Boots’ Ennis?

Boxing

Friday night’s card at The Theater inside Madison Square Garden in New York features a world champion defending his title in the main event and a co-main event in which a young fighter could make the jump from top prospect to title contender (ESPN/ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET).

O’Shaquie Foster defends his WBC junior lightweight title against Abraham Nova. Could a decisive victory put Foster as the fighter to beat in a crowded 130-pound division? It’s not as easy as it sounds, with many talented fighters like Joe Cordina, Lamont Roach and Emanuel Navarrete holding the rest of the titles.

The co-main features Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington, who fought five times in 2023 and scored five wins with 3 KOs. Friday’s bout will be a 10-round affair against Bernard Angelo Torres, and another standout moment could signify that he has the talent to compete with the best in the 126-pound division. His promoter, Top Rank, has invested in the division, and there will be many opportunities for him to grab a belt in the future. Is 2024 the year?

Unified welterweight champion Terence Crawford will definitely have a title fight this year, but with his rematch with Errol Spence Jr. off, is a matchup against Jaron “Boots” Ennis a possibility? With talks of “Bud” moving up in weight, is there a matchup with undisputed super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez on the horizon?

Former title challenger Joseph “JoJo” Diaz is still looking to bounce back. Could it happen? And can Jake Paul beat another “real” boxer in his next bout?

Mike Coppinger, Nick Parkinson and Damian Delgado Averhoff answer these questions and more, trying to separate what’s real and what’s not.

Real or not: Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington will fight for a featherweight title in 2024

Real. Carrington appears to be on track to fight for a world title this year. And his promoter, Top Rank, can easily support that given their heavy investment in the featherweight division (they have a deep roster of top featherweights).

Next month, the promotion will stage a featherweight title doubleheader, and “Shu Shu” could certainly vie for one of those two belts later this year. If Luis Alberto Lopez retains his IBF title against Reiya Abe on March 2, Carrington could get a shot at Lopez for his first title opportunity, whether it’s late in 2024 or in 2025.

There’s also the winner of the March 2 fight between Ray Ford and Otabek Kholmatov for the vacant WBA title. Rey Vargas defends the WBC title against Nick Ball on March 8 on the Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou undercard, while Rafael Espinoza is expected to defend his WBO belt in a rematch against Robeisy Ramirez.

So far, Carrington has looked like a future champion between his aggressiveness, athleticism and boxing ability. But the 26-year-old from Brooklyn will need to step up his competition a couple of levels before he’s truly ready to vie for a title. — Coppinger


Real or not: O’Shaquie Foster is the best junior lightweight at the moment

Not real. The 130-pound division is currently one of boxing’s weakest, allowing Foster to even be involved in this conversation, but until Emanuel Navarrete makes the jump to 135 pounds for the vacant title fight against Denys Berinchyk, a fight already ordered by the WBO, the Mexican is still the king of the junior lightweights.

The junior lightweight division is wide open, and outside of Navarrete, doesn’t feature any proven A-level talent. With a convincing victory over Abraham Nova on Friday, Foster can position himself to take the reins from “Vaquero” Navarrete soon enough, but a win won’t make him the best in the division, considering the opposition.

Foster has proven he can punch, and he picked up two quality wins last year against two-division champion Rey Vargas and junior lightweight contender Eduardo “Rocky” Hernandez. If Foster is going to cement himself, he’ll need to KO Nova, who was already stopped inside five rounds by Robeisy Ramirez in 2022. Foster will also need to pick up another convincing win in a title unification, perhaps against someone like IBF titleholder Joe Cordina.

Until then, there’s little separating fighters like Foster, Cordina and a host of others at 130 pounds. — Coppinger


Real or not: Jake Paul will win his second consecutive fight against a “real” boxer

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Jake Paul gets ready to face Ryan Bourland in his most difficult fight to date

“The Problem Child” talks about the differences between preparing for a fight against a real boxer versus training to face an MMA fighter.

Real… (just about). Paul faces Ryan Bourland in Puerto Rico on March 2, and this carefully-considered matchmaking is likely to produce the result the YouTuber’s team wants. Bourland might have a respectable record of 17-2, 6 KOs, but he has been working on oil rigs recently, rather than being a full-time boxer.

The North Dakota resident ended a four-year exile from boxing with a fifth round stoppage win over Santario Martin in September. Bourland brings the experience of being a traditional boxer (rat), but his lack of boxing activity gives Paul an advantage in this fight. Plus, Paul, 27, is making progress after back-to-back wins and is likely to be too busy for his 35 year old opponent. But if Bourland is up for it, this could be a close one. — Parkinson


Real or not: Terence Crawford’s next opponent will be Jaron “Boots” Ennis

Not real. Ennis has called for a fight with Crawford, but “Bud” has shown little interest in such a matchup. It’s hard to blame Crawford, too. Following his resounding victory over Errol Spence last summer to win the undisputed welterweight championship, he’s only looking for marquee fights.

Crawford turns 37 later this year, so the window is small to cash in and maximize earnings, especially when you consider that the last time he fought more than once in a year was in 2019.

Ennis is deserving of a meaningful fight, but there’s also complications on his end as he’s involved in a legal dispute with his late promoter, Cameron Dunkin. In the meantime, expect Crawford to move up to 154 pounds (or even higher) while he chases a super fight with Canelo Alvarez.

Crawford is ESPN’s No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer, and while he’s never competed above 147 pounds, he wouldn’t be a major underdog in a fight against boxing’s top star for the undisputed super middleweight championship. — Coppinger


Real or not: Adrian Curiel will beat Sivenathi Nontshinga in their rematch on Friday

Real. Curiel carries the confidence of his second-round KO win over Nontshinga back in November into the rematch, where he will retain the IBF junior flyweight title, but probably by decision this time.

Not many people outside of the Mexican’s team would have backed him to produce such an explosive finish in their first encounter, and even Curiel’s team may have been surprised just how short the fight in Monte Carlo lasted.

Curiel’s record as he climbed through the ropes for his first world title attempt did not suggest he was a banger. But Curiel (24-4-1, 5 KOs) slipped a jab and then threw a perfect right hand that landed on Nontshinga’s temple in what was one of the standout stoppage wins in boxing last year.

This time around, Nontshinga (12-1, 9 KOs) will be more careful. But it was still risky accepting this fight so soon after such a devastating loss. Momentum is with Curiel, who is more experienced and will thrive in front of his home crowd against the South African. — Parkinson


Real or not: Joseph “JoJo” Diaz still has enough to make a run at a title opportunity at 140 pounds

Not real. In a sport where one punch can make the difference between winning or losing, “JoJo” Diaz will always have the chance to achieve the victory that could place him among the 140-pound best. But Diaz had suffered three consecutive losses between 2021 and 2023 (Devin Haney, Willian Zepeda and Mercito Gesta) which represent a heavy burden on his professional career.

At just 31, Diaz has time. However, judging by the talent in the junior welterweight division, where Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, Rolly Romero, Isaac Cruz and even Gervonta Davis compete for preeminence, it seems too difficult for Diaz to even be taken into consideration for a title fight.

Diaz looks more like a last-minute substitute than a real contender. Perhaps, if some of the junior welterweight champions decide to move up to welterweight, that could be a chance for Diaz to grab one of the vacant titles, but that’s a big “if.” As of today, I doubt that he will have the opportunity to make a run for another world title. — Delgado Averhoff

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