“British world champions, wannabe world champions, stadiums poised, history poised, fantastic domestic champions, so many fights. You think 2018 was good? Forget it, 2019 is the year.”
Well, you expect some hyperbole from BBC Radio 5 live boxing analyst Steve Bunce – but even BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello says he has rarely “looked forward to a boxing year like I am now”.
Five Britons hold world titles, the heavyweight scene is alive and well, a legend is possibly considering a comeback and a big-name rematch is also on the cards.
Here Costello and Bunce anticipate a remarkable 2019 and also pick their pound-for-pound top lists to start the year.
Heavyweights – AJ, Wilder, Fury and Klitschko
MC: It’s incredible what that one night in Los Angeles has done to revitalise the heavyweight division. Tyson Fury rising from the canvas against Deontay Wilder in that 12th round is like a metaphor for the whole heavyweight division being revived.
I think back now to the era 25 years ago, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, where while we talk of it as a great era, Bowe and Lewis never met.
But you get the sense it will be Fury v Wilder next and that gives Joshua some freedom. The clamour will come for Joshua to face the winner.
So where does Joshua go next? We’ve been told for a long time that 13 April is booked for him at Wembley but then there were rumours he may face Jarrell Miller in New York. Facing Miller doesn’t excite me but I understand how it introduces Joshua to an American audience. Miller at 22st is slow and ponderous and doesn’t do it for me but I understand the marketing value.
I think 2019 will belong to the heavyweights and I hope next year we are talking about the continuation of the great era we have hoped for.
SB: I think it’s 25 years since we have had heavyweight heroes – guys like Frank Bruno. That’s what we have at the moment, heroes, even in the US, with Wilder on a one-man mission to save heavyweight boxing in America.
We have had 25 years where things haven’t meant anything in the heavyweights. Now, suddenly it does. People are talking about the guy who knocked Fury down and it’s not even boxing people talking about it.
I fancy Joshua does fight Miller in America and I think the April date goes to someone else or gets pushed back. I am hearing all sorts of stuff about a fight that might be about to drop. I’m hearing Wladimir Klitschko is coming out of retirement and I’m hearing him linked with a big British heavyweight – not Fury or Joshua.
That could be the fight for 13 April which means I think it’s Jarrell Miller next for Joshua.
Random prediction & fantasy 2019 fight…
MC: Too often we have lamented fights that happened too late. One such case was Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao in 2015. I think they’ll do it again in 2019 if Pacquiao gets past Adrian Broner on 19 January.
SB: My prediction is that Oleksandr Usyk embarrasses a number of people at heavyweight and it becomes clear a number of people don’t want to fight him.
MC: My fantasy fight would be Mikey Garcia – the WBC champion at lightweight – against Vasyl Lomachenko, who holds the WBA belt.
SB: I will go Gervonta Davis, a world champion at super-featherweight, against Lomachenko. One of them would have to move up or down a division but we know that’s possible.
What’s in store for Britain’s other world champs?
MC: There are great possibilities for WBA super-middleweight champion Callum Smith. There would have to be scope for him facing Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and that would be a monster of an occasion.
Josh Warrington won his first defence of the IBF title against Carl Frampton and it looks likely that the IBF will make him face a mandatory challenger in Kid Galahad. Warrington wants to fight in the US but I noticed he tweeted Galahad: “My fans are packing the suitcases but if we have to postpone that to chin you then so be it.”
Then there’s the new WBC world flyweight champion Charlie Edwards, who was quite brilliant against Cristofer Rosales in December. The young man looked like he old-manned Rosales. Now Edwards against fellow Briton Kal Yafai – who holds the WBA world title in the same division – would be one of the fights of 2019.
MC: The most exciting division outside of the heavyweights for me is the bantamweights. We have a line-up for the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series, Naoya Inoue v Emmanuel Rodriguez and Nonito Donaire v Zolani Tete. I think Inoue wins that tournament and I think Josh Taylor goes all the way in the super-lightweight tournament.
For me, potentially, if we were to be asked who could be the big breakout start of 2018 – I know he is known in boxing – but I think Taylor could really announce himself to the sporting world this year.
SB: My most exciting division is the super-featherweights. Gervonta Davis is there and I know he’s a troubled and mildly unpleasant man but that doesn’t make him a bad person.
He is unbeaten and has stopped all but one of the men he has beaten. I know he’s troublesome but I like him.
Davis will be my breakout star. I know he’s already a world champion and some will say he’s a star but he isn’t really. He doesn’t sell big tickets, he gives bad interviews, he comes across a bit angry and it’s not working. There was a bit of being a mini Floyd Mayweather about him. If I’m a big company trying to justify the money being put into boxing, I’d be desperate to make Davis a star.
In 2019, I don’t want to see…
MC: The disintegration of the World Boxing Super Series. There are no dates so far for the semi-finals. What it did for the sport last year with a fantastic super-middleweight series and with a cruiserweight division ending with Oleksandr Usyk holding all four belts was fantastic. If it needs to be revived I want to see it revived as I think it was one of the great things of 2018.
SB: I don’t want to see a continuation of the uncertainty surrounding Olympic boxing in 2020. Various people at GB Boxing seem confident. I don’t want to see any murkiness. I want solid, black-and-white proof that we will have boxing at Tokyo 2020.
Taylor’s 2019 road map?
MC: Katie Taylor is still unbeaten but we are still waiting for that dance partner. So often in boxing the greatest names got there because of defining fights and that’s what is missing in women’s boxing at the moment.
SB: Taylor is on the cusp I would argue of moving into a series of fights. She has three fights out there – Belgium’s Delfine Persoon holds the WBC belt, Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus holds four titles at a higher weight and then Amanda Serrano, who has won titles in six divisions.
She potentially has three fights as good as any that the Lomachenkos, Furys and Joshuas have. Throw Britain’s Chantelle Cameron in and there are there are four fights that no other woman in boxing history has had in front of them.