The ESPN panel of boxing experts has voted for the top 10 fighters in the world pound-for-pound, and it’s a deep and talented group of guys from a variety of weight classes and backgrounds. The top three — unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, welterweight titlist Terence Crawford and middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez (who also holds a secondary super middleweight belt) — are separated by only 10 points.
What do each of the boxers in the top 10 have coming up? And beyond whatever the schedule holds, what direction should they go in after that to maintain their lofty status? Dan Rafael and Steve Kim have it covered.
1. Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs)
What’s next: Lomachenko, a three-division world titlist and reigning unified lightweight world champion, is due to face titlist Teofimo Lopez Jr. in a three-belt unification fight — one of the most intriguing bouts in boxing today. It’s a matchup between a fighter in Lomachenko with massive experience (mainly from an amateur career in which he was 396-1 and won two Olympic gold medals) and a skill set without weakness, and the much younger Lopez, who won a belt by sensational second-round destruction of Richard Commey on Dec. 14. Lopez, who has called out for Lomachenko, possesses tremendous firepower. The fight is supposed to be this spring, but there has been little movement in actually getting a deal signed. Top Rank is also on the hunt for a venue.
And then: Win or lose, there is a chance that Lomachenko will return to junior lightweight, where he once held a title and could challenge the winner of a likely spring fight between titlist Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez. Lomachenko is already pushing his physical limits at lightweight and has said he has no interest in moving up to junior welterweight. If he beats Lopez and remains at 135 pounds, the only remaining fights that would be of major fan interest would be against titleholder Gervonta Davis or former titlist Devin Haney. But Davis and Haney are with other promoters on different broadcast platforms, making those fights unlikely. Lomachenko could also defend against a junior lightweight titlist moving up in weight, such as the Berchelt-Valdez winner or the winner of a probable fight between titlist Jamel Herring and Carl Frampton. Berchelt, for what it’s worth, has been steadfast in his desire to fight Lomachenko, be it at 130 or 135. — Dan Rafael
2. Terence Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs)
What’s next: The current welterweight titleholder doesn’t have a fight lined up, but Top Rank promoter Bob Arum recently floated the idea of a two-fight set against UFC superstar Conor McGregor, with one fight in a boxing ring under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules and the other taking place in the Octagon under mixed martial arts regulations. Another name on the list is unified welterweight world titlist Errol Spence Jr. If the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury does brisk pay-per-view business, you would hope that it would ignite the possibility of another co-promotion between PBC/Fox and Top Rank/ESPN, so that Crawford could potentially face Spence.
In his most recent bout, on Dec. 14 at Madison Square Garden, Egidijus Kavaliauskas gave Crawford a tougher than expected fight but succumbed to “Bud” in nine rounds. Crawford, who has won major titles in three weight classes (including the distinction of becoming undisputed champion at junior welterweight), is one of the most adaptable and versatile performers in boxing. The only question is whether he will be able to attract suitable dance partners at 147. Since winning his welterweight belt in June of 2018, he has defended against Jose Benavidez Jr., Amir Khan and Kavaliauskas.
And then: Hopefully matchups with the likes of Spence, Manny Pacquiao or even Shawn Porter can come to fruition. The problem for Crawford is that being promoted by Top Rank means that he’s not aligned with Premier Boxing Champions, where the aforementioned trio reside. Even when Pacquiao was under the same promotional banner as Crawford, he never showed any real interest in facing him. Spence, who is coming off a horrific auto accident in October, is still a bit of a question mark coming into 2020, making Porter one of the premier candidates for Crawford. — Steve Kim
3. Canelo Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs)
What’s next: Alvarez recently gave up the light heavyweight world title he won by knocking out Sergey Kovalev in November, so it is unlikely he will fight in that division, but he also holds belts at middleweight and super middleweight. He could be back for the Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, possibly in a super middleweight unification bout with Billy Joe Saunders or Callum Smith. There were talks about Alvarez traveling to Japan to take on secondary middleweight titlist and Japanese national hero Ryota Murata. But those talks recently ended with no deal for a spring fight. They could be renewed for a later date.
And then: If Alvarez comes through his spring fight, whomever he faces, the obvious fight for his fall 2020 bout is a third fight with middleweight world titlist Gennadiy Golovkin. Canelo is 1-0-1 against Golovkin, with both results being controversial in huge fights. It’s also the fight DAZN, which has invested nearly $500 million in exclusive contracts with the two men, wants most. DAZN and the fans should get what they want. Of course, Golovkin is going to also fight in a mandatory defense, probably in April, and would have to win. — Rafael
4. Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs)
What’s next: The 26-year-old Japanese dynamo is headed for a unification bout on April 25 against WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero in what will be his Top Rank debut on an ESPN platform. On Nov. 7, Inoue won the World Boxing Super Series by outdueling Nonito Donaire over 12 exciting rounds. Not only did he pick up the Muhammad Ali Trophy, “The Monster,” who entered that fight as the IBF 118-pound titlist, added the WBA belt to his collection. Inoue is one of the most accomplished fighters in the sport, having won belts at junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight.
And then: Should Inoue get past the hard-hitting Casimero, he would be one step away from consolidating the bantamweight division. Nordine Oubaali, the WBC titleholder, is scheduled to defend his belt against Donaire next. Either option looks good at this moment for Inoue, given that Oubaali is a solid, undefeated fighter and that Inoue and Donaire just engaged in one of the best fights of 2019. In due time, Inoue will move up to junior featherweight, where there is a cast of solid fighters.
Inoue is one of the most devastating offensive fighters in boxing. Armed with his new co-promotional pact, he will be showcased on American soil on a consistent basis and will have no shortage of formidable foes between 118 and 122. — Kim
5. Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs)
Backstage at the Hooker-Saucedo fight, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. get into an argument that ends with Crawford saying he could knock out Spence.
What’s next: Spence unified two welterweight belts with an exciting split decision over Shawn Porter in September, and two and a half weeks later, on Oct. 10, he was involved in a serious one-car accident in which he flipped his Ferrari at high speed. He is lucky to be alive and must still face a DUI charge in the incident. But in December, Spence said that he would be back in the ring in May or June. He also said he did not want a tuneup fight. So if he’s serious about a real fight, he has legitimate options. At the top of the list, there is a three-belt unification fight with Manny Pacquiao, and a fight with former titlist Danny Garcia, whom he was going to fight on Jan. 25 had the accident not occurred. A lesser possibility would be a rematch with Porter. Each bout is pretty easy to make, given that all the boxers are with Premier Boxing Champions.
And then: The biggest fight in the division — and one of the biggest fights you can make in boxing — would be for Spence and fellow titleholder Crawford to meet in a three-belt unification bout. Both have said they want to fight each other, but it is a tough deal to make because Spence is with Premier Boxing Champions and Crawford is with Top Rank. Those outfits don’t do meaningful business with each other, with the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury rematch being the exception. Hopefully, that deal can help pave the way for a Spence-Crawford showdown. If Spence doesn’t fight Crawford following his comeback fight, then ideally he will fight whomever he doesn’t fight in the comeback bout, meaning Pacquiao, Garcia or a Porter rematch. I also wouldn’t count out a trip to junior middleweight to go after a belt, most of which are controlled by PBC. — Rafael
6. Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs)
What’s next: Because of his status as the WBO cruiserweight titlist, Usyk and his representatives last year petitioned the organization to become the No. 1 challenger in the heavyweight division. In October, Usyk made his debut as a full-fledged heavyweight and stopped late replacement Chazz Witherspoon in seven rounds in a relatively bland performance. Usyk could face veteran Dereck Chisora in late March or April, a fight that would give observers a better gauge of just where Usyk stands as a heavyweight. Prior to his move up in weight, Usyk had a glorious run as a cruiserweight, unifying the whole division by winning the World Boxing Super Series in 2018, and then stopping Tony Bellew. Usyk and Evander Holyfield are by far the two greatest cruiserweights of all time.
And then: If all goes well against Chisora, the 33-year-old Ukrainian could press for a heavyweight title shot. Currently, the WBO strap is held by unified belt holder Anthony Joshua (who is scheduled to face his IBF mandatory, Kubrat Pulev, in the spring), and whoever holds the WBO belt after that fight will be obligated to face Usyk. There’s no doubting Usyk’s boxing acumen and athleticism, and it will be fascinating to find out whether he can handle boxing’s elite heavyweights. — Kim
7. Gennadiy Golovkin (40-1-1, 35 KOs)
What’s next: Golovkin won a vacant middleweight world title by razor-close decision against Sergiy Derevyanchenko in a fantastic fight of the year contender on Oct. 5. And while Golovkin would like a third fight with Canelo Alvarez next, he is not going to get it. So Golovkin instead is making plans to make a mandatory defense against Kamil Szeremeta, who won his fight on the Golovkin-Derevyanchenko undercard. Initially, the fight was pegged for Feb. 29 and then for March 28, but it will now move to a date to be determined in April.
And then: The second fight of 2020 for both Golovkin and Alvarez should be a third fight between them, be it at middleweight to unify their belts or for Alvarez’s title at super middleweight. Either way, their third showdown remains one of the biggest fights that can be made in boxing. I think it’s a pretty good bet that we will see it in the fall, as long as each guy takes care of business in his next fight. Barring that, Golovkin could go to super middleweight and face Daniel Jacobs in a rematch of what was a close and exciting fight in 2017, or push for a title fight against Billy Joe Saunders or Callum Smith. Jacobs, Saunders and Smith also fight on DAZN, so those fights are very makeable. — Rafael
8. Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27 KOs)
What’s next: Estrada, who is a unified titleholder at junior bantamweight, is coming off a hand injury that required surgery. He was scheduled to face IBF junior bantamweight world titlist Kal Yafai on Jan. 30 in Miami, but those plans were scrapped. The 29-year-old Estrada, of Mexico, had a productive 2019; he gained revenge on Srisaket Sor Rungvisai last April in a memorable tussle at the Forum in Los Angeles, then halted Dewayne Beamon in November. Estrada was once the WBA/WBO flyweight titleholder and now holds the WBC title at junior bantamweight.
And then: According to Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, Estrada is scheduled to return in May in Mexico. The possibilities include the winner of the fight between Yafai and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who are scheduled to meet on Feb. 29; his old nemesis, Carlos Cuadras; or WBA belt holder Kazuto Ioka. All three are attractive options, but for many years Estrada has wanted to even the score with Gonzalez, who defeated him in 2012. — Kim
9. Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs)
Max Kellerman and Timothy Bradley Jr. debate who has the best chance to win the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.
What’s next: On Feb. 22, live on ESPN+ PPV from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, heavyweight titlist Wilder will take on lineal champion Tyson Fury in a huge rematch that is by far the biggest fight thus far on the 2020 calendar. They had a very good fight in December 2018 in which Fury looked to easily outbox Wilder for long stretches, but Wilder also scored two knockdowns. It was ruled a draw. Both guys have won a pair of interim bouts since, and now the rematch is on. It’s a big one.
And then: The Wilder-Fury rematch is actually part of what was a broader two-fight deal, so there is a very good chance that whatever happens on Feb. 22, we will see a third fight between them later in the year. Of course, that is no guarantee, because nobody knows what will happen in the rematch. If it’s a one-sided fight or does not perform as well commercially as expected or, for whatever reason, one of the fighters wants no part of a third fight, there are ways around it. But by all accounts we will see a third fight.
But what if we don’t? The obvious fight for Wilder, if he wins, would be an undisputed title fight with three-belt titlist Anthony Joshua. That is the megafight of megafights in boxing today. — Rafael
10. Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs)
Errol Spence Jr. wants to face Manny Pacquiao next and not Terence Crawford after Shawn Porter, because facing Pacquiao would be a lucrative fight.
What’s next: Pacquiao still hasn’t decided how he’s going to kick off his 2020 campaign, and while the familiar names (Spence, Danny Garcia and a rematch with Floyd Mayweather) have been bandied about, nothing has been decided. Pacquiao is still a wanted commodity, even at 41. In 2019, he showed that he is still an elite performer by handily defeating Adrien Broner and then outpointing previously unbeaten Keith Thurman to win the WBA welterweight title. Pacquiao has held world titles in four different decades.
And then: Pacquiao still wants to exact revenge on Mayweather, who defeated him in 2015. And while many diehard boxing fans will cringe at the thought of this rematch, Mayweather-Pacquiao II will still do huge business for everyone involved. Which is exactly why it just may happen. — Kim