LOS ANGELES – With several unification bouts in discussion and looming battles pitting champions moving up in weight to test other belt-holders, there’s a push in boxing to settle many of the debates that linger in the pound-for-pound rankings.
It starts with Saturday’s lightweight title defense by longtime champion Jorge Linares against two-division champion Vasyl Lomachenko at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Then, there are two more on the same day, June 9, when former unified 140-pound champion Terence Crawford moves up a division to meet World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Jeffrey Horn of Australia in Las Vegas.
At Staples Center that night, World Boxing Association featherweight super champion Leo Santa Cruz and world champion Abner Mares square off in a rematch of the 2015 “Battle for Los Angeles” that Santa Cruz won by majority decision.
The haggling is expected to reach a fevered pitch over the pursuit of a unified heavyweight championship bout between Anthony Joshua of England and Alabama’s Deontay Wilder.
And the strained feelings between middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and former two-division champion Canelo Alvarez of Mexico will color those talks, especially at the start, as they eye a Sept. 15 rematch in Las Vegas.
The reward for such painstaking negotiation will be massive purse money and some greater clarity over who definitely should reign as boxing’s best.
Until that’s settled, however, LA Times boxing writer Lance Pugmire provides his thoughts on who stands where now:
1: Terence Crawford, Omaha, Neb.
32-0, 23 KOs
After becoming boxing’s only male four-belt champion – doing so impressively with a third-round knockout by body punch to former 140-pound champion Julius Indongo in August – Crawford suffered a hand injury in training, postponing plans for a bout earlier this year.
Next fight: He moves up to 147 pounds, and in the ultimate revelation of his self-confidence, Crawford eschewed a warmup fight and will immediately meet World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Jeffrey Horn in Las Vegas on June 9.
2: Gennady Golovkin, L.A./Kazakhstan
38-0-1, 34 KOs
Instead of waiting for Alvarez to return from his six-month doping suspension, Golovkin showed his devotion to the sport by accepting a $1 million purse to give fans a Cinco de Mayo fight date with his second-round knockout of Vanes Martirosyan, a top-rated 154-pounder who said Golovkin hits “like a freight train, harder than anyone I’ve ever fought.”
Next fight: How fervently Golovkin’s team will push for some further compensation in a restructured deal with Alvarez for a September rematch of last year’s draw remains to be seen, but the thinking is he wants the fight more than anything else, so expect Part 2, Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
3: Vasyl Lomachenko, Ukraine/Oxnard, Calif.
10-1, 8 KOs
Another who doesn’t balk at difficult tests. The two-time Olympic and two-division pro champion overwhelmed fellow double gold-medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux in December to make Rigondeaux his fourth consecutive foe to quit on his stool. Now he chases a third belt that would truly emphasize how rare his talents are.
Next fight: Lomachenko meets longtime lightweight champion Jorge Linares of Venezuela on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden in pursuit of a third belt.
4: Mikey Garcia, Riverside, Calif.
38-0, 30 KOs
His last two bouts have been a decision over former four-division champion Adrien Broner and a convincing triumph to claim his fourth belt by defeating Russia’s Sergey Lipinets in March in Texas. He was scheduled to meet this week with UFC President Dana White to discuss an alignment that would enrich Garcia and potentially provide the flexibility he wants to fight anyone regardless of promotional or network ties.
Next fight: Garcia is believed to be moving toward a summer homecoming bout at Staples Center against fellow lightweight champion Robert Easter, a crafty, lanky boxer with a significant reach advantage on Garcia. Winning there could lead Garcia to a fascinating showdown with a victorious Linares or a 2019 clash with Lomachenko.
5: Anthony Joshua, England
21-0, 20 KOs
He’s due to collect his fight-of-the-year award Friday night for his historic and gripping comeback from a knockdown that sent Wladimir Klitschko to retirement by 11th-round TKO last year. Joshua added a third heavyweight belt by relying on his power-punching advantage to defeat New Zealand’s Joseph Parker by unanimous decision in March.
Next fight: With his U.S. television rights up for the highest bidder now, Joshua can choose Wilder to kick off a new Showtime deal or move to HBO, where he would be held to ridicule for avoiding the obvious fight, but still collect plenty of riches in potential showdowns against countrymen Tyson Fury or Tony Bellew.
6: Errol Spence Jr., Dallas
23-0, 20 KOs
The champion in the deep welterweight division is a gifted talent who has settled for a lesser June 16 defense at Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ “The Star” facility in Frisco, Texas. Spence manager Al Haymon has too often overly protected his fighters during their rise, depriving them of victories that will elevate their name and the exposure required to build toward becoming pay-per-view draws. The hope with the gifted Spence is that his June bout is an exception.
Next fight: Defends his International Boxing Federation welterweight belt June 16 versus Carlos Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs) in Texas.
7: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Thailand
45-4-1, 40 KOs
His knockout power capabilities at 115 pounds make him one of the sport’s most dynamic performers. While that strength can defuse many who need to work hard for openings, an exception is Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada, a gritty former lightweight champion who gave Sor Rungvisai a compelling battle whose outcome was in doubt until judges slightly favored the champion.
Next fight: A third “SuperFly” card, likely to be headlined by the Sor Rungvisai-Estrada rematch, is being aimed for September at the Forum.
8: Canelo Alvarez, Mexico
49-1-2, 34 KOs
Tarnished by the two positive samples he submitted for the banned performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol, Alvarez’s confidence-rebuilding campaign requires him to sign up for the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association’s year-round drug testing program as soon as possible, and it’d be nice to hear him expand upon his remorse and positive tests beyond a protected news conference. The final prong of that accountability is meeting Golovkin in a rematch in September.
Next fight: Alvarez promoters Oscar De La Hoya and Eric Gomez insist their top priority is to make the Sept. 15 rematch against Golovkin.
9: Deontay Wilder, Alabama
40-0, 39 KOs
Critics are obsessed in pointing out his flaws, some of which were revealed in his knock-down, drag-out battle with Cuban Luis Ortiz at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in March. That fight revealed the heart of Wilder, who was badly rocked and was forced to hang on for a few rounds before finding his energy to stop Ortiz by TKO in the front-runner for fight of the year.
Next fight: His promotional team has pushed, with the backing of Wilder’s charismatic social-media presence, to get Joshua in the ring next. The sport could use the fight, and despite concerns that Joshua has never fought in the U.S., three months of promotion for this bout would reignite interest that has lagged for more than 15 years.
10: Jarrett Hurd, Maryland
22-0, 15 KOs
Hurd, 27, has made impressive strides in becoming a champion and then adding a second belt by defeating Erislandy Lara in April. His charm, aggressive fighting style and ability to connect with a younger audience makes him one of the sport’s most interesting athletes.
Next fight: He’s expected to seek a third belt at 154 pounds by meeting the winner of the June 9 bout at Staples Center between favored WBC champion Jermell Charlo and veteran Austin Trout, whom Charlo has defeated.
OTHERS TO WATCH: 11. Naoya Inoue, bantamweight; 12. Leo Santa Cruz, featherweight; 13. Abner Mares, featherweight; 14. Jorge Linares, lightweight; 15. Murat Gassiev, cruiserweight.