On Saturday, Janibek Alimkhanooli has a chance to take on a division that used to be one of the best in boxing. With top middleweights like Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Erislandy Lara fighting in the heaviest division or inactive, Alimkhanouli, already the WBO champion, could be the no. 1 fighter at 160 pounds? If he beats IBF champion Vincenzo Gualtieri (ESPN/ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET), there’s a strong case for claiming that title.
On the undercard, young lightweight Keyshawn Davis (9-0, 6 KOs) fights for the third time this year when he faces Nahir Albright in a 10-round bout. With a victory, can he talk about the possibilities of 2023?
Also on Saturday, junior middleweight champion Tim Tszyu faces Brian Mendoza in the first defense of the title he inherited when Jermell Charlo stripped him of the belt ahead of his super middleweight fight against Alvarez in September. Tszyu has been impressive this year with two KO wins over Tony Harrison and Carlos Ocampo. Can he follow up with another stoppage win against Mendoza, who has never been knocked out in his career?
And what about a fight between heavyweight champion Tyson Fury against a former MMA champion? Francis Ngannou? Could this be a competitive fight? And Terence Crawford will fight Errol Spence Jr. Next?
Mike Coppinger, Timothy Bradley Jr., Ben Baby, Nick Parkinson, and Brett Okamoto have some answers.
Don’t be surprised if… Janibek Alimkhanouli rules the middleweight division
The fact that he is positioned at no. 1 man in the 160-pound weight class is a testament to his success. The 30-year-old, undefeated fighter from Kazakhstan defeated some quality opponents en route to winning the WBO belt. Two years ago, he stopped former titlist Rob Brunt and outlasted the faded Hassan N’Dam. He also had second round KO wins over Danny Dignam and Steven Butler.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone challenging Alimkhanuli (14-0, 9 KOs). This is the worst the middleweight has seen in recent memory. Many of the top names roaming the division are either inactive or in other weight classes, leaving one of the lightest weight classes in boxing.
It also explains how Gualtieri (21-0-1, 7 KOs) got his title shot. He picks up the vacant IBF belt in a fight against Esquiva Falcao between two midrange contenders who are ranked prominently by the sanctioning body.
What makes Ganibek an interesting fighter is that he carries great power, which is evident from his 64.3% stoppage rate. An impressive win could make him a big draw in one of boxing’s most storied divisions. – baby
Don’t be surprised if… Keyshawn Davis ends up being the 2023 men’s prospect
Davis, a rising star in the boxing world, is positioned to capture the title of prospect of the year and make a remarkable leap into the realm of world champions in 2024.
It comes as no surprise, given his exceptional talent. Davis has already taken down three opponents this year, boasting an impressive combined record of 70 wins and just seven losses. His wins over Juan Carlos Burgos, Anthony Igit and Francesco Patera cemented his position as a fighter to watch right now.
What sets Davis apart is not just his lightning-quick hands, but also his extraordinary skill set. He stunned fans with just nine professional bouts, fighting on the undercard of numerous championship bouts. Davis demonstrates mastery of elite techniques with great control, frame and impeccable timing. His command of these techniques exudes maturity and finesse beyond his years, and his ability to close the show — possessed of a ferocious killer instinct — further cements his status as a blue-chip talent and a formidable competitor.
Davis continues to improve his game, closer to the ultimate goal of claiming a world title and becoming a new player in the sport. –Bradley
Don’t be surprised if… Francis Ngannou gives Tyson Fury a real challenge
Mike Tyson: Fury Vs. Ngannou won’t be as one-sided as people think
Stephen A. Smith and Molly Kerim sit down with Mike Tyson and Francis Ngannou to discuss his first-ever boxing match vs. Ngannou’s mentality and strategy. Tyson Fury.
I’m not predicting a win here. ok? So, cool off with ‘Oh, of course the MMA reporter thinks Francis will win’. That’s not what I’m saying. If Ngannou, in his first boxing match, beat the best heavyweight boxer in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised — I’d be totally shocked. But would I be surprised if he had his moments during the fight? No.
I thought Conor McGregor would get clowned by Floyd Mayweather in 2016. I thought there was a legitimate chance he would look awkward, flailing on shots and tire early. I didn’t think it was because I was close to McGregor, I just respect the sweet science of boxing. I appreciate that when someone is world-class in boxing, like Mayweather and Fury, they are able to make fools of others who are not world-class in that sport, like McGregor and Ngannou.
McGregor turned in a respectable performance though. I believe Ngannou can too, for many of the same reasons. He will be smart and ready. He told me something in person that I couldn’t disagree with. A fight is a fight. When it comes to fighting in any situation, Ngannou is a warrior. Very simple. — Okamoto
Don’t be surprised if… Tim Tszyu vs. Brian Mendoza is closer than people expect
If Tszyu brings the same finishing instincts against Ocampo, Mendoza will be in trouble on Saturday.
Tszyu (23-0, 17 KOs) is flying at the moment, answering questions about whether he can handle an opponent at the top level. Momentum is important in boxing and Czejeur’s faith is in the right place after a brutal knockout of Tony Harrison in March and a first-round demolition of Ocampo in June. Mendoza has never been stopped, but how will he cope if Seijiu rattles him like Ocampo did in the summer?
Tszyu, 28, goes into his first defense of the WBO junior middleweight title hoping to retain the belt after putting together some strong performances. Still, Mendoza is also on a roll, so don’t be surprised if you see Mendoza raise his hand in an upset win.
Knockout wins over Sebastian Fundora in April (seventh round) and Jason Rosario (fifth round) in November have restored Mendoza’s confidence, while he started as the underdog as he takes on Tzu. Those two upsets are a testament to the American contender’s will, and the way Mendoza (22-2, 16 KOs) cut down the big Fundora with a devastating left hook makes you wonder if he can silence Czew’s home crowd again. sydney
This is a great matchup (one of the best of 2023), likely to end with a KO, and most people expect Tszyu to deliver. But it may not be. — Parkinson’s
Don’t be surprised if… a Terence Crawford-Errol Spence Jr. A rematch will not happen next
Stephen A.: Terence Crawford is the best in the world right now
Stephen A. Smith tabbed Terence Crawford as the best pound-for-pound fighter after his win over Errol Spence Jr.
Crawford and Spence are more likely to fight once more after Spence exercises their rematch clause in August, but there is still work to be done before the return bout is finalized.
Crawford won the undisputed welterweight championship in dominant fashion by seventh-round TKO, and the contract’s two-way rematch clause stipulated that the winner would select the weight for the second fight.
During his postfight interview, Spence said he would move up to 154 pounds. Crawford, meanwhile, leans into the promotion at 147 pounds. The rematch, given the one-sided nature of the first fight, is more interesting at a new weight, but it depends on Crawford. He may agree to a fight at 154 pounds, but may also want to give Spence some financial concessions to make it happen.
At this point, weights have not been agreed upon, sources told ESPN, though a pay-per-view rematch is planned for February. A catchweight between 147 and 154 pounds makes sense, though Crawford could be willing to go up to 154. However, after Canelo Alvarez’s win over Jermael Charlo, he said he was no longer interested in fighting Charlo.
If Spence doesn’t fight Crawford, a junior middleweight debut against someone like Brian Castano would be interesting. But it’s far more likely that we’ll see Crawford-Spence 2 at something over 147 pounds. — Coppinger