In the latest installment of boxing vs. MMA, the boxer, heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, earned a split-decision victory over former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. But it was Ngannou who received praise after a solid performance that included a knockdown of Fury in Round 3.
After Ngannou’s success, the money question is clear: Who is the next MMA fighter to give a top boxer a run for his money? And which boxer will take the fight?
In early December, flyweight champions Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez and Sunny Edwards will meet to unify titles in a battle between two of the most interesting fighters in the sport. Rodriguez has seven KOs in his past 10 fights, while Edwards is a defensive-minded fighter. Could the styles collide and make this fight a candidate for fight of the year?
Another champion in a small division, junior featherweight Naoya Inoue, will meet Marlon Tapales to unify all four 122-pound belts. Can Inoue become the undisputed champion in two different divisions?
Mike Coppinger, Nick Parkinson and Marc Raimondi answer these questions and more, trying to separate what’s real and what’s not.
Real or not: Sean O’Malley has a chance to give Ryan Garcia a run for his money
How Sean O’Malley plans to reach Conor McGregor’s popularity in the UFC
Sean O’Malley joins “First Take” fresh off winning the bantamweight title at UFC 292 and talks about potentially reaching the height of Conor McGregor’s popularity.
Raimondi: Real, though some caveats come with it. O’Malley, the UFC bantamweight champion, is a slick boxer for MMA. Just ask Aljamain Sterling, who ran into a trap O’Malley set back in August and ended up on the receiving end of a sniper-like right hand. I’ve watched O’Malley fight with people who know boxing and they’ve come away impressed with his skills. ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas picked O’Malley to beat Sterling when very few did because of his hands.
MMA boxing is different from actual boxing, though. And Garcia is skilled and supremely fast. He would beat O’Malley in the ring. But it would not be as easy as some would imagine. O’Malley fights at 135 pounds, but he’s big for that weight class — especially in height and reach. He has an edge over Garcia in both. The intrigue for the fight, like in most of these crossover matchups, lies in the buildup — and both appeal to Generation Z, younger fans whom they reach through social media. It would be good for boxing.
While this is a fun conversation to have, I do think Ngannou was able to prove that the transition from MMA to boxing might translate better for bigger athletes. The smaller guys in boxing are so incredibly technical and athletic, it’s a tougher learning curve for an MMA fighter coming over. To me, that’s perhaps the biggest lesson learned last weekend.
Real or not: Bam Rodriguez-Sunny Edwards has a chance to win 2023 fight of the year
Coppinger: Real. The two clubhouse leaders for fight of the year were both promoted by Golden Boy: Jaime Munguia-Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Luis Nery-Azat Hovhannisyan.
Munguia scored a 12th-round knockdown to avoid a draw and instead pull out the victory in an all-out super middleweight brawl. Nery stopped Hovhannisyan in the penultimate round of a hellacious back-and-forth battle at 122 pounds.
With just two months remaining in 2023, boxers will be hard-pressed to top those two bouts. What has the best chance to unseat them for the prestigious honor of fight of the year? Just maybe, the Dec. 16 112-pound title unification between Rodriguez and Edwards.
Yes, Edwards is known for his defensive wizardry and hasn’t been in many action fights. But this flyweight summit meeting has the style clash to deliver a classic.
The pressure fighter vs. the boxer often makes for high-level entertainment, and it could be no different here. While Edwards will look to box off the back foot, Bam will aggressively pursue him by cutting off the ring. That’s how the Canelo Alvarez-Gennadiy Golovkin rematch played out, with Alvarez as the defensive boxer.
Of course, the smaller weight classes are no strangers to Fight of the Year, and I believe they can continue that success despite Edwards’ lack of power.
One more fight that has a similar style clash coming up: the Nov. 25 bout between David Benavidez and Demetrius Andrade. For the same reasons listed above, that matchup, too, could deliver high-stakes drama if Andrade is still near his best.
Real or not: Naoya Inoue will become the second men’s boxing two-division undisputed champion
Naoya Inoue remains undefeated with TKO win over Stephen Fulton
Naoya Inoue defeats Stephen Fulton by technical knockout to claim the WBO and WBC junior featherweight titles.
Coppinger: Real. It would be a major upset if “The Monster” was denied in this attempt. After all, Naoya Inoue is arguably the best fighter in the world and currently sits behind only Terence Crawford in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Tapales upset the odds when he earned a split-decision win over Murodjon Akhmadaliev in April to become a unified champion at 122 pounds. The boxing industry was expecting Inoue-Akhmadaliev at the end of the year for supremacy at junior featherweight.
Inoue took care of business when he picked apart Stephen Fulton in July via eight-round TKO. Inoue should do the same to Tapales but in quicker fashion.
Inoue will hold every edge over Tapales and is a generational talent. Tapales, a 31-year-old Filipino, is a solid fighter who also won a title at 118 pounds, but he’ll be no match for Inoue’s blend of ring smarts, power and blazing speed.
Real or not: Anthony Joshua will fight Deontay Wilder in December
Joshua eyes Wilder fight after knocking Helenius out
Anthony Joshua speaks on focusing on an eventual fight with Deontay Wilder after taking out Robert Helenius at the O2 Arena in London.
Parkinson: Not real. There is not enough time to market this fight before the Dec. 23 date promoter Matchroom has mentioned as a possibility for Joshua’s next outing.
It seems likely that Joshua faces another opponent, either on Dec. 23 or in January, in the UK or Abu Dhabi, and then faces Wilder next spring in Saudi Arabia. The undisputed world heavyweight title clash between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk is also scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia, and there were reports earlier this year that the two fights could even take place on the same bill. But after Fury’s performance this past weekend, that date is highly unlikely.
Joshua vs. Wilder is a big fight and the most lucrative available to both former world heavyweight champions until late next year, with current titleholders Fury (WBC) and Usyk (WBA, IBF, WBO) lined up to fight each other next.
The best in the division (and this era) will be fighting each other, but don’t expect either to happen before Christmas. It’s just too soon for everything to get arranged, from the venue to broadcast deals and who walks to the ring first, for a fight of this magnitude.
Joshua has been linked with appearing on the undercard of Conor Benn versus Chris Eubank Jr., but the main event has complications that could push the event back into January at the earliest. If a deal gets done to face Wilder in the next month, Joshua might skip the opportunity to fight in December or January and go straight into the Wilder fight next year.
“Anthony, you’re getting it from the horse’s mouth himself, I’m ready to go,” Wilder said on Instagram recently. “I hope you’re ready, I think you’re ready, let’s make this happen.”
Expect it to happen, but in the second quarter of 2024 … at the earliest.
Parkinson: Real. Taylor has had some epic encounters in the past few years as women’s boxing underwent a monumental transformation.
But beyond Cameron and a rematch with Amanda Serrano, there are limited options for the Irishwoman in the final chapter of her career. At 37, Taylor wants only big fights and experiences at this stage of her career, and a trilogy fight with Cameron gives her that opportunity, possibly at an outdoor stadium in Dublin in the spring or summer of next year.
Croke Park (capacity 82,300) and the Aviva Stadium (capacity 51,700) would be dream venues with a huge crowd for Taylor in 2024. This month’s rematch with Cameron is at the indoor 3Arena in Dublin, where a smaller crowd will be present, just like the first fight in May, which Englishwoman Cameron won by a majority points decision.
Whatever the outcome on Nov. 25, a trilogy fight with undisputed super lightweight champion Cameron or a rematch with American Serrano will be the leading contenders for what could be Taylor’s final fight next year, and an outdoor stadium in Dublin will be explored by promoter Matchroom.