Big boxing questions: Is Canelo-GGG the best fight this fall? Can Danny Garcia thrive at 154 pounds?

Sports

The boxing schedule is filling up quickly for the second half of the year and already includes a number of interesting matchups.

Anthony Joshua, with Robert Garcia now in his corner, is facing Oleksandr Usyk on Aug. 20 in a rematch for three heavyweight world titles. Is that fight a better matchup than Canelo Alvarez’s trilogy fight with Gennadiy Golovkin?

The rest of the heavyweight division will be watching, including Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who returned to the ring last month after a lengthy suspension for testing positive for PEDs. Is he ready to fight for a world title? Or is young Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson going to be first in collecting a belt?

There are two tremendous women’s bouts on the same card on Sept. 10 when Claressa Shields faces Savannah Marshall — the only fighter to defeat Shields as an amateur in 2012 — for the undisputed middleweight championship, and junior lightweight Mikaela Mayer takes on Alycia Baumgardner in a three-title unification bout. Which one is the better matchup?

This Saturday, Danny Garcia returns to the ring. He has won titles in two divisions, but now he’s moving up again to try his luck at junior middleweight. Is he legit at 154 pounds?

Junior middleweight blue-chip prospect Xander Zayas is getting closer to a title fight, but can he become the next face of Puerto Rican boxing and carry that banner like Hall of Famers Miguel Cotto and Felix Trinidad did before him?

Mike Coppinger, Nick Parkinson, Ben Baby and Michael Rothstein answer these questions and more.

I’ll put my money on: Gennadiy Golovkin over Canelo Alvarez or Anthony Joshua over Oleksandr Usyk?

While backing Joshua to dramatically improve and win back the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles in the rematch against Usyk might be shrewder than investing in Golovkin to beat Alvarez, you should not assume a Joshua win on Aug. 20 is a safe bet.

Losses to Andy Ruiz Jr. (2019) and Usyk (2021) exposed limitations in Joshua’s game; however, the English boxer is still in his prime at 32 with plenty more in the tank than 40-year-old Golovkin.

Golovkin, of Kazakhstan but based in California, could defy his recent less formidable form and advancing age. He is driven by what he sees as a sense of injustice about the results of the first two fights with his Mexican rival. Other boxers have won big title fights after 40 — most famously Bernard Hopkins — and nobody could accuse Golovkin of not living the life of a boxer. Alvarez’s points loss to Dmitry Bivol in May in a light heavyweight title fight has also added intrigue to the third fight.

But back at super middleweight, a weight class more natural to him, Alvarez’s movement and versatility might be too much for Golovkin, who has looked slower in recent fights. GGG (42-1-1, 37 KOs) was rarely troubled in his first reign as middleweight champion but has shown signs of a decline in two of his past three fights. There was a close, unanimous decision win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko to capture the IBF middleweight title in October 2019, and Golovkin cannot argue how hard that was. Golovkin’s ninth-round stoppage of Ryota Murata in April was exciting and showed he can still finish, but the Kazakh was troubled by the Japanese boxer’s body shots early on in his first fight in 16 months.

After a controversial split draw in 2017, then a majority decision win for Alvarez a year later, Golovkin will also be stepping up a weight class on Sept. 17 in a bid for all four titles. Alvarez has been operating at super middleweight or light heavyweight for the past three years and will enter the ring at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas more accustomed to the weight after being twice as active as Golovkin in the past two years.

Perhaps Golovkin’s best chance of victory is a KO — remember, he was once the most feared puncher in boxing after he racked up 23 consecutive knockout wins until Daniel Jacobs took him to a decision in 2017.

Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) is also a big puncher and likely will be more aggressive in his rematch with Usyk. Joshua is already in the Middle East, a month before the fight, which indicates how seriously he is taking the task ahead of him. Defeat would wreck Joshua’s chances for a dream fight against Tyson Fury, the WBC champion, for all the belts, and much depends on Joshua’s psyche.

Joshua boxed cautiously against Ruiz in a rematch, which he won on points to reclaim the belts, but produced a clinical finish of Kubrat Pulev before losing a clear decision to Usyk in September last year. There is a danger in Joshua solely chasing the knockout win, but expect him to be more aggressive in the rematch now that he is working with Garcia.

The benefit of working with the American cornerman will have to be quick in revealing itself if Joshua is to reverse the tide of the first fight. But that is perhaps more likely than Golovkin reversing the effects of advancing years, especially against someone as formidable as Alvarez, who’s eight years younger and arguably still the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. — Parkinson


Who will challenge for a heavyweight title first? Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller or Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson?

In a battle between two “Big Babies,” Miller gets the edge. Between the two of them, he’s the only one currently ranked by any of the major sanctioning bodies (No. 14 among the WBA’s heavyweights). He also has a more extensive record (25-0, 21 KOs) and was scheduled to fight Anthony Joshua in 2019 for three of the four major belts.

The reason that fight was nixed explains why this comparison to Anderson (11-0, 11 KOs) is even close. Miller tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2019 and received a six-month suspension from the WBA. Another positive test forced the Nevada State Athletic Commission to suspend Miller for two years.

This isn’t to debate whether Miller cheated or not. Despite his denials, the positive tests in two different states speak for themselves.

But frankly, there just aren’t a lot of marketable heavyweights who can be serviceable opponents for the top guys in the division. Miller presents a higher reward at a lower risk than Anderson, a prospect who has flashed potential but is still fairly unknown. — Baby


Can Danny Garcia win a title at 154 pounds?

Although Garcia did capture a title at 147 pounds following a stellar run at 140, he never was able to defeat a top welterweight in three tries.

He came close in title fights with Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter, but he wasn’t remotely competitive against Errol Spence Jr. Garcia hasn’t competed since that December 2020 loss. He returns on Saturday against Jose Benavidez Jr. in his debut at 154 pounds.

The 34-year-old will be undersized at junior middleweight, and will no doubt lose even more of the crushing power that lifted him to career-defining wins over Amir Khan and Lucas Matthysse at junior welterweight. His impeccable timing and ability to find counterpunching openings will be more vital than ever.

Naturally, Saturday’s fight should tell us plenty about Garcia’s fitness to compete for a title in a third weight class. But, before he even steps into the ring, it’s hard to envision Garcia notching a win over fellow PBC fighter Jermell Charlo, who holds all four belts in the division.

Surely, one or more of those titles will become vacant sooner than later. Could Garcia, perhaps, defeat another PBC boxer like Sebastian Fundora? He’ll have to impress against Benavidez for anyone to take him seriously at junior middleweight. — Coppinger


Better matchup: Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall or Mikaela Mayer vs. Alycia Baumgardner?

Honestly the two matchups are very, very similar — an established fighter in the sport with multiple belts against an upstart power puncher with one belt in a unification fight. Plus, the dislike between Shields and Marshall, and Mayer and Baumgardner, is real and not manufactured.

So to say one is a “better” matchup than the other is difficult. But Shields-Marshall is probably the more intriguing fight of the two because Marshall has stopped every fighter she has faced since 2018 — although three of those stoppages came against fighters who were under-.500 and another opponent, Daniele Bastieri, was in her third career fight. While Shields hasn’t knocked fighters out, her level of competition has been in a different stratosphere. Shields has never fought an under-.500 fighter in her career and has given six fighters (in her 12 career fights) their first loss. In the case of Franchon Crews-Dezurn, Christina Hammer, Marie-Eve Dicaire and Ema Kozin, Shields provided the only loss of her opponent’s career.

And yet this might be the most intriguing fight Shields has taken because of the history. Marshall is the only person to beat her as a boxer, having done so as an amateur in the 2012 women’s world championships. It was Shields’ only loss as an amateur in 65 fights. That makes this matchup the more interesting one between the two.

Mayer-Baumgardner has its own storylines — and the winner potentially has a line on some big-time fights down the road, too. But Shields-Marshall is the main event and because of what it could represent is the more intriguing of two similar fights on what should be a big night for women’s boxing. — Rothstein


Is Xander Zayas on his way to becoming the next Puerto Rican superstar?

If anyone is going to carry the proverbial torch Felix Trinidad passed on to Miguel Cotto as the biggest star from the island, Zayas feels like the best bet.

Zayas lights up rooms and is incredibly fan friendly in the ring. Through 13 pro fights, he has impressed with his power and combinations. He doesn’t turn 20 until September and is still incredibly raw.

Zayas will have to shore up his defense as the competition stiffens and prove he has more layers to his game. He hasn’t faced anyone who can come close to testing him yet, so it’s too soon to say what heights Zayas will reach.

That said, he’s certainly on the right track, and if he continues to progress, it’s possible he’ll challenge for a title in 2024. — Coppinger

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