ON the back of a tough year for every sport, our star columnist CARL FRAMPTON and boxing correspondent DAVID KELLY make their predictions for an exciting 2021, which will hopefully see the return of sell-out crowds to the sport.
Teofimo Lopez: Lopez is well known within boxing circles and 2020 was his breakout year because of his victory over Vasyl Lomachenko, but over the next 12 months he could become an absolute superstar. There are many big fights that could be made and near the end of the year I would love to see him move up to light-welterweight. Josh Taylor will face Jose Ramirez for the four belts and then the winner meets Jack Catterall. Whoever wins that could face Lopez in a massive battle.
Gervonta Davis: Davis has been a big name for a while in boxing and the victory over Leo Santa Cruz raised his profile even more, though he was expected to win. This year he can become a huge star if the right fights are made. Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia and Vasyl Lomachenko can all provide the platform for him to really take off.
Naya Inoue: WBA and IBF bantamweight champion Inoue made the smart move of linking up with Bob Arum in America so he now has the base to become a massive star. Arum can deliver the unification fights at bantam and also push him towards world honours at super-bantam and featherweight. A fight we would all love to see at bantamweight is Inoue against John Riel Casimero. Inoue has the ability and charisma to be a global star.
Errol Spence: Welterweight kingpin Spence proved his class once again at the end of 2020 with his win over Danny Garcia on his return to the ring after a serious car crash and now Spence can look ahead to a very exciting 2021. Everyone in the sport wants to see him face Terence Crawford to decide who is the undisputed 10st 7lb No.1 but before that don’t be surprised if he faces WBA champion Manny Pacquiao. That would then lead to a Crawford clash with all the belts on the line.
Teofimo Lopez: At just 23, Teofimo Lopez is one of boxing’s stars on the back of his win over Vasyl Lomachenko, and there is no reason why he cannot become an even bigger name this year. Holder of the WBO, IBF and WBA titles, a unification fight with Devin Haney, who has the WBC belt, would be the perfect way to enhance his standing even further. Haney’s father and trainer has already called for the fight. A step up to light-welterweight before the end of the year would not be a surprise and he will at some point be a two-weight champion. Don’t rule out a lightweight rematch with Loma.
Josh Taylor: Due to the pandemic, 2020 was essentially a wash-out for Taylor, who won the World Boxing Super Series in 2019 when he defeated Regis Prograis. But over the next 12 months he can reach for that standard again and a unification clash with Jose Ramirez for all four belts seems the starting point. I expect Taylor to become undisputed champion and then defeat Jack Catterall in an all-British dust-up and be a global star.
Terence Crawford v Errol Spence: Crawford against Spence is an amazing welterweight fight and one that every fight fan hopes will not fall by the wayside. Crawford is promoted by Bob Arum and Spence is with Al Haymon’s PBC set-up so that could be a stumbling block. But, for the good of the sport, I really hope that nothing will stand in the way of it happening. The way Spence dealt with Danny Garcia was fantastic, considering he was lucky to survive the car crash he was involved in never mind lace up a pair of gloves again. Crawford is a great switch hitter, he’s as comfortable at southpaw as he is boxing orthodox. At this point, both men would knock out Manny Pacquiao. For me, it’s the No.1 dream fight for 2021.
Canelo Alvarez v Artur Beterbiev: Canelo proved he is the super-middleweight king with his victory over Callum Smith, so the next big challenge has to be against Beterbiev. I’ve loved watching Beterbiev since his amateur days — the guy is a real beast with vicious power. But, as we saw in the Callum Johnson fight, he can be hurt, though he got off the floor to win. They say Canelo is 5ft 9in but I’ve stood beside him and he only looks around 5ft 7in so he naturally has to be careful in who he picks as he goes up the weights. He beat a faded Sergey Kovalev at light-heavy but Beterbiev would be a mammoth challenge — and another dream fight for 2021.
Tyson Fury v Anthony Joshua: We’ve all been wanting to see Fury take on Joshua for a number of years and while Spence-Crawford is my No.1 fight for 2021, this one would be a close runner-up. Whereas with Spence-Crawford opinion is split down the middle, it does seem at the moment that most in the boxing business believe Fury will be the favourite. I would have him as the slight favourite but my mind could change nearer the time of the fight. Both men have huge followings and the lead-up to the fight will be incredible. It’s a real blockbuster of a fight with all the heavyweight belts on the line.
Tyrone McKenna v Lewis Ritson: Tyrone McKenna finished the year with a disappointing, narrow defeat to Ohara Davies in the Final of the Golden Contract, but the Belfast man could bounce right back with a battle against WBA intercontinental light-welterweight champion Lewis Ritson. McKenna insists he doesn’t want to slip back to non-title bouts and a fight with Englishman Ritson would be one for all fans to savour as their styles would guarantee an all-action clash from the opening bell.
James Tennyson v Sean McComb: James Tennyson looks like he is being pushed towards the world scene and at this point is naturally further up the lightweight ladder than fellow Belfast man Sean McComb, who this month fights for the Commonwealth title. But as the year unfolds, there is every chance that McComb, with the right opportunities, will have reached the same point as he is being moved very quickly. It would be an ideal way to finish off 2021 with a huge fight between two Belfast men in the SSE Arena.
Anthony Cacace v Jo Jo Diaz: Anthony Cacace is one of the most naturally talented Irish fighters of the past 25 years and it would be a shame if he never had the chance to fight for a world title. IBF super-featherweight champion Jo Jo Diaz would be an ideal target for Cacace, who needs some momentum before taking on such a challenge. The Belfast man has to get past Leon Woodstock in a defence of his British title and then there is the possibility of a fight with world-ranked Archie Sharp. Before year’s end, a meeting with Diaz would make for a perfect 12 months.
Taylor-made duel: The Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez undisputed world light-welterweight title fight happens and Jack Catterall gets the winner after waiting a lifetime to box for the Championship. An all-British clash between my two friends would be special.
A Herr-raising win: For me to become a three-weight world champion with a win over Jamel Herring. It would be an incredible achievement and something I couldn't have dreamed about when I turned professional.
Promote big fights: 2020 saw a bit more of the top promoters working together but it needs to increase for the sake of the sport, particularly during a pandemic. Bob Arum, Frank Warren, Eddie Hearn and Al Haymon can make a greater effort to deliver the big pay days for their fighters and the bouts fans want to see.
In Fra homecoming: Carl Frampton to face WBO world super-featherweight champion Jamel Herring in Belfast’s SSE Arena with 2,000 fans allowed in under the necessary Covid restrictions. A win for Frampton and he rides off into the sunset.
Tommy rules world: Tommy McCarthy to make a successful defence of his European cruiserweight title before going on to defeat WBA world champion Arsen Goulamirian in Belfast — hopefully in front of a packed crowd.
Conlan's big night: Michael Conlan to finally land his shot at the WBO world super-bantamweight title in Belfast this summer before a big crowd. Conlan will face the winner of the bout between champion Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton on January 23. Expect him to have a decent test in March and then it’s full steam ahead for the title shot.
Joshua Buatsi: Buatsi is someone that I have followed closely from the moment he got a bronze medal at the Olympics. In 2021 I think the time has arrived for him to push for world title glory. He has always had a good style for the pro game and I think he is developing, even if he looked a little rusty — due to the impact of the pandemic — in his last fight. I want to see him put in at the deep end because I really believe he can more than hold his own. He can be a world champion this year.
James Tennyson: Tennyson has established himself as a hard-hitting lightweight in 2020 and over the next 12 months I expect Eddie Hearn to hand him some very exciting challenges. A meeting with former world champion Jorge Linares has already been mentioned and that would certainly be a tasty way for him to open up the coming year. A world title opportunity could also come his way and he certainly has the power to trouble anyone he faces at lightweight.
Aidan for Tokyo: Aidan Walsh to qualify for the Olympics and pick up a medal in the Tokyo Games. I remember Aidan as a small boy when me and Paddy Barnes took him round the ring in the Holy Family club. He has developed into a very good boxer and I believe he has a real shot at bringing home a medal from Tokyo. He’s a slick boxer who has made big improvements since the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and if he could bring home an Olympic medal that would be fantastic.
Fury Josh too good: The heavyweight blockbuster between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua looks increasingly likely to happen this year — and we may even be treated to two battles between the British heavyweights. The build-up to the fight will be bigger than anything else the United Kingdom has ever seen with opinions coming in from all directions, so I will get in first with my prediction that Fury will clinch victory by knockout inside nine rounds.