Sports

Real or Not: Can Canelo Alvarez KO his way to undisputed champion? Is Andy Ruiz Jr. all the way back?

Former heavyweight world titleholder Andy Ruiz Jr. and Joseph Parker got up from the canvas to score impressive victories over Chris Arreola and Dereck Chisora, respectively, on Saturday. But are they the best heavyweights after champions Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua?

Canelo Alvarez, who owns the WBC and WBA super middleweight titles, is on his way to unifying the division. He faces WBO titlist Billy Joe Saunders on Saturday, and if Alvarez wins, the plan is for him to face IBF titleholder Caleb Plant in September for all of the four major belts. While Alvarez will be favorite in both fights, can he score KOs over this kind of competition? As dominant as Alvarez has been, he has only three stoppage victories in his past eight fights.

Women’s lightweight undisputed champion Katie Taylor defended her belts in a great fight against Natasha Jonas, and while there are some other good fights for her at 135 pounds, is it time for Taylor to look for bigger challenges at 140?

How about light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol? Does he have a future at 175, with the other champions being with a different promoter?

Vasiliy Lomachenko picked a tough opponent in Masayoshi Nakatani for his return to the ring. Nakatani, who is a very tall fighter for the division at 5-foot-11½ and a 71-inch reach, gave the 5-8 Teofimo Lopez some problems when they met in 2019. Lopez defeated Lomachenko, who is 5-7, in October. Can Lomachenko set up a title fight with a win against Nakatani? And can he win a title again?

Nick Parkinson, Ben Baby and Michael Rothstein share their thoughts on these topics and more.

Real or Not: Andy Ruiz Jr. and Joseph Parker are the best heavyweight outside of Fury and Joshua

Parkinson: Not real. Deontay Wilder, Oleksandr Usyk, Dillian Whyte and perhaps even Joe Joyce should all be considered above Parker and Ruiz, who have more to do to deserve being considered as the best of the rest.

Parker was floored in the opening 10 seconds by Chisora on Saturday and failed to sustain his good work once he regained his composure in the middle rounds. Parker can be happy with the second half of the fight, but he admits he was disappointing against Junior Fa in February. Chisora, at 37, is still entertaining but was well beaten by Usyk in October and has now lost 11 fights in his career and is 3-3 in his past six bouts.

Ruiz was out of shape and consequently outpointed by Joshua in their rematch in his previous fight (December 2019), while Arreola ceased being a serious threat a few years ago when he was beaten by Wilder. Was Ruiz in better shape on Saturday? Sure. But Ruiz was shaky at times after he too was knocked down, before getting his feet underneath him and outfighting Arreola the rest of the way.

Ruiz and Parker are former world champions whose careers have more big fights in them, but they both have more work to do to set up another title shot and be considered the top heavyweight contender.


Real or Not: Canelo Alvarez will score KOs of Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant to unify the 168-pound division before the end of the year

Rothstein: Not real. Does Canelo Alvarez beat Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant? Yes, if he fights both of them this year he will defeat both of them. But beating them and knocking them both out are two entirely different things. So yes, Alvarez beats both fighters and does it this year, but no, both are not by knockout.

Alvarez went to the scorecards with Callum Smith, Daniel Jacobs and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (beyond Gennadiy Golovkin, twice) in fights over the past few years. And neither Plant nor Saunders has lost a fight yet. So to think Alvarez wins both by knockout just feels like a little bit of a stretch at this point.

Now the second part of this: When does it happen? As long as Alvarez gets out of the Saunders fight without significant injury, it’s easy to see the Plant fight happening during Mexican Independence Day weekend in September. Fans are being allowed back into arenas in the United States, and it’s a show that would sell, both on television and in the arena. So scheduling that in the fall would make a bunch of sense. Boxing doesn’t always make sense, but the money should be able to match up here, provided everything else goes in that direction.


Real or Not: Katie Taylor will move up in weight and dominate the 140-pound division

Parkinson: Real — to a point. Saturday’s close fight with Natasha Jonas, in defense of Taylor’s lightweight titles, highlights the danger for the Irishwoman in stepping up a division to face one of the stronger champions when she can be given tough fights at her natural lightweight division.

Taylor has already won a world title at 140 pounds when she stepped up from lightweight to defeat Christina Linardatou, of Greece, for the WBO belt in November 2019.

And she can do it again. There are good fights at junior welterweight to be made against England’s Chantelle Cameron and American Mary McGee, the WBC and IBF champions, respectively.

Taylor is big enough and good enough to win titles at 140 pounds, and a rematch with undisputed welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill is also an appealing fight for promoters, broadcasters and fans. It would be better for Taylor if the McCaskill rematch took place at 140 pounds.

But there is a point where going up through the weight classes becomes a danger for Taylor, and going to 154 pounds (junior middleweight) to face Claressa Shields is surely that point. Shields, of the U.S., and Ireland’s Taylor have each held the No. 1 spot in the ESPN women’s pound-for-pound rankings over the past 12 months, but a clash between the two would leave Taylor with a massive size disadvantage.


Real or Not: Vasiliy Lomachenko will be a world champion at lightweight again

Baby: Real. Lomachenko might have lost his belts to Teofimo Lopez, but the performance didn’t suggest that he can’t win a title at 135 pounds again. If anything, Lomachenko’s loss seemed like a miscalculation that wasn’t rectified until it was too late. Lomachenko’s title chances will likely hinge on what happens with Lopez, since a rematch is currently off the table. If Lopez relinquishes one of the belts, Lomachenko more than deserves a crack at it. Lomachenko can also win a lightweight title if he fights WBC titleholder Devin Haney before Lopez does.

Boxing fans and promoters have to get over the recent phenomenon that a loss ruins a great fighter. It’s a byproduct of Floyd Mayweather’s reign at welterweight, in which his record was among his most marketable attributes. Lomachenko overcame an early loss against Orlando Salido to be considered one of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters. And yes, there are some exciting young names in the division, such as Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia. But aside from Lopez, nobody has done anything to show they can beat someone of Lomachenko’s caliber.


Real or Not: Dmitry Bivol doesn’t have a future at light heavyweight

Parkinson: Not real. If Bivol keeps hold of his light heavyweight title, there is a real chance of a fight to become undisputed world champion next year.

A clash against fellow Russian Artur Beterbiev, to unify the titles at light heavyweight, is too big a fight for promoters’ differences to get in the way. It’s a fight that has appeal beyond the champions’ native Russia and has been talked about for years. We might not get it next, but rival promoters can work together if the fight is big enough (as they are with Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury at heavyweight).

Bivol (18-0, 11 KOs), 30, the WBA titlist, said after comfortably outpointing Craig Richards in Manchester, England, on Saturday: “I want unification fights, I still want them. I haven’t had a chance to fight for another belt; this is why I defend my belt. I believe I can become the undisputed world champion one day.”

Montreal-based Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs), 36, the WBC and IBF titlist, who picked up a 10th-round TKO win over Adam Deines in March, is more likely to be matched against the other world light heavyweight champion, American Joe Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), who claimed the WBO belt with a decision win over Maxim Vlasov last month. Beterbiev and Smith are both promoted by Top Rank, and whoever wins that fight makes a date against Bivol for all four major belts a possibility.

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