Last July, Showtime dropped a grenade in the just rippling lake of pandemic era boxing with a slate of mostly excellent fights meant to carry through the rest of 2020. Rather than announce a fight at a time, Showtime let fans and subscribers know exactly what to expect for a sustained period of time and left the ball in the court of the rest of boxing’s broadcast and streaming arms to deliver their goods.
Every fight didn’t come off but enough did that it meant a rebound for a network that had appeared to slip a bit in 2019. It worked so well Showtime has done it again, if in a now more fluid environment.
One week ago, the network stamped their intentions with nine main events to carry the network through September. It leaves enough room for a few key players to appear again on a fall slate and even has some internal building blocks amounting to an informal tournament in one of boxing’s most competitive weight classes.
Put it all together and it gives fans one of the easiest thrills they can ask for: something to anticipate. Combined with ESPN’s excellent upcoming Joshua Taylor-Jose Ramirez clash, and DAZN’s trio of Saul Alvarez-Billy Joe Saunders, Devin Haney-Jorge Linares, and Ryan Garcia-Javier Fortuna, boxing’s march through the summer looks like a lot of fun.
The sheer volume of fights announced all at once though allows for a look at the package as a whole. Every fight on the Showtime slate isn’t a gem. Few full schedules ever are. However, as was the case last July, this sort of calendar allows a moment to reflect on which dates to circle well in advance. From one corner, here are thoughts on the five best main events on tap.
1 - Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano
While the teams of and including Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury continue to make announcements about making announcements, and Errol Spence-Terence Crawford remains about as hypothetical as either versus Tommy Hearns in his prime, two signed fights stand out as the best on tap in boxing right now. The first, already mentioned, will pit Taylor against Ramirez for the four major straps in May at 140 lbs.
The other is this one.
Jr. middleweight has had single champions or lineal kings over the years but, since the birth of the WBO, no one has ever snagged all four alphabet straps at once. The round robin at 154 over the last half decade or so culminates here. Charlo (34-1, 18 KO) has the WBC, WBA, and IBF belts. Castano (17-0-1, 12 KO) grabbed the WBO belt in his last start. Charlo is a precise, economical battler who has found his knockout groove. Castano is a crafty, volume puncher whose style threatens to build a lead and put heat on Charlo. Both are in their prime.
It’s the best versus the best in one of boxing’s best weight classes. July 17th can’t get here soon enough
2 - Gervonta Davis vs. Mario Barrios
Silly belts don’t make bad fights. One can carry on about how the WBA sub-title of Mario Barrios isn’t the real thing at Jr. welterweight and that’s fine. The winner of Taylor-Ramirez will be the leader of the pack in this weight class but does anyone think they won’t be watching to see how this one shakes out?
Everyone assuming Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23 KO) won’t stick around at Jr. welterweight if he wins might be jumping to conclusions. Davis has already had a bit of banter with Taylor in social media. If Davis proves he can handle this weight, it might be where the most money is. Lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez is likely going to be a Jr. welterweight sooner than later and the Taylor-Ramirez winner’s four belts is a hell of a lure for anyone to cross the street.
Until this one happens on June 26th, the lone pay-per-view on the Showtime docket, Davis winning remains an if. For all his drawing power, Davis’s resume of quality wins is still limited. Barrios (26-0, 17 KO) isn’t a deeply proven commodity yet but Barrios won’t ever have a better chance to explode on the scene. Barrios is considerably taller and longer, and Barrios has some pop. This is a calculated risk from Team Davis, but the risk is real and the fight has tremendous potential.
3 - Stephen Fulton vs. the winner of Luis Nery-Brandon Figueroa
Consider this a cheat. In order to get to this one, we’ll need a winner in the May 15th clash between the WBC titlist Nery (31-0, 24 KO) and Figueroa (21-0-1, 16 KO). Nery hasn’t looked as good at Jr. featherweight as he did at bantamweight yet. If he’s what he looked like he could be at bantamweight before scale and tainted meat issues blemished his reputation, Nery has to deliver here. Figueroa is a fun TV fighter but if he’s going to be more than that a win over Nery is a must. Regardless of who wins, what waits on September 11th will be the WBO titlist Fulton (19-0, 8 KO). As was the case in the first two fights on this list, everyone involved in this threesome is in their physical prime. Half of the major waist-ready real estate will settle on one man in the fall with Muradjon Ajhmadaliev holding the primary WBA and IBF titles. Assume people will call for what logically remains. This whole four-belt winning thing might be on the verge of a trend.
4 - Nordine Oubaali vs. Nonito Donaire
This one is rescheduled from last year, a COVID scratch that remains intriguing. Bantamweight was red hot coming off the WBSS and will heat up again in short order. Donaire (40-6, 26 KO) would probably be interested in a rematch with WBA/IBF titlist Naoya Inoue but he can’t get there without a win here and time is not on the aging Donaire’s side. The WBC titlist Oubaali (17-0, 12 KO) isn’t young for bantamweight either and has to make every round count. Oubaali already has a win over Inoue’s brother so that story would write itself. They aren’t both peak but this looks like a fascinating crossroads clash.
Here’s something extra to keep in mind for those who like the political intrigues of the sport.
Showtime is investing quite a bit at bantamweight and Jr. featherweight right now and can do a lot of business without the Top Rank-affiliated Inoue, no matter the pound-for-pound regard for the Japanese knockout artist. The winner of this May 29th clash could easily see the winner of the last fight on this list.
5 - Johnriel Casimero-Guillermo Rigondeaux
While Casimero (30-4, 21 KO) is the WBO bantamweight titlist and a three-division beltholder for his career, he hasn’t always had the accolades of some of the peers around him in an era with Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, and Juan Francisco Estrada. A chance at Inoue fell victim to COVID but he’s got a chance here to end a career sure to be debated for what could have been for years. The Cult of Rigo will surely rise one last time for the Cuban maestro who was basically avoided by an entire generation at Jr. featherweight after his upset of Donaire in 2013 for the lineal crown at that weight. It is a crown Rigondeaux (20-1, 13 KO) has never been defeated for even as he now competes four pounds lighter. How wild would it be if Rigondeaux pulled the upset on August 14th and Donaire defeated Oubaali? Could fall 2021 feature a senior statesman unification rematch at bantamweight? Stranger things have happened. Casimero can sometimes be a slow starter but he punches like hell. Rigondeaux is most vulnerable early. This one isn’t easy to handicap.
Throw in appearances from David Benavidez, Jermall Charlo, and the talented Chris Colbert and Showtime has something for everyone ready to go for the next five months. When does the announcement for October come?
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com