2021 boxing predictions: Canelo or Naoya as pound-for-pound No. 1? Fight of the year?

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

There are more elite and potentially elite boxers competing now than there have been at any point in this century. There are fighters in their primes who show no signs of slowing down and inexperienced boxers who are elbowing their way into contention.

The lightweight division is an example of this. At the top, it’s headlined by Teofimo Lopez, but the division also includes Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia.

It’s not a stretch to consider that any of those four will be Top 10 pound-for-pound fighters, and Haney has the kind of potential that could make him the pound-for-pound best in the world.

It’s not just the lightweights, though. Up-and-down the weight classes, there are boxers who provide hope that 2021 could be the year that boxing turns a corner.

Those of us following the sport religiously understand that for all of the doomsday, boxing is dead talk, there is real, legitimate talent out there and a lot of good things going on.

The sport is not without problems, though, and the biggest is getting everyone on the same page and working together to make the biggest fights.

But it’s early in the year and it’s a time for optimism. So here are some predictions for how 2021 may play out.

Will Canelo Alvarez be replaced with Naoya Inoue at the top of pound-for-pound lists in 2021?
Will Canelo Alvarez be replaced with Naoya Inoue at the top of pound-for-pound lists in 2021?

Who will be P4P No. 1 on Jan. 1, 2022?

Canelo Alvarez is currently the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, and it’s no stretch to believe that he could hold that mantle throughout 2021, as well.

He figures to have several intriguing fights which, if he wins them, would enable him to keep that spot.

As good as Alvarez is, though, there is one fighter with the ability to surpass him even if the Mexican superstar goes 2-0 or 3-0 in 2021.

Bantamweight Naoya Inoue may be the most complete fighter in the world and he has such a dynamic skill set that it’s hard to conceive of him losing in the near future. He’s fast, powerful, tough and smart.

He’s ranked No. 3 on the Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound list at the moment, and so doesn’t have far to go. Inoue has the kind of jaw-dropping ability that it’s not inconceivable to believe he could leapfrog Alvarez and slide into that top spot even if Alvarez continues to win.

Fight of the Year in 2021

If you saw their first fight in 2012, I can guarantee what you will be doing on March 13, 2021: Sitting in front of a television or a computer or a tablet or a mobile phone, because that’s the date that DAZN will stream the rematch between Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada.

Gonzalez won a unanimous decision on Nov. 17, 2012, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in a display of his tremendous talent.

Estrada was good then; it’s fair to say he’s excellent now. I think this is the easy leader for 2021 Fight of the Year.

Fighter of the Year in 2021

My first inclination was to go with Shakur Stevenson, a dynamic talent who is only getting better each time out. But I’m not sure Stevenson is going to get the fights he needs to get to that point.

One fighter who will, though, is one of his Top Rank stablemates.

Miguel Berchelt will begin 2021 next month with a WBC super featherweight title defense against Oscar Valdez. If he wins that — which I suspect he will — it’s going to set him up for several other big fights.

He could meet IBF champion Jamel Herring in a unification, and he could even jump to lightweight to fight one of the elites there.

Imagine this scenario for a second: Berchelt defeats both Valdez and Herring and is a unified super featherweight champion. At super lightweight, Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez will meet early this year for the undisputed title.

Teofimo Lopez could well move up to 140 to challenge the winner, which would then make a fight between Berchelt and Haney possible for a lightweight title at 135.

Berchelt’s got the fan-pleasing style to get attention, as well as the potential opponents, so look at him as your early choice for 2021 Fighter of the Year.

Unknown fighter who makes a name for himself

Remember the name Bektemir Melikuziev. He’ll fight Sergey Kovalev on Jan. 30, and chances are you’ll know him a lot better after that fight.

He’s only 6-0 with five knockouts, but if you want to pick a guy who is widely unknown at the start of the year who will have fans talking about him a lot by the end of the year, you can do worse than to choose Melikuziev.

There are a lot of good fights out there for him and he’s got a chance to have a big year.

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