Matt Christie examines and rates the best 20 fights that have already been confirmed for 2022
20. CHRIS JENKINS vs JULIUS INDONGO
February 5. Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff. BOXXER
Enterprising matchmaking pits Welshman Jenkins with fading Namibian southpaw Indongo in a welterweight tussle scheduled for 10. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Indongo was scrapping with Terence Crawford for all the super-lightweight baubles in 2017, but he’s lost three times, all by KO, since that fight began. Where the winner goes is anyone’s guess but presuming, or more accurately, hoping, that Indongo isn’t completely shot, this one should entertain.
19. EDGAR BERLANGA vs STEVE ROLLS
March 19. Madison Square Garden, NY. Top Rank
This super-middleweight 10-rounder could be interesting. Most of you will know Berlanga as the prospect who won his first 16 bouts via first round stoppage only to then not look nearly as impressive when forced to go eight and 10 rounds in his next two bouts. Rolls, who was stopped in four rounds by Gennady Golovkin in 2019, is decent at this level and should tell us a bit more about Berlanga’s real potential.
18. TERRI HARPER vs HEATHER HARDY
March 12. Nottingham Arena. Matchroom
Harper makes her return just four months after being knocked into a standing slumber by Alycia Baumgardner in November. She’s not coming back with an easy touch, either. She moves up to lightweight to take on Brooklyn’s Heather Hardy, a former belt-holder at featherweight. But at 39, the American appears to be in decline and has lost her last two – albeit in good company to Amanda Serrano and Jessica Camara. Regardless, this is solid matchmaking.
17. ROBEISY RAMÍREZ vs ERIC DONOVAN
March 26. The Hydro, Glasgow. Top Rank/BOXXER
One for the aficionados. Since the Cuban Ramírez lost his four-round debut to Adan Gonzales – which may have been upset of the year if Andy Ruiz hadn’t stunned Anthony Joshua two months before – the former amateur standout has won eight in a row and could break the featherweight Top 10 this year. Ireland’s Donovan, once a vested star in his own right, gets maybe his last chance, at 36, to show the world what he can really do.
16. CLARESSA SHIELDS vs EMA KOZIN
February 5. Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff. BOXXER
World middleweight champion Shields returns to the UK for her first competitive action since winning gold at London 2012. Someone of “T-Rex’s” ability should perhaps have figured higher in this list, but she’ll be a huge favourite to turn back the challenge of the talented but comparatively untested Kozin. Therefore, we expect this to be fairly one-sided. However, this is about building for the future, with next opponent (fingers crossed) Savannah Marshall set to be ringside.
15. VERGIL ORTIZ vs MICHAEL McKINSON
March 19. USA venue, TBC. Matchroom
You wait and wait for a British opponent to come along and then suddenly Vergil Ortiz and a big fight in America comes along instead. You can bank on McKinson to head into this fight with excitement, ambition and confidence but he’ll nonetheless be a sizeable underdog against Ortiz. The American, ranked fourth at welterweight by BN, is on an 18-0 (18) hot streak and been fighting at a higher level. Nonetheless, there’s something about this leftfield contest that intrigues.
14. JOSÉ RAMÍREZ vs JOSÉ PEDRAZA
March 4. Save Mart Arena, Fresno. Top Rank
Ramírez returns one week after last year’s rival, and conqueror, Josh Taylor is scheduled to meet Jack Catterall. Ramírez may have lost to Taylor but it was a close fight and he arguably showed more in those 12 rounds, particularly in the manner he rallied after being dropped, than in any of his previous 26 bouts. Pedraza is a world class opponent who has been in form since losing to Jose Zepeda in 2019. Again, admirable matchmaking.
13. KEITH THURMAN vs MARIO BARRIOS
February 5. Michelob Ultra Arena, Las Vegas. TGB Promotions
On a bill that also features Léo Santa Cruz and Luis Nery, “One Time” Thurman, now 33, will attempt to salvage what’s left of his once glittering career against Texan tough man Barrios. This will only be the injury-ravaged Thurman’s third fight since March 2017 and his first in two-and-a-half years. He has it all to prove. Barrios pushed Gervonta Davis last year before being stopped in 11 and is far from a straightforward comeback opponent.
12. LAWRENCE OKOLIE vs MICHEŁ CIEŚLAK
February 27. O2 Arena. Matchroom
With cruiserweight king Mairis Breidis busying himself by stalking Jake Paul on social media, number one-ranked Okolie focuses on a real fight. Poland’s Cieślak is ranked sixth and should provide the belt-holder with his biggest test since he became a key player at world class. Okolie – targeting a move to heavyweight – needs competitive rounds and should get at least a few of them here. Nice touch that this will be staged on a Sunday evening, too.
11. CHRIS COLBERT vs ROGER GUTIÉRREZ
February 26. Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas. TGB Promotions
In recent years, Brooklyn’s very promising Colbert – who decided against taking his place in the 2016 Olympic trials because of “too much politics” in amateur boxing – has been morphing from prospect to contender. Now ranked eighth at super-featherweight, Colbert takes on Venezuela’s Roger Gutiérrez who earned his No. 3 ranking with two back-to-back wins over René Alvarado in 2021. Any bout between two fighters from the top 10 should nearly always be championed.
10. ILUNGA MAKABU vs THABISO MCHUNU
January 29. Packard Music Hall, Warren, OH. Don King Productions
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Makabu (3); Mchunu (4)
What’s not to like? Well, the heavyweight bout between Trevor Bryan and Jonathan Guidry for a World Batsh*t Association belt is on the undercard. But if you can turn a blind eye to that daft title, this clash between two top five cruiserweights could be a lot of fun indeed. Neither has tasted defeat since 2016.
Odds: Makabu 1/2; Mchunu 6/4
Early prediction: Not so early, since this takes place this weekend. Mchunu is an awkward and strong southpaw who is arguably a better boxer than Makabu. But the odds look about right – Makabu is a good bet to do just enough on points.
09. AMIR KHAN vs KELL BROOK
February 19. Manchester Arena. BOXXER
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Khan (N/A); Brook (N/A)
What’s not to like? For now, let’s not dwell on the fact that both should probably be in retirement. This is the fight that Britain has wanted for years and years. With both at the very end of their careers but clearly motivated for this swansong (current independent reports from both camps are very positive), this is very hard to call. And when a fight is 50/50, we shouldn’t grumble.
Odds: Khan 5/4; Brook 8/13
Early prediction: Khan’s handspeed seems to remain though his footwork, the biggest tell-tale on ageing boxers, is nothing like it was. Brook, always so desperate for this chance, is unlikely to be as respectful to Khan as he was Terence Crawford in 2020. Therefore he might find Khan’s chin sooner than Khan finds his. Pure educated guesswork at this stage but Brook by KO.
08. KIKO MARTÍNEZ vs JOSH WARRINGTON
March 26. First Direct Arena, Leeds. Matchroom
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Martínez (3); Warrington (5)
What’s not to like? Martínez might have been hugely flattered by his stunning KO win over Kid Galahad last year. But, then, we really don’t know what Warrington has left either. Consequently, with two careers on the line – and that Martínez punch still going strong – this featherweight rematch could be tense and hard-fought from the get-go.
Odds: Martínez 10/3; Warrington 2/9
Early prediction: Nobody on planet earth would have picked Martínez if they’d made this fight one year ago. But of course a lot has happened since then. Even so, given Kiko’s age and how easy to hit he was in the early rounds of the Galahad bout, the safe bet still has to be the Englishman to triumph.
07. SRISAKET SOR RUNGVISAI vs CARLOS CUADRAS
February 5. Footprint Center, Phoenix. Matchroom
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Srisaket (1); Cuadras (8)
What’s not to like? Just one thing. That Srisaket, 35, and Cuadras, 33, are likely past their peaks. Otherwise, this ticks all the boxes and provides yet another reminder about how special and fearless this current bunch of super-flyweights is. Simply, they fight all of their closest rivals without a care in the world, with no politicking and no nonsense. Cherish them all while they’re here.
Odds: Srisaket 6/4; Cuadras 8/15
Early prediction: Though Srisaket, 50-5-1 (43), is older by two years and has had more fights, he might be slightly fresher. And during these gruelling encounters, freshness can play a big part. Cuadras, 39-4-1 (27), can feasibly box his way to victory but might be found wanting when the bout reaches the final third.
06. DANIEL JACOBS vs JOHN RYDER
February 12. Alexandra Palace, London. Matchroom
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Jacobs (3); Ryder (N/A)
What’s not to like? Well, this isn’t quite the visit of an American legend as some marketeers are claiming but getting Jacob on these shores – and to the wonderful Ally Pally, no less – is quite the coup. Ryder deserves home advantage, too. The Islington southpaw is a lovely boxer with an old school style who has proved his worth at 168lbs. A terrific 12-rounder between two contenders that does not need a spurious world belt attached to it.
Odds: Jacobs 1/2; Ryder 6/4
Early prediction: Ryder’s crouching style gave Callum Smith fits in 2019 and he has the smarts and calculating aggression to hand Jacobs problems. And if the American is indeed sliding, as his struggle with Gabriel Rosado seemed to illustrate, Ryder might be catching him at the right time. But Jacobs is the favourite for good reason.
05. LEIGH WOOD vs MICHAEL CONLAN
March 12. Nottingham Arena. Matchroom
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Wood (10); Conlan (N/A)
What’s not to like? This will be rolled out as a bona-fide featherweight world title fight. Other than that, nothing. Wood is arguably Britain’s most improved fighter in recent years. That, or the right fights fell at the right time. Conlan – who posted two excellent victories in 2021 himself – will provide the answer. The trainers, Ben Davison (Wood) and Adam Booth (Conlan) should provide some interesting verbal sparring, too.
Odds: Wood 11/8; Conlan 8/15
Early prediction: If Conlan isn’t as good as we’ve always thought, Wood will take advantage. The underdog will likely be buoyed by home advantage, too. This looks almost certain to go 12 hard rounds but the feeling is that Conlan is a bit better in almost every department.
04 JOSH TAYLOR vs JACK CATTERALL
February 26. The Hydro, Glasgow. Top Rank/BOXXER
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Taylor (Champion); Catterall (9)
What’s not to like? If you only look at Catterall’s record, and the lack of big names within, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the Englishman doesn’t stand a chance. Indeed, Taylor has proved his worth against the very best super-lightweights in the world and is rightfully regarded as one of the planet’s finest, pound-for-pound. But Catterall is far more talented than many believe. The big question remains: Can he showcase that talent when it matters most?
Odds: Taylor 1/12; Catterall 6/1
Early prediction: For all his ability and accomplishments, Taylor is not invincible. He’s also at the stage of his career where he’s either peaking or has peaked. Regardless, few fighters are as tenacious or confident as the Scot and, even if Catterall brings his A-Game, Taylor – who has proved he can effortlessly switch gears several times in big fights – should find a way to win.
03. JERMELL CHARLO vs BRIAN CASTAÑO
March 19. USA venue, TBC. TGB Promotions
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Charlo (1); Castaño (2)
What’s not to like? The fact that some of the details around this are sketchy at the time of writing. Presuming this goes ahead, though, it’s exactly the kind of rematch we like. Not the product of a rematch clause, but instead a worthy draw, this one will crown a king at 154lbs. Their first contest, in July 2021, was one of the fights of the year.
Early prediction: If one fighter can feel aggrieved with the draw, and in our eyes the final result was fair, it’s Castaño because of one ludicrous 117-111 scorecard in Charlo’s favour. Yet Charlo might be able to learn more from the first fight than Castaño, whose style does not appear hugely adaptable. Tentatively, Charlo on points.
02. CHRIS EUBANK JNR vs LIAM WILLIAMS
February 5. Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff. February 5. BOXXER
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: Eubank Jnr (7); Williams (9)
What’s not to like? That we haven’t seen this oft-postponed middleweight clash already. Therefore, we’re excited that we’re about to. As domestic dust-ups go, this has all we desire. Not only do their aggressive styles look certain to mesh beautifully, they are both confident in contrasting ways and the build-up should deliver a crackling atmosphere long before the opening bell. Genuinely a can’t-miss fight.
Odds: Eubank 2/5; Williams 7/4
Early prediction: So hard to call. Williams has long believed he has the beating of Eubank and Eubank, in turn, has never rated his opponent. Both could be in for a shock. There is a nagging feeling that Eubank could be outworked but if it becomes a firefight, and this has all the ingredients to do so, the Brighton man could have the advantage.
01. ROMÁN GONZÁLEZ vs JULIO CESAR MARTINEZ
March 5. Penchanga Arena, San Diego. Matchroom
Boxing News/TBRB Ranking: González (2), Martinez (Flyweight number 1)
The latest fight to fall through due to Covid was Roman Gonzalez’s enticing rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada with the latter not shaking off the effects of the virus in time to begin training effectively. But a fine replacement comes in the form of Julio Cesar Martinez. It’s a terrific contest in its own right. Martinez ranked number one at flyweight steps up to challenge one of the best super-flyweights in the world, promising a richly appealing blend of styles in an all action fight.
Early prediction: Five years ago it would have been a straightforward call. González would have been too clever, too experienced, too able for Martinez. Now it’s much harder to predict. Martinez, the WBC belt-holder in the division, below is a dynamic fight in his weight class. If age is starting to catch up with Gonzalez he could be in trouble. But the early pick is for him still to have too much to repel the younger man. Kudos to Matchroom for bringing the lighter weight classes to prominence.