After taking much of 2020 off from the standpoint of delivering blockbuster fights due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sport of boxing has picked up steam quickly entering the mid-point of 2021.  

This summer features a handful of blockbuster pay-per-view fights that should go a long way in determining the futures of boxing’s biggest stars and deepest divisions.  

With that in mind entering what should be an exciting second half of 2021, let’s take a closer look at the biggest questions that need answering at the highest levels of the sport.

Was the Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua dissolution secretly the best thing to happen to the heavyweight division? 

It’s a topic worth pondering even though it’s hard to consider it a plus for those involved that a proposed blockbuster fight set to declare the first undisputed four-belt champion in heavyweight history will be no longer taking place this summer as the first of a two-fight deal. The reason for such wild optimism despite Deontay Wilder scoring a victory in the courtroom to retain contractual rights to a third fight against Fury is that the bout has such exciting potential. Still scorned from his disastrous 2020 defeat to Fury in their second fight, Wilder has made a public declaration of war against Fury entering their July 24 trilogy. This came after a year-plus journey of silence as Wilder went back to the drawing board after the rematch, in which he made a number of excuses immediately after for how the fight played out. As the biggest puncher in the sport, it would be silly to look at Wilder as anything other than a live dog, even with how much Fury, the reigning WBC and lineal champion, exposed the gap in skill between them by flipping the script on Wilder in their second bout by repeatedly walking him down.  

Joshua, holder of the WBA, WBO and IBF titles, also gave boxing fans a strong consolation prize when the Fury deal dissolved by agreeing to face mandatory opponent and former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in September. The unbeaten Usyk, a heavyweight Swiss Army Knife whose speed and technical creativity make up for his lack of power, presents a unique style matchup for Joshua, the bulky boxer-puncher, that could mean trouble should Usyk avoid the knockout blow. 

While the idea of one name/one face/one division is both a rare and intriguing one in any of boxing’s weight classes (let alone a money division like heavyweight), the fallout has created a bit of a final four. Should the winners of these fights advance and agree to square off for all the marbles in 2022, this hiccup could turn out to be the best thing for the division in the long run. That is, of course, provided boxing politics or binding contracts don’t get in the way.  

Is this the end or just a new beginning for 42-year-old Manny Pacquiao? 

Already a sure-fire Hall of Famer as boxing’s lone eight-division champion, Pacquaio scored one of the biggest victories of his career in his last outing when he dropped and outdueled unbeaten Keith Thurman in their thrilling welterweight title bout. At 40, Pacquiao triumphantly returned to the top 10 pound-for-pound rankings and nearly made a run at fighter of the year. But Pacquiao never returned to the ring throughout the pandemic despite a handful of fights he was rumored to be linked with and the “PacMan” shocked the boxing world when he announced an August return opposite unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. Not only is the fight expected to be a PPV blockbuster, the challenge is a formidable one for the underdog Pacquiao considering his age and inactivity, offering equal amounts of danger and reward for a historically great fighter who stubbornly won’t stop challenging himself. 

Provided the fight takes place — Pacquiao is currently being sued by management team Paradigm Sports, which is petitioning to cancel the event due to an alleged breach of contract — it’s also likely that the outcome decides which direction the Filipino icon goes next. Should Pacquiao lose in dominant fashion, particularly after taking damage, it’s likely that retirement talk will surround the aftermath. Yet, should he win or look great in defeat, the amount of younger (and — key word — smaller) fighters looking to use his name as a springboard to stardom by landing a big fight would be innumerable. Should Pacquiao and his team look to get creative, future fights against anyone from Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia to Teofimo Lopez Jr. and Devin Haney wouldn’t be out of the question, giving the elder fighter a chance to match his punching power and experience against the youth and ambition of some of the sport’s rising stars.

How might Terence Crawford’s upcoming free agency affect the long-awaited Spence fight? 

Let’s put it like this: Crawford, who turns 34 in September, has a very important decision to make regarding his long-term legacy. While no one is debating the talent level of the two-division champion and pound-for-pound stalwart, his lack of available elite opponents since moving up to welterweight in 2018 has easily slowed down his overall momentum and star potential. Crawford has one more fight left on a Top Rank deal that reportedly expires in October. Early rumors about potential opponents haven’t appeared strong, although Top Rank did shoot down one involving junior welterweight Jose Zepeda. Either way, the relationship between fighter and promoter has taken a publicly dark turn, especially after Hall of Famer Bob Arum was unable to get Crawford the superfight against Spence, which would unify three of four 147-pound titles, that the boxing world so covets. 

Making the move to Premier Boxing Champions, which has a vice-like grip of control over the division, seems like the smart move for Crawford given his age should he want to truly test himself against welterweight elites like Spence, Thurman, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and others. But Crawford hasn’t said much publicly regarding his interest level and has maintained he is content with his legacy enough to never fight Spence. Should he re-sign with Top Rank, Crawford could see big-name opponents in his future like Josh Taylor, Jose Ramirez and Teofimo Lopez Jr., if they all move up in weight. But none of those, save for possibly the rising star Lopez, possess the same kind of cache that the PBC stars currently have, allowing Crawford the chance to fulfill the huge potential he has as a historically great fighter.  

How much air is left in the celebrity boxing balloon?  

The last year has been as unpredictable as any boxing fan could imagine considering the sport’s biggest pay-per-view draws have included everyone from the social media influencing Paul brothers to 50-something Mike Tyson. But regardless of your interest level or tolerance in this most recent carnival form of entertainment, it has certainly found an audience. Along with Jake and Logan Paul making successful transitions from the entertainment business to the ring in carefully matched fights, Tyson seemed to open the door for a number of exhibition returns (or, at least, threats for a comeback) from just about every recently retired great. How long can this craze last? That largely depends upon how exciting the fights turn out to be. 

Jake Paul, for example, has figured out a fairly effective gimmick by seeking out celebrity novices like former NBA guard Nate Robinson and retired MMA star Ben Askren as perfect foils who lend their names and chins in exchange for a large payday. But the general public doesn’t historically have a long attention span for the less-than-exciting results that can happen when non-fighters attempt to put on the gloves. Although Logan Paul’s performance was somewhat admirable in going the distance against retired pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather in their June PPV event, the fight was anything but exciting in comparison to the price tag and the circus build. Yet there’s still a decent amount of money to be made before the bubble does burst by both those who lace up the gloves and the networks/promoters like Showtime and Triller for as long as this lasts. Will we still be talking about which opponents make the most sense for the Paul brothers, say, 12 months from now? If history is any indication, I wouldn’t bet on it. But you better believe those in position to make a buck off of this trend will go down with the ship trying to do so.  

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