The next few weeks will set the table nicely in the boxing world. As an expected big-fight summer approaches, the middleweights and featherweights will take center stage and feature a number of competitive bouts that feature some of the quickest and most powerful fighters in the world.
Up first is Janibek Alimkhanuly in a middleweight title defense against Steven Butler and Rolando Romero facing Ismael Barroso in a WBA interim junior welterweight title bout. Both have the ability to stand out from the rest in their divisions, but victories on Saturday are far from guaranteed. Is Alimkhanuly the best middleweight or does that honor belong to someone else?
On May 20, Katie Taylor makes her homecoming bout in Ireland. She'll face another undisputed champion in Chantelle Cameron and defend her undisputed women's junior welterweight championship. Is this the must-see women's boxing matchup we're looking for?
Ben Baby, Nick Parkinson and Michael Rothstein look at the upcoming fights and separate what's real and what's not.
Real or Not: Janibek Alimkhanuly is the best middleweight after GGG
Real-ish. Alimkhanuly is the best middleweight in the division aside from Gennadiy "GGG" Golovkin, and even that could be up for debate. Alimkhanuly was a 2016 Olympian who, like Golovkin, is a proud representative of Kazakhstan. The 30-year-old is 13-0 with eight knockouts and is headlining the upcoming Top Rank on ESPN card.
However, Alimkhanuly hasn't always been as impressive as one might imagine. He could have looked better in a 2021 TKO victory over a very washed Hassan N'Dam on the Terence Crawford-Shawn Porter undercard. He dropped a few rounds against Denzel Bentley in his WBO middleweight title defense last November.
Alimkhanuly should be crushing opponents in a very weak middleweight division outside of Golovkin. He is a -3000 favorite over Butler, with the over/under at 5.5 rounds. Alimkhanuly might be one of the best 160-pounders in the world, but he needs bigger wins if he's going to continue to face nondescript opponents. -- Baby
Real or Not: Leigh Wood will avenge his loss to Mauricio Lara in the rematch
Real. Lara's destructive nature when he fights in the U.K., and the fact that he stopped Wood in seven rounds in February, is pretty compelling evidence that the Mexican should be expected to retain his WBA featherweight title when the pair meet again in a rematch at Manchester Arena on May 27.
Lara is ESPN's No 1 at 126 pounds and his punching power has seen him twice silence home crowds in England. In 2021, he was unknown on the international stage when he stopped Josh Warrington, then the world featherweight No 1.
But Wood was ahead on all three judges' scorecards (58-56, 58-56 and 59-55) at the time of the stoppage, prompted by the boxer's trainer's Ben Davison throwing in the towel. Wood was unhappy with his trainer's intervention at the time, after he had been floored by a crunching left hook, and he had shown good control of the fight until the seventh round.
With a few adjustments and rigid discipline to a strategy to defuse Lara's power punching -- as he had done for much of their first fight -- Wood can win a narrow points decision later this month. The Nottingham boxer has done it before to pull off a surprise win, when he produced last round KO wins to defeat Michael Conlan and Can Xu in world title fights. Lara's threat is undeniable, but the Mexican leaves gaps in his defense as he goes on the attack. If Wood can take advantage of the openings Lara leaves, he can patiently build up a points lead to win back the belt. -- Parkinson
Real or Not: Terri Harper vs. Cecilia Braekhus is a better matchup than Chantelle Cameron vs. Katie Taylor
Not real. Harper-Braekhus is a nice fight. It is. But it's also a fight between a fighter who may not be the best in her division (Harper) against a former No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter who is no longer the best in the world -- maybe on the border of the Top 10.
Hopefully the winner of Harper-Braekhus faces unified junior middleweight champion Natasha Jonas for what would be a very intriguing fight. But there's no way that fight compares with Taylor-Cameron. Not close. Might not be in the same solar system.
Taylor and Cameron are both undisputed champions -- Taylor at lightweight, Cameron at junior welterweight. Both are in the ESPN pound-for-pound Top 10. And both are still in their primes or very, very close to it. Cameron is a good puncher and very intelligent fighter. Other than Taylor's fight against Amanda Serrano last April -- and perhaps her first fight against Delfine Persoon -- this is going to be Taylor's most difficult test to date.
In terms of expectations and name recognition, Taylor-Cameron is at the upper level of women's boxing. Harper-Braekhus is a level below that. -- Rothstein
Real or Not: Rolando Romero is a top fighter at 140 pounds
Not real. Rolando Romero is a deeply unserious contender at junior welterweight. His best win to date is against Anthony Yigit, who somehow came in 5.2 pounds over the limit for their fight in July 2021. Gervonta "Tank" Davis carried Romero for a few rounds in their fight last May before Davis turned it up a notch and picked up the stoppage win.
Now to be fair to Romero, beating Alberto Puello this Saturday could have helped Romero's attempt to be taken more seriously. But Puello was pulled from the fight and lost the WBA title after testing positive for a banned substance. Ismael Barroso (24-3-2, 22 KOs) was chosen as the replacement. One has to wonder if Botirzhon Akhmedov (9-2, 8 KOs), who lost a split decision to Puello last year, might have been the better option with Puello out. But regardless, it's up to Romero to prove he actually has the chops to hang with the best junior welterweights in the world. -- Baby