There's no disputing the long anticipated world heavyweight clash between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua is 2021's biggest story for British boxing, but beneath the big stars some of the smaller names are eager to put on a show this year, while others are looking at an uncertain future.
The heavyweight scene is boxing's biggest dynamo as it drives interest, revenue and the sport's wider relevance. English rivals Fury and Joshua are expected to meet twice this year for all four major world heavyweight titles, in a fight that will capture the world's imagination from Manchester, to Minneapolis, to Melbourne.
Fury-Joshua has been reported to generate around $200 million per fight, with each fighter earning between $60-70m for one fight -- double that with a rematch -- which will make the winner boxing's biggest star and earner, as well as secure him a lasting legacy.
Frank Warren, Fury's UK promoter, has already been involved in his own big fight this year when he was hospitalised with COVID-19 for eight days into early January. Now recovered, the 68-year-old is working on finalising the deal with Bob Arum (Fury's U.S. promoter) and Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn.
Warren told ESPN it's the biggest fight he's been involved in.
Other English heavyweights, Joe Joyce, Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora, are among those jostling for a crack at the winner of Fury-Joshua, or one of the titles discarded later in 2021. But there are big fights beyond the heavyweight division featuring Britons this year.
Scotland's Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs), the WBA-IBF super-lightweight champion, is expected to face Jose Ramirez in May in another clash to decide an undisputed champion. Taylor, along with Fury, Joshua and super-middleweight Billy Joe Saunders, is one of four world boxing champions from the UK, a lower tally than this time in recent years after Josh Warrington relinquished his featherweight belt earlier this month.
Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) is confident he will tackle one of the world featherweight champions in 2021, most probably Can Xu of China, while WBO super-middleweight titleholder Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) hopes to land a lucrative shot at Alvarez, who beat Liverpool's Callum Smith (27-1, 19 KOs) for two world titles in December.
Ranked No. 1 at super-middleweight before meeting Alverez, Smith's priorities this year will be to try and win back a world title after losing by a wide points margin to the Mexican.
Joyce (12-0, 11 KOs), 35, whose knockout win over Daniel Dubois last year catapulted him up the heavyweight rankings, is being lined up to face former undisputed world cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in a big fight. The heavyweight division is a game of snakes and ladders, and victory for Joyce would put him top of a list of opponents for Joshua or Fury early 2022.
Middleweights Chris Eubank Jr (29-2, 22 KOs), and Liam Williams (23-2-1, 18 KOs) can also be expected to get title chances this year, while Northern Ireland's Carl Frampton (28-2, 16 KOs) will become a three-weight world champion if he beats American Jamel Herring, the WBO junior lightweight champion, on Feb. 27.
Londoner Lawrence Okolie (15-0, 12 KOs) will challenge for his world title -- the vacant WBO cruiserweight belt -- a week later against former champion Krzysztof Glowacki, of Poland, in another scheduled world title fight.
In women's boxing, England's Natasha Jonas (9-1-1, 7 KOs) is an option for Ireland's Katie Taylor (17-0, 6 KOs), the undisputed world lightweight champion, for April.
Taylor had a string of success in 2020 when she beat Delfine Persoon, and Miriam Gutierrez; her schedule this year could include a clash against the winner of the rematch between Jessica McCaskill and Cecilia Braekhus, who meet for all the welterweight titles in March.
Taylor against McCaskill or Braekhus could perhaps be the biggest fight in women's boxing this year. Or England's Terri Harper (11-0-1, 6 KOs), the WBC junior lightweight champion, against WBO world featherweight queen Mikaela Mayer, from the U.S. could equally be a close contender. Failing that, Harper-Jonas II could be a surprise if the fighters are up for it.
Hanging up the gloves, for good?
There are opportunities across the year for British boxers looking to win world titles and hoping the fights they seek come off, even if it has to happen behind closed doors for less money or away from home.
But others are looking at an uncertain future, having to reignite a stalled career after laying idle for periods in 2020. Some lower down the bills and boxing's pecking order, will have just hung up the gloves out of frustration and the need to bring in income from a different source.
Boxing missed out on funding in the UK government's £300 million Sport Winter Survival Package in November, and earlier this week the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Boxing wrote to Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston calling for additional funding to ensure the survival of boxing, and its community boxing gyms. Joshua is among those backing the campaign, as well as Warren and Hearn.
"I worry about the fighters coming through, and more about the amateurs because they can't train or box at the moment," Warren said.
"It's been a horrible time for amateur boxers and amateur boxing clubs. It makes you think where is the next generation going to come from, and these amateur clubs need some help as do some of the small hall show promoters who have zero [income] coming in at the moment, no gate money.
"Every time there's an election you get a request from politicians to have a photo at a boxing gym, to be seen as a man of the people, and then you don't hear from them again. These clubs can be the heart and soul of the community, with kids from different backgrounds mixing in areas of high knife crime and at a time when there's an obesity problem. They need some help," he added.
Only six of the UK's 58 registered boxing promoters have been able to stage shows since restrictions on elite sport were lifted in June 2020, and fans are not expected back at UK venues until the late summer at the earliest. For this reason, Fury-Joshua will be heading overseas, possibly to the Middle East since Saudi Arabia as been listed as a potential venue, instead of taking place in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium, London, this spring.
The future is bright
Looking towards the positives, Fury-Joshua provides fans with some excitement and interest to look forward to. It's also a hard one to pick since Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), 32, has not fought for a year since winning the WBC title by knockout in a convincing win over Deontay Wilder nearly a year ago. And for 31-year-old Joshua, (24-1, 22 KOs), he has had a good year after regaining his belts from Andy Ruiz Jr. on points in December 2019 following a shock loss to the American, and was a lot more confident and explosive in a ninth round knockout win over Kubrat Pulev in December.
For others, Josh Taylor looked sharp in a first-round demolition of Apinun Khongsong in September and showed why British boxing could have more than one undisputed boxing champion in 2021.
Warrington's gamble of shedding his IBF world featherweight title in order to stay in control of his own destiny, and ensure he gets the fights he wants later this year, is likely to pay off.
Saunders can also feel hopeful he will get the call about a money-spinning fight with Alvarez in May, after the Mexican's WBC mandatory fight versus Avni Yildirim on Feb. 27. If Alverez wants to clean up at 168 pounds, then Saunders is in a good position. But if Alverez snubs Saunders, then the Hertfordshire-based boxer could always face English rival Smith in front of fans in the autumn. As fall-back options go, it's not a bad one.
Eubank Jr, Williams, light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi and junior-featherweight Michael Conlan will all be looking to break through and make a name for themselves, and there is a slim chance we could finally see welterweights Amir Khan versus Kell Brook, despite it being way past its sell by date.
There's a lot to look forward to.