Real or not: Espinoza the best at 126; Gervonta vs. Lomachenko

Boxing

Rafael Espinoza defends his WBO featherweight title against Sergio Chirino on Friday (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET) in the main event of a Top Rank card at Fontainebleau Las Vegas. Espinoza has won eight of his last 10 fights by stoppage, including an impressive majority decision over Robeisy Ramirez to claim the belt. But is he the best fighter in the 126-pound division?

Gervonta “Tank” Davis defeated Frank Martin on June 15 in an eighth-round KO victory and now is headed to bigger and better things. That could be a fight against fellow lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko. Can that matchup happen next?

On the heavyweight side, Oleksandr Usyk is set to defend his undisputed heavyweight championship he won by defeating Tyson Fury in May. Can Fury exact revenge in the rematch in December? How about Zhilei Zhang? Can he get another fight against Joseph Parker to avenge his loss to Parker in March?

And can Nate Diaz defeat fellow former UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal in a boxing ring?

Mike Coppinger, Nick Parkinson and Brett Okamoto answer these questions and more, trying to separate what’s real and what’s not.


Real or not: Rafael Espinoza is the best featherweight in boxing

Not real (yet). Espinoza still has some work to do, and win more titles. But the way he is boxing, that seems inevitable.

Espinoza (24-0, 20 KOs), from Guadalajara, Mexico, makes the first defense of his WBO title on Friday when he faces Sergio Chirino in Las Vegas, six months after his breakout victory over Robeisy Ramirez. Espinoza recovered from a fifth-round knockdown to earn a majority decision over Ramirez, who was the favorite going into the fight. Espinoza dropped Ramirez in the last round amid an impressive finish from the Mexican, who overpowered the two-time Olympic gold medallist from Cuba with his volume of punches.

What also makes Espinoza (literally) head and shoulders above many of the elite at featherweight is his 6-foot-1 height. Espinoza can use that height and his 74-inch reach to win fights, but he has also shown heart to get off the canvas and win that way, too.

Espinoza, 30, is one of many to shine at featherweight in the last 12 months. Nick Ball has emerged as one of the leading boxers in the division, having performed well in his previous two fights. Ball (20-0-1, 11 KOs), from Liverpool, England, captured the WBA featherweight title with a split-decision win over Raymond Ford earlier this month. That triumph followed a controversial draw against Rey Vargas in a fight for the WBC title in March. But Espinoza would tower above the 5-2 Ball.

Vargas, 33, was disappointing against Ball, 27, and has not won in nearly two years, with a move to junior lightweight seeming likely. Former WBA featherweight champion Leigh Wood (28-3, 17 KOs), from Nottingham, England, could also move up a division, with speculation in the U.K. linking him to a rematch with Josh Warrington at 130 pounds. Even before his last fight, Wood, 35, talked about stepping up a weight class.

Luis Alberto Lopez (30-2, 17 KOs), from Baja California, Mexico, is the current ESPN No. 1 at featherweight after stopping Reiya Abe in eight rounds in a third defense of the IBF belt in March. What has been impressive about Lopez is how he has triumphed by overcoming obstacles such as boxing in a champion’s hometown and getting cut early in his fight against Warrington in Leeds, England.

Lopez, 30, and Brandon Figueroa, are the biggest threats to Espinoza at featherweight. Figueroa (25-1, 19 KOs) has made steady progress since stepping up from junior featherweight, and the 27-year-old from Weslaco, Texas, has shown he can bang at featherweight after KO’ing Jessie Magdaleno in May. Figueroa, 27, could face Vargas for the WBC belt later this year.

But a development that could upset the stacking order at featherweight is Naoya Inoue (27-0, 24 KOs) potentially stepping up from junior featherweight. Inoue is a world champion in four weight divisions and arguably one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world (Inoue is No. 3 in ESPN’s rankings).

If Espinoza is going to establish himself as the No 1 at featherweight, he better do it quickly. — Parkinson


Real or not: Gervonta Davis vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko will happen

Real. Following Tank’s eighth-round KO win over Frank Martin to retain his WBA title, talks are expected to pick up toward a lightweight summit meeting with Loma later this year (Davis is No. 1 in ESPN’s 135-pound rankings while Lomachenko is No. 2).

Davis is ESPN’s No. 7 pound-for-pound boxer, and is undoubtedly one of the sport’s most dangerous punchers. His impressive ring IQ and patient approach allow him to find openings that lead to explosive KOs. But he’s yet to face a fellow elite fighter.

Though Lomachenko is now 36 years old and isn’t at his peak, he’s still pretty damn good. His dizzying angles and impeccable footwork were on display in Lomachenko’s 11th-round TKO win over George Kambosos Jr. last month to win the IBF lightweight title.

Lomachenko also carries a recognizable name after many televised main events. And while he isn’t as big a star as Davis, a PPV fight between the pair would generate big business.

It’s a long overdue matchup, and with Lomachenko set to turn 37 in February, now is the time to make the lightweight title unification happen. Yes, Davis is with PBC, and Lomachenko is with Top Rank, but that shouldn’t prevent the bout from happening. The two companies previously worked together on the second and third Fury-Wilder bouts and the Terence Crawford-Shawn Porter fight in 2021. — Coppinger


Real or not: Tyson Fury will defeat Oleksandr Usyk in their rematch

Not real. Don’t write off “The Gypsy King” from regaining the heavyweight crown for a third time, but undisputed heavyweight champion Usyk holding on to the belts seems more likely after their rematch on Dec. 21.

Fury (34-1-1, 24 KOs), can take a lot of positives from his performance against Usyk in Saudi Arabia last month. The English boxer won some of the early rounds and although he looked on the verge of being stopped in Round 9, Fury made it close the rest of the way. Usyk won by a split decision.

Usyk (22-0, 14 KOs) peppered Fury with punches and knocked him down in Round 9. The Englishman also touched down against Francis Ngannou in a lackluster display last October. Fury must find a way to tighten his defense in the rematch as Usyk repeatedly landed left hands in the second half of the fight.

Fury, 35, is a clever boxer with the skills to back it up. He has shown he can win rounds against Usyk, but Fury will need to adjust in the rematch, find a solution to avoiding Usyk’s overhand left and perhaps utilize his reach more by moving out of range after throwing his jabs.

Along with winning back the belts, Fury will be motivated to deliver a strong performance to keep alive the prospect of fighting English rival Anthony Joshua in 2025.

But most will favor Usyk, 37, to prevail again, perhaps by a larger margin. — Parkinson


Real or not: Joseph Parker and Zhilei Zhang will meet in a rematch later this year

Real. That appears to be the fight to make after Parker was floored twice, but rallied to outpointed Zhang in March.

China’s Zhang rebounded with a spectacular fifth-round KO of Deontay Wilder earlier this month, a performance that likely earned him another marquee fight later this year. That should come against New Zealand’s Parker, especially considering who’s available in ESPN’s heavyweight top-10.

Usyk and Fury are tied up with a Dec. 21 rematch. Anthony Joshua and Daniel Dubois are headed for a Sept. 21 fight at Wembley Stadium. That leaves Parker and Zhang, who round out ESPN’s top five (Parker is No. 4, Zhang is No. 5).

Zhang’s last two fights took place in Riyadh, along with Parker’s last three bouts (including his decision win over Wilder in December). In their first bout, Zhang dropped Parker in Rounds 3 and 8. Otherwise, Parker mostly outboxed the then-40-year-old.

Parker-Zhang 2 could land on the Oct. 12 Artur Beterbiev-Dmitry Bivol undercard in Riyadh, if not Dec. 21. The Sept. 21 card in London is also a Riyadh Season event. — Coppinger


Real or not: Nate Diaz will beat Jorge Masvidal in boxing

On paper, not real. It’s tough to say he will. Masvidal is a -230 (per ESPN BET) betting favorite for a reason. Diaz’s ability to take damage and stay in a fight is remarkably still intact, but he’s entered the stage of his career where that could go on any given night.

The last time we saw Diaz, almost a year ago, he lost nearly every round to Jake Paul. He also got dropped in that fight, and appeared hurt as early as the first round. Now, that’s the bad news for The Diaz Army. Here is some good news. That boxing match against Paul was fought at 185 pounds, which favored Paul. Paul’s youth also accounted for a lot in that matchup.

Masvidal is 39 years old, same as Diaz. This is a matchup in which the things Diaz does well — volume punching, using his size on Masvidal to wear him out on the ropes — should work a lot better than they did last year in what was officially his first professional bout. The safe bet here is Masvidal by decision, but there’s reason to think Diaz isn’t a sitting duck. This fight is more in his wheelhouse than the last one, but Masvidal’s speed and veteranship will still make it very difficult. — Okamoto

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