In boxing, we are always looking forward to the next fight. Even before an upcoming fight is over, the focus is often on what lies ahead, especially when it comes to the sport's biggest stars.
While pressures come from many avenues -- fans, social media posts or even beat writers -- it's the matchmakers who hold the power to decide who faces who, when and how.
We understand they're going on act on their own accord, but that didn't stop us from booking the sport in the way we'd like to see it go. We gave our team of boxing experts two different opponents for one particular top fighter and let them decide where they would go from here.
Deontay Wilder vs. Andy Ruiz Jr. or Wilder vs. Dillian Whyte?
Tyson Fury is knocked down twice in the fourth round but manages to come back and finish Deontay Wilder in Round 11 to defend his title.
Mike Coppinger: Whomever Wilder fights next, it's possible the opponent is a soft touch after he suffered a brutal beating at the hands of Tyson Fury in ESPN's 2021 fight of the year.
But when "The Bronze Bomber" does fight another boxer in ESPN's top 10, Ruiz looks like the best option outside of Anthony Joshua (regardless of the outcome of the Aug. 20 bout with Oleksandr Usyk). First, Ruiz meets Luis Ortiz on Sept. 4 and if the former heavyweight champion comes out on top, a matchup pitting Wilder against Ruiz is one of the best fights that boxing can deliver.
Ruiz, who shocked Joshua to win the titles in June 2019, possesses ultra-quick hands and plenty of power, too. He's also a pressure fighter who would bring the fight to Wilder. Stylistically, it's a can't-miss action fight. Wilder often looks for counter-punching opportunities, but in the third fight with Fury, he applied far more pressure than usual.
Wilder-Ruiz should also be easy enough to make. Both boxers are with PBC and are high-profile names that can combine for a marquee PPV event.
However, Wilder-Whyte is also a compelling matchup. The pair of punchers have traded insults in the past, and stylistically, this is another explosive matchup. Whyte wasn't remotely competitive with Fury before he was knocked out, but against Wilder, he should find more openings for his big right hand.
Devin Haney vs. George Kambosos Jr. 2 or Haney vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko?
Devin Haney wins the undisputed boxing lightweight championship vs. George Kambosos Jr. in front of thousands of Australian fans.
Michael Rothstein: Without question the best play here would be Haney-Lomachenko.
Lomachenko, even with the loss to Teofimo Lopez Jr. in 2020, is one of the best fighters in the sport regardless of division. Lomachenko has looked good in his past two fights, dominant victories over Masayoshi Nakatani and Richard Commey, and could easily make the claim to be the top lightweight in the world even though he doesn't hold any of the belts. He's still that good.
For Haney, this would give the 23-year-old an even better test than Kambosos. And, if Haney were to beat Lomachenko it would solidify his status not only as the undisputed champion, but someone who could be an all-time great. That's what a win over Lomachenko would do.
Haney-Kambosos 2, based on what their first matchup looked like, would not do much to sway any opinions. Haney was that dominant against Kambosos the first time around -- enough that it feels like the rematch wouldn't be anywhere near a 50-50 fight or even a 65-35 fight (for Haney).
I understand why Kambosos would want the fight -- boxers are confident, and it's his chance to remain on a world stage after his surprising win over Lopez -- but, it just doesn't seem like the best possible fight to make at the moment. If it happens, it wouldn't be surprising to see Haney win a second time and then move on to face Lomachenko or Ryan Garcia or Gervonta Davis or whomever would be next up at that point.
Whereas a fight against Lomachenko would be much more intriguing both in storyline and from competitiveness inside the ring.
Terence Crawford vs. Jermell Charlo or Crawford vs. Jermall Charlo?
Naoya Inoue knocks out Nonito Donaire in Round 2 to unify the WBA, WBC and IBF bantamweight world titles.
Coppinger: Crawford has called for a future fight with junior middleweight undisputed champion Jermell Charlo after what he hopes is a victory over Errol Spence Jr. for all the belts at 147 pounds.
But there's another Charlo who expressed interest in a bout with Crawford, even if it seems like a long shot. Jermall Charlo, who holds a middleweight world title, claimed he would return to 154 pounds for a meeting with Crawford. Jermall, the twin brother of Jermell, formerly held a junior middleweight title, but he hasn't competed at 154 pounds since 2016.
While Crawford vs. either of the Charlo brothers at 154 pounds is intriguing, a bout with Jermell for the undisputed junior middleweight championship easily carries the biggest stakes.
Jermell cemented himself as one of the best fighters in the world with a stoppage of Brian Castano in a rematch last month. Could Crawford, ESPN's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, who won his first world title at 135 pounds, contend with an elite boxer at 154 pounds? First, he needs to close the deal with Spence and become undisputed at 147 pounds.
Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez 3 or Estrada vs. Naoya Inoue at 118 pounds?
Nick Parkinson: There's nothing not to like about Estrada and Gonzalez meeting for a third time, but Estrada stepping up a weight class to face the "Monster" Inoue holds more significance and intrigue.
Estrada-"Chocolatito" 3 would come with a guarantee of thrilling excitement and settle any arguments about who is the true ruler at junior bantamweight. In their last encounter in March 2021, Estrada won the WBC and WBA junior bantamweight titles by a disputed split decision in a fight in which the two threw a combined 2,529 punches. That followed another classic 10 years ago, which Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KOs) won by unanimous decision for Estrada's 108-pound title.
But Estrada (42-3, 28 KOs) stepping up a division to face Inoue at bantamweight is a more appealing fight with the potential to attract interest from beyond boxing's hardcore fans.
WBC, WBA, IBF world bantamweight champion Inoue (23-0, 0), as his nickname suggests, is a knockout monster. He is currently one of the most exciting, improving and in-demand boxers in the sport after his two-round destruction of Nonito Donaire in a rematch earlier this month. The 29-year-old boxer needs a challenge so we can gauge just how good he is, and to maintain the current hot interest.
And, if Inoue is going to remain at 118 pounds, the biggest challenge available to him is against Estrada. Like Inoue, Estrada is a three-weight world champion and his non-stop aggression could potentially make it a close fight.
Estrada is a better opponent than other 118-pound contenders for Inoue, and the 32-year-old Mexican boxer has enough experience -- wins over Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, among other top fighters -- to pose questions of Inoue, just as Donaire did the first time they met in 2019 (ESPN's fight of the year). Donaire drew Inoue into an entertaining brawl, which Inoue won by an over-generous margins after Donaire cut him over his left eye with a hook early on. Donaire then got off the canvas to hurt Inoue in the 11th round. Donaire, the first time around, showed how the Monster can be tamed to a certain degree, and Estrada might consider it worth the risk.
For Estrada, fighting Inoue is a life-changing opportunity to catapult himself back into the pound-for-pound lists. And for Inoue, a victory over another divisional No. 1 boosts his case that he should be ranked top of the pound-for-pound chart, rather than at second behind welterweight Terence Crawford.
Establishing himself as one of the best boxers in the world, something that might not be possible from fighting Gonzalez again, might be enough to tempt Estrada into taking the riskier option against Inoue. Let's hope he rolls the dice.
Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia or Davis vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr.?
Ben Baby: I'm going to take Option No. 3 -- none of the above.
Back when boxing had the "Four Princes" in the lightweight division, any combination of "Tank" Davis, Haney, Lopez and Garcia made sense. That's no longer the case because some are more ready to be crowned than others.
Davis, while not a legitimate champion because he holds a secondary WBA belt, is the biggest star of the group and can sell a pay-per-view. And even against inferior competition built on soft matchmaking, it's clear his skills have improved over the past couple of years.
Haney also has exceptional qualifications. He recently became the true undisputed champion after he easily outpointed Kambosos, who held three of the four belts following his upset win over Lopez in 2021. Haney, who isn't the most exciting fighter in the ring and doesn't carry significant power, is the man to beat.
Lopez, who hasn't fought since the Kambosos loss, has to prove he still belongs as a lightweight contender. The same holds for Garcia, who will face Javier Fortuna on July 16. A Lopez-Garcia matchup could be a true elimination fight for the right to face either Haney or Davis. -- Ben Baby