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Fights we want to see in 2018

From ESPN - January 12, 2018

This is the traditional time of the year for optimistic thoughts, a season in which we gather together to reassure ourselves that spring will surely come. Yet regardless of how well or badly the previous 12 months have been, it's only human nature to wish the next 12 would be better.

Boxing fans are no different. Expectations are always high, anticipation often sweeter than the fights themselves. But after a horrible 2016, when the sport seemed to be eating itself alive, boxing scraped itself off the canvas in 2017 and rallied to have a good year.

In terms of making the matches fans wanted see, 2017 delivered in a big way. What stopped it from being a great year was that of the three most-anticipated fights, only Anthony Joshua's TKO of Wladimir Klitschko delivered exhilarating action.

Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez was pretty much a wash -- a match that promised much but never really took off. Most of the fireworks came after the final bell when the draw verdict was announced. That's never a good thing.

Vasiliy Lomachenko-Guillermo Rigondeaux was worse. The reluctant Cuban turned it into a stinker and then quit. We ought to have known better.

Now that boxing is moving away from premium cable and pay-per-view to more accessible platforms, the sport will reach a significantly larger audience. It's an opportune time to hook the casuals and intrigue the tenderfoots by putting on nothing but action fights.

It's with this in mind, particular attention was paid to matchmaking's oldest clich when making this year's selections. Styles still make fights.

All political and financial considerations have been put aside. After all, this is a new beginning -- a small window of time, full of New Year's cheer and blind faith. Probably followed by a punch the nose when least expecting it. Protect yourself at all times.

Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder, world heavyweight championship

All roads to heavyweight glory lead to London where Joshua reigns supreme as boxing's biggest ticket-seller. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist attracted a combine total of approximately 160,000 customers to his two most recent fights, a heady number even for the boxing crazy United Kingdom.

It's not Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali in 1971, not even close. But, like Frazier and Ali, Joshua and Wilder are undefeated and need to fight each other to gain universal recognition as champion. Both are punchers with aggressive attitudes, an approach that frequently leads to the sort of gratifying mayhem everybody enjoys.

Two enormous and talented young athletes primed to knock the other's block off. What's not to like?

Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury, world heavyweight championship

Now that Fury is back in training and has been cleared to fight, he automatically becomes the division gadfly. The "Gypsy King" was the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world when he became unhinged and retired amid a swirling scandal involving a failed PED test, cocaine and unabashed gluttony.

That being said, if Fury can regain the form he had on the night he finagled Klitschko out of the championship, he will be a major player again. It's a big "if," of course, but it should be fun watching him try.

An in-shape and motivated Fury is a handful -- a huge man with quick hands who moves around the ring like a skittish giraffe. But behind the bluster, there is a canny boxer who believes in himself -- a quality that should never be underestimated.

Gennady Golovkin vs. Billy Joe Saunders, middleweight title unification

If their first fight is any indication, the thought of a Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez rematch is not particularly appealing. Been there, done that, and it was not exactly enthralling.

Sure, the decision sucked, but there's no guarantee the judges would do any better in a return bout. And even with a rematch looming for Cinco de Mayo weekend, it's time for something new.

Saunders had never looked as brilliant as he did outclassing David Lemieux in December. Admittedly, the Canadian slugger proved a rather accommodating foil, seemingly lost without a stationary target to hit. Thankfully, Saunders' superb defensive technique is not of the run-and-grab ilk.

It's about footwork, angles and crisp, clean punches. It's unlikely he could befuddle Golovkin as thoroughly as he did Lemieux, but it's a fascinating match.

Canelo Alvarez vs. Daniel Jacobs, middleweight title

Terence Crawford vs. Keith Thurman, welterweight title fight

The Errol Spence Jr.-Lamont Peterson winner vs. Shawn Porter, welterweight title fight

Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Mikey Garcia, catch-weight super fight

The Srisaket Sor Rungvisai-Juan Francisco Estrada winner vs. Naoya Inoue, junior bantamweight title fight

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