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Ranking the best boxing fights for the rest of the year

Andy Ruiz Jr., right, celebrates with his team following his huge upset of Anthony Joshua to win three heavyweight world titles in June. Al Bello/Getty Images

The calendar has turned over to September and fall is in the air. It already has been an eventful year in boxing, including the resurgence of a legend in Manny Pacquiao and an unexpected Cinderella story in Andy Ruiz Jr.

The last four months of 2019 are shaping up to be a special stretch, with a lot of the schedule already in place. What are the best and most meaningful fights that we have to look forward to?

This list of the top 10 fights for the rest of the year includes the best matchups and the bouts that have the most meaning to the industry and will resonate with the public. While a few of these fights aren't yet official, any hypothetical bouts are all but guaranteed to come together by the end of 2019.

1. Ruiz vs. Anthony Joshua II -- Dec. 7, Saudi Arabia

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Fury says Joshua will get KO'd again by Ruiz

Tyson Fury says Andy Ruiz knocking out Anthony Joshua wasn't a fluke and explains why he expects the same outcome in the rematch.

The matchup: Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) shocked the boxing world by coming in as a late replacement and defeating Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) by seventh-round TKO in June. It wasn't a fluke either, as Ruiz sent Joshua to the canvas four times in the process, after getting himself up from the floor in the third round. It was truly shocking to see Ruiz battering the physically imposing Joshua around the ring. There have been several theories as to why Joshua lost his heavyweight titles, but the bottom line is that Ruiz now has possession of the WBA, IBF and WBO belts. Is Ruiz just a one-hit wonder in the vein of Buster Douglas, or a legit heavyweight world titleholder?

Why this fight matters: Three heavyweight belts are on the line. More than that, the result of the rematch will have a tremendous influence on how the division plays out over the next few years. In an era when you have competing promoters and rival networks, winning fights of this nature will determine which entities control the power in key divisions. The winner of this bout will be right alongside WBC world titleholder Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury at the top of this division.

The intrigue: Did "AJ" just have one bad night at the office, or were his bulging muscles just a facade for a deeply flawed fighter?


2. Canelo Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev -- Nov. 2, Las Vegas

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Kovalev backs Yarde into corner with punches

Sergey Kovalev forces Anthony Yarde into the corner and unleashes a flurry of punches on him. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up here for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/.

The matchup: In Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs), you have one of the premier fighters in the world -- one who has silenced many critics who long ago labeled him as nothing more than a well-marketed but highly-protected matinee idol. Alvarez has steadily honed his skills over the years and become a legitimate world-class craftsman. With his victory over Gennady Golovkin in the rematch last September, he became the recognized middleweight champion of the world. Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) is the reigning WBO light heavyweight world titlist. Last summer after he was knocked out by Eleider Alvarez (no relation), many believed it was the end of "Krusher" as a blue-chip prizefighter. But since hooking up with trainer Buddy McGirt, he has gained revenge on Eleider Alvarez and then recently dominated Anthony Yarde, stopping him in 11 rounds.

Why this fight matters: Any time Alvarez fights, it's a big night for boxing. Should he defeat Kovalev, it will be another notable name added to his already deep résumé (that includes victories over Golovkin, Amir Khan, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and Juio Cesar Chavez Jr., among others), and it will certainly thrust him to a place among the all-time best Mexican boxers. For Kovalev, not only will it represent a career-high payday, it will give him a chance to erase some of the bitter memories of his two losses to Andre Ward, which, unfairly or not, have overshadowed many of his other accomplishments.

The intrigue: Can Canelo make that huge leap from middleweight to light heavyweight? Yeah, he beat Rocky Fielding for a version of the WBA 168-pound belt last December, but truth be told, Fielding wasn't a top fighter in the division. With Kovalev, he's facing a bona-fide belt-holder who has spent his whole career in the light heavyweight division.


3. Regis Prograis vs. Josh Taylor -- Oct. 26, London

The matchup: This is the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tournament final, which has been beset by various financial issues. Just a few weeks ago Prograis (24-0, 20 KOs) pulled out of this fight, citing various contractual breaches. Now the WBSS has salvaged this matchup and Prograis is back in the fold. Taylor (15-0, 12 KOs) is a quick-fisted, multi-dimensional boxer who in his last three bouts has defeated Viktor Postol, Ryan Martin and Ivan Baranchyk.

Why this fight matters: It would've been a shame to see the WBSS not play out to its natural conclusion, especially when it involves two of the very best fighters at 140. Prograis is rated No. 2 by ESPN, while Taylor is right behind him at No. 3, behind fellow titleholder Jose Ramirez.

The intrigue: This is a unification bout, and the winner of this tournament clearly sets himself as the clear next opponent for Ramirez, who recently defeated Maurice Hooker in his own unification fight in late July.


4. Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs. Artur Beterbiev -- Oct. 18, Philadelphia

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Gvozdyk motivated to square off vs. Beterbiev

Oleksandr Gvozdyk previews his fight vs. Artur Beterbiev, adding how he's motivated to revisit their history from 10 years ago.

The matchup: You have two of the best light heavyweights in the world squaring off here, with Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) sitting atop the ESPN rankings in this division. Back in December he dethroned longtime WBC champion Adonis Stevenson by stopping him in 11 rounds in Quebec City, and then made his first defense by stopping Doudou Ngumbu in five rounds in March. Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) has never gone the distance in his career, having stopped all of his professional opponents. Beset by promotional issues in the past, he seems to have found solid footing now, and after stopping Radivoje Kalajdzic in five rounds in May, he now gets a chance to make up for lost time.

Why this fight matters: Any time boxing has an opportunity to consolidate its champions through unification bouts, it's good for the sport, and it usually means that the very best within a weight class are facing one another. While "The Nail" is ranked first, Beterbiev is fourth. So while the likes of Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol may state their case as being the best in the division, the winner of this matchup has the strongest argument.

The intrigue: Beterbiev basically demolishes his opponents. Every punch he throws is heavy and hard. You could argue that he is the hardest pure puncher at 175, so the question for Gvozdyk, who's a well-schooled technician, is whether he can follow the game plan set forth by his trainer Teddy Atlas. This is the classic boxer vs. puncher matchup and you could see long stretches where Gvozdyk will control the action from the outside behind his jab. But Beterbiev will always be a threat to change the course of the fight with just one punch.


5. Errol Spence Jr. vs. Shawn Porter -- Sept. 28, Los Angeles

The matchup: Spence (25-0, 21 KOs) is considered not only one of the best welterweights in the world, but the IBF belt-holder has a spot on almost everyone's top pound-for-pound fighter list. Spence easily stopped Mikey Garcia in Garcia's bold gambit last March to move up two weight classes to challenge him. He showed that he isn't just a one-dimensional power puncher, but someone who can also outbox foes from his southpaw stance. Porter (30-2-1, 17 KOs) recently claimed the vacant WBC belt by winning a controversial 12-round decision against Yordenis Ugas. He has never been a particularly stylish or elegant fighter, but he has consistently competed at a high level against the best in this division. His only losses have come against former titleholders Kell Brook and Keith Thurman.

Why this fight matters: The welterweight division has been filled with talented fighters for years, but we haven't seen many of them tangle with one another on a consistent basis. Now these matchups are happening with more frequency. Back in July, Pacquiao defeated Thurman, and Spence is hoping that a victory will propel him to a showdown with "Pacman". A victory by Spence further strengthens his claim as the best welterweight in the world.

The intrigue: While most pundits are already penciling in a Spence victory, ask yourself this: Win, lose or draw, has anyone ever had an easy time with the rugged Porter? Can Porter, who has a long and storied history against southpaws (having faced the likes of Oleksandr Usyk in the amateurs at 165 pounds), smother the superior skills of his foe to pull off the upset? Or is Spence simply too talented and well-rounded for him?


6. Gennady Golovkin vs. Sergey Derevyanchenko -- Oct. 5, New York City

The matchup: Golovkin (39-1-1, 35 KOs) was the longtime middleweight champion before suffering his first professional defeat last September against Alvarez. At age 36, many believe he is past his physical prime, but GGG is still rated second at 160 by ESPN. Derevyanchenko (13-1, 10 KOs) is a solid fighter, and gave Daniel Jacobs a tough fight last fall. He is considered a top-10 middleweight (ESPN has him at No. 6).

Why this fight matters: For GGG it's a chance to regain a belt and continue his quest to get a third shot with Canelo. For Derevyanchenko, it's a chance to put him in the sweepstakes for even bigger and better things. His team basically maneuvered their way out of a fight with Canelo, believing that a victory over Golovkin would give them even greater leverage for a fight down the line with the Mexican icon.

The intrigue: Derevyanchenko is certainly a few notches above Steve Rolls, who Golovkin took care of easily in four rounds back in June. This fight will tell us just how many acts are left in the "Big Drama Show." This is also his second camp with trainer Johnathon Banks, and this time around they will have a full camp. It will be interesting to see how Golovkin evolves under his stewardship. As for Derevyanchenko, can he perform better than he did in April when he struggled a bit with Jack Culcay?


7. Richard Commey vs. Teofimo Lopez -- TBA

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Lopez beats Magdaleno with brutal KO, outlandish celebration

Teofimo Lopez takes it to Diego Magdaleno with a knockdown in the sixth round, and a crushing knockout in the seventh round to finish the fight.

The matchup: Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) comes into this contest as the defending IBF lightweight world titleholder, having won the vacant belt by demolishing Isa Chaniev. Commey then took care of veteran Raymundo Beltran in eight rounds in June. Ranked third by ESPN in this division, his only defeats have come on the road against Robert Easter and Denis Shafikov -- both razor-thin verdicts. Like other standout fighters from Ghana, who include the likes of the great Azumah Nelson and welterweight Ike Quartey, Commey is strong and steadfast in the ring. Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) is considered a future star, and he has been put on the fast track by Top Rank. In July, he was taken the 12-round distance by Masayoshi Nakatani, in what was his toughest test to date.

Why this fight matters: This matchup isn't just about the IBF title -- it's an elimination bout of sorts, as the winner will have the last remaining lightweight title that isn't on the waist of Vasiliy Lomachenko. He now has the WBA, WBO and WBC belts, and he wants that last title to become undisputed champion. Whoever has it will be in line for a big payday against Lomachenko in the first quarter of 2020.

The intrigue: Did Lopez just face a guy that was tough to look good against in Nakatani, or did it show that perhaps he isn't ready for big league pitching? Winning a world title should never be easy, and in Commey, Lopez isn't being handed one on a silver platter by any means.


8. Naoya Inoue vs. Nonito Donaire -- Nov. 7, Saitama, Japan

The matchup: Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs), the IBF bantamweight king, is considered among the very best fighters in the world. "The Monster" hasn't gone past the second round in three straight wins, versus Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and most recently Emmanuel Rodriguez -- all of whom had championships on their resumes. Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs) has won titles in four weight classes (from flyweight to junior featherweight) and has shown recently that with trainer Kenny Adams, he has something left in the tank.

Why this fight matters: You have a rising star in Inoue and a future Hall-of-Famer in "The Filipino Flash." For decades, fights like this -- a fighter in his physical prime facing an old lion who is looking to add to his legacy -- have enticed boxing fans.

The intrigue: At age 36, does Donaire have one last great effort in him? Many consider him to be a sizable underdog here, but keep this in mind: most of his losses have come above 118 pounds. After years of campaigning at junior featherweight and featherweight, he made the decision to come back down to where he should've been all along. Yes, Inoue is at the peak of his powers and 10 years younger, but at bantamweight, Donaire is still a lethal puncher.


9. Shakur Stevenson vs. Joet Gonzalez -- TBA

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Shakur Stevenson: I'm a level above Teofimo Lopez

Shakur Stevenson explains why he feels he's a better boxer than Teofimo Lopez. Max on Boxing airs the full interview Friday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The matchup: This pairing is for the WBO featherweight title, which was recently vacated by Oscar Valdez. Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs), a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, has steadily improved and has received acclaim as a blue-chip prospect. Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs) has, for the most part, flown under the radar since turning pro in 2012, but his recent destruction of Manuel Avila was evidence that he is now a bona-fide contender.

Why this fight matters: Not only is a major world title on the line, but it's a very intriguing matchup between two undefeated young boxers in their prime, who really don't like one another all that much. It's also the classic matchup of styles between the boxer and puncher. Can Gonzalez turn this into a phone booth battle against a slick boxer, and how does Shakur deal with the pressure that will come his way?

The intrigue: More will come of this in the lead-up to the fight, but this isn't just business between the two. Some of their animosity has already been aired out on social media and it's clear that this is personal.


10. Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz II -- TBA

The matchup: Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) is the reigning WBC heavyweight champion of the world. His right hand is considered one of the most devastating weapons in all of boxing. For whatever flaws he has technically, they are oftentimes not an issue because 'the Bronze Bomber' has the proverbial eraser. Because of that, he has become one of the most exciting fighters in the world. Ortiz (31-1-1, 26 KOs) is a big, strong southpaw, who has been a perennial heavyweight contender but has never actually been a champion. At age 40, this could be his last shot.

Why this fight matters: Compared to Tyson Fury, Wilder is taking a much bigger risk in the lead-up to their rematch, which is supposed to take place in the first quarter of 2020. While Fury is facing the relatively unheralded Otto Wallin, Wilder (who is rated No. 1 in the ESPN rankings) is facing the sixth-ranked heavyweight in Ortiz. Should both Fury and Wilder come out victorious, the first big fight of 2020 will be set.

The intrigue: Go back to their initial meeting back on March 3, 2018. In between getting floored in the fifth round and then stopped in the 10th, Ortiz looked to be on the precipice of dethroning Wilder as he shook Wilder badly in the seventh frame, but couldn't finish him off. And well, the rest is history. In what was the most memorable heavyweight clash in years, Wilder rallied late to retain his title. So in the second go-around, will Ortiz be as dangerous as he was last year, or has he simply aged too much at this point to really be a threat to Wilder again? And given what's on the line, will the usually hell-bent-for-leather Wilder play it safe?

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