The sport of boxing struggled a bit to get off the ground in 2020. Despite starting the year with a bang in Tyson Fury’s destruction of Deontay Wilder in their heavyweight title rematch, the rest of the sport failed to deliver on the big-time events that needed to take place without the prospects of a live gate or fans in attendance. Yes, Teofimo Lopez’s stunning upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko was great, but it marked the only significant title fight during the pandemic until December rolled around.
As we move toward 2021, there’s much talk again of making superfights that fans have been dying to see. With that in mind — along with the prospects of some fresh faces entering the pound-for-pound discussion — our experts took a shot at some predictions for what we could see happen in the new year.
No Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury this year
No matter what they or promoter Eddie Hearn says, these two aren’t fighting next year. They might eventually come to an agreement, but it won’t be soon. Joshua clearly doesn’t want it that much and also doesn’t like being pressured. Fury seems to want the fight badly, but if Joshua continues to balk, Deontay Wilder is there for a trilogy fight as a backup plan. There are legitimate roadblocks to this fight happening, including mandatories both have to work through. Joshua’s is particularly interesting considering his mandatory — Oleksandr Usyk — could create a really competitive bout. But I don’t buy any of the talk that “now is the time” or “if the parties involved don’t do it they’ll regret it the rest of their lives” or anything else they might say publicly. Boxing’s architecture makes putting these fights together harder than it needs to be, Joshua’s interest is lukewarm and there actually is no cost to not doing it other than affirming everyone’s suspicions about what they already knew about boxing’s ability to deliver on fan expectations in a timely way. — Luke Thomas
Boxing struggles to get out of its own way too regularly to see any of these scenarios play out. Tyson Fury vs. Anthony Joshua seems so obvious and so easy, but there are still a lot of political details to iron out, and it just feels too good to be true. Similarly, lightweight could easily see an undisputed champion with Teofimo Lopez facing Devin Haney — sorry to rain on everyone’s parade, but Lopez is not undisputed yet given Haney holds the WBC belt. The WBC has already said the winner of Ryan Garcia vs. Luke Campbell will be Haney’s mandatory and that Javier Fortuna is Haney’s “second mandatory.” That might be for the best for Haney, who is talented, but doesn’t look on Lopez’s level quite yet. Even “good for boxing” situations like a potential Errol Spence vs. Terence Crawford fight wouldn’t be for “all the belts.” There’s a lot to like about boxing right now, but the sport is what it is and will continue shooting itself in the foot. — Brent Brookhouse
Shakur Stevenson takes over the P4P discussion
Anyone who questions whether the 23-year-old former featherweight champion is ready for things like making a run at fighter of the year in 2021 while inserting himself into the overall pound-for-pound debate needs to look back at the fighter he’s most often compared to. Floyd Mayweather was just 21 when he did both in 1999 and Stevenson repeating such a feat in the same calendar year isn’t out of play given the 2016 Olympic silver medalist’s sublime skills. Stevenson could open the year facing the Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton winner for a 130-pound title and has his sights set on former P4P king Vasiliy Lomachenko after that. — Brian Campbell
Recent Match Report – Sri Lanka vs England 2nd Test 2020/21
TeaSri Lanka 381 (Mathews 110, Dickwella 92, Dilruwan 67, Chandimal 52, Anderson 6-40) vs England
An ageless James Anderson bagged six wickets while delivering England the breakthroughs they needed against Sri Lanka on the second day of the second Test. The home side fought their way into a strong position, however, through impressive innings from Niroshan Dickwella and Dilruwan Perera.
By shortly after lunch, Anderson, the 38-year-old seamer playing his 157th Test, had doubled his tally from the first day, adding three more wickets to help end Sri Lanka’s innings on 381 and finish with figures of 6 for 40 off 29 overs.
They were important wickets, too, as he removed centurion Angelo Mathews with his sixth ball on day two and denied Dickwella an elusive Test century. Dickwella gifted Anderson his five-for, chipping to Jack Leach at mid-off for 92, his highest score in 41 Test appearances. Anderson then drew Suranga Lakmal into a poke outside off-stump and Zak Crawley took a sharp catch at gully.
It was Anderson’s second straight five-wicket haul in Tests away from home, following his 5 for 40 in Cape Town a year ago, and the 30th of his career – only Richard Hadlee has more among pace bowlers with 36.
Still, Sri Lanka’s performance represented further improvement with multiple contributors and a stubborn tail. Dilruwan made an impressive fifty from No. 8, taking to Leach in particular, dancing down the pitch three times to plunder fours through mid-on and mid-off and a six down the ground. He helped add 89 in partnership with Dickwella and then another 49 for the last two wickets to frustrate England.
Anderson picked up where he left off the night before but, where Mathews could not, Dickwella stepped up to keep Sri Lanka in an engaging tussle through the morning session.
Mathews added just three runs to his overnight score before a subdued England appealed for what appeared to be lbw, with the ball appearing to pass the inside edge and deflecting via the knee roll to Jos Buttler behind the stumps. Mathews was originally given not out but Joe Root called for a review and UltraEdge revealed a spike as the ball passed the bat to end Mathews’ fine innings and give Anderson his fourth wicket for the match.
Anderson continued in miserly fashion, conceding just five runs from his four-over spell.
Dickwella, meanwhile, shifted gears into drive, quite literally at times, as he assumed the lead upon debutant Ramesh Mendis’ arrival at the crease. Dickwella unfurled a series of well-timed boundaries, carving Sam Curran through backward point and punching Mark Wood through long-on.
A fantastic take by Buttler had Mendis out for a duck, a faint edge off Wood going down the leg side and finding Buttler’s glove at full stretch to his left.
Sri Lanka had lost two wickets for 11 runs in the space of 19 balls but Dickwella remained in excellent touch, piercing the covers with two beautiful drives, first off Wood then Anderson. He used Wood’s pace to guide the ball effortlessly to the rope at fine leg before bringing up his fifty with a single off Dom Bess, whom he then swept twice to the boundary.
Leach joined Bess in the attack as England opted for dual spinners after the first hour, to Perera’s delight. Bess was also on the receiving end of some harsh Perera treatment after lunch, spilling a return catch struck so hard it caused considerable pain to Bess’s non-bowling hand.
The spinners went wicketless as Wood’s hard graft was further rewarded with the wicket of Lasith Embuldeniya and Curran finally accounted for last man out Perera, who holed out to Leach at deep backward square leg.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo
Olympic Football Tournaments 2020 – Men – News – Ripoll: France’s youngsters are gifted, dependable and committed
Men’s Olympic Football Tournament
Men’s Olympic Football Tournament kicks off in exactly six months
We talk to Sylvain Ripoll, coach of France’s Espoirs (U-21) team
“I’m part of a generation that dreamed of going to the Olympics”
This Friday 22 January marks six months to the day before the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament kicks off in Tokyo. The tournament will see France back on the Olympic stage 25 years after reaching the quarter-finals at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
So what has caused such a prolonged absence from the Olympics? “I can’t give you an exact answer, since I wasn’t there,” says Sylvain Ripoll, coach of the France Espoirs (U-21) team since 2017. “Qualification for such a prestigious competition is always on a national federation’s wish-list, but for some reason we’ve been unsuccessful in recent times. In any case, we’re delighted to be back with the French team in a major tournament like the Olympics,” said the 49-year-old strategist.
“I’m part of a generation that dreamed of the Olympics – just talking about it always makes our eyes light up,” says the man who was not yet 13 when Les Bleus won gold at Los Angeles 1984. “And I think it’s the same with my players,” he adds. “It generates so many memories and great moments that just being part of it is bound to be an honour.”
For now, though, it is still too early to be focusing on Tokyo, with tournaments looming before then both for the U-21s and senior team. “We have the EURO (11 June-11 July) taking place shortly before the Olympic Tournament (22 July-7 August), so one event will influence the other. Before that, there’s the European U-21 Championship, which we’ve qualified for, starting in March in Hungary and ending in June. So, the best thing we can do is to deal with those in the order they come.”
There is no point then in Ripoll looking too far ahead or contemplating which three players over the age of 23 he might include in his squad for Japan, as permitted under the rules of men’s tournament. “Logically, the priority will always be the France senior team,” says the Rennes native, who was nevertheless amenable to remarks last year by Kylian Mbappe, who expressed his desire to take part in the Tokyo Olympics. “We can only rejoice that we have a player in France of the calibre of Mbappe who thinks this way.”
An insatiable talent scout, Ripoll carefully monitors a good 60 players, including 20 who play abroad. He works closely with France’s World Cup-winning coach Didier Deschamps, who is always looking for new blood to energise his squad. “Didier and I talk a lot about the Espoirs’ potential to establish themselves into the senior team. You need to be performing regularly at the highest level for some time to break into the senior side, whereas with the Espoirs, that process can happen much more quickly,” he explains.
“Didier and his staff keep a very close eye on the Espoirs and watch a lot of their matches. We talk a lot about the players’ mentality, commitment and potential,” adds Ripoll, who takes immense pride in seeing one of his young players called up. He also regularly talks with the selectors of the younger age-category teams to try to progress the most promising talents through the ranks.
If we add to the mix the exemption that allows the inclusion of the 1997 generation that was eligible for the postponed Olympics last summer, then there will be a particularly large group to choose from when deciding on the final squad for Tokyo.
For all that, Ripoll already has grounds to be satisfied with his current crop. “This is the second generation I’ve been in charge of since I arrived four years ago. Apart from being gifted, which has been the case for many years in France, given our enormous reservoir of talent, I find them to be very dependable and committed. For now, I feel my players are very focused on their goals, and I hope that remains the case,” says the coach, whose aim is not to assemble only a squad of big names for Tokyo.
“There are a lot of criteria that come into play when you put together a squad for a tournament like this. There are performances, of course, but the priority is to have the best possible squad, which doesn’t always mean you only take the best players. We have to assess how squad members complement each other and perform together.”