21 for 21: British boxing’s best matches for the New Year

Shaun Brown pinpoints 21 British boxing clashes that can bring cheer and excitement to another complicated year in life and the fight game.

As things stand, no-one knows what British boxing will bring us in 2021. With shows on hold due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we are left wondering when boxing will restart and where exactly it will take place. And while 2020 brought us Fight Camp, world title fights in front of no-one, uppercut knockouts, upsets and terrific trade fights we now look ahead to what could be on offer this year.

Mega-fights like Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua take care of themselves with weekly recycled updates as the contracts enter their fifteenth draft. But beneath the multi-million-pound affairs there are dozens of all-British fights that we would all put the kids to sleep early for and answer our phones only if it was an emergency.

Here are 21 gems to get your hopes up for.

Joe Joyce vs Daniel Dubois II

While young gun Dubois is in repair and recovery mode ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce is looking ahead to a possible WBO world title fight following his win over Triple D. Back in November Joyce, called on his vast amateur experience and unorthodox jab to break down the highly touted Dubois. 2021 might be too soon for part two but the ever-changing boxing landscape could see this slot in at the end of the year. Their promoter Frank Warren certainly wants to make it.

A Joyce vs Dubois sequel is an intriguing prospect.
Photo: Queensberry Promotions.

Fabio Wardley vs Nathan Gorman

A potential British title fight in 2021 between the improving Wardley against Gorman who found Daniel Dubois too hot to handle when they fought. No-one is quite sure of Wardley’s potential and Gorman is keen to get his hands on the Lonsdale belt having lost his chance first time around. 

Wardley has broken into an ultra-strong British Top 10. Gorman would be a fine match.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Chris Billam-Smith vs Deion Jumah

This bout has already been postponed but remains a fascinating prospect at cruiserweight. Billam-Smith has earned his stripes in defeat and victory, Jumah – once promoted by Sauerland many moons ago – kicked off 2020 defeating Sam Hyde in an overlooked cracker and will be keen to remind us all of his under the radar talents. Two good cruisers who can bang and take risks. The division usually delivers.

Billiam-Smith is looking the part at cruiserweight.
Photo: Scott Rawsthorne.

Joshua Buatsi vs Callum Johnson

This may decide who is the best light-heavyweight in Britain. Buatsi has long been tipped as a world champion while Johnson has the one-punch power to put away many. Eight years and six fights separate the two. Johnson’s career has stalled badly, Buatsi needs to start dealing with the light-heavyweight dangermen. 

Buatsi vs Johnson is a potentially thrilling match-up.

Lyndon Arthur vs Anthony Yarde II

There are some parallels between this and our first fight in the list. Arthur’s jab dealt with the over-confident and power happy Yarde last month. Arthur delivered on potential and gym chatter while Yarde showed his one round against Kovalev is still what he is remembered for. “Lions in the Camp” might be finished and Yarde needs to master the fundamentals to have a chance against Arthur. This rematch remains a strong possibility because of the fallout from the scorecards last time out. One for the summer when the fans are back (hopefully).

Arthur-Yarde II is a strong possibility for 2021.
Photo: Queensberry Promotions.

Craig Richards vs Hosea Burton

Richards gave himself an early Christmas presents taking the British light-heavyweight title away from Shakan Pitters last month. The South Londoner is a strong addition to an already bustling 175lbs domestic scene. He needs a first defence and the ideal candidate would be Hosea Burton. A former British titlist who was outperformed by Golden Contract winner Ricards Bolotniks. A fight against Richards would represent a make-or-break opportunity for Tyson Fury’s cousin.

New British champion Richards looks a threat at 175lbs.
Photo: Hennessy Sports.

Billy Joe Saunders vs John Ryder II

The Canelo factor goes a long way to deciding if this happens. If Saunders, the WBO super-middleweight champion, should fight and lose to Canelo then at the end of the year it may be that this becomes a fight he needs. Ryder has been loving life at super-middleweight since battering Patrick Nielsen in 2017. Saunders v Ryder met in 2013 in a compelling affair that Saunders edged. A lot has changed since then and many would fancy Ryder to avenge the loss.

Saunders (right) will hope for Canelo, but may get a Ryder return.
Photo: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.

John Docherty vs Zak Chelli

Contrasting fortunes for Docherty and Chelli at the end of 2020. Docherty found out he has plenty to work on after losing to Jack Cullen while Chelli, who drew with Cullen last August, got some momentum when he predictably won BT Sport’s Ultimate Boxxer event. Docherty might go back to basics with Tony Sims but ultimately him versus Chelli would eventually gel into a bit of a ding-dong.

After a breakthrough 2020, Chelli has momentum. Could Docherty be next?
Photo: Ultimate Boxxer.

Denzel Bentley vs Felix Cash

This has already been talked about and it would be a good old-fashioned middleweight dust up for British (held by Bentley) and Commonwealth (Cash) honours. Both are improving, Cash has beaten Jack Cullen and Jason Welborn while Bentley spent 2020 dealing with Mark Heffron. There is so much to like about this fight. 

Bentley rose to prominence in 2020. A clash with Cash promises fireworks.
Photo: Queensberry Promotions.

Mark Heffron vs Caoimhin Agyarko

Heffron’s draw against Bentley and his loss in the rematch (RTD 4 due to an eye injury) gave his career one step forward with half a step back. All of which gave him great exposure on BT Sport. Heffron needs to get back in the mix and what better way to take on fellow big hitter Agyarko. The unbeaten Belfast prospect could be the best of the bunch of those coming through at 160lbs. Another fight to lick your lips at.

Belfast’s Agyarko has heavy hands, but Heffron would be a stiff test.
Photo: Queensberry Promotions.

Scott Fitzgerald vs Anthony Fowler II

There first fight was one of the best of 2019 in Britain. There’s needle, there is history, Fitzgerald is 1-0 up and is rebuilding himself following some personal issues. Let’s not forget his win over Ted Cheeseman, too. Fowler is kicking keen for the rematch and would love nothing more than to even up the score. The second fight would simply pick up from where they left off.

A return between Fowler (left) and Fitzgerald (right) seems unlikely to disappoint.
Photo: Matchroom Boxing.

Ted Cheeseman vs JJ Metcalf

Another super-welterweight banger that Eddie Hearn has apparently made for the first quarter of this year. We’re all aware of Cheeseman’s battling qualities and desire to throw one big shot to take two good ones but let’s not forget he can box when he chooses to. Metcalf can match up to however Cheeseman chooses to fight. The Scouser, just like Deion Jumah, is yet to fully catapult himself on the buzzing 154lb scene. This is his chance.

Cheeseman (left) is looking to crack on in 2021.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Hamzah Sheeraz vs Kieran Smith

Carl Frampton likened Sheeraz to Diego Corrales last time out. Sheeraz may well be the very best of Frank Warren’s prospects. Tall, rangy and has shown finishing qualities both early and late. Smith is one of Scotland’s brightest talents out with the bigger names of Josh Taylor, Lee McGregor, Kash Farooq etc. He has been patiently waiting for a big opportunity and while he would be the underdog in this fight, he is an inch taller than Sheeraz and would be a challenging match-up for the Englishman.

Sheeraz is one of Frank Warren’s brightest talents.
Photo: Queensberry Promotions.

Josh Kelly vs Conor Benn

One big obstacle standing in the way of this is David Avanesyan. Kelly’s fight with the European champion has had a faulty on/off switch and had been due to take place this month. If Kelly can overcome the Russian, then a fight with Benn will give promoter Eddie Hearn a Cheshire grin. The highly skilled amateur versus the once rough and ready famous son who has developed into a respected contender. Winner stays on.

Benn (right) has been completely transformed by trainer Tony Sims (left).
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Akeem Ennis Brown vs Sam Maxwell

The British and Commonwealth 140lbs champion Ennis Brown against a man who last time out put in a career best display against the underrated Joe Hughes. Both have greater aspirations than domestic level and we’ll find out a lot about each of them if this is made. It may be a cagey affair but a fascinating one nonetheless and at 32 Maxwell needs to get a move on.

The slippery Ennis Brown could defend his titles against the in-form Maxwell.
Photo: MTK Global.

Tyrone McKenna vs Joe Hughes

McKenna is rarely in a dull fight but last time out his nemesis Ohara Davies was just too good for him in their Golden Contract final. To find out about McKenna’s future a fight against Joe Hughes would answer a lot of questions and would be high on the punch stats. Hughes, a former European champion, may be nearing the end of his career but a win against McKenna gets him back in the race given the Belfast native’s profile.

McKenna hopes to regroup after his setback against arch-rival Davies.
Photo: MTK Global.

James Tennyson vs Lee Selby or Ricky Burns

Promoter Eddie Hearn is high on the heavy-handed Tennyson and the Northern Irishman needs a decent name on his slate to continue his climb up a steep hill at 135lbs. Lee Selby or Ricky Burns, both former world champions, would do just that should Tennyson get past either of them. Both would represent a good test and arguably Selby’s hand speed and movement may prove too awkward for Tennyson. Selby or Burns would be an ideal litmus test at this stage of his career.

On the cusp of the world top 10, the heavy-handed Tennyson will step up again in 2021.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Anthony Cacace vs Zelfa Barrett

Cacace, the British super-featherweight champion, turned in a terrific performance against the machine-like Sam Bowen last time out. Barrett, who signed with Matchroom last year, has long been highly thought of and looked good against the outgunned Eric Donovan last time. Another fight where we find out how far Barrett can go and if Cacace’s performance against Bowen was a one-off. 

Banger Barrett (left) will be looking to fulfil his rich promise in 2021.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Marc Leach vs Qais Ashfaq II

Ashfaq has called for a rematch since slipping up against the Jamie Moore trained Leach back in October. The 2016 Olympian wasn’t meant to lose to Leach, but the underdog backed up the talk coming out of England’s North West that he was a handful and should not be overlooked. Leach showed exactly what he was about against Ashfaq and ran out a deserving winner. He might just have his rival’s number.

The livewire Leach (right) floored and upset prospect Ashfaq in October.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Lee McGregor vs Kash Farooq II

If any fight at bantamweight in Britain has to be made, then it is this one. The two Scots turned in a British fight of the year contender in 2019 when McGregor got the nod in a controversial points decision. This is unfinished business for both. McGregor has a European title fight coming up and should he come through that then the rematch becomes a monster fight for Scottish boxing.

McGregor-Farooq II is the fight Scottish boxing craves.
Photo: MTK Global.

Kal Yafai vs Paul Butler

Yafai is expected to move to bantamweight. These two former world champions need a path soon and it might just be that it goes through each of them, if the money is right and if the fight can be some sort of world title eliminator. Butler continues to look sharp and Yafai’s career needs resurrected after his waltz with Chocolatito. A crossroads fight.

Yafai is eyeing a move to bantamweight. Could Butler await?
Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.

Main image: Queensberry Promotions.