Boxing's alternative to the soccer World Cup

Manny Pacquiao, left, and Lucas Matthysse will fight in Kuala Lumpur on July 14. Mohd RASFANMOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

From June 14 to July 15, the 2018 FIFA Soccer World Cup in Russia will be the one event on which the eyes of the world will be set. Boxing fans will have to divide their attention between the sweet science and football. Is that a problem? Not at all. Time zone differences with the World Cup hosting country will make all viewing compatible, and boxing will have plenty of huge events throughout the month.

It's a year filled with outstanding bouts, so these 32 days in which we will have soccer for breakfast and lunch, we could have a satisfying boxing main course for dinner. If you want to have an alternative to the action in Russia or if you need to get a rest from the World Cup if your national side has some bad luck, boxing will be there waiting for you.

Let's take a look at what we can enjoy.

Crawford and Santa Cruz double bill

Right at the start of the World Cup we will enjoy a spectacular weekend of boxing. And Saturday, June 9, will be its highlight. On one hand, we have the eagerly-awaited rematch of a spectacular fight in 2015 between "regular" featherweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KO) and Abner Mares (31-2-1, 15 KO) in Los Angeles. The same night, in Las Vegas, former junior welterweight unified champion Terence Crawford (32-0, 23 KO) will make his 147-pound debut, fighting against Australian king and welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn (18-0-1, 12 KO), on ESPN+ (9 p.m. ET).

We will also have the return of former bantamweight world titlist Luis "Panterita" Nery against Filipino Jetro Pabustan in Tijuana, Mexico, in a 10-round fight. This is a highly anticipated event because it is expected that Nery could relaunch his career after the struggles he faced before his fight in Japan against Shinsuke Yamanaka for a bantamweight belt on Aug. 15, when Nery showed up at the weigh-in at 123 pounds, five over the division limit, and was subsequently suspended by the WBC.

Opening match... then Gesta, then Spence

On Thursday, June 14, the same date of the World Cup's first match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Mercito Gesta and Roberto "Tito" Manzanarez will fight on ESPN, in a lightweight 10-round contest in Indio, California. Two days later, on Saturday, when Lionel Messi and Argentina make their debut against Iceland and Peru faces Denmark, Errol Spence Jr. will defend his welterweight world title against undefeated Mexican fighter Carlos Ocampo in Frisco, Texas.

Gabriels, Shields and Billy Joe

Friday, June 22, will be a historic day for Costa Rica. In the morning, its national team will play against powerhouse Brazil in Saint Petersburg, starting its World Cup run. When the night falls, Costa Rica's champion and national pride Hanna Gabriels will step into the ring for a high-stakes fight in Detroit.

Gabriels, the two-time junior middleweight world titlist, is going up in weight to fight for two middleweight vacant belts against unified super middleweight world titleholder and two time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, who will drop to the 160-pound division to face the challenge.

As part of the same bill, Christina Hammer will defend her middleweight belts against Tori Nelson in a 10-round match.

On Saturday, June 23, right after Mexico plays its second World Cup match, middleweight world titlist Billy Joe Saunders will face Martin Murray on ESPN+ in London. Saunders is a worthy candidate for a possible unification fight against Gennady Golovkin or a title bout against Canelo Alvarez.

Ramirez week


Ramirez earns hard-fought win to capture belt

Jose Ramirez outpoints Amir Imam through 12 rounds to win the WBC title at 140 pounds by unanimous decision.

On Saturday, June 30, the World Cup's Round of 16 matches will begin. And it will also be the start of a huge boxing week with two ESPN broadcasts.

Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramírez (37-0, 25 KO) will defend his super middleweight belt at Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena against Colombian challenger Roamer Alexis Angulo (23-0, 20 KO) in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN card.


Manny Pacquiao-Freddie Roach partnership timeline

Manny Pacquiao cutting ties to Freddie Roach marks the end of one of boxing's most successful boxer-trainer partnerships.

Seven days later, another fighter named Ramirez will display his skills on ESPN+. Junior welterweight titlist Jose Ramirez (22-0, 16 KO) of Fresno, California will defend his belt against Boston southpaw Danny O'Connor (30-3, 11 KO).

Pacquiao returns

The World Cup final match will be played on Sunday, July 15. On the eve of soccer's most important event, ESPN will feature a boxing match also full of high expectations: Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KO), boxing's only eight-division world titleholder, returns to the ring to face "regular" welterweight titleholder Lucas Matthysse (39-4, 36 KO) of Argentina, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This fight is hugely important for the future of the Filipino legend. If Pacquiao wins, he could face the winner of the Crawford-Horn fight or drop his weight to 140 pounds for a possible bout against ESPN's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, Vasiliy Lomachenko. However, there is also a high probability that, if Pacquiao loses, he could announce his definitive retirement right in the ring.