Although certain superfights are already in the past, there is still much to look forward to.
2023 is on track to be a spectacular year, even though a genuine boxing fan understands not to get overly optimistic when following a sport known for its reputation of chaos and the difficulty of setting up big contests.
At the halfway point of the year, there have already been a number of huge fights and second-half announcements. But what has many people wondering if this could be the best year for boxing in at least a decade are the persistent speculations about which events may still be in store for the final six months.
The last successful year for boxing was perhaps 2013, when powerful adviser Al Haymon relocated his extensive stable of athletes from HBO to Showtime, two years before Premier Boxing Champions debuted. This move sparked fierce competition between the cable networks to outshine one another.
The desire and need for those on opposing sides of boxing’s corporate divide to work together has created a perfect storm of exciting developments, despite the fact that the political hierarchy within the sport now looks very different from how it did ten years ago, with promoters more exclusively linked with their respective streaming networks.
The success of this year doesn’t feel like an aberration of one excellent year among a string of dismal ones, which is the best news about this year in terms of the health of the sport. Instead, 2023 has been a continuation of a positive trend for boxing that emerged from the pandemic and has resulted in not only a third consecutive excellent year but also a year that is trending to be particularly remarkable.
A set of young American stars who actively want the big fights now, regardless of the politics in the way, have a refreshing (if somewhat retro) mentality that may have served as a major motivator for this breakthrough in good change. The “businessman boxer” era, started by Floyd Mayweather, who elevated strategic pairing as an art form, has undergone a cyclical progression.
Ryan Garcia, a lightweight, best exemplified this movement in April when he appeared to force Golden Boy and its broadcasting partner DAZN to collaborate with Showtime and PBC to produce an alluring pay-per-view fight against Gervonta “Tank” Davis that exceeded expectations and helped both fighters become well-known figures.
It’s difficult to say whether Davis-Garcia played a role in more blockbuster fights being scheduled or rumored, but it’s just one of many high points for boxing in 2023, alongside David Benavidez-Caleb Plant, Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko, Teofimo Lopez-Josh Taylor, and the official signing of a July 29 undisputed welterweight showdown between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford.
The fact that Spence-Crawford actually took place could have been enough to make this year a memorable one for boxing, but it now joins a number of other high-profile contests that simply cannot be missed this summer, including those between Eimantas Staniosis and Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Jaron Ennis and Raiman Villa for secondary welterweight titles (July 8), Stephen Fulton Jr. and Naoya Inoue for the unified
Even if those matchups seem to be excellent—especially the 1-2 punch of Fulton-Inoue and Spence-Crawford over a four-day period can only be characterized as excellent—it’s the optimistic second-half forecasts of what might be added that have the most potential to make 2023 a year.
Canelo Alvarez, the biggest name in boxing, recently agreed to a three-fight contract with PBC, which makes the reported fight against undefeated middleweight champion Jermall Charlo on September 16 likely. Also included is a bout between Benavidez and fellow unbeaten fighter David Morrell Jr., which should pave the way for the winners to square off in 2024.
Haney, the uncontested lightweight champion who is still an unrestricted promotional free agent as he prepares to move up to 140 pounds, might make a second appearance in the second half against a number of intriguing opponents, including Garcia, Regis Prograis, Lopez, and Shakur Stevenson. Other potentially important fights are the undisputed 154-pound title match between Jermell Charlo and Tim Tszyu, the undisputed lightweight title rematch between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, which was the largest fight in women’s boxing history, and the undisputed showdown between Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol for all four 175-pound titles.
The heavyweight class and a persistent rumor of a superfight card in Saudi Arabia, which would be without comparison in the contemporary age, represent the genuine potential for gold at the end of the boxing rainbow in 2023. Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury, both undefeated heavyweight champions, would square off for the undisputed title in the main event, while Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, both past champions, would finally square off in the co-feature. Francis Ngannou, a former heavyweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, could possibly make his boxing debut.
Is there a reason to doubt that the fights on the card will ever happen? Sure. I mean, this is boxing. The majority of the boxers associated with the card appear eager, and the money is obviously there for this to happen. Usyk recently joined the up-and-coming Saudi Arabian promotion Skill Challenge Entertainment, which was thought to be a requirement for him to finally get the Fury match.
2023 has a chance to be as memorable as any other year this century, should all of these major events actually occur. This is especially true when you consider that there are three potential fights (Spence-Crawford, Fulton-Inoue, and Usyk-Fury) that could determine who is the current pound-for-pound king.
Boxing has benefited from a down year for MMA and industry leader UFC, a combat sports PPV rival to boxing that is experiencing its most profitable stretch in financial history but inexplicably has undergone watered down matchmaking for the majority of the year, even though one development is not a result of the other. In addition to the UFC’s inability (or unwillingness) to stage a superfight between Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou for the heavyweight championship, Conor McGregor, the sport’s greatest ever star, failed to sign up for the USADA drug testing pool in time for a 2023 comeback.
Again, boxing fans don’t usually express optimism, but as the year of the big fight progresses, there are reasons to do so for as long as the current momentum lasts. The pressure on event promoters to present their best work has never seemed greater given the fierce competition that the whole streaming industry is experiencing, despite the challenges involved in making each event happen.
Enjoy the taste.