The new year can bring some of the biggest fights boxing can offer, and add more undisputed champions to its rankings — if the stars (meaning, promoters, networks and fighters) align. From Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk for all the heavyweight titles in the men’s side, to a rematch of one of the best fights of the year between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, big fights are there to be made.
Of course, this is boxing, and chances are, some of the matchups above won’t happen, but we can still predict what can happen in 2023.
Will we see Devin Haney against Vasiliy Lomachenko? How about Deontay Wilder vs. Anthony Joshua? Will women’s boxing continue its ascent?
ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby, Michael Rothstein and Nick Parkinson offer up their bold predictions for 2023.
Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk deliver a heavyweight classic
They still need to close the deal, but once they do, Fury and Usyk will be on a collision course for one of the most important fights in heavyweight championship history.
Since the four-belt era began in 2004, no heavyweight has earned the right to call himself undisputed champion. That should change when Fury and Usyk share the ring in a truly fascinating clash of styles. Fury will be favored amid a dominant run that includes a string of incredible knockouts, most notably a pair of such victories against Deontay Wilder.
The “Gypsy King” also owns a win over a master boxer from Ukraine in Wladimir Klitschko. But Usyk, also from Ukraine, presents a different challenge altogether. The Olympic gold medalist has some of the best footwork in boxing, can deliver punches from varying angles and has carried his power from cruiserweight — where he was the undisputed champion — to heavyweight.
Fury will no doubt look to lean on Usyk and force him to carry all 270-plus pounds, but Usyk has shown an ability to adapt. He beat Anthony Joshua to the punch consistently and was able to absorb AJ’s power shots.
Fury, of course, is a better fighter than Joshua, and while he, too, has impressive footwork, he surely will be slower than Usyk.
The bout shapes up as one of the biggest in global boxing in years, a fight the sporting world will pause to watch. And you can bet Fury and Usyk will deliver a thrilling fight worthy of the hype. — Coppinger
Oleksandr Usyk beats Tyson Fury to become undisputed world heavyweight champ
Fury, the WBC champion, will start as the favorite against Usyk, the WBA, IBF and WBO champion, and it will take a minor upset for the Ukrainian boxer to topple Fury from his perch. But Usyk is capable of it in the form he is in.
As he has shown since stepping up from cruiserweight, Usyk’s movement, speed and boxing skills can beat bigger opponents.
When the pair came face-to-face following Fury’s win over Derek Chisora in December, Usyk also showed he was immune to Fury’s attempts at intimidation.
Fury, 34, is yet to show signs of decline, but his two opponents in 2022 were not as good as Anthony Joshua, the former champion whom Usyk twice convincingly beat by decision in a 12-month period.
Usyk, 35, looked comfortable in the back-to-back wins over Joshua, and that suggests he can do the same to unsettle Fury and become boxing’s first four-belt world heavyweight champion.
Fury is six inches taller than Usyk and a better boxer than Joshua. Since his last win over Deontay Wilder, Fury has defeated Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora. Fury-Usyk has been talked about for spring next year — but Fury says he needs surgery on his right elbow, which would push the fight back into the second half of 2023.
That won’t help Fury’s cause against southpaw Usyk’s mobility, boxing IQ and hand speed, which combined could be enough to see him have his hand raised, perhaps amid controversy, with a rematch a likely scenario. — Parkinson
Deontay Wilder beats Anthony Joshua in the fight of the year
Wilder and Joshua have firmly planted themselves in the heavyweight tier below Fury and Usyk, which isn’t a bad place to be. Wilder is coming off a stunning knockout win over Robert Helenius, while Joshua is rebuilding his career following two losses to Usyk.
This fight makes too much sense for both guys. Wilder is still looking for big fights at this stage of his career, and while Joshua could go up against some of the British up-and-comers in the division, he would be wise to take on Wilder sooner rather than later, especially if he suffers another loss that would further harm his marketability.
If they meet, this one has all the makings of a massive event and a pretty entertaining fight. Joshua’s chin has proved to be pretty decent over the years (see his epic comeback win over Wladimir Klitschko), which makes a matchup against Wilder very intriguing. Wilder has knocked down or knocked out every opponent he has faced (he didn’t do that against Bermane Stiverne in their first fight, but knocked him down three times in the rematch).
The end of 2023 makes the most sense for this one. It allows Joshua to regain some confidence in his first non-Usyk opponent since 2020. — Baby
Naoya Inoue ends 2023 as P4P No. 1 after winning world title(s) at junior featherweight
With the mission complete at bantamweight, Inoue is expected to move on to junior featherweight in 2023 with the prospect of some exciting matchups.
The Japanese boxer is one of the most exciting performers in the sport today and is No. 2 in ESPN’s latest pound-for-pound rankings behind welterweight Terence Crawford.
If Crawford once again fails to fight rival world champion Errol Spence Jr. in 2023, and Inoue beats two of the leading fighters at junior featherweight, many will feel Inoue deserves to be recognized as the new No. 1.
In a perfect world, Inoue would fight at least one of Stephen Fulton, the WBC and WBO champion, or Murodjon Akhmadaliev, the IBF and WBA champion, who between them hold all four belts at 122 pounds.
In his current impressive form, Inoue beats both those champions. Not only is he a clinical finisher, Inoue is also a brilliant tactician and boxer. Most recently he dismantled Paul Butler over 11 rounds in December to become the undisputed bantamweight champion after dismissing future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire in two rounds last summer. He has run out of opponents at bantamweight, but there are at least two fights at 122 pounds that can enhance Inoue’s reputation even more.
Much depends on what happens out of the ring and at the negotiating table with Crawford, and whether the American can be matched against Spence to secure his No. 1 position. — Parkinson
Devin Haney establishes himself as a star with a win over Vasiliy Lomachenko
Haney is well on his way to stardom following a breakthrough campaign with a pair of wins over George Kambosos Jr. in Australia to capture the undisputed lightweight championship and then retain it.
But if he wishes to truly cross over into mainstream appeal, Haney needs a convincing win over a fighter like Lomachenko. They are poised to meet in May for Haney’s four 135-pound titles.
And after Lomachenko’s lackluster win over long-odds underdog Jamaine Ortiz in October, Haney will be favored to win. Surely, Lomachenko will be far better — and more prepared — against Haney. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was coming off a 10-month layoff and dealing with all the turmoil of the war in his home country of Ukraine.
Lomachenko won’t overlook Haney, either, but that doesn’t mean he’ll beat him. He’ll be 35 by the time the fight happens, and he’ll be much smaller than Haney, who will likely move up to 140 pounds after one more defense of his undisputed championship.
Haney’s jab is tough to contend with and should be able to disrupt Lomachenko’s rhythm as he looks to settle into varying angles to find openings. And when they tangle on the inside, Haney will be able to outmuscle him.
Lomachenko is still one of the sport’s elite fighters and one of its most recognizable. It’s just the sort of victory Haney needs on his résumé to vault himself to the next level. — Coppinger
Shakur Stevenson becomes the undisputed lightweight champion
First, let’s start with this being a very bold prediction that should be viewed as a knock on Devin Haney, who is currently the undisputed champ. Haney took care of business in 2022 with wins over Kambosos to win all four major belts.
However, with Stevenson now at 135 pounds, the division gets interesting. Stevenson looked impressive as a featherweight and junior lightweight. His elite blend of power and technical skills makes him a tough opponent. One of Haney’s biggest knocks has been a lack of power. He has zero knockdowns in his past five fights.
It’s easy to make the argument for allowing a potential Haney-Stevenson showdown to simmer until 2024. But both fighters should take advantage of a very hot division with a lot of big names and seek to maximize paydays early in their careers.
But as things currently stand and assuming Haney stays in the division, if Stevenson does get in the ring with Haney, the pride of Newark, New Jersey, seems like the favorite. — Baby
Women’s boxing will have at least three undisputed-versus-undisputed fights
This should clearly happen — and there might be more than three. If boxing, at least on the men’s side, weren’t so difficult to plan this might not even be that bold. But here’s how this could go.
The first one is obvious and should happen — Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano 2. Taylor is the undisputed lightweight champion, and Serrano, by the time this fight happens, would likely be the undisputed featherweight champion as long as she beats Erika Cruz in a fight that could happen as soon as February. That would be the only potential wrench in there.
The other ones are a bit more difficult. If Taylor were to win a rematch and continue fighting — let’s be honest, it would be a career capper to end inside 82,000-plus-seat Croke Park in Ireland with another win over Serrano — then there are a bunch of potential obvious undisputed-versus-undisputed fights for the back half of 2023, from Chantelle Cameron, who is undisputed at junior welterweight, to Alycia Baumgardner or Hyun-Mi Choi, either of whom might be undisputed at junior lightweight. A third fight against Serrano or a rematch against Jessica McCaskill, the undisputed welterweight champion, would also be intriguing possibilities.
If Serrano were to win, a fight against Cameron at 140 or Baumgardner/Choi at 130 would make a lot of sense, as would a third fight between her and Taylor. While that wouldn’t be undisputed vs. undisputed at that point, it would have all the gravitas of one.
A third one to watch could be Claressa Shields, the undisputed middleweight champion, against either Natasha Jonas or Terri Harper, the current titleholders at junior middleweight — a weight class at which Shields used to be undisputed. Either opponent would be a fun, competitive fight for Shields. It feels less likely we’d see Shields face undisputed super middleweight champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn in a rematch of both of their pro boxing debuts in 2016. Not that it wouldn’t be a good fight, but the money would likely have to be very, very right for them because they are good friends. An outside chance for Shields or Jonas/Harper could be McCaskill, too.
Now that it’s laid out, look for the winner of Taylor-Serrano 2 against Baumgardner or Cameron and Shields versus Jonas/Harper in 2023 as the three that would make a lot of sense. — Rothstein
Claressa Shields will fight five times in 2023
Expect Shields to be a very busy fighter in 2023 as she splits time between MMA and boxing. So not all the fights will be in boxing, but if she’s going to make a push in MMA, she knows she needs to get work in the sport.
The timeline could be boxing to begin and end the year, with a lot of MMA in the middle, as she also has potential boxing milestones — as mentioned above — to get to. But Shields has long wanted to be an active, busy fighter.
This upcoming year will be her best opportunity yet for ESPN’s No. 1 women’s pound-for-pound fighter as there’s no obvious boxing match looming like Savannah Marshall was for a couple of years and Shields is entering her athletic prime. So she has a multitude of directions she could go.
It would be an ambitious schedule, but if anyone in boxing could handle it, it would be Shields, who has shown she is willing to take on essentially any challenge within a reasonable weight division as one of the best all-time in the sport. — Rothstein
Dmitry Bivol becomes an undisputed champion
Bivol has been light heavyweight champion for years — and his talent was never questioned — but he didn’t truly break out until 2022.
Bivol was a 4-1 underdog when he met Canelo Alvarez at 175 pounds, then the sport’s pound-for-pound top fighter and the 168-pound undisputed champion. Alvarez was seemingly invincible, but Bivol handled him in dominant fashion. The Russian fighter then added a dominant decision victory over Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez in November en route to ESPN’s fighter of the year honors.
For an encore, Bivol hopes to land a showdown with countryman Artur Beterbiev, who holds three 175-pound titles. The matchup was in discussions for spring 2022 before Bivol landed the Canelo assignment.
Now that Bivol’s stardom has grown exponentially, there’s no reason negotiations can’t be revisited. First, Beterbiev will have to turn back Anthony Yarde on Jan. 28, and he’ll be heavily favored to do so.
Another, more imposing obstacle to a Beterbiev-Bivol matchup is Alvarez. The Mexican star could pursue a rematch with Bivol, who said he would be willing to drop seven pounds to meet Alvarez for his undisputed 168-pound championship. After the way Bivol defeated Alvarez, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t do so at super middleweight, too. Bivol wasn’t just bigger than Alvarez in May; he was better.
Still, Alvarez can only improve in a rematch, and he was hindered by a left hand that required surgery afterward.
If Bivol instead lands the fight he really wants against Beterbiev, the matchup would be viewed as a coin flip, but my take is that Bivol will find a way to win. He’s more confident than ever after his landmark win over Alvarez, and it showed against Zurdo, where he reeled off four- and five-punch combinations, just as he had six months earlier.
With his excellent jab and movement, Bivol should be able to keep Beterbiev at range consistently enough to pile up rounds and pull off a close decision win.
No matter what undisputed championship Bivol challenges for in 2023 — and hopefully it’s at least one of them — he appears destined to end the year with all four belts in one weight class. — Coppinger
At least one championship fight pushes the boundaries currently set in women’s boxing — 12 rounds or three-minute rounds
The push is starting to happen. Most fighters have said they’d be open to one — or both — of these expansions. And while we predicted a three-minute-round women’s title fight last year and it didn’t happen, some progress has been made. Bea Ferreira, the Olympic silver medalist at lightweight, made her professional debut in 2022 and fought three-minute rounds.
She’s a real contender, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see her push for a title by 2024 — and maybe three-minute rounds by then. In the meantime, it seems like women’s boxing is on the cusp of one of these two developments happening.
And it feels like the back half of 2023, potentially with a superfight, might be the way to go. We’ve seen a fight using three-minute rounds before — Seniesa Estrada-Marlen Esparza in 2019, a WBA interim flyweight title fight won by Estrada by technical decision. Estrada and Esparza, by the way, could meet again at some point, and perhaps they’d once again agree to it.
The WBC has, for years, been against going to three-minute rounds, while the other sanctioning bodies told ESPN in 2021 they were open to it.
Perhaps the solution for an undisputed fight would be going to 12 rounds instead of 10, adding four minutes of boxing. But with the growth and popularity of the sport, it feels like one of these two breakthroughs should come in 2023. — Rothstein
Vergil Ortiz finally gets his title shot
Ortiz has been knocking on the door of the top welterweights for quite some time. But various setbacks and a logjam at the top of the division have kept Ortiz and fellow contender Jaron “Boots” Ennis waiting for a crack at the champions, Spence and Crawford.
Ortiz should inch closer to that chance at the beginning of the year. Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Ortiz, won the purse bid for a showdown against Eimantas Stanionis, who holds a secondary WBA belt in the 147-pound division. While Stanionis is very good, Ortiz has the power and the polish to get past that challenge.
That sets up a potential showdown with Spence, the legit WBA champ. If Spence-Crawford doesn’t happen by the summer of 2023, the WBA has no reason not to mandate Spence defend his belt against the Stanionis-Ortiz winner. Should that be Ortiz, it sets up an all-Texas showdown between two fighters from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The other option is that Spence finally moves up to junior middleweight, a move that seems imminent, leaving the belt vacant for Ortiz or someone else. — Baby
The end of 2023 begins the end of an era of women’s boxing
Enjoy it while you can, because while 2023 might not be the end of the line for Taylor or Serrano, it certainly feels much closer to the end than the beginning for both fighters, who have been doing this at a high level for over a decade now — Taylor as an amateur and then a professional fighter and Serrano as a professional.
Serrano has told ESPN in the past she would like to be done by the time she turns 35 — which happens this year — but said in December she is open to fighting through her 35th year and retiring before she turns 36.
“This sport has turned so good and we have great talent coming up,” Serrano said. “I don’t know just yet. The pandemic took a year off so I might add it.”
But clearly, it’s getting to big-fight-or-bust territory for the future Hall of Famer and probably the same for Taylor, who has career ambitions remaining. But if she’s able to tick one of those off on her list by fighting in Ireland, she would be fighting only to grow her legacy and bank account at that point as she’d have literally nothing left to prove if she beat Serrano for a second time.
As Serrano said, though, the future that the two of them — and Shields — have built for boxing has created an intriguing crop of young fighters coming up to potentially be the next Taylor and Serrano, with Shields remaining as a fighter who will be around for a long time to come. — Rothstein
Source : ESPN.com