Although a true boxing fan knows never to get too optimistic while following a sport known for its reputation of disarray and the difficulty of making big fights, 2023 is on pace to be a special year.
The midway point of the calendar year has already provided a series of blockbuster fights and big announcements for the second half. But it has been the steady rumors about which events might still be to come for the final six months that has many wondering whether this could be the best year for boxing in at least a decade.
The last great year for boxing was likely 2013, when high-powered adviser Al Haymon, two years before launching Premier Boxing Champions, moved his prolific stable of fighters from HBO to Showtime, which created a buoyancy of competition between the cable networks to outshine one another.
Although the political hierarchy within the sport looks much different 10 years later, with promoters more exclusively linked with their respective streaming networks, the combination of the want and need for those on opposite sides of boxing’s corporate divide to work together — either out of necessity for survival or to simply please their ambitious in-ring constituents — has created a perfect storm of exciting developments.
The best news about this year regarding the health of the sport is that the success of this calendar year doesn’t feel like an aberration of one great year amid a stream of disappointing ones. Instead, 2023 has been a continuation of a positive trend forthat has led to not only a third straight strong year, but one that is trending to be extra memorable unto itself.
If there has been a leading catalyst for this breakthrough of positive change, it’s the refreshing (if not old-school) attitude of a group of young American stars who actively want the big fights now, regardless of the politics in the way. It’s a cyclical evolution away from the “businessman boxer” era spearheaded by Floyd Mayweather, who made strategic matchmaking an artform.
Lightweight star Ryan Garcia exemplified this movement best in April whento work together with Showtime and PBC to create an attractive pay-per-view bout against Gervonta “Tank” Davis that exceeded projections and helped make mainstream stars of both.
Whether or not Davis-Garcia specifically had a role in more blockbuster fights either being scheduled or rumored is hard to quantify but it has become 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 that was five years in the making between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford.
Getting Spence-Crawford to actually happen could’ve been enough, on its own, to make this year a memorable one for boxing, but it joins a handful of major fights already on the schedule for this summer that simply can’t be missed: Eimantas Staniosis-Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Jaron Ennis-Roiman Villa for secondary welterweight titles (July 8), Stephen Fulton Jr.-Naoya Inoue for the unified 122-pound title (July 25), Emmanuel Navarrette-Oscar Valdez for the WBO junior lightweight title (Aug. 12) and Artur Beterbiev-Callum Smith for the unified light heavyweight crown (Aug. 19).
As good as those matchups appear to be — and the 1-2 punch of Fulton-Inoue and Spence-Crawford in a four-day span can only be described as great — it’s the hopeful second-half projections of what might be added that truly have the potential to make 2023 a year.
The biggest star in boxing, Canelo Alvarez,, which means a rumored Sept. 16 bout against unbeaten middleweight champion Jermall Charlo for all four 168-pound titles is likely. So is a Benavidez clash with fellow unbeaten David Morrell Jr., which should set the stage for the winners to fight in 2024.
Haney, the undisputed lightweight champion who remains a promotional free agent entering an expected move up to 140 pounds, could return in the second half against a number of enticing names from Garcia and Regis Prograis to Lopez and Shakur Stevenson. Other potentially huge fights still to come include Jermell Charlo-Tim Tszyu for the undisputed 154-pound crown, Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano in an undisputed lightweight title rematch of the biggest fight in women’s boxing history and a Beterbiev-Dmitry Bivol showdown for all four 175-pound belts.
The real potential for gold at the end of the 2023 boxing rainbow, however, comes within the heavyweight division and the steady rumor of a superfight card in Saudi Arabia that would be without comparison in the modern era. Unbeaten heavyweight champions Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury would meet in the main event for the undisputed crown while former champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder would finally clash in the co-feature. There is also the potential of former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou making his boxing debut.
Is there reason to be cynical about the fight card ever taking place? Sure. This is boxing, after all. But the finances are clearly there for this to happen and the majority of fighters linked to the card seem interested. Usyk, in fact, recently signed with the upstart Saudi Arabian promotion, Skill Challenge Entertainment, in a move that was rumored to be a prerequisite for him finally getting the Fury fight.
Should all of these blockbuster events actually take place, 2023 has a chance to be as memorable as any other year this century, especially when you consider that there are no shortage of three potential fights (Spence-Crawford, Fulton-Inoue, Usyk-Fury) that could decide who wears the crown as the reigning pound-for-pound king.
Although one development is not a result of the other, boxing has also benefited from a down year for MMA and industry leader UFC, a combat sports PPV rival to boxing that is enjoying its most lucrative stretch in financial history yet inexplicably has undergone watered down matchmaking for most of the year. Not only was UFC unable (or unwilling) to make an Ngannou-Jon Jones heavyweight title superfight, the sport’s biggest star in history, Conor McGregor, failed to enter the USADA drug testing pool in time for a 2023 return.
Again, optimism is not something boxing fans typically employ with regularity yet there’s reason to soak in it for as long as the current momentum lasts as the year of the big fight rolls on. With the entire streaming business going through such intense competition, there has seemingly never been more of an onus for promoters to put their best product forward regardless of the difficulty in making each event take place.
Savor the flavor.