As the sport heats up this year, some superfights have been made and some have not.
Fans of boxing have had six months filled with drama, intrigue, and controversy to begin 2023. This year has exhibited the best and worst of the sport in greater detail than possibly any other year in the contemporary period.
Many of the biggest battles that could have happened in the sport were made in the first half of the year, which has already produced a long list of Fight of the Year contenders. Despite the positive aspects, the sport has occasionally been marred by controversies or the obstinate reluctance of some fighters and promoters to make suitable matches.
In light of all of this, let’s examine the state of boxing as we head into the second half of the year.
Big fights coming together
Young boxing superstars Ryan Garcia and Gervonta “Tank” Davis have long been rumored to face off, but it seemed unlikely that the bout would happen anytime soon due to disagreements in promotional and network alliances as well as boxing’s propensity to shield its most promising prospects.
Surprisingly, the two competitors forced the matter, and a battle was scheduled for April 22. The bout, which Davis won by way of a vicious body shot knockout, was a huge box office hit and elevated Davis’ notoriety to that of perhaps “the face of the sport.” The fight demonstrated that obstacles can be overcome if the persons involved are invested enough, despite the fact that they frequently prevent the biggest fights from happening.
When it was confirmed that Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford will square off on July 29 for the undisputed welterweight championship, those obstacles were once again removed. This happened after numerous prior attempts at diplomacy to end the fight had failed.
There are plenty of big fights to excite boxing fans, including the undisputed bantamweight champion and top pound-for-pound fighter Naoya Inoue moving up a weight class to challenge unified titleholder Stephen Fulton on July 25 and the rumored matchup between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and undefeated middleweight champion Jermall Charlo.
— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) May 25, 2023
Biggest heavyweight fight still not set
However, a bout that would seem to be an easy matchup is still not happening since Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are still publicly butting heads. The WBC champion and number-one heavyweight in the world, Fury is the best heavyweight of his generation. The other three world championships in the weight class are held by Usyk, a previous undisputed cruiserweight champion. Both guys are unbeaten and established as top contenders on pound-for-pound rankings.
While it would seem logical that the two combatants would enter the ring and proclaim the first undisputed champion of the four-belt era, they have instead engaged in a series of negotiations that appear to have been conducted in bad faith, first hinting that a fight might take place, then declaring that talks had broken down.
For Fury, whose brilliance has always been linked with peculiar personal behavior, this is not unique. He has practically lost count of the number of times he has retired and re-retired and is still forced to participate in battles that are less exciting than many of the greatest and most intriguing obstacles out there. The UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones and the former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou have been the subjects of more of Fury’s recent conversations.
It will very probably be Fury’s mistake and will stand out as a flaw on his otherwise remarkable CV if Fury ends his career without ever facing Usyk.
Tyson Fury with an update on his next fight today: “Can’t wait for you all to see what I’ve got coming – it’s show stopping.” pic.twitter.com/F1wIuKI5Yq
— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) June 26, 2023
A year of tremendous in-ring action
Two months of exciting events marked the beginning of 2023. It seems as though a new battle was added to the list of battle of the Year contenders every week. In January and February, many action-packed fights took place, including Leigh Wood vs. Mauricio Lara, Luis Nery vs. Azat Hovhannisyan, Erika Cruz vs. Amanda Serrano, Artur Beterbiev vs. Anthony Yarde, and many more.
After those first two months, things slowed down, but not significantly. The fight on June 10 between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko may have beaten out Christian Mbilli vs. Carlos Gongora, Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov vs. Joe Cordina, and Katie Taylor vs. Chantelle Cameron as the best fight of the first half of the year.
The next generation continues to take over
With his victory over Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis cemented his place as one of the two biggest spectators in the sport, along with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. However, Davis is far from the only young combatant to have achieved a career-best victory in 2023.With his victory over Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis cemented his place as one of the two biggest spectators in the sport, along with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. However, Davis is far from the only young combatant to have achieved a career-best victory in 2023.
Devin Haney already held the title of uncontested lightweight champion, but he did it without competing against the top-tier athletes in the 135-pound weight class. That changed on May 20 when Haney successfully defended his championships against Vasiliy Lomachenko, a former unified champion and reigning pound-for-pound king. The Haney vs. Lomachenko bout was outstanding, including top-tier performances from both boxers until Haney prevailed through unanimous decision. Despite considerable debate around the outcome, Haney had his best performances to date and, at the age of 24, displayed long-term potential as one of boxing’s elite.
Since becoming the undisputed lightweight champion, Teofimo Lopez had struggled in three matches. The 25-year-old was an obvious underdog going into his fight with junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor because of those difficulties. Lopez delivered a career-best performance, dominating Taylor from bell to bell to win the WBO title by a convincing decision. This was as opposed to another underwhelming performance. However, it seems improbable that Lopez has genuinely retired from the sport despite his insistence that he has done so and that the title has been relinquished.
There are many more young fighters who have the chance to continue their ascent of the mountain; they are only three of the young fighters who have made significant comments this year.
Boxing still can’t avoid controversy
Even though 2023 hasn’t been as controversial as some other years, there have still been incidents that have in some way damaged the sport.
The most notable of these occasions was probably Rolly Romero’s victory against Ismael Barroso on May 14 to earn the WBA junior welterweight championship. Barroso, who agreed to the bout on short notice and had been passed over for title possibilities for years, dominated the action, outboxing Romero right away. Romero was given a knockdown in Round 9 for what seemed to be a clear shove, and immediately after that, the referee intervened to stop the fight, giving Romero the TKO victory even though both fighters were exchanging punches at the time the fight was stopped, with Barroso having the upper hand.
It appeared to be a clear instance of the “money fighter” being rescued out of a battle in which he was outmatched by a competitor who was essentially unknown to everyone but the most ardent boxing purists.
There were numerous internet protests in response to Haney’s victory over Lomachenko. The battle had a reasonable chance of being scored closely for either fighter because it was so tight throughout. Although Lomachenko had the more dominant rounds, as the broadcast stated multiple times, it felt as though he won “the story of the fight” as a result. Additionally, some of the rounds’ scores didn’t seem to accurately reflect how the action had unfolded, which led many to speculate that the judges were either inept or corrupt. It’s not clear who would have the investment in Haney to exert influence to guarantee he wins a close decision, of course, as he will be available for promotional and network free agency following the fight.
Other strange scorecards and small-scale robbery have occurred in the sport. However, when looking at boxing as a whole, 2023 has produced six months of thrilling action and standout performances while improving on the ability to make fights that were once considered “impossible” happen.
Let’s hope that the strong momentum continues into the year’s second tough.