Which stars are on the wane?
Anthony Joshua must, unfortunately, be on the list. Never far from the news, and still among the very biggest draws in the sport, Joshua needs a big winning year in 2023. He fought once in 2022 and once in 2021, losing on both occasions to Oleksandr Usyk but earning an estimated £80million.
There was an improved showing by Joshua in the second fight, but he blotted his copybook by taking the belts of the defending cham pion and dropping them outside of the ring, and then grabbing the announcer’s microphone. There was more to come at the post-fight press conference. It was seen variously as a breakdown or an out pouring of emotion which lifted the weight off the British boxer’s shoulders. I will go for the latter.
Among boxing’s purists there is a desire for so much more from the Olympic gold medallist of a decade ago. There is something faded about his career at present, and Joshua simply must shine in his new contract with broadcasters DAZN in the coming year.
Joshua’s fellow heavyweights Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora, both cult figures in British boxing pre-pandemic, are nearing the end of their careers, one suspects. Joshua may fight Whyte early in the year, and perhaps Deontay Wilder later in the summer. Joshua’s remaining fights should be with Wilder, Joe Joyce and Tyson Fury.
Elsewhere, Amir Khan and Kell Brook retired within weeks of each other after a memorable, raucous night in Manchester. It was five years past its sell-by date. Brook, the victor, simply had more left than his ardent foe. They were both boxers with world-class qualities.
Which stars are on the rise?
Conor Benn had been on the steepest rise of any British boxer until a failed drug test derailed his fight in October with Chris Eubank Jnr.
Promoter Eddie Hearn tried to keep the show on the road only for the bout to be called off, with boxing having been dragged through the mud. Then it was revealed that Benn had a previous positive test. All hell broke loose. Boxing’s inability to police itself became clear and the lack of transparency continued until the end of the year, with Benn’s case still not resolved, even though the 26-year-old claims he is innocent.
Early in 2023 there are great expectations with Anthony Yarde challenging Artur Beterbiev for three of the four light-heavyweight belts, while in the women’s ranks a fearless phalanx of fighters are on the up. Caroline Dubois, Lauren Price and Skye Nicholson are rising stars in a group whose stock rose exponentially.
Of the male British heavy- weights, Londoner Joyce had the best year, topped by a brilliant knockout of former world champion Joseph Parker in Manchester, while in the United States, the up-and-coming star of the blue riband division is Jared Anderson. As far as boxing venues go, Britain and its fans remain at the top of the world while the Middle East has fast become a destination for the mega-event. Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden remain popular, but mainly due to their rich history.
Hottest ticket of 2023
The heavyweight and lightweight divisions are the most in demand. Fury triumphed twice in heavyweight contests outdoors at Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, drawing 154,000 spectators for both fights combined. We now look forward to an undisputed heavyweight title fight against Usyk possibly in the first third of 2023. It will be mas sive if it happens, but Usyk needs surgery and Fury may need an operation too. The fight could take place in the Middle East – or at Wembley in the summer.
Devin Haney is the undisputed lightweight champion but the 9st 9lb division is so rich in talent he could take on any one of three fellow Americans, Gervonta Davis, Shakur Stevenson and Ryan Garcia or the Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko. All of these fighters have skills, speed, and style.
After losing to Dmitry Bivol at light-heavyweight, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s attempt to get revenge at super-middleweight will be an unmissable event. Bivol became many pundits’ fighter of the year in 2022 for his victory over Canelo, outboxing the Mexican with panache and skill and he also defeated the previously unbeaten Gilberto Ramirez late in the year.
The sport’s looming crisis
The amateur code is still facing exclusion from the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, which, according to World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaiman would be “a disaster for the sport”.
Judging needs vast improvement, new blood, new officials and perhaps some experimentation. Boxing too often puts wealth above health and, as the Benn- Eubank fiasco showed, needs greater transparency over drug testing. How or why anyone could have contemplated allowing the contest to go ahead was baffling. The controversy damaged the sport and there are still questions to be asked.
Stevenson to make huge inroads towards the top of the pound-forpound list; for me, the 25-year-old is the stand-out boxer developing in this era and it is possible women’s world title fights may well see a switch from 10 two-minute rounds to 12.
Michael Conlan and Leigh Wood should produce the goods again after their 2022 fight that was arguably the fight of the year. It had everything – knockdowns, toe-to-toe combat, both men battling for survival – before Wood, behind on the judges’ cards, knocked Conlan out of the ring in the 12th round.
Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano’s groundbreaking headline event at Madison Square Garden laid the ground for a first wom en’s stadium fight headlined by Taylor at Croke Park, Dublin. It could be argued that no woman had a better year than Natasha Jonas, who, fighting at super-welterweight (three divisions above her natural weight) claimed three world title bets in a trio of stirring victories. How Jonas was not on the shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Year was a shocking indictment of the awards.
This story first appeared in The Daily Telegraph (Sport Section).