Boxing is not a sport that rewards fan optimism or the hopes of seeing the best and biggest fights actually getting made very often, but it’s the holiday season, a new year is about to begin in a couple of days, and hey, why not make some wishes for fights we’d like to see in 2023?
We’ll stick to just 10 for today, and apologies to the many top fighters who don’t make it onto the list, because there are definitely way more than just 10 great fights that could be made next or any year. But even 10 runs the risk of a low connect percentage, so we’ll just keep it there.
1) Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who still has a hand in Tyson Fury’s career, says that an agreement has been reached for Fury (33-0-1, 24 KO) and Usyk (20-0, 13 KO) to meet next in what would be an attempt to crown the first-ever undisputed world heavyweight champion in the four-belt era, something we never should have allowed to happen in the first place, but we also shouldn’t have allowed three or two, and we’re probably closer to everyone recognizing a fifth than scaling it back any.
Fury vs Usyk as a fight won’t intrigue some who believe that Fury is simply too big for Usyk. Sure, Anthony Joshua’s a lot bigger than Usyk, too, but Joshua isn’t the boxer Fury is, and Fury seems far more likely to neutralize the smaller man’s best assets.
But it’s for the world heavyweight championship, two unbeaten stars who have done everything they can to be considered the top two big men in the game today. Whether in the Middle East or at Wembley Stadium, Fury vs Usyk would be massive, and it handily beats any other option either man would have otherwise.
2) Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford
“It’s been 84 years...”
We almost got Spence (28-0, 22 KO) vs Crawford (39-0, 30 KO) for all the welterweight marbles in December, and then we didn’t. Instead, we got Crawford running over David Avanesyan and Spence doing interviews about Crawford, opting to sit out the remainder of the year following an April win over Yordenis Ugas.
There’s no need to explain why Spence vs Crawford remains the fight at 147 lbs, because we’ve been talking about that being a fact for years now. 2023 is probably the final year it’s going to happen in its best state, at this weight and for an undisputed championship. If we don’t get it in 2023, we’re not getting it, or when we do, it will be in a reduced state. Crawford is 35, Spence turns 33 in March. It’s time. Well, it’s past time, but you get me.
3) Dmitry Bivol vs Artur Beterbiev
Bivol (21-0, 11 KO) has swept every meaningful Fighter of the Year award for 2023, including the most meaningful, ours, after beating Canelo Alvarez and then Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez in sound, clear fashion. It also made Bivol a legitimate star in the boxing world. We always knew he was good, but now we know how good, and proving his quality has raised his profile immensely.
Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KO) is the fight he wants. He wants to try for undisputed more than he wants the bigger money of a Canelo rematch. And if Beterbiev gets past Anthony Yarde on Jan. 28, only politics and bullshit will be in the way. Of course, politics and bullshit block a lot of things that should happen in this sport, so good luck to us all!
It’s a fascinating matchup, though. Beterbiev is a skilled mauler, a lot of craft goes into his “attack, attack, attack” style, and Bivol is one of the best, most sound pure boxers in the game today. Beterbiev is aging and has had injury problems for years, but they’ve never caught up to him on fight night itself. This is the year to make this fight happen.
4) Canelo Alvarez vs Dmitry Bivol OR David Benavidez
Canelo Alvarez is almost certainly going to fight twice in 2023, and the first will almost certainly be on May 6. At the moment, John Ryder looks the most likely option; Canelo will defend his undisputed super middleweight crown, he’ll make sure his surgically repaired wrist is in working order with a live fight, and then he’ll aim for something bigger in the second half of the year.
Canelo (58-2-2, 39 KO) does want the Bivol rematch, and there would be a lot of money on the table for it, too. There are conditions here, of course:
- Canelo will have to come out of a potential May fight in good shape.
- Bivol would have to either beat Beterbiev or not be able to make that fight happen, and do the former in time to be ready by, say, November or December. Canelo would like to fight in September, probably — he prefers May and September — but it doesn’t always work out that way.
Now if the Bivol rematch can’t or doesn’t happen for whatever reason, then Canelo’s best fight is potentially against David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KO) at super middleweight — provided Benavidez beats Caleb Plant, a fight likely to happen in March, and that’s no gimme.
Basically, Canelo remains arguably the biggest star in the sport, but his bigger fight in 2023 depends on a lot of other things, what shakes out and who’s available, who’s ready to fight, all that. But nothing on the political side should block anything; Canelo is promotionally free to do as he pleases, and has no problem working with Matchroom or Premier Boxing Champions.
5) Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano II
Eddie Hearn wanted to have Taylor (22-0, 6 KO) and Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KO) run it back in Dublin, but Serrano’s side weren’t interested in that. It’s understandable, all things considered, but now that Serrano has openly said she does want to fight Taylor again in 2023, we’re back on the more positive side.
There are potential issues here, too. Hearn and Serrano’s promoter, Jake Paul, are really not on good terms at last check. But as Cyndi Lauper once sang, money changes everything, and being totally honest, if Serrano tells Paul this is the fight she wants, I think he’d do anything in his power to make it happen, including stepping aside as long as she gets what they all agree is a fair payday. You may not like the cut of Jake Paul’s jib, but he’s done right by Serrano to date.
The fight would be an absolute monster draw in Dublin, where Hearn intends to have Taylor finally fight in 2023, headlining a stadium show in the country where she’s a legitimate and deserved national sporting hero. Or they could run it back in New York, too; Taylor could fight someone else in Dublin first, while waiting for Serrano to try for undisputed at featherweight in February. Serrano believes if she can do that, it just creates an even better story for a Taylor rematch — undisputed lightweight champ vs undisputed featherweight champ — and she’s probably right.
6) Naoya Inoue vs Stephen Fulton Jr OR Murodjon Akhmadaliev
With Inoue (24-0, 21 KO) having gone undisputed at bantamweight, he now turns his eye north to the 122 lb division, where we have two titlists: Fulton (21-0, 8 KO) and Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KO).
Any move up in weight could be the one that finally sees a fighter meet their limits, and Inoue has already gone from 105 to 108 to 115 to 118, skipping 112 entirely. He’s won a world title at every weight along the way. He now wants to do it at 122.
Either fight is a great one. Fulton and Akhmadaliev are both really good fighters at the very least, and naturally bigger than the “Monster”; that hasn’t been a problem for Inoue so far, but even the other weight-hopping greats of the modern age — Pacquiao, Mayweather, De La Hoya, Donaire, Cotto, etc. — have reached a point where physically it just got really hard, and sometimes too much.
Neither fight is particularly easy to make on paper. Inoue is a Top Rank fighter, Akhmadaliev has been with Matchroom, and Fulton is with PBC. Personally, I don’t believe that there’s much else of major interest for Inoue at 122, other than maybe Luis Nery, and Nery is also a PBC guy.
7) Deontay Wilder vs Anthony Joshua
This is the fight, it seems, that Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KO) and his team want most right now. There’s a chance he’ll wind up fighting Tyson Fury a fourth time later in 2023, but the Usyk idea seems to be off the table just because of other pressures (the Fury fight for Usyk, plus if he doesn’t get that, two sitting mandatory orders for Filip Hrgovic and Daniel Dubois).
That leaves Wilder with an opening for a big opponent, and he and his team are calling again for AJ. Joshua (24-3, 22 KO) vs Wilder was once upon a time the biggest fight to make in the division. It’s not that anymore, but it would still be huge. It would sell a ton of tickets in the UK, and I don’t think Wilder and Co. are too worried about where they fight, since it’s not like he sends fights to the judges.
Joshua seems unlikely to go right after this. The current idea seems to be for AJ to return in March to try and bounce back from two straight losses to Oleksandr Usyk, then maybe go after a bigger fight. One figures the Joshua side would still rather pursue a Tyson Fury bout later in 2023, but that’s a whole other situation.
On the Wilder side, there is a WBC order to face Andy Ruiz Jr in an eliminator, but Deontay doesn’t seem terribly interested in that. If there’s no better or bigger fight to make, it could certainly happen in the spring.
For me, I’d like to see Wilder vs Joshua just to see it. It could be an absolute banger, they’re still two top heavyweight contenders — some may argue Wilder is the second-best heavyweight in the world — and there would be a lot of energy no matter where you put the bout.
8) Juan Francisco Estrada vs Kazuto Ioka OR Joshua Franco
Depending on what happens on Saturday in Japan, Ioka (29-2, 15 KO) or Franco (18-1-2, 8 KO) would be an ideal next opponent for Estrada (44-3, 28 KO).
There could be other options. A fourth fight between Estrada and Chocolatito may be preferable to Matchroom, though demand to see it again may have diminished, not because the third fight was bad — it was quite good — but because we’ve now seen it three times, twice in the last two years under a pretty good spotlight.
The wild card here may be Nonito Donaire (42-7, 28 KO), who has said he would be open to moving down to 115 lbs again for a big fight with Estrada or Chocolatito. Nonito hasn’t fought at that weight since 2010 and he’s 40 years old, but it’s tough to doubt him after everything he’s done over the years. Donaire still has name value and a lot of credibility.
9) Sunny Edwards vs Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez
With Rodriguez (17-0, 11 KO) moving down to 112 lbs and vacating his belt at 115, it’s expected he’ll go after the vacant WBO title at flyweight, ordered to face Cristian Gonzalez for that belt.
That would be just fine and totally understandable, but if he does that and picks up that belt, a fight with IBF titlist Edwards (19-0, 4 KO) becomes the fight to make. Edwards has defied doubters repeatedly now, and established himself as a world titleholder of real value. He’s got a frustrating style that rides the razor’s edge, and Rodriguez’s terrific all-around game would be tested, as would Edwards’ slick boxing.
I think it’s a great fight, period. Even if you believe Bam would trounce Sunny, why not see it in this scenario? Edwards has earned the right to be called the top flyweight in the world, and he wants it, he wants to keep trying to prove his quality.
10) Seniesa Estrada vs Yokasta Valle
Estrada (23-0, 9 KO) has the WBA belt at 105 lbs, and has held a belt at 108 before. Valle (27-2, 9 KO) has two belts at 105 and two belts at 108 right now. They are two of the best fighters in the world and either weight should be doable.
Valle has fought on Golden Boy cards recently, though her most recent was on MarvNation’s Zepeda vs Prograis undercard. Estrada, of course, jumped from Golden Boy to Top Rank, where she hopes to become a bigger star. The actual easiest way to become a bigger star — especially on the women’s side of the sport, which is still growing — is taking the best fights you can and winning them.
This is the best fight Estrada can take. I ran the calculations and concluded that taking this fight and winning it would be the equivalent of 72 sitdown ESPN interviews and video packages combined.