Boxing in 2023: Four burning questions surrounding the sport’s biggest stars heading into the new year

Boxing will begin in 2023 with high hopes for some epic showdowns. Many think this is finally the year we’ll see some of the most anticipated matches of this era, which includes unifying the light heavyweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. But even outside of those matchups, there are other bouts that don’t even need a title to get fans going, like a potential clash between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia.

With so much to choose from, the writers at CBS Sports have taken it upon themselves to answer some of the biggest questions at the forefront as the new 12 months of struggle are set to begin this weekend.

Let’s jump right into questions and predictions from “Morning Kombat” host Brian Campbell and writer Brent Brookhouse.

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Which superfight is most likely to take place?

Campbell: Oleksandr Usyk vs. Tyson Fury

All the remaining obstacles, injuries and grueling fights are finally behind us, which means that 2023 is the year boxing finally has one name and one face at the top of the heavyweight division with the crowning of its first undisputed champion with four belts. Enter a pair of unbeatens in Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, each with a chance to cement their all-time great status with a win. For Fury, it would be an acknowledgment that he is the best heavyweight of this renaissance era. But for Usyk, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, who in 2020 became boxing’s only four-belt champion and the undisputed cruiserweight champion, it’s a chance to carve out his own unique legacy. This is the best fight that boxing could produce in the new year in terms of stakes and historical importance.

Brookhouse: Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia

Ryan Garcia vs. “Tank” Davis appears to be happening in April. Now, boxing is boxing, it’s hard to say that anything is certain. There’s also the small matter of Davis’ hit-and-run situation hanging over the fight, and it’s not out of the question that Davis is in jail and not in the ring come April. Still, of all the most coveted and hyped “superfights” in boxing, Davis vs. Garcia seems the most likely because they’ve already managed to get on the same page and bring your promoters and networks to that page as well. As for fights like Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk and Errol Spence vs. Terence Crawford, the will to see these fights through seems to come and go. Davis and Garcia have talked and talked and have now set a target date. That’s a good indication that we could indeed see this fight in the first half of the year.

Who ends the year as the undisputed lightweight champion?

Campbell: Shakur Stevenson

If defending champion Devin Haney accepts a tough challenge from former pound-for-pound king Vasili Lomachenko, there is no guarantee that he will enter the second half of 2023 with all four titles on his shoulders. Either way, there’s an even bigger threat for the 135-pounders who have recently risen after winning titles in two separate divisions. The undefeated 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson has all the makings to one day soon earn recognition as the best boxer in the game. With a chance in his next fight to become Haney’s WBC mandatory challenger, Stevenson could end the year with a title shot. And with his sublime speed, footwork and technique, he represents a solid level of potential Kryptonite for anyone in the division, whether it’s Haney, Lomachenko or secondary title holder Gervonta Davis.

Brookhouse: Nobody (belts split after Haney advanced)

Lightweight has a bunch of talented fighters, potential fights that make boxing fans salivate and the undisputed champion. So the answer to who ends the year as the undisputed champion is, of course, no one. Devin Haney holds all the belts and looks set to fight Vasiliy Lomachenko in his next appearance. Assuming Haney manages to go undefeated and get a career-best win over Lomachenko, I don’t think he’ll stay at 135 pounds for long. Haney has already teased the idea of ​​moving up to 140, and that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the 24-year-old who has already won that division. The second Haney moves and releases his belts, they will scatter to the four winds (sanctioning bodies). Haney could test 140 and not vacate his belts, but holding four world titles means you have four mandatory challengers and not much room to delay defenses.

Who is ready for a successful year?

Campbell: Jaron Ennis

Don’t let the jokey nature of his January 7 decision by Karen Chukhadzhian fool you, Jaron “Boots” Ennis is the next big thing in the welterweight division and, quite possibly, in sports in general. Although he failed to get a stoppage and was heavily booed in his last fight, Ennis still won all 12 rounds on every scoreboard and nearly doubled Chukhadzhian from a punches standpoint. As the new mandatory (and interim titleholder) for Errol Spence Jr.’s IBF belt, Ennis will likely finish 2023 fighting for the title. His early start to the year could push the 24-year-old from Philadelphia to three appearances in 2023, which is needed after fighting just once in 2022. Ennis just can do it all and his frustration level with Chukhadzhian had more to do with his opponent’s constant running and circling further than anything else. The jury is still out on whether Spence will finally face Terence Crawford for the undisputed title at 147 pounds this year, but either way, Ennis will be heard and still has plenty of time to take over.

Brookhouse: Keyshawn Davis

If the heavyweights were less of a top-heavy mix with elite fighters fighting each other or looking for the odd soft contest, I’d say Jared Anderson. Anderson is still a man to watch with his immense power and it’s only a matter of time before he takes on someone who could put him in a bigger mix of the best heavyweights in the world. Instead, I’m going to say that 2023 will be the year Keyshawn Davis breaks out. In just his seventh fight, Davis shut out two-time former title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos. A former silver medalist with tremendous speed, gritty strength and a big personality, Davis is a star in the making. Things will move quickly in his career over the next 12 to 24 months.

Who disappoints/does not live up to expectations?

Campbell: Teofimo Lopez Jr.

The biggest name in boxing that seems to have gone the wrong way the most is Teofimo Lopez Jr. The 25-year-old former lightweight champion won a pair of bouts in 2022 after moving up to 140 pounds, but he never showed the same level of dominance and dynamic skill he once had, including his loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2020. Lopez is after his last fight caught on camera asking his corner, “Do I still have it?” Although he would later say the moment was planned in hopes of luring future opponents into believing he was damaged goods, his behavior in and out of the ring over the past two years has been anything but healthy or encouraging. There are still questions about whether Lopez’s power really weighed on him. He was also never the same physically after suffering a torn esophagus that limited him in a tough loss to George Kambosos Jr. In 2021, Lopez’s personal life has long been a rollercoaster that brings legitimate questions into the new year about whether he can return to his former form as a future great in the making.

Brookhouse: Terence Crawford

When Crawford broke free from Top Rank, the expectation was that he would finally be in a position to fight all the elite welterweight talent available — most of that talent being controlled by the PBC. Of course, that included the hope of facing Errol Spence Jr. in one of the most important fights in boxing. That fight actually looked like it was going to happen before it fell apart during negotiations, at which point Crawford fought David Avanesyan at BLK Prime, which was a return to the kind of “Why is this happening?” matchmaking that plagued Crawford while under the Top Rank umbrella. Crawford is ultimately at the mercy of the other top names in the light heavyweight division, despite being arguably the best fighter in his division, and possibly the planet. Crawford has reached a point in his career where he needs to make certain fights to cement his legacy, if that’s what he cares about. Fighting more opponents on Avanesyan’s level in 2023 would undoubtedly be an extremely disappointing year for Crawford, even if he may have been right to ask for better financial terms than he was offered during negotiations to fight Spence.

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