After the multiple disappointments of fights failing to materialize last year, 2023 is already shaping up to be an improvement for boxing, with some exciting matchups on the horizon. Some fights have been officially announced. Others are very close to being finalized.
But what are the top fights in the months ahead? From Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury to Ryan Garcia vs. Gervonta Davis and the first heavyweight fight for the undisputed championship in the four-belt era, ESPN marks your calendar for dates not to be missed.
1. Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk (tentative) — April 29 — undisputed heavyweight championship
A clash between the best two heavyweights in the world, and perhaps the best heavyweight world champions since the Klitschko brothers (Wladimir and Vitali) reigned, is likely to be the biggest fight of 2023. Boxing suffered from fights not getting made last year, but this one — dare we say it — seems likely to get made and will determine the legacies of both these skilled and clever boxers.
Both have achieved so much in their careers, but what they do on April 29 will be what they are remembered for most. This fight is the first to have all major four heavyweight belts on the line and will create boxing’s first undisputed world champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999 (three-belt era).
Usyk’s slick movement and quick hands could unsettle Fury, but Fury’s long jab and heavier punches (if he can land them) could leave Usyk flat out like Deontay Wilder.
2. Ryan Garcia vs. Gervonta Davis (tentative) — April 15 — 136 pounds catchweight
It was a pleasant surprise to see this fight get made given the obstacles — rival promoters and broadcasters, egos and unbeaten records — and it could be the start of a series of megafights at lightweight.
As well as popularity — they have nearly 13 million followers on Instagram between them — these two American rivals are supremely talented. Davis has skills, power (he has stopped 26 of his 28 opponents) and tactical intelligence, while Garcia has lightning-fast hands with a six-inch height advantage.
Devin Haney holds all the belts, but this matchup is almost as important as Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko. When the fight was announced, Garcia perfectly summarized this encounter: “Boxing needs this fight right now. It’s time for us to get back to what made this sport so great for the fans: Glamourous fights in places like Las Vegas, grudge match storylines, and most importantly — the best fighting the best.”
3. Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano — May 20 — lightweight undisputed championship
Be sure to find time to watch the Taylor vs. Serrano rematch.
Taylor, who lives and trains in Connecticut, has yet to box in her home nation since turning professional more than six years ago. When she steps out at a yet-to-be-confirmed venue in Dublin that night, the roof will lift (presuming the fight doesn’t occur at an outdoor venue like Croke Park). Taylor’s decision over Serrano last year lived up to expectations of it being the biggest fight in the history of women’s professional boxing. Who wouldn’t want a rematch?
4. Devin Haney vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko (tentative) — May 20 — Undisputed lightweight championship
Who has the advantage in Haney-Lomachenko fight?
Timothy Bradley Jr. sees Devin Haney as the favorite in his undisputed lightweight title fight against Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Haney, the undisputed lightweight champion, believes he is the man of the moment, the younger champion looking to make this his era.
Lomachenko, 34, was winning Olympic gold medals when Haney was nine years old and is definitely in the last throes of his career. It’s yet to be seen whether Haney can come close to showing the dazzling technique and skills Lomachenko has in lighting up boxing, winning world titles from featherweight up to lightweight.
With war raging in his homeland Ukraine, Lomachenko could understandably be distracted and slowed by the passing of time and a long career. Haney sees this as an opportunity to establish himself as one of boxing’s biggest names.
5. David Benavidez vs. Caleb Plant — March 25 — Super middleweights
The two former super middleweight champions almost got their fight started early during a recent news conference to announce the event. The animosity will only intensify toward fight night, ensuring a healthy interest in the nontitle encounter. This clash, between the best 168-pounders not named Canelo Alvarez, will be decided by whether Plant’s slick boxing skills can defuse Benavidez’s big-punching power and volume.
Plant is in form after his stunning KO of Anthony Dirrell in October catapulted him back to the No. 3 spot in the division after losing to Alvarez in November 2021, and he will be Benavidez’s best opponent yet.
6. Naoya Inoue vs. Stephen Fulton — June — Junior featherweight title fight
To go straight into a world junior featherweight title fight in his first outing at the new weight class is a bold move by Inoue. To do it against Fulton is even bolder.
Fulton, 28, from Philadelphia, is ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 122 pounds. As a seasoned campaigner in the division who throws a prodigious number of punches, he represents a big risk for Inoue. Inoue became undisputed bantamweight champion in December and is chasing a world title belt in a fourth division, a feat that would surely deserve universal recognition — or confirmation — as the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.
7. Leigh Wood vs. Mauricio Lara — Feb. 18 — Featherweight title fight
These two featherweights are the least well-known boxers on this list, but what they lack in star appeal, they make up for in entertainment value. After being plucked from the domestic scene in their home countries, both pulled off shocking wins at an elite level and produced fireworks in recent fights.
Wood’s last-gasp, 12th-round knockout of Michael Conlan was voted ESPN’s fight of the year and KO of the year for 2022. The English boxer also produced a last round KO win to capture the WBA belt against Can Xu in July 2021. Lara stopped Josh Warrington — who was ESPN’s No. 1 featherweight — in February 2021. Lara added two early stoppage wins last year. It has all the ingredients to be an eventful fight.
8. Canelo Alvarez vs. John Ryder (tentative) — May 6 — super middleweight undisputed championship
Alvarez needs a dominant performance to silence critiques that he’s sliding after a brilliant career, winning world titles in four different weight classes. After losing by decision to Dmitry Bivol for the light heavyweight title last May, followed by a decision win in his trilogy fight against Gennadiy Golovkin at 168 pounds, Alvarez will return to defend his four world title belts against Ryder, the mandatory challenger who will have to pull off one of the biggest shocks in boxing history to win.
It is one of the least competitive matchups on this list, but it will be intriguing to see what sort of form Alvarez is in after surgery on his left hand and a confidence-denting defeat that has seen his position in the pound-for-pound rankings take a tumble. Details of the fight have yet to be confirmed.
9. Anthony Joshua vs. Jermaine Franklin — April 1 — heavyweights
Anthony Joshua emotional after loss to Oleksandr Usyk
Anthony Joshua doesn’t hide his emotions while discussing his split-decision loss to Oleksandr Usyk.
This fight is about how Joshua responds to back-to-back decision losses to Usyk and the upheaval in his training arrangements. Joshua’s frank and confused outburst in the ring in the immediate aftermath of losing to Usyk for a second time only adds to the doubts around whether Joshua can regain the form that saw him reign as WBA, IBF and WBO world champion. But Franklin looks like an accommodating opponent.
10. Shakur Stevenson vs. Shuichiro Yoshino — April 8 — WBC lightweight title eliminator
Stevenson is a talented boxer, but his lack of punching power and relatively unknown opponent means his fight will not attract as much attention as his lightweight rivals Haney, Garcia and Davis. But this is a solid first step at lightweight for Stevenson, who unified world titles against good opponents at junior lightweight. A fight against the winner of Haney-Lomachenko is a good incentive for Stevenson to look good — and a KO victory would help.
11. Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury — Feb. 26 — cruiserweights
Okay, so this is the bottom of the pile, but for many, this crossover event will be the No. 1 fight of 2023 to follow and tune in to based on entertaining value alone. Paul is better known than many current champions, even if he has just six professional fights, with no amateur boxing pedigree.
The YouTube star appeals to demographics that Terence Crawford, Inoue, Errol Spence Jr. and Canelo can’t reach. Tommy Fury is a reality TV star from the UK, half-brother of world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but also a professional boxer taking the sport seriously.
The storylines behind the fight will ensure it generates good pay-per-view numbers, with many intrigued to see if Paul can continue his impressive adventure in professional boxing, during which he has silenced all criticism that he is out of his depth. But Fury will be his toughest test yet.