As the scheduling constraints brought on by the pandemic began to dissipate in 2021, the sport of boxing turned out one of its best years in recent memory.
Not only was there a consistent set of big fights being scheduled, more often than not they exceeded the expectations coming in. From big-time heavyweight and welterweight matchups on the pay-per-view level to history being made in the form of multiple undisputed champions, boxing was hot over the past 12 months.
It's only natural to enter the new year with a fresh new list of must-see matchups. Let's take a closer look at the five topping this writer's wish list for 2022.
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1. Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia
Pick your poison from the standpoint of which matchup would make you the most excited within a star-studded lightweight division that also features the likes of Teofimo Lopez Jr., Devin Haney, George Kambosos Jr. and former unified champion Vasiliy Lomachenko. As long as any of the top lightweights square off against one another, boxing will be in a healthy place in 2022. But the fight to make at 135 pounds that offers the most in-ring excitement just might be the multi-division champion and pay-per-view star Davis against the fellow unbeaten Garcia, who brings a massive social media following with him to each fight. Not only do their styles contrast perfectly with Davis an efficient counter puncher and Garcia an aggressive stalker with frightening hand speed, both go for the knockout the entire fight. Rare is it in modern boxing for two young stars backed by rival promoters to face off while they are this young with Davis at 27 and Garcia having just turned 23. But the fight would undoubtedly do big business and it's hard to imagine it not delivering in the ring, as well. This one would come down to which gunslinger could land the big one first and those are the type of fights that create boxing fans for life.
2. Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.
Considering their respective ages (Crawford is 34, Spence is 31) and the multiple career-threatening injuries Spence has faced in recent years (from a scary car accident to surgery on a detached retina), there's a growing number of critics who have pondered whether the prime window for this superfight has already closed. A perennial choice for this list for years, boxing's unfortunate political and network divide has prevented fans from seeing such a pivotal matchup between what appears to be two all-time great welterweights. But Crawford's exit from his Top Rank promotional deal into free agency has brought back some optimism that 2022 could be the year. Both fighters are ranked in the top five pound-for-pound and both can do it all as scientific boxers or power punchers. Spence, the IBF and WBC champion, will need to first unify belts against WBA champion Yordenis Ugas to open the year. Crawford would also need to likely sign with Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions, which represents Spence, to make the fight happen. Better late than never, this is the fight that the historically deep welterweight division has long needed and could be this generation's version of Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns.
3. Canelo Alvarez vs. the light heavyweight division
Take your pick from the trio of current 175-pound world titleholders for the pound-for-pound king to choose from, but each would be a must-see matchup as Alvarez continues to cement his all-time great legacy. Fresh off unifying all four belts at super middleweight for the first time in boxing history, there is good reason to believe light heavyweight will be the site of Alvarez's next conquest. Let's not forget, Alvarez previously captured the WBC title at 175 pounds in 2019 by knocking out Sergey Kovalev before vacating the title. Even though Alvarez's manager/trainer, Eddy Reynoso, appears to prefer an even bolder move up to cruiserweight to chase a belt against Ilunga Makabu, a move to light heavyweight is more realistic given Alvarez's size. That doesn't mean corralling 175-pound titles would be an easy task. For as limited as WBO champion Joe Smith Jr. is, he brings huge power. WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, meanwhile, is an elite boxer with a strong amateur pedigree. And then there's WBC and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev, who can do it all as a boxer or puncher but seems to be slowing down just a bit at age 36 despite a gaudy 17-0 record with 17 knockouts. Alvarez's resume is already untouchable from the standpoint of being a Hall-of-Famer in waiting, but taking on such a dangerous challenge in pursuit of all the belts at light heavyweight would only further cement him as the most ambitious elite fighter of the post Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao era.
4. Josh Taylor vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr.
It appears Lopez's days at 135 could be behind him following his upset loss to Kambosos, the new unified lightweight champion. Lopez could make must-see fights against any number of young stars at lightweight or a rematch against Lomachenko, the former P4P king. But at 24, even with the chaos in his personal life over the past year, it already appeared as if Lopez's body had grown out of the division. Should he move up to 140 pounds, the opportunity at instant history could await him in the form of unbeaten and unified junior welterweight boss Josh Taylor. It's a fight that would promise the perfect mix of drama and high-level skill and is also an easy one to make given both fighters sharing Top Rank as promoter. Yes, the jury is still out as to whether Lopez can clean up his outside-the-ring issues in time to be at his best for a fight this dangerous. But both he and his brash father/trainer of the same name have been nothing but bold throughout his short career in chasing after huge challenges and conquering them.
5. Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano
It has been a long time since a women's boxing match had this much momentum behind it and this much uncertainty as to who would come out on top. And while it's expected that these two superstars will square off in 2022 for Taylor's undisputed lightweight title, let's not overlook just how great of a matchup on paper this really is. Serrano, who has won titles in seven weight divisions from 118 to 140 pounds, is the most decorated champion in women's boxing history. Taylor, meanwhile, is largely recognized as the best female boxer at this moment from a P4P standpoint. In terms of stakes, and the fact that both are still within their physical prime, it wouldn't be hyperbole to call this the biggest fight women's boxing has ever seen. It also has potential to be tremendous theater given their aggressive styles as Taylor rarely takes a step backwards and Serrano has been known to carry her power with her at each stop on the scale. If there was ever a fight to debut a much-needed change to three-minute rounds across the board on the female side, this superfight would be it.
Honorable mentions: Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk/Anthony Joshua II winner, Naoya Inoue vs. Nonito Donaire II, Canelo Alvarez vs. David Benavidez, Shakur Stevenson vs. Oscar Valdez, Stephen Fulton Jr. Vs. Murodjon Akhmadaliev