Like almost every other type of business, boxing was affected in major ways by the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the challenges created, boxing adjusted by putting on a stretch of some of the best and most intriguing fights in recent times, with the best fighting the best far more often than had become the norm.
With those adjustments came new expectations that promoters and fighters alike would be able to overcome the hurdles that had sank so many previous "big fights" at the negotiating table. Now, one month into 2023, boxing finds itself in something of a "make or break" year in terms of continuing the trend toward the biggest and best fights or falling back to the lackluster matchmaking that caused the sport to plummet in popularity over the past few decades.
Last year ended on something of a down note. The long-anticipated showdown between welterweight kingpins Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford was teased as all but a done deal only for the fight to fall apart during contract negotiations. Instead of one of the biggest showdowns of the era between two men who have some claim as potentially the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, fans instead saw Crawford face off with little-known David Avanesyan on an upstart streaming service. While Crawford was proud to publicly claim he was making career-best money for the fight, it did nothing to satisfy fans who have demanded to see a generational talent ply his trade against the true elite in the division.
Similarly, after WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury defeated Dillian Whyte in April 2022, the expectation was that he would use his post-fight interview to call for an undisputed heavyweight title fight with the winner of the upcoming rematch with Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua. Instead, Fury announced his retirement, then unretired saying he would fight Derek Chisora for a third time in a fight no one was asking to see. Fury then retired again when that fight fell apart, unretired after Usyk won the Joshua rematch saying he was ready to fight Usyk, float the idea of fighting Anthony Joshua in a U.K. superfight when Usyk was out due to injury and then end up in the ring with Chisora for a December bout that predictably played out with Fury dominating.
Fury called out Usyk after the Chisora fight but the public end of the negotiations has mostly played out with Usyk asking where Fury is and why the fight has not yet been made.
Belly, you next 🍽️ @Tyson_Fury pic.twitter.com/vDTCR8gzE0— Alexander Usyk (@usykaa) January 23, 2023
Top Rank's Bob Arum insists that the fight will happen because both sides want it to, it's just a matter of Saudi Arabia (the proposed location for the fight) making separate deals with both fighters and setting a date and terms. But boxing has proved that making fights that are conceptually "easy" can often prove impossible.
This year isn't all doom and gloom, however. Fury vs. Usyk remains a possibility and could well be announced as official at any time. In addition, Ryan Garcia vs. Gervonta "Tank" Davis appears to be in the final stages of negotiations.
Oscar De La Hoya, Garcia's promoter, says the fight -- one of the biggest money fights in the sport -- is all but done, telling The DAZN Boxing Show, "We have the contract in our possession, and it's a long form. It's very detailed. We are just gonna have to cross the T's and dot the I's, that's basically it. Can I confirm? Obviously not, until it's official-official, but as a fighter, as a promoter, as a fan that wants to see the fight, I can assure you this fight's going to happen."
A hardcore boxing fan dream fight also is reportedly close to finalized for May, with undisputed bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue moving up to 122 pounds to face WBC and WBO champion Stephen Fulton. And intriguing fights like Caleb Plant vs. David Benavidez are starting to pop up on the upcoming boxing calendar.
2023 is still young and there are already promising fights being negotiated. But more than any year in recent history, the year truly feels like one that shapes the future of the sport.
Will big fights continue to come together or will bouts between the best of the best once again be relegated to fan debates and "What if?" articles and blog posts? The answer to that question is the answer to boxing's identity going forward.