The dust has settled and Tommy Fury’s split decision win over Jake Paul is in the books. A fight BT Sport took to calling “one of the most anticipated boxing events of the year” thrilled some and alienated others with its gaudy build-up and ultimately shoddy action. But the longtime endgame for celebrity boxing is gone now and the sport must move on without it.
So what does the rest of boxing look like in 2023? For all its faults, Paul vs Fury was something of a north star for the sport. However garish its excesses, it filled a void that the more seasoned fighters haven’t been able to. Sure, there’s been some bracing action so far this year. Artur Beterbiev’s win over Anthony Yarde, Amanda Serrano and Erika Cruz’s nailbiter and Mauricio Lara’s stoppage of Leigh Wood last weekend have all thrilled. But we are yet to see two truly massive names square off, either at home or abroad, in 2023.
The dearth of starpower is exactly what necessitates fights like Paul vs Fury or indeed Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather vs Aaron Chalmers debacle. Boxing’s big names aren’t facing off so it’s up to either the previous generation or indeed celebrity names from other worlds to come and fill the void.
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So why aren’t boxing’s leading lights getting it on? The reasons range from the reasonable to the ridiculous. Conor Benn may have won the lifetime achievement for the latter when the WBC accepted his explanation of a “highly-elevated consumption of eggs” for failing a PED test last year. The body has reinstated Benn to their world rankings, though the British Boxing Board of Control are continuing to investigate the failure that kiboshed a fight with Chris Eubank Jr.
Benn-Eubank is not the only domestic superfight that has hit the skids in recent months. It now looks likely that WBO, The Ring and lineal super lightweight world champion Josh Taylor will face former lightweight king Teofimo Lopez in his next bout. He had been set to face Jack Catterall in a rematch of their controversial 2022 bout. Taylor won that fight by split decision, with the ruling causing consternation in boxing circles.
As is usually the case in boxing, a rematch was seen as the only logical way of solving the controversy. While Taylor was initially resistant, citing weight-making concerns which had hampered him in the past, he decided to stay at 140lbs to make the rematch work. He forfeited three of the sanctioning body titles that had made him the first undisputed super lightweight champion of the four-belt era, snubbing their mandatories in favour of Catterall. But when a foot injury scuppered a bout due to take place in Scotland next month, Taylor moved on to Lopez. Catterall now has a bout in the calendar at the end of next month against an opponent to be announced.
Everywhere you look, further fights are falling through. Adrien Broner has tried and failed multiple times to get back in the ring, with his latest fight set for this weekend now cancelled. Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford continue to fight people who aren’t each other, to diminishing returns. Gervonta Davis’ big night under the lights against Ryan Garcia is an on again-off again nightmare.
This untidy environment will always be ripe for a Jake Paul or a comebacking Floyd Mayweather. It wasn’t too long ago that a middle-aged Mike Tyson got a pay-per-view into the all-time buyrate list. So what hope does boxing have of pulling the nose up on its crashing plane?
The heavyweights are always the boxers most likely to be enlisted when emergency surgery is needed on the sport. It is no secret that talks have taken place between WBC boss Tyson Fury and WBA, WBO, IBF and The Ring counterpart Oleksandr Usyk. A first undisputed heavyweight title fight since 1999. The fact it would match two undefeated pound-for-pound fighters is the cherry on top.
However we have been here before, both with these two and with Fury and other fighters. This bout was mooted before ‘The Gypsy King’ fought Derek Chisora in a completely unnecessary third fight in December. Anthony Joshua had also agreed his side of a Fury bout before that pointless exercise too. Just because the WBC champion is talking to a prospective opponent’s camp, it doesn’t mean we’ll get the fight.
We need it though. Just like we need Davis-Garcia, Crawford-Spence and maybe even Benn-Eubank, eggs aside. There are bright spots. Serrano’s rematch with Katie Taylor is a simply superb piece of matchmaking and a guaranteed thriller. Brandon Figueroa vs Mark Magsayo is aficionado’s fare, but high quality nonetheless.
But until boxing puts its best box office foot forward, it will continue to be reluctantly ruled by the influencers. Jake Paul and his ilk know how to tap into Gen Z in a way the sport of boxing itself hasn’t managed yet. Pugilism left the door ajar and he kicked it off the hinges. Boxing needs to get its best fighters into the ring with each other if it has any hope of fixing it.
*18+ | BeGambleAware