As always, the boxing world provided us with some masterful and magical examples of pugilism throughout the calendar year. Whether it was huge shocks, jaw-dropping knockouts or blistering back-and-forth action, boxing delivered yet again.
Whether it was the completion of one of the greatest trilogies of the last two decades, the dethroning of a pound-for-pound king, or the legendary exploits of a Ukrainian legend, there is plenty for us to dissect in today’s piece.
Despite going into the first fight as an underdog, Usyk was considered the favorite with many sportsbooks going into the rematch. Even though he was the underdog, he wasn’t a wide outsider. It would have taken a lot to dismiss the Ukrainian’s chances given his stellar career and achievements.
Usyk vs Joshua 2
In one of the most highly anticipated rematches in recent heavyweight memory, the stage was set in Saudi Arabia for Usyk to cement his claim as the best heavyweight on the planet.
Although many journalists and fans grant that moniker to Tyson Fury, the way Usyk dismantled Joshua throughout 24 rounds was impressive for a man who is so much smaller.
Following Usyk’s decisive victory, which was made all the more iconic following the outbreak of war in his homeland, he gave his native Ukrainians a reason to smile and the drive to fight on.
Some have pointed out that Joshua’s bizarre behavior and unintelligible rant after the fight overshadowed the legendary Ukrainian’s moment. However, Joshua was more than fair following the fight and spoke of Usyk’s sheer skill.
Oleksandr Usyk’s skill is plain to see. The pathway for a mega heavyweight unification has now been set with Tyson Fury.
Many expect this showdown to occur in 2023. It will likely be the most iconic event in 2023 as it will cement the first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis.
Leigh Wood vs Michael Conlan
In one of the best fights to take place on UK shores in recent memory, the highly anticipated showdown for the WBA featherweight title was at stake.
Conlan, seemingly the heir apparent to the Irish boxing throne, had a dazzling amateur career and had risen through the ranks of the featherweight division to earn his shot at the WBA champion.
It all was going to plan for Conlan’s team early on. After dropping Wood heavily in the opening round, he controlled the distance and the action for most of the opening half of the fight. However, Wood doesn’t have a reputation for going out without a fight and began clawing his way back into the contest.
This culminated in an 11th-round knockdown for the Nottingham man. Following this, the raucous home crowd rallied in support to push him past the finishing line. This led to a fierce shootout in the 12th and final round.
Boxing fans and judges were split going into the final round. If Conlan could outbox Wood and stay out of his way, he may have been able to snatch the title.
However, the knockdown in the 11th round completely changed matters, resulting in a barnstorming last three minutes.
Not only was it considered one of the year’s premier fights, but it also fell into the category of knockout of the year as Conlan was knocked clean out of the ring like something from a Rocky film with just 30 seconds to go.
Thankfully, despite the worrying knockout, he was given the all-clear in the hospital and is eager to participate in a rematch with Wood at a future date.
Canelo Alvarez vs Dmitry Bivol
In one of the biggest upsets of the year, Canelo Alvarez, widely touted as the sport’s premier operator in any weight class, was easily beaten at the hands of Dmitry Bivol. Although some purists and journalists knew Bivol would put up a tough fight, not many predicted he would win.
Canelo Alvarez has drifted up and down weight classes, and maybe this played a part in the defeat.
Granted, Bivol is an excellent fighter and one of the top fighters at light heavyweight, however, Alvarez may have just bit off more than he could chew. As the old saying goes in boxing: “a good big un beats a good little un”.
This was the case in May, as Canelo had no answers for the controlled and aggressive combination punching that Bivol had to offer. The Russian met him with fierce and accurate counterpunching whenever the Mexican pushed forward and attempted to take out Bivol.
As it got to the later stages of the contest, Alvarez had run out of ideas and was frustrated. Although Bivol was in no danger of knocking out the legendary Mexican, it was clear he had done more than enough to win the contest.
Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin III
In a better night’s work for Canelo, he finalized his legendary trilogy with Kazakhstani great Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin. Following two extremely close fought contests in 2017 and 2018, with many fans divided on who won both fights, it came down to this deciding fight in September.
Canelo won the fight over 12 rounds convincingly and immediately called out Bivol for a rematch. Despite this event drawing a line under this incredible rivalry, it is still debatable whether it was a decisive end.
Canelo is nine years younger than Golovkin, who turned 40 in 2022. It was evident this wasn’t the same fighter who was arguably the most avoided middleweight in the history of the sport in his prime back in the early 2010s.
However, these are circumstances that are out of the control of Canelo. He had done what he had to, and there was no doubt he was the better fighter on this occasion.
Whether he can avenge his loss to Bivol and continue his quest to dominate the sport once again will be an interesting story to watch as we enter 2023.
This fight was so iconic because it brought this fascinating trilogy to an end, the first two fights were arguably the best of 2017 and 2018, and this year brought plenty of excitement.
Although it was challenged by other more exciting fights, it still had all the marquee glamor of a megafight. Both fighters will undoubtedly go down in the history books.
The beauty of boxing is that it is as pure a competition as you can get. A great boxer is accompanied and complimented by a great team surrounding them; that is true. However, once that bell goes, it is completely down to the fighters.
Canelo being humbled by a relatively unknown quantity in Bivol and Usyk perplexing one of British sports marquee stars shows that no matter how big you are, fierce competitors are waiting for you at every juncture.
If boxing can offer more high-quality matchups, it can gain some ground on other sports threatening to take fans away from boxing, such as the UFC. The lack of regular high-quality matchups is a serious issue drawing people away from the sport.
With some blistering fights already planned for 2023, we will likely see jaw-dropping moments unfold similarly over the next 12 months.