With uncharacteristic optimism in this holiday season, here’s this writer’s personal 2023 Wish list for the heavyweight division.
Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk
Put this one on the short list of fights boxing absolutely needs in 2023. There hasn’t been a fully-unified world heavyweight champion in this four-belt era and the sport could definitely use one right now. One belt-per-division is a way overblown boxing nerd’s lament, but the heavyweight glamour division is one weight class where a single champ would be an actual asset to the sport. There’s talk that this bout between WBC champ Fury and IBF/WBA/WBO champ Usyk could happen as soon as March. Let’s hope so. And let’s hope for a decisive, uncontroversial outcome.
The Continued Presence of Deontay Wilder
The Bronze Bomber’s skills have been ridiculed, his fighting style has been mocked, and his post-Fury loss excuses have become the stuff of laughingstock legend. But there’s also no denying just how entertaining the man is and how much explosive intrigue he adds to the boxing scene. With frightening one-punch power and a kill-or-be-killed mindset, the Tuscaloosa, Alabama native is a beyond compelling ring presence. Wilder made his ring return in October with a first round blasting of Robert Helenius and there are a number of big fight options available to him in 2023. Whether he faces Andy Ruiz, Anthony Joshua, Joe Joyce, or someone else, excitement awaits. Boxing is better with Deontay Wilder in it.
Joe Joyce’s Continued Emergence
It was easy to dismiss UK heavyweight Joe Joyce when he first came up. The man clearly had heavy hands, but he was beyond green and he looked like he punched in slow motion. But “The Juggernaut” got better and his body of work tells the tale of a fighter who now belongs among the top in his division. With just 15 fights in his young professional career, Joyce has already scored impressively dominant victories over name such as Bryant Jennings, Bermane Stiverne, Alexander Ustinov, Daniel Dubois, Carlos Takam, and Joseph Parker. A world title awaits the heavy-handed slugger and he just may get it in 2023, against the winner of Fury-Usyk.
Focus for Andy Ruiz
The Mexican-American battler defied all odds and all logic when he stopped 3-belt heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua in 2019. Although his championship reign would only last six months and he’d lose the belts back to Joshua in his very first defense, Ruiz made history as the first heavyweight champ of Mexican descent. He also made it clear that, when focused and in shape, he had an honest shot of beating anyone in the division on any given night. It also became painfully obvious that the lack of consistent focus that held him back for so long and kept him from being the best fighter he could be, was still very much part of the Andy Ruiz personality profile. Since dropping the belts, he’s scored wins over Chris Arreola and Luis Ortiz and has been tied to a possible Deontay Wilder bout in 2023. Whatever path he takes, here’s hoping Ruiz finds the focus to stay in shape, stay in the gym, and bring his fire to the ring.
Much-Needed Second-Tier Fights
Although all the attention gets heaped on the “big” bouts and championship clashes, the heavyweight division needs a steady supply of quality second-tier bouts to build contenders, keep the other top dogs sharp, and provide fans with exciting clashes to maintain their interest in the sport. Right now, among the big men, everything beyond Fury-Usyk could be considered second tier. A bout such as Wilder-Ruiz would be tremendous. There are also a number of other top heavyweights who could be mixed and matched in outstanding pairings, such as Joe Joyce, Frank Sanchez, Daniel Dubois, Dillian Whyte, Luis Ortiz, Martin Bakole, Filip Hrgovic, Ali Eren Demirezen, Joseph Parker, and Charles Martin (among others). And, of course, there’s Anthony Joshua who is still a tremendous draw in his native UK, despite back-to-back losses to Usyk and a beyond-humbling 2-3 record in his last five. No matter who Joshua fights next, it’ll be a big UK blockbuster and, likely, a prelude to a title shot.