With uncharacteristic optimism in this holiday season, here’s this writer’s personal 2023 Wish list for the lightweight/junior welterweight divisions.
Haney vs. Lomachenko, Please
Devin Haney is the 4-belt unified, undisputed lightweight champion of the world. You, literally, can’t achieve more than that in a division. So, why does the 24-year-old Las Vegas resident seem not to be getting the acclaim that he deserves? Honestly, it’s probably because his body of work is not all that deep, over all, at least not at the true elite level. His two decisive wins over George Kambosos Jr. earned him unified champ status and were impressive performances, but there needs to be more before Haney is considered a true elite. A victory over former 3-belt champ and pound-for-pound darling Lomachenko would add considerable heft to his resume. For Lomachenko, beating Haney would take him back to the very top of the sport, right where he left off before being upset by Teofimo Lopez in October of 2020. Two hungry, talented fighters facing each other in a must-win contest is usually a recipe for a great fight.
Tank vs. King Ry, Pretty Please
Haney vs. Lomachenko may be the most competitively import fight of the lightweight division, but Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia will be the biggest. This pairing of one-punch KO masters is not only a clash of explosive styles and contrasting technique, it’s also a battle of burgeoning superstar egos with rivers of bad blood beneath. There’s no way that “Tank” vs. “King Ry” won’t be good. The problem is in actually getting to their proposed April date with the fight still intact. Garcia has a history of injury and mental health issues that pull him from fights. Davis has a serious February criminal trial pending and other outside-the-ring problems that have surfaced in recent days, as well as an interim fight with Hector Luis Garcia on January 7. The odds seem to be against one (or both) of these fighters making the hoped-for April date.
Teofimo Lopez Finds His Groove
Coming up the ranks, Lopez looked like the kind of star boxing has needed for a long time. Talented, with an exciting ring style and a flair for the showbiz aspect of the sport, the Brooklyn native seemed like a godsend. And when he upset Vasiliy Lomachenko to win three lightweight belts, it sure seemed like he was on the verge of fulfilling his promise. An upset loss in a much-delayed defense against George Kambosos Jr., however, sent the young fighter into a personal tailspin that has led to two consecutive tepid performances and some headlines for odd quotes made outside the ring. The boxing world is better with Teofimo Lopez working at full capacity.
Josh Taylor Bounces Back
The Tartan Tornado was once regarded as a complete fighter and a true elite-level star. He also earned his way to being the fully unified 4-belt junior welterweight champion. Boxing politics may have cost him three of his four belts, but he’s still regarded as an elite-level junior welterweight. However, a poor performance against Jack Catterall– that many felt should have resulted in a loss for Taylor– has dulled the former unified champ’s shine. A rematch with Catterall in March will provide the Scotsman with the opportunity to reclaim his mojo before moving on to bigger things, either at 140 or 147.
Regis Prograis Finds His Legacy Fight
Despite winning the WBC 140 lb. title in a brilliant performance against Jose Zepeda in November, the now two-time junior welterweight champ is still looking for a signature win that would propel him to next-level stardom. If he can wrangle a big-ticket bout with Teofimo Lopez or, maybe, a rematch with Josh Taylor (who edged him via razor-thin majority decision in 2019) he could accomplish that in 2023.