With uncharacteristic optimism in this holiday season, here’s this writer’s personal 2023 wish list for the welterweight division.
Errol Spence vs. Terence Crawford
Duh. Obviously. Spence-Crawford is THE fight, the one that HAS to be made. Aside from being a four-belt title unification clash, it’s a battle between the undisputed top two welterweights in the post-Mayweather and Pacquiao era. Realistically, at (three months shy of) 33 and 35, respectively, Spence and Crawford are on the down side of their primes. But, still, these are the present tense top dogs of 147. Having a fully-unified welterweight champ would be of benefit to one of boxing’s historical glamour divisions. A unified champ would be a key building block for establishing the next 147 lb. superstar, forcing all paths to title glory to merge through only one road. Universally regarded as one of the top two or three “must-make” fights in the sport, Spence-Crawford would not only be a good battle, but an important one to make.
A Primetime Jaron Ennis
The 25-year-old “Boots” Ennis is bursting with raw ability and burning desire to establish his boxing legacy. Big, strong, and quick, the Philadelphia native has been tearing through his opposition and appears to be beyond ready to take a step up to the elite level of the division. Of his last four on-the-books bouts, he delivered first-time knockout losses to three (Juan Carlos Abreu, Sergey Lipinets, and Custio Clayton) and tore right through the usually durable Thomas Dulorme in one round. Ranked no. 1 by the IBF and in the top three of the other sanctioning bodies, Ennis’ title shot is coming soon and he is looking absolutely unstoppable.
A Primetime Vergil Ortiz Jr.
The 24-year-old Ortiz has been looking every bit as unstoppable as Ennis as he works his own way up the ranks. Tough and tenacious, the Mexican-American battler is as old school as they come and has been tearing up very solid opposition for quite awhile now. On his resume are dominant victories over the likes of Mauricio Herrera, Antonio Orozco, Brad Soloman, Maurice Hooker, and Egidiju Kavaliauskas. Like Ennis, Ortiz looks to be ready for the best of the best at 147. Also like Ennis, he’s ranked in the top 3 by all four sanctioning bodies (no. 1 by the WBA and WBO). Although scheduled to face WBA “regular” champ Eimantas Stanionis in the first part of 2023 (in what stands to be a very exciting bout), the big and important ones for Ortiz will come against Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, or fellow young lion Jaron Ennis.
Keith Thurman’s (Real) Return
Thurman, who has only fought once since July of 2019, has been ranked in the top 3 of the division for a good portion of his career and was once seen as the no. 1 welterweight in the world, as well as the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather. Although it’s questionable whether “One Time” still has the juice to be THE man in the division or even a top 3 figure, there’s no denying that he has the talent and skill to beat anyone on any given night– or at least give them a competitive tussle. At the very least, the 34-year-old would provide a tricky roadblock to young lions Ennis and Ortiz and a solid challenge to Crawford or Spence. Hopefully, Thurman’s “every once in awhile when in need of a payday” boxing plan is replaced by consistent activity that keeps him sharp and at the top of his game.
The Best from the Rest
The top four of the welterweight division seems to be well-established right now, with Ennis and Ortiz standing right below Spence and Crawford. But there’s a lot more depth in the division below that top tier that currently seems stuck in suspended animation. Keith Thurman should decide if he’s all the way or all the way out. Eimantas Stanionis has his chance to prove himself “for real” against Vergil Ortiz. Yordenis Ugas, who suffered a brutal beat down at the hands of Errol Spence in April, is still the fighter who defeated Manny Pacquiao eights months prior and the same one who fought his way to a world title with an impressive string of performances before that. Rashidi Ellis, Cody Crowley, Radzhab Butaev, Alexis Rocha, Conor Benn, and Egidijus Kavaliauskas (among others) make up the rest of a solid second tier that needs to be more active.