Boxing in 2023: Why the first two months in the sport have delivered despite a lack of star power

While boxing fans are still waiting to see many long-awaited and highly-anticipated fights be made official, 2023 has already produced heaps of drama inside the ring. In fact, before the end of February, the sport has produced a Fight of the Year list that would hold up agains most full calendar years.

This past weekend provided a good example of just how strong the in-ring action has been across boxing.

The day started with Leigh Wood defending his WBA featherweight championship against Mauricio Lara in a bout that many expected to produce fireworks. What followed was a competitive fight with plenty of solid flurries, but one in which Wood had largely controlled the action. Then, with seconds left in the seventh round, Lara unloaded a massive left hook that dropped Wood and forced the corner stoppage.

While Wood vs. Lara wasn’t quite up to the lofty standards some held coming in, it was a solid fight with plenty of action. That it doesn’t rank among the best of the first two months is a result of fights like we saw later Saturday night when Luis Nery went to war with Azat Hovhannisyan.

Nery was able to have early success using his speed and technique, but Hovhannisyan would not go away, continuing to bull forward and land plenty of his own big shots. As the rounds wore on, both men had been hurt and Hovhannisyan had managed to work his way back to something of equal footing through expertly applied body work that had slowed Nery down and made him much more hittable.

Nery was eventually able to score a stoppage in Round 11 after nearly every round had been close. With a combined 330 power punches landed and near-constant momentum swings, the fight emerged as one of the early clubhouse leaders in the Fight of the Year race.

The women have also brought the heat in 2023. One of the early standout fights of the year was the Jan. 13 fight between Yesica Nery Plata and Kim Clavel to unify the WBA and WBC junior flyweight titles.

Nery Plata came in as a considerable underdog, traveling to face Clavel in Clavel’s home of Quebec. Still, Nery Plata came to fight and put the pressure on Clavel immediately, scoring big punches and drawing literal first blood as she landed cleaner in exciting early exchanges. Clavel would stand her ground and fire back, eventually turning the tide before Nery Plata finished strong, hurting Clavel in the final round and earning a narrow but deserved decision victory.

As good as Nery Plata vs. Clavel was, it was only a matter of weeks before it was eclipsed by another, even more thrilling women’s fight when Amanda Serrano and Erika Cruz battled to crown an undisputed featherweight champion on Feb. 4.

Serrano, less than a year removed from a Fight of the Year battle with Katie Taylor, was again forced to dig deep against a top competitor. Cruz suffered a nasty cut from a clash of heads early in the fight but continued to wade forward undeterred, whipping in looping power shots that caught Serrano repeatedly as nearly every second of every round saw the women actively throwing punches.

Across the two, 10-minute rounds, the women combined to land 388 power punches, or put another way, nearly 20 power punches landed per minute.

Serrano would take the fight on the scorecards, continuing to build a legacy as one of the great action fighters in the game — and securing a rematch with Taylor in the process.

Feb. 4 wasn’t exclusively owned by Serrano and Cruz, however, with another thrilling brawl that saw WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete move up in weight to face Liam Wilson for the vacant WBO junior lightweight title.

Navarrete and Wilson wasted little time in going toe-to-toe and it was Wilson who struck first, landing a left hook to stun Navarrete and following up with a flurry that put the Mexican fighter on the canvas in Round 4. It would take the better part of the next round before Navarrete would fully regain his bearings, but once he did, he turned the heat right back up.

In the end, the constant pressure and punch output from Navarrete was too much and he was able to force a ninth-round stoppage and win a world title in the third weight class of his career.

The other fight that earned a place on the short list of the best of 2023 was the Jan. 28 battle between unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde.

Beterbiev traveled to London to face Yarde in his own backyard. That decision added extra to the fight in the form of a lively crowd.

Despite Beterbiev scoring an eighth-round stoppage, there’s a solid case that Yarde put in a career-best performance. Facing the most talented fighter of his career, Yarde gave as good as he got for most of the fight, showing an ability to move, stick in solid shots and give as good as he got until Beterbiev’s trademark pressure eventually proved too much.

Aside from all of those standout fights at the championship level, there has been plenty of other fine action on lesser-discussed outlets, with upstart ProBox TV providing a pair of entertaining bouts with Cesar Francis vs. Jesus Saracho on Jan. 25 and Alejandro Gonzalez vs. Brayan Rivera on Feb. 8.

Should boxing continue to operate at this level for the remaining 10 months of the 2023, the year will stand out as one of the best in decades. Mix in major fights still being discussed, such as Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia and Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk, and the year could be something even more special.





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