As 2022 draws to a close, Metro.co.uk has looked back at some of boxing’s highlights over the past 12 months including unforgettable nights for Dmitry Bivol and Katie Taylor as we hand out our awards for the year.
Fighter of the year: Dmitry Bivol
2022 was all about Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s rise to undisputed. 2023 was about the man who stopped him. Having cleaned out the super-middleweight division, Canelo sought more glory at 175lbs against WBA light-heavyweight champion Bivol in May.
The Russian dominated and frustrated the Mexican superstar, with his patience typified by a moment when after a fierce exchange, Canelo urged his opponent to come forward and throw down.
Bivol declined, waited and continued to pick off the pound-for-pound king en route to a unanimous decision win. All three judges scored the fight 115-113 – in reality, the margin was bigger.
In November, Bivol swatted aside another Mexican in his mandatory challenger Gilberto Ramirez in another masterclass with ‘Zurdo’ suffering his first defeat in 45 fights. The victories have seen Bivol soar towards the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings for good reason.
The Canelo rematch remains an option for 2023, but Bivol will surely favour a shot at undisputed against Artur Beterbiev or Anthony Yarde, who meet in January.
Fight of the year: Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano
For the first time in the venue’s 140-year history, two women headlined at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in April. Amid a backdrop if Irish and Puerto Rican flags, it lived up to the hype in every conceivable way as Taylor and Serrano went to war for the undisputed lightweight crown.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the sport is fully aware of how exasperatingly rare it is to get two of the best fighters in the ring at the same time and in Taylor vs Serrano, we got that.
In a brutal classic, the undefeated Taylor looked beaten in the middle rounds before summoning all of her experience and skill to recover and seal the split decision win on the biggest night in the history of women’s boxing. We hope for a second instalment back in Ireland next year.
Knockout of the year: Leigh Wood vs Michael Conlan
In a scene straight out of a Hollywood film, one of the most shocking moments of the year came in a contest that always promised fireworks between Wood and Conlan.
The Nottingham fighter was dropped in the first round as Conlan dominated the first half of the fight, picking off his rival in front of a home crowd. Having fought back to dramatically win his WBA title seven months earlier, Wood repeated the trick this time and provided one of the most breath-taking finishes seen in a UK ring.
Stunning Conlan with a vicious flurry, Wood sent his opponent crashing through the ropes with the Belfast fighter left unconscious on the ground as the roof came off the Nottingham Arena. It’s another one we would welcome again in 2023.
Upset of the year: Nina Hughes becomes world champion
Jai Opetaia stunned the cruiserweight division by dethroning IBF champion Mairis Briedis in June while another unheralded Mexican in Luis Alberto Lopez travelled to the UK to beat Josh Warrington and snatch the featherweight title in December. But Nina Hughes’ remarkable world title victory gets our vote.
The 40-year-old mum of two only made her professional debut in December 2021 and after just four fights, including wins over Bec Connelly and Tysie Gallagher, was thrust into a WBA bantamweight showdown against Jamie Mitchell.
The previously undefeated American dominated Shannon Courteney to win the title last year but was outpointed by Hughes in one of the most enjoyable wins of the year.
Prospects of the year: Adam Azim and Keyshawn Davis
23-year-old Davis extended his flawless start to the professional game with three more victories in 2022, the latter of those a sublime shutout decision over a three-time world title challenger in Juan Carlos Burgos in December.
Davis is destined for great things in the lightweight division, as is another fighter a little closer to home in Adam Azim. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a blistering 12 months with five more victories including an extraordinary demolition job on Ryan Charlton in November, the man tipped to give the youngster the toughest examination of his career to date.
Azim has designs on winning a world title earlier than his idol Amir Khan, with the Bolton great achieving that dream at just 22.
Performance of the year: Shakur Stevenson vs Oscar Valdez
In a crowded field that also includes Bivol’s win over Canelo, Oleksandr Usyk outclassing Anthony Joshua for a second time and Devin Haney’s dominant wins over George Kambosos Jr, Shakur Stevenson’s dissection of Oscar Valdez gets our vote.
In unifying the WBO and WBC super-featherweight titles, Stevenson handed his opponent the first defeat of his career but it was the manner in which he effortlessly incapacitated the Mexican that shone through.
Having also dropped his hard-hitting rival in the clinical, completely one-sided victory, it elevated him into the pound-for-pound conversation where he is now likely to remain for the rest of his career.
Story of the year: Natasha Jonas
Women’s boxing was littered with remarkable stories in 2022 with Chantelle Cameron crowned undisputed queen of the super-lightweight division with a dominant win over Jessica McCaskill in November.
After two unsuccessful world title bids, Natasha Jonas rolled the dice again this year and moved up three weight divisions to take on Chris Namus for the vacant WBO title in February.
Having stepped into the unknown, the Liverpool fighter found the destructive power to blast away her opponent in two rounds. She added the WBC belt to her collection in September with a dominant win over Patricia Berghult, rounding off a magnificent year by beating Marie Eve Dicaire for the IBF belt.
The gamble has paid off with Jonas one more belt away from undisputed with Terri Harper, who she fought out a blistering draw with in 2020, holding the last piece of the puzzle in the WBA strap. In a measure of how high her stock has risen again this year, Jonas is also frame for a rematch against Katie Taylor with American superstar Claressa Shields another possibility.
Biggest disappointment: Conor Benn vs Christ Eubank Jr
30 years on from their fathers sharing perhaps the most significant chapter in the history of British boxing, Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr’s reboot of the great rivalry descended into the bleakest story of the year.
Chris Eubank Snr’s grave concerns over the fight’s catchweight meant there was an unnerving feeling in the air even before things began to spiral out of control.
But in one of British boxing’s darkest weeks, it was the willingness of all involved for the show to go on despite the Daily Mail revealing Benn’s failed drug test that left so many questioning the sport they love.
Boxing is haunted by tragedies that have taken place in the ring with the Benn and Eubank families scarred more than most by the stories of Michael Watson, Gerald McClellan and Nick Blackwell.
The fight itself was mercifully called off 48 hours before the opening bell, despite the efforts of promoters to keep it alive.
But by that point, the damage was already done in a humiliating week for the sport and the clearest indication yet that things need to change.
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