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Rankings (Jan. 2): Division outlooks for 2023

We’re back! It’s a new year! And because it’s a new year, this week we’re going to go a little deeper than normal in the (usually) weekly rankings, with a quick 2023 outlook, and some names in every division to keep an eye on as potential top 10 gatecrashers in 2023 — some prospects and some veterans maybe set to break through or who look to be potentially regaining momentum.

Rankings go up on Mondays.

Ranked fights this week:

Welterweight: (4) Jaron Ennis vs Karen Chukhadzhian, Jan. 7

Lightweight: (3) Gervonta Davis vs Hector Luis Garcia, Jan. 7

Junior Lightweight: (4) Hector Luis Garcia vs Gervonta Davis [lightweight], Jan. 7

Minimumweight: (3) Masataka Taniguchi vs Melvin Jerusalem, Jan. 6

Minimumweight: (4) Ginjiro Shigeoka vs (9) Daniel Valladares, Jan. 6

2023 Outlook: All eyes are on whether or not Fury vs Usyk gets made; if it does, we likely crown an undisputed world heavyweight champion, the first in the four-belt era. For now, it looks like the fight will happen, but boxing is weird, and Tyson Fury can be weirder. If not, all kinds of other fights open up, obviously. Usyk has mandatory orders to face Filip Hrgovic and Daniel Dubois both, but not at the same time, no Mike Awesome coming to ringside before Taz vs Masato Tanaka and getting thrown into the match. There could or at least should be something significant again this year for Wilder and Ruiz, possibly one another; Anthony Joshua will be on the comeback trail; veterans Whyte and Parker are kinda hanging on at this point, almost waiting to be lapped; hopefully we see Bakole and Sanchez get something of note, and Sanchez in particular really needs it.

Five to Watch: Jared Anderson, Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic, Bakhodir Jalolov, Arslanbek Makhmudov

Upcoming Fights: (8) Joseph Parker vs Jack Massey, Jan. 21

2023 Outlook: It’s nice to see this division about to get active again early in the new year, because there are a lot of good fights to be made at cruiserweight. Maybe nobody is GREAT!, but there’s a lot of solid matchmaking to be made. This is also a division that still feels ripe for new blood to make a big impact, as we saw Jai Opetaia do in 2022.

Five to Watch: Chris Billam-Smith, Kamshybek Kukabayev, Lenar Perez, Richard Riakporhe, Jordan Thompson

Upcoming Fights: (4) Ilunga Junior Makabu vs (9) Noel Mikaelyan, Jan. 21 … (6) Krzysztof Glowacki vs Richard Riakporhe, Jan. 21 … (2) Lawrence Okolie vs David Light, Feb. 11

2023 Outlook: There’s a “the fight” to be made here, of course, and it’s Bivol vs Beterbiev. We’ll hopefully see that happen — so long as Beterbiev beats Yarde later this month — and hopefully something more substantial for Buatsi and Smith, who are the most intriguing guys in the top 10 other than the top two.

Five to Watch: Dan Azeez, Andre Dirrell, Ali Izmailov, Giorgi Kushitashvili, Albert Ramirez. I don’t intend to go into a lot on these picks (at least not in the post itself), but I do want to explain Andre Dirrell being one of the five here, because I know that may seem puzzling. I’ve been a longtime Andre Dirrell doubter/detractor/hater, however you need to put it, but the Andre Dirrell we saw in November was a genuinely different fighter than we’ve seen in years. He is 39 years old, yes, but look at that top 10 again — he can get in there if he makes a move.

Upcoming Fights: (2) Artur Beterbiev vs (8) Anthony Yarde, Jan. 28 … (10) Jean Pascal vs Michael Eifert, Feb. 9

2023 Outlook: No offense to anyone else, but for the most part, this division is currently as relevant as Canelo Alvarez makes it. He’s got all four world titles; right now, it looks like he’ll fight on May 6, and that he will defend his crown, possibly against John Ryder, who has the WBO interim title. Benavidez and Plant will fight for a WBC interim in the spring. The winner of that vs Canelo — assuming Ryder (or whomever) doesn’t shock Canelo — could get done, though if it’s Plant, that’s business Canelo has already handled and I’m not sure there’s much appetite for a rematch, though Plant would have done everything he can to earn it and make it appealing in that scenario. But Canelo also wants another crack at Dmitry Bivol at 175 lbs. If he makes, say, a Ryder defense and then a move back to 175, the division still feels somewhat stuck. Not that there wouldn’t be a great fight for PBC to make between the Benavidez-Plant winner and Morrell, but … that’s kinda it, really, in terms of major bouts.

Coming In: Demetrius Andrade, who returns on Jan. 7 as he enters another New Phase of his career at age 34, still chasing a true money fight. If he looks good, he hits the top 10 next week. On paper right this second, I’d favor him against at least six fighters listed, but it is a weight jump, so we’ll see. “On paper” ain’t everything. Sometimes it’s basically nothing.

Five to Watch: Ali Akhmedov, Edgar Berlanga, Bektemir Melikuziev, Oselys Iglesias, Vladimir Shishkin

Upcoming Fights: (2) David Benavidez vs (3) Caleb Plant, TBA

2023 Outlook: Maybe the most frustrating division in the sport in 2022, here’s hoping for something better out of the middleweights in the new year. GGG looks set to face Esquiva Falcao, and if successful and still looking to fight, Erislandy Lara after that. All things considered, I have no problem with that. Jermall Charlo needs to fight. Munguia needs to fight a live body. Guys like Derevyanchenko and Murata and Lara are kinda squatting on spots, as good as they all are. If the “top fighters” won’t fight each other, then hopefully the next tiers will start fighting one another — Matchroom’s Felix Cash vs Austin “Ammo” Williams idea for early 2023 is a good one, for instance. The problems up top are obvious, but there’s also been nobody truly breaking out and demanding attention, kicking down the doors. This division has been stagnant basically since Canelo left, in all honesty.

Five to Watch: Felix Cash, Fiodor Czerkaszyn, Yoelvis Gomez, Hamzah Sheeraz, Austin Williams

Upcoming Fights: (4) Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Smith, Jan. 21 … (1) Gennadiy Golovkin vs Esquiva Falcao, TBA

2023 Outlook: Jermell Charlo sits as undisputed king, and will eventually fight Tim Tszyu in his first undisputed defense. That was supposed to happen Jan. 28, a date that was first reported several months ago and now has fallen apart anyway. If Charlo wins, he likely gets an order to fight Fundora, assuming Fundora doesn’t lose by then. It’s all a bit messy, but there are worse situations littered throughout the sport. The hope will be that we won’t just see one championship fight this year. I’m also hoping we see Conwell make a real step forward, and Madrimov, as well, including maybe not having him fight Michel Soro again.

Maybe Coming In: Danny Garcia. We’ll put him here instead of in the “to watch”; he’s already fought at the weight, beating Jose Benavidez Jr. It’s kind of unclear what he’s going to do. He’s talked about fight Erislandy Lara at a catchweight for Lara’s “middleweight title,” which is actually a secondary WBA belt but fighters like to pad the stats. It’s also possible he could get an offer back down at 147.

Five to Watch: Caoimhin Agyarko, Josh Kelly, Bakhram Murtazaliev, Jesus Ramos, Xander Zayas

Upcoming Fights: (5) Liam Smith vs Chris Eubank Jr [middleweight], Jan. 21 … (1) Jermell Charlo vs (4) Tim Tszyu, TBA

2023 Outlook: Spence vs Crawford has to happen this year or it ain’t happening, at least not at this weight for undisputed and all that, at least not as the fight it still can be. Anyway, I figure this is the last week that Yordenis Ugas holds that No. 3 spot; if Boots Ennis does his business as he always does on Jan. 7, he’ll be jumping up to No. 3. I remain unconvinced of the cases vs Ugas otherwise, but we’ve been over that. The potential Stanionis vs Ortiz fight is a good one, and the winner of that could then hop up to No. 4. Listen, Ugas isn’t doing anything, Thurman isn’t doing anything it seems — it’s time for new blood. This “great” division has been, quality-wise, trumped for a couple years now by the one just north and the one just south. If nothing else, I hope we don’t see another year go by where Bud Crawford has one fight against a fringe top 10 guy.

Coming In: However things break with Josh Taylor’s rematch with Jack Catterall in early March, it’s expected Taylor will finally move up to 147 after that fight. He meant to after the first Catterall fight, really, but then it went the way it did and he’s spent almost a year now dragging the situation out, and it’ll be just over a year by the time they fight again. A move up may truly be just what Taylor needs. Unfortunately, as a Top Rank/Queensberry guy, there are only so many options for him at 147, especially with Crawford no longer a Top Rank fighter.

Wild Card: Conor Benn, who continues to claim “the truth will come out,” just like guys in his spot always do; a favorable-to-them “truth” almost never seems to come to light, but maybe he’ll be the exception. If he fights in 2023, yeah, he’s a guy to consider in the division.

Five to Watch: Raul Curiel, Rashidi Ellis, Shakhram Giyasov, Alexis Rocha, Roiman Villa

Upcoming Fights: (4) Jaron Ennis vs Karen Chukhadzhian, Jan. 7

2023 Outlook: It’s kind of a wild division at the moment. Prograis looks like a top guy still, and if Catterall beats Taylor in the spring, then we’ve got him as a top guy, too. If Taylor wins, then he will again vacate another belt, more likely than not. Matias and Jeremias Ponce will have their chances to make a real mark on Feb. 11, fighting for a vacant belt. Guys like Ryan Garcia and Teofimo are major wild cards, could crack on to the top, could sit stagnant, could flame out. Jose Ramirez is still a factor, but passing on the Prograis fight was a bad look. Puello has a belt that could be there for the taking, or he might just cement himself as legit. Zepeda’s still dangerous. Guys like Jose Pedraza and Richard Commey are right there skirting the top 10. And then there’s the next sentence in the next bullet point:

Maybe Coming In: Devin Haney could be a major factor in this division by the end of 2023.

Five to Watch: Lindolfo Delgado, Richardson Hitchins, Tiger Johnson, Jeremias Ponce, Gary Antuanne Russell. There are actually plenty more intriguing names to consider at this weight, too. This is a packed weight class.

Upcoming Fights: (5) Subriel Matias vs Jeremias Ponce, Feb. 11 … (2) Josh Taylor vs (3) Jack Catterall, Mar. 4 … (7) Ryan Garcia vs Gervonta Davis, Apr. 15 … (10) Alberto Puello vs Gary Antuanne Russell, TBA

Updates: Boy, Frank Martin sure looked good taking Michel Rivera apart on Dec. 17, huh? Rivera was ranked No. 10 last time out; Martin beat him so thoroughly that he jumps straight from “just outside” to No. 6. May seem unfair, but life’s unfair and boxing gives people that opportunity. Only in America! And other countries.

2023 Outlook: Haney reigns as undisputed king, and what he does next will inform a lot of what happens in 2023. If he fights Lomachenko as expected and wins, there’s a very good chance he moves up to 140. Devin is a big lightweight and is probably getting close to growing out of the division. If he wins and leaves, then four belts and some chaos open up — it’s not really the worst thing, potentially, as long as good fights get made. Tank Davis is majorly intriguing for this year. Loma is still a threat, Martin might be special, Pitbull Cruz is hungry and aggressive and always fun to watch, Zepeda’s trying to make a move, Abdullaev and Ortiz are interesting guys in a vacant titles situation, and so on. And we’ve got a top talent coming in, too.

Coming In: Shakur Stevenson will be a major player as soon as he actually fights in this division. There’s no reason to suspect the weight will be an issue, it’s not like he’s a guy who’s heavily featured his power at 126 or 130.

Five to Watch: Albert Batyrgaziev, Gary Cully, Keyshawn Davis, Gustavo Lemos, Raymond Muratalla

Upcoming Fights: (3) Gervonta Davis vs Hector Luis Garcia, Jan. 7 … (3) Gervonta Davis vs Ryan Garcia, Apr. 15

Updates: Leo Santa Cruz is back at 130 after finally, 84 years later, officially vacating the 126 lb belt he hadn’t defended since Feb. 2019, also the last time he fought at that weight. Santa Cruz is 2-1 at 130, neither of the wins exactly spectacular and the loss to Tank Davis, but he’s grabbing the No. 10 slot. Look, he’ll either do something this year or not. He honestly doesn’t seem that keen on his career anymore, but he’s had a terrific career. For now, he’s here. It may not last.

2023 Outlook: The division will get beefed up by the arrivals of Emanuel Navarrete and Rey Vargas, if they win their vacant title fights in February, and the division needs the beefing. Navarrete won’t be facing Valdez immediately, but that should likely get rescheduled for later in the year. Rakhimov will face Cordina at some point. Garcia’s about to lose his UNDISPUTED! claim soon, not because he might lose to Tank Davis on Jan. 7, since that fight’s not at this weight, but because someone the next month will win a vacant belt and make a dispute. There are good fights to be made at 130, and the potential major additions could add a lot and make this a fine year.

Coming In: As mentioned, featherweight titlists Navarrete and Vargas are both headed to 130 in vacant title fights in February. Navarrete will take on Liam Wilson for the WBO, while Vargas faces O’Shaquie Foster for the WBC. If they win, they’ll stay, but neither have vacated their featherweight belts just yet, so they’re leaving that open, which is smart.

Five to Watch: Albert Bell, Andres Cortes, William Foster III, Jadier Herrera, Henry Lebron

Upcoming Fights: (4) Hector Luis Garcia vs Gervonta Davis [lightweight], Jan. 7 … (7) O’Shaquie Foster vs Rey Vargas, Feb. 11

Updates: With Santa Cruz out at 126, Isaac Dogboe comes in at No. 10.

2023 Outlook: Well, we’re most likely losing at least one of two current titleholders, and maybe both of Navarrete and Vargas. If you’re wondering why I keep these guys here but moved out, say, Shakur Stevenson and Bam Rodriguez quickly, it’s because those guys vacated titles and/or made very clear they had no intention of fighting at their weights again. Navarrete and Vargas are seemingly leaving the options open, at least for now, to see how they do at 130. This remains a hugely frustrating, nearly impossible division to rank, and will become even weirder soon when there won’t be a clear, totally deserving No. 1 guy anymore. But there’s not a shortage of talent, either, and there hasn’t been.

Coming In: Brandon Figueroa has a fight at the weight and could be a key in the division in 2023. He could be ranked already, and will be in a few weeks when we get Navarrete and/or Vargas officially out and sort of reevaluate at that time. It may seem like the new year is the right time to reshuffle, but I think it’s in a few weeks. The calendar turning over isn’t going to fix all your problems and it’s not the right time for this. Life goes on. New February, new featherweights.

Five to Watch: Nick Ball, Michael Conlan, Raymond Ford, Duke Ragan, Robeisy Ramirez

Upcoming Fights: (1) Emanuel Navarrete vs Oscar Valdez [junior lightweight], Feb. 3 … (3) Rey Vargas vs O’Shaquie Foster [junior lightweight], Feb. 11

2023 Outlook: Fulton and Akhmadaliev own two belts apiece, and they have mostly cleaned out this division. Aleem and Nery are there as maybe the last serious threats. BUT WAIT!

Coming In: Naoya Inoue. Don’t need to say much more than that. We’ll see if he can get fights with the top guys. If he can, things change fast, one way or the other, and we have some real intrigue.

Five to Watch: Sam Goodman, Carl Jammes Martin, Shabaz Masoud, Luis Rodriguez, Hector Valdez

Upcoming Fights: TBA

Updates: Inoue is likely finished up at bantamweight, dominating Paul Butler to go undisputed on Dec. 13. Vincent Astrolabio really solidified himself as a serious contender with a pretty dominant win over Nikolai Potapov on Dec. 17, too.

2023 Outlook: With Inoue headed out, we’re going to have four vacant belts. That opens many possibilities. We could make guesses about vacant title fights, but you never know who will accept what order and so on.

Five to Watch: Kazuki Anaguchi, Michell Banquez, Ramon Cardenas, Lee McGregor, Victor Santillan. A special shout-out to Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is slated to return in February. He’s 100 years old but you can never count that guy out. His situation is a bit sketchier than Andre Dirrell’s, because Dirrell is with a power broker and Rigo isn’t, but hey, vacant titles, he’ll be out there — don’t forget him.

Upcoming Fights: TBA

Updates: We didn’t get a winner between Ioka and Franco, but we do have a shake-up. I thought Franco deserved the win — not by a ton, but I thought he deserved it. That moves the top five around some. It’s a really good top five, man. This has been one of the best, most exciting, most competitive divisions in the sport for years now, and remains so. Ancajas falls out because he’s moving up to bantamweight in early February.

2023 Outlook: Top veterans are still in the mix, Franco clearly can hold his own at the top level, and then you have Nakatani, who could be a major threat, and I still like Tanaka’s potential upside, too. We may not see Estrada vs Chocolatito again, but there are a lot of good fights to be made in this division.

Wild Card: Nonito Donaire has suggested he might want to come down in weight for the right fight. With a bunch of belts vacated soon at 118, he might go after one of those, but there could be good money and a legacy-type fight at 115.

Five to Watch: Isaac Arias, Jade Bornea, Argi Cortes, David Cuellar, John Ramirez

Upcoming Fights: TBA

2023 Outlook: Edwards established himself as the deserving No. 1 fighter in the division this year, aided somewhat by Martinez’s stock falling pretty heavily for a guy who is still No. 2. This is a division with some potential heavy impacts to come from outside the top 10 this year, rising stars, and a guy coming down in weight who will be expected to become a top fighter immediately.

Coming In: Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez is coming down to flyweight after a great run at 115 lbs in 2022, where he became a breakout star and Fighter of the Year candidate.

Five to Watch: Angel Ayala, Samuel Carmona, Galal Yafai, Taku Kuwahara, Cristofer Rosales

Upcoming Fights: (3) Artem Dalakian vs (5) David Jimenez, Jan. 28

2023 Outlook: Teraji is now the clear top guy at the weight, and a potential further unification with Gonzalez would see him clearly favored, but could be a good fight. Gonzalez can be a very effective boxer when he gets going, and Teraji has been upset before. The division runs through Teraji right now, though.

Five to Watch: Hasanboy Dusmatov, Hector Flores, Shokichi Iwata, Regie Suganob, Mark Vicelles

Upcoming Fights: (7) Masamichi Yabuki vs Ronald Chacon, Jan. 28

2023 Outlook: The CP Freshmart boys continue to rule the roost. I think Ginjiro Shigeoka, if given a chance, might be the best fighter in this division, and he has a big fight early in the year to stake his claim. It is a division that basically still does not exist on the American scene and can be hard to follow past the very top fighters (and sometimes even then), but as always there is talent here.

Five to Watch: Luis Castillo, Goki Kobayashi, Ayanda Ndulani, Yudai Shigeoka, Pedro Taduran

Upcoming Fights: (3) Masataka Taniguchi vs Melvin Jerusalem, Jan. 6 … (4) Ginjiro Shigeoka vs (9) Daniel Valladares, Jan. 6

Upcoming Fights: (3) Amanda Serrano vs Erika Cruz, Feb. 4 … (4) Alycia Baumgardner vs Elhem Mekhaled, Feb. 4 … (5) Seniesa Estrada vs Tina Rupprecht, Mar. 25 … (6) Mikaela Mayer vs Christina Linardatou, TBA

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