What I liked and didn't like about boxing in 2021, and what to look forward to in 2022

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·Combat columnist
·8-min read
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If you were sitting in T-Mobile Arena during the fourth round of the heavyweight championship between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, it had to occur to you that you were seeing one of the great sporting events ever.

In the third round, Fury put Wilder down and seemed on the verge of victory. Wilder, arguably the biggest puncher in the sport, came back and dropped Fury viciously twice in the fourth and you couldn’t blame him if he began to work on his post-fight victory speech as Fury attempted to pull himself off the floor.

T-Mobile was electric, pulsing with energy, fans roaring, announcers shrieking and the walls almost quaking.

In that unforgettable moment, the many ills over the past several decades that have reduced boxing from one of the three biggest sports in this country to a niche one that is followed by an increasingly smaller and smaller audience were seemingly a lifetime away.

It’s what boxing — sports — are all about. The best in the world meeting for the highest stakes and putting everything they have into it.

There was a lot of that in 2021, but not enough. With that acknowledgement, these are some of the things I loved about boxing in 2021, those that I hated and others I’d like to see changed in 2022 and beyond.

No disputing the undisputed

Two divisions, super middleweight and super lightweight, found undisputed champions in 2021, with Canelo Alvarez and Josh Taylor doing the job in their respective divisions.

But for the first time in a long while, boxing promoters, the managers and the television networks seemed to agree it was best to try to reduce the number of champions by having them fight each other.

We could have had an undisputed champion at super welterweight, as well, but Brian Castaño and Jermell Charlo fought to a split draw in July. As a result, Charlo kept the WBA, WBC and IBF belts and Castaño retained the WBO title. They’ll rematch on Feb. 26.

The heavyweight division would have had an undisputed champion, too, but an arbiter put an end to that. Only a day after Fury and Anthony Joshua signed to fight for the undisputed heavyweight title, Wilder prevailed in a case when he went to arbitration to enforce his right to a third fight with Fury.

That led to the epic October match between them that Fury won, and there’s a better than even chance the heavyweight division will get an undisputed champion in 2022.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27:   George Kambosos Jr after his championship bout for Lopezs Undisputed Lightweight title at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2021 in New York, New York (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
George Kambosos Jr. surprised the boxing world with his upset of Teofimo Lopez to claim four lightweight belts on Nov. 27, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With George Kambosos Jr. holding all of the lightweight belts, he’s also undisputed, though there are some who will dispute that. That’s because sanctioning bodies give out too many belts and it comes back to bite them. The WBC made Vasiliy Lomachenko, who won the WBC title in the ring, a franchise champion and elevated Devin Haney to regular title.

Then, Lomachenko lost to Teofimo Lopez, who lost to Kambosos. That gave Kambosos a belt from all four organizations, but it’s not really undisputed to some because of the silly franchise designation.

Those things need to be done away with. When there are undisputed title fights, the world pays far more attention. Make it happen more, not less, by eliminating the superfluous belts and looking to unify as frequently as possible.

Great young fighters on the rise

This year figures to be the year that several budding stars break out fully. In particular, welterweights Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz give every indication they’ll be big-time stars and will be able to challenge the established top dogs in that division.

Lopez won’t be 25 until July, and he’ll likely move to 140 pounds.

Shakur Stevenson is already a two-division world champion and is a guy who could easily succeed Alvarez and Terence Crawford as the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound.

Brandon Figueroa can be like the Arturo Gatti of the lighter weight divisions. Xander Zayas won’t be 20 until September, but looks like an eight-year veteran at super welterweight. Heavyweight Jared “Big Baby” Anderson could rule that division for years and he just turned 22.

Pay scale should be rearranged

Too many fighters in the sport are vastly overpaid. It’s great for them, but hurts the sport as a whole because it’s difficult to make fights. Haney is another of the young, under-25 fighters whose talent helps make this sport’s future look so bright.

But he’s comically overpaid. He made $5 million to fight Joseph Diaz in December and they struggled to give away tickets to the fight. Now, if he steps up to fight Gervonta Davis, who the day after Haney couldn’t sell anything at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas did a $4 million gate on a Sunday in Los Angeles, how are those fighters going to be paid?

The economics won’t allow it to happen unless a promoter is willing to lose millions or even tens of millions (which, in a quick side note, I should add that it looked like Triller was trying to do in 2021).

This is an individual sport, not a team sport, so their salaries should be based primarily on how many fans they put in seats, how many viewers they draw to regular TV and how many subscriptions they sell to PPV.

If there’s a reset of the pay scale — and I am not advocating promoters keeping the money, but redistributing it among the boxers and prioritizing those who draw — then it would allow for many more compelling matches.

That will only help the sport.

Promoters and managers should work on deals that incentivize fighters to perform. For a fighter who, say, made $750,000 in 2021, cut the salary back and bonus the fighter if a gate hits a certain number, if they win against ranked contenders, and if TV viewership hits certain marks. Follow what the UFC does and offer bonuses for Fight of the Night and KO of the Night to incentivize them even more.

The old way of doing business helps a few at the expense of the larger audience. It needs to be abandoned and reworked.

Terence Crawford, left, reacts against the ropes while fighting Shawn Porter during a welterweight title boxing match Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)
Will Terence Crawford finally face Errol Spence Jr. in 2022? (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)

5 fights I want to see in 2022 and 5 I couldn't care less about

• Canelo Alvarez against IBF-WBC light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev. Alvarez is going after a cruiserweight belt in his next outing, but a fight with the powerful Beterbiev would be scintillating. And if Alvarez wins it, he’d be halfway to unifying another division.

• Kazuto Ioka against Jerwin Ancajas for the IBF-WBO super flyweight titles. This was scheduled in 2021 but canceled because of COVID. It’s guaranteed fireworks. Get it remade.

• Juan Francisco Estrada versus Roman Gonzalez III. Each of their first two fights was sensational. They’re scheduled to fight again in March and, conveniently, the winner can fight the Ioka-Ancajas winner later in the year.

• Joe Smith Jr. versus Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez for Smith’s WBO light heavyweight title. It’d pit two big, aggressive, hard-hitting guys and if you saw Ramirez’s last fight against Yunieski Gonzalez, you’d want to see him again. Smith is always fun.

• Terence Crawford against Errol Spence Jr. Assuming Spence beats Yordenis Ugas, there is no reason now for Crawford and Spence not to meet in what would be a modern-day Leonard-Hearns. If it doesn’t happen, I don’t care what else they do. It’d be meaningless.

• Those I don’t care about much, if at all, begin with Keith Thurman versus Mario Barrios. Now, Thurman hasn’t fought since losing to Manny Pacquiao in July 2019, but he’s going to come back to headline a February PPV against Mario Barrios.

That’s weird enough, but in his last fight, Barrios lost at 140 to Gervonta Davis. And in Davis’ fight before he fought Barrios, he weighed 130 to fight Leo Santa Cruz. So you want to bring Thurman back after 31 months away, put him on PPV against a guy who isn’t a welterweight? Yeah, pass. Who cares?

• Following that theme, any Gary Russell fight. He somehow keeps a title despite rarely fighting. When he meets Mark Magsayo on Jan. 22, it will be his first fight in 23 months. Russell has — or had — extraordinary talent. But we don’t want to see him every couple of years.

• Zero interest in Gennadiy Golovkin against Ryoto Murata, which was canceled because of COVID and will likely be rescheduled for March or April. Golovkin used to complain that he was being ducked. Now, he’s taking the easy path in these fights. Remember, before fighting Murata, whose only resemblance to Marvin Hagler is that both had two eyes, two arms, two legs and each breathed oxygen, Golovkin has fought Steve Rolls, Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Kamil Szeremeta in succession. Light touch after light touch. Sad.

• Any Shakur Stevenson fight that is not against Oscar Valdez. That’s the fight to make, period, in that division.

• Any John Riel Casimero fight that isn’t against either Naoya Inoue or Nonito Donaire. Casimero is doing a great job of making himself completely irrelevant, wasting a lot of talent in the process.

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