Boxing's power base shifted to Middle East in 2022

Dmitry Bivol and Oleksandr Usyk were the big winners of an exciting year

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It was a year the premier name boxer in the world was beaten, the year the biggest fight in heavyweight history was promised but didn’t happen (again).

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who had seemed to some unbeatable, came up short in his bid to take Dmitry Bivol’s WBA light-heavyweight title and we are still hoping for that undisputed world heavyweight title fight. Although now instead of being between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, it will be between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk if it happens, as planned, in the first quarter of 2023.

But 2022 was a landmark year for boxing in that it was one where the power base began to move east. In fact, to the Middle East.

There was a point in the 1970s, when the centre of the boxing universe switched from New York, which had been the base of the sport since the days of Jack Dempsey, to Las Vegas. The year 2022 could have been the year that things switched again, from the United States to the Middle East.

While the US still has most of the sport’s power brokers, it is to the Middle East that they are coming to make the biggest fights happen.

Go back to 2019, when Joshua regained his WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight title from Andy Ruiz Jr in Riyadh and it was a bit of an anomaly for boxing to happen there. If Fury and Usyk do meet in the ring, the Middle East is the only place the fight is expected to end up.

It was in Jeddah that Usyk boxed Joshua in August, while Abu Dhabi was where Bivol came for his first fight after beating Alvarez, against Gilberto Ramirez in November.

It was the first of a deal with the Matchroom promotional group that they are calling the Champion Series, which promises to bring some of the biggest fights in the world to the UAE. Already there is talk that Alvarez will put his undisputed world super-middleweight title on the line there in May. The idea that Alvarez would box outside the United States or Mexico seems incredible.

Dubai, too, staged a regular stream of fights in 2022. Sunny Edwards retained his IBF title here on a two-night show that also featured Regis Prograis, who has since claimed the WBC super-lightweight title.

It is Fury who stands at the top of the heavyweight pile at the end of 2022. Having retained his WBC title by knocking out DIllian Whyte in front of 95,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in April, he finished the year with a painfully one-sided repeat win over Derek Chisora, which was hastily arranged after hopes for a Fury-Joshua fight fell through as usual.

Usyk spent some time in the Ukraine military fighting against the Russian invaders this year before repeating his win over Joshua via a spilt decision in August. There had been thoughts that he would face Fury before the year was out, but he, understandably, wanted a break and headed back to his homeland to set up a foundation for victims of the war.

Bivol’s wins over Alvarez and Ramirez saw his rather routine reign as a world champion seriously upgraded as he became many people’s pick as fighter of the year. It is likely he will face Alvarez again at some point next year, but the fight most would like to see is Bivol against Artur Beterbiev, who was once a team-mate on the Russia amateur team, and now holds the WBC, WBO and IBF titles at light-heavyweight.

The destructive Naoya Inoue underlined his position as Japan’s greatest ever boxer as he unified all four parts of the world bantamweight title by beating Paul Butler this month – the 29-year-old is already a four-weight world champion.

There are two other undisputed male world champions at present. Jermell Charlo – whose identical twin, Jermall is WBC middleweight title – who unified all four belts at super-welterweight by knocking out Brian Castano in May. Devin Haney became undisputed champion by beating George Kambosos Jr in Melbourne in June and then repeated the win in October.

It was also a breakthrough year for women’s boxing. Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano packed out Madison Square Garden in April, as Taylor successfully defended her world lightweight title, while Claressa Shields’s world middleweight title win over Savannah Marshall filled the O2 Arena in London.

The next year could shape up as a great one, but the big fights need to happen to maintain interest in the sport. That should mean Fury-Usyk at heavyweight, Bivol-Beterbiev at light-heavyweight and a long overdue clash between Errol Spence and Terence Crawford at welterweight. That would make a mouth-watering 2023.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 4:20 AM