2021 was another momentous year for British boxing — but what does 2022 hold?
After Tyson Fury defended his WBC heavyweight title against Deontay Wilder — and Anthony Joshua lost his WBA, WBO and IBF belts to Oleksandr Usyk — the landscape at the top of the sport has shifted once again.
Elsewhere, Josh Taylor became an undisputed champion, there was unprecedented Olympic success in Tokyo, while 2021 saw other contenders rise and fall.
What does it mean for next year? Nick Parkinson tackles the big questions:
Will we get Fury vs. Joshua this year?
This very much depends on how Anthony Joshua does in his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk; if Joshua wins back the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight titles, then a megafight with Fury is possible for this summer.
But if AJ succumbs to back-to-back losses to Usyk, a fight against Fury will be in serious jeopardy as Fury may be tempted to face Usyk instead for all four belts.
To make it happen in 2022, both need to win their next fights: Fury is expected to defend his WBC belt against Dillian Whyte, while Joshua is waiting on a date for his rematch with Usyk.Both fights are expected to take place by April, and Joshua faces the harder task. Fury recently declared two fights with Joshua are part of his exit plan.
However, victory for Usyk will make Fury think again as fighting the Ukrainian would be a clash to decide the division’s undisputed No 1, with possibly all four belts on the line.
From Wladimir Klitschko to Deontay Wilder, Fury has always pursued the biggest challenges available and it seems unlikely he would ignore demands and interest for a unification fight with Usyk after Joshua has been beaten twice on the trot.
Fury vs. Joshua was valued at £200 million when the fighters agreed to face each other in 2020. For various reasons, it never happened and Joshua must avenge defeat to Usyk to put the fight back on the agenda for 2022.
Can Josh Taylor become a two-weight world champion in 2022?
Probably not, but he can set up the opportunity for 2023.
Taylor is widely expected to successfully defend his four super-lightweight world titles against England’s Jack Catterall on Feb. 26 and after that not a lot remains for the Scottish boxer at 140 pounds.
– Fury or Taylor? ESPN’s 2021 British pound-for-pound rankings
However, lucrative fights await at welterweight, and he shares the same promoter (Top Rank) as Terence Crawford, the division’s No. 1 and WBO champion.
Taylor might want the chance to adjust to the new weight class before going in with some of the best boxers in the world. Crawford is the most likely route, but it is a dangerous fight for Taylor in 2022.
Who is the next star beyond the heavyweight division and Josh Taylor?
Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr, whose fathers fought out a bitter rivalry in the 1990s during one of the best periods in British boxing history, can take big steps forward in their careers this year.
The two contenders are separated by a couple weight divisions, but are both chasing world title shots in the next 18 months. Eubank Jr is closer, and victory over Liam Williams later this month should seal a shot at the WBA world middleweight title, held by Japan’s Ryota Murata.
Eubank is a big puncher, aggressive and exciting, as is Benn, who fights like his father did when he was winning world middleweight and super-middleweight titles in the 1990s. Benn declared last month after his latest win that he wants to face the top five in the welterweight division this year.
– Benn confident his talent can take him to the top
Promoter Eddie Hearn might be less forward in matching Benn against the likes of Errol Spence or Terence Crawford, but IBF champion Yordenis Ugas could be a possibility in another couple fights. Benn is No. 5 with the IBF.
Sunny Edwards can increase his profile this year with defences of his IBF world flyweight title, but historically it has been harder for boxers in the smallest weight classes to become big stars in the UK.
What are the biggest fights for women’s boxing in 2022, and will any be in the UK?
The biggest fight in the history of women’s professional boxing will see Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano face each other in New York in March or April.
Taylor, who is from Bray in Ireland and trains in Connecticut, United States, has had most of her professional fights in the United Kingdom but travels to Serrano’s back yard for her toughest test yet.
Serrano, from Puerto Rico and based in Brooklyn, is a seven-weight world champion while Taylor has won titles in two weight categories and is the undisputed world lightweight queen. Taylor-Serrano will be at lightweight and both camps were already in talks before Taylor and Serrano’s last fights in December.
– Women’s boxing pound-for-pound rankings: Serrano makes big move
While Taylor-Serrano is expected to take place at Madison Square Garden, the UK is likely to host another epic encounter for women’s boxing as Claressa Shields, of the US, is being lined up to face England’s Savannah Marshall to decide the undisputed world middleweight champion.
Shields has signed for UK promoter BOXXER, and the pair are on a collision course for later this year. First, American Shields will make her UK debut on Jan. 29 against Ema Kozin in a defence of her IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight belts. Marshall is the WBO middleweight champion.
Which Briton has the best chance of winning a world title at light-heavyweight in 2022?
Joshua Buatsi and Anthony Yarde both have fearsome knockout records, while Callum Smith is a former world super-middleweight champion who made a devastating debut at 175 pounds last year.
But their English rival Callum Johnson could beat them to global glory if he can pull off an upset against WBO champion Joe Smith, from New York, on Jan. 15.
Johnson will be up against it in Verona, New York, and he suffered painful defeat by fourth round KO the last time he challenged for a world title against Artur Beterbiev in October 2018.
Others perhaps have a better chance at lifting a world title in 2022 — if they get the opportunity. Buatsi is chasing a fight with WBA champion Dmitry Bivol but it looks like he will have to wait as Mexican Gilberto Ramirez secured a mandatory challenge with his win over Yunieski “The Monster” González last month.
After avenging defeat to Lyndon Arthur in style on Dec. 4, Yarde is now No. 1 with the WBO and can be expected to face the winner of Smith-Johnson later this year, so long as there is no voluntary defence.
Callum Smith is now the highest-ranked contender for the WBC belt after Russian Beterbiev, the WBC and IBF world champion and ESPN’s No. 1 at light-heavyweight, survived a nasty cut to stop Marcus Browne in nine rounds on Dec. 18.
Smith would be a serious danger to Beterbiev. He lost his WBA world super-middleweight title on points to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, ESPN’s pound-for-pound No 1, a year ago and then decided it was time to step up a division.
The Liverpool fighter then gave a convincing account of himself in a two-round demolition of Lenin Castillo in September, but if Beterbiev fails to land a money-spinning fight against Canelo next, Smith could get the call and chance to become a two-weight world champion.
What can we expect from Team GB’s six Tokyo medallists?
After previous Olympic Games, boxing medallists from the UK — especially gold — have had to contend with extra scrutiny and expectation when they inevitably turn professional.
Audley Harrison, Amir Khan, James DeGale and Anthony Joshua all dealt with the pressure of winning gold or silver at an Olympics and the interest that brings while they were novice professionals.
But, thanks to Team GB’s continued success over the last two decades at the Olympic boxing competition, after Harrison ended a 32-year wait for a boxing gold medal in 2000, the latest medallists will not enter the pro game with as much spotlight on them.
However, it is still reasonable to expect that Galal Yafai, from Birmingham, will contest for major honours in the punch-for-pay business within three years after looking so assured in his gold-medal winning campaign at flyweight last summer.
Yafai was not alone on the podium in Japan: welterweight Pat McCormack, from Tyne and Wear, won silver, just like he did at the World Championships in 2019, while Wolverhampton’s charismatic Ben Whittaker also won silver at light-heavyweight.
Frazer Clarke, form Burton, continued Britain’s proud tradition of medals in the super-heavyweight division by winning bronze while in the women’s competition Lauren Price, from south Wales, boxed brilliantly for gold at middleweight and Karriss Artingstall, a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery, won featherweight bronze.
– Frazer Clarke’s 10-year journey to the Olympics
There is no doubt Yafai will join older brothers Kal and Gamal in the professional ranks. But Yafai, 28, may delay plans to turn professional until after the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which are being held in his home city of Birmingham.
Whittaker, who has been recovering from injury since the Olympics, and Clarke are expected to start their professional careers this year. Clarke and Caroline Dubois, who also boxed for Team GB in Tokyo, have signed with new promoter BOXXER while brothers Pat and Luke McCormack have also signed professional contracts recently.
Peter McGrail, who boxed in the featherweight competition, has already had two professional fights since the Olympics.