2023 Event of the year

From Saudi sportswashing to Irish and Californian homecomings and even a heavyweight bout held next to a war zone, 2023 saw more than its fair share of big events. Here are some of the best and most notable events of the past 12 months:

1. Gervonta Davis defeats Ryan Garcia in Las Vegas

Lightweight titlist Davis knocked out previously undefeated challenger with a body shot in the seventh round at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in April in front of an announced crowd of 20,842, generating $22.8 million in ticket sales, making it the fifth-best live gate in Nevada history, bettered only by Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiapo and Conor McGregor, and the first two Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin clashes. The fight also sold 1.2 million units on pay-per-view in the United States, making it Showtime’s most successful PPV since Mayweather-McGregor, almost six years previously. In the aftermath, Davis proclaimed himself the face of boxing, although he has not been seen in the ring since as a result of legal issues.

2. Oleksander Usyk beats Daniel Dubois in front of an (almost) home crowd

With his home country of Ukraine continuing to fend off Russian invasion, Usyk defended his unified heavyweight titles as close to home as he could in August, defeating British challenger Daniel Dubois via ninth-round TKO in Wroclaw, Poland, a little more than 300 miles from the Ukrainian border. A video message from Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was played beforehand, and a packed and emotional ground roared the more skilful Usyk to victory, despite the controversy of a fifth-round low blow that dropped Usyk for a lengthy spell but which Team Dubois asserted was illegal. The controversy over that call dominated the immediate post-fight coverage, but the statement Usyk made by holding the fight in this Polish town with a heavy Ukrainian population was what made it such a big event.

3. The Day of Reckoning comes for Wilder and Wallin

Saudi Arabia’s ongoing effort to corner the market in the biggest of big-fight events continued apace in 2023, with few events bigger than this stacked pay-per-view card. From a boxing perspective, the highlights were Anthony Joshua returning to form with a knockout of Otto Wallin and Joseph Parker shackling and defeating Deontay Wilder, but it was once again the sight of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo taking in the sights ringside as TV commentators and ring announcers repeatedly offered contractual praise to Turki Alalshikh that will have sent Saudi officials home happy after another blockbuster event.

4. The Monster Devours the Cool Boy

In his previous outing, Inoue had unified all the available belts at bantamweight. Unwilling to rest on his laurels even a second, he took on dangerous super bantamweight title-holder Stephen “Cool Boy Steph” Fulton in what was widely considered a major challenge. But, as he has done for almost the entirety of his professional career, “The Monster” dominated, stopping the previously unbeaten American in the eighth round in front of an adoring hometown crowd at Ariake Arena in Tokyo in July. Five months and one fight later, Inoue stopped Marlon Tapales to become undisputed at 122 pounds and consolidate his position in the very highest echelons of the pound-for-pound list.

5. Cameron spoils Taylor’s homecoming

After an Olympic gold medal and an undisputed lightweight championship, Katie Taylor finally fought a professional bout in her homeland as she stepped up to 140 pounds to take on England’s Chantelle Cameron at Dublin’s 3Arena in May. A packed and raucous crowd roared and sang along to Taylor’s entrance music as she walked to the ring, and although the result would be a disappointment – Taylor suffered a decision defeat as she suffered her first professional loss – the same arena ululated in joy when she won the rematch in November.

Honorable Mentions:

After dominating Errol Spence to become undisputed welterweight champion in perhaps the most-anticipated matchup of the year, Terence Crawford basked in the adulation of his hometown of Omaha. Nebraska, as 15,000 fans lined the street for the champion’s homecoming parade. Another pound-for-pound entrant, Devin Haney, fought in his hometown of San Francisco for the first time as a professional, selling out the Chase Center for a dominant display against Regis Prograis in Haney’s first tilt at a 140-pound belt. In what began as a circus act and almost became arguably the biggest upset in heavyweight history, champion Tyson Fury took on former UFC champ and boxing debutant Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia in October, and had to climb off the deck to escape with a decision win over 10 rounds. Talking of circus acts, Saudi Arabia, and boxers called Fury: Fury’s half-brother Tommy Fury sent YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul to his first defeat in Diriyah in April. And Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez fought in Mexico for the first time in 11 years, outpointing Britain’s John Ryder to defend his super middleweight title in front of approximately 50,000 fans at the Akron Stadium in Guadalajara.