ProBox TV's fighter of the year

There have been some wonderful performances, devastating knockouts and gala events, but here are the fighters who lit up the sport in 2023.

1. Terence Crawford

It could only be ‘Bud’ Crawford. Yes, Naoya Inoue was a worthy challenger to the mantle, but the superstar from Omaha, Nebraska, scored the biggest win of his life and the biggest win of the year in his summer super bout with Errol Spence. 

It was a Las Vegas special, sprinkled with stardust, celebrities and, as the contest drew closer, that big-fight feel. On the night, as Crawford went about his business, those in attendance looked at one another and nodded, understanding that they were witnessing something special. 

Those who doubted Crawford before, and there were not many of them, no longer could as he dismantled and then dissected his closest rival for dominance at 147lbs and the man who, for so long, appeared to be his ultimate dance partner.

Crawford was clinical, vicious and artistic, dominating Spence, bloodying the Texan and then emphatically closing the show in round nine having scored a knockdown in the second and two knockdowns in the seventh. 

There is certainly one person who agrees with the ProBox assessment of Crawford topping this category and that’s Crawford himself. 

“I’m the only fighter to beat a top five pound for pound fighter this year and the way I beat him was unmatched,” Crawford tweeted. “2023 Fighter of the Year is me. Some might say but I only fought one time, but that one fight was bigger than any of the others. #facts”

2. Naoya Inoue

The brilliant Japanese icon has enjoyed a typically brutal 2023, winning two huge fights, stopping two opponents and doing it impressively. 

Firstly, Philadelphian Stephen Fulton traveled to Japan for what was one of the most-anticipated fights of the year. Fulton was 21-0 and the unified super-bantamweight champion, and Inoue was stepping up from bantamweight. 

Still, in a largely one-sided fight, Inoue outpunched and beat up Fulton, stopping the American in round eight in the Ariake Arena – where Inoue has fought his last three contests – becoming a four-weight world champion and solidifying his status as a modern great.

Inoue, who had already unified at bantamweight, then stared down quality Filipino Marlon Tapales on Boxing Day and unified in his new weight class. 

Tapales, to his credit, gave Inoue plenty to think about but, ultimately, like 23 of Inoue’s 26 victims, southpaw Tapales was stopped. A right hand crashed into Tapales’s face and he froze and as ‘The Monster’ continued to attack Tapales took a knee where he was counted out. 
In a 12-month period, Inoue moved up in weight and unified another weight class, then pledged to stick around at super-bantamweight in 2024 to defend his titles.

3. Devin Haney

Boxing is in a place where its Fighters of the Year typically either box once or twice between January 1 and December 31.

Haney had two outings, one razor-thin decision and one landslide. There were plenty who thought he was fortunate to survive with the verdict against brilliant Ukrainian Vasiliy Lomachenko in Las Vegas in May and there were some who thought the step up to 140lbs to compete with Regis Prograis might be a step too far.

Haney, inspired by his homecoming to fight in front of his San Francisco fans, decked Prograis in the third and ran out an impressive winner, 120-107 on all three cards and putting him firmly back in the debate for a pound-for-pound placement. That December performance was superb, and the quality of fighting in Haney’s bout with Lomachenko was excellent. He beat Loma by two scores of 115-113 and one of 116-112, though plenty saw the same scorecards for his opponent.

4. Teofimo Lopez

Just the one fight for Teo, but it was a big one. He moved up from lightweight to challenge unified super-lightweight champion Josh Taylor and posted a supreme performance to win a unanimous decision.

The scorecards didn’t do Lopez’s exhibition justice, as he boxed brilliantly on his way to victory and becoming the first man to defeat the 19-0 Scotland star Taylor. Scores were 115-113 (twice) and a more likely 117-111. 

Lopez might still get more headlines from his life outside the ropes than inside it (he promptly announced he was retired post-Taylor), but the mouth still waters when you contemplate possible fights with the likes of Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia in 2024.

5. Jesse Rodriguez

The world flyweight champion they call ‘Bam’ has seen his stock rise in 2023 having unified the WBO and IBF titles with wins over Christian Hernandez and Sunny Edwards.

Many felt the Edwards fight determined who was No. 1 in the division and Rodriguez had never been better, damaging Edwards’s orbital bone on his way to a ninth-round stoppage win with a masterclass. Fast-handed Edwards could not put a dent in tough and well-rounded Rodriguez and, in many ways, he got Edwards – then 20-0 – to box his fight.

A huge ‘Bam’ left hand put Edwards down for the first time in his career and Edwards’s compassionate corner, led by Grant Smith, waved it off after Edwards made it back to his team.

Rodriguez became yet another fighter to enter the mythical pound-for-pound debate.

 Honourable mentions: 

Joseph Parker, three wins before an excellent fourth, upsetting Deontay Wilder in Saudi Arabia.

Gervonta Davis, bodyshot finish of Ryan Garcia in the big money fight of 2023.

Tim Tszyu, old-school Australian had three fights, stopping Tony Harrison and Carlos Ocampo and outpointing Brian Mendoza.

Kenshiro Teraji, a pair of ninth-round stoppage wins over Anthony Olascuaga and Hekkie Buddler.

Chris Billlam-Smith, dream home and world title win in Bournemouth over Lawrence Okolie and first defence a stoppage of tough veteran Mateusz Masternak. 

Rafael Espinoza, quick wins over Rafael Ramirez and Ally Mwerangi before winning a majority decision in an excellent fight and upset win over Cuban star Robeisy Ramirez. 

O’Shaquie Foster, posted big wins over 36-0 Rey Vargas and 34-1 Eduardo Hernandez.

Subriel Matias, stoppage victories over Jeremias Nicolas Ponce and Shohjahon Ergashev.

Junto Nakatani, huge knockout of Andrew Moloney followed up with a decision over Argi Cortes.

Zhilei Zhang, back-to-back KO victories over previously-undefeated and seemingly-indestructible heavyweight contender Joe Joyce.