Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Boxing in 2022: Five burning questions surrounding the sport’s biggest stars heading into a new year

The sport of boxing is ready to continue to build off its tremendous momentum in 2021 with many stars hopeful to face off. Last year gave us some of the wildest moments of the new millennium while also setting the stage for some of the young stars to really take flight in 2022. Plus, the Paul brothers continue to be a force worth monitoring as they turn the sport on its axis and demand attention.

With so much to choose from, the writers at CBS Sports took it upon themselves to answer some of the biggest questions at the forefront as a fresh 12 months of fighting is set to begin this weekend. 

Let’s dive right in now to the questions and predictions from “Morning Kombat” host Brian Campbell as well as staff writer Brent Brookhouse.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.

Which division will surprise the most in 2022?

Campbell: Junior welterweight

Although the 140-pound division has consistently had world-class boxers as its face in recent years, from Terence Crawford’s run to the undisputed championship to dueling reigns from Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez that culminated in their 2021 unification, it has been a while since the division was considered deep. Former unified champion Danny Garcia’s full-time move up to welterweight in 2015 saw the majority of big names follow him up to 147 pounds. But the recent tease of former lightweight king Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s interest in chasing Taylor’s four-belt reign would be a major addition to the top of the ladder at junior welterweight and could produce its own ripple effect. Ramirez will open the year attempting to bounce back from his first defeat against Jorge Pedraza while the likes of Regis Prograis, Jose Zepeda and Viktor Postol add significant depth. But should Lopez be followed by any number of young lightweights who appear poised to break out, including Gervonta Davis, there could be enough big business at 140 pounds in 2022 for even casual fans to take notice.

Brookhouse: Lightweight (but for all the wrong reasons)

While there remain plenty of reasons to be excited about boxing’s 135-pound division with all the young talent available, 2022 could very well be another year where Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney fail to stand across a ring from one another. Teofimo Lopez seems like his time at lightweight is done after losing to George Kambosos and it’s unlikely any of the lightweights chase him up a division without titles on the line. That leaves everyone chasing Kambosos, who absolutely deserves the attention, but whichever two fighters lose the Kambosos sweepstakes aren’t likely to step foot in the ring with each other. Add in Vasiliy Lomachenko — who is also in the hunt for the Kambosos fight — and you have another star in the division who probably doesn’t face those young stars. There’s still a ton of talent in the division and they may all be in intriguing fights. Those fights just aren’t likely to be against each other.

Who are the logical opponents for Jake Paul in 2022?

Campbell: Everyone from Paul to MMA fans would likely be interested in some kind of crossover boxing match between him and any number of UFC stars, including Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal. But the control president Dana White currently has over the contracts of UFC fighters likely prevents that scenario from happening anytime soon. Because of that, Paul could benefit from a bit of legitimacy fighting a “real” boxer. His recent flirting with the idea of fighting former middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is a smart one, especially if the 35-year-old son of a boxing legend continues his downward slide of four defeats in his last seven fights and an almost unforgivable lack of professionalism each time a fight becomes difficult. Yes, Chavez just lost to 46-year-old former MMA star Anderson Silva last year in a legitimate boxing match. But the fight would still offer Paul some critical respect should he pass a potentially dangerous test while also being the perfect setup for a marketable fight against Silva, should he win, to close out the year.  

Brookhouse: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. remains the best option. He’s a former world champion and a “real boxer,” two things all Paul doubters demand he tackle. Plenty of people have even suggested Paul only needs to face a 5-0 boxer to tick the “just fight a real boxer” box. Of course, those goalposts will move every Paul fight until his inevitable loss or retirement. Yes, Chavez lost to Anderson Silva in his most recent fight, a combination of Chavez being one of boxing’s great goofs in this era and Silva putting on a ridiculous performance. Still, Paul stepping in the ring with a former champion and a man who holds 53 wins over “real boxers”? That’d be a feather in Paul’s cap that would be hard to shrug off for a 5-0 YouTuber.

Who ends the year on top at lightweight?

Campbell: Devin Haney

Given boxing’s network and political divide, which makes matching the best against one another more of a difficulty than an expected luxury, it’s hard to gauge which fights might actually get made. If this were a round-robin tournament, it would be hard to count out former unified king Vasiliy Lomachenko or such a dangerous rising star like Gervonta Davis. But as newly crowned champion George Kambosos Jr. continues to negotiate a financial reward for his 2021 upset of Teofimo Lopez Jr., it appears unbeaten WBC champion Devin Haney has the inside track on inking a fight. Haney would likely be favored over Kambosos, even if the fight took place in the defending champion’s backyard of Australia. And given the mandatory responsibility of an undisputed champion, Haney would likely exit 2022 as the new face of the division. 

Brookhouse: Vasiliy Lomachenko

As I already stated in our boxing predictions, I believe Vasiliy Lomachenko ends the year holding three of the four belts in the division, with Devin Haney remaining WBC champion. Lomachenko is likely the easiest for George Kambosos’ people to make a deal with, especially if Kambosos stays firm on men coming to Australia to fight him. Gervonta Davis will be content to keep fighting for secondary titles — while everyone around him pretends they’re world championships — and Ryan Garcia can’t seem to get himself back into a ring. That leaves Haney and Lomachenko as the most likely options for Kambosos. Whichever man takes the fight would be favored over the champion. There’s also consideration that needs to be given to Kambosos remaining at the top of the division, both because he’s proven he can win “the big one” and because it’s not impossible to see boxing’s political game allowing him to take a mandatory defense against a lower-tier opponent or two just because the sport loves to shoot itself in the foot.

Who ends the year on top at welterweight?

Campbell: Terence Crawford

Is this the year we finally get the Errol Spence Jr.-Terence Crawford superfight to define the post Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao era at 147 pounds? Should Crawford, a promotional free agent, sign on with PBC, it seems much more likely. Spence will have to go through WBA champion Yordenis Ugas first in their unification targeted for April, but the winner of a Spence-Crawford fight just before it’s bright potential reaches its expiration point amid age and injury, the winner would be the rightful new king. In the past, both fighters have had their moments becoming the favorite in the public eye to win the much hyped fight. Spence, however, seems to have more questions to answer given his physical setbacks in recent years, which includes surgery in 2021 on a detached retina. Crawford, who turns 35 in September, isn’t getting any younger, but he’s fresh off proving in his first elite welterweight test to date against Shawn Porter last year that he’s the favorite of the moment.  

Brookhouse: Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford 

Is that cheating? Crawford vs. Spence is the “must make” fight in the division, just as it has been for years. With Crawford out of the Top Rank camp, the fight is easier to make now than it has been previously. Still, there are enough other names in the division for both men to face while continuing to find reasons not to step in the ring with each other. Both will win their fights through the year but will not face each other, leaving the question of who is truly the welterweight king still up in the air.

Who is the breakout star of 2022?

Campbell: Tim Tszyu is coming and the rest of the 154-pound division needs to take notice. The son of Hall-of-Famer Kostya Tszyu has passed each hurdle placed in front of him over the past two years on the domestic level in his native Australia, including stoppage wins over Jeff Horn and Dennis Hogan. It’s time for the 27-year-old to take his talents to the biggest stage in the U.S. where a loaded division of names, both coming and going, await him. Tszyu is a confident fighter with a level of poise that is seemingly beyond his years. He’s also a brutal body puncher and appears poised to potentially make the division his own over the next 12 months.

Brookhouse: Subriel Matias has a chance to continue his redemption story on Jan. 22 when he rematches Petros Ananyan on Showtime. Ananyan upset Matias in February 2020. While the result was a bit shocking, it was somewhat understandable. The first Ananyan fight came one fight after Maxim Dadashev tragically died following his TKO loss to Matias. Matias seemed to have gotten his head right after the loss to Ananyan with a pair of dominant wins over prospects Malik Hawkins and Batyrzhan Jukembayev. Matias has a fan-friendly style and junior welterweight is a compelling division with plenty of good matchups. Between a made-for-TV story of tragedy and redemption, an easy-on-the-eyes style and a division where big fights are in his future, 2022 could be a massive year for Matias.

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