Usyk vs Joshua 2, Tyson Fury unification and Canelo at cruiserweight? The boxing agenda for 2022

·7-min read
Anthony Joshua faces Oleksandr Usyk in a pivotal heavyweight rematch in 2022  (Getty Images)
Anthony Joshua faces Oleksandr Usyk in a pivotal heavyweight rematch in 2022 (Getty Images)

After an unforgettable year in heavyweight boxing, 2022 promises to be even more colossal, potentially ending with the first undisputed champion of the sport’s fully reinvigorated blue-riband division since Lennox Lewis.

With talk played down of Anthony Joshua accepting a huge cash offer to step aside and allow Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk to compete in an enormous undisputed mega-fight, Fury will be a keen spectator as his two key rivals clash for the second time in a crucial contest likely to take place in the UK in April.

Indeed, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the next few months for Joshua, who will no doubt remain a considerable draw for several more years with plenty of intriguing, high-profile fights even if he loses the rematch, but no longer part of the truly elite conversation.

With long-time trainer Rob McCracken having borne the brunt of the criticism for AJ’s highly questionable tactics in his comprehensive points defeat by Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist has been searching for fresh coaching impetus in the USA and Dubai, which could be vital to his chances of becoming a three-time world champion and saving what would be the biggest and most lucrative fight in British history against Fury.

As much as Fury insists that he is now only interested in competing in the very biggest fights after ending his classic arbitration-enforced trilogy against Deontay Wilder with an enthralling October victory in Las Vegas, the WBC champion will surely be back in the ring early in the year.

Dillian Whyte’s dispute with the WBC could cost him a title shot against Tyson Fury (Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Dillian Whyte’s dispute with the WBC could cost him a title shot against Tyson Fury (Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

A legal dispute between Dillian Whyte and the WBC may not be settled until March and could cost the mandatory challenger his chance at a long-awaited title shot at this stage.

Conversely, the possible inclusion of a rematch clause if that meeting did go ahead would surely threaten plans for any unification later in 2022.

So if not Whyte, then who? Top Rank chief Bob Arum has recently stated that former world champion Andy Ruiz Jr and two-time European title-holder Robert Helenius - fresh off their wins over Chris Arreola and Adam Kownacki respectively - are among the front runners to face Fury in what would be a non-title contest, with the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ keen to fight in the UK for the first time since August 2018, though the Covid pandemic could yet scupper those hopes.

Though it will always naturally dominate the headlines, there is far more than just the heavyweight developments to watch in the months ahead.

Chief among the other most intriguing boxing plot points in 2022 is the great Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and his plans for further dominance.

Already boasting multiple world titles in four weight classes, the pound-for-pound king made history as boxing’s first undisputed super-middleweight champion by stopping Caleb Plant in November - taking less than 12 months to sweep all the titles at 168lbs in typically ruthless fashion.

A considerable jump to 200lbs and an Eddy Reynoso-driven assault on the cruiserweight scene now appears to lie in store for Canelo, with a bout against WBC champion Ilunga Makabu next on the agenda.

Fellow champions Mairis Briedis and Lawrence Okolie would appear to offer far more difficult tests for the Mexican, who is predictably not short of challenges from elsewhere from the likes of Jermall Charlo and David Benavidez, while there will always remain considerable appetite for a trilogy battle with old rival Gennady Golovkin.

Canelo Alvarez is targeting the cruiserweight division after unifying at super-middle (AFP via Getty Images)
Canelo Alvarez is targeting the cruiserweight division after unifying at super-middle (AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, even Usyk has spoken of being open to dropping back down to cruiserweight - where he was an undisputed champion - to face Canelo in a mammoth showdown, with the stipulation that he is able to retain his heavyweight belts.

Having previously captured a title at light-heavy against Sergey Kovalev, will cruiser prove to be a step too far for even a fighter of Canelo’s undeniable brilliance?

One division that will continue to be watched closely over the next 12 months is lightweight, which boasts arguably the strongest collection of talent anywhere in the sport.

Australia’s George Kambosos Jr is the unified WBA (Super), IBF and WBO champion after pulling off an almighty upset to dethrone Teofimo Lopez, while Devin Haney and Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis retained their WBC and WBA (regular) belts with decent workouts against Joseph Diaz and Isaac Cruz respectively.

Add to the mix a returning Ryan Garcia and Vasiliy Lomachenko revitalised by a one-sided beatdown of Richard Commey and more fireworks should ensue, providing some of those names agree to face each other.

In women’s boxing, all roads lead to some of the biggest super-fights of all time in the year ahead.

Claressa Shields is scheduled to defend her IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles against Russia’s Ema Kozin on her UK debut in Cardiff, while Savannah Marshall is due to fight in February before the arch-rivals - who were due to co-headline the same bill in Birmingham in December, only for Marshall to suffer a hand injury - face-off in a mammoth unification in the summer.

Then there’s the small matter of Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano, which will also hopefully come to pass at last in 2022.

Katie Taylor wants to face Amanda Serrano in a blockbuster showdown (Getty Images)
Katie Taylor wants to face Amanda Serrano in a blockbuster showdown (Getty Images)

Taylor remains the undisputed lightweight champion after three defences in 2021, with a sensational meeting with old Olympic rival Natasha Jonas followed by more low-key wins over Jennifer Han and Firuza Sharipova.

Unified featherweight champion Serrano, meanwhile, stepped up to lightweight with victory over Miriam Gutiérrez in December and there is optimism that a deal can now be struck for a titanic war that was originally scheduled to take place in the summer of 2020, only for Covid and other disputes to sadly intervene.

Of course, it would be remiss to discuss boxing in 2022 without mentioning one persistently divisive name that many purists would no doubt still prefer to ignore completely - Jake Paul.

‘The Problem Child’ - along with brother Logan - has been at the forefront of a YouTube invasion of the sweet science, an endlessly controversial development that many denigrate as a dangerous, damaging sideshow and others begrudgingly accept or even laud has injected new life into the sport and piqued the interest of a new audience.

But for as much as Paul, despite his tiresome antics, has attracted praise for his clear dedication to training and sound-looking fundamentals, he must surely know that respect from many quarters will not be forthcoming until he starts facing actual boxers.

While it was not his fault that Tommy Fury pulled out of their planned pre-Christmas battle citing illness and injury, another win over ex-UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley - however emphatic the knockout - did little for his cause, nor will calling out more MMA names in the shape of Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz.

A money-spinning confrontation with Conor McGregor obviously has its own significant merits, though we’ll believe that’s a genuine possibility when we see it.

It remains to be seen what will be possible domestically with Covid early in 2022, with Chris Eubank Jr’s test against Liam Williams - originally slated for December - potentially needing to be delayed again.

Jake Paul vs Conor McGregor - could it really happen? (Getty Images)
Jake Paul vs Conor McGregor - could it really happen? (Getty Images)

February is headlined by Amir Khan and Kell Brook finally locking horns in a long, long overdue all-British encounter in Manchester, while Josh Taylor - Britain’s first undisputed men’s champion of the four-belt era - defends his lightweight straps in a delayed bout against mandatory Jack Catterall as he looks ahead to potential blockbuster fights versus the likes of welterweight supremo Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford, who will surely have his eye on the winner of the 147lbs three-belt unification tussle between Errol Spence Jr and Yordenis Ugas.

The ultra-talented but reclusive Gary Russell Jr will defend his WBC featherweight title for the first time in almost two years against Mark Magsayo, Keith Thurman returns against Mario Barrios and the likes of Jermell Charlo and Makabu also make early-year defences and Britain’s Callum Johnson challenges Joe Smith Jr for the WBO light-heavyweight title in New York.

Liam Smith vs Jessie Vargas and a super-middleweight clash between London’s John Ryder and Daniel Jacobs also catch the eye early in the year.

Buckle up fight fans, it’s going to be another exciting 12 months.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting