A simple question with no simple answer: who is the best boxer in the world? An age-old debate, pound-for-pound rankings are normally all over the place, and from first-hand experience, conversations can last for hours and not lead anywhere.
There is a clear hierarchy with certain fighters. Some fans lean towards Canelo Alvarez, Terence Crawford, and Oleksandr Usyk. Always in the mix? Naoya Inoue, the undisputed bantamweight champion. Some are realizing just how good he can be. That is thanks, in part, to a deal with Top Rank and ESPN. Others still require a bit more proof to be convinced.
Inoue beat Paul Butler via knockout to become undisputed bantamweight champion on December 13. In June, he destroyed Nonito Donaire in a rematch from their 2019 classic. What further proof do people need? If they still have their blinders on due to loyalty or the schedule of a fighter, the debate continues to rage on.
As the calendar flips from 2022 to 2023, can Inoue erase any doubt? It seems likely, thanks to his competition.
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Will Naoya Inoue move up divisions?
The best way to prove your dominance is by moving divisions. Inoue has proven that by winning gold in three. After beating Butler, Inoue made it known he intends to move to super-bantamweight, to potentially face WBC and WBO champion Stephen Fulton. From there, he could fight IBF and WBA champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev.
“At 122 pounds, I can move more, and I think I can demonstrate my strength more,” Inoue told The Ring. “However, that’s just me being able to move better (and be more active). I don’t know how much damage I can do to opponents who should be naturally bigger. It will be an unknown world.”
As far as his competition is concerned?
Who are the other best pound-for-pound boxers?
Let’s start with Canelo. After a 2021 in which he became undisputed middleweight champion in less than 11 months, Canelo had an average (at best) 2022, losing to Dmitry Bivol and beating Gennadiy Golovkin in a trilogy bout. The Golovkin fight was in September.
Canelo is currently recovering from wrist surgery and is expected back around May 2023. A rematch with Bivol (if he doesn’t face Artur Beterbiev first) or a fight with John Ryder is on the table. With time away and a questionable schedule, Inoue can leap ahead of Canelo if the right bouts for him are made.
Crawford is in limbo. Leaving Top Rank, Crawford has attempted to book an undisputed welterweight title fight against Errol Spence Jr. The WBO champion faces David Avanesyan on December 10. Following that, it appears Spence will fight someone else before Crawford. How much longer will fans have to wait for the two to clash?
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Usyk returned from fighting in Ukraine and beat Anthony Joshua in a rematch. He is on track to face the returning Tyson Fury for the status of undisputed heavyweight champion. Given the negotiating style of Fury, it appears fight fans will also be playing an extended version of the waiting game.
Given what is on the line and the chances of a fight happening sooner, Usyk may be Inoue’s closest competition to the top. Inoue has the skills to take advantage of his opposition, but only if Top Rank helps in negotiations.
2023 may end up being the year “The Monster” actually takes over the boxing landscape. Is Inoue already on top of your list?