It is hard to predict what can happen in a full year of boxing, given the nature of a sport which is divided by different promoters and networks. Add in the fact that more than ever, the sport’s top stars are fighting internationally, gaining fame in regions where boxing had previously not been a major draw. Just look at ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings top 10, which includes fighters from six different countries, working with four different promotional companies.
Regardless of how the fighters line up, to start 2024 we are playing matchmaker and are here to predict some possible fights — and the immediate future of one top fighter. Could we see Tyson Fury face Anthony Joshua in 2024… or retire from boxing? Will Naoya Inoue be the new P4P king, winning titles in a fifth division? Can two division champ Devin Haney win a welterweight title? Will the light heavyweight division crown its first undisputed champion in the four-belt era? And how about Francis Ngannou? Will he be back in the ring and actually won a boxing fight in 2024?
Here’s our bold predictions for 2024:
Canelo Alvarez fights David Benavidez
For years, Benavidez has lobbied for a showdown with Alvarez. All along, boxing’s top star offered a simple response: he must earn it.
“I’m the king and I can do whatever I want. If that’s a good fight for September, we’ll see. Sometimes the fights are bigger if you wait a bit,” Alvarez told Fight Hub TV at a media scrum in Mexico in December during a youth center opening he was attending.
Perhaps we won’t see Alvarez (60-2-2, 39 KOs), 33, defend his undisputed super middleweight championship against Benavidez in May. Even if it doesn’t materialize for Cinco De Mayo Weekend, Canelo could deliver the much-anticipated bout vs. Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs), 27, on Mexican Independence Day weekend in September.
Alvarez has never avoided a big fight. And when he took on Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout 10 years ago, certainly there were few boxers looking to face those tricky southpaws.
Naoya Inoue wins a world title at featherweight, secures P4P No. 1 spot
Inoue will step up to featherweight in the second half of 2024 and win a world title in a fifth weight class.
Inoue provided more evidence why he should be regarded as boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighter by stopping Marlon Tapales in the 10th round to become undisputed junior featherweight champion on Dec. 26.
Inoue (26-0, 23 KOs), 30, added Tapales’s IBF and WBA titles to his WBA and WBO belts to become an undisputed champion at a second weight class. Afterward the Japanese boxer said he plans to stay at junior featherweight rather than moving up a weight class again, with WBC mandatory challenger Luis Nery (35-1, 27 KOs), 29, the former champion from Mexico, likely for his next fight in May.
But it is hard to see who can give Inoue a challenge in his current form, and he will target a move up to featherweight in the second half of 2024 after facing Nery.
Crawford, the undisputed world welterweight champion, is No. 1 in ESPN’s latest pound-for-pound rankings after beating Errol Spence Jr. in July, but Inoue will move up from second spot in 2024.
Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua sign to fight
The United Kingdom’s top two boxing stars have been on a collision course for years, and in 2024, they’ll finally put pen to paper.
Perhaps Fury and Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs), 34, won’t meet each other in the ring this year, but they will sign for a fight before the year closes out that could take place in 2025.
First, Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs, 35, will take on Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs), 36, on Feb. 17 for the undisputed heavyweight championship. And with the bout’s two-way rematch clause, it’s overwhelmingly likely Fury and Usyk will fight again.
Even if Fury doesn’t emerge victorious, a matchup with Joshua is still appealing – especially in the U.K. – since Usyk already owns a pair of wins over Joshua.
Tyson Fury retires this year, even if he wins
I understand what you are saying about Fury fighting Joshua, Mike, and that could happen. But I really believe that win or lose against Usyk on Feb. 17, and after any subsequent rematch, this will be Fury’s last year as a heavyweight world champion or elite boxer.
Expect Fury to announce his retirement — again — in 2024, even if goes on to fight Joshua later in the year. Regardless of the result against Usyk and Joshua, Fury will decide it is time to hang up the gloves. He has retired before and come back, but this time it will mark the end of his time as a serious competitor.
Beyond Usyk and Joshua, who has revived his career following back-to-back decision losses to Usyk, there are no other big challenges for Fury, who reportedly has an estimated net worth of approximately $225 million.
The WBC and lineal champion is one of the wealthiest boxers in recent years and money is no longer a motivation. Plus, at 35, his best days will be behind him after 2024. Some will argue Fury is perhaps already in decline. In his most recent fight in October, Fury just edged a split decision win in a non-title ten round bout against former UFC world champion Francis Ngannou, Ngannou even floored Fury in the third round.
Fury’s last title defense came over a year ago against Derek Chisora, who he stopped in the 10th round in December 2022. Chisora had lost three of his last four fights.
Even if Fury produces a great performance against Usyk, the unified champion to become boxing’s first undisputed heavyweight champion of the four-belt era, he may decide it is a good time to end his career – unbeaten and at the top. He might be tempted to face Joshua, but he will have nothing left to prove and may walk away without facing Joshua.
Francis Ngannou will win a boxing match
Ngannou surprised most of us in his first professional boxing bout in October. The Cameroonian knocked down Fury, but went on to lose a split decision. His respectable and plucky performance has now marked the former UFC heavyweight champion as a potential opponent for some of the elite heavyweights. And if he returns to boxing in 2024, he will win a boxing match against a top contender.
But Ngannou should resist the temptation to face the likes of Joshua or Wilder, two fighters that have entertained the idea of facing Ngannou, and instead target opponents like perennial title contender Derek Chisora, or even YouTuber-turned boxer Jake Paul. Two fighters he could beat.
Fighting Joshua, a former heavyweight champion who has rejuvenated his career after three back-to-back wins since two defeats to Usyk, would be a difficult assignment for Ngannou. Joshua showed in his stoppage win over Otto Wallin last month that he is in sharp form. Wilder would be a high-risk fight for Ngannou, despite Wilder’s abysmal showing versus Joseph Parker on Dec. 23.
Ngannou would stand a better chance and continue to build his stock against a lower ranked heavyweight, like Chisora, who has recently turned 40 years old but is looking for a lucrative fight. Chisora (34-13, 23 KOs) won his last fight on points versus Gerald Washington in August, but has lost four of his last six fights. He has contacts in Saudi Arabia, which is now hosting a lot of the big fights, and that makes this fight more likely than other options for Ngannou.
Ngannou could also be getting Chisora at a good time, at the tail end of a career which has seen the Londoner involved in some grueling fightsy. And if that fight happens, Ngannou will win a heavyweight fight in boxing against a big-name opponent.
Paul would bring the biggest interest and lowest risk for Ngannou. Paul has gradually stepped up his carefully constructed professional boxing career and in December knocked out Andre August in a round. Paul also outpointed Nate Diaz, a former UFC champion who made his professional boxing debut versus Paul, in August last year. Paul suffered a disputed split decision defeat to Tommy Fury in February last year and has been linked with a fight against Ngannou for nearly a year. But a fight against Paul, who campaigns at cruiserweight (200 pounds limit) hinges on whether the social media star would be agreeable to box at heavyweight, or an agreed catchweight between heavyweight and cruiserweight. Ngannou weighed in at 272 pounds for his October fight with Fury.
Devin Haney wins welterweight title
Haney just moved up to 140 pounds, but already, he’s eyeing another jump in weight class.
In his junior welterweight debut, Haney floored Regis Prograis en route to a shutout decision victory to become a two-division champion. Before that back in May, Haney retained his undisputed lightweight championship with a win over Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Now, Haney (31-0, 15 KOs), 25, will become a three-division champion in 2024 when he moves up to 147 pounds. After all, Haney weighed 165 pounds on fight night last month.
Currently, Terence Crawford holds three welterweight titles with the other belt held by Jaron “Boots” Ennis. But it’s possible Crawford vacates all three and moves up to 154 pounds for his next fight.
Mario Barrios, the WBC interim champion, is a fighter Haney could face and one that he would be heavily favored to unseat.
Callum Smith upsets Artur Beterbiev
Talk has increased in recent months about Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol facing each other to decide an undisputed light heavyweight world champion. It’s a classic match up between slugger and boxer. Bivol (22-0, 11 KOs), 33, the WBA titleholder, unanimously outpointed Lyndon Arthur on Dec. 23.
“I want to fight for all the belts, Beterbiev or [Joe] Smith [who fight on Jan. 13], it doesn’t matter, I want the winner,” Bivol said after his 11th title defense. Montreal, Canada-based Beterbiev would be the bigger fight but Beterbiev, the WBC, IBF and WBO champion has been kept out of the ring due to a jawbone infection as a result of dental surgery. Beterbiev’s problem caused the fight to be delayed from August to Jan. 13.
Beterbiev will still be the favorite to retain his titles after stopping all 19 professional opponents he’s faced, but there are reasons to believe Smith can spring an upset.
Beterbiev turns 39 shortly after the fight and despite maintaining his 100 percent KO ratio, his last fight against Anthony Yarde a year ago was very close until the stoppage in Round 8 (two of the three judges had Yarde ahead). Yarde showed that Beterbiev can be hit and Smith will exploit that.
Smith (29-1, 21 KOs), 33, from Liverpool, England, is a heavy puncher himself and has registered two stoppage wins at light heavyweight since losing a decision to Alvarez at super middleweight in December 2020. If the former super middleweight champion sticks to the right strategy of box and move, he can avoid trouble and build up a points lead. This will lead to Beterbiev taking more risks, potentially creating more openings for Smith. Crucial for Smith will be the first six rounds.
Andy Cruz wins title
The gold medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games is a special talent, and in 2024 he’ll win his first of many world titles.
A then 26-year-old Lomachenko challenged for a title in his second pro fight and dropped a close split decision to Orlando Salido in March 2014. In his next fight almost four months later, Lomachenko dominated Gary Russell Jr., to become featherweight champion.
At 27, Cuba’s Cruz will also be fast-tracked to a title shot. He looked much-improved in his second pro fight with a third-round KO last month of veteran Jovanni Straffon on Dec. 9.
In that fight, Cruz (2-0, 1 KO) showed off a pro style under the guidance of trainer Derek “Bozy” Ennis. He sat down on his punches and was aggressive against an overmatched opponent. Combine that with Cruz’s incredible amateur pedigree (149 amateur fights), beautiful footwork and excellent balance, and he appears poised to win a title this year.
Of course, he’ll have to land the title opportunity first. Cruz currently campaigns at lightweight, where two titles remain vacant following Haney’s jump to 140 pounds.