The Ring Fighter of the Year 2023 – naming the hopefuls and predictions
Each year The Ring magazine crowns their fighter of the year, perhaps the biggest award in boxing away from winning titles, dating all the way back to 1928.
Last year, Dmitriy Bivol was crowned king, but this year it will be a tricky decision naming who has had the best 12 months of boxing.
Heading towards January and edging closer to The Ring’s announcement, it's time to have a look at who is in the runnings and most likely to win.
Gervonta Davis (29-0, 27KOs)
After two stoppage wins this year, Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis believes he is the face of boxing, and to be fair to the American, after a stellar 2023, he has the results to back it up.
29-year-old Davis started the year with a corner stoppage at the end of the eighth round over the Dominican fighter, Hector Luis Garcia. Garcia was victim to a brutal combination of shots toward the end of the eighth and later recounts, “I didn’t know where I was”.
It took the Baltimore boxr until round four before he found his footing as – similarly to his previous bouts – he started the fight slow. From this point on ‘Tank’ was in complete control, pulling Garcia in to trade with the far harder hitter.
A few months, later the southpaw stepped into the ring with social media sensation Ryan Garcia, in what was arguably the biggest non-PPV showing of the year. The two lightweights have huge followings and put on a show worthy of the hype surrounding them.
It was expected to be a struggle for the 29-year-old, fighting an opponent with a far longer reach, he often leaves his chin wide open for counters, preferring to fight on the back foot.
However, ‘Tank’ dealt with the long reach of Garcia’s without issue. He allowed ‘KingRy’ to get frustrated at the lack of engagement forcing him to lunge in, before tying the younger man up in the clinch and disrupting his attacks.
The Baltimore-born boxer was able to read his opponent's rather predictable attacks countering Garcia’s stable left hook, right hand combo ultimately leading to the first knockdown in the second.
The fight continued with Davis in complete control, he had Garcia figured out, and there was nothing ‘King Ry’ could do about it. Every question he asked, ‘Tank’ had an answer.
Eventually, it was Garcia’s left, right combo he had been throwing all night with little success that proved his downfall. Tank countered with a razor-sharp left hand to the liver, forcing Garcia to his knees, and not able to survive the ten count, ‘King Ry’s’ night was cut short in the seventh.
Davis has shown this year, that he has more than the hype surrounding him. A terrifying threat at lightweight the WBA champion has fought two tough opponents and moved forward with flying colours.
Chris Billam-Smith (19-1, 13KOs)
This time last year, no one would’ve imagined Chris Billam-Smith to be anywhere near the discussion for fighter of the year, but 2023 has been nothing short of a fairytale for the Surrey-born fighter. Juggernaut is a suitable term to describe the 33-year-old after his most recent performance, falling behind on the scorecards, and eating shot after shot from Cruiserweight veteran Mateusz Masternak, it was beginning to look hopeless for the British fighter.
Going into round six, however, the tides changed. Maternak looked tired, and ‘The Gentleman’ could sense it. Working the body, a chink in the armour was discovered within the Pole. Not long after the fight was stopped, a broken rib was the outcome for the Polish veteran and a successful title defence for the Brit.
By no means was this Billam-Smith best fight, he would tell you that himself, and an exciting fight it was but not one worthy of winning him fighter of the year. It was a few months ago that the WBO World Cruiserweight champ earned his place amongst the contenders.
Billam-Smith stepped into the ring against Lawrence Okolie, and it was a slow start for the soon-to-be champ, the first three rounds had many expecting the inevitable, a successful Okolie title defence. The Bournemouth fighter had other ideas and looked like a completely different man when he stepped out of his corner into the fourth round.
A huge left hook in the fourth sat Okolie down for the first time in his career, and he barely survived to the end of the round. The shock throughout the boxing world felt much the same as the night Ruiz took down Britain’s ‘Starboy’ in Anthony Joshua.
‘The Sauce’ was dropped a further two times during the bout, and while he looked good at times, the constant pressure and iron chin that Billam-Smith presented, left Okolie hopeless, never mind multiple deductions for holding. Nevertheless, one judge still scored the fight a draw, something almost impossible to fathom. The other two judges – who had their heads screwed on – saw a rightful winner in Billam-Smith, who played the star in a night that will be hard for any who witnessed it to forget.
Terrence Crawford (40-0, 31KOs)
Maybe not as active as the other fighters on the list this year, but ‘Bud’ is every bit as deserving. Terrence put on a clinic in the summer months, dismantling a lacklustre Errol Spence Jr. in what was expected to be a 50/50 fight. Crawford showcased exactly why he is the current P4P number one.
Crawford landed just under double the number of punches whilst throwing over 100 less, a testament to his accuracy and fight IQ. Spending the entirety of the bout on the front foot, a disruptive jab kept Spence from creating angles, as he spent the fight trying to create something from nothing.
Down in round two, and twice in round seven, Spence was out of ideas and already defeated long before the referee waved off the fight in the ninth. Crawford’s performance was a statement to the rest of the boxing world. He is the man to beat, he is number one.
Devin Haney (31-0, 15KOs)
What a year it’s been for the young American fighter, only a few can say they have held world titles at multiple weight divisions, never mind at the sprightly age of 25. The Las Vegas maestro has stepped into the ring twice over the last calendar year, and put on two commendable performances.
In June stood across from Vasyl Lomachenko. A boxer who resonates fear throughout the lightweight division. Taking on Loma will never be an easy task for any fighter. And by no means was it a walk in the park for Haney.
Speculation after the fight was had over whether the decision to crown Haney victorious was the wrong one. But the judges felt Haney had done enough and deservedly so.
He showed a maturity within the ring that is hardly seen among fighters his age. Exhibiting ring craftsmanship and adaptability you would expect from a 35-year-old veteran. He used the clinch well, allowing himself to stifle the machine-like combos that Loma is renowned for.
Then just last week, Haney put on a clinic in San Fran. Perhaps the most dominant victory this year. Many claim Prograis was already on the decline, and while that may be true, there’s no denying he was still a top opponent, yet Haney glided through him with such elegance and ease. He added 15 years to ‘Rougarou’ that night. Dumbfounding the former champ, and unloading with incredible accuracy and skill it was hard to believe you were watching a 25-year-old. The sky is the limit for ‘The Dream’, this year might be he is greatest so far, and just a hint as to what a treat the boxing world is in for.
Naoya Inoue (25-0, 22KOs)
Currently pound for pound number two according to The Ring, and boxrecs number one, Naoya Inoue put on the best performance of his career during the last 12 months, taking out Fulton in eight. He demolished the bigger, stronger, unbeaten WBC/WBO champion, winning every round before putting the final nail in the coffin in the eight. This seemingly settled the P4P debate but then a few short months later Crawford had his say.
Inoue doesn’t rely on a single game plan, an adaptable fighter, he appears able to end a fight whenever he pleases, and by any means. Working upstairs, downstairs, and all with demolitionary power. Inoue possesses the highest knockout rate, barring the heavyweight division, stopping 88% of his opponents before they can hear the final bell. The Japanese fighting machine showcased all his attributes against Fulton this year.
Fulton, known for his speed, was the slower of the two. Inoue hunted his opposition around the ring, smelling blood from the get-go. The ‘Monster’ did not respect any threat that Fulton tried desperately to materialize.
Jabs utilized by the Japanese fighting man ultimately proved Fulton’s demise. A jab to the body, followed by a cross-hook combination, crumpled the American into the ropes. ‘Cool boy Steph’ beat the count, but with too little too late, he was pounced upon by the 30-year-old, and finished shortly after.
The now four-division champ continued to show his dominance this year after a meteoric rise to the top. With one more fight scheduled this year, against Marlon Tapales, to crown an Undisputed Super Bantamweight Champion, it remains to be seen how Inoue will close the year. Although as it stands, it will be tough to find anyone, who can match the talent Inoue possesses and give him a run for his money.
It’s a tough ask to predict who will be named Fighter of the Year when so many boxers have had such an astounding 2023.
For me, Billam-Smith is the rightful winner. A tough fight in his most recent outing, he showcased he has the heart of a true champion. Able to fight through adversity and ultimately find a path to victory.
Not to forget, one of the biggest upsets and greatest nights of the year, Okolie was my top Cruiserweight, yet the new champion came out of nowhere and shook the division to its core.
Billam-Smith has shown the world he is a true champion and, in my opinion, the deserved winner of this year's accolade.
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