While I usually steer away from pound-for-pound-best debates because people tend to do Olympic-level mental gymnastics to vouch for their favorite fighter, this year, three names definitely make valid arguments to carry the crown of boxing's best in 2023.
Photo: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions
Terence Crawford emerged as the undisputed welterweight champion, shutting down all doubters leaving duck emojis on his social media posts for years. His dominance over Errol Spence Jr. wasn't just a victory; it was a declaration. Crawford, once criticized for "ducking" big fights and choosing lesser-known opponents on obscure streaming platforms, silenced his doubters in the most emphatic way possible. Entering the ring to the electrifying lyrics of Eminem's "Lose Yourself," with the crowd erupting in excitement, Crawford transformed the atmosphere. It was more than a fight; it was history.
Why Crawford Deserves It:
Crawford's victory over Spence was a masterclass. He took on a champion who had claimed all his belts the "right" way, challenging and defeating champions instead of adopting vacant belts. But against Crawford, Spence looked almost submissive, overwhelmed by Crawford's skill and power. This fight left a lasting impact, triggering Twitter meltdowns, causing thousands of dollars in unpaid bets and the deletion of social media accounts everywhere. Crawford not only finally crossed the street, but he conquered the territory.
Critics, mainly Spence fanboys, argue that Crawford faced a shadow of the Spence who could've been, claiming his 2020 car accident and injuries as factors to the way Crawford easily disposed of him.
Photo: Naoki Fukuda/Top Rank
Inoue, the Japanese phenom, continues to blaze through the smaller weight classes. On the day after Christmas, Inoue stepped into the ring in Tokyo and did what he does best - he stopped Marlon Tapales in front of his home crowd.
Inoue, already claiming championships in four divisions, unified all four titles at 122 pounds, just a year after achieving the same feat at 118. Think about that - becoming undisputed in two weight classes quicker than it took Canelo to conquer one.
Why Inoue Deserves It:
Inoue didn't just beat champions; he decimated them. He brought Stephen Fulton, then a unified champion, to his knees, making him look like an amateur in comparison and marking his first career loss. Inoue's ability to draw in big names to his homeland and then triumph over them in such a brutalizing manner is as hardcore as it gets, even for a lil' guy.
Despite Inoue's monumental achievements, there's always a less attention when it comes to the smaller weight classes. Most fans tend to overlook these divisions, arguing that the victories of Crawford and Haney over their respective opponents carry more weight in terms of generating buzz and setting up high-stakes future fights.
Photo: DAZN Boxing (Instagram)
Devin Haney's journey from being an "email champ" to defending his undisputed title at 135 and then ascending to 140, defeating Regis Prograis, is nothing short of badass. Haney's rise is not just about winning; it's about challenging the status quo. Amidst the chaos of boxing politics and promotional barriers, he's a fighter who's consistently chased the belts and decent names. During the Las Vegas media workout before the Prograis fight, Haney boldly declared himself as the "face of boxing."
Why Haney Deserves It:
Criticism has never been far from Haney, especially after his close victory over Lomachenko. However, he answered his critics in the best way possible - by fighting and winning. Haney has shown that his chin can withstand the punishment from top fighters like Lomachenko and Prograis, shedding the "boring" tag by becoming more engaging and dynamic in his last couple of fights.
While climbing up a division and snatching a title in your first fight is impressive, critics argue that it's not on the same level as Crawford and Inoue's achievements of becoming undisputed. I agree, but thought he was worth a mention.
In my eyes, Terence Crawford reigns supreme. His systematic breakdown of Errol Spence was a masterclass in boxing. Accused of ducking and questioned for his opposition, Crawford stepped up magnificently, not just winning, but dominating a fight that will be remembered for ages. I always heard boxing fans talk about their era's historic matchups and could never relate. Now, I can. Watching Crawford dismantle a top-tier fighter like Spence, who had previously dominated other champions, was both euphoric and devastating. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, a moment where time stood still, and boxing transcended sport. Though he is going a little bit "Yordenis Ugas" on us via Twitter, constantly spamming us with reminders of his victory to spite his haters, he honestly deserves to talk his shit now.
That's just me though.