If 2021 was a memorable year between the ropes, 2022 has the prospect of being even better for boxing.
Huge fights are on the horizon, there are superstars in the making and Northern Ireland could have a healthy return from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Sunday Life Sport columnist Carl Frampton and Boxing correspondent David Kelly look ahead to what could be an exciting and enthralling 2022 in the ring.
Three stars for 2022
I can’t look past Canelo Alvarez continuing to be the No.1 star in boxing. The guy is a phenomenal fighter and if I had a bucket list it would include seeing him perform in a big show in Mexico. In 2021 he unified the super-middleweight titles and his next challenge is win the WBC cruiserweight belt when he faces Ilunga Makabu. He was smart enough not to go for Mairis Breidis but it will still be another great win when he beats Makabu. He will stay busy with three or four more big nights which will just bolster his legacy.
For a long time, world welterweight champion Terence Crawford has been in the shadow of other fighters, despite being incredibly talented and one of the top four pound for pound boxers in the world. He can take a big step forward when it comes to being one of the stars of 2022 by having a blockbuster fight with Errol Spence. Now he has left Bob Arum, I think the Spence fight will be easier to get made.
Josh Taylor has achieved an incredible amount in a short space of time and this year he could take a giant step towards ultimately becoming the greatest fighter to come from the UK. He’s already the undisputed light-welterweight champion and will be talked about for generations to come. He can move up to welterweight and have more mega fights and it wouldn’t surprise me if he remained undefeated in 2022. Mind you, that still won’t get him nominated for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year! How he was left off the nominees this time was just ridiculous.
Three big hopes for 2022
*I really want to see Caoimhin Agyarko become a big hit in Belfast. With the power of Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn behind him, I hope that Agyarko will generate a great fan base because he has been given the right opponents which allow him to make big strides in 2022. Not only do I want to see him shine at home but by the end of the year I want to see him being talked about in the States as he pushes towards a world middleweight title shot in 2023.
*I’m hoping that Tommy McCarthy is given his shot at revenge against Chris Billam Smith after losing to him in 2021. It was a very close, entertaining fight and I can see it being part of a very big show in Belfast. Promoter Eddie Hearn can deliver a card that will have the Belfast fans coming out to the SSE Arena and everyone would want to see McCarthy against Billam-Smith II. I believe Tommy would win and then I want to see him fight for a world title in 2022.
*Tyrone McKenna has been a great servant to Irish boxing and I hope he gets the kind of fight that can set him and his family up for life. Tyrone has always been one of those guys who fights with his heart on his sleeve and when some shows haven’t lived up to expectations he has often been the man to save it with a fight of the night. A fight with former world light-welterweight champion Regis Prograis has been mooted and I would love to see that. Tyrone would be the underdog but he would love it and it would be a very good pay day. I’d also like to see Lewis Crocker in a really tough domestic test to see his career move up a notch or two.
Three fights I want to see in 2022
Teofimo Lopez v Vasyl Lomachenko II
Just before moving up, Teofimo Lopez should give Lomachenko the chance of revenge at lightweight. In their first fight, Loma was hampered by injury and required shoulder surgery straight after it. It was still relatively close and I think Loma would win the rematch but it would be another great fight.
Tyson Fury v Anthony Joshua
I know it is looking less likely because of the way Anthony Joshua was beaten by Oleksandr Usyk but I’d still love to see AJ and Tyson Fury facing off at Wembley Stadium in 2022. I suppose for it to happen AJ has to beat Usyk in the rematch and if I’m honest I feel he’s the underdog against the Ukrainian champion.
George Kambosos v Gervonta Davis
George Kambosos shocked the world when he won the unified lightweight titles and he should have some life-changing pay days in 2022. I don’t think there would be many more exciting than a battle with Gervonta Davis. Davis was losing against my old rival Leo Santa Cruz before he delivered a brutal knockout. I would imagine that he’d be the favourite with the bookies in a fight with Kambosos. But after an exciting duel, I think Kambosos would edge it because he’s such a tough, resilient man.
One to watch
Sheffield’s Dalton Smith is a fighter who is worth keeping an eye on in 2022. He picked up the WBA intercontinental light-welterweight title in only his ninth fight and I am looking forward to seeing how far he moves forward over the next 12 months. He’s a very exciting fighter with a good defence and looks like a future world title challenger.
Three stars of 2022
Josh Taylor was my Fighter of the Year in 2021 due to him unifying all four light-welterweight belts and I can’t see why his star will not rise even further over the next 12 months. Next month he defends his titles against Jack Catterall and once he has dealt with him, promoter Bob Arum will no doubt take him Stateside for some very big events. A move up to welterweight seems on the cards and I can see him having some exciting world title battles with the likes of Yorgenis Ugas, Vergil Ortiz and even Terence Crawford.
Shakur Stevenson finished off his 2021 with a fine victory over Jamel Herring to land the WBO super-featherweight title and that has set him up for what should be a sizzling 12 months. With promoter Bob Arum’s backing, he can land a big showdown with WBC champion Oscar Valdez before moving up to lightweight — one of the sport’s most exciting divisions. Stevenson has the tools to defeat newly-crowned No.1 lightweight George Kambosos as well as the other stars at 135lb, such as Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis.
Tyson Fury left nobody in any doubt who the No.1 heavyweight on the planet is with his thrilling victory over Deontay Wilder in the final act of their trilogy and now he looks ahead to a year in which he should be given the opportunity of unifying all four belts. Fury’s fighting spirit and charisma allows him to stand out from so many. Fights with Oleksandr Usyk and Dillian Whyte — and who knows, even Anthony Joshua — would maintain his place as one of the sport’s top entertainers.
Three big hopes for 2022
*For three years we have been longing for Tyson Fury to face Anthony Joshua to unify the world heavyweight titles and for one reason or another it hasn’t happened. Should Joshua lose his rematch to Oleksandr Usyk — as I believe he will — then surely Fury will have the chance to finally hold all four belts.
*Northern Ireland has had a long, proud tradition of bringing home medals from the Commonwealth Games and hopefully that will continue in Birmingham this summer. I get the feeling this is not going to be as strong a team as in previous years but no doubt coach John Conlan will have his boxers in top shape and I expect more medals returning here — with Olympic bronze medallist Aidan Walsh leading the way.
*It’s going to be a big 12 months in the career of Belfast fighter Tommy McCarthy. His loss of the European cruiserweight title to Englishman Chris Billam-Smith last summer was a big blow but I believe he can bounce back in 2022. He needs to avenge that loss and then I’d love to see him fight for the world cruiserweight title — with the WBA champion Arsen Goulamirian the obvious target.
Three fights I want to see in 2022
Michael Conlan v Kiko Martinez
IBF world featherweight title holder Kiko Martinez caused a huge upset when he knocked out Kid Galahad to become champion again. When he pulled off a similar result to win the IBF super-bantam belt in 2013, a year later he defended against Carl Frampton. As Michael Conlan prepares to face WBA champion Leigh Wood in New York, it would be great to see him match up against the Spaniard in Belfast this summer, eight years on from that September clash with the Jackal.
Anthony Cacace v Jono Carroll
Jono Carroll somehow currently stands at No.2 in the WBA’s super-featherweight ratings with Belfast man Anthony Cacace at No.9. A fight between the two would easily be a world title eliminator. It’s a fight that makes sense for both men at this stage of their careers and would be an exciting one for Belfast. Victory would most likely give Cacace a shot at the world title.
Caoimhin Agyarko v Jason Quigley
Promoter Eddie Hearn says he has big plans for Caoimhin Agyarko in 2022 and what better way to end the next 12 months than a fight with former world title challenger Jason Quigley. The Donegal man was outclassed by WBO champion Demetrius Andrade but remains fringe world-class level and would be the ideal test for Belfast man Agyarko after a couple of good learning fights earlier in the year.
One to watch
Belfast middleweight Caoimhin Agyarko had a good stoppage victory over American Noe Larios Jnr last month in his first outing under the Matchroom Boxing banner and now looks ahead to a very exciting 12 months. Promoter Eddie Hearn is determined to give him the tests he needs to build the 25-year-old into a world-class operator. Agyarko has an exciting style and good attitude and we’re going to find out a lot more about his potential in 2022 — not to only box at the highest level but also develop a big fan base.