Fury-Usyk, Azeez-Buatsi and why this could be a truly monumental year for boxing

Joshua Buatsi, left, and Dan Azeez will meet as two outstanding unbeaten fighters  (Getty Images)
Joshua Buatsi, left, and Dan Azeez will meet as two outstanding unbeaten fighters (Getty Images)

This is not a strict preview of the boxing year, but Ohara Davies, Callum Smith and Natasha Jonas are all in world title fights before the end of January. It is not normal to have that many British boxers start the year in important fights in so many different locations. And they are three very different fights.

The month of February will include domestic bonanzas and the Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury heavyweight carnival and cash cow in Riyadh. Fury landed in Saudi Arabia and was given his flowers at the airport on Sunday; this ghost fight is happening, Fury looks lean, and his luxury camp is ready. Usyk is under the winter sun in Spain, spartan in preparation and silent right now. Put it in the diary: 17 February.

The delayed Dan Azeez and Joshua Buatsi fight at light-heavyweight is not about the baubles; it is all about pride and a genuine world ranking. It would be the best fight on paper in many of the years in the Seventies. Nobody cares what belt or belts the winner will have to heave from the ring – it is just a gem between two unbeaten men. It’s at Wembley on 3 February, by the way, and that is a venue packed with nostalgia for fights in three-roped rings with a cloud of cigarette smoke hovering above the heads of the boxers.

Amazingly, there is another fabulous domestic fight in the book at the Copper Box inside the Olympic Park when unbeaten Hamzah Sheeraz risks it all against Liam Williams. This is also a delayed fight, a victim of late injury last year. The fight is for nothing more than the right to make money and move up the world rankings; it is squeezed between the Azeez fight and the heavyweights in Riyadh. Three consecutive big, big Saturday nights.

This Saturday, in Las Vegas, Ohara Davies, the Hackney fighter with a history of saying stupid things, starts another triple when he fights Ismael Barroso for a part of the WBA’s super-lightweight title. It is complicated, but Davies has been maneuvered smartly and is as deserving of his chance as any other good fighter. It is a business of chance, opportunity and risks; Barroso, incidentally, was unlucky to lose in a fight for the full title last year. It is a great opportunity for Davies.

Tyson Fury will try to unify the heavyweight division against Usyk (Getty Images)
Tyson Fury will try to unify the heavyweight division against Usyk (Getty Images)

The following Saturday in Quebec City, Canada, Callum Smith might just be getting the most fearsome fighter in his division at the right time. Artur Beterbiev is now 38, he has knocked out or stopped every single one of the 19 men he has fought. Beterbiev is the holder of the WBC, WBO and IBF light-heavyweight titles, but there are signs that a life in the ring and gyms has started to take its toll. This fight was, like Davies and Barroso, also moved from last year. Smith has held world titles at super-middleweight, but he was always a giant at the weight – a drained giant at times.

However, Smith has been inactive since the summer of 2022 and that is a concern; Beterbiev has not fought since his brawl with Anthony Yarde, when he was trailing on two of the cards before the knockout, in January of last year. It feels like something dramatic will happen.

The Echo Arena in Liverpool will be sold out on 20 January when Natasha Jonas completes the glorious trio of Saturday nights. She defends her IBF welterweight title against Mikaela Mayer, the American with the profile; Mayer can really fight, forget all the Barbie references from her early days. It is a hard, hard fight for Jonas.

This is a start to the boxing business year like no other in our history. Right now, the diary is empty between March and the end of December, and that will change with the influx of Saudi money and the distant cries of fans demanding the fights they want to see. This might be a truly monumental year.