LAS VEGAS — Sports fans; gather round.
We all know modern boxing has some dirty little secrets — from the grip an alleged narco terrorist Daniel Kinahan once had on the sport in Europe to suspicions of an unlawful ‘cash-for-rankings’ scheme in the US.
This all seemed to overshadow the actual sport, particularly as boxing was struggling to re-establish itself after the coronavirus pandemic shut down live events in 2020.
But something changed in Las Vegas this year as American boxing seemed to finally put its ails in the rear-view mirror and book banger after banger.
Lord knows I’ve covered the scandals. And, no, I’m not naive enough to think these lows will be consigned to the past.
But, right now, the combat sports Gods are blessing us with an ongoing series of herculean performances, super-fights, and the promise that even more is to come.
You don’t even need to be a casual fan of the sport to enjoy what it’s offered this year, and what’s on the horizon.
So, for anyone curious about the euphoric highs and the whimpering lows that accompany a grueling fight, you should bookmark these columns, check boxing out, and buy the ticket and take the ride because shows now have more Hollywood drama, edge-of-the-seat entertainment, pageantry, fashion and glamor, than even mainstream US sports. Yeah, I said it.
Let me take you back to March, at an event inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, when the tenacious David Benavidez put a beatdown on the teak-tough Caleb Plant.
Raucous Latino fight fans produced one of the most hostile atmospheres of the year to jeer Plant in an adopted city of his.
Referee Kenny Bayless tried to force the fighters to touch gloves at the start of the bout but they emphatically refused — an omen for what was to come, as they fought like they were owed money from one another.
Benavidez pulled away in the second half of the fight to out-land his opponent by a greater punch ratio of two-to-one, and then sent a statement to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez that he was coming, and he was bringing hell with him.
“He has to give me that shot now,” Benavidez said at the time. “That’s what everyone wants to see.”
On the form Benavidez is on, he’d be Canelo’s toughest test since he lost to Dmitry Bivol in Las Vegas, last year.
It is the type of fight that, in previous years, would either take too many years to build, or would fail to happen altogether. But the way boxing is run now, and the way American boxing fans are being treated this year, it’s likely a contest we’ll soon see.
Benavidez and Plant was a sign that big-time boxing was returning to Las Vegas, as the very next month Gervonta Davis drilled Ryan Garcia in a Gen-Z mega match, before Terence Crawford rearranged Errol Spence Jr.’s face in one of the greatest welterweight performances of all time, in July.
There have been other notable shows, too, with Vasiliy Lomachenko seemingly rolling back the years to make Devin Haney labor to a decision win, again at the MGM Grand.
More recently, in nearby Phoenix, Emanuel Navarette threw more than 1,000 punches to seal Oscar Valdez’s eye shut in a modern day classic.
Boxing has been on a helluva run in 2023, it’s been a banner year already for the sport, and from what I’ve heard from prominent people throughout the industry, the next 12 months could be just as wild — if not wilder.
There’s a lot going on, and it’s worth getting excited over because when boxing gets it right, with its big events, there’s nothing like it, in any sport.
I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the year’s biggest events so far and it’s been the most thrilling time of my 15-year career in sports media. I wouldn’t want any of you from any other sports to miss out, just as boxing is getting hot once again.