After a rough 2020, boxing returned with a vengeance in 2021. Multiple divisions saw champions reach undisputed status as well as many super fights finally consummating. One of the biggest shocks, however, may have been Manny Pacquiao officially retiring from the sport after a loss to Yordenis Ugas. Plus, A year after upsetting Vasiliy Lomachenko for the unified lightweight titles, Teofimo Lopez was upset by George Kambosos, which sets up a potentially wild sweepstakes in the division for three titles.
As we move toward 2022, the lightweight, welterweight and heavyweight divisions will all once again be of the most intrigue with stars looking to make an even bigger name for themselves. With that in mind, our experts took a shot at some predictions for what we could see happen in the new year.
Manny Pacquiao returns to active, elite competition
Was Pacquiao’s decision at age 43 to accept such a difficult last-minute opponent in WBA welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas in July a poor one? From a style standpoint, the answer can only be yes, as Pacquiao came up empty in via close decision before retiring shortly after the defeat. But to imagine this really being the final fight of the Filipino icon’s incredible 26-year pro career would be overlooking just how passionate he still is for the sport, including everything from competing to training. Pacquiao is currently running for president in his native country but isn’t a favorite to win the election. Should he fall short, a return to the fight game feels inevitable. Even with the loss to Ugas, who was a late replacement for unified champion Errol Spence Jr., and the ring rust Pacquiao showed following a two-year layoff, he has incredibly retained much of the speed and explosion that has long since been his calling card. With the right matchmaking, including a possible move down in weight, Pacquiao could still compete at the world title level should he become active once again. And knowing boxing history of countless great fighters hanging on too long until the sport effectively retires them, it’s a good assumption Pacquiao will lace them up once again. — Brian Campbell
Vasiliy Lomachenko will end 2022 as lightweight champion
The lightweight division is red-hot right now, loaded with young studs who look to be the future of the sport. And yet, it’s the resident old man who could end the year as undisputed-ish champion. Teofimo Lopez laid an egg against George Kambosos Jr. in November, leaving Kambosos holding three of the four recognized world championships at 135 pounds. The WBC has also suggested Kambosos deserves to be recognized as undisputed champion despite also stating that their champion, Devin Haney, is WBC champion and “pride of the WBC.” All this is to say, politics dictate everything in boxing. Gervonta Davis isn’t going to Australia to face Kambosos. Haney might. But Lomachenko, still possibly the most skilled man in the division, will make whatever moves he has to in order to secure the big fights he needs. Lomachenko also isn’t likely to outgrow the division like Haney or look to continue collecting secondary titles that promoters and broadcasters will prop up as legitimate world titles. Lomachenko has every chance of fending off the next wave for another year because he’s the man who is most likely to play ball to make it happen. — Brent Brookhouse
Tyson Fury ‘retires’ from competition
Never doubt what this man is capable of doing. The WBC heavyweight champion has often given voice to walking away from the sport after a few more bouts, only to then walk back those comments the next day. But there seems to be a consensus thought that if — and it remains a big if — he is able to secure the undisputed title fight with the winner of Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk this summer or fall and walks away victorious, there’s nothing left for him to accomplish. He will have beaten the biggest challenges available to him (Wladimir Klitschko, Deontay Wilder twice and a unified champion) while reaching unified and undisputed status at two different points. Fury seems to be in a much better place than before his three-year hiatus for alcohol and mental-health issues, and one more massive victory could see him walk away to spend more time with his family. — Brandon Wise