Five boxers to keep an eye on in 2024

2024 boxing

Boxing’s greatest pound-for-pound performers made some noteworthy performances in 2023.

Artur Beterbiev began the campaign by maintaining his perfect KO ratio with a stunning TKO victory against Anthony Yarde to retain three light heavyweight championships.

Three months later, Gervonta Davis’s well-placed body blow knocked out Ryan Garcia in the year’s most commercial bout. Naoya Inoue demolished Stephen Fulton in his 122-pound debut in July, demonstrating his generational ability, before unifying titles to become the undisputed champion in a second category with another spectacular KO win against Marlon Tapales on December 26.

And Devin Haney won every round, including a knockout of Regis Prograis, to become a two-division champion on December 9.

Terence Crawford, of course, had the greatest performance of the night, dismantling Errol Spence Jr. in a tour de force victory to clinch his welterweight title.

But what about the competitors who are barely outside ESPN’s pound-for-pound top ten? There are some boxers who have a legitimate chance to achieve that status in 2024.

Jai Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs)

Jai Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs)

The Australian appears to have a particular talent, with his quick-twitch reflexes, snappy punching power, and balance.

Opetaia knocked down Ellis Zorro in the first round on December 23 in Saudi Arabia, where he’ll fight twice again in 2024. That stay-busy contest lost him his IBF championship when it was stripped, but Opetaia is poised for considerably more significant achievements in 2024.

The 28-year-old is limited by fighting in the underappreciated cruiserweight class, but his talent demands that the sport pay notice. It was all on display in September as he took apart Jordan Thompson.

Opetaia has also demonstrated tenacity, having battled through a fractured jaw to overcome Mairis Briedis for the title in 2022. To fully realize his potential, Opetaia will most likely have to follow in the footsteps of cruiserweight legends who make the switch to heavyweight.

Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs)

Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs)

With his stunning knockout of Andrew Moloney in May, the Japanese boxer became a two-division champion. Nakatani’s power show heralded his debut to the American boxing fans, earning him ESPN’s KO of the year.

Nakatani is now set to become a three-division champion when he faces Alexandro Santiago on ESPN+ on Feb. 24 in Tokyo. Santiago earned the championship after defeating Nonito Donaire in July, but his reign is likely to be brief.

Nakatani, 25, is long and accurate with his strokes. He destroyed Moloney with his combo punches and then wowed again in his first defense, a September triumph over Argi Cortes.

Subriel Matias (20-1, 20 KOs)

Subriel Matias (20-1, 20 KOs)

Matias, 31, advanced to the next level in 2023 with his strongest performance to far. He earned his first championship in February when he destroyed Jeremias Ponce, and he successfully defended it in November with another dramatic performance, a TKO win against Shohjahon Ergashev.

Hopefully, Matias will be able to demonstrate his talents in a battle in 2024. The 140-pound class is packed, with Haney, Garcia, and Teofimo Lopez Jr. competing.

Even if Matias is unable to secure a fight with one of those stars, there are plenty other plausible junior welterweights who would offer a step up in competitiveness.

Matias would be interested in fighting Jose Ramirez, Jack Catterall, or Richardson Hitchins, all of whom have improved his stock with each consecutive performance.

Tim Tszyu (24-0, 17 KOs)

Tim Tszyu (24-0, 17 KOs)

The 29-year-old might have waited for Jermell Charlo to recuperate from hand surgery that forced their January bout to be postponed, only to see Charlo lose to Canelo Alvarez instead. Tszyu, on the other hand, chose to keep himself busy while Charlo rested. The decision paid out handsomely.

Tszyu fought three times in 2023, in a sport marred by inactivity. He knocked out Tony Harrison in March, KO’d Carlos Ocampo in the summer, and then demolished Brian Mendoza in October.

Tszyu’s ability to connect together combinations with punch variation grew with each consecutive appearance, and his improved ability to weave together combinations with punch variety exploded during his win over Mendoza.

Tszyu, who is now a 154-pound champion, has stated that he would continue to compete in the United States. It remains to be seen whether the match with Charlo will take place. What is known is that Tszyu is a dangerous fighter with the potential to become a star in the United States.

Jaron 'Boots' Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs)

Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs)

After Crawford was stripped of his championship in 2023, the Philadelphian became champion, and the title should help him secure the kind of big matches that have evaded him.

Ennis, 26, formerly fought only on Showtime, but is now a network free agent, which will help him land big fights.

He began the year with a shutout victory against Karen Chukhadzhian, followed by an explosive knockout of Roiman Villa during the summer in what was possibly his career-best performance.

“Boots” is a powerful puncher with excellent balance and quick hands. He seems to be a danger to beat anyone at welterweight, though a fight with Crawford or Spence, both of whom may be done at 147, is improbable.

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