Boxing 2023 preview: Four boxers set for a breakout year on BT Sport looks at four fighters set for a big year ahead as Frank Warren and the Queensberry Boxing stable make some big moves in 2023.

By George Mills Published: 4 January 2023 - 3.26pm

Pierce O’Leary

Ireland’s Pierce O’Leary finished 2022 with a win that secured him the first piece of silverware of his career as he outpointed Namibia’s Emmanuel Mungandjela for the WBC International super-lightweight belt in November.

It was a valuable learning experience for the man named ‘Big Bang’ as he was taken the distance by the teak-tough visitor from southwest Africa, denying him a fifth straight finish in the process.

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 “I am always harsh on myself and I’ll always criticize my performance, that was an absolute s*** performance,” was O’Leary’s brutally honest assessment after the fight.

“It was all new to me, 10 rounds, a lot of hype surrounding me, it was a lot to deal with but I got the win that’s the main thing.”

The 22-year-old was perhaps a touch harsh on himself having come up against an experience and game competitor in the 34-year-old Mungandjela, who has never been stopped in four career defeats.

However, it showed the high standards to which O’Leary holds himself as he looks to press on from his 11-0 (6 KOs) record to challenge for bigger and better things in 2023.

He comes with the stamp of approval from the Queensberry head honcho Frank Warren too, who believes he has a future world champion on his hands in the young Dubliner.

“I’m so proud of him and over the moon to be his manager and part of his team”
- Francis Warren, manager

O’Leary’s manager, Francis Warren, will no doubt be looking to keep him as active as he has been in recent times with six fights in the last two years.

Speaking after his fighter’s victory over Mungandjela in November, Francis said: “I’m really looking forward to the future with Pierce. It was a tougher opponent than his first title fight should have warranted.

“He went in there and won every round, out-punched his opponent and out-muscled him.

“Did he get the stoppage? No, but he got 10 rounds in the bank and I’ll tell you what, at fight 20 the experience from this fight will be invaluable. I’m so proud of him and over the moon to be his manager and part of his team.”

If O’Leary can remain on his current positive trajectory, another two or three fights this year would leave the highly-touted knocking on the door for big fights, major belts and serious recognition.

Dennis McCann

Could 2023 be the year Dennis ‘The Menace’ McCann attracts wider public acclaim?

The charismatic 21-year-old looks to have all the tools to become a big name in the sport, pairing his fan-friendly fighting style with a magnetic personality and sense of humour that have already helped him become one of the division’s most notable characters.

McCann finished up 2022 with arguably the best performance of his fledgling career yet as he comfortably dismantled a tough veteran in Joe Ham on his way to an eighth-round stoppage.

“I believe I'm the champ of the division”
- Dennis McCann

That secured the vacant Commonwealth super-bantamweight crown, adding to the growing collection of jewellery McCann has steadily begun to accumulate.

Writing for Boxing Scene last week, Frank Warren namechecked McCann as someone to keep a close eye on in the months ahead.

“[He] is another one who is nudging himself to the forefront and closing in on being a headline attraction,” Warren said.

“His last three fights have been for significant titles – WBO Youth, WBC International Silver and Commonwealth – and he is stepping up the levels all the time.”

McCann has been devoted to the sport of boxing since the age of 10 and the years of hard work and sacrifice ever since could pay off in full during 2023 when the man from Maidstone looks to establish himself as the domestic number one.

A potential showdown against Telford’s undefeated European and WBC International champion Liam Davies has been teased at some point in the near future – and it’s a clash McCann has been actively campaigning for behind the scenes.

"One of us could go down the WBO route, one of us could go down the WBC route, two world champions, meet up and then bang,” McCann said of his British rival last month.

“But hopefully Frank and Francis can make that fight happen in 2023 and I'd be buzzing for it. I believe I'm the champ of the division, I'm the number one in the division 100%.”

Will McCann get his wish before the year is up? Keep an eye on the Menace!

Hamzah Sheeraz

Hamzah Sheeraz enters 2023 with lofty goals that are becoming increasingly realistic prospects for the year ahead having enjoyed a sterling 2022.

The undefeated middleweight extended his record to 17-0 in late November with a brutal and brilliant win over River Wilson-Bent inside three rounds at the O2 Arena that only served to further enhance his reputation as a world titlist in the making.

His profile was also given an unexpected boost in the aftermath of that contest when former unified world champion Amir Khan began publicly feuding with Sheeraz after claiming the young star had “disrespected” him but refused to elaborate further.

“I just feel sad. That’s the sad part about boxing,” Khan said.

“When you retire from the sport of boxing, you see the people who are with you and who are not with you, and the people then start talking s**t. As soon as I said ‘I’m retired’ people like these Hamzah Sheeraz come out the woodwork and started talking s**t.

17-0 (13 KOs)
Hamzah Sheeraz's record

“I’m like who the f**k are you? Bro, I’m still a… I’m not retired from everything in life – I will stick it on you if I have to.”

Exactly what sparked the bitter fallout remains unclear – but there’s no doubt that Sheeraz has benefitted from the light being shone on him by Khan, exposing his name to those outside of the boxing fraternity who have known about the man from Slough for a while.

Crowned the Best Young Boxer of the Year at the 2022 Boxing Writers’ Club awards, Sheeraz has been on the radar as someone with the potential to do big things for a while.

Praising Sheeraz’s progress in recent times, promoter Frank Warren told Boxing Scene: “Hamzah is one who really looks the part as a strapping middleweight. If sacrifice and dedication wins you world titles then you should put your money on young Hamzah.

“He takes himself off to LA to train and test himself to the limit in sparring and conducts himself with great professionalism at all times. I was thrilled to reward him for his progress by putting him top of the bill in November and he didn’t disappoint with a ferocious destruction of the more than capable River Wilson-Bent.

“Hamzah won’t be rushed because he wants to build a career by taking all the right steps, but he is going to be in good fights and will continue to make strong progress in 2023.”

Nick Ball

If you still haven’t heard of Nick Ball, 2023 will be the year that all changes.

The 25-year-old Liverpudlian had arguably the best year of any boxer on this list in 2022, fighting three times and producing three explosive stoppages to make the fight game sit up and take notice.

A demolition job on Isaac Lowe back in April saw Ball steal the limelight on the undercard of Fury vs Whyte at Wembley Stadium and the diminutive powerhouse carried that momentum through the rest of the year.

A 12th round knockout win over Nathanael Kakololo in July was followed up by November’s first round destruction of Jesus Ramirez Rubio, both in defence of Ball’s WBC Silver featherweight crown.

“I can see Nick really putting himself in the world title mix next year”
- Frank Warren

Now firmly established as one of the brightest prospects in British boxing, Ball will be looking to make the next step up in 2023 – and with a host of tasty fights at featherweight to be made, it won’t not be too long before the former Thai boxer becomes a headline attraction.

“Nick Ball announced himself as a world champion in waiting with a brutal stoppage of the far more experienced Isaac Lowe to win the WBC Silver championship,” Frank Warren told Boxing Scene of his young charge.

“It was a demolition job and no fluke because he repeated the trick a further two times this year in a hugely impressive fashion.

“I can see Nick really putting himself in the world title mix next year and making himself a household name.”

Blessed with genuine power in a division where that is not always a given, Ball’s work rate, punch output and underdog mentality make him a frightening prospect to anyone at 126lb.

We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the future contender!