Australia is firmly in the midst of a boxing renaissance

AS RECENTLY AS five years ago, Australian boxing was on life support.

The lustre of Jeff Horn's famous win over future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao had completely dissipated, a one-minute-active, one-minute-retired Anthony Mundine was still clinging to whatever sliver of relevance he still believed he had, and promoters seemed to believe the only way out of the rut was to ignore the next wave of talent and instead opt for washed-up, ex-footy player brawls.

But the landscape has drastically shifted over the last 24 months. That plethora of Australian-grown fighters has emerged and it's proving impossible to ignore. It's all culminated in the nation enjoying something of a boxing renaissance, with stars appearing in just about every division and title fights popping up with extreme regularity.

In 2023, Australians featured in 12 world title fights across boxing's four major governing bodies, and this year that number will likely grow. In fact, 2024 is shaping as the year that -- at long last -- puts Australian boxing back on the map.

MUCH OF THE Australian boxing revival can be pinned to the monumental success of Tim Tszyu. Since turning professional in 2016, Tszyu has been on a mission to prove he's far more than just the son of Hall of Famer, Kostya. He breezed through the local boxing ranks before taking on the world, and last year enjoyed a breakout year, one that caught the attention of many fighters and fans abroad.

Tszyu (24-0, 17 KOs) fulfilled a childhood dream last March when he defeated Tony Harrison to clinch the vacant WBO interim light-middleweight title. He then successfully defended the strap twice, first by humiliating Carlos Ocampo inside 80 seconds and then with perhaps his most impressive performance to date, a unanimous decision over division staple Brian Mendoza.

Shortly after having his hand raised against Mendoza, Tszyu declared he would be campaigning in the United States moving forward. And next month, he will make his Las Vegas debut, squaring off with former unified welterweight titlist Keith Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs) in what will be PBC's first pay-per-view as part of a new deal with Amazon's Prime Video.

While Tszyu's belt won't be on the line -- the WBO declined to sanction the fight for Tszyu's title, likely because Thurman has never competed at the 154-pound limit -- it's chapter one of what's shaping as a bumper year for the Sydneysider.

"This is the Tim Tszyu era," Tszyu declared at his inaugural Las Vegas press conference earlier this year. "I don't just plan on beating Thurman, I plan on putting [on] a spectacle that he's never seen. I want those big names -- [Errol] Spence and [Terence] Crawford."

Those household names aren't a pipedream for Tszyu, but first his camp will need to wrap up negotiations for his next title fight, likely to be against American Erickson Lubin. Tszyu and his team also remain hopeful of a long overdue showdown with Jermell Charlo -- Tszyu was set to challenge Charlo for the junior middleweight belt last January, however Charlo withdrew after suffering a hand injury during training camp -- though the possibility does appear to be fading.

But Tszyu's not the only fighter representing Australia who has recently had a world championship belt strapped around their waist. Jai Opetaia, Jason Moloney and Skye Nicolson are all excelling in their respective divisions, and just like Tszyu, are making genuine cases to being the nation's top boxer.

Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs), who showed tremendous promise as a teenager when he travelled to Kazakhstan and won gold in the junior world championships, was launched into superstardom after beating Mairis Briedis for a pair of cruiserweight titles in the winter of 2022. He defended his straps last year before vacating his IBF title when he opted for a lucrative opportunity to fight Ellis Zorro in Saudi Arabia -- a fight he won by first round knockout -- instead of taking a rematch against Briedis.

A second fight between Opetaia and Briedis for that vacant IBF belt was later agreed and slated for this month, as the support for Tyson Fury's showdown with Oleksandr Usyk. However, the card has since been postponed until May after the Englishman suffered a nasty cut during one of his final sparring sessions. It's unclear whether Opetaia, who plans to unify the cruiserweight division before stepping up to heavyweight, and Briedis will still fight on the card, and there's growing speculation the bout could now take place in Australia

Just like Opetaia and Tszyu, Nicolson (9-0, 1 KO) also boasts an unblemished record. In September last year the Australian-born, London-based featherweight travelled to Mexico and scored a unanimous decision over Sabrina Maribel Pérez to take control of the WBC interim title. Her first defense came just two months later, knocking out Lucy Wildheart in Dublin before calling out division star and undisputed featherweight champion Amanda Serrano.

And then there's Moloney (27-2, 19 KOs), the current WBO bantamweight champion. The 33-year-old from Melbourne has already made his first successful appearance of 2024, surviving a 12-round war against Saul Sanchez last month in Canada in what was his first title defense since earning the previously vacant strap with a majority decision win over Vincent Astrolabio last May.

"The era of Mayhem is only beginning," said Moloney after his gutsy win. "I'd love to defend my world title Down Under in front of my Australian fans."

Moloney is yet to plot his next move, but it appears increasingly likely he will get his wish and feature on the May 12 card in Perth that promises to be one of the nation's greatest days of boxing. The blockbuster bill will be headlined by former lightweight champion George Kambosos and Ukrainian icon Vasiliy Lomachenko, the pair competing for the lightweight IBF strap.

Kambosos (21-2, 10 KOs) stunned the world and won a swag of titles in November, 2021 when he famously took down Teofimo Lopez via split decision at Madison Square Garden. He's since relinquished the belts after back-to-back losses to the undefeated Devin Haney, but an impressive win over Maxi Hughes last July earned him the IBO lightweight strap and got his career back on track.

The high-profile date with Lomachenko -- who was also beaten by Haney in his most recent fight -- looms as an opportunity for Kambosos to re-establish himself as one of the division's top fighters, and maybe more.

"Legacy for me has always been the most important thing. This isn't about money. I've made money. I've won belts," said Kambosos. "This fight cements me in the Hall of Fame, I truly believe it. They can't deny that."

Also set to feature in 2024 is No Limit Boxing's inaugural 'March Mayhem', the Sydney-based promoter's fresh concept to deliver five blockbuster boxing events in the space of four weeks.

Bilal Akkawy, a former training partner of Canelo Alvarez, gets the slate underway on March 6, before top-ranked super-bantamweight Sam Goodman takes on the hard-hitting Mark Schleibs in an all-Australian affair. Also set to feature is super featherweight Liam Wilson, who fell agonisingly short of toppling Emmanuel Navarete for the WBO title last February, and Michael Zerafa, who after years of campaigning, has finally landed a title fight. He will face current WBA middleweight champion Erislandy Lara.

"Next generation prodigies, all Aussie showdowns, career-defining nights and world title action," said No Limit Boxing's George Rose. "There's so much jammed in and we've got a whole lot more to add soon."

Australian boxing is in a great place right now. It boasts all the makings of a potential golden generation, something that can change how the nation is perceived in the sport. The significance of that cannot be understated.