“The Monster” made 2023 his most historically significant year since Naoya Inoue made his pro debut in October 2012.

Inoue entered the year as boxing’s undisputed bantamweight champion. He ended the year as the sport’s fully unified junior featherweight champion after defeating a pair of unified 122-pound champions during a legacy-enhancing five-month stretch.

The 30-year-old Japanese superstar’s stoppages of previously undefeated Stephen Fulton Jr. on July 25 and Marlon Tapales on December 26 crowned Inoue the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO 122-pound king. Inoue, who has won world titles in four weight classes, joined Terence Crawford as the only boxers during the sport’s four-belt era to become fully unified champions in two divisions.

Inoue, who was voted BoxingScene.com’s “Fighter of the Year” for 2023, began his career in the 108-pound division 11 years ago. The vaunted knockout artist has clearly carried his pulverizing power up through four more divisions.

Inoue dominated Philadelphia’s Fulton (21-1, 8 KOs) until their fight for Fulton’s WBC and WBO belts was stopped in the eighth round 5½ months ago at Ariake Arena in Tokyo. He returned to that venue for a more competitive clash with the Philippines’ Tapales (37-4, 19 KOs) the day after Christmas, but he dropped the determined southpaw late in the fourth round and again in the 10th round, when their 12-round fight for Tapales’ IBF and WBA belts was stopped by referee Celestino Ruiz.

RUNNERS-UP (Listed alphabetically)

David Benavidez

Benavidez beat a pair of former world champions impressively to remain in contention to land his coveted chance at challenging Canelo Alvarez for super middleweight supremacy. The undefeated Phoenix native took complete control during the second half of his grudge match with Caleb Plant (22-2, 13 KOs) and won a unanimous decision March 25 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Benavidez outpointed Plant, whose only previous loss came versus Alvarez, by scores of 117-111 (Steve Weisfeld), 116-112 (Dave Moretti) and 115-113 (Tim Cheatham). The 27-year-old Benavidez returned to Las Vegas eight months later and dominated Demetrius Andrade, a former junior middleweight and middleweight champ who entered the ring unbeaten November 25 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s Michelob ULTRA Arena. Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) drilled Andrade (32-1, 19 KOs) with a right hand that dropped him late in the fourth round. Benavidez battered Andrade during the fifth and sixth rounds before Andrade’s handlers stopped their Showtime Pay-Per-View main event.

Terence Crawford

Crawford clearly could’ve won this award, but Inoue received more votes from members of BoxingScene.com’s staff. Though he fought only once in 2023, the three-division champion produced the most meaningful performance of last year when he surprisingly dominated previously unbeaten Errol Spence Jr. on his way to a ninth-round, technical knockout win July 29 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Crawford became an undisputed champion in a second weight class by overwhelming Spence in their one-sided fight for Crawford’s WBO welterweight title and Spence’s IBF, WBA and WBC 147-pound crowns. The Omaha, Nebraska native sent Spence to the canvas once in the second round and twice during the seventh round. Crawford continued to batter the courageous Spence until referee Harvey Dock mercifully halted their Showtime Pay-Per-View main event during the ninth round. The 36-year-old Crawford’s dominant win further solidified his place as the number one fighter on BoxingScene.com’s pound-for-pound list.

Devin Haney

The unbeaten Haney added the two most noteworthy names – Vasiliy Lomachenko and Regis Prograis – to his list of conquests in 2023. The 25-year-old Haney defeated Ukraine’s Lomachenko by unanimous decision May 20 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Haney displayed plenty of skill against one of the most proven technicians of this generation and won their closely contested, 12-round, 135-pound bout on the scorecards of Cheatham (115-113), Moretti (116-112) and David Sutherland (115-113). Lomachenko (17-3, 11 KOs) claimed he was “robbed” after Haney retained the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO lightweight titles in their ESPN Pay-Per-View main event. Haney, of Henderson, Nevada, beat Prograis much more convincingly December 9 at Chase Center in San Francisco. He dropped the supposedly stronger Prograis (29-2, 24 KOs) in the third round and completely outclassed the New Orleans native on his way to recording a shutout on the cards of judges Rey Danesco, Mike Ross and Fernando Villarreal, each of whom scored their DAZN Pay-Per-View main event 120-107 for the former fully unified lightweight champion. Haney, also one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound, won the WBC super lightweight title from Prograis.

Tim Tszyu

Australia’s Tszyu stayed very active after his shot at Jermell Charlo, then their division’s undisputed champion, was postponed in December 2022. Tszyu, who was supposed to challenge Charlo last January 28 in Las Vegas, started off his 2023 with a thorough victory over former WBC super welterweight champ Tony Harrison. Tszyu (24-0, 17 KOs) dropped Detroit’s Harrison (29-4-1, 21 KOs) in the ninth round, when referee Danrex Tapdasan halted their 12-round, 154-pound match March 12 at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. Tszyu, who won the WBO interim junior middleweight title when he beat Harrison, returned three months later and blew out Mexican veteran Carlos Ocampo (35-3, 23 KOs) in the first round June 18 at Gold Coast Convention Centre in Broadbeach, Australia. The 29-year-old Tszyu closed out a productive year by beating Brian Mendoza on October 15 at Gold Coast Convention Centre. Albuquerque’s Mendoza (22-3, 16 KOs) upset Sebastian Fundora (20-1-1, 13 KOs) by seventh-round knockout in his previous appearance, but Tszyu took his power without incident, landed the flusher punches regularly and won by comfortable margins according to judges Steve Gray (116-112), Adam Height (116-111) and Katsuhiko Nakamura (117-111).

Zhilei Zhang

The huge Chinese southpaw picked apart Joe Joyce in their first fight April 15 at Copper Box Arena in London. Joyce entered the ring as an undefeated 9-1 favorite, but the 6-foot-6, 278-pound Zhang continually landed left hands and caused severe swelling around Joyce’s right eye. London’s Joyce had so much difficulty seeing out of his right eye that referee Howard Foster stopped their 12-round fight for Joyce’s WBO interim heavyweight title 1:23 into the sixth round. The 6-foot-6, 281-pound Joyce exercised the immediate rematch clause in his contract, but the 40-year-old Zhang beat Joyce even more impressively in their second fight. A perfectly executed right hook by Zhang knocked Joyce down and out at the end of the third round September 23 at OVO Arena Wembley in London. By beating Joyce (15-2, 14 KOs) twice, Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs) moved himself into position to secure a high-profile heavyweight showdown in 2024. Zhang, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist, has lost only a closely contested unanimous decision to Croatian contender Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 14 KOs).

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.