Counting down the Good, the Ugly and the Spectacular from one of the most memorable years of boxing in recent times
17 – One Night At The Lane
If you were a Brit, it was a case of mixed emotions after an action packed mid summer’s evening at Bramall Lane in Sheffield. Over 25,000 were present to see the coronation of two new world champions. It was a case of fourth time lucky for George Groves, who rallied from a shaky early start and a broken jaw to halt the tough Russian Fedor Chudinov to finally win a World Super Middleweight title belt. Unfortunately for Kell Brook, it was a case of “the Truth” finding him in the ring, as a highly touted and fiercely determined Texan was not to be denied in his pursuit of a championship belt. Errol Spence overwhelmed and subdued the local hero Brook, pounding him into submission and ripping the IBF Welterweight title away from him in the process.
16 – Out On Your Shield
At the climax of a Super Featherweight showcase in Las Vegas earlier this month, Orlando Salido and Miguel Roman put on their late candidate for fight of the year. Salido constantly refused to be defied by age and the wear and tear of his extensive career, but ultimately the younger, fresher contender in Roman proved to be too much, forcing the stoppage in the dying embers of the fight. Shortly thereafter, Salido announced he was hanging his gloves up – a decision which he will inevitably U-turn on, but a decision which sparked tributes from all corners of the sport. All appreciative of the dedication and heart displayed by Salido over the past two decades.
15 – A Scottish Humbling
Ohara Davies, considered a promising London prospect, made shock waves through the British domestic scene in the first half of 2017, both for his power punching displays inside of the ring and his tendency to pull no punches outside of it. Davies used press conferences and Twitter to enhance his profile and his bottom line. This worked well for him, until he ran into former Olympian and highly touted Scottish prospect Josh Taylor, who called his bluff and set the wheels in motion for a July showdown. When the night came, Davies soon found himself helplessly outclassed as Taylor toyed with him, dropping him twice before the Londoner quit, complaining that “both of his noses were blocked”. There are certainly better ways for someone to lose their “0”
14 – Mayhem in Maryland
What was turning into a fascinating Super Middleweight eliminator ended with one of the more deplorable scenes you’ll ever see in a boxing ring. After seeing his nephew Andre Dirrell knocked out by a punch landed a split second after the round-ending bell by Jose Uzcategui, resulting in the disqualification of the latter, Leon Lawson Jr decided to try and serve up some justice of his own. After the official ruling was made, Lawson stunned Uzcategui with a cheap shot before fleeing the arena before law enforcement could put him in handcuffs.
13 – “Listen Mate”
2017 was a less than fulfilling year once again for WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder. A Feburary fight with Andrzej Wawrzyk fell through after Wawrzyk failed a drug test and Wilder turned in a less than convincing performance versus late replacement Gerald Washington. Following this, in early November he was scheduled to have the first legitimate test of his career versus the dangerous undefeated Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, until this fight was cancelled weeks before the scheduled date due to Ortiz failing a drug test. In stepped an unmotivated and out of shape Bermane Stiverne for Wilder to take his anger out on – and take it out he did, brutally stoping Stiverne in the first before grabbing the microphone and calling out the consensus king of the land at Heavyweight. Wilder referred to the heavyweight champion as A “Juicing” J before attempting an amusing British accent. The seeds for a blockbuster showdown were well and truly planted.
12 – Out On Your Terms
Andre Ward expected a celebration of his defiance, fortitude, and greatness displayed in 2016 when he claimed victory over Sergey Kovalev. Instead his win was shrouded in controversy and doubt as many felt Kovalev had pushed Ward to the brink with power punching and strength. In the rematch, Ward pushed it to another gear and broke the will of a previously unintimidated foe, forcing a mid-round stoppage and ending his Hall of Fame worthy career on the best possible note.
11 – Minnesota’s Cinderella Man
After a gruelling schedule away from home comfort, James DeGale thought he was coming back to a routine handpicked defense to position him for big money showdowns by the turn of the year.
Caleb Truax felt otherwise. Motivated by years of being overlooked, Truax delievered a gutsy performance and completely overwhelmed a pedestrian James DeGale. When he was announced as the winner and the new IBF Super Middleweight Champion, the scenes of joy generated from Truax and his camp really encapsulate the greatness of the underdog story that this sport is founded on.
10 – The Brooklyn Brawls
2017 has been a high quality year, however you will have to go back to mid-January to see one of the best top to bottom cards this 12 months has produced.
A Middleweight slugfest between Ievgen Khrytov and Immanuel Aleem followed by the introduction of young Gervonta Davis onto the world scene was merely an appetizer. The main course – a Super Middleweight unification bout between Badou Jack and James DeGale more than justified its billing. Knockdowns were exchanged, teeth were lost, and both men’s hands were raised in the aftermath as a thrilling fight was ruled a draw.
9 – “No Mas-chenko”
After three consecutive stoppage defeats where his opponents either quit or were saved from themselves, Vasyl Lomachenko signed for a novelty showdown this past December in New York in order to seal off a successful year. In the opposing corner stood Lomachenko’s only amateur equal in Guillermo Rigondeaux – a double Olympic gold medalist, who had campaigned for this bout in the hope that it would elevate him towards the kind of status which matched his ability.
What Rigondeaux found instantly was a stylistic and physical puzzle like no other. Lomachenko outboxed, outfoxed, and shut out his adversary before the Cuban wanted no more after the sixth round.
And from this, a new moniker was born – as Lomachenko declared in the post fight interview that we should call him “No-Maschenko” due to his enhanced ability to make opponents submit before the Ukranian could take matters into his own hands.
8 – A Super Series
In early July, 16 boxers (Correction – 15 boxers and one boxer’s father) made their way to Monte Carlo to formally announce two brackets of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series. The Cruiserweight division promised the best of the best jostling for supermacy whilst the Super Middleweight division involved potential domestic intrigue and firepower to make up for a lack of championship pedigree.
What followed in the following months seemed like everything a boxing fan has been craving for. From knockout of the year contenders such as Yunier Dorticos over Dmitry Kudrayshov and Chris Eubank Jr over Avni Yildrim, to electric atmospheres which greeted the likes of Breidis, Perez, Groves and Cox in Riga and London respectively, the opening stages of the tournament had it all. This heavily invested and well-crafted plan to revolutionize the sport appears to be gaining serious traction and with mouthwatering semi-final bouts across the horizon in the very early stages, boxing fans certainly are hoping that further tournament brackets can be formed in the near future.
7 – Omaha’s Undisputed
One of, if not, the best fighter in the sport had more than a stellar year which came to its climax in August in front of a raucous hometown collective in Omaha, Nebraska.
Terence Crawford became the first fighter in nearly a decade to unify all four alphabet titles, affirming himself as the man at Super Lightweight with a piercing third round body shot knockout over the nomadic Namibian Julius Indongo. It was another display of Crawford’s ability to separate himself from the pack with his skill level and it ended another successful assault on a weight division, having previously dominated at Lighgweight not too long ago. The collective hometown joy was palpable on this August evening and it fuelled both hope and expectation for even more nights of the same thing from this special fighter. Next Stop – The Welterweight Division.
6 – ‘Keep Runnin Ya Mouth
Just over 12 months ago, Jermell Charlo watched on jubilantly as twin brother Jermall silenced many a critic with a spectacular knockout victory over emerging prospect Julian Williams in California. This exclamation point, one which came at the end of an intense build up filled with accusations, bad blood, and threats, served to be Jermall’s coming out party as both a high level fighter and a marketable entity– especially with his lack of remorse shown towards his stricken foe in the immediate aftermath.
October saw this same prophecy fulfilled for Jermell. Another young hyped prospect in Erickson Lubin, another set of doubters to silence, another heated buildup, and, yes, another chilling statement. Late into the first, Charlo plants a right on Lubin, ending the fight there and then, sparking mass hysteria at ringside, with altercations witnessed between opposing camps. But when it was all said and done, both twins were vindicated and showed that they were here to stay – Even cutting another post fight promo which mirrored Attitude Era WWE as opposed to big time prizefighting.
5 – This Actually Happened…
Imagine living in a world where the greatest Prizefighter of a generation squared off against a superstar fighter from a different sport in a boxing ring.
Imagine that such a fight gained so much intrigue and traction, that it generated hundreds of millions in revenue and nearly broke all records which existed before
But, even more insanely, imagine that the fighter from another sport was so charismatic and persuasive that he convinced nearly a whole nation and beyond that he could knock out said Prizefighter with ease? And imagine that people believed him?
If you were a boxing fan and you didn’t put money on Floyd Mayweather to knock out Conor McGregor at those odds, what exactly were you doing with your life?
4 – The People’s Champion Gets Stung In Brisbane
Well into the twilight of his career, eight division world champion Manny Pacquiao decided to embark on a world tour this year, with the first stop being Australia. Here he found a ready and willing challenger in Jeff Horn – nondescript on paper but fully prepared to seize the moment in reality and become world champion in one of the sport’s most profitable divisions.
And with the help of the ringside judges, seize it he did. Horn used his awkward blend of physicality and rhythmic combinations to throw Pacquiao off his game, and when Manny rallied late in a traditional manner, Horn stood firm. The shock of having Michael Buffer announce Horn as the new WBO Welterweight Champion was felt within the boxing world and beyond for months after and it adds to the many examples of never say never in the flawed but fascinating fight game.
3 – After All This Time
Mexican Independence Day Weekend. Las Vegas. A build up filled with hope leading to disappointment, dropped belts and sacrificed British welterweights led to Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin finally squaring off in the quest for Middleweight supremacy.
While certainly not filled with wild momentum swings or balls to the wall action of great brawls past or present, the fight turned out to be a fascinating tactical battle. It was a case of Golovkin’s sustained pressure versus the selective sharp power punches of Canelo, with the former proving to sway the opinion of the majority when the final bell tolled.
But as often is the case, the eye of the Las Vegas judges wildly differs from the observer and it was clear in this high stakes environment that controversy was just a doorstep away. Even despite this inevitability, Adelaide Byrd’s scorecard which read 118–110 for Canelo made even the most cynical of boxing fan’s jaw drop, making the eventual split draw verdict pale into temporary insignificance.
Some cried robbery and lamented another big time example of injustice foiling the rise of an underdog hero, while others claimed that the erroneous scorecard by Byrd shouldn’t mask the competitive nature in the fight and in particular the maturity and defiance showed by the younger underdog in Canelo. What we know for certain is that part two of this is inevitable. See you in May, Ladies and Gentlemen.
2 – Shockwaves at Superfly
One of the most revealing things in the fight game is when greatness catches up with an individual — even more so when it paves the way for a brighter future than what was first imaginable. It became clear towards the end of 2016 that greatness would eventually catch up with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, the premier fighter in the lower weight divisions in this era. A move up to Super-Flyweight meant bigger and stronger foes closer to their athletic prime which spelt a world of trouble for his pressure fighting style.
However, nobody could have predicted his fall to look like this. In mid-March he stepped into Madison Square Garden to defend his WBC belt as a sizeable favourite against a fringe contender by the name of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai — a credible enough fight for the stage it was on but was merely seen as a chance to showcase his skills ahead of further tougher tests which loomed in the background.
Rungvisai had other ideas. Dropping Gonzalez in the first, he then stood firm as the champion rallied with his trademark blend of pressure and creative offense, holding the center ring by hook or crook and getting in with damaging power punches of his own. The two served up a classic, plastering the canvas of The Garden with their blood and jumping the queue for fight of the year. Yet again, there was a sense of shock and disappointment present when Rungvisai was announced as the new champion, snapping Gonzalez’s unblemished record and tearing up the script, however what both produced paved the way for something bigger than one individual.
And as such, Superfly was born, a night of fireworks in Los Angeles featuring some of the best Super Flyweights in the world plying their trade on a bumper show. After witnessing the US TV debut of Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue in addition to a tight technical tussle between Juan Fransisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras, attention once again turned to Rungvisai and Gonzalez — Part Two.
The anticipation was heightened but the eventual outcome was far more conclusive. Gonzalez fell victim to the drawbacks of a grueling career and the new champion pounced viciously, knocking Gonzalez down then out in the fourth, with a picturesque right hook, the aftermath of which will go down as one of the lasting images of this year in boxing. Gonzalez’s better days are undoubtedly behind him, but there can be solace in the light he has shined on his contemporaries and the heightened platform that he has helped to give them. And as for Rungvisai, he has placed himself right at the forefront of the conciousness of the hardcore fan, completing the transition from abject poverty to the elite level within a matter of months.
1 – A Heavyweight Coronation
The events on the night of April 29th still feel surreal. The event, the anticipation, the first bell, the momentum shifts, the knockdowns and the eventual stoppage — all take ones breath away. A legend went out with the grace and valiance which his career merited whilst a young hopeful ascended to the throne which awaited him. The greatest heavyweight fight in nearly two decades and one that will be cherished for further decades to come.
17 for 17 – Ranking The Biggest Moments of the Year was originally published in sundaypuncher on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.