The Year That Was: Boxing in 2017

Boxing

ByTheMinBoxing

Alistair Sargent looks back on a blockbuster boxing year before dishing out the 2017 By The Minute Boxing awards.

Back in November I reviewed James Lawton’s very enjoyable book ‘A Ringside Affair: Boxing’s last golden age’ for this very site. Long story short, the highly respected Lawton ends boxing’s golden age in June 2002. It might be true that in the day and age of PPV bouts, more than four TV channels, refusal to treat sexual assault lightly and competition in the electric grill market, boxers aren’t the household names that Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson were. But history will look back very favourably on 2017 as a peach of a year in boxing. We’ve seen a series of top talents go toe-to-toe and a number of enormous events from January right through to December. In August and September barely a week passed without one of boxing’s finest pound-for-pound operators in action. New stars have been born and we’ve said farewell to some legends. A lot has happened in 2017. A LOT. So settle in for a good read of my 2017 rewind.

JANUARY – The year begins with an exceptional bang with two hugely anticipated word title matches. James Degale loses his front teeth in a barnstorming, super-middleweight unification fight with Badou Jack packed full of drama from start to finish. Jack is floored in round one while DeGale is down in round twelve. Most at BTM towers thought Jack had won the fight but he fails to do enough to impress a single judge as the fight ends in a majority draw, with DeGale winning on one card. In the chief support young Floyd Mayweather protégé Gervonta Davis wins the IBF super-featherweight title to become the youngest reigning world champion. Two weeks later we see a repeat of one of 2016’s best fights as Leo Santa Cruz invokes his rematch with Carl Frampton for the WBA featherweight title. Hot prospects, super-lightweight Josh Taylor and super-middleweight David Benavidez, claim wins on the undercard, which is topped by Mikey Garcia, back in the ring for only the second time in three years, obliterating the undefeated Dejan Zlaticinin inside three rounds to win the WBC lightweight title and become a three weight champion. In the main event Santa Cruz avenges his 2016 loss to Frampton by virtue of a close majority decision.

FEBRUARY – Chris Eubank Jr gains his first world title, moving up to super-middleweight and stopping Renald Quinlan in the tenth round to win the IBO version of the world title. Jamie McDonnell drops the WBC super-bantamweight title to the tall and rangy Mexican Rey Vargas who earns a majority decision and Deontay Wilder defends the WBC heavyweight belt in pretty uninspiring fashion against Gerald Washington. After Washington claims the first three rounds on the scorecards Wilder puts his foot on the accelerator and the referee steps in with Washington reeling in round five. Cecilia Braekhus, who holds the IBO, IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO female welterweight world titles, gets her year off and running, earning the 30th win of her perfect professional career by unanimous decision against Klara Svensson.

MARCH – Now we're really starting to get cooking... After months, possibly even years, of hatred and trash talk, David Haye and Tony Bellew put their money where their mouths are. Bellew absorbed everything Haye had to offer but was behind in the fight when Haye’s Achilles shattered in round six. The fight should really be stopped, but after Bellew’s goading about making excuses throughout his career Haye refuses to quit. After farcially fighting on with one leg, Haye’s corner eventually put the towel in as he is finally floored by Bellew in the 11th. Katie Taylor continues her development on the undercard with a fifth round stoppage of Monica Gentili while Paulie Malignaggi competes in his final fight – a losing effort against Sam Eggington who produced an eighth round stoppage while behind on two judges cards. Thankfully ‘The Magic Man’ doesn’t stay away long and his commentary and insightful analysis absolutely lights up TV these days. Across the pond Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia meet for the unified welterweight world title. In an all-American battle it is Thurman who comes out on top to unify the division, adding Garcia’s WBC belt to his WBA title with a split decision win. Pound-for-pound kings Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez share a stage, but it is an uncomfortable night for both. Gonzalez - bringing his perfect 46 fight professional record, the WBC super-flyweight title and Ring Magazine #1 pound-for-pound rating to the ring - is downed in round one by challenger Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and then suffers a nasty cut from an accidental head-clash in round two. Despite the early struggles he fights back only to see Sor Rungvisai do enough to claim a massive upset majority decision win in a brilliant fight-of-the-year contender. Having seen one upset already the pressure is massively on GGG against #1 ranked challenger Daniel Jacobs. Golovkin has his man down in round four but, seemingly wary of Jacobs’ impressive punch power and undoubted talent, he is reserved and fights within himself and is a little fortunate to escape with a unanimous decision win that keeps the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles in his possession. After dropping the lightweight world title to Jorge Linares in 2016, Anthony Crolla takes his anticipated rematch. The second bout ends with another masterful unanimous decision win for Venezuelan Linares, who retains the WBA belt in Manchester. Comosa AG, a conglomerate of boxing promoters, largely orchestrated by Kalle and Nisse Sauerland, announce the World Boxing Super Series: an eight man knockout competition to be contested across two weight classes, beginning in September. It is later revealed that the super-middleweight and cruiserweight divisions will contest the inaugural tournaments.

APRIL – Mairis Briedis wins the WBC cruiserweight title vacated by Tony Bellew by virtue of a unanimous decision win over Marco Huck. Divisional rival Oleksandr Usyk is in action the next week and he too claims a dominant unanimous decision victory over Michael Hunter as the chief support to stable-mate Vasyl Lomachenko, who retained the WBO super-featherweight title after battering former WBA champion Jason Sosa in to submission, with Sosa retiring on his stool at the end of the ninth. Nicola Adams makes her professional debut with a routine points decision win over Virginia Noemi Carcamo. On the same card Terry Flanagan unanimously defends the WBO lightweight title against Petr Petrov while Liam Smith and Liam Williams’ bloody fight-of-the-year contender is controversially won by Smith after Williams’ corner pull him out after a contentious headbutt from Smith opens a big wound around his eye. Scotland’s first ever three-weight world champion Ricky Burns loses his title after being outclassed by IBF super-lightweight champion Julius Indongo, who silences the Glasgow crowd as he adds Burns’ WBA strap to his collection with a unanimous decision win. Amanda Serrano wins the vacant WBO bantamweight title with an eighth round TKO win over Dahiana Santana in Brooklyn. It is the Puerto Rican’s fifth weight division world title. Anthony Joshua enters superstardom when he climbs off the canvas to earn an 11th-round TKO win over the legendary Wladimir Klitschko, who is himself floored three times, in front of a packed Wembley Stadium, adding the vacant WBA heavyweight title to his IBF strap. Earlier on the bill Katie Taylor stops Nina Meinke in round seven in a WBA lightweight title eliminator and Luke Campbell gets a victory over Darleys Perez in the male equivalent eliminator.

MAY – On Cinco de Mayo weekend there is an all Mexican-showdown between two of the country’s modern generation greats. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez proves himself to be Mexico’s finest as he is on top form to win every round with ease against an outclassed, and subdued, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Following the bout is the blockbuster announcement that Canelo will finally meet Gennady Golovkin in a mammoth middleweight showdown. Joseph Parker continues to prove he only talks a good game as he makes incredibly hard work of the awful Razvan Cojanu to defend the WBO heavyweight belt by unanimous decision. May is a fine month for American world championship talent. Mayweather's lad Gervonta Davis is first, blowing Liam Walsh away in four rounds in London to defend the IBF super-featherweight title on the road. Super-lightweight king Terence Crawford demonstrates his incredible skills as he forces Felix Diaz to retire before round 10 with a dominant performance and the US gain a new world champion when Errol Spence Jr comes to Kell Brook’s back yard and rips the IBF welterweight title from the Englishman with an 11th round stoppage at Bramall Lane, doing severe damage to Brook’s eye, reminiscent of the injuries ‘Special K’ had suffered at the hands of GGG in 2016. Before that bout George Groves gains a world title at the fourth attempt when he knocks out Fedor Chudinov in the sixth to claim the WBA super-middleweight belt, and number one seeding in the World Boxing Super Series. Even long-term rival Carl Froch is brought to his feet in appreciation at ringside.

JUNE – A quieter month that is brought to life with one monumental bout. Ryan Burnett outclasses Lee Haskins, downing his man in the sixth and eleventh rounds to dispossess him of the IBF bantamweight title. But the fight ends in farce when one judge confuses the two boxers and the scorecards read 119-107 twice to Burnett and 118-108 for Haskins (although the decision is later overturned as the error is revealed to allow the history books to read a unanimous decision win for Burnett.) Debatably it's not actually the worst judging performance of the year! Double Olympic champion Claressa Shields takes a step closer to a world-title as she claims the vacant WBC silver super-middleweight title with a unanimous decision win against Sydney LeBlanc. But there is no doubt about the month’s highlight as light-heavyweight heavyweights Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev do battle once more. Ward won a unanimous decision to rip the WBA, WBO and IBF titles from Kovalev in 2016 and he went one better in the rematch, with the referee stopping the fight in the eighth as Ward pummelled the Ukrainian with body shots, which Kovalev complained were low.

JULY – The month begins in jaw-dropping style when Australian Jeff Horn defeats the legendary WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao in a bloody battle. The Hornet, a massive underdog, puts in the performance of his life (although his head does more damage than his fists), weathering an almighty Pacquiao storm in round nine, to earn a unanimous decision victory. Josh Taylor demonstrates his class as he slaps the s***e out of the much fancied Ohara Davies' very big mouth on his way to a seventh round stoppage win in a Scotland vs England showdown in Glasgow and Chris Eubank Jr ensures his place amongst the super-middleweights in the World Boxing Super Series when he successfully defends his IBO title against veteran Arthur Abraham. Three weight world champion Mikey Garcia bests four-weight world champion Adrien Broner in a super-lightweight fight. The WBC lightweight champ gets a unanimous decision that puts the 140lb class on notice. The World Boxing Super Series participants and quarter-final matchups are finalised with a draft gala in Monte Carlo. In an intriguing shake-up of the conventional, the four seeded fighters hand select their opponents.

AUGUST – After taking time to re-attach his head after Anthony Joshua's uppercut, Wladimir Klitschko decides to call time on his hall-of-fame worthy career. Claressa Shields adds two world-titles to her two Olympic golds by beating Nikki Adler by fifth round TKO for the WBC and IBF super-middleweight straps. The pound-for-pound contenders begin their two month long parade as firstly Vasyl Lomachenko batters Miguel Marriaga in to submission after seven rounds and then Terence Crawford becomes undisputed super-lightweight champion in a supreme performance that makes the tricky Julius Indongo look like a stiff. The Namibian is decked in round two before a body shot ends it in round three. Crawford adds Indongo’s IBF and WBA belts to his existing WBO and WBC straps in utterly dominant style. Then the circus comes to town! After months of worldwide promotion and utter garbage being spouted by a total joke without a single fight under his belt, Floyd Mayweather eventually drags a boxing novice through ten rounds before the referee finally decides enough is enough. The debutant, someone called Conor McGregor, must think he has won the greatest raffle of all time as he earns five times his career earnings in a single night. Mayweather, having reached 50 pro wins without defeat, calls time on his career. Again. On the same night Miguel Cotto absolutely pummels Yoshihiro Kamegai, who refuses to go down, in a dominant 12 round unanimous decision victory.