2018 has delivered another exhilarating year of boxing and there have been several moments that will be etched into the history of this fantastic sport. Being an Englishman I will give you my picks for Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year, Round of the Year, knockout of the Year and Promoter of the Year on the British and International scene.
BRITISH FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Super Middleweight John Ryder surprised many in May when he knocked out Jamie Cox in the second round on the Bellew-Haye undercard. The Londoner then went on to headline at the Copper Box Arena in London and defeat Andrey Sirotkin in a WBA final eliminator.
Cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie picked-up Commonwealth and British titles with wins over Isaac Chamberlain in February, Luke Watkins in June and Matty Askin in September. Granted two of the three fights were absolute stinkers but the 26-year-old has now established himself as the number one Cruiserweight in Britain.
Liverpudlian Callum Smith won the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) semi-final against late replacement Nieky Holzken in February before becoming the WBA Super Middleweight Champion and Muhammed Ali Trophy winner in September. ‘Mundo’ stopped former champion George Groves in the seventh-round in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Dillian Whyte has had three very impressive wins this year. A brutal knockout of Lucas Browne in March was followed by a unanimous decision victory over Joseph Parker in the summer. The Londoner finished off the year with another stunning knockout of Dereck Chisora.
Unified Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua added the WBO version to his collection of world titles with a comprehensive points victory over Joseph Parker in Cardiff before becoming the first man to stop Russian Alexander Povetkin in front of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium.
It would be wrong of me not to mention Tyson Fury who only returned to the ring 6-months ago when he defeated Sefer Seferi in June and then Francesco Pianeta in August. The self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ picked himself up off the canvas twice and hold Deontay Wilder to a very controversial draw. Because the big man only got a draw he just misses out on the award so yet another controversial loss.
Excellent achievements by all six contenders but my British Fighter of the Year must go to the IBF World Featherweight Champion Josh Warrington. ‘The Leeds Warrior’ has quite simply had a brilliant year and has not only cemented himself as the best in Britain but also one of the world’s best. Victories over Lee Selby at his beloved Elland Road, Leeds in May was followed by an outstanding performance against Irishman Carl Frampton. A terrific 2019 will be in store for the 28-year-old as he takes on the next chapter of his career against the likes of Oscar Valdez, Leo Santa Cruz or Gary Russell Jr.
INTERNATIONAL FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Before I run down my shortlist special mentions must go to Heavyweight Michael Hunter and Terrence Crawford. Hunter had a terrific year defeating Iago Kiladze, Martin Bakole and Alexander Ustinov while Crawford won the WBO title off Jeff Horn and stopped Jose Benavidez Jr in the twelfth and final round with a wonderful uppercut.
Super Lightweight Regis Prograis has fought three times this year with a two-round destruction of Julius Indongo in March followed by a TKO win over Juan Jose Velasco. It was his impressive win over Terry Flanagan in the quarter-finals of the WBSS that put the icing on the cake of great year.
Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue became a three-weight world champion in May when he stopped former WBA Bantamweight Champion Jamie McDonnell in round-one before brutally knocking out Juan Carlos Payano in less than 2-minutes which gets my vote for Knockout of the Year. ‘Monster’ really is a superstar and his mouth-watering WBSS semi-final against Emmanuel Rodriguez is not one to be missed in 2019.
From one superstar to another Vasiliy Lomachenko who is either number one or two in most people’s pound-for-pound list. The Ukrainian produced a fine performance against Jorge Linares stopping the Venezuelan in the tenth with a wonderful body shot. Many were critical of his victory over Jose Pedraza in December but once again ‘Hi-Tech’ outclassed his opponent even if he wasn’t at his usual dominate self.
WBO World Super Lightweight champion Maurice Hooker has had a brilliant year with impressive victories over two undefeated fighters in Terry Flanagan and Alex Saucedo. The man from Dallas, Texas captured the vacant title when he outpointed Flanagan in Manchester before rising off the canvas to stop Saucedo in the seventh round and retrain his strap.
Without question the International Fighter of the Year can only go to one man and that is of course Oleksandr Usyk. The Ukrainian became the undisputed Cruiserweight champion and first ever Muhammad Ali trophy winner after victories against Mairis Briedis in Latvia and Murat Gassiev in Russia. The 31-year-old finished off 2018 with another comprehensive victory on foreign soil when he brutally knocked out Tony Bellew in the eighth round to cement his place as one of the best pound-for-pounders in the world.
BRITISH FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Tommy Langford vs Jason Welborn 1&2 – The British Middleweight title seems to bring the best out of our boxers and these 24-rounds exemplified this in the ‘Battle of the Baggies’. Their first encounter was not televised in May, but it was one hell of a fight. Langford was down in the second and cut in the third while Welborn suffered a perforated eardrum, check out YouTube for 12 excellent rounds. The second installment was just as good as the first with Langford hitting the canvas on two separate occasions but somehow managed to restore his senses and make the final bell. Both fights went Welborn’s way by split decision.
Dillian Whyte vs Dereck Chisora 2 – After the barnstormer of a fight in 2016 it was only right that these two got to tango again. The rematch was just as good as the first but this time there was no doubt who won. With ‘Delboy’ up on two of the judges’ scorecards going into the eleventh, Whyte dipped and threw his trademark left hook that put a concussive end to the bout.
Josh Warrington vs Lee Selby – The British boxing boom flexed its muscles with another football stadium bout but this time at Elland Road, Leeds United. Selby decided to take a risk against underdog Josh Warrington only to be outclassed and outfought over twelve relentless rounds of boxing. The home-crowd favorite and Leeds United fanatic produced a dominant display to capture the IBF World Featherweight title.
Johnny Garton vs Gary Corcoran – Another British title on the line – this time in the Welterweight division – Garton and Corcoran produced a bloody, throw-back encounter that would have made the grim reaper wince. It was the man from Peckham in South-East London, known as ‘The Pexican’ for his love of Mexican fighters, that got the stoppage in the eleventh-round.
Josh Warrington vs Carl Frampton – ‘The Leeds Warrior’ should think about changing his nickname to ‘Underdog’ because once again he produced the goods in another classic encounter but this time in Manchester against Irishman Frampton. From the moment that first bell rang the 28-year-old Yorkshireman was relentless with his pressure but clever with his work. Frampton was soundly beaten but he played a major part in this highly entertaining match-up that gets my vote for British Fight of the Year.
INTERNATIONAL FIGHT OF THE YEAR
2017 was one of the best years of boxing in 20 years but 2018 may well have surpassed that with so many excellent fights. Before I divulge my shortlist and winner I must make notable references to a list of fights that had me on the edge of my seat this year:
George Groves defeating Chris Eubank Jr; Deontay Wilder’s win over Luis Ortiz; Oscar Valdez against Scott Quigg; Jarrett Hurd’s win over Erislandy Lara; Isaac Dogboe against Jessie Magdaleno which gets my Upset of the Year, Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack produced a classic draw; Terrence Crawford was victorious in two very good fights against Jeff Horn and Jose Benavidez Jr; Shawn Porter won the vacant WBC title against Danny Garcia; Callum Smith against George Groves; Anthony Joshua becoming the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin; Oleksandr Usyk’s clinical destruction of Tony Bellew and lastly Alex Saucedo’s win over Leonardo Zappavigna before his loss to Maurice Hooker.
Anthony Joshua vs Joseph Parker – Some may raise an eyebrow at this pick as the fight itself was a bit of a drab affair but this fight held huge significantance in the Heavyweight division. Two undefeated fighters battling it out to become the unified heavyweight champion in front of thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world. Another big night for Matchroom Boxing, spearheaded by Eddie Hearn who gets my Promoter of the Year award. Granted it never quite lived up to its billing but nevertheless it was a fascinating watch.
Saul Alverez vs Gennady Golovkin 2 – A fight that will be remembered for many years to come as two of the best in the world produced another epic night in Las Vegas. Once again judging cast a shadow over what was a great example of what this noble sport is all about. The highest level of boxing was produced by both men and that must not be forgotten.
Dillian Whyte vs Joseph Parker – Parker may look back on 2018 as a year to forget but the fact he appears on this shortlist twice shows the fine margins of this sport. Whyte-Parker was gripping from start to finish especially in those last 2-rounds where Parker almost won by stoppage. Everyone talks about Joshua, Fury and Wilder but do not overlook these two guys who will add extra vigour to a once again booming heavyweight division.
Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder – Many will choose this fight as their Fight/ Event of the year but for me it only gets Round of the Year. It really was edge of your seat viewing for the full twelve rounds but without the last round drama it would have been a Fury victory by split decision. Amazing last round that will never be forgotten.
Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Jorge Linares – One of the most beautiful sights in boxing this year came in the tenth-round of this epic encounter. The way Loma targeted the head before landing a devastating shot to Linares’ body was poetry in motion. The rest of the fight wasn’t bad either.
Murat Gassiev vs Yuniel Dorticos – This WBSS Cruiserweight Semi-Final served up a ‘Sochi Stunner’. It was a close fight right up until the stoppage in a memorable twelfth round. Dorticos seemed to be impenetrable as he ate every shot the Russian threw at him. Eventually the Cuban-native succumbed to Gassiev‘s power in the final round and after being knocked down twice he was halted with seconds to spare as he fell a third time.
Miguel Berchelt vs Miguel Roman – Being a fan of an old fashioned slugfest the ‘Battle of the Miguel’s’ is a fight I could watch over and over again which makes this my Fight of the Year. It was non-stop action from start to finish but in the end the class came through as Berchelt stopped Roman in round-nine. Quite simply a ‘Marvellous Mexican-war’
What another year of boxing! If we continue in this direction we will have another outstanding year in 2019!