SAN DIEGO, January 1, 2016 – The past 12 months in boxing brought fans a “Fight of the Century” which simply couldn’t live up to expectations.
But when the noise died down from Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, there were plenty of terrific fights and impressive performances worth remembering and calling out as we look back on the year in boxing. We enjoyed the thrill of several surprises, comebacks, and improbable outcomes. So forget the so-called “superfight.” There were plenty of true super fights to enjoy.
Before we get to the list, let me set out the Ringside Seat criteria for selection the Top Fights of the Year:
- I appreciate tactical contests, but they don’t launch me out of my seat and make me cheer. Show me willingness to engage. Great boxing must be entertaining.
- Proficiency within the action. Smart, not foolhardy aggression. Well-placed, effective punches, not volume for volume’s sake. Hand and foot speed. Strength and endurance. Smart defense and the ability to take a shot.
- Great fighters have heart and the will to fight on. Boxers can’t help but bring relationships and emotion into the ring.
- Never discount the element of surprise, the knockout from nowhere, the boxer who rises to the occasion when it really counts.
These are the bouts that made my 2015 Fights of the Year list, starting with the list of finalists in order of appearance.
Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev had to use all the tools in his toolkit to stop Haitian-Canadian Jean Pascal in front of his hometown fans in Montreal by an eighth round TKO victory. Pascal (29 4-1, 17 KOs) gave Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) all he could handle. It was a shame either man had to lose, making it our first 2015 Fight Of The Year candidate. Kovalev finally managed to finish Pascal off for good. “I’m always going to give the fans a good fight, I’m the people’s champion. I will be back, don’t worry,” said Pascal. He turned out right. The Kovalev vs. Pascal II rematch is set for 2016 on January 30 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The spectacular third-round knockout of Kirkland by Alvarez in front of 40,000 elated fans at Minute Maid Park in Houston was exactly what boxing needed a week after the underwhelming Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight. After knockdowns in the first and early in the third round, Canelo finished Kirkland off with a straight right perfectly timed off a lead left jab, hitting Kirkland so hard he spun around before dropping to the canvas. The referee didn’t even administer a count. Although there have been several superb knockouts this year, none were better. “Fighting a man like Kirkland, a man who comes to fight, is the kind of fight I love,” said Alvarez after the bout. We do too, Canelo.
Ringside Seat may be among the minority preferring this fight over Golvokin’s stoppage of David Lemieux at Madison Square Garden in October, but it offered a superb look at Golovkin’s complete arsenal, all of which he used on the ambitious and brave but ultimately overwhelmed Monroe. Cheered on by his devoted Mexican and Mexican-American fans at the Forum in Los Angeles who have embraced the Kazakhstan native, GGG put on a “Big Drama Show” show for them, smashing Monroe with body shots, left hooks, and wicked upper cuts. He dropped Monroe in the second round, hurt him again in the third. In the sixth round, the Good Boy Killa buckled down, and after landing an upper cut followed by the left hook, Monroe went down. Although he beat the count, Monroe told referee Jack Reiss “I’m done.” The crowd roared its approval, getting exactly what they wanted. After the fight, Monroe said he’d never been hit so hard with the kind of accuracy Golovkin employs. Golovkin acknowledged his Los Angeles fans. “Muchas gracias everybody … uno mas for my fans,” Golovkin said. “I show him (Monroe) who’s number one, who’s real champ. I gave him a chance, here, come on, big drama show, let’s go.”
Britain’s James DeGale became the first British Olympic Gold Medalist (2008) to win a professional title, the IBF super middleweight belt with his unanimous decision over the American Dirrell. DeGale came on strong, with two knockdowns of Dirrell in the second round, and a strong third round. DeGale continued putting together strong combinations but not quite enough to stop the determined Dirrell. Dirrell get back into the fight with strong combinations of his own in the second half of the fight. DeGale buckled down, won the final two rounds and won by scores of 114-112 on two scorecards, and 117-109 on the third. “I will take on any super middleweight in the world. When I’m at my best, I’m hard to beat … There is no other super middleweight that would beat me,” said DeGale.
Jorge Linares vs. Kevin Mitchell, Saturday, May 30
This WBC lightweight bout on the undercard of Kell Brook vs. Frankie Gavin in London at the O2 Arena stole the show. Mitchell thrilled the British fans with his assault on the champion from Venezuela, knocking him down in the fifth round. Linares rallied, returned fire and battered Mitchell until his left eye was swollen shut and his entire face was a mess. Mitchell wouldn’t say die, taking a pounding but refusing to quit. Referee Victor Loughlin let it go as long as he could, but when Mitchell went down in the tenth round, he stopped the fight. Mitchell was ahead on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, a heartbreaking loss for the British fan favorite. Since the fight wasn’t shown in the U.S. live, watch highlights from the bout in the video.
This spectacular slugfest in Montreal was not for the faint of heart. It hit my FOTY shortlist immediately. Lemieux got the decision against a tough as nails N’Dam, winning the IBF middleweight title and setting himself up for the showdown in October against Golovkin. Every minute of all 12 rounds was action packed. Both Lemieux and N’Dam have a single focus, the ultimate destruction of their opponent. Their excellent conditioning allows them to keep it coming. Lemieux (34-2, 31 KOs) put N’Dam (33-2, 18 KOs), down onto the canvas four times in the bout, once in the second round twice in the fifth, and again in the seventh. Every single time it seemed N’Dam wouldn’t make it out of the round, but he did. His resilience and determination is unmatched. Lemieux mixed up the attack, digging to the body and snapping shots to N’Dam’s head. But N’Dam continued to press the action and defend him, which is why the referee allowed the fight to continue to the end.
On the undercard of the underwhelming Mayweather vs. Berto fight, this rematch between Salido and Martinez was Salido’s chance to avenge what he felt was a robbery in the first fight on Martinez’s home turn in Puerto Rico. In Las Vegas, the crowd was behind the Mexican Salido and they enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining matchup. Salido pushed past his tendency to start slow. The junior lightweights took it to each other; both went down in the second round but survived to the end. It appeared Salido (42-13-3, 29 KOs) was getting the better of the never say die Martinez this time. But at the end of the action, the judges scored it a draw, allowing Martinez (29-2-3, 17 KOs) to retain his title. It was a headscratcher, as most of us in attendance including me gave it handily to Salido, who landed 285 punches to the champ’s 189 punches. Salido wasn’t happy and declared immediately he wanted another rematch. He’s got it. Salido vs. Martinez III is scheduled February 20 with the location to be determined.
Andrzej Fonfara vs. Nathan Cleverly, October 16, 2015
This pair of light heavyweights fought in a phone booth, delivering and taking one power shot after another. The fight set a record for most combined punches through (2,524) and more combined punches landed (936) in a 12-round fight. Whew. This wasn’t a fight with a whole lot of finesse, but it hardly mattered. The Brit Cleverly kept control with his excellent jab in the beginning of the fight, but Fonfara was relentless and broke through Cleverly’s defenses by the fourth round. From there, it was a no holds barred firefight. In the end, Fonfara (27-3-1, 17 KOs) prevailed over Cleverly (29-2, 15 KOs) in front of the Polish born fighter’s adopted hometown fans in Chicago. After the fight, Fonfara said. “I like to get punched, too, that’s why sometimes I stand there,” he said. “This is boxing. You must get hit with some shots to find some shots. This is the thing people love.” It was a great year for Fonfara, having stopped Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. earlier in the year.
Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs) wasn’t well known to American fans at the start of 2015, but the Nicaraguan flyweight isn’t a secret anymore. The top pound for pound champion showed why he’s considered one of the best boxers in the world in two televised fights on HBO, including his ninth round TKO victory over American Brian Viloria (36-5, 22 KOs) at Madison Square Garden. Gonzalez showed all the qualities any boxer needs. Footwork. Hand speed. Ring generalship. Patience. Power and Accuracy. The will to win that keeps a champion undefeated. Gonzalez is so dominating there wasn’t a lot Viloria could do. The “Little Drama Show” simply continued his relentless output of punches, two to one over Viloria in the later rounds. The game Viloria gave a great effort, taking punishment but never giving up. Give him credit for bringing out the best in Gonzalez. When referee Benjy Esteves stopped the bout at 2:50 of the round. Gonzalez embraced Viloria, symbolic of the respectful contest it was despite the brutality of Gonzalez’ performance. Gonzalez and Viloria demonstrated just how much action and talent there is in the smaller weight classes.
This fight was a mess, and not all that fun to watch. But there is no denying it was high drama, as it slowly dawned on everyone watching that underdog British challenger Fury was taking it to heavyweight champion Klitschko, who had not lost a fight since 2004. Fury’s improbable game plan worked. Fury (25-0, 18 KOs) came out twitching with head and upper body feints. The taller Fury kept Klitschko from leaning on him as he’s done with so many other opponents. Both tactics threw Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) off his normal game, and he never found a way to work around it. The judges all saw the fight the same, with two scores of 115-112 and one 116-111. It was Klitschko’s only career loss via decision. Fury became one of 11 current champions from Great Britain and the fourth from Manchester in a fantastic year for British boxing. We will find out whether Fury’s win was a fluke when Fury and Klitschko meet again in 2016 for a rematch. As Klitschko said after the fight, “To be determined.”
It wasn’t shocking that Daniel Jacobs won his middleweight fight against Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin, even though most people favored Quillin to win. It was the way he did it. Jacobs blasted Quillin with punches in bunches, hitting Quillin with a hard right perfectly placed on the temple. Quillin wobbled like he was on the deck of a ship in rolling seas. Although he didn’t go down, referee Harvey Dock took a good look at Quillin and stopped it, giving Jacobs a TKO win at 1:35 of Round 1. It was a fight so short it was over before anyone could exhale. Jacob (30-1, 28 KOs) retained his WBA middleweight championship belt and suddenly became a significant player in the exciting middleweight division. Quillin (32-1-1, 23 KOs) suffered his first defeat and his first loss by stoppage. We’d say this fight was a thrill a minute, but we would be shortchanging it.
Coming on the heels of the shocking loss by Klitschko to Fury three weeks prior, this bout took on new importance. Jennings lost a decision to Klitschko in April but was one of the few opponents to avoid being stopped. It turned out to be the former Cuban amateur boxer Ortiz (24-0, 21 KOs) who put himself on the fast track to the top of the heavyweight division with an impressive seventh round TKO victory over Jennings of Philadelphia (19-2, 10 KOs). Ortiz showed himself to be an aggressive power puncher, willing to take a shot and take it well in order to dish it out. Ortiz hurt Jennings early in the first round, but Jennings cleared his head and the pair traded rounds until the seventh. Ortiz let his vicious southpaw upper cut do its job, dropping Jennings to the canvas face first. Jennings got to his feet, but it was a formality. Ortiz swooped in, landed several more devastating punches, and referee Dick Pakozdi had seen enough. After the bout, Ortiz confirmed he’d had the flu all week, making his performance even more impressive. Yes, I’m on the Ortiz train.
Ringside Seat’s Choice for 2015 Fight of the Year
If not for the winner, this Premier Boxing Champions fight would have been an easy choice as FOTY. German cruiserweight champion Marco Huck (38-3-1, 26 KOs) was expected to have little trouble in his 14th title defense against Kryzstof Glowacki (25-0, 16 KOs) of Poland, whose undefeated record didn’t have many big names on it. Glowacki started strong, controlling the first few rounds. Then the German champion came to life as fans expected. Huck knocked Glowacki down in the sixth round for the first time in the Polish fighter’s career. It didn’t seem like Glowacki would beat the count, but he did. Glowacki survived the round and the pair traded punishment back and forth. It seemed Glowacki would meet the same end as Huck’s other title challengers. But Glowacki reached down deep and in the 11th round, delivered a left hook and straight right combination. Huck went down the corner, but got back up. Glowacki swarmed Huck and drove him through the rope with a blitz of punches, and referee David Fields called a halt to the fight at 2::39 of the round for an upset TKO win. Later, Glowacki said of his win, “I’ve always had a thing against bullies and Huck was trying to bully me in there. So I brought it to him.” Huck is now the WBO cruiserweight champion.
Rarely is there such consensus about the Fight of the Year choice. Super featherweights Francisco Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs) of Mexico and Takashi Miura (29-3-2, 22 KOs) of Japan made it a slam dunk choice. Not since Corrales vs. Castillo I ten years ago has there been an action-packed fight with such a reversal of fortune.
Fought on the undercard of Cotto vs. Alvarez in Las Vegas, this fight challenges a boxing writer to do it justice on the page. Sensational, spectacular, action-packed, astonishing, inspiring, emotional, a thrill a minute.
The fight went back and forth like a tennis rally. Vargas stunned Miura barely a minute into the fight. Miura survived it and by the third round had taken over. In the fourth round, Miura dropped Vargas for the first time in his boxing career with a straight left down the middle. Miura and Vargas continued to trade punches, both trying to get the other to submit to the punishment. Neither would. Miura drilled Vargas at the end of the eighth round; it seemed referee Tony Weeks would have stopped the bout had the bell not sounded. Vargas knew it was now or never, especially with his right eye completely closed and bleeding from a cut. He mustered everything he could and dropped Miura to the canvas. Miura bounced up, but had no legs and was fighting on sheer instinct. Referee Tony Weeks gave Miura one last chance honoring the effort he’d put in to that point, but Vargas sealed the win with a straight right to become the new WBC Super Featherweight title holder. (In a bit of boxing trivia, Weeks was also the referee in Corrales vs. Castillo I).
Vargas was elated, his team was overjoyed, fans were thrilled, and everyone watching cheered for the effort of both warriors and their display of determination and courage. Even though Vargas went to get medical attention at a Las Vegas hospital after the fight, he returned two hours later to the Mandalay Bay Media Center to the surprse of the boxing press to answer our questions at the post fight news conference.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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