Best In Boxing 2021: Canelo, Fury Wilder 3, and George Kambosos Jr. make their mark
SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 1, 2022 –The coronavirus still had its say about the boxing calendar, but the fans finally came back, and boxing did its part coming through with notable performances – many from unexpected sources in a year full of upsets.
First, let’s pause and thank medical science for helping revive the Sweet Science giving us solid choices to pick from as boxing’s biggest stars returned to the ring (mostly). Nearly a year in, things weren’t sure at the start of 2021.
As boxing writers tend to do at this time of year, we offer choices for the moments and significant accomplishments inside the ring we’ll remember and mark long after 2021 is over.
No athletes in any sport work harder than boxers or go through more for our entertainment. We salute every single man and woman who gets in the ring.
These individuals won our year-end honors in their categories among their peers.
Factoring into the evaluation is whether each one seized the zeitgeist of the time. Look it up, use in it a tweet, and thank me later.
Fighter of the Year: Canelo Alvarez
A true boxing rarity – it was a slam dunk consensus. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez unified the super middleweight division in less than one year. The biggest name draw in the sport fought four times in 11 months (between December 19, 2020, and November 5, 2021), handed three of his four opponents their first losses, and stopped all three men he faced in 2021. He broke Billy Joe Saunders’ face and the will of everyone who stood in front of him. He’s also become comfortable with who he is, throwing off his careful soundbites to speak (and colorfully curse) in English. The fans love the feisty side of Canelo outside the ring, and there is no denying his work ethic borne of sheer hard work. We might only appreciate just how good Alvarez is when he retires and starts his next career as a PGA pro golfer. Seriously, you read it here first.
Fight of the Year: Fury vs. Wilder 3
The fight no one thought they wanted, and everyone enjoyed. The third fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder only came to pass after a judge ruled in favor of Wilder’s right to the matchup in arbitration. It was delayed several months due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for Fury, who turned out to be only partially vaccinated. But once it finally took place in front of a packed house in Las Vegas, it was the purest sort of boxing. Two big men blasting away in the ring, five total knockdowns, and more ups and downs than the pandemic stock market.
Fury showed his determination after being dropped twice in the fourth round. Wilder showed he has more heart than anyone realized. Fury retained his heavyweight titles in boxing’s glamour division. There were fights with more skill on display, but none more thrilling or dramatic. Being ringside again, covering it alongside the members of the #WackPack was the icing on the cake.
Runner-up: In a close second, Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Roman Gonzalez 2 – and we get to see the third fight on March 5 in San Diego, my hometown. Orale!
Round of the Year: Round 12, Estrada vs Gonzalez
From the previously mentioned fight, there are several rounds you could choose, but we’ve picked Round 12. This fight set multiple records for punches thrown, but Estrada and Gonzalez landed a combined 95 punches in the final round. Both felt the fight was on the line, and they were right. The pair threw 2,599 total punches in the bout, the most ever in the super flyweight division. They landed 649 power punches. Estrada is age 31 and Gonzalez age 34 in a division not known for longevity. We can’t wait to see them run it back.
Runners-up: Round 7 of Estrada Vs. Gonzalez, Round 4 for Fury vs. Wilder 2
Knockout of the Year: Gabriel Rosado over Bek Melikuziev
The candidates included Oscar Valdez dropping Miguel Berchelt, Efe Ajagba blasting Brian Howard with a right hook, Brandun Lee stopping Samuel Teah with his own right hook, and Anthony Dirrell’s blistering uppercut of Marcos Hernandez. But our choice was the surprising comeback win by Gabriel Rosado over Bektimir “Bek” Melikuziev. In a fight where the tough Philly super middleweight had been dropped himself, he came through with the uppercut from the depths of hell to score the upset win. Rosado richly deserved his moment of glory after a career fighting every tough customer put in front of him, making it especially sweet.
Prospect of the Year: Xander Zayas
There’s a lot to like about super welterweight Xander Zayas of Puerto Rico both inside and outside the ring. He trains hard, fights often, and continues to mow down opponents as he moves up the fighter food chain. He blends the right mix of polish, enthusiasm, and maturity outside the ring. He’s flashy and a great interview. He represents a boxing crazy homeland. And he’s still just 19 years old. Tito Trinidad and Miguel Cotto believe Zayas is a worthy successor and might even surpass their accomplishments someday. We’re not arguing with them.
Runner-up: Jared Anderson
Comeback of the Year: Kiko Martinez
Kiko Martinez. The veteran Spaniard was served up as a gatekeeper to rising star Kid Galahad of England. But no one told Martinez, age 35, who scored a knockdown of Galahad at the end of round five and made it stick at the start of round six, shocking the Sheffield hometown fans. Martinez becomes the IBF World Featherweight Champion. It is the second title for Martinez. He last held the IBF World Super Bantamweight title in 2014.
Runners-up: Nonito Donaire, Vasiliy Lomachenko
Trainer of the Year: Eddy Reynoso
A repeat winner for a good reason. Reynoso’s success speaks for itself. Guiding Canelo Alvarez to the peak of the sport would be enough. Add Oscar Valdez’s victory over Miguel Berchelt to win the WBC World Featherweight title, WBC World Flyweight champion Julio Cesar Martinez, and impressive wins by Frank Sanchez and Ryan Garcia. Reynoso is also steering heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr. to a comeback. Reynoso says he hopes to repeat the honor on behalf of his stable in 2022, and there’s little in his way.
Runners-up: Michael Akkawy (George Kambosos Jr.), SugarHill Steward (Tyson Fury and Anthony Dirrell), Ben Davison (Josh Taylor), and Anatoly Lomachenko (Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk).
Trainers soldiered on against varying levels of challenges due to the continuing pandemic. Their fighters and teams weren’t always able to avoid illness. As in 2020, they adapted to the pandemic protocols and worked around last-minute opponents, and postponed bouts. It’s the hardest job in boxing next to the man or woman in the ring and the one that takes the most heat.
Upset of the Year: George Kambosos Jr. over Teofimo Lopez Jr.
Call 2021 the Year of the Upset. A parade of Mexican fighters took care of business in the UK: Mauricio Lara over Josh Warrington, Kiko Martinez over Kid Galahad, Sandor Martin over Mikey Garcia, and Alycia Baumgardner over Terri Harper. All good, but none could match the story of George Kambosos Jr. of Australia overcoming COVID-19 delays, promoter disputes, and venue changes to take care of business and make a big statement by handing lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. his first defeat and taking his titles. Kambosos Jr. never wavered in his confidence over the months leading to this fight. His focus and determination make every fighter believe anything is possible with enough hard work and belief.
C.J. Ross Award: The Maestre Madness Panel of Judges
For the ninth year running, we bestow this award to the person rendering the most outrageous decision-making in boxing, named for the infamous Nevada boxing judge who generated outrage over her rotten decisions in high-profile fights in 2014.
This year, we hand to the three blind mice sitting in as the judges for the Gabriel Maestre vs. Mychal Fox fight. Fox took the fight on late notice and rose to the occasion, dropping Maestre and thoroughly dominating the action. Fox and the viewers were stunned when judges John Mariano (115-112), David Singh (114-113), and Gloria Martinez Rizzo (117-110) rendered their decision, all for Maestre. Boxing Twitter exploded. After the fight, Fox said, “There’s no way he won more rounds than me. I knocked him down. I hurt him. I don’t know what else I was supposed to do. I don’t know what the judges were looking at. Look at his face and tell me he won that fight.”
In short order, racist tweets surfaced from Rizzo, along with cozy relationships with WBA president Gilberto Mendoza Jr. and obvious biases by the two Venezuelans for their countryman Maestre – but it doesn’t cover the over two bad cards. The WBA has ordered a rematch but didn’t erase the loss from Fox’s record. Ridiculous and reprehensible.
Our runner-up was another trio of judges who scored a razor-thin unanimous decision in favor of Joseph Parker over Derek Chisora despite Parker dominating the fight and scoring three knockdowns to make it stick. Without the knockdowns, Chisora would be the winner. Merely because the right man won doesn’t make it right. The offenders are Michael Alexander, Ingo Barrabas, ad Giustio Di Giovanni. Alexander’s 114-112 card was incredibly egregious.
Do you have your own winners? Did we miss calling out any other accomplishments? Tell us in the Comments section.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more coverage in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News“ when quoting from or linking to this story.
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