Boxing’s Best of the Year 2020: Pandemic Edition
SAN DIEGO, Calif., December 30, 2020 – Even during a year when the sporting calendar was shredded by the coronavirus pandemic, boxing came through with notable performances – some from unexpected sources.
First, let’s pause and thank our Sweet Science stars we have good choices to pick from after boxing’s successful return in the year of the pandemic. Back in March, we weren’t so sure. Otherwise, we’d be talking about Russell Jr. vs. Nyambayar and Kownacki vs. Helenius. Yes, those fights took place this year. No disrespect to any of the four involved.
Even from the bubble, boxing brings us super fights, big-money deals, and head-scratching distractions. Our devotion is rewarded with the moments and significant accomplishments inside the ring we’ll remember and mark long after an extraordinary 2020 is over.
More than ever in 2020, the purse’s size isn’t always related to performance and certainly doesn’t reflect effort. 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.
Also 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.
These individuals won our year-end honors in their categories by Ringside Seat among their peers.
Round of the Year: Round 5, Zepeda vs Baranchyk
Without a doubt, the nutty fifth-round on October 3 between super lightweights Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk. If you like action fights, you got it all in this bout until it finally ended, eight knockouts later, with the one by Jose Zepeda that stopped the oncoming freight train Ivan Baranchyk in the fifth round. This showstopper round went two minutes and 50 seconds with both men hitting the canvas. No matter how many times you see it, you’re always going to stop and watch it again.
Knockout of the Year: Alexander Povetkin
Gervonta Davis’s uppercut knockout of Leo Santa Cruz was a real horror show in all the right ways, and a serious contender. It came suddenly and swiftly, and the referee did not need to administer a count.
But it didn’t dethrone the winner. Another uppercut gets the honors delivered by heavyweight Alexander Povetkin of Russia on Dillan Whyte of Great Britain. When a 41-year-old can drop a man who weighs 30 pounds more than he does, you’ve got my attention.
Honorable mention also goes to Eleider Alvarez for his sensational knockout of Michael Seals in the pre-pandemic portion of the year.
2020 has been 𝙎𝙊 𝙇𝙊𝙉𝙂, that you probably forgot this wild Eleider Alvarez KO happened in January of this year. 😮 pic.twitter.com/n7rBOzw3i7
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) December 20, 2020
Prospect of the Year: Edgar Berlanga
Super middleweight Edgar Berlanga of Brooklyn seized the pandemic moment and delivered must-see fights from the Bubble in Las Vegas with special relish. He is now riding an improbably 17 fight streak of first-round knockouts. No fans? No problem. You didn’t have to be ringside to enjoy this ride.
Not going rounds might hurt him down the road, but Berlanga’s style inside the ring and personality outside give him every look of a star. Prospects are about promise almost as much as performance, and who doesn’t look forward to seeing what the brash Berlanga can deliver in 2021?
Comeback of the Year: Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez
The beloved Nicaraguan multi-division champion and king of the smaller weight divisions was all but written off after two losses to Srisikat Sor Rungvisai. It seemed his struggle to shine at the super flyweight level plus the death of his longtime trainer were simply too big a hill to climb. But Gonzalez regrouped and recommitted. Before the pandemic shutdown, he stopped rising star Kal Yafai of Great Britain, and then he battered Israel Gonzalez. Now fans finally get to see the rematch eight years in the making with Juan Francisco Estrada on March 13. We will be the winners no matter who prevails.
Honorable mention goes here to Errol Spence Jr., who proved in his performance against Danny Garcia the catastrophic 2019 car accident didn’t slow him down one bit. He quietly went about his recovery and rehab, and the pandemic might have given him the time and cover he needed. Spence Jr.answered all the doubters. Now let’s hope all parties involved get Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford in the ring sooner rather than later.
Trainer of the Year: Derrick James
For his work with Spence Jr. and with super welterweight world champion Jermell Charlo, Derrick James gets the nod over Eddy Reynoso, Jay Deas and Sugarhill Steward, and Teofimo Lopez, Sr. (not my candidate, but one mentioned by many others).
James had two different jobs with the top men in his fighter stable. He had to guide Spence Jr. back from whatever physical and psychological damage was done by his auto accident and return him to the sport’s top level. He did it with honesty and confidence. James also guided Charlo since his 2018 loss to Tony Harrison to avenge the loss on December 21 last year, then delivering a knockout win over Jeison Rosario on a dual PPV card with his middleweight twin brother, Jermall.
Every trainer had to overcome varying levels of challenges due to the coronavirus pandemics. Their gyms were closed, their fighters and teams weren’t always able to avoid illness. They had to adapt to the pandemic protocols and guide their fighters from the corner without any fan energy to encourage them. Trainers became more important than ever, and we salute all of them for fighting on in 2020.
Upset of the Year: Jeison Rosario
Jeison Rosario of the Dominican Republic was a 19 -1 underdog in his fight against world super-middleweight champion Julian “JRock” Williams in February. Williams had scored his own upset defeat of Jarrett Hurd to win his titles. While everyone considered Rosario capable and skilled, not many thought he was capable enough. Rosario not only proved them wrong, he put a serious hurt on Williams and sealed his win with impressive power punching in round five to win by TKO. He ruined Williams’ homecoming on his turf in Philadelphia to boot. Never mind that Rosario lost those titles several months later to Jermell Charlo (see above), The Banana didn’t slip up against Williams.
C.J. Ross Award: Terry O’Connor
For the eighth 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. Following the uproar over her scoring, Ross decided to retire. We are grateful her final call was a good one. In a sport that depends on decision making (unless you take it out of the judges’ hands), the Ross Award goes to the boxer who most got worked by an unfair judgment.
This year, the choice was clear. British boxing judge Terry O’Connor helped hand a split decision victory to Lewis Ritson over the clear winner, Miguel Vazquez with a scorecard of 117-111. Vazquez dominated the 12 round fight, and Ritson looked completely demoralized by the end of the fight. But when the scorecards took forever to reach the ring announcer, we didn’t have to be in Houston to know there was a problem. Even promoter Eddie Hearn was aghast at Ritson’s win.
— Mark Taylor (@markstaylor1980) October 17, 2020
Boxing Twitter poured gasoline on the fire when a photo was posted of O’Connor appearing to be reading his cellphone ringside during the fight. Was he ordering a late dinner, or what? The British Boxing Board of Control later cleared O’Connor of the accusation, explaining O’Connor was actually checking his scorecard. Nevertheless, a judge shouldn’t ever take his or her eyes off the ring action. Whatever you need to do can wait for the break or until the end of the fight.
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 Ringside Seat 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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