SAN DIEGO, Calif., December 30, 2019 – From super flyweight to middleweight to light heavyweight, 2018 proved to be a year full of outstanding fights for boxing fans to enjoy.
It was easy to find a half dozen great picks for our 2018 Fight of the Year. Oleksandr Usyk and Marius Briedis kicked off the year with a sensational semifinal in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament in January in Latvia. Two more big men capped the year’s best fight on the other side of the globe in Los Angeles as Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury tangled to the boxing world’s most entertaining and exciting draw in decades.
In between, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jorge Linares put in their bid. Lomachenko won his third division title in a thriller against the tough Venezuelan, who popped Lomachenko hard enough to put him on the deck before he gathered his wits and rallied to win despite having a badly damaged shoulder.
A new Mexican legend was born when another worthy warrior fought to a win despite serious injury. Oscar Valdez took Scott Quigg to the bell under a rare Southern California rainstorm at the Stub Hub Center, the scene of so many previous Fight of the Year winners. Valdez, whose career had seemed to stall a bit, soldiered on after Quigg broke his jaw midway through the fight, gutting out a tremendous victory and winning plenty of admiration for the way he did it.
Any short list wouldn’t be complete without the biggest stakes fight of the year, the rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, delayed after Alvarez tested dirty for the banned substance clembuterol prior to their original May date. The thrilled fight seemed a sure victory for Golovkin, but Alvarez won a narrow victory.
But our pick is a fight far from the bright lights of New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or London. It wasn’t even the main event on the card, the forgettable super middleweight snoozer between Gilberto Ramirez and Roamer Alexis Angulo. There was no title on the line, merely the right to become a mandatory division challenger.
Saucedo vs Zappavigna: In the style of Gatti vs Ward
Last July while preparing for his fight with Isaac Chilemba, WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol said, “I want to make history like Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti, in the type of fight that will never be forgotten from history. No one knows how to write history, but you have to try to do it. It wasn’t even a title fight. But it was a fight that will always be remembered.”
Junior welterweight contender Alex Saucedo of Oklahoma City and Australian challenger Lenny Zappavigna did Gatti and Ward as well as Orlando Salido and Francisco Vargas proud with a barnburning brawl. Despite, or perhaps because of the charm of its relative obscurity, it gets our nod for the 2018 Fight of the Year. Saucedo (28-0, 18 KOs), age 24, and Zappavigna (37-4, 27 KOs), age 30, delivered more action in seven rounds than many fighters deliver in a lifetime.
Saucedo started out strong in front of his hometown fans on June 30 in the Top Rank Promotions/ESPN bout. He controlled the fight in the early rounds. A cut opened over Zappavigna’s right eye, who is notorious for frequently suffering cuts, and it was a messy one.
In the third round, Saucedo dropped Zappavigna with a hard counter right hand. Zappavigna, whose career clock was ticking down and could not afford a loss, got up to beat the count, fight back with what he had left, and make it out of the round. But his face looked terrible and he didn’t look to make it much further in the fight.
If you were taking bets at this point, you’d bet it wouldn’t go another round. In a shocker, Zappavigna turned the tables on Saucedo, and he scored an improbable knockdown of his own. Saucedo also got to his feet, but appeared more seriously hurt than ‘Lenny Z’ had in the previous round. Once again, both survived.
Watch the entire fourth round as ESPN’s Joe Tesstiore and Timothy Bradley called it.
For the next three rounds, the two bloody warriors battled on and the crowd went wild. Twitter went wild. #SaucedoZappavigna was the second highest ranking hashtag in the United States. At times, the fight became difficult to watch, but neither man wanted to give in.
Saucedo started to take control back, but this fight was all or nothing for Zappavigna. Finally, Zappavigna’s corner had to save him from himself after it became apparent his slim chance of winning the fight wasn’t worth the potential damage, and it was the right call. Zappavigna’s team stopped it at 29 seconds of the seventh round.
With the win, Saucedo earned a title fight in November against Maurice Hooker, which he went on to lose. Zappavigna announced after the bout he would retire from boxing after a 12-year career. Zappavigna never won a world title, although fought for one, losing in 2011 against Miguel Vazquez.
But to fans, the numbers and the belts don’t always matter. They respect the athlete who gives his or her all in the ring, merely for their entertainment. On that night in June, the fans in Oklahoma City and watching across the U.S. applauded and saluted both men for pulling out a once in a lifetime performance.
When boxers say they aspire to be remembered, they say what light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol did earlier this year: I want to deliver a Gatti Ward type fight that people will remember.
Winning a place in boxing history
Zappavigna won his place in boxing history with his bravery and fortitude in the ring. This can never be taken away from him. Saucedo battled back against adversity to deliver the effort it took to take the win. In the sport’s pecking order, who’s to say this relatively minor eight round fight didn’t carry far more meaning than many uninspired performances where the so-called champions are phoning in the effort? Certainly to the athletes involved, their teams, their families and friends, their nations and the fans watching. Bravo, gentlemen.
Fans will now begin their vigil for the 2019 Fight of the Year. Perhaps it will be the anticipated showdown between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. Or maybe a third fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. It could also be an unexpected Dignity Health (formerly Stub Hub) Center gem. It will be fun to see where we are 364 days from now.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer 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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