SAN DIEGO, December 31, 2016 – In a year where there are several worthy candidates, choosing a Fighter of the Year for 2016 boils down to a judgment call defined by an informed but admittedly personal definition of excellence.
The Ringside Seat shortlist this year features boxers in weight divisions at 140 pounds or below: American Terence Crawford, Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko, and Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton.
Crawford, who was our Fighter of the Year in 2014, was also a finalist in 2015. He fought three times in 2016, and made his victories seem relatively easy. Crawford was expected to face a true challenge from titleholder Viktor Postol, but Crawford kept Postol as off-kilter and struggling as the rest of his opposition. It’s difficult to find any flaws in Crawford’s approach, or at least none his opponents have been able to identify and exploit. He is among the smartest boxers in the ring, who can adjust a game plan when needed and switches to a southpaw stance with ease. The only weapon he lacks is single knockout punch power, but it doesn’t mean he can’t stop an opponent with patience and persistence.
Other than Postol, Crawford’s opponents Hank Lundy and John Molina Jr. didn’t have the pedigree or performance of the opponents facing other finalists on this list, leaving Crawford short of the honor this year. No doubt he’ll make the list again in 2017.
Vasyl “Hi Tech” Lomachenko built upon solid fundamentals from his impressive amateur background and developed a fan friendly style without delay. His two victories this year won him two championships in two divisions. The first, a fifth-round knockout of WBO super featherweight champion Roman “Rocky” Martinez, showed Lomachenko has developed power punching on top of his speed and footwork in the ring. During the Thanksgiving weekend, Lomachenko delivered a stunning performance against undefeated WBA super featherweight champion Nicholas Walters. Walters was being shown up so badly by Lomachenko, he quit after the seventh round rather than risk a knockout loss. Walters got a lot of the blame due to being out of the ring for over a year. In retrospect, it’s clear Lomachenko would have given Walters all he could handle even at his peak.
Lomachenko holds several professional records in boxing including winning two weight division titles in the fewest number of fights (ten). He is only getting better, a sobering thought for anyone who wants to take him on. Lomachenko said he’d like to clean out the super featherweight division at 130 pounds before moving up to 135 pounds, where he’ll stand a good chance of doing the same thing. But as with Crawford, Loma’s opponents aren’t at the level of this year’s recipient of our award.
British boxing is enjoying an incredible resurgence, with 13 world champions. No one is a better symbol of everything good happening in the UK boxing world than two-division champion Carl Frampton of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Frampton began the year with a highly anticipated fight five years in the making against previously undefeated WBA super-bantamweight Scott Quigg of Manchester, England on Quigg’s home turf. Considered a 50-50 fight, Frampton never allowed Quigg to get his rhythm going, breaking his jaw en route to winning his second division title with a split decision victory. While it might not have been the most entertaining fight, it was skillful and true champions win the close ones as well as the easy ones.
Next, Frampton made two bold moves. He went up in weight class to featherweight, and he agreed to fight another undefeated boxer, WBA super world champion Leo Santa Cruz. For a second time, he agreed to fight on his opponent’s home turf, this time in the United States at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. After the close win over Quigg and the circumstances of the fight, Santa Cruz was the favorite.
The Irish American crowd and the UK fans got the thrill of their lives as Frampton controlled the fight, shut down Santa Cruz’s attack, and won a strong majority decision victory over the three-division champion Santa Cruz. See highlights and a recap of the fight here from Showtime Sports.
Frampton, 23-0 with 14 knockouts, is the first boxer from Northern Ireland to win titles in two different weight classes and the second Irishman to do so (after Steve Collins). The title he won from Santa Cruz was once held by his manager, Barry McGuigan.
For Frampton to take significant risk fighting in a new weight division against a dangerous champion without so much as a “tune up” fight should impress anyone. Getting the victory shows Frampton’s confidence and the belief in him by his young trainer Shane McGuigan weren’t misplaced. The concept of “big risk, big reward” seems lost on certain boxers and promoters these days. How refreshing to watch Frampton going for it.
Measured against Crawford and Lomachenko, Frampton fought the better competition, on his opponents’ turf, with greater risks involved. Taking nothing away from our other nominees who are sure to win this honor in future years, our choice for 2016 Fighter of the Year is Carl Frampton, MBE.
On January 28, 2017, in the first significant title fight of the new year, Frampton and Santa Cruz will fight a rematch in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is what true champions in boxing do, instead of taking the easy road to racking up meaningless undefeated records. It’s icing on the cake for his fans, and much to be admired.
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. Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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