The end of another year that has given all of us much to enjoy, much to write about, and much to reflect on. The consistent highlights and excellent fights have been set against the backdrop of those contests that failed to materialise, and of serious injuries sustained by some athletes who, in one infamous case, paid the ultimate price competing in the sport they love. All of the above combined have made for some fascinating end-of-year reviews, and I now add mine to them.
Fighter of the Year: Carl Frampton
It’s hard to argue a case against the Belfast native. Although he only saw action twice this year, both were huge events, and he now finds himself as surely the best pound-for-pound British fighter after winning them both. The first was a settling of his rivalry with Scott Quigg, outpointing the then-unbeaten super-bantam champion in his Manchester hometown to unify the division, before moving to featherweight and taking another undefeated record and another world title from Leo Santa Cruz in a brilliant contest in July. When it comes to giving the fans what they want to see, precious few fighters do it like Frampton does. A deserved winner.
Fight of the Year: Dereck Chisora vs Dillian Whyte
A blitzkrieg. The build up was unsavoury but the fight itself served as redemption for both men. Admittedly, I believed that the action itself wouldn’t live up to the preceding hype; I felt Chisora had struggled on big stages before then, and Whyte would have seen a blueprint on how to defeat the Finchley man, jabbing his way to a disappointing points win. How wrong was I.
In a titanic struggle that saw both men hurt, they hurled punches at one another until the final bell, whereupon Whyte, who had been behind at the halfway point, salvaged a split decision victory after coming back strong in the later rounds. A rare occasion where everyone involved emerged with something to celebrate.
Knockout of the Year: Callum Smith vs Luke Blackledge
On the same undercard as Chisora-Whyte, Smith found himself frustrated at times by Blackledge, who looked to interrupt any momentum in the fight by countering and spoiling. He was slowly being ground down however, and was getting caught by telling shots by the middle rounds of their British title fight. It came to an end in the 10th, when Smith uncorked a howitzer of a left hook to knock Blackledge completely out. He was down for a considerable amount of time, eventually coming to with medical assistance and oxygen, which made for concerning scenes. The punch itself, however, was a pearl, dropping Blackledge where he stood and putting him violently and immediately to the canvas.
Prospect of the Year: Andrew Selby
A flash and extremely talented fighter, Selby is quickly becoming Britain’s worst kept secret. He has used dazzling footwork, unorthodox punching and lightening speed to storm his way to an IBF Inter-Continental flyweight in his seventh pro fight, and created Welsh boxing history by winning the British title in his fifth. Talk is of a world title fight next year, and should he win it, Selby might become one of those special fighters who manage to own one before his fight total hits double figures. Extraordinary.
Story of the Year: Boxing Safety
There are plenty of other headlines that have grabbed attention this year but none more so than
those concerning Eduard Gutknecht and Nick Blackwell, who were both put into induced comas after suffering bleeds on their skulls, and the now well-known Mike Towell, who passed away a day after facing Dale Evans in Scotland in September. Safety procedures were once again brought into question and calls for the sport to be banned renewed. The loudest calls were typically made by those who understand boxing least, but everyone else who does have some appreciation for the sport had to stop and remind themselves that the risks involved in participating are real. The debate continues, but in the meantime, it is certainly worth thinking twice before doing things like calling fighters ‘bums’ or ‘losers’. You’ll always be wrong if you do.
Shortcomer of the Year: Billy Joe Saunders
It was supposed to be anything but a disappointing year for the Hatfield man. He is exceptionally talented, and at the start of 2016 was talking of defending his newly acquired WBO belt before facing a big middleweight name in the Summer. To say this didn’t happen is an understatement. A hand injury prevented him from facing unknown Max Bursak, before his headlining slot against Artur Akavov was postponed not once but twice, the second time warranting a change of venue, from the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff to the less impressive Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley, Scotland, where he put on a drab performance, closing a thoroughly frustrating year by apologising to the audience members who turned up to see it. He must produce more in 2017.
Upset of the Year: Anthony Ogogo vs Craig Cunningham
There hasn’t been an out-and-out shock (as far as I can tell) this year, but there have been plenty of results that were certainly raised a few eyebrows, and this one stood out beyond all others. Ogogo, an Olympic bronze medallist, was hot on the comeback trail after injuries sidelined him for several extended layoffs, and went into this fight having chalked up three wins this year, all by knockout. He was expected to deal with Cunningham with vigour before lining up a big shot against an established name next time out. Cunningham, however, hadn’t read the script, and fractured Ogogo’s eye socket in the first round, downed him in the second and finished him in the eighth, all the while making the Olympian look ragged and unrefined while boxing on the back foot. More time out now waits for Ogogo, who was having a good year until then.
With that, I wish all our readers and contributors a very Happy Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year, which will surely provide us with more memorable boxing nights.