FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Anthony Joshua’s dramatic stoppage defeat of Wladimir Klitschko felt as seminal a moment in heavyweight boxing as it did in both fighters’ careers. In front of a post-war British record — 90,000 at Wembley Stadium — Klitschko, the finest heavyweight of the modern era, had been matched with the young champion widely expected to be his long-term successor. Joshua had never previously fought beyond seven rounds, hit the canvas as a professional, or fought in anywhere near Klitschko’s class. Regardless, when he knocked the Ukrainian down in the fifth his latest routine victory was expected to follow. Klitschko instead recovered, dropped Joshua even more heavily a round later, and continued to outbox him until being dramatically stopped in the 11th after the powerful uppercut that changed Joshua’s life.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Andre Ward and then Vasyl Lomachenko may have succeeded Floyd Mayweather as the world’s finest fighter, pound-for-pound, by securing their best ever victories, but it is Anthony Joshua and Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who have unquestionably become the most lucrative and highest-profile. In another of 2017’s most absorbing fights, the middleweight fought to a controversial draw with Gennady Golovkin that many (Arab News not among them) felt Golovkin had won, and even if he had also convincingly outboxed Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., he was no more an underdog than Joshua was before his defeat of Carlos Takam. Victory in the rematch Alvarez and Golovkin are expected to have in 2018 would likely be enough for him to be the fighter of the coming 12 months, but this year Joshua’s achievements have been unrivalled.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
The term “punch perfect” is too often used, even if that is understandably the case in a sport where promotion and hyperbole have such an influence, but it remains the most appropriate description of Billy Joe Saunders’ performance in his WBO middleweight title defense against David Lemieux in Quebec. The Canadian was considered one of the most dangerous opponents of Saunders’ stop-start career, was the home fighter on the evening the champion fought overseas as a professional for the very first time, and threatened Saunders’ pursuit of a lucrative unification fight with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin. What followed was a true masterclass and a level of performance that had long appeared beyond him, as he repeatedly embarrassed Lemieux by landing consistent punches with the same ease with which he made his opponent miss, and when their match-up had been considered highly-competitive.
SHOCK OF THE YEAR
The loss of his IBF super-middleweight title was not what James DeGale expected when he agreed to fight in the UK for the first time in three years, against America’s little-known Caleb Truax. After almost a year out following his bruising draw with the excellent Badou Jack, a result likely to become more impressive with the passage of time, the 31-year-old DeGale needed only to be kept busy and relevant while the 168lbs edition of the Super Series unfolded, ensuring he remained in contention to face its eventual winner. Instead of one of the easier world-level victories he was expected to secure, he was convincingly outboxed and showed minimal ability to adapt, suggesting he may already have significantly declined, and largely because of the bruising affair with Jack. A rematch is regardless expected to be agreed.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
South Africa’s Zolani Tete is not only the finest fighter to be fighting out of Britain, and at a time of significant strength: he may also be the world’s most under-appreciated champion. The latest demonstration of his extraordinary talents came on 18 November, in the unusual location of Belfast’s SSE Arena, when he secured the quickest ever knockout victory in a world-title fight by stopping challenger Siboniso Gonya in only 11 seconds. The WBO bantamweight champion almost immediately set up the impressive and effortless powerful right hook to the chin that ended their fight upon impact by feinting with the right hand to create the space he needed to land such a clinical punch. His promoter Frank Warren has worked with many of the great fighters of the past and modern eras, and there is little question Tete is establishing himself among them.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
The widespread sense of injustice at the fact double Olympic gold medallist Guillermo Rigondeaux was so under-appreciated contributed much to what became known as the “Cult of Rigondeaux,” and much to a belief his fight with the great Vasyl Lomachenko was the match-up of the year. Aged 37 he may have been the older, and naturally smaller, fighter, but the natural talent and outstanding boxing IQ he has long demonstrated were considered enough for him to truly test another double Olympic gold medallist in Ukrainian Lomachenko, the very finest in the world. Long derided by largely-American critics as “boring,” even if he had avoided a dramatic fight there would have been none doubting Rigondeaux’s greatness and he would have guaranteed significant future purses if he had secured a remarkable victory in what will forever be remembered as his defining fight. This was the opportunity he had long sought and deserved: he instead disappointingly withdrew, unconvincingly blaming a hand injury, after appearing to lose five of the opening six rounds. Never again can he feel his status unjust.