2016 Boxing Year in Review — With mega stars Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally out of the big picture as the main attractions in all of boxing, Latino boxing was poised to jump back into the spotlight with guys like Canelo Alvarez and Roman Gonzalez as the flag bearers of the sport. And they both delivered as promised in a year that featured equal amounts of brawling and boxing – and then some.
Here are some of the most outstanding boxing events and practitioners of 2016:
Fighter of the Year: Roman Gonzalez
Usually, the award for the best fighter of any particular year is given to the fighter who accumulated the most accomplishments during that particular period of time, regardless of his previous feats. But Gonzalez’s greatness shines so bright that he is capable of outshining every other fighter’s aura with just one great performance. Sure, he did have another great victory in 2016 when he took on Puerto Rico’s McWilliams Arroyo and dished out a spicy and hot McBeating over 12 rounds in a title bout, but his phenomenal victory over Carlos Cuadras in September was more than enough, by itself, to put him above the rest of the Latino class of 2016. Fight after fight, Gonzalez continues building up his case to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer – and more.
Breakout Fighter: Jezreel Corrales
The Panamanian southpaw was little more than a new kid on the block after spending his entire career in career in his native country and earning a meager 30% stoppage rate. For that reason, expectations were limited for him in his challenge against Japan’s Takashi Uchiyama in the latter’s home turf. After all, Uchiyama was in the conversation as a top 10 pound-for-pound entrant in every serious ranking, and he could have reached higher ground if it weren’t for his lack of activity. But “The Invisible Man” had a plan of his own, and back in April he managed to shock the boxing world by stopping the then-unbeaten and durable Uchiyama in the second round after overwhelming him with a salvo of shots from every angle in an inspired performance. And he would later repeat the dose in late December, when in spite of visiting the canvas, Corrales managed to beat Uchiyama once again to retain his title belt. It doesn’t get any closer to a Cinderella story than this!
Best Prospect: Gilberto Ramirez
“El Zurdo” could use a bit more movement, a slightly stronger punch and a better nickname (if you’re a lefty and your nickname is “The Lefty,” well, you’re kinda asking for this advice). But dominating the eternal Armenian strongman Arthur Abraham over 12 rounds is more than enough to give hope to Mexican fans about their chances of having another strong presence in the 160-and-up divisions not named Chavez or Alvarez in the coming years. Tall, strong, with solid basics and plenty of room for improvement, Ramirez could be one of the guys to keep an eye on in a year in which several other big-name Latino fighters are due to either retire or enter their twilight. Time will tell, but then again, time is on Ramirez’s side. At 25 years of age and unbeaten after 34 bouts, he has plenty of that – and more.
Comeback of the Year: Abner Mares and Jorge Linares
It is always great to see terrific fighters who never speculate or take a step back in a fight returning to the ring in triumphant form. And that’s what happened in 2016 with two of my personal all-time favorites in Mexico’s Abner Mares, who clawed back into the big scene after his disastrous loss to Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013 with a trio of solid wins before running into Leo Santa Cruz in a disputed loss last year, and then coming back after a series of health-related issues to defeat a younger and stronger fighter in Jesus Cuellar to reclaim a title. And what’s to say about Venezuela’s Linares, a fighter who continues outdoing himself and proving critics wrong with one heroic performance after another. This time, he traveled once again to enemy territory to take Anthony Crolla’s WBA 135-pound title in a nail-biter. Two extraordinary fighters who could end up having another banner year in their careers in 2017.
Best Fight: Orlando Salido D12 Francisco Vargas
It would appear that, regardless of the conditions of the fight and their opponents, these two guys are virtually unable to disappoint their fans or to produce a mediocre performance. Speculation and caution do not enter their minds, and their ability to fully commit themselves to the truest performance that we can expect from a professional prizefighter is something that cannot be doubted. It was already so for both fighters even before their spectacular bout back in June, and it will continue to be so after they traded a combined total of almost 1600 punches at a breath-taking pace. The result may have disappointed a few Mexican fans who cheered for one or the other. But for the rest of the boxing world, the draw was a fitting result for such a back-and-forth bout.
Best round: Gonzalez vs Cuadras – Round 12
Landing one lucky punch or barely escaping an assault to score a few pillow-puffs and steal a round or two can never be considered as sound strategies or plans for any fighter. Greatness requires consistency, resilience, and the ability to shine from bell to bell, in every round of every fight. That’s how Roman Gonzalez, a flyweight from Nicaragua, earned his title of best fighter in the world, and that’s how Carlos Cuadras, the WBC super flyweight titlist out of Mexico, challenged that notion back in September, when they met with Cuadras’ title on the line in a fight in which they both tried to earn a legendary victory (a title in a fourth division for Gonzalez, a win against the best fighter in the world for Cuadras) by putting everything on the line. Everything that is to be loved and admired in boxing was on display: courage, perseverance, adjustment to adversity, raw talent, and much more. And the final round encapsulated all that in three magical minutes in which both fighters sensed that their chance to make history was well within each other’s grasp.
Best KO: Canelo Alvarez KO 6 Amir Khan
As a full-fledged middleweight fighting a former mostly-welter-ish guy, Canelo was expected to stop Khan when they met in Las Vegas in May. Nothing new there. But the way in which he stopped him, the timing and placement of his KO punch, the poise and the patience he showed in his endeavor, his commitment to his foe’s destruction, and most of all, the brilliant defense that allowed him to practically breeze through the bout until that fateful sixth round, were indeed the highlights of a night in which Canelo silenced even more critics and positioned himself for a mega-showdown with Gennady Golovkin in 2017.
Best Upset: David Peralta SD 12 Robert Guerrero
Looking to rebound from a loss to Danny Garcia in his 11th world title fight, Guerrero, a proven multi-division champ fighting on his home turf, picked Peralta, an obscure Argentine taxi driver who would be making his first start in 15 months. But a perfect storm of irresponsible underestimation, misinformed matchmaking and revitalized enthusiasm materialized in the ring back in August 27 at Anaheim, and when it was all said and done, a new Rocky had emerged. Peralta could have grabbed an easy check with a somewhat decent performance, but he dug deep to out-hustle Guerrero during most of the fight and survived a late onslaught to score a win for the ages – and to give hope to every underdog in the world looking for one last shot at greatness.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Diego Morilla writes from Argentina.
2016 Boxing Year / Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.