The year 2017 has been one of the best years in boxing in quite a while. The seventies, eighties and even the nineties were outstanding but the 2000s, especially 2016, not so much.
One of the best and most influential years in boxing was 1976. Muhammad Ali, the undisputed heavyweight champ, made four successful title defenses and was at the height of his popularity throughout the world. In January, George Foreman, in his first bout since losing his title to Ali, fought a slugfest for the ages with top contender Ron Lyle. The fight saw both sluggers crash to the canvas before Foreman finally finished Lyle in the fifth round. During the summer, perhaps the greatest American Olympic boxing team ever captured five Gold Medals in Montreal and, in November, the motion picture “Rocky” premiered in New York City and was released throughout the United States in early December. Boxing was thriving by the end of 1976.
As for the year 2017, it was certainly memorable. There are a few things, some negative but mostly positive, that I’ll remember and it’s likely some of the remnants will carry into 2018 and perhaps even beyond.
Three Bad Decisions Based on my Scorecard Watching the Fight Live:
March 18th at Madison Square Garden, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai won a 12-round MD over undefeated defending champ Roman Gonzalez to capture the WBC flyweight title. The judges scored it 115-113 twice and 114-114. I scored the fight 114-112 Gonzalez and felt that aside from the flash knockdown, being head butted and elbowed, Chocolatito scored the cleaner punches and exhibited the superior ring generalship. It wasn’t the worst decision of the year, but the wrong fighter had his hand raised.
July 2nd in Brisbane Australia, undefeated Jeff Horn won a 12-round UD over Manny Pacquiao to capture the WBO welterweight title. Horn won by the scores of 117-111, and 115-113 twice. I scored the bout 116-112 for Pacquiao. Granted, it wasn’t Pacquiao’s finest hour but he scored the cleaner and harder punches and in return Horn mauled and bulled through them. Pacquiao had the biggest round of the fight in the ninth and the rounds he may have lost after that were too close to shade the fight in favor of Horn. When the bell rang to conclude the final round, there wasn’t a morsel of doubt in my mind Pacquiao not only won, but would also have his hands raised after the decision was read.
September 16th at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, unified middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin retained his title via a 12-round draw versus lineal champ Canelo Alvarez. The officials saw the fight 114-114, 115-113 Golovkin and 118-110 Canelo. I scored it 116-112 Golovkin and wrote the day after the fight I could live with 115-113 Golovkin. For the first 10 rounds, Golovkin, although not having the best night of his career (something which age and Canelo contributed to), seemed to be in command for all but a few rounds and moments. Canelo fought with more urgency during the last two rounds to close the gap but it wasn’t enough to net even a draw. For a majority of the bout it was contested more on GGG’s terms than Canelo’s…that much was clear. Sadly the poor decision will haunt Golovkin for the rest of his career. These two will meet again in 2018 and I don’t see Golovkin winning unless he stops Canelo and I’d be willing to bet against that happening.
The Most Significant Fight of the Year:
April 29th in the UK, undefeated IBF heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua stopped former unified champ Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round to retain his title and win the vacant WBA belt. Klitschko, prior to November of 2015 when he was upset by Tyson Fury, was the dominant fighter in the division for the past decade. Fury beating Klitschko was the case of Wladimir being too sure of himself and looking at Fury with total disdain and not considering how difficult Tyson could be stylistically to fight. In Joshua, Klitschko fully grasped that if there was a heavyweight who could prevent him from ever being champ again, it was AJ. Wladimir knew derailing him would surely erase the setback to Fury and be the defining victory of his long career.
Wladimir tortured his body getting ready to fight Joshua and on fight night showed up with a will to win we hadn’t previously seen from him, a desire that would light up the faces of Joe Frazier and Evander Holyfield and make them proud. Going into the fight Klitschko’s right hand, even at 41, was still the biggest single shot in the division and against AJ he let it go. For the first four rounds, Joshua and Klitschko fenced with each other, then in the fifth round, AJ took the initiative and hurt and dropped Klitschko. His only misstep was thinking Wladimir was finished. Showing reserve never seen from him before, Klitschko went after Joshua and dropped him with a perfect right hand to the chin in the next round. AJ beat the count but looked spent for the duration of the round. Showing great savvy, Joshua’s poker face deterred Klitschko from not really going after him, thus enabling him to gain his second wind. Once he was completely gathered, AJ pressed the tiring Klitschko and in the 11th round dropped him twice, ultimately leading to the bout being stopped.
The case can easily be made that no prior heavyweight champ met and defeated a more dangerous fighter than Wladimir Klitschko in just his 19th bout (Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston in his 20th bout). In beating Klitschko in the manner he did, AJ exhibited for all to see that he can really box and punch and has a tremendous will to win. (And if you think his chin and stamina will be his Achilles heel as his title tenure progresses, all I can say to that is – it’ll be some time before he’s pushed and tested the way he was by Klitschko). Moreover, he did something past greats Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis never did during their careers and that’s come back to win after being down and physically spent.
Joshua’s win over Klitschko was probably the most important win of the year for any fighter in boxing. There’s a great chance Joshua can become the most popular and important heavyweight title holder since Mike Tyson. If that happens, he’ll be leading the current resurgence of professional boxing, something that couldn’t be realized without him beating Klitschko in the manner in which he did and answering the pertinent questions most observers have regarding the next supposed great heavyweight ruler.
A Potentially All-time Great Fighter Surged: Terence Crawford
August 9th at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, undefeated WBA/WBO junior welterweight champ Terence Crawford knocked out WBA/IBF titlist Julius Indongo in the third round. Crawford 32-0 (23), who is an orthodox fighter, came out fighting the southpaw Indongo as a southpaw. Indongo immediately attempted to give Crawford a different look while bouncing in and out, only to be met with a buzzsaw of punches every time he let his hands go. By the end of the round, Crawford had Indongo reaching and lunging for him, leaving him exposed to Crawford’s uppercuts and right hooks and straight lefts to the head. With a minute left in the second round Indongo was down and up, fighting as the prey to Crawford the predator. With a minute and a half left in the third round, Crawford set Indongo up by moving in, bluffing aggression, knowing Indongo would answer with his own counter attack – and when he did, Crawford took a half step back and ripped him with a hybrid left to the body, ending the fight with Indongo writhing on the canvas.
Terence Crawford processes what his opponent is doing and then adjusts to it so much faster than any other fighter in boxing that whoever is second is light years behind him. The Indongo fight is just the latest example. TC is the most versatile fighter/boxer in the sport with no stylistic weakness. Every fight for him unfolds differently depending on the style of his opponent. He seldom does the same thing twice and if he does, it’s only to gauge how the opponent reacts to it. He forces pressure guys to become more measured and careful. Conversely, if he senses his opponent wants to box and fight measured, he fights more aggressively, forcing them to open up. Unlike most fighters, he enters the ring with the mindset of, let me see what you want to do – and then I’ll get you away from that and force you to fight at the distance, tempo and style at which you’re least effective, and I’ll continue to make you fight from your weakness.
In 2018 Crawford will campaign as a welterweight, a division that is loaded with young killers in their prime who can both box and punch. The two alpha fighters in the division are unified WBA/WBC champ Keith Thurman and IBF champ Errol Spence. They’re both outstanding, but Crawford has enough physicality and too many dimensions in both his brain and style to be nullified by either. As the book closes on the year 2017, Crawford is the best, most complete stylistically and most versatile fighter in boxing. Whomever you think is next best resides on a different block where the real estate is taxed at a lower rate.
A Dynamic Fighter Who Has Everybody Talking Emerged: Vasyl Lomachenko
On December 9th at Madison Square Garden, WBO junior lightweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko overwhelmed former bantamweight champ Guillermo Rigondeaux so convincingly that after losing 16 minutes of a fight that only lasted 18, he surrendered on his stool.
Because he wins in a unique manner (his last four opponents accepted they had nothing to beat him with and retired on their stool) Lomachenko 10-1 (8) has created interest in seeing him fight. He may be the most dynamic fighter and best eye candy in boxing. He’s not the technical marvel he’s been painted. What he is is a tremendously gifted athlete with the best footwork and coordination in combat sports. Lomachenko is the same fighter strategically every time out and forces his opponent to think more about catching him than putting any real hurt on him.
He’s not a big puncher but he’s physically stronger than he looks. Lomachenko uses his applicable ring strength to press his opponents, making them punch across their body at him. He tantalizes them with pesky jabs and one-twos and dares them to commit……and when they do, he’s in a position where he can hit them but they can’t reach him. And the more he senses they’re tentative to punch, the more he pressures them physically and mentally to do something. After a few rounds, his opponents worry about missing and they go into a shell and with no incoming punches, Lomachenko turns it up and it becomes rinse, repeat.
Lomachenko has morphed the styles of Hector Camacho and Pernell Whitaker, two greats who were nearly impossible to hit. He will be most troubled by a fighter, most likely a tall fighter, who is pro-active and also possesses an overload of strength. The right style isn’t enough. It’ll require the style and power to give him concern when standing in front of him. The greatest gameplan will erode if the opponent doesn’t have the guns to give him a little trepidation. Lomachenko’s uniqueness has been wrongly construed as greatness (it’s too soon to confer greatness on him), but that’s okay because he is unlike any fighter today and because of that he’s great for maintaining interest in boxing. He along with Joshua and Crawford have been gifts to the fans and to the sport of boxing for 2017.
Boxing is thriving as it enters 2018!
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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