By Keith Idec
You won’t hear or read much debate about boxing’s “Fight of the Year” for 2017.
Fans, media and fighters themselves seem to largely agree that Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko did something incomparably special April 29 in London. Ask who’s the “Fighter of the Year,” however, and you’re bound to receive various answers.
Terence Crawford, Mikey Garcia, Vasyl Lomachenko and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai were among the boxers that accomplished a lot this year and made strong cases to win this award. But based on the magnitude of Joshua’s dramatic comeback against Klitschko and what the British superstar’s superb performance did to rejuvenate the all-important heavyweight division – coupled with his relatively easy, 10th-round stoppage of Carlos Takam in his next bout – BoxingScene.com has chosen Joshua as its “Fighter of the Year.”
The 6-feet-6, 250-pound Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs) isn’t as skilled as Crawford, Garcia or Lomachenko. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist also didn’t knock off boxing’s pound-for-pound king, the way Sor Rungvisai did when he upset Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez on March 18 at Madison Square Garden.
But no active fighter in boxing made more of an impact on the sport than the 28-year-old Joshua did in 2017.
By getting off the canvas in the sixth round to stop Ukraine’s Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs) in the 11th round of their heavyweight title fight, Joshua cemented himself as the heavyweight to beat in the sport. The fact that their unforgettable, back-and-forth slugfest drew an enormous capacity crowd of approximately 90,000 to Wembley Stadium cannot be overstated, either.
That incredible crowd, and then the roughly 78,000 that showed up to Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, to watch Joshua overpower Cameroon’s Takam (35-4-1, 27 KOs) on October 28, demonstrated the undefeated knockout artist’s unprecedented star power in the United Kingdom.
For those that don’t attend his fights, Joshua has become must-see TV because he has knocked out each of his 20 professional opponents.
RUNNERS-UP FOR BOXINGSCENE.COM “FIGHTER OF THE YEAR” (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
TERENCE CRAWFORD: The undefeated Crawford warranted serious consideration for this award because he was dominant during two wins against top 140-pound opponents.
In his first fight of 2017, the Omaha, Nebraska, native picked apart former Dominican Olympian Felix Diaz on his way to a technical knockout victory May 20 at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was evident early in that fight that Diaz (19-2, 9 KOs), a southpaw who had lost only majority decision to Lamont Peterson, would have the same degree of difficulty as most of Crawford’s previous opponents.
Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs) was way ahead on all three scorecards (100-90, 100-90, 99-91) when Diaz decided 10 one-sided rounds were more than enough. That convincing victory moved Crawford toward a rare full title unification fight against Julius Indongo on August 19 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The versatile Crawford was even more impressive against Indongo. He floored Indongo during the second round, before finishing the tall Namibian southpaw with a perfectly placed, temporarily paralyzing left hand to his opponent’s midsection in the third round.
Crawford, who entered their 140-pound title unification fight with the WBC and WBO titles, won the IBF and WBA championships from Indongo (22-1, 11 KOs). That made him the first fully unified champion in any division since Jermain Taylor beat Bernard Hopkins for the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO middleweight titles in July 2005.
The 30-year-old Crawford has since moved up to welterweight. He is expected to make his 147-pound debut against WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn (18-0-1, 11 KOs) sometime in April.
MIKEY GARCIA: The unbeaten Garcia began 2017 by becoming a three-division champion in emphatic fashion.
The 30-year-old Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) knocked out Montenegro’s Dejan Zlaticanin (23-1, 16 KOs) in the third round to win the WBC lightweight title January 28 in Las Vegas. The hard-hitting Garcia’s crushing right hand knocked Zlaticanin unconscious at MGM Grand Garden Arena and his performance drew strong consideration for BoxingScene.com’s “Knockout of the Year” award.
Rather than defend his WBC 135-pound championship in his following fight, Garcia choose to move up to 140 pounds for a 12-round fight against Adrien Broner. Garcia was a decisive favorite before that bout, but Broner has won world titles in four weight classes and the talented Cincinnati native had succeeded as high as welterweight.
None of that mattered to Garcia, who thoroughly out-boxed Broner (33-3, 24 KOs, 1 NC) on his way to winning a 12-round unanimous decision July 29 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Based on what he has accomplished this year, Garcia is now a consensus top-10 fighter on pound-for-pound lists. He’ll remain at 140 pounds for his next fight, a shot at IBF junior welterweight champion Sergey Lipinets (13-0, 10 KOs) on February 10 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
VASYL LOMACHENKO: The WBO super featherweight champion’s dominance this year is impossible to ignore.
The skillful southpaw from Ukraine made each of his three opponents quit in 2017, an unusual feat for even elite boxers. His overall level of opposition this year wasn’t optimal, however, even though that’s partially due to top opponents in his weight class being unwilling to fight Lomachenko or requesting unreasonable purses.
His second victim of the year, Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga, moved up from featherweight to super featherweight to challenge Lomachenko and had lost his previous fight 3½ months earlier to WBO 126-pound champion Oscar Valdez. The third fighter Lomachenko beat this year, Guillermo Rigondeaux, was unbeaten, but moved up two weight classes, from 122 pounds to 130, to battle Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) and had participated in three rounds combined over the previous two years.
Lomachenko himself minimized the importance of his technical-knockout win against Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs, 1 NC) on December 9 in New York because the 37-year-old Rigondeaux competed so high above his natural weight.
Nevertheless, the 29-year-old Lomachenko started the year strong by completely out-classing former WBA super featherweight champion Jason Sosa on April 8 in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs), of Camden, New Jersey, declined to continue following nine one-sided rounds in that bout.
Then Lomachenko made Marriaga (25-3, 21 KOs) quit after seven rounds August 5 in Los Angeles. He concluded the year by stopping Cuba’s Rigondeaux, who claimed a left hand injury prohibited him from continuing following six rounds.
SRISAKET SOR RUNGVISAI: The Thai southpaw pulled off one of the biggest upsets of 2017 when he came to Madison Square Garden and defeated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, then the No.1 fighter on numerous pound-for-pound lists.
Sor Rungvisai got off to a strong start in that March 18 bout by dropping Gonzalez in the first round. Gonzalez rallied during the second half of their 12-round fight, but Sor Rungvisai overcame Gonzalez’s comeback and a point deduction for a head-butt in the sixth round to win a majority decision.
He won back the WBC super flyweight title he lost by technical decision to Carlos Cuadras in May 2014 and knocked off boxing’s pound-for-pound king. Sor Rungvisai’s crowing achievement still caused controversy because some believe Gonzalez deserved a narrow win over him.
Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KOs) eliminated any doubt about his superiority in their rematch September 9 in Carson, California. He began beating up Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs) in the first round and made it immediately clear he wouldn’t lose the WBC 115-pound championship again that night.
In the fourth round, Sor Rungvisai knocked down Gonzalez twice. A picture-perfect right hook dropped Gonzalez the second time.
Referee Tom Taylor waved an immediate end to the fight as Gonzalez was sprawled out, flat on his back, with his arms spread.
Sor Rungvisai, 31, is scheduled to make another defense of his title against Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs), his mandatory challenger, on February 24 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.