By Lyle Fitzsimmons, photo by PBC
If you’ve gotten to this point and aren’t happy, it’s your own fault.
You should have seen it coming last week.
As has become early January tradition in this Tuesday morning space, we proactively greet the New Year with a preview of stories other boxing scribes will be reacting to about 12 months from now.
Of course, if you recall from last week, 2016 was a forecasting year to ignore… if not forget.
But hope springs eternal, so – in the recurring quest to match the glory of our spot-on advance pick of Andre Ward as fighter of the year in 2011 – we’re giving it another go for 2017.
Unlike football, baseball or their collective ilk, there are no master schedules from which to pluck events to predict. And even if I was prescient enough to know now which fights would be made between which guys, say, next October, there's always a chance that three people sitting on the ring's perimeter would pound my forecasting into dust with their definition of what constitutes a “boxing lesson.”
But those are excuses and gripes for another day.
Today is a day of forward thinking, and with that, here’s a look at what we’ll all be looking back on next Christmas.
And if even some of this stuff actually happens… it’s going to be a good year for all of us.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: Wladimir Klitschko
In most cases, the mere suggestion a fighter in his late 30s could listlessly lose a fight, take more than a year off and come back at age 41 to compete with an unbeaten 20-something would be dismissed as trauma-induced heresy.
But Wladimir Klitschko isn’t your garden variety 41-year-old.
The aging Ukrainian behemoth was clearly revved by the challenge of a young, strong – albeit inexperienced – Anthony Joshua, and he officially shook off any remnants of a Tyson Fury hangover by outclassing the 2012 Olympic king on the way to a merciful ninth-round stoppage.
A post-fight confrontation with Deontay Wilder was noisy and click-worthy, but “Dr. Steelhammer” dismissed the American as a worthwhile opponent, focusing instead on a rematch with Fury – whom he took down with another wide decision in the back half of the year.
UPSET OF THE YEAR: Julio Cesar Chavez TKO 10 Canelo Alvarez
Whaddya know, the legend’s kid can still fight a bit.
Though he’d fallen through the relevance cracks with no-shows against the likes of Brian Vera and Andrzej Fonfara, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was ushered back to the main stage as the recognizable B-side of a Mexican blowout with pay-per-view king Canelo Alvarez in May.
The 30-something had shown little grit since his days as a middleweight, but it was apparent by ripped abs that the prospect of a headlining gig created training camp urgency.
His ring entrance at better than 180 pounds made him the decidedly bigger man come fight night, too, and he was able to withstand Alvarez’s onslaught before gradually imposing his will. Alvarez was cut and bruised entering the fight’s final quarter, and excessive blood led to a doctor-ordered end in Round 10.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: Danny Garcia KO 8 Keith Thurman
It’s official, welterweight thrill rides are a young man’s game.
Though the division has recently been headlined by guys on the long-toothed side of their 35th birthdays, the signing of the March 6 unification match between outspoken Floridian Keith Thurman and confident Philadelphian Danny Garcia was another indication of a new age at 147 pounds.
And by the time they reached the ring, the back and forth banter between the 28-year-olds left everyone expecting nothing less than a firefight. It didn’t come immediately – thanks to a prolonged scratch and sniff session through the first six rounds – but when it did arrive, it was worth it.
Thurman wobbled his less dynamic foe in the seventh round, but spent his tank in a failed effort to finish the show. He was a compromised product come the eighth, and had little with which to reply when Garcia landed two booming lefts in the initial 90 seconds. Two knockdowns later and “Swift” was the king of the young lions.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR: Naoya Inoue KO 11 Roman Gonzalez
Then again, maybe action isn’t the birthright of those weighing more than 120 pounds.
Matched with a guy who’d finally become a pound-for-pound darling after a multi-division climb lasting eight years, Japanese slugger Naoya Inoue aimed for a far speedier career-defining win after he’d already secured two world titles in his first eight fights.
The 24-year-old started fast and battered the comparatively old – at age 30 – Roman Gonzalez through five rounds, then was forced to prove his junior bantamweight mettle as the bloodied and swollen “Chocolatito” began returning fire with a defiant sneer.
The action continued to-and-fro into the would-be championship rounds, before a single right hand from Inoue reduced the four-weight claimant to a motionless heap along the ropes in Round 11.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Terence Crawford
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Though he burst from the shadows and won Fighter of the Year honors a couple years ago, there were some outliers still not convinced Terence Crawford was among the world’s best.
It’s not a mistake they’re likely to make again.
The proud Nebraskan established 135- and 140-pound supremacy before entering 2017 with his sights set on higher-profile welterweight quarry. That quest ultimately led him to promotional stablemate Manny Pacquiao in the year’s biggest PPV event, and it turned out to be a competitive overreach for the Filipino, who couldn’t solve the dual-sided riddle and retired again following a 117-111 scorecard rout.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: 4-2 (WIN: Yaegashi, Inoue, Ioka, Tanaka; LOSS: Guzman, Corrales)
Final 2016 picks record: 93-26 (78.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 826-274 (75.0 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.