Dmitry Bivol entered the biggest fight of his career as a man without a country.

The starting point of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine created a ripple effect in boxing. The WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO presented a joint ruling on February 24 to not sanction any boxing events taking place in Russia or Belarus in response to the war. The WBA took the extra step in replacing fighters from either nation in its rankings with a “#NoWar” disclaimer in the nation category and “Not Rated” where the fighter’s name was previously listed.

The question at the time was whether it would apply at the championship level.

At the time, Bivol—a Kyrgyzstan-born boxer who has lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia since age eleven—had signed to defend his WBA light heavyweight title versus Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, the 2021 Fighter of the Year and reigning undisputed super middleweight champion who would move up in weight. Both boxers held court in San Diego for their official announcement on March 1, a little more than two months ahead of their May 7 DAZN Pay-Per-View event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The question arose of whether the fight would proceed even if the WBA ruled that the belt would not be at stake. The sanctioning body’s Pursuit of Peace mandate cleared a path for the fight to proceed with original stakes intact.

Bivol was able to handle the rest from there.

It came with exception, however. Bivol could not draw any reference to his Russia homeland per Rule of the WBA’s Pursuit For Peace order. He pushed past that distinction, along with the odds literally stacked against him as he was viewed as a +400 betting underdog by bet365 sportsbook, which listed Alvarez as a -550 favorite to dethrone the long-reigning titlist and coast into his September 17 trilogy clash with Gennadiy Golovkin.

The only part that rang true by fight’s end was Alvarez-Golovkin III remaining intact. Alvarez limped into the third fight with the stigma of having been soundly outclassed by Bivol, who turned in a career-best performance against the sport’s biggest star and universally regarded pound-for-pound king.

Judges Tim Cheatham (115-113), Dave Moretti (115-113) and Steve Weisfeld (115-113) all saw a closer fight than what was believed to be the case by most observers. The universal take—no matter the final score—was that Bivol was the clear winner on a night that saw him effortlessly overcome politics both within the sport and on a global scale.

Instead, Bivol collected a long elusive career-defining win after years spent as a high-risk, low-reward titleholder.

The 32-year-old boxer’s next fight came with far greater fanfare than was the case in any other bout not featuring Alvarez. The industry knew better this time around than to doubt Bivol’s chances versus Mexico’s Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez, the unbeaten mandatory challenger and former WBO super middleweight titlist.

Their November 5 meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates saw Bivol fully justify the odds significantly in his favor, jumping out to a strong start and never looking back as he delivered a tour-de-force performance. Judges Stanley Christodoulou (117-111), Pawel Kardyni (117-111) and Jean-Robert Laine (118-110) all ruled heavily in favor of Bivol, who lodged his tenth successful defense which came five years—almost to the day—of his first-round knockout of Trent Broadhurst immediately following his upgrade to the WBA’s primary light heavyweight titleholder.

It concluded an unlikely ring campaign that saw Bivol dismiss out-of-ring adversity to cement his place among the sport’s elite. A year that began with the world telling him to expect little support given the political landscape, ends with Bivol serving as a slam dunk choice as’s 2022 Fighter of the Year.

The runners-up for’s 2022 “Fighter of the Year” award are listed below, in alphabetical order.

Jermell Charlo: With the sport back at full health, a one-fight campaign normally wouldn’t garner any consideration for this category. Houston’s Charlo (35-1-1, 19KOs) made his one shot count, though, in a tenth-round knockout of unbeaten Brian Castano in their May 14 rematch. The win saw Charlo fully unify the junior middleweight division, adding Castano’s WBO belt to his collection that included the lineal/WBC/WBA/IBF titles, while also greatly improving on his performance in their questionable split decision draw last July.   

Hector Luis Garcia: Far and away the year’s biggest surprise. The unbeaten Dominican has largely flown under the radar since turning pro after representing his nation in the 2016 Rio Olympics. His breakout performance came on short notice, replacing an ill Roger Gutierrez to not only upset previously unbeaten Chris Colbert but do so in dominant fashion. Garcia (16-0, 10KOs; 3NC) followed up with a twelve-round win over Gutierrez in August to claim the WBA junior lightweight title, which he has parlayed into a lucrative January 7 showdown versus Gervonta Davis.

Devin Haney: The Las Vegas-based boxer cemented his status as the leader of the pack after twice dominating former unbeaten and unified champ George Kambosos Jr. Both fights took place in Melbourne, Australia, with Haney (29-0, 15KOs) entering their June 5 undisputed championship uncertain over the status of his father/head trainer Bill Haney being able to make the trip due to a visa issue. The family was reunited just in time for Haney to turn in a career-best performance and—at 23—become the youngest undisputed champion in the four-belt era. Their October rematch was just as dominant for Haney, who now eyes a title defense versus former three-division titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko next spring to get a jump on the 2023 Fighter of the Year race.

Naoya Inoue: It says a lot of his talent level that Yokohama’s Inoue (24-0, 21KOs) settles for Honorable Mention after dethroning two reigning titlists to become undisputed bantamweight champion. The three-division champ and pound-for-pound entrant entered as a significant betting favorite to topple Nonito Donaire in their June 7 rematch, blasting out the four-division champ and reigning WBC 118-pound titlist inside of two rounds to add to his lineal, WBA and IBF collection. Inoue then effortlessly dismantled WBO titlist Paul Buter inside of eleven rounds in their December 13 undisputed clash to become the first Asian undisputed champion in the multi-belt era.

Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez: The sport’s most active titlist, San Antonio’s Rodriguez (17-0, 11KOs) emerged as a can’t miss rising star following three wins on the year. Rodriguez defeated former champ Carlos Cuadras for the vacant WBC 115-pound title on February 4, replacing an ill Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and moving up in weight on just six days’ notice to become the sport’s first 2000-born boxer to win a major title. He defended it twice, knocking out former two-time champ Sor Rungvisai inside of eight rounds in a June 25 San Antonio homecoming before outpointing two-time title challenger Israel Gonzalez over twelve rounds on the Canelo Alvarez-Gennadiy Golovkin September 17 undercard in Las Vegas.  

Kenshiro Teraji: Two wins on the year saw the flame-throwing Teraji (20-1, 12KOs) avenge his lone career defeat and obliterate his previously unbeaten countryman to live up to his ‘Amazing Boy’ ring moniker. The 30-year-old Kyoto native regained his WBC junior flyweight title in violent fashion, knocking out Masamichi Yabuki in the third round of their March 19 rematch to avenge a tenth-round knockout loss from last September which came after recovering from Covid. Teraji established himself as the elite of the 108-pound division following a one-sided, seventh-round stoppage of Hiroto Kyoguchi in their November 1 WBC/WBA junior flyweight title fight, just the second-ever time that two Japanese titlists met in a unification match.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox