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Harrison, Hurd and Usyk earn space on best-of-2018 marquee

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By Lyle Fitzsimmons

There are a couple things I’ve always promised myself.

I barely play golf.

But if I was ever lucky enough to score a hole in one, I’ve vowed to pluck the ball out of the cup, slide the club into the bag and head straight to my car – because it’ll never get any better.

Same goes for bowling.

I consider myself a decent bowler, but If I ever was lucky enough to string together 12 strikes, I’d unlace my shoes, put down my beer and never set foot in another alley.

Problem is, I’ve never followed that advice when it’s come to boxing.

Though I probably hit my high prediction watermark a few years ago when I said – on the eve of 2011 – that Andre Ward would prove to be that year’s best fighter, it hasn’t stopped me from trying to replicate the success in each of seven tries since.

And, needless to say, I’ve never been nearly as prescient.

Which once again leaves me with the December task of having to recap the claims I made at this time last year, when I was sure I knew precisely what would happen in 2018.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Fitz’s Hits and Misses – Edition 8.

UPSET OF THE YEAR
The 12/17 Pick: Briggs KO 3 Fury
The 12/18 Reality: Harrison UD 12 Charlo

Though I’d love to suggest it was something medical, environmental or psychological that pushed me toward thinking in late 2017 that Shannon Briggs would have the stuff to contend with – and defeat – Tyson Fury, let’s go ahead and face late-2018 reality.

It was just stupid.

I was bamboozled by a heavyweight loudmouth and a then-inactive Fury, and I didn’t stop to consider that while Briggs’ vocal cords might have been ready for battle, their owner was still a second-tier guy just rattling cages in the hope that some promoter might take him up on the proposition.

Needless to say, Fury chose another direction for his 2018 activity, which left the Upset of the Year marquee open for its rightful inhabitant – twice-stopped Detroit native Tony Harrison, who closed the year out with a surprising nod over reigning 154-pound phenom Jermell Charlo.

The December decision at Barclays Center might not have been a full mandate, but the mere fact that the prohibitive underdog challenger made it competitive was a result so unexpected that it dwarfs all others in the running for the year’s ultimate surprise.

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
The 12/17 Pick: Jack KO 4 Stevenson
The 12/18 Reality: Lopez KO 1 Menard

If you haven’t seen it, I suggest an immediate side trip to YouTube.

Because lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez’s blast-out of early-December foe Mason Menard was everything that’s both exciting and terrifying about the sport we love.

The looping right hand had rendered Menard loopy as his 5-foot-6 frame hovered unsteadily before timbering face-first to the canvas.

The KO shot landed just more than half a minute into the NABF championship match and a physician intervened as referee Charlie Fitch sent Lopez to a neutral corner – making the official time 44 seconds.

And as for my pre-2018 suggestion that Badou Jack would erase Adonis Stevenson in highlight fashion… forget it.

oleksandr-usyk_3

FIGHT OF THE YEAR
The 12/17 Pick: Lomachenko SD 12 Garcia
The 12/18 Reality: Hurd SD 12 Lara

Well, it would have been a decent fight.

Had once-beaten Vasyl Lomachenko actually stepped in with unbeaten Mikey Garcia in a clash of multiple-belted titans, I’m pretty sure we’d have all enjoyed it.

The sublimely-skilled Ukrainian and the equally elite Californian were on a pseudo collision course that had connoisseurs of the sport’s mid-sized men pining for their time in the spotlight.

It’s a matchup, however, that’ll have to wait for another day and maybe another weight.

Garcia will leap all the way to 147 pounds to try his luck with Errol Spence in March, while Lomachenko recently added to his 135-pound resume with a rout of Jose Pedraza.

Still, their reluctance to meet just now created a Fight of the Year vacuum into which junior middles Jarrett Hurt and Erislandy Lara stepped with their April scrap in Las Vegas.

Hurd was trailing on all three scorecards entering the final round against Lara until he landed a short, devastating left hook that yielded a result-altering knockdown with 35 seconds to go -- enough to give him a split decision in a 154-pound unification fight at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Judges Glenn Feldman and Dave Moretti saw Hurd as a 114-113 winner, enough to retain his IBF title belt while capturing the IBO and WBA straps that Lara had arrived with. Both cards had it even at six rounds apiece, but the 10-8 margin in the 12th put Hurd over the top.

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
The 12/17 Pick: Errol Spence Jr.
The 12/18 Reality: Oleksandr Usyk

Make no mistake, Errol Spence Jr. didn’t have a bad 2018.

He began the year with a brutally one-sided erasure of veteran Lamont Peterson in January, but any hope for a legitimate Fighter of the Year bid went south when all he did for the balance of the calendar was blow out overmatched challenger Carlos Ocampo in a single round in June.

His candidacy for 2019 will get a leg up if he’s able to do something special against Mikey Garcia in March, but any real conversation for this year really ought to begin and end with Oleksandr Usyk.

The rugged Ukrainian went an impressive 3-for-3 in 2018, adding three championship belts to the one he’d possessed at the start of the year – all while traveling from Latvia to Russia to England to handle hometowners Mairis Briedis (MD 12), Murat Gassiev (UD 12) and Tony Bellew (TKO 8) in succession.

The trio of victories have prompted suggestions that Usyk is among the greatest cruiserweights of all time, and have triggered anticipation of a move to heavyweight where his all-around skills would be measured against the mammoth likes of Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.

Your move, Errol.

And Merry Christmas everyone.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s legit title-fight schedule:

SUNDAY

WBC light flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Ken Shiro (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Saul Juarez (No. 8 WBC/No. 22 IWBR)
Shiro (14-0, 8 KO): Fifth title defense; Three straight KO/TKO in title defenses (13 total rounds)
Juarez (24-8-2, 13 KO): Second title fight (0-1); One win in last six fights since 2016 (1-4-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The independent rankings say they’re just 21 slots apart, but the gap in resumes seems far larger. This should be an impressive showcase for the domestic hero champion. Shiro in 7 (99/1)

WBO junior lightweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Masayuki Ito (champion/No. 17 IWBR) vs. Evgeny Chuprakov (No. 1 WBO/No. 19 IWBR)
Ito (24-1-1, 12 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in six career 12-rounders (6-0, 3 KO)
Chuprakov (20-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in two fights outside Russia (2-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Let’s face it, neither guy is a super elite in the weight class just yet. And the rankings are pretty well even, too. In that case, we’ll make the home turf the decider. Ito by decision (51/49)

MONDAY

IBF flyweight title – Macao, China
Moruti Mthalane (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Masahiro Sakamoto (No. 14 IBF/No. 27 IWBR)
Mthalane (36-2, 24 KO): First title defense; Three wins in four fights outside South Africa (3-1, 2 KO)
Sakamoto (13-1, 9 KO): First title fight; First-round TKO win in only fight outside Japan (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: There are a lot of reasons to believe Sakamoto will be able to overcome the veteran champion, but I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger just yet. Mthalane by decision (55/45)

WBA light flyweight title – Macao, China
Hekkie Budler (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Hiroto Kyoguchi (No. 1 WBA/No. 4 IWBR)
Budler (32-3, 10 KO): First title defense; Multiple title reigns at 105 (IBO/WBA) and 108 (IBF/IBO/WBA)
Kyoguchi (11-0, 8 KO): Fourth title fight (3-0); First-round TKO win in only fight outside Japan (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: I’ve been a Budler fan for a long time and have enjoyed his repeated returns from adversity, but it feels like another dose of bad fortune might be imminent. Kyoguchi in 10 (75/25)

Vacant WBO junior bantamweight title – Macao, China
Donnie Nietes (No. 1 WBO/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Kazuto Ioka (No. 3 WBO/No. 5 IWBR)
Nietes (41-1-5, 23 KO): Eighteenth title fight (16-0-1); Past champion at 105, 108 and 112 pounds
Ioka (23-1, 13 KO): Sixteenth title fight (14-1); Past champion at 105, 108 and 112 pounds
Fitzbitz says: A terrific matchup for the die-hard set, particularly those who like the little guys. Ioka is younger, taller, longer and home, which should put him over the top. Ioka by decision (65/35)

Last week's picks: 0-3 (LOSS: Frampton, Charlo, Rosales)
2018 picks record: 89-38 (70.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,009-342 (74.6 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 fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.

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User Comments and Feedback
Comment by Boxing lives on 12-25-2018

Usyk is fighter of the year. Upset of the year should have been Fury over Wilder, but judging is a terrible thing in this sport. Fury was robbed of his upset of the year, but Harrison's heist of Charlo's belt…

Comment by ruedboy on 12-25-2018

When you call the Harrison fight the upset of the year,you give legitimacy to a bad decision and that doesn't help the sport at all.

Comment by ShoulderRoll on 12-25-2018

Did you guys think Lomachenko won in a "rout" over Pedraza? I didn't see it that way, the fight was a lot tougher for Lomachenko than many were expecting going in.

Comment by wildman on 12-25-2018

Harrison-Charlo was a robbery, not an upset. Also, the KO of the year should be scored against a world class fighter, not a journeyman. Otherwise a decent article. Usyk definitely fighter of the year.

Comment by MrShakeAndBake on 12-25-2018

[QUOTE=kidbazooka;19384661]These guys at bsn are pro euro or pro black they give no props to Latino fighters. Canelo’s win is waaaay greater than anything those other hype jobs did. Is this place euro based?[/QUOTE] Getting gift win from GGG and…

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