By Andreas Hale
When the final bell rang on May 2nd, 2015, it may as well been the gong of the Undertaker as the highly anticipated but woefully unexciting super fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao signaled the end of boxing for the mainstream. And who could blame them for feeling that way? A fight that the world anticipated for a half a decade comes together and ends up being a one-sided exhibition that left just about everyone feeling like they had been hoodwinked and bamboozled. And what was left after Mayweather-Pacquiao?
The two biggest stars in boxing had finally met with little to no reason for them to ever fight again. The sport had yet to crown its next big crossover star. To liken it to the wonderful world of professional wrestling, it was like watching the WrestleMania X-Seven main event between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin that signaled the end of an era. The business struggled immediately after what was arguably the biggest WrestleMania main event the company had seen and took some time to find its footing again.
To make matters worse, the UFC was doing everything right that boxing was doing wrong. From putting together events with can’t miss undercards to the creation of crossover stars who could both fight and capture the imagination of the mainstream.
2016 ended up being a banner year for the promotion as Conor McGregor took the combat sports world by storm and headlined a trio of events that eclipsed the one million PPV buys mark. With the Irishman leading the charge, the UFC sold for a whopping $4 billion and it appeared that perhaps the best was yet to come. Meanwhile, boxing had a strong, but not necessarily outstanding 2016.
With Mayweather absent, the PPV torch was passed to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, but the Mexican’s 2016 competition (Amir Khan and Liam Smith) left fight fans feeling empty as the fight they really wanted was one with Gennady Golovkin. New stars were making their mark (Vasily Lomachenko, Anthony Joshua, Terence Crawford, but it was mere groundwork. For all intents and purposes, boxing was still relatively “dead” to casual fans who sought a landmark event to declare the sport was off life support. Boxing didn’t have that in 2016, but it planted the seeds for one hell of a 2017.
Oh, and what a year it was.
Starting with the two biggest pay per views, boxing gave us the circus and the fight. Floyd Mayweather returned to collect his nickname with a blockbuster showdown against UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. Yes, it was a joke of a fight but casual fans didn’t know any better. A world tour proved that no matter what hardcore boxing fans thought, the mainstream had pushed all of their chips into the center of the table for this fight. Every talking head in sports talked about it, regardless of their knowledge of the sweet science.
By the time fight night arrived, Mayweather made the smart decision to stand toe-to-toe with McGregor in a bout that was more exciting than it had any business being just so those in attendance would feel like they got their money’s worth. Less than a month later, the hardcore fans were gifted with the Canelo-GGG fight where the big attraction met the savage with a smile. Not only did the fans get they fight they had been clamoring for, a rare thing happened when the fight actually lived up to the hype. Aside from an atrocious scorecard, the split draw only left fans salivating for a return meeting between the two.
The boxing is dead talk had to cease.
But aside from those two fights, boxing simply had remarkable fights for the entire year. A Fight of the Year contender between Badou Jack and James DeGale kicked off the year while another FOY contender closed it with Orlando Salido being sent to retirement after an epic clash with Mickey Roman. Speaking of retirement, Andre Ward sailed into the sunset after proving his pound for pound status by scoring an 8th round TKO over Sergey Kovalev. Oh, and speaking of pound for pound, Vasily Lomachenko put the universe on notice with a 2017 that saw him run roughshod over previously unbeaten Guillermo Rigondeaux. While on the subject, the previous P4P king, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was knocked off his perch in a massive upset by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in March. And to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, Sor Rungvisai wrecked Chocolatito in four rounds when they met again in September.
Remember how everyone was worried about the heavyweight division? Well, say no more because Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko put on a war for the ages in Wembley Stadium that saw Joshua eventually finish off the man who ruled the division with an iron fist for north of a decade. Deontay Wilder saw what Joshua did, said “hold my beer” and ransacked Bermaine Stiverne with a one-sided demolition in November.
There was also highly anticipated showdowns between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton, GGG’s war with Daniel Jacobs and many others. Elsewhere, Jermell and Jermall Charlo put the junior middleweight division on notice with twin displays of power, Terence Crawford proved that he just might be the man who holds the top spot on the P4P list for years to come (but not if Errol Spence has a say), the return of Mikey Garcia, etc.
Forgive me if I missed your favorite moment but that’s just how spectacular the year in the sweet science was. It didn’t hurt that the UFC struggled mightily over the past twelve months as McGregor took his talents to the squared circle and a rash of injuries crippled many of their events.
So, for any fool who has the gall to suggest that “boxing is dead,” 2017 put that nonsensical notion to rest. And if somebody is still stating that the sweet science is on life support, they are simply a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. Unfriend them on Facebook, block them on Twitter, do whatever it takes to get rid of them because they cannot be converted.
Simply put, boxing just might have had one of its best year’s ever. And 2018 will hopefully keep that momentum going.