By Michael Rosenthal
Many big-name fighters found success in 2017, from both boxing and business standpoints. Others weren’t as fortunate.
In this special Weekend Review, we give you some of the biggest winners and losers of the past calendar year.
Vasyl Lomachenko: I wondered when (if?) we’d see a fighter with Floyd Mayweather’s ability again after he retired. I wondered the same thing after Manny Pacquiao began to decline. When would we witness another run as thrilling as Pacman’s between 2008 and 2010?
Lomachenko might be Mayweather and Pacquiao rolled into one.
Everyone marvels at the two-time Olympic champion’s skills, particularly his footwork. He’s almost always in the right place at the right time. His ability to hit and not be hit follows in the tradition of Mayweather, although their styles are completely different.
And while he doesn’t have Pacquiao’s punching power, his methodical ability to land hard punches seems to take the soul of his opponents. The last four, each utterly overwhelmed, quit in their corners.
The latest was pound-for-pounder Guillermo Rigondeaux’s on December 9. That victory was his coming out of sorts, proof positive that he had once-in-a-generation ability. Rigondeaux is superb boxer; Lomachenko is something beyond that.
One could argue that Gennady Golovkin was next in line to become No. 1 pound-for-pound after Andre Ward retired but who really believes GGG is better than Lomachenko? No one I know. If anyone rivals Lomachenko, it’s Terence Crawford.
And Lomachenko has more flare than Mayweather.
Mayweather also embarrassed his opponents but the patterns of his fights became so repetitive that they ceased to be interesting, particularly late in his career. He was more concerned with winning that putting on a show, which requires risks.
Lomachenko doesn’t have Pacquaio’s punching power but he’s willing to take more chances than Mayweather did, which makes him much more interesting to watch than “Money.” The way he dances and destroys at the same time is as mesmerizing as anything I’ve seen in more than a quarter of century covering boxing.
I doubt Lomachenko will ever approach the earning power of Mayweather or even Pacquiao, although he is in the process of becoming a very wealthy man. But from a boxing standpoint he is beginning to reach their level.
I’ll write the same thing about Lomachenko that I wrote around the time Pacquiao was at his peak: Enjoy him while you can. It doesn’t last forever.
OTHER 2017 WINNERS
Anthony Joshua – Joshua might be the biggest winner from a business standpoint. His classic knockout of Wladimir Klitschko in my Fight of the Year put him over the top in terms of earning power in the U.K. If he continues to win, he could become the richest active boxer.
Mikey Garcia – There was reason to wonder whether he would ever be the same after his long hiatus from the sport. He proved in 2017 that he is better than ever, perhaps even good enough to become the top fighter in the world.
Terence Crawford – It was more of the same for Crawford, who has dazzled fans for several years. He needs his defining fight, though. He could find it at 147 pounds.
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor – They earned ridiculous paydays even though everyone with a brain knew their “fight” was not competitive.
Roman Gonzalez: Gonzalez was the No. 1 fighter pound-for-pound one day, a has-been the next. Or so it seemed.
The four-division titleholder was at or near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound list going into his junior bantamweight title defense against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on March 18, so dominating had he been the past decade
There were questions after he struggled to beat Carlos Cuadras in his previous fight. Had the former strawweight gone up one division too many? Was wear and tear beginning to take a toll on him? Still, he clung to the top spot.
And then the little Nicaraguan came crashing down, figuratively and then literally. Sor Rungvisai, one of the year’s biggest winners, stunned him and the boxing world by winning a majority decision that night and then followed up with a one-punch, knockout-of-the-year candidate in their surrealistic rematch on September 9.
The image of Gonzalez lying flat on his back for several minutes after the fight ended was hard to comprehend and disturbing at the same time. After all, it wasn’t long ago that he seemed to be unbeatable.
Indeed, rarely in boxing do you see such an exalted fighter fall so quickly and so completely as Gonzalez in 2017.
Retirement was a viable option after the knockout loss but he evidently isn’t going anywhere yet. His manager told BoxingScene that Gonzalez probably will make his return to the ring in April, although he could end up on the Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez card in May if that rematch takes place.
Can Gonzalez, 30, rebound psychologically after such a devastating knockout? Can he compete at an elite level at 115 pounds? He has not indicated he will move back down to 112. Has his body simply taken too much punishment?
We’ll know more in April or May but I, for one, believe Gonzalez’s best years are far behind him.
OTHER 2017 LOSERS
Sergey Kovalev – The former light heavyweight titleholder not only was stopped by Andre Ward in their rematch; most believe he quit. That perception is tough to shake. He started the rebuilding process by stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyy last month.
Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez – GGG and Alvarez are anything but losers but each had a frustrating year in the ring. Golovkin waited his entire career for big fights and then fell short when he got them, struggling to beat Danny Jacobs and settling for a draw with Alvarez (even though most thought GGG won). Alvarez hadn’t faced a legitimate threat since Miguel Cotto in 2015 and then lost to GGG, at least in the eyes of most observers. Of course, they both can take solace in the millions they earned.
James DeGale – When a fighter loses his desire, he has lost everything. And DeGale seemed to go through the motions in his loss to Caleb Truax on December 9. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist could be finished at 31 years old.
Deontay Wilder – Wilder is a loser only because he has continually lost opponents because of failed drug tests. Here’s hoping that Wilder finally gets a big fight or two in 2018.