As we charge fearlessly into 2016, boxing fans look back at 2015 with decidedly mixed feelings as the year was clearly a mixed bag of the good, the bad, the surprising, and yes, the ugly. The year marks a major transition in boxing on at least three fronts: the fading of huge stars, the emergence of Al Haymon and his PBC network, and, at long last, a big shake-up in traditionally the sport’s most popular division, the heavyweights. If change is needed, and it’s clear to most that it is, then perhaps 2015 marks a shift for boxing in the right direction. In any case, there’s been some serious shifting.
For some mainstream fans though, boxing continues to be in decline and deserves to be the target of scorn and ridicule. Exhibit A on this count would be the outcome of one of the biggest events in the sport’s history and the biggest letdown of 2015: Mayweather vs Pacquiao. Five years in the making, this match turned out to be less a compelling contest and more just an orgy of blatant greed.
Mayweather had run out of both opponents and excuses, and the various vested interests had run out of patience. It was time to cash in and cash in The Money Team, Showtime, HBO and Top Rank did, to an absurd degree. But the richest event in boxing history failed to live up to the hype in any way, shape or form, the main event a tedious exercise between two boxers long past their primes. The millions who paid record high ticket and pay-per-view prices were left feeling completely ripped off. It was a fantastic night for boxing as a business, but a horrible one for boxing as a sport.
Thankfully, the Floyd & Manny era appears to be coming to an end (though, who knows; maybe a rematch in Macau with Floyd earning a billion dollars is part of the master plan). Mayweather announced his retirement after earning another huge payday for a 12 round sparring exhibition with Andre Berto and then announced his retirement. Few believe he won’t be coming back at some point in the near future to take his undefeated record to an even 50-0 and cash in yet again, but for now, let’s take him at his word. Suffice to say, few are genuinely sad to see him go, the proof being the tepid reception for Floyd’s farewell fight. It was a dud, drawing a relatively sparse crowd to the MGM Grand and barely registering as a major event for most media outlets. The match was proof positive that Floyd’s box-office clout in recent years had more to do with the fervent desire to see him finally face Manny Pacquiao than it was about his own appeal.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao is gearing up for what may be his final fight, a third and rather pointless clash with Timothy Bradley in April, and it may turn out to be a bigger bust than Mayweather vs Berto. After all, it’s obvious that Manny is finished. Last May, in the biggest fight of his career, he gave one of his worst performances. Give Floyd as much credit as you like; the fact remains Pacquiao appeared tentative, ring-worn and a full step slower than he did a year or two ago, a fact which should surprise no one since the man is now 37. Despite the fact that, in the age of high-potency supplements and PED’s, more boxers appear to be competing at an elite level longer than ever before, the simple fact remains: both Floyd and Manny are, in athletic terms, senior citizens.
But if boxing’s two biggest stars of recent years have dimmed, the man behind the huge paydays Floyd collected and, presumably, who orchestrated the glorious greed-fest of last May, continues to work towards becoming the sun in boxing’s solar system with all other entities revolving around him, even though, legally speaking, Al Haymon remains a simple ‘advisor.’ But no one doubts Haymon is in charge of Premier Boxing Champions, the new series which came to the fore in 2015, offering long-suffering fight fans something they hadn’t enjoyed in many years: significant matches between top pro boxers on free television.
At last count, some eight different television networks are airing PBC events, in various locales and on a frequent basis. Since March, when the PBC series began with a dreary match between Adrien Broner and John Molina followed by Keith Thurman’s win over Robert Guerrero, boxing fans have been able to watch, for free, some 50 different fight cards. The jury is still out as to whether or not PBC is a successful enterprise, and many have criticized Haymon’s matchmaking, but the bottom line is, more fights accessible to more people has to be viewed as a positive thing. Though clearly, this is not a universally held view.
2015 was the start of Premier Boxing Champions, possibly the end of the Floyd-Manny era, and also, the year when the heavyweight division finally came to life again. This too must be viewed as a positive development for the sport at large, unless of course you are a Wladimir Klitschko fan. For far too long the weight class which in the past was boxing’s biggest and brightest stage had become almost inconsequential as “Dr. Steelhammer,” possibly the most boring heavyweight champion in history (top five, at the very least) bested a long series of no-hopers. On the rare occasion Klitschko faced a credible threat, he became the master of the clutch and grab, using his mammoth size and customary weight advantage to nullify any offensive output. And put fight fans to sleep.
Enter Tyson Fury. Few thought the undefeated Britisher had the stuff to unseat the champion, but everyone hoped; how refreshing to see those hopes fulfilled. At the very least, Fury’s upset win and outspoken personality bring new life to the big men, as does the emergence of Florida-based Cuban heavyweight Luis “King Kong” Ortiz, who looked impressive in his recent stoppage win over Bryant Jennings.
Other positive stories point to the future. 2015 saw both Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin cement their status as top attractions. Golovkin dominated all three foes he faced this past year, including impressive wins over legit top contender Martin Murray and fellow middleweight belt-holder David Lemieux. Golovkin vs Lemieux became one of the year’s most anticipated matches, though the pay-per-view numbers showed GGG has some distance to travel before he can be regarded a legit crossover star. That said, he sold out Madison Square Garden, something Wladimir Klitschko failed to do in April against Bryant Jennings.
But with his huge win over Miguel Cotto and a legion of passionate Latin-American fans behind him, Alvarez is an even bigger box-office draw. The inevitable Canelo vs Golovkin showdown for middleweight supremacy should be the biggest fight of 2016 (emphasis on ‘should’).
Another positive story was the emergence of flyweight Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez as a new star, appearing as he did on the undercard of two of Golovkin’s matches and thus getting the major attention his sophisticated skills deserve. Both Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria, on paper at least, looked to be significant challenges, but instead they were anything but for the Nicaraguan maestro who is now viewed by many, if not most, as pound-for-pound the best boxer in the world. 2015 was his breakout year and we can only hope 2016 will see him face off against even better opposition. A showdown with last year’s Fighter of the Year, Naoya Inoue of Japan, is one of the best matches that can be made in the sport, if indeed it can be made.
Here in The Fight City, 2015 saw plenty of action and developments bode well for the future. The two well-established power-brokers, Groupe Yvon Michel and Interbox, are alive and kicking, the former making moves with Al Haymon and PBC, the latter co-promoting one of Montreal’s biggest events and most thrilling fights, Jean Pascal vs Sergey Kovalev. The two also collaborated on Lucian Bute’s comeback fights which drew respectable crowds and re-established Bute as a major attraction. Grant Brothers Boxing and Rixa Promotions are emerging as a major force as their regular shows offers boxing fans some of the best action to be seen anywhere. Indeed, the Francis Lafreniere vs Aubrey Morrow battle for the Canadian Middleweight championship was one of the most ferocious fights of the year with Lafreniere winning by an eighth round stoppage in an absolute war.
Eye of the Tiger Management enjoyed a huge year as they collaborated with both Golden Boy Promotions and HBO and saw the star of their stable, David Lemieux, win a world title at the Bell Centre in an exciting battle against Hassan N’Dam, before going on to challenge Golovkin. Dierry Jean also fought for a world championship, giving a game effort against Terence Crawford. Indeed, with GYM resurrecting their boxing series at Casino de Montreal, Grant Brothers/Rixa staging several shows per year, and EOTTM continuing their new “Fight Club” series, 2016 could be a banner year for boxing in The Fight City.
All this to say, if 2015 was a less-than-stellar year for the sport, it was, in a number of ways, better than 2014, and there are many fights and fighters deserving of our accolades as we take a moment to look back. Without further ado, here are The Fight City’s nominations in our seven major award categories, as voted on by our staff.
KO of the Year:
Canelo Alvarez KO3 James Kirkland
Randall Bailey KO7 Shusaku Fujinaka
Gabriel Bracero KO 1 Danny O’Connor
Krzysztof Glowacki KO11 Marco Huck
Ola Afolabi KO 5 Rakhim Chakhkiev
Zolani Tete TKO8 Paul Butler
Round of the Year:
Daniel Jacobs vs Sergio Mora, round 1
Akira Yaegashi vs Javier Mendoza, round 11
Edwin Rodriguez vs Michael Seals, round 1
K. Glowacki vs M. Huck, round 6
Amir Iman vs Fidel Maldonado, round 3
L. Matthysse vs R. Provodnikov, round 11
Robbery of the Year:
Nicholas Walters D10 Jason Sosa
Jean Pascal W12 Yunieski Gonazalez
Keita Obara D12 Walter Castillo
Robert Guerrero W10 Aron Martinez
Lamont Peterson W10 Felix Diaz
Upset of the Year:
Tyson Fury W12 Wladimir Klitschko
Adrian Granados TKO8 Amir Iman
Daniel Jacobs TKO1 Peter Quillin
Aron Martinez W10 Devon Alexander
Krzysztof Glowacki KO11 Marco Huck
Victor Postol KO10 Lucas Matthysse
Fight of the Year:
K. Glowaki vs Marco Huck
L. Matthysse vs R. Provodnikov
S. Kovalev vs J. Pascal
D. Karl vs Ken Alvarez
F. Vargas vs T. Miura
R. Martinez vs O. Salido 1
Performance of the Year:
Roman Gonzalez TKO2 Edgar Sosa
Viktor Postol W10 Lucas Matthysse
Tyson Fury W12 Wlad Klitschko
Roman Gonzalez TKO9 Brian Viloria
Gennady Golovkin TKO8 David Lemieux
Floyd Mayweather W12 Manny Pacquiao
Fighter of the Year:
Floyd Mayweather Jr.