James DeGale vs Badou Jack
Miguel Berchelt vs Francisco Vargas
Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko
Roman Gonzalez vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai I
Gennady Golovkin vs Canelo Alvarez
Orlando Salido vs Miguel Román
Winner: Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko
The strange thing about choosing a Fight Of The Year in boxing is that no one doing the choosing can possibly have seen every fight that transpired over the previous 365 days. And so those of us who pick out a single fight for recognition are essentially picking from a line-up of well-known and worthy battles. And nothing is more well-known in the sport of boxing than a legitimate “superfight,” which brings us to this year’s winner.
Wembley Stadium. Close to a hundred thousand screaming fans. A rising star. An iconic former champion. Pyrotechnics. A thoroughly electric atmosphere. And then the fighters delivered.
The scene described was the heavyweight title fight between hometown London hero Anthony Joshua and former kingpin Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko had been knocked off his throne in 2015 by the wily Tyson Fury. Yet Fury’s personal problems caused him to lose his claim to the championship, giving Joshua the chance to become the widely recognized, though not unified, heavyweight king. Joshua, however, had never met anyone of Klitschko’s caliber before. Perhaps he hopes he never will again.
For, after dropping his man in the fifth round, Joshua may well have been stunned to find his opponent actually getting the better of him by round’s end. Perhaps even more stunning for the undefeated Londoner was the fact that in round six Klitschko scored a knockdown of his own. What’s more, through the middle rounds, it looked like Klitschko might be on his way to winning back the crown he had held for so long. Make no mistake, Joshua had to dig deep in order to emerge victorious in front of his screaming patriots. Yet Joshua proved his mettle by doing just that.
In round 11, the defending titlist unloaded a vicious attack, which included what may prove to be one of the most famous uppercuts in boxing history. The onslaught sent the aging warrior onto his back not once, but twice. Game as he was, Klitschko could not hold on, could not keep going. Still, the veteran managed to finish on his feet as referee David Fields stopped the fight with Klitschko absorbing punishment on the ropes. So ended the most exciting and action-packed heavyweight championship fight anyone has seen in a long, long time; arguably the best big man title fight since Holyfield vs Tyson; maybe since Holmes vs Norton. Yes, it was that good.
Even if Joshua vs Klitschko wasn’t for heavyweight supremacy, no doubt it would be highly lauded for being the thrilling war that it was. The fact the heavyweight crown was, for all intents and purposes, at stake (does anyone not see Joshua as being the real champ at this point?) elevates this showdown. In short, the anticipation was almost monumental. Add the drama and the scorching action and you have not just a major boxing match, but a bigger-than-life event, one that enhanced the stature of both men. And one that is our Fight Of The Year.
Thus, Klitschko, having since retired, can rest assured that he stepped away from the ring in the public’s good graces. As for Joshua, the sky’s the limit, so long as he can successfully battle today’s current crop of aspirants. As of this writing, the man is set to fight Joseph Parker next. Should he prove successful against the New Zealander, Joshua might face American power-puncher Deontay Wilder after that, in what would surely be another superfight. Looks like someone may have a busy 2018 for himself. Winning the Fight Of The Year can set a person up for such things. — Sean Crose