Winner: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
At first glance, choosing 2017’s Fighter Of The Year appears a vexing task. While we enjoyed a healthy number of excellent fights and terrific performances, this was another year when, one could argue, no single pugilist really put their stamp on the sport in an emphatic way. Inactivity, as in top fighters competing only once or twice per year, is a major factor in this, as is the general slow pace of making the most meaningful matches happen. Alas, “marinating” takes time, people.
But what all of the boxers listed above have in common is genuinely significant victories, wins over formidable opponents, wins which represent large building stones in the creation of lasting reputations and Hall of Fame legacies. What separates them is less obvious. But in the final analysis no one beat a better fighter than the one Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vanquished not once, but twice. No one scored a more resounding knockout. And thus, in truth, no boxer had a greater impact on the sport in 2017.
There’s also the fact that in Rungvisai, or if you prefer, Wisaksil Wangek, we have a real-life “Rocky” story. Here is a young man who grew up in extreme poverty and struggled to survive on the streets of Bangkok. The fact he has put together any kind of successful boxing career is testament to extraordinary persistence and resolve. The hallmark of his success has proved to be supreme conditioning, aggression, physical strength, and raw power, along with a head butt or two. Like a pint-sized Thai version of another “Rocky,” that being Rocky Marciano, Rungvisai just keeps moving forward and throwing big punches. Most thought that not enough to overcome the skills of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. How wrong we were.
Count me among those who felt the decision should have went the other way in the first Gonzalez vs Rungvisai match. But also count me among those who recognize that it was a very close fight, highly competitive, and that Rungvisai exceeded all expectations. Yes, a strong case can be made that “Chocolatito” deserved a better fate from the judges, but at the same time one must acknowledge that this was no “robbery,” per se. Bottom line: the long-shot underdog proved he was anything but, proved he was for real, proved he belonged in the same ring with the boxer most regarded as the best in the sport, pound-for-pound.
Then came the rematch and 2017’s Knockout Of The Year. It was brutal and conclusive and, again, there simply isn’t a more consequential win on the record of any other boxer active this past year. In the first fight with Gonzalez, the burly Thai showed he belonged, that he was a force to be reckoned with. But in the second, the naturally bigger man proved, beyond a doubt, that he was just too much for “Chocolatio,” that he was a legit champion, and a rival to be reckoned with for any elite boxer competing south of featherweight.
So in the end, it’s really not that vexing. He seemingly came out of nowhere to give “Chocolatito,” and boxing fans, one of the best fights of recent years. He scored two wins over the man regarded by most as the best boxer on the planet. And he is the author of the most awesome and consequential knockout of 2017. Yes, strong cases can be made for others on our shortlist, but in the end, the choice isn’t that hard to make. 2017’s Fighter Of The Year is Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. — Michael Carbert