Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs Juan Francisco Estrada
Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin II
Jarrett Hurd vs Erislandy Lara
Dereck Chisora vs Carlos Takam
Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder
Murat Gassiev vs Yuniel Dorticos
Sho Kimura vs Kosei Tanaka
Leonardo Zappavigna vs Alex Saucedo
Winner: Canelo Alvarez W12 Gennady Golovkin
2018 featured some of the best action in seemingly hopeless places. A year ago, would anyone have imagined that Tyson Fury would be in a Fight Of The Year candidate? Or Erislandy Lara? But they were and that just speaks to the fact that this past year was a strong one for frenetic action and dramatic fireworks, which in turn makes selecting a winner in our Fight Of The Year category that much more difficult. The simple truth is almost all of our candidates would be sure-fire winners in weaker years. But in the final analysis, one clash stands out from the others, and that one is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s razor-sharp points win over Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.
There are a few reasons for this, though of course the primary one is what transpired inside the ring at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this past September. But there is also the fact that, as in their first match in 2017, Canelo vs Golovkin represented a contest between the best middleweight boxers on the planet battling for the division’s undisputed championship. There’s also the fact that Golovkin and Alvarez are truly special talents; pound-for-pound, two of the best fighters of recent years. And then there was all the drama and controversy in the months leading up to the bout, circumstances which created a unique story, not to mention some genuinely felt bad blood.
All the drama exploded in a 12 round classic, a bout that should be long remembered. While their first meeting was an excellent duel, the rematch took things to another level in terms of pace, intensity, skill and excitement. As with all truly great fights between great boxers whose styles mesh particularly well, Golovkin and Canelo brought out the best in each other, as both gave stand-out performances, perhaps the best of their respective careers.
From the opening bell it was fast-paced and intense as Alvarez asserted himself in a manner he never did in the first bout, seizing ring centre and moving forward, applying pressure and making the older man work. Golovkin countered with a vicious jab and sharp counter hooks, but Canelo countered in turn with an excellent body attack. Virtually all of the rounds were razor close, each offering its own ebb and flow as Golovkin, at age 36, showed he could still box with tactical aplomb as he stalked and jabbed and hunted his man down, and while Canelo mixed up his attack, pressuring when he wanted and landing heavy shots downstairs.
As in all truly great fights, the pace and drama only became more absorbing as the battle progressed. Both had to know the match was up for grabs on the scorecards when the bell for the final round rang and they fought accordingly, standing toe-to-toe and throwing heavy shots, Golovkin landing brutal uppercuts, Canelo brandishing lead rights and follow up hooks. At the final bell the feeling of many was that, unlike their first match, this time a draw actually made sense, though in fact, as in their first meeting, a clear majority of ringside press saw the Kazakh as the rightful winner. Instead, two of the three judges scored the fight for the Mexican while one saw it even, though fittingly, all three official scorecards reflected the competitiveness of the struggle.
In the aftermath, the story of the fight centered on the theme of injustice and how it appeared the only way Gennady Golovkin could win a judges’ scorecard in Las Vegas was by knockout. As I wrote at the time: “… we should be celebrating the greatness of Gennady Golovkin right now after he proved himself in two tough wars with a gifted and formidable opponent. But we cannot. And that’s a damn shame.”
But the other shame is that so many of us had to wash the bad taste out of our mouths before we could truly and whole-heartedly appreciate this fight, a 12 round beauty that deserves far better. Golovkin vs Canelo II was one of the great boxing matches of recent years, a high profile “superfight” that truly lived up to the hype and reminded everyone why pugilism was once called “the sport of kings,” and thus it’s our Fight Of The Year. Let’s remember this battle for its action, drama and skill, and, as the new year begins, let us all demand that before 2019 ends we see a third clash between the two best middleweights in the world. — Robert Portis