As the end of the year approaches, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on the network and HBO PPV in 2015. Here, they make their selections for Fight of the Year.
Fighter of the Year
Kieran Mulvaney: Francisco Vargas TKO 9 Takashi Miura
For a solid six months, this was shaping up as a contest between Lucas Matthysse's close win over Ruslan Provodnikov and Canelo Alvarez's exciting blowout of James Kirkland. But then, in one of the last fights of the year, Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura blew away the competition with nine rounds of action that began with a how-did-he-stay-up-from-that-punch explosiveness, evolved into a progressively more one-sided this-is-getting-brutal battering, and concluded with a sensational where-did-that-come-from barrage of punches, at the end of which Vargas had won the Fight of the Year.
Eric Raskin: Francisco Vargas TKO 9 Takashi Miura
You know those charts that sports number crunchers produce for baseball or football that show you what each team's percentage chance of winning was at different points in a game? You can't really make them for boxing, but if you could, following the graph for Vargas-Miura would give you whiplash. Vargas nearly scored the knockout in round one; Miura was in control by round three, dropped Vargas in the fourth, and was running away with the fight by the end of the eighth; then somehow, Vargas won by stoppage in the ninth. In boxing, nobody is ever zero percent to win until the final bell sounds.
Nat Gottlieb: Francisco Vargas TKO 9 Takashi Miura
The battle for the WBC super featherweight title was supposed to play second fiddle to the Canelo-Cotto superfight happening afterward, but someone forgot to tell that to these two fighters. The champion Miura went down in round one but valiantly survived to come back and drop and bloody the tough Vargas. Throwing caution to the wind Vargas mustered up the machismo to come out in round 9 and devastate Muira with a wicked combination that dropped and ultimately stopped the rugged champion.
Oliver Goldstein: Francisco Vargas TKO 9 Takashi Miura
While Miguel Cotto battled gamely against Canelo Alvarez in a thoroughly decent main event, the show had long been stolen by the time those two tussled over the middleweight belt. Fighting for the first time in the States, Takashi Miura was thrashed in the first by Francisco Vargas, to which he responded by thrashing him back, repeatedly tagging the Mexican with snapping backhand shots. But with his right eye near shut, blood trickling from a welt beneath the swelling, Vargas summoned something special to turn the fight on Miura in the ninth. Hurt badly at the end of the eighth, Vargas somehow had Miura stumbling into a stoppage at the start of the next after spinning the fight on its head. With blood spraying from Miura's face after Vargas crashed home with several whacking shots, Tony Weeks stepped in to end the carnage and deliver 2015's late but great Fight of the Year.
Diego Morilla: Matthysse W12 Provodnikov
When was the last time that a non-pay-per-view, non-Vegas fight in the middle of nowhere captured the undivided attention of boxing fans worldwide – and lived up to its lofty expectations to boot? We all know when: April 18, 2015, when Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov engaged in one of the most intense boxing matches in recent memory. Very few fighters can both inflict and endure that kind of brutal punishment through 12 rounds, but these two went toe-to-toe from bell to bell and left every hard-earned ounce of strength in their bodies in that ring, in a fight with no title belt on the line that saw one fighter come back from the verge of a brutal, gory stoppage to make it an even fight down the stretch. If that's not a fight fan's dream bout, I don't know what is.
Harold Lederman: Matthysse W12 Provodnikov
Carlos Acevedo: Matthysse W12 Provodnikov
After several harsh but one-way rounds, it looked like Lucas Matthysse was on his way to trouncing Ruslan Provodnikov when the two power-hitters faced off in April. A pressure fighter who switched into boxer mode, Matthysse turned Provodnikov into a chopping block with a variety of pinpoint shots that would have left an ordinary fighter twitching on the canvas. But Provodnikov, crude as he is at times, is no ordinary fighter. Besides heart and power, Provodnikov has an attribute that has yet to fail him in the ring: A chin that seems to be poured out of a cement mixer a day or two before the opening bell rings. In the fourth round, Matthysse and Provodnikov exchanged blistering shots from bell to bell and what looked like a rout turned into the terrible beauty boxing is sometimes capable of providing. Although Matthysse continued scoring virtually at will—he opened the sixth with a crushing left-right-left uppercut combination, by the late rounds, Provodnikov, bleeding from a cut over his eye, was regularly landing whiplash shots of his own. His relentless pressure nearly paid off (in blood), but Matthysse survived to hear the final bell and to earn a majority decision that may have left him close to disintegration: in his next fight, Matthysse was knocked out by relatively light-hitting Viktor Postol.
Bob Canobbio, President and Founder of CompuBox: Matthysse W12 Provodnikov
They combined to land 528 punches – 44 per round –which is 25 percent higher than the junior welterweight average.
Frank Della Femina: Francisco Vargas TKO 9 Takashi Miura
By the time November rolled around I was pretty certain that Canelo-Kirkland would be the pick for Fight of the Year. And then Miura vs. Vargas happened. There's no question that it was one hell of a dogfight, but the thing I love most about this fight is that it came as a complete surprise on an HBO PPV undercard. Normally that last fight before the main event is above average, but rarely does it steal the show. I knew it was a good one when, while backstage gathering some behind the scenes photos with HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland, the oohs and aahs of the crowd resonated throughout the arena. It wasn't until the following week during the Nov. 28 replay that I truly saw the fight from start to finish. It was an incredible battle, topped off with the swollen-shut grinning face from Vargas. Those are always the best.
Frank Miller: Francisco Vargas TKO 9 Takashi Miura
Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez is a match made in heaven for boxing fans, right? Well despite this, Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura stole their show. Miura came in aggressively but a knockdown in the fourth and a closed right eye couldn't stop Vargas from getting what he wanted. Which makes this choice even more compelling is that Miura said he would knock him out before the fight. Don't you love it when the trash-talking bully gets put in his place? Or even better, KO'ed?
Michael Gluckstadt: Matthysse W12 Provodnikov
There's something timeless and primal about Ruslan Provodnikov. You could put him in any combat situation in any era – caveman warrior, Roman gladiator, participant in a futuristic bloodsport yet to be invented – and see him competing. His war with Lucas Matthysse was a boxing match, and so the victor at the end of 12 rounds was the better boxer. But in the battle of wills, Provodnikov hadn't yielded a single inch.