Photo: Will Hart
With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2016. Here, they make their selections for HBO Fight of the Year.
Eric Raskin: Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido
Their names don’t resonate quite like Gatti, Ward, Barrera or Morales—not yet anyway—but Vargas and Salido are building résumés as two of the premier action-oriented warriors of this generation. And together, they enhanced the hell out of those résumés at the StubHub Center on June 4. The two warriors slugged it out round after round, throwing nearly 1,600 power punches combined. And what particularly stood out about the battle was the way momentum built from one round to the next. In the end, it was ruled a draw, which in theory should have been anticlimactic. But Vargas and Salido provided an exception to the kissing-your-sister rule, as it felt fitting to see neither man declared the loser after the 12 rounds they shared.
Kieran Mulvaney: Vargas vs. Salido
Chocolatito Gonzalez and Carlos Cuadras ended up running them close, but Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido reign supreme. This was an extraordinary display of strength and skill, two men who refused to be beaten by their opponent, each of whom sought to deploy a different style to impose himself on the other. The announcement of a draw normally brings boos raining down from the crowd, but this was one occasion when being even felt right.
Diego Morilla: Vargas vs. Salido
Another year, another fight in which Francisco Vargas is involved in a brawl for the ages. And this time it was against no less than Orlando Salido, the ultimate overachiever in boxing -- a guy who always digs deep and rises to the occasion in spite of all odds. I am not sure whether they went to the same school in Mexico, although it is clear that they both skipped class on the day when words like “speculation” and “caution” were taught. But after throwing a combined total of almost 1,600 punches during a physically punishing battle that very few other fighters would have survived on their feet, the least they should get is my modest vote in this category.
Nat Gottlieb: Gennady Golovkin vs. Kell Brook
When unbeaten middleweight champ Golovkin chose Brook as his next opponent, some questioned his choice. After all, while Brook was a reigning welterweight champion, the Brit would be jumping up two weight classes. But Brook made it a tremendously exciting fight for as long as he could. In the fifth round, with Brook being battered by Golovkin, the Brit’s corner threw in the towel. Turns out Brook had suffered a fractured eye socket.
Oliver Goldstein: Vargas vs. Salido
Though I wanted to give this to Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez’s fight with Carlos Cuadras, which I thought was an immensely skillful exhibition of grace and style, it’s impossible to look past Salido’s 12 rounds trading hell for leather and leather for hell with Vargas back in June. No one likes a draw, which is what this ended up (even the most equal and brutal fights never feels equitably served by scorecard parity), and yet no one really cared: Salido proved himself again one of the great gunslingers in the game, and Vargas showed that his 2015 war with Takashi Miura was no anomaly. This had blood, a couple thousand punches, innumerable momentum shifts and enough violence for a lifetime. Hopefully they’ll do it again.
Hamilton Nolan: Canelo Alvarez vs. Amir Khan
An odd choice, I know, since Canelo wiped him off the face of the earth in the sixth round. But up until then, Khan boxed well. This was a case in which one fighter (Khan) went up in weight as an ill-advised way to secure a big money fight, but then put his speed to use against the bigger, stronger and more dangerous man -- enough to make it interesting. Had Khan been able to avoid trading with Canelo for 12 rounds, he could have won this fight, based on movement and hand speed. If the two men fought this fight 100 times, Khan might take 10 or 20, which is enough to give hope to the sweet science advocates.