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 Fighter of the Year.
Eric Raskin: Vasyl Lomachenko
If Lomachenko took a wrong step inside the ring this year, I didn’t see it. He only fought 12 rounds, but almost every minute of each of those rounds was perfection, and both of his victories ended in an emphatic, unforgettable manner. First up was Rocky Martinez, a sturdy veteran who a year before defeated the only man to defeat Lomachenko (Orlando Salido), and the Ukrainian put him to sleep with a left uppercut-right hook combo that few mortals can throw. Then came Nicholas Walters, an unbeaten banger on the fringes of pound-for-pound contention, who was left convinced after seven rounds of one-way traffic to simply surrender to the superior fighter. Lomachenko separated one man from his senses and another from his nerve. And along the way, he separated himself from the pack contending for Fighter of the Year.
Kieran Mulvaney: Vasyl Lomachenko
I didn’t consider him until late in the year, but the prize has to go, I think, to Vasyl Lomachenko. He stepped up to junior lightweight, beat the holy hell out of Rocky Martinez and then embarrassed Nicholas Walters into quitting. He is operating on a whole other plane right now. His brilliance and dominance are things to behold. Highly honorable mention and a close second place, however, to Terence Crawford, for three dominant wins including an utterly one-sided display against his so-called greatest rival Viktor Postol.
Nat Gottlieb: Roman Gonzalez
It’s hard for the little guys in boxing to garner the attention of the higher weight-class fighters, but at 46-0 with 38 KO’s, it’s difficult not to give “Chocolatito” his just due. First he scored a dominant victory over rising contender McWilliams Arroyo. Then he moved up to junior bantamweight and took the title from previously unbeaten Carlos Cuadras. It was Gonzalez’ fourth division championship, and solidified his spot as the top fighter in boxing.
Diego Morilla: Terence Crawford
What do you get when you outbrawl the brawlers, outbox the boxers and outslug the sluggers? The least you should get is a comfortable place on the pound-for-pound lists – and “Bud” Crawford is getting that and more after a terrific year in which he stopped Hank Lundy, dominated Viktor Postol and destroyed the usually durable John Molina. Very few fighters can deal with such a variety of styles and physical shapes in such short succession, but Crawford looks like he could have as many years going 3-0 against caliber opposition as he wants.
Hamilton Nolan: Sergey Kovalev
Beating Jean Pascal, Isaac Chilemba and (unofficially) Andre Ward in one year in convincing fashion seals the deal. The fact that the judges didn’t give him the Ward fight isn’t his fault. He Andre Ward, a top-five pound-for-pound fighter (before he went up in weight, at least).
Oliver Goldstein: Vasyl Lomachenko
2016 finally turned up the caliber of opponent Vasyl Lomachenko has been loudly seeking since turning professional, and he dispatched both Roman Martinez and Nicholas Walters with lethal haste. Martinez was laid out flat on his back by a left uppercut followed by right hook, while Walters retired himself after being not so much beaten as baffled into submission. With less than 10 fights on his slate, Lomachenko already has one of the more impressive records among active fighters today. Should a much-discussed rematch with Orlando Salido materialize in 2017, he should have the chance to avenge that loss from his second fight. Regardless, this year Lomachenko was the most brilliant, most dazzling fighter on HBO, and there’s still so much more to come.