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 Round of the Year.
Kieran Mulvaney: Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido -- Round 6
Truth be told, there weren’t a great many epic rounds this year. Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido provided most of them. As for which one: Round three was the first one to bring the StubHub crowd to its feet, as Salido rocked Vargas, Vargas returned the favor and they traded until the end. Round 12 saw both men throwing what little caution remained to the wind, as they pummeled each other in search of victory. Or maybe the eighth, when Salido pounded Vargas’ face and started turning it into a lumpy mess. But I’ll pick the sixth, when Vargas buckled Salido’s knees and drove him to the ropes, only for Salido to suck it up, dig deep and wing wild shots back at him, backing him off and surviving the round.
Eric Raskin: Vargas vs. Salido -- Round 12
You can make a perfectly strong case for almost any round of the Vargas-Salido fight, with the arguments in favor of the fifth, sixth or 10th all being difficult to deny, but it’s the final three minutes that best capture the essence of this fight. With both gladiators knowing the outcome was on the line, it felt as if neither ever stopped punching—it was just 180 seconds of two bulls charging forward, never pausing to catch their breath. Competing chants of “Var-gas! Var-gas!” and “Sa-li-do! Sa-li-do!” bounced back and forth, and when the final bell rang, the arena erupted with appreciation. It was the final round of the Fight of the Year, and, exhaustion be damned, it was probably the best of them.
Diego Morilla: Roman Gonzalez vs. Carlos Cuadras -- Round 12
Just like many other sports, boxing is a game in which consistency is a virtue that makes all the difference in the world, and no one has been more consistently spectacular than reigning pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who continues to expand his legend by taking on the toughest challenges boxing has to offer. This time, he jumped into a new division to take on one of boxing’s best-kept secrets in Carlos Cuadras, and the fact that they kept up the same breathtaking pace during the entire bout is enough to turn their first encounter (of multiple, we hope) into a classic. But the final episode was simply a tour de force worthy of the two extraordinary fighters that they are. Bell-to-bell action in three of the best minutes you could watch.
Nat Gottlieb: Vargas vs. Salido -- Round 6
When two Mexican warriors step into the ring, it’s a sure bet neither one is going go out quietly. In the sixth round, Vargas staggered Salido with a right hand early and then moved in to finish him off. But the tough old fighter was having no part of that. Salido gathered himself and fought with such courage that the crowd was standing and cheering when he finished the round on his feet. The battle royal went the distance and ended up a thrilling majority-decision draw.
Hamilton Nolan: Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Nicholas Walters -- Round 7
I thought this would be one of the best fights of the year. I was wrong. Lomachenko’s skill as a pro continues to elevate, and he proved to be atop a mountain too high for Walters to see. The Ukrainian boxed circles around him, literally. By the seventh round, Lomachenko had so thoroughly stolen the heart of Walters—a vicious fighter who more or less ended Nonito Donaire’s career—that Walters just quit on his stool. Not from pain, but from demoralization. That’s something you don’t see every year.
Oliver Goldstein: Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward -- Round 2
Anything from Vargas-Salido could have popped up here, but the round that shocked and excited me most was the second from Kovalev’s narrowest of losses against Ward. Kovalev had looked good in the first, yet such is Ward’s cool that at that point it felt inevitable he’d soon slip into gear. Like Bernard Hopkins, Ward is such an auratic fighter that he needs to do somewhere between very little and not much to seem like he’s thinking, considering and measuring his way to victory. Still, early in the second it became apparent that Ward was being touched by the jab nearly each time Kovalev threw it, his nose and forehead growing puffy with rouge. And then it happened: Ward went to return Kovalev’s jab with a cross and instead felt a straight right arc through aura and mythos and thought to land flush on his face and crash him to the canvas. That was a moment to remember.