HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Fight of the Year

 Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

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 2017. Here, they make their selections for Fight of the Year.

More: Fighter of the Year | Round of the Year | KO of the Year | Best Blow | Best Corner | Breakthrough Fighter | Favorite Moments

Nat Gottlieb: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko did more for the heavyweight division in their one grueling battle than any other pair of heavyweights have done in years. A dethroned, aging champion in Klitschko, and a young, undefeated thoroughbred in Joshua, put on a show for the ages. Knocked down in round five, Klitschko rose to his feet and returned the favor by dropping Joshua in round six. Somehow the young champ weathered the storm. After trading leather over the course of the next five rounds, Joshua knocked Klitschko down twice in round 11 to earn a TKO victory. That was the bitter end for the longtime champion Klitschko and signaled the beginning of what could be a long reign for the 28-year-old Brit.

Springs Toledo: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

This fight, which packed Wembley Stadium with numbers not seen in the USA since the days of Jack Dempsey, is a grand example of how incidental the myriad titles have become. Of what consequence was the WBA Super World Heavyweight title and where is Super World? This fight was certainly not for the true heavyweight crown despite the hype, but it didn't have to be. It represented one of boxing's great narratives which also happen to express the angst between generations: age vs. youth, the past vs the future. Anytime we have a scenario where a former champion -a little grayer, a little more vulnerable- makes a last stand, a question emerges that we'll all ask eventually: is there a once-again for a used-to-be? 

At 41, Klitschko never fought a more entertaining fight than he did against Joshua. His last stand was something of a new beginning. He took risks, fought a grueling bout against a man who matched him in size and strength, and answered any lingering questions about his heart. Early in the fifth round, he was cut over an eye and then blitzed with several hard shots that pitched him forward and down. He got up without a count and took control as Joshua, exhausted, tottered around the ring. In the next round, Klitschko landed that old steel hammer of a right and Joshua collapsed to the canvas. But resilient youth laughed and got up. Klitschko faded as we all must and was stopped in the eleventh round. He left us with fond memories of who he was and he left Joshua battle-tested and worthier, affirming him as the heavyweight division's best hope.

Hamilton Nolan: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

That type of back and forth action between world class heavyweights felt like something from the "good" boxing era. Throwback!

Gordon Marino: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

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Frank Della Femina: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

I’m tempted to go with Canelo-Golovkin if only for the name recognition surrounding the event, but I personally feel the Fight of the Year should leave fans satisfied and perhaps even out of breath after watching a few rounds of fireworks (rather than disappointed in a poor decision). So I’m giving this nod to the April heavyweight brawl between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. For all the times we hear people say the division is dead, slow, or struggling outside of one or two heavy hitters, this showdown had everything you could want from two of the biggest names, from past and future. For 11 rounds we watched the veteran Klitschko go toe-to-toe with the younger, up-and-coming Joshua, and for 11 rounds we were spared the notorious jab-jab-jab and hugging often associated with the division of late. What we had instead was an all-out war between two men on distinctly different paths, one with everything to prove, and the other with nothing left to lose. Through the early rounds Klitschko unleashed his heavy right more than in recent fights, at times coming so close as to merely grazing the chin or cheek of Joshua. So when Klitschko tumbled to the canvas in Round 5 after a vicious onslaught from Joshua, you still knew we could be just one right-handed bomb away from watching the fight turn. And would you know it? In the very next round the Ukrainian comes out like a man possessed, ready to return the favor, doing so just over 90 seconds in with a vicious cross that dazed and toppled Joshua. It wasn’t until a massive Round 11 uppercut from Joshua made all the difference in the fight, leading to two more knockdowns in the round and the ultimate stoppage that brought my pick for 2017 Fight of the Year to its glorified end.

Oliver Goldstein: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

I’m biased, because I was there (and possibly because I’m British, but who knows), but Anthony Joshua’s stirring win over Wladimir Klitschko in London was without doubt my fight of the year. Down once, legs a mess, Joshua breathed life into the heavyweight division by somehow coming back to drop Klitschko thrice and stop him at last in the eleventh. No doubt there were other worthy contenders (the first Sor Rungvisai-Chocolatito fight in particular), but for the sense of occasion and for the gravity of the violence, Joshua-Klitschko takes it for me.

Kieran Mulvaney: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

There were some terrific fights this year. Heck, 2017 opened up with a fierce brawl between Takashi Miura and Micky Roman that in many other years would have been a serious contender. And then Roman did it again with a victory over Orlando Salido in December that sent the veteran into retirement for three days. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai’s first win over Chocolatito Gonzalez – never mind the controversial outcome – was a violent battle with serious momentum swings. Both of Gennady Golovkin’s outings, against Danny Jacobs and Canelo Alvarez, were quality, exciting affairs. But there can be only one winner of this: the best heavyweight title fight since at least Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko in 2003, and perhaps since Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield in 1992. Contested in front of 90,000 fans – ninety thousand! -at Wembley Stadium, a bout that saw Joshua seemingly on the verge of knockout victory and then Klitschko in that very same position within a round, before the Briton finally emerged the victor and sent the veteran into a deserved retirement. What a night. What a fight.

Carlos Acevedo: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

It was the future versus the past when veteran heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko faced off against upstart Anthony Joshua in front of 90,000 delirious fans at Wembley Stadium. And the rocking crowd was treated to a rollicking battle. In recent years, most exciting heavyweight fights have been waged by second-tier talents—roundhouse punchers with limited stamina and technique—but Klitschko and Joshua combined to provide enough plot twists to earn the nod as the HBO Fight of the Year. After a slow opening, Joshua came out to rumble in the fifth round, catching Klitschko with a left hook/overhand right combination. A follow-up barrage left Klitschko cut and reeling before he crumpled to the mat for the first knockdown of the fight. With Joshua closing in for the finish, Klitschko seemed at the edge of the abyss. But the long-time titlist, trying to rebound from the first loss of his career (against Tyson Fury in 2015), battled back to stagger Joshua before the round was over. When Joshua hit the mat courtesy of a straight right in the sixth, the suspense reached new levels. Klitschko seemed to take command in the following rounds, spearing Joshua with his jab and applying pressure to keep him on the defensive. Suddenly, at the start of the 11th round, Joshua sent Klitschko backpedaling with a flush straight right. But it was a vicious uppercut that sent Klitschko stumbling and precipitated the violent end. After scoring two hard two knockdowns, the ferocious Joshua forced referee David Fields to intervene, giving “AJ” the credibility he yearned for and the boxing world a thrill.

Eric Raskin: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

Maybe you heard: 2017 was a great year for boxing. In an average year, Mickey Roman KO 9 Orlando Salido, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai W 12 Chocolatito Gonzalez, or Gennady Golovkin D 12 Canelo Alvarez could easily have been the best fight on HBO. But in 2017, they’re all just strong runners-up to Joshua-Klitschko. Even if you ignore the stakes (the present and future of the heavyweight division) and the enormity of the event (90,000 at Wembley Stadium), the in-ring drama was incomparable. Joshua nearly scored a knockout in round five, but then he punched himself out and Klitschko battled back and nearly stopped the Brit in the sixth. Back and forth they slugged, until Joshua landed that rubber-neck uppercut, knocked Klitschko down twice more, and scored the TKO in the 11th. It was the best heavyweight title fight in 25 years. A statement like that doesn’t leave the door open very wide for other fights.

Matt Draper: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

It’s hard to top the epic, back-and-forth heavyweight battle between Joshua and Klitschko at Wembley, but I’m voting for Canelo-Golovkin. Not only because the September 16 showdown delivered on its years-in-the-making anticipation, but also because it was rare to witness two stars fighting at or near their primes in such a mega-match (cough, Mayweather-Pacquiao). Plus, the Mayweather-McGregor circus had been in town just three weeks prior, and while there was no matching the bluster of that sideshow, Canelo-GGG proved to be a true boxing fan’s fight that became a global must-see.

The atmosphere was through the roof. Vegas was buzzing throughout fight week – it seemed like everyone on the street or in the casinos was selling merchandise, officially or not -- and fight night was nothing short of electric, with the split-crowd chanting “Ca-ne-lo!” and “Tri-ple-G!” most of the bout. And regardless of where you landed on the stalemate decision, there was no debating that both Canelo and GGG absorbed and delivered a ton of punishment, fighting to the final bell with nothing left in the tank.

Diego Morilla: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

Any time two fighters on the top ten pound-for-pound lists meet in the center of the ring, the expectation for a FOTY-caliber performance is more than justified. And this time, only the result failed to be up to our expectations. It may not have been the emotional fight or the barroom brawl that many of us expected, but both of these fighters forced each other out of their comfort zone continuously, proving to be each other's toughest competition. Canelo’s massively improved defense frustrated Golovkin’s search for a stoppage, and GGG’s more constant and accurate combinations impressed some judges far more than Alvarez’s sparse punch count. It was the first chapter of two great fighters feeling each other out and getting to know each other before -- if it happens -- a sequel that will, for once, outshine the original.

Michael Gluckstadt: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

For anyone who works in boxing, the common question, "Isn't that sport kinda dying?" is as grating as it is wrong-headed. Obviously the sport has lost its status on the front pages of American newspapers (with notable exceptions), but its audience hasn't disappeared as much as it has shifted. For one example, kids in Mexico are as likely to emulate Canelo Alvarez's moves as they are Chicharito's. And the best evidence that not all of boxing's best days are behind it came on April 29, 2017, when 90,000 screaming Brits gathered in London's Wembley Stadium to watch the heavyweight championship of the world. The thrilling action fight they witnessed would have been rightly celebrated in any era.