HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Breakthrough Fighter

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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 Round of the Year

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

Nat Gottlieb: Miguel Berchelt

Most boxing fans had probably never heard of the hard-punching super featherweight Miguel Berchelt. With no big names on his resume, Berchelt was flying under the radar. That all changed when he stepped into the ring with then undefeated champion Francisco Vargas last January. It looked like a war for the first six rounds, but Berchelt’s heavy blows eventually wore down the champion and the fight changed into a beat down, culminating with an 11th round KO. Following up that eye-opening fight, Berchelt took on former super featherweight champion, Takashi Miura, in July. This time Berchelt dominated his opponent over 12 rounds to win a unanimous decision by a wide margin. Although a fractured right thumb on his right hand put Berchelt on ice for the remainder of the year, boxing fans will be eager to see the budding star in 2018.

Springs Toledo: Miguel Berchelt

In January, Miguel "Alacrán" Berchelt wasn't ranked in the Transnational Jr. Lightweight Rankings when he stopped Francisco Vargas, who was. In July, Berchelt followed up his defeat of the #3-ranked contender by knocking down and taking a unanimous decision over Takashi Miura, who was ranked #4. Miura retired after the loss. Incredibly, Berchelt was set to face then #4-ranked Orlando Salido but was forced to back out due to an injured right hand. Berchelt isn't a household name yet and he is unlikely to ever command the numbers of fellow Mexican fighter Canelo Alvarez. Perhaps that is part of the reason why he so aptly reflects the ideal mentality of the fighter. The hope here is that he defines himself and his career by facing the best available. He stands in a perilous position even now: currently ranked #2, just behind last year's HBOs "Fighter of the Year" Vasyl Lomachenko.

Hamilton Nolan: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Viciously deposing the world class bully in the division--when you are a fighter that few American boxing fans ever followed-- is as breakthrough as it gets.  

Gordon Marino: Miguel Roman

Frank Della Femina: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

I’m giving this nod to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. How breakthrough is he exactly? Well, I had to once again, for the hundredth time this year, consult Google to ensure I was spelling his name correctly. While he may not have the fun-loving name like "Chocolatito," he sure as hell has the ability to take over the division like his predecessor once did. Had he only taken down Gonzalez once back in March and subsequently lost the rematch, I still would have considered him a pick for Breakthrough Fighter. However, he not only did it once (admittedly on questionable scorecards), but then turned around and showed the boxing world it wasn’t just a fluke with a huge KO win over the man no one thought could lose once, let alone twice, during their September rematch.

Oliver Goldstein: Sadam Ali

Sor Rungvisai is surely the real breakthrough fighter of the year, but for the sake of novelty (as well as acknowledgement of a fantastic surprise win), Sadam Ali gets my pick. Ali was chosen as likely fodder for a retiring great in Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden. But he was deeply competitive through the first half before Cotto suffered a bad bicep injury. Then, he mostly carried the action on the way to a superb breakout victory. Ali now has a title belt and a whole load more currency to gamble with in future.

Kieran Mulvaney: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

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There are a couple of other contenders, for sure: Alberto Machado, of whom few had heard before he dropped and stopped Jezreel Corrales. Micky Roman, who went 1-1 on the year but on both occasions was in absolutely sensational fights. Miguel Berchelt, who upended Takashi Miura and Francisco Vargas in his twin outings. I’m tempted to say Billy Joe Saunders, so dominant and impressive was his display against David Lemieux to close the year, but he’s already established on the other side of the pond and quite a few picked him to do exactly what he did. So the honor surely has to go to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. When he first prepared to face off against Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez in March, he was largely considered to be the likely latest victim of the man then widely regarded as the best boxer in the world, pound-for-pound. Then, he came out and sent Gonzalez to the canvas in the very first round. Chocolatito came back into the contest and, despite gushing blood from accidental head butts, seemed to many ringside observers to have done enough. But it was Srisaket who got the win; and six months later, he left no doubt, brutalizing and flattening the former pound-for-pound king in four dominant rounds.

Carlos Acevedo: Miguel Berchelt

From seemingly out of nowhere, Miguel Berchelt materialized to score a pair of significant super featherweight wins over crowd favorite Francisco Vargas (via TKO) and Japanese warhorse Takashi Miura (via decision). Although Vargas and Miura were good style matchups for him, Berchelt still had to work hard to overcome their tenacity in stirring fights. Unfortunately, Berchelt was forced to withdraw from a scheduled title defense against battle-weary Orlando Salido scheduled for December. A win over Salido, who went on to lose to late substitute Mickey Roman, would have made Berchelt a possible candidate for HBO Fighter of the Year. Instead, the neat standup boxer with a pinpoint right cross settles in as the Breakthrough Fighter of the Year.

Eric Raskin: Miguel Berchelt

With apologies to Mickey Roman, Dmitry Bivol, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Berchelt was the guy who most impressively ascended from anonymity to the top of his division in 2017. At the outset of the year, the best names on Berchelt’s record were faded versions of Cristobal Cruz and Antonio Escalante, and he had a first-round KO loss to Luis Florez sitting there to make you wonder if he could possibly amount to anything. But using an eye-catching blend of boxing and slugging, Berchelt handed Francisco Vargas his first loss, then beat Takashi Miura into retirement. At just 26 years of age, Berchelt has the look of a mainstay in the junior lightweight division and on the televised boxing landscape well into the next decade.

Diego Morilla: Billy Joe Saunders

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The middleweight division did not need him, and certainly weren’t counting on adding another factor in an equation that includes potentially very attractive bouts between top guns like Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin against each other, with contenders such as Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade also vying for a shot. But if there was a perfect character to be added to enhance the interest, the marketability and the excitement that this division already has, that had to be a loudmouth, awkward, fearless British southpaw with a teaspoon of Irish wit and grit.

Michael Gluckstadt: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

No one is wondering how to say his name anymore. Sor Rungvisai went from "opponent"-level to the head of the pack in a loaded division with two impressive victories over the man many considered to be the best in the sport. Whether he can continue that dominance against the rest of the super-flyweights is one of the most anticipated boxing storylines in 2018.