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 select their favorite moments.
The fight between superstars Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez was the crowning achievement of HBO’s year. HBO’s ongoing coverage leading up to the fight was spectacular and captured the imagination of boxing fans around the world. The fight itself proved to be everything it promised to be. It was as well done of an event as there was in boxing, an elite moment.
The unusual tendency of HBO commentators to bring up fighters from the recent and distant past is a real thrill for historians and purists alike. Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, and Henry Armstrong are among the long-gone greats from boxing's golden era that are routinely mentioned on air, most often by Max Kellerman. In May, Bernard Hopkins made an interesting comparison between Terence Crawford and Donald Curry during the Crawford-Diaz fight, and Rocky Marciano was mentioned during the Saunders-Lemieux undercard in December. A.J. Liebling said "the sweet science is as joined onto the past as a man's arm is to his shoulder," and so acknowledged a place where science and history converge and where no fight isn't attended by ghosts. Whenever those ghosts are recognized on a broadcast, we're reminded that boxing produces immortals then and now, and boxing is better for it.
Nobody watched the Cotto-Kamegai fight, because it was on the same night as Mayweather-McGregor. But Kamegai ate more horrific power shots in that fight than I have ever seen a man eat without being knocked out. It was remarkable and should be studied by scientists. And it still feels like a secret, since nobody was paying attention.
The entirety of Canelo vs. GGG.
Frank Della Femina
My favorite HBO Boxing Moment of the Year is always my favorite pick to make. While we can all be in the same ballpark in other categories, this is the one that varies wildly. Looking back on boxing as a whole in 2017, there were rising stars, shocking scorecards, circus-like events, and big-name retirements. But for me, the best moment of 2017 came in the form of Canelo-Golovkin. Not so much by way of the outcome, but more so in the lead up to the fight. Outside of Mayweather-Pacquiao, I don’t recall a more highly anticipated matchup over the past five years that had me eyeing up the clock throughout the day as we edged closer to the opening bell (maybe Ward-Kovalev I, but not to this degree). And while being there in-person may have been unreal in its own right, making new boxing friends in a crowded bar while killing a few plates of hot wings and standing on a soapbox while agonizing over the result was perfect in its own way.
I enjoyed seeing Luke Campbell run Jorge Linares close this year, in what was a good twelve months for British fighters on the network. Seeing Chocolatito is always a thrill, even if a diminished one now – but the first fight with Sor Rungvisai, as a last throw of the dice, was marvelous. Two excellent fighters in Andre Ward and Miguel Cotto went out in varied circumstances, though roughly on top. And both Canelo and GGG showed up this past September, giving the hype its substance. Hopefully they’ll do it all over again next year.
On a personal level, it’s been a particular professional treat to spend time in the training camps of several boxers: Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, and of course Miguel Cotto, who was preparing for his final fight. And then, on the day before his farewell, Cotto’s fighter meeting with HBO talent was a truly special, emotional affair; his family was all there, as was his team from the Wild Card, and the whole experience felt like a fond goodbye to an old friend.
Canelo-GGG fight week was another reminder that there are few events that generate anything like the excitement of a truly significant boxing main event. The MGM Grand was packed with serious fight fans, straining for a glimpse of anyone on the card or indeed anybody in some way associated with it. The media room saw a steady parade of celebrities from within and beyond the boxing world, as evidenced by an HBO Boxing Podcast guest list that included Roy Jones, Jr, Stephen A. Smith, Adam Carolla, and J.B. Smoove. And, finally and importantly, the fight itself delivered; notwithstanding the scoring controversy, it was a tremendously hard-fought 12 round battle between two pugilists of the highest order.
Nothing, however, can top the fantastic April night in London when Anthony Joshua overcame Wladimir Klitschko. The heavyweight championship of the world, the fight of the year, an enthusiastic 90,000-strong crowd, and a legendary venue in the form of Wembley Stadium: if ever a night at the fights had everything, it was this one.
My favorite HBO moments involve two fighters whose struggles in life are mirrored by the struggles of the ring. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Mickey Roman both won the biggest fights of their careers after years of toiling both personally and professionally. Sor Rungvisai was ecstatic after poleaxing Roman Gonzalez, and Roman seemed on the verge of tears when he detailed his misfortunes in an interview following his KO win over Orlando Salido. Even in this brutal sport, often mean, low, and dispiriting, you can sometimes find something close to ennoblement.
First off, let’s establish the obvious choice for least favorite HBO Boxing moment: Stephen Smith’s ear nearly detaching from the side of his head. As for the favorites, I have two. On the emotional side, there was Miguel Cotto, on the eve of his retirement, crying on the couch next to Jim Lampley as he suggested that his late father was still sitting right next to him. And on the lighter side, there was my experience of interviewing JB Smoove and Roy Jones back to back while podcasting live from Radio Row at the Golovkin-Alvarez fight in September. They both brought the ruckus to one of my favorite HBO Boxing Podcast episodes of the year.
Here are some nuggets that stood out, for better or for worse:
- The 12th round of Canelo-GGG: We had reached the climax of the most anticipated match of the year and everything was still up for grabs. Both fighters were throwing haymakers. Everyone in the crowd was standing and screaming.
- Anthony Joshua standing over KO’d Wladimir Klitschko: An iconic image that visually communicated the passing of the heavyweight torch. The legendary veteran going out on his sword while the young phenom stakes his claim to the division throne.
- Stephen Smith’s ear following his bout with Francisco Vargas: Any doubts about boxing not being a tough sport? Here you go. (Note: Not for the faint of heart.)
- Quebec crowd booing Billy Joe Saunders’ son: 8-year-old Stevie Saunders, who made headlines earlier in the year for punching Willie Monroe Jr. in the undercarriage during a press conference, was not afraid to speak his mind to the pro-David Lemieux crowd at the Dec. 16 middleweight showdown at Place Bell outside Montreal. And when the younger Saunders was displayed on the big screen during fight night, the crowd roundly booed him.
After picking the Joshua-Klitschko bout for so many of these categories, it is safe to admit that this fight has earned a privileged place in my DVD collection already. It had it all: the environment, the young lion vs. veteran champ narrative, the magnificence of a roaring Wembley stadium brimming with screaming fans, the passing of the torch, and so much more. And in the midst of it, as the moment of truth approached, there was the local favorite going up against the unified champion standing by his initials as they were lit on fire, like two flaming wings turning the white-clad, almost angelic Anthony Joshua into an avenging demon, ready to exorcise the pains and sufferings of British heavyweight boxing forever, like a keeper of the flame in the most literal sense possible, ready to take flight on a mission to guard boxing’s return trip to its former glories from the skies. Sure, Joshua still has plenty of time disappoint us all and become just one more British heavyweight horror story, but for that fleeting moment he looked as if he could carry the weight of the entire boxing world upon his shoulders. And after 11 extraordinary rounds, he momentarily did.
The Canelo-Chavez fight may have proved to be a dud, but I can't think of a more exciting moment this year in boxing than when Canelo stood in the ring and named his next opponent. In a move out of the WWE playbook, Gennady Golovkin appeared in the wings as the unmistakable bass-line of "Seven Nation Army" blared over the soundsystem. That the actual fight lived up to the hype made it all the more memorable.
Some other highlights: Miguel Cotto's emotional farewell to Madison Square Garden; Ray Beltran winning a boxing match and with it his fight for citizenship; Yoshihiro Kamegai imitating an inflatable punching clown that keeps coming back for more; the way Paulie Malignaggi says the word "pizzeria" in this oral history podcast of Hamed-Kelley; as well as the story of Ike Ibeabuchi; and lastly, JB Smoove bringing the ruckus: