Award-winning HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland looks back at some of his favorite photos from 2017.
Award-winning HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland looks back at some of his favorite photos from 2017.
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:
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:
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
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
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
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.
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 KO of the Year.
Nat Gottlieb: Lemieux TKO Stevens
Apparently Curtis Stevens did not get the memo about never trading hooks with David Lemieux. In the third round Stevens connected on a left hook, but Lemieux countered with an overhand right and then followed it right up with a short, but powerful left hook that crumbled Stevens to the canvas flat on his back. Stevens remained unconscious for a long stretch before being removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. It was one of the most brutal knockouts of the year.
Springs Toledo: Lemieux TKO Stevens
The dummy jab is one of boxing's great inventions. It allows you to slide in closer and makes an opponent blink just in time for what's coming next. It works best when your opponent's back is at the ropes. Lemieux's set up a right hand that landed, but at near full-extension, which means most of the force had fizzled, and Stevens did well by countering it with a left hook. However, Lemieux's right hand was something of a dummy too, because Lemieux was still moving in to position himself at mid-range as he threw it. Stevens' left hook landed first, on Lemieux's neck. Lemieux's landed on Stevens' chin, where it says nighty-night.
Before the fight, Stevens referred to Lemieux with a particularly offensive obscenity. That proved a costly mistake, as Lemieux used it to recast a simple contest into a mission. "I wanted to make an example of him," he said in the post-fight press conference. "Respect everybody, respect every fighter."
Hamilton Nolan: Joshua KO Klitschko
No changing of the guard was bigger than Joshua ascending into the heavyweight throne that the Klitschkos have controlled for many years.
Gordon Marino: Joshua KO Klitschko
Frank Della Femina: Lemieux TKO Stevens
David Lemieux knocking out Curtis Stevens gets my nod for KO of the Year. As is common for Stevens, he spent all of fight week talking about how he was going to hurt/kill/maim/severely injure his opponent (see also: Golovkin, Fall 2013). And while this is all good and great when it comes to promoting the fight, if you’re Curtis, at some point you have to consider whether this is actually working out in your favor anymore. Look no further than the left-handed howitzer Lemieux landed in the third round of their March 11th bout that sent Stevens into the shadow realm. The exchange on the ropes was oddly reminiscent of Canelo-Kirkland, which if memory serves was also my 2015 pick for KO of the Year.
Oliver Goldstein: Sor Rungvisai KO Chocolatito
There were good arguments to be made that Chocolatito deserved the nod after his first fight with Sor Rungvisai. None were available after the second. If this wasn’t the knockout as total wipeout, it was still shockingly, solemnly definitive.
Kieran Mulvaney: Lemieux TKO Stevens
In the aftermath of this crushing blow, there was some mild pushback from those who watched the knockout on TV to the reaction of those who were in the arena. “Hey, it didn’t look that bad.” “I’ve seen way worse.” “I’m not convinced it’s knockout of the year.” “Jim and Max sure seemed to be overly dramatic in their selling of it.” Maybe it was one of those moments when you had to be there. I was there, and I’m telling you: there probably wasn’t a single person in the arena at Turning Stone that night who didn’t think, for at least a moment, that Curtis Stevens might be dead. It wasn’t just the hammer blow that knocked him out – and if you like to judge your knockouts on their technical brilliance and not whether or not the guy at the receiving end is unconscious and unmoving afterward, Lemieux’s hook was a thing of beauty, timed perfectly, thrown with precision and purpose. Nor was it solely the way he crashed to the canvas right in front of the announce team, his left arm unfolding from his prone body and convincing the timekeeper to beat a hasty retreat. It’s also that he lay there, completely unmoving, for a loooong time. It is not an exaggeration to say that a lot of eyes were trained on Stevens’ chest, to make sure he was actually breathing. There are knockouts, and there ae knockouts. This was a knockout.
Carlos Acevedo: Lemieux TKO Stevens
There is no telling just where Curtis Stevens went after David Lemieux nailed him with a left hook so concussive it left him draped out on the ring apron. He seemed to have an out-of-body experience as physicians rushed to his aid. In a battle between two left-hooking machines, Lemieux landed his first (and with more accuracy) when the two exchanged blows along the ropes in the third round. The explosive shot sent Stevens in a free-fall. He was unconscious before he hit the canvas. That knockout blow, and its effect, underscored the cruel paradox of boxing: how terror and beauty can co-exist simultaneously. Thankfully, Stevens was not seriously hurt, and likely does not remember a thing about what happened to him. Better for him, then, and better for us as well.
Eric Raskin: Beltran KO Maicelo
It’s the punch you don’t see coming. And Maicelo definitely never saw Beltran’s left hook coming. Beltran feinted just enough to get Maicelo looking at the wrong shoulder, then suddenly the hook struck the jaw, and the Peruvian prospect was out before he hit the canvas. The back of his head slammed into the mat with sickening force, and, maybe it’s distasteful to say it, but that’s why this is my KO of the Year pick over David Lemieux-Curtis Stevens. Both knockouts were the result of vicious, single hooks, but the landing for Maicelo was more violent.
Matt Draper: Lemieux TKO Stevens
I don’t know what could top David Lemieux’s destruction of Curtis Stevens back in March. HBO’s Roy Jones Jr. summed it up best: The Canadian caught Stevens “right on the button.” It was an instant KO, with Stevens’ body just crumbling to the canvas. Our digital team covering the fight paused before posting anything until we had word Stevens was conscious and coherent – because so much time had gone by without him moving a muscle. He eventually left the ring and headed to the hospital, which wasn’t a surprise considering the strike Lemieux landed.
Diego Morilla: Sor Rungvisai KO Chocolatito
The first fight was so mired in controversy that it afforded Gonzalez the chance to keep a lower position in most of the pound-for-pound rankings he had dominated up to then. But the signs were troubling, starting with his razor-thin win over Carlos Cuadras in his previous bout. And it all came crashing down on a chilly night in Carson, when the Nicaraguan paid a heavy price for his jump in weight, his change of training habits, his loss of his lifelong trainer Arnulfo Obando, and especially his fan-friendly style that exposed himself to a lot of punishment in his quest to dish out a similar and more devastating brand of his own. The hopes of imposing such a punishment on Rungvisai in their anticipated rematch finally disappeared in the fourth round, when it became clear that the Thai champ was just too strong and too determined for him. Legend has it that if a fighter falls face-first to the canvas without making an effort to stop his fall with his hands, he is knocked out already. Gonzalez gave testimony of his greatness when he stood up to challenge that notion after nosediving onto the mat in the first knockdown. He was, however, unable to challenge Rungvisai’s claim of superiority for much longer, as he went down on his back in his next trip to the canvas to put an effective end to his run as a pound-for-pound entrant in one of the year’s most devastating stoppages.
Michael Gluckstadt: Lemieux TKO Stevens
There are sports sounds that stay with you. The crack of the bat on an Aaron Judge home run. LeBron James rattling the rim. David Lemieux's punches have their own timbre. And his thwacking KO of Curtis Stevens earlier this year is its signature song.
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.
Nat Gottlieb: Salido vs. Roman, Round 8
The nod here goes to the eighth round of the Miguel Roman vs. Orlando Salido war on December 9. Relying on years of experience and sheer guts, Salido somehow managed to take Roman into the latter rounds after being knocked down in the fourth round. Then in the 8th came a round for the ages. A stinging left hook from Roman put Salido down hard. Although the aged veteran got to his feet, it seemed there was no way he would make it to the end of the round. But in what turned out to be the final blaze of glory for the 37-year-old, former two-time featherweight champion, Salido turned the tables on Roman and beat him from pillar-to-post for the remainder of the round. As the bell sounded, the Las Vegas crowd rose to its feet and roared with appreciation for the gutsy display of fighting from both men.
Springs Toledo: Salido vs. Roman, Round 8
Round eight of the Mickey Roman-Orlando Salido fight looked like a George Bellows oil from the early 20th century come to life. Salido, a thirty-seven-year-old warhorse with thirteen losses and a reputation that renders every one of them a moot point, stuck his head on the shoulder of Mickey Roman and dug uppercuts and hooks in while Roman, who came into the bout with a last-chance, do-or-die mentality, was his less-grizzled mirror image. Their visages obscured and their gloves a-blur as if Bellows was slashing a canvas in black and yellow, the drama of the round reached a crescendo when a seemingly never-ending combination forced Salido back toward the ropes where he collapsed. Salido sat for a moment and then wearily got himself to his feet.
When the referee asked him if he was all right, his response was that of a street corner kid: "Si," he said with a gesture that looked like he was hoisting up his trunks as if it ain't no thing. "Are you sure?" the referee asked again. "Si!" Salido shot back like an old man offended at a stupid question. He got back to work, and in the last ten seconds was in command--digging in hooks and uppercuts while Roman, winded and stunned, could only keep his gloves high. The bell rang and the old warhorse turned his back and headed to his corner; Roman stood still for just a moment and watched him, with respect.
Hamilton Nolan: Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez 2, Round 4
Round 4, Rungvisai-Gonzalez 2. Sor Rungvisai's knockout of Chocolatito was a few things simultaneously. It was proof their first fight was not a fluke; it was the end of one man's dominance; and it was, probably, the end of Gonzalez's career. He was broken.
Gordon Marino: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 11
Frank Della Femina: Canelo vs. Golovkin, Round 5
During Round 5 of Canelo-Golovkin, both fighters met on the ropes which just around a minute to go. At this point the fight that started so favorably for Canelo was beginning to level out. This exchange between the two was easily my favorite moment of the year, as Golovkin’s right found the head of Canelo, but the Mexican stood his ground, stared back, and just shook his head. Seconds later, Canelo answered back with a few shots and just missed a right of his own over an evasive, grinning Golovkin. GGG responded in kind by shaking his head, Canelo shook his head before fighting his way off the ropes, and by the end of the fight, everyone was shaking their heads.
Oliver Goldstein: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
Four rounds in, Anthony Joshua was doing OK. Boxing on the outside against a cautious but focused Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua seemed content to operate in a holding pattern: if he wasn’t winning, he wasn’t losing either. But then, at the start of the fifth, the Londoner suddenly overcame the gap between them and crashed the Ukrainian to his knees. Badly shaken, Klitschko stumbled to his feet while euphoria surged through the Wembley crowd. Yet as the seconds passed, Joshua, coursing with adrenaline, grew overeager, then reckless. Suddenly, before anyone had time to make sense of it, the Brit was swaying stiffly on his feet, rocked senseless by a resurgent Klitschko. The round ended with Joshua clinging to consciousness.
Kieran Mulvaney: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
This was the round that elevated this clash from interesting to epic, and its story is told in a sequence of reactions from the 90,000-strong, highly pro-Joshua, crowd. First. The roars of delight as Joshua had Klitschko down and seemingly there for the taking. Then an odd quiet for such a large contingent of humanity, as the spectators struggled to comprehend what they were witnessing: Joshua, having been on the brink of victory, now seemingly frozen, his legs leaden. Finally, a different kind of roar: of shocked realization, of concern, of trying to rally their champion from the brink of sudden defeat. Joshua made it to the bell, but it would be a few more rounds yet before the echoes of the fifth finished reverberating around Wembley and Joshua resumed his ultimately conclusive control.
Carlos Acevedo: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
Heavyweights rarely rumble at the pace Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua set last April. And when they do, the results can be mesmerizing. The fifth round of their struggle saw Klitschko cut and dropped after Joshua unloaded some of his precision combinations. In pursuit of a knockout win over the most accomplished heavyweight since Lennox Lewis, Joshua tore after Klitschko, battering the veteran around the ring. Even with Joshua storming after him, Klitschko, a pro since 1996, kept his composure, and when Joshua began to gas, “Dr. Steelhammer” went to work, rallying to hurt Joshua repeatedly before the bell rang to end the round. For the action junkie, the Mickey Roman-Orlando Salido dustup probably had more rounds of all-out ferocity than Joshua-Klitschko. But the fifth round of Joshua-Klitschko did not just stand on its own but was also a harbinger of the dramatic shifts in momentum to come.
Eric Raskin: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
To quote my own Twitter feed (something only really cool people do), the fifth round of the Joshua-Klitschko fight was “one of the best heavyweight rounds I’ve seen in a long time. Wlad has a weak chin, but no lack of testicular fortitude.” Joshua rocked Klitschko early in the round, Wladimir was cut over the left eye, and he finally went down. He tried to hold, looked like he was in pure survival mode — but then the 41-year-old ex-champ started firing back. And before you knew it, Joshua was exhausted and in survival mode himself, eating a right hand, a left hook, a right uppercut. It was as dramatic as a round of heavyweight boxing gets, a round that helped show us what both Joshua and Klitschko are made of.
Diego Morilla: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
There is no legitimate lineage claim in the biggest prize in sports without a dramatic moment to validate the win in the most emphatic fashion. Joe Louis visited the canvas in the first round against Jim Braddock to later stop him in his title-winning bout, Muhammad Ali was almost blind for an entire round before clearing his vision to stop Sonny Liston in his first title fight, and then withstood a non-stop shellacking by George Foreman to score the biggest upset ever in the second one, and the list goes on. And this heavyweight championship bout had to have its moment of drama as well. Going into the fifth round, Klitschko was behind on all scorecards after a dull start, and Joshua moved in for the kill. It turned out to be a bad idea, as the aging champion and fellow Olympic gold medalist withstood the early onslaught and came back to open a cut on the local favorite. Joshua responded with a barrage that sent Klitschko to the canvas, but he rose to produce what ended up becoming the last two truly competitive minutes of his career as he rallied to keep the suddenly gassed out Joshua on the defensive – and on the brink of a stoppage himself. The fight had a few ups and downs before culminating in a well-earned win by Joshua, but this round lives on as a testimony of Klitschko’s grit during what was supposed to be just a ceremonial handing of the scepter to the new king.
Michael Gluckstadt: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
This is the kind of round you would call unrealistic if they put it in a movie. The ascendant star sees an opportunity to make a statement in front of 90,000 of his countrymen and seizes it. The legendary champ on his way to retirement -- who'd been dinged throughout his career for not showing enough heart -- storms right back at him. So often, boxers finish their careers as husks of what they once were. He's washed. Wladimir Klitschko left the sport after the fight of his life.
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 Fighter of the Year.
Nat Gottlieb: Andre Ward
It’s hard to give a fighter the year’s best honor when he fought just once in 2017, but in this case Andre Ward is the exception to the rule. With his convincing and devastating dismantling of former champ Sergey Kovalev. Ward proved he should be sitting atop the light heavyweight division as well as the list of pound-for-pound fighters. After Ward defeated Kovalev in their first meeting in 2016 by a razor thin unanimous decision, many felt the Russian power puncher was robbed. In the rematch this June, Ward answered any questions lingering from their first fight with a systematic beatdown of Kovalev, stopping him in the eighth round.
Springs Toledo: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
Many outlets considered Roman Gonzalez the best P4P fighter in the world in March of this year. Then Srisaket Sor Rungvisai arrived for the first time on American shores with a smile on his face that hid his intention destroy an idol. Sor Rungvisai's record was nothing that would have alarmed Gonzalez. Since the previous June, he had fought three six-rounders and the fighters he defeated were making their professional debuts. Gonzalez had abdicated the flyweight throne in October 2016 and struggled in a win against Carlos Cuadras at junior bantamweight. Cuadras owns a technical win over the invader, but that was in 2014 and was more false assurance.
As it was, Sor Rungvisai -- physically strong, heavy handed, unorthodox, and relentless -- proved to be a technician's nightmare. Gonzalez could neither hurt nor control him and a series of unintentional headbutts were at once painful and disruptive. A banged-up Gonzalez lost a controversial majority decision.
The rematch removed all doubt. Sor Rungvisai trained four months to make sure of it. He knocked Gonzalez down and then out with a right hand and proved himself Aaron Pryor to Gonzalez's Alexis Arguello. An underdog both times, Sor Rungvisai conquered the best P4P fighter in the world.
Hamilton Nolan: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Golovkin had a great year too. But Rungvisai single-handedly deposed the mini-Golovkin, Chocolatito, ushering in a new era atop the division and demonstrating that perhaps all the talk of Chocolatito as the "best pound for pound fighter" was a bit overblown.
Gordon Marino: Andre Ward
Frank Della Femina: Andre Ward
Andre Ward may have fought only once this year, but it’s all he needed to get my pick for HBO Fighter of the Year. Here’s a guy who essentially took a year off at what was perceived to be the height of his career, came back into the mix with a few soft touches, and then took on the “Krusher” in their highly anticipated 2016 fight. Say what you will be about the first fight, but Ward came out on top in the eyes of the judges, and when it comes to earning the W those are the only eyes that matter. Ward could have bounced then, he could have called it a career and left everyone wondering what could have been if only he and Kovalev had faced each other once again. But he didn’t want to leave any doubt. He wanted to make a statement. So Ward took the rematch, won in convincing fashion, and showed boxing fans he had nothing more to prove. He slayed the biggest name in the division not once, but twice, and went out on top, on his terms.
Oliver Goldstein: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
There’s no fighter more deserving of this than Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Not especially heralded before his first fight with the brilliant Chocolatito Gonzalez, even if he had been tabbed by a few aficionados as worth a punt against the small, aging Chocolatito, the Thai super flyweight produced a stunning performance to upset the Nicaraguan in a marvelous bout this March in New York. Then, six months later, he returned to double the dose, this time stopping Chocolatito in four devastating rounds. Keeping up the schedule, Sor Rungvisai returns in February against the terrific Mexican, Juan Estrada. Before that, though, he can take great satisfaction from an extraordinary year.
Kieran Mulvaney: Andre Ward
This is a little hard, as nobody really separated himself from the pack. Had he faced Orlando Salido as scheduled and emerged victorious, the winner might have been Miguel Berchelt, who would have been the only boxer to go 3-0 on the network this year. Even at 2-0, you could easily pick him. There’s a strong case to be made for Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who scored a controversial points win and a devastating knockout over Chocolatito Gonzalez, who was widely regarded as the number one fighter in the world pound-for-pound when the year began; if I believed he actually did win that first fight, I’d surely pick him. Had Gennady Golovkin been given the decision many feel he merited against Canelo Alvarez, he might have gotten the nod; had Alvarez begun his storming late-rounds comeback a round or two earlier, he might have done. But I’m going with someone who only fought once this year and, it seems, will never fight again. He bullied the bully and crushed the Krusher; after again falling behind early against Sergey Kovalev, as he had done when they first met last November, he got into gear sooner and took over the contest more comprehensively, before removing any doubt with an eighth-round stoppage.
Carlos Acevedo: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
The draw between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin last September made this choice a difficult one. Had a winner emerged from that collision—officially, that is, since GGG seemed to edge out a decision—he would have easily been the Fighter of the Year. As it stands, however, neither Golovkin nor Alvarez notched clear-cut victories over elite competition in 2017. In a way, neither did Andre Ward, whose stoppage of Sergey Kovalev was marred by poor officiating. That leaves Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who followed up his debatable but arduous points win over Roman Gonzalez in March with a chilling KO that left no room for guesswork. He also took the guesswork out of this category.
Eric Raskin: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
If either of them had fought more than once on HBO this year, I probably would have given this honor to Anthony Joshua or Andre Ward. But they didn’t, so I’m not. I’m instead recognizing Rungvisai, who went from an unknown outside of Thailand entering the year to a man who twice defeated the fighter who entered 2017 as the pound-for-pound king. Sure, the first win over Chocolatito Gonzalez was a highly controversial (read: incorrect) decision. But Rungvisai had knocked Chocolatito down and pushed him harder than anyone else had in his pro career, so it was at least a moral victory. And it was followed by an emphatic victory: a fourth-round knockout in which the once-great Chocolatito was made to look like a tomato can. That was Rungvisai’s coming-out party, and it made his earlier upset win feel more legitimate in retrospect.
Matt Draper: Tie between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Daniel Jacobs
I’m nominating two guys: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Danny Jacobs. Sor Rungvisai was clinical in his March upset of former P4P king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, and in the September rematch produced a dominant, clear-cut victory that proved his ring skills beyond a doubt. The comparisons to Pacman are not crazy far-fetched and his February 2018 bout will be one to watch. In addition to Sor Rungvisai, Jacobs made a bold statement in 2017; aside from bouncing back from a GGG knockdown to give the Kazakh all he could handle for 12 tough rounds in a close loss, the “Miracle Man” made easy work of trash-talk extraordinaire Luis Arias in November and is firmly planted on the next-up middleweight tier after Canelo and Golovkin. Also, it’s pretty tough not to like the guy; Jacobs quickly became a fan favorite with his rise-from-the-ashes story and consistent class act. (Bonus points for the “fruity pebbles” line during the Arias presser.)
Diego Morilla: Canelo Alvarez
The anti-Canelo crowd had two main arguments against the Freckled Boy Wonder’s claim to superiority: he would have to face, once and for all and with no excuses, what they perceived as his two biggest threats. In 2017, he did. What are the excuses now? Granted: in the first one, Julio Cesar Chavez simply didn’t come to fight. And in the second one, he focused more on making Gennady Golovkin miss than on making him pay for it. But even so, Canelo was only a few lucky twists and turns away from scoring two impressive signature wins in one year against his most dangerous foes available, and that has to mean something somewhere. In a world where fighters are rushed to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings after Globetrotting the Washington Generals du jour based on how good they look in the ring, someone did the hard work of facing the best out there, and has not yet been rewarded for it. This modest paragraph intends to serve, as best it can, that modest purpose.
Michael Gluckstadt: Anthony Joshua
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai made himself a compelling case, but ultimately it's too difficult to disentwine his emergence from Chocolatito's downfall. Is the Thai fighter truly the best in the division? Or did the former pound-for-pounder from Nicaragua simply reach his expiration date? Andre Ward's lone opponent in 2017 -- a Sergey Kovalev who is very much still Krushing -- showed no doubt that the "Son of God" is still capable of beating the best, but I'd rather focus on the future than the past, and no one cemented their star status this year like Anthony Joshua, who did so on the biggest possible stage in the best fight of the year.
It’s a holiday treat for HBO Boxing fans. Over four consecutive nights beginning December 26, HBO presents seven of the year’s standout fights, spotlighting some of the biggest names in the sport. Featured are signature wins by Anthony Joshua, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Sadam Ali and Andre Ward, plus the high-stakes middleweight showdown last September between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.
The Boxing’s Best lineup includes:
Tuesday, December 26 - 11:00 ET/PT
Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin & Orlando Salido vs. Miguel Roman
Wednesday, December 27 - 11:30 ET/PT
Roman Gonzalez vs. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai I & Miguel Cotto vs. Sadam Ali
Thursday, December 28 - 11 ET/PT
David Lemieux vs. Curtis Stevens & Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev 2
Friday, December 29 - 11 ET/PT
Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
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