HBO Boxing Insiders Year End Picks: Best Blow

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

More: Boxing's Best from 2015

As the end of the year approaches, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on the network and HBO PPV in 2015. Here, they make their selections for the Best Blow landed this year.

Previously:

Fighter of the Year

Fight of the Year

Round of the Year

KO of the Year

Kieran Mulvaney: Francisco Vargas Lands a Right Hand on Takashi Miura, Round 9

In a fight that had already had two acts (Act One: Vargas Nearly Knocks Out Miura; Act Two: Miura Asserts Himself and Beats Vargas Up), the third and final act, so much shorter than the others, opened with a bolt from the blue in the form of a Vargas right hand. That punch short-circuited Miura and sent him down hard; and even though Miura stood up to beat the count, the repercussions of that blow were too great and a follow-up Vargas barrage prompted Tony Weeks to stop the fight.

Eric Raskin: Canelo's Uppercut vs. Kirkland

I was tempted to pick Jessie Vargas' final-round knee-buckler against Tim Bradley, but as we all know, that Best Blow contender was immediately followed by a Worst Blown Call contender. So I'll go obvious…with a twist. Rather than select the knockout blow from the Canelo-Kirkland fight, I'll take the sizzling shot that softened Kirkland up, the right uppercut that Kirkland leaned directly into that floored him for the first time in the round. A few seconds later, he would go down for good.

Nat Gottlieb: Ortiz's Round 7 Uppercut Against Jennings

The uppercut Luis Ortiz landed on Bryant Jennings in round 7 was the best blow of 2015 for more than one reason. On the surface it was a great shot because it was the beginning of the end for Jennings. More than that, it was a blow that marked a new era in the heavyweight division. With the loss by perennial champion Wladimir Klitschko to Tyson Fury, the door is wide open for a new star in the heavyweight division. With that punch Ortiz stepped into the picture.

Oliver Goldstein: Ortiz's Round 7 Uppercut Against Jennings

Jennings got up, only to be stopped later, but Luis Ortiz's left uppercut which sent Jennings face first into the canvas was my blow of the year. On a deeply significant night for Ortiz, which makes him one of Tyson Fury's likeliest contenders next year, this delivered severe notice of his power, smashing Jennings's head back in the clinch and crashing him to the canvas.

Diego Morilla: Canelo Knocks Out Kirkland

When you see a fighter rushing to celebrate a stoppage win without even looking back to see if his foe has managed to survive the count, you're not witnessing an act of arrogance. You're just watching a guy who is fully aware of his own punching power abandoning the scene of the crime after knowing for a fact that his bombs have already landed. A true marksman doesn't need to keep his eye on the scope to watch his prey fall to the ground. He knows the poor creature is done for as soon as the bullet leaves the gun. And that was young Saul Alvarez in Houston, after delivering his devastating right hand to James Kirkland's chin, one that spun the otherwise durable Kirkland in mid-air and sent him on a one-way, face-first trip to the canvas. One fraction of a second ahead of all of us, Canelo knew what he had done. And he was already standing on the second-rope turnbuckles of a neutral corner with his hands in the air in celebration while the referee was waving off the bout. That's how demolishing this knockout was.

Carlos Acevedo: Ortiz's Round 7 Uppercut Against Jennings

Saul Alvarez probably deserves this spot as well for his lights-out kayo of James Kirkland, but when a heavyweight lands a precise bomb, extraordinary things can happen. In this case, it was Luis Ortiz taking a step back and countering an onrushing Bryant Jennings with a perfectly timed uppercut that could be heard across the Eastern Seaboard. Jennings crashed, face-first, like a house hit by a wrecking ball. Incredibly, Jennings somehow beat the count but the fight was stopped moments later after a follow-up barrage from Ortiz. Heavyweights remain intriguing because of the implied relationship between size and power. Against Jennings, Ortiz proved that such a correlation, every once in a while, is true.

Bob Canobbio, President and Founder of CompuBox: Golovkin Body Blow that Dropped Lemieux in Round Five

Frank Della Femina: Cotto's Left Hook Knocks Out Daniel Geale

I'm tempted to go with Canelo-Kirkland again but I'll pull back the reins just a bit and go with Cotto-Geale instead. That signature left hook was in prime form against Geale, so much so that he nearly put the guy through the ropes when he landed it. Although Cotto would later go on to lose to Canelo on the cards in November, that signature punch really stands out as one of my favorites in 2015.

Frank Miller: Canelo Knocks Out Kirkland

Kirkland's body hits the canvas in a way that doesn't look, sound, or feel good by any measure. Alvarez had already knocked Kirkland down twice in three rounds and connected on 60% of his power punches. To make matters worse, Canelo isn't even touched on the final blow—in fact, he ducks under Kirkland's left hook rather gracefully. 

Michael Gluckstadt: Golovkin Lands an Uppercut on Lemieux's Chin

It's possible other punches looked more devastating in slow motion, but this was the only moment in 2015 when I actually thought I might see someone's head removed from the rest of their body. Lemieux's head snapped back violently – his flopping hair contributing somewhat to the effect – and for a split second I thought I'd seen a Pez dispenser in the ring. 

HBO Boxing Podcast - Episode 89 - Ortiz vs. Jennings Postfight

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Luis Ortiz's dominant KO victory over Bryant Jennings this past weekend in Verona, New York.

Watch: HBO Boxing After Dark Highlights: Jennings vs. Ortiz & Walters vs. Sosa

Watch highlights from the Saturday, December 19 HBO Boxing After Dark doubleheader from Verona, New York featuring Bryant Jennings vs. Luis Ortiz and Nicholas Walters vs. Jason Sosa.

Real King Kong Is Real Deal as Ortiz Stops Jennings

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

Even as Luis Ortiz had been blasting his way through recent opposition, two questions remained entering his contest Saturday with fellow heavyweight Bryant Jennings. That recent opposition had not exactly been stellar, so was his apparent knockout power sufficient to affect a man like Jennings, who had never been noticeably hurt as a professional and recently went 12 hard rounds with then-champion Wladimir Klitschko? And would he be able to cope if Jennings were able to take him past the opening few rounds, deeper into a fight than he has been in a while? The answer to both proved to be a resounding yes, as the Cuban émigré hurt Jennings repeatedly en route to dropping and stopping him in the seventh round of an excellent contest that saw the arrival of a genuine new star in the heavyweight firmament.

Ortiz, 24-0 (21 KOs) with 2 no contests, served notice early that his power was genuine when he rocked Philadelphia’s Jennings in the opening round with a short right hook. Jennings walked backward into a corner, where Ortiz calmly pursued him in search of a finish, mixing up punches and hurting his opponent again with another hook. Jennings survived the round but his legs looked unsteady at its end.

Which made the American’s performance in the second round that much more impressive: undeterred by the battering of the opening three minutes, he came forward with intent, working in close, digging to the body and following up with short uppercuts that landed effectively. Ortiz regained the initiative in the third when another left sent Jennings staggering toward the ropes; but in the fourth, Jennings was back again, placing his head on Ortiz’s chest, smothering the Cuban’s punches and snapping his head back with more uppercuts.

Jennings’ recovery was sufficient to prompt Ortiz to bounce on his toes and circle Jennings from a distance in the fifth and sixth, pumping out a jab and keeping his foe at range. Jennings, 19-2 (10 KOs), was able once more to get Ortiz seemingly where he wanted him in the seventh, the fight being contested anew at close quarters, but suddenly Ortiz flashed a left uppercut of his own that sent Jennings crashing face first to the canvas. The American somehow managed to haul himself to his feet and beat the count, but another right hook sent him sagging into the ropes, a left hand knocked him backward, and referee Richard Pakozdi intervened to stop the contest at 2:41 of the round.

“He’s a fighter who deserves much respect,” said Ortiz of his beaten foe. “Not everybody goes 12 rounds with Klitschko. I have my training, I have my schooling and obviously I’m going to go out and attain my objective. Everyone has to take me into consideration as a heavyweight. I deserve to be in line to be one of the best.”

“I underestimated his pedigree,” conceded Jennings. “I was fighting pressure with pedigree. I wasn’t on my game and he got the best of me. He started to box a little more. I should have slowed it down and listened to my corner.”

At the end of Nicholas Walters’ super featherweight battle with Jason Sosa, ringside opinion was uniform. Sosa had been strong, game and brave, and he had done more than enough to hang tough and push the Jamaican in every round. But he had barely won a single frame, if indeed he had won any at all. HBO’s unofficial official, Harold Lederman, scored it 99-91 for Walters; several ringside actually had it wider.

And then the scores were read out. And by scores of 96-94 – for Sosa – and two scores of 95-95, the bout was judged a majority draw.

“I’m in total shock,” exclaimed Walters afterward. “I can’t believe it. I was in total control of the fight. He’s a good fighter, but I was never in danger, I was never hurt. It was an easy fight.”

‘Easy’ may have been overstating the case; even had the scores reflected ringside opinion, Walters would doubtless have felt the effects of a tough battle, in which each man ripped punches to his adversary’s body. Having launched himself toward stardom in 2014 by blowing away foes like Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire, Walters, in his first outing at 130 lbs., surrendered size and strength advantages to the stocky Sosa, 18-1-4 (13 KOs), who sought to rip short punches in close. Walters, in contrast, began by boxing from range, but even when the battle wound up being contested in the proverbial phone booth, he appeared to be getting the better of the exchanges, courtesy not only of a sharper, more varied attack but also by subtle defensive moves that saw him slip many of Sosa’s power punches. Round after round, Sosa hung tough, and never once stopped trying; but round after round, Walters, 26-0-1 (21 KOs), had that little bit more.

Or so it seemed.

Walters, however, wasn’t the only one unhappy with the outcome.

“I thought I won the fight,” insisted Sosa. “I’m disappointed it was scored a draw.”

WATCH: Sit Down with Jennings, Ortiz, Walters and Sosa

Jennings and Ortiz Look to Inherit an Historic Throne

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

When Rocky Balboa and Luke Skywalker took their cinematic bows, Elvis Presley was alive, Sugar Ray Leonard was beginning his professional career, and the heavyweight championship of the world was in the hands of Muhammad Ali. Nearly forty years later, Balboa is mentoring his former rival’s son, Elvis is living under an assumed name in a tropical paradise with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, and Leonard has been a Hall-of-Famer for 18 years. (In the interests of remaining spoiler-free, the circumstances and whereabouts of Darth Vader’s son will not here be revealed.)

As for the heavyweight championship of the world: well, it is fair to say that Ali has never truly been replaced. Perhaps it is unfair to expect anyone to replicate that unique combination of skill and flair, although plenty have taken their turn at trying to match some of it. Larry Holmes, Ali’s immediate successor, suffered in his predecessor’s shadow despite an abundance of talent; Mike Tyson wrenched the division out of its post-Holmesian drought, suffused it with an excitement and vigor unmatched before or since, but flamed out in an orgy of self-destruction; Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko brought quality and class but rarely a connection with the masses.

Now, the heavyweights find themselves in another interregnum. Tyson Fury has dethroned the king, but few expect him to be much more than a transient occupant of the throne; and Klitschko’s demise has brought life to an emerging crop of contenders awaiting an opportunity to stake their claim. Bryant Jennings – like the fictional Balboa, a product of Philadelphia – is the last man to have tried and failed to defeat Klitschko, and he returns to the ring on Saturday night against one of the oldest prospects of recent times: the 36-year-old Luis Ortiz.

That Ortiz has only 23 professional fights at his age is a consequence of his upbringing, of having been brought through the extensive Cuban amateur system that produced the likes of Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, who between them won six Olympic gold medals between 1972 and 2000 but never once joined the prizefighting ranks. After a reported 350 amateur wins, however, Ortiz did turn professional, leaving Cuba for the United States, motivated largely by a desire to seek a better life for a daughter with an incurable illness. Jennings, now 30 years old, did not even lace up a glove as an amateur until he was 24, but his natural talent and athleticism earned him a shot at Klitschko in his 20th fight and an invitation to return to HBO in this, his first outing since then.

Both men are soft-spoken and enjoyable to talk to; neither has the malice of early Tyson or the self-aggrandizing wit of Ali. Even should Saturday’s winner prove to be the next to grasp the championship chalice, many fans are likely to look forward to the time they surrender the crown to Anthony Joshua or Joseph Parker, two powerful youngsters in whom the Force truly does seem to be strong. But neither Jennings nor Ortiz will care: what matters for them is not what happened 40 years ago or what might happen several years hence, but the here and now. Jennings, having fallen just short of the brass ring once, will feel he cannot possibly afford to do so twice, and will be immensely motivated not to lose his second in a row; Ortiz, particularly at his relatively advanced age, may have only one shot and knows he cannot afford to be knocked off the path he is presently on. For both, the prospect of victory on Saturday night offers a new hope.

Weights from Turning Stone resort and Casino, Verona, NY

Bryant Jennings 229.5 lbs.

Luis Ortiz 239 lbs.

Nicholas Walters 129.5 lbs.

Jason Sosa 130 lbs. 

HBO Boxing News: Jennings vs. Ortiz Weigh-In

Bryant Jennings and Luis Ortiz weigh in ahead of their heavyweight contest. Jennings vs. Ortiz happens Saturday, December 19 at 10:15 PM ET on HBO Boxing After Dark.