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

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

 

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

sor+rungvisai+celebrates+chocolatito+ko.jpg

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

beltran maicelo KO

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.

Podcast: GGG-Jacobs Fight Week Pod No. 4 -- Interview with Jim Lampley

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney welcome Hall of Fame HBO Boxing broadcaster Jim Lampley to the podcast for a conversation covering the Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs showdown, David Lemieux's frightening knockout of Curtis Stevens, Jim's favorite fighters growing up, and much more.

Golovkin vs. Jacobs is available live on HBO Pay-Per-View on Saturday, March 18 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. 

Podcast: Lemieux-Stevens Recap and GGG-Jacobs Stats Preview

Middleweight madness! HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney look back on David Lemieux's spectacular one-punch knockout win over Curtis Stevens, assess the overall state of the middleweight division, and begin their look ahead to the this Saturday's showdown between Gennady "GGG" Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs with a breakdown of the key CompuBox stats for both fighters.

 

Watch: Lemieux vs. Stevens Highlights

Watch highlights from David Lemieux's third-round KO victory over Curtis Stevens on March 11, 2017. 

Lemieux Annihilates Stevens with Stunning KO

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

VERONA, N.Y. – Nine-and-a-half months remain in the year, but David Lemieux may as well already seize the award for Knockout of the Year right now and dare anybody to take it from him. There may be more claimants before 2017 is over, but so vicious and frightening was Lemieux’s one-punch obliteration of Curtis Stevens at Turning Stone Casino on Saturday night that they are almost certainly destined to be pretenders rather than contenders.

This was a knockout of such sudden ferocity that, for many minutes afterward, there was fear for the health of Stevens, who lay unconscious and unmoving on the ring apron as medical professionals attended to him with real urgency. He was awake and showing some responsiveness as he was stretchered out of the arena, but his mother, who had been sitting at ringside and rapidly made her way to her stricken son, will have undergone some of the most anxious moments of her life. It was a knockout for the ages, one that highlighted both the beauty and the feral brutality of boxing.

The middleweight clash had promised action from the beginning, because of the history of both combatants, each long renowned as a furious puncher, because of the bad blood that had brewed between them in the build-up, and because of the stakes that were at hand: a possible return to the championship picture for the winner, the threat of mediocrity or irrelevance for the loser. And from the opening bell, those stakes were apparent as Lemieux (37-3, 33 KOs) tore into Stevens (29-6, 21 KOs) with both fists. A furious first round saw Lemieux land a big right hand that appeared to hurt Stevens and back him to the ropes, only for Stevens to respond with a powerful hook as the Canadian sought to press his advantage. At round’s end, it was Lemieux’s turn to launch a hook, this one clearly hurting the Brooklynite, who ate another hook to the body as the bell sounded to end a frantic three minutes.

Lemieux continued to attack in the second, but Stevens appeared to have regained some solidity and was seeking to meet Lemieux’s fusillade with more selectively explosive artillery of his own. A straight right from Stevens landed cleanly on his opponent’s jaw, but Lemieux came back with a hook to the head and digging punches to the body once more.

Then came the third round, another fast-paced and furious two minutes and then Lemieux backing Stevens to the ropes, the two men uncorking hooks at the same time, but Lemieux’s landing first, detonating with nuclear force on his foe’s jaw and rendering him instantly unconscious. Stevens landed under the bottom rope, his right arm falling to one side and sending the timekeeper, fearing the entirety of the New Yorker’s muscular body was headed onto his table, scurrying backward. But Stevens did not move, even a little bit, other than for the rapid but shallow movement of his ribcage, until finally, as his neck was braced and he was loaded onto a stretcher, his eyelids flickered open, his hands showed some involuntary movement and he slowly came to consciousness.

Lemieux will receive the plaudits, and rightfully so, for he did what boxers are asked to do and in spectacularly emphatic fashion. But thoughts afterward turn to, and remain with, his fallen foe.

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Yuriorkis Gamboa returned from a 15-month layoff, and a barren spell of four fights in over four years, to score a unanimous decision over Nicaragua’s Rene Alvarado in the co-main event. Aside from a called knockdown – which was really a slip – in the 10th and final round, Gamboa (26-1, 17 KOs) was comfortably in control throughout, but it was rarely if ever the kind of exciting outing that he would have wanted to announce his re-entry to a stacked junior lightweight division. 

The Cuban émigré was fast and skillful enough to all but shut down Alvarado’s offense, but was unable to close the gap to his reluctant opponent to enable him to unleash combinations. As a result, he mostly pot-shotted from the outside, and found his punches being caught by Alvarado’s gloves, as the restive crowd began to boo. He did open up in the 8th, and appeared to floor Alvarado (24-8, 16 KOs) – although referee Benjiy Esteves ruled (correctly upon review) that the Nicaraguan had slipped – and was fortunate to escape a forfeiture of points or worse when he landed two rapid-fire punches with his foe still on the canvas. 

Aside from that, however, there was little action to speak of, although Gamboa can at least satisfy himself that he came through his latest comeback with a victory, with the hope of greater and more exciting times in future. His problem is that, at age 35 and with what should have been the most productive years of his career having been largely wasted, the future is unlikely to be as long as he would like.

Watch: Lemieux vs. Stevens Weigh-In Recap

David Lemieux and Curtis Stevens weighed in ahead of their middleweight bout.

Lemieux vs. Stevens happens Saturday, March 11 live on HBO beginning at 11pm ET/PT.
 

Weigh-in recap and slideshow: Lemieux, Stevens to Work Out Private Conflict on Public Stage

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

VERONA, N.Y. -- It only took a few minutes of a conference call with boxing media – normally the kind of anodyne event notable, if at all, only for the occasional puzzlingly left-field questions thrown fighters’ way – for the feelings that David Lemieux and Curtis Stevens have for each other to erupt into view.

Stevens was in the middle of answering a question when Lemieux, disagreeing with his answer, interrupted him. Stevens jawed back. And then the verbal back-and-forth escalated.

“You’re going to get knocked out,” asserted Lemieux.

“Tell the doctor to bring smelling salts,” shot back Stevens. “They’re going to need it to wake your ass up, pretty boy,” 

“I’m going to destroy you,” Stevens continued. “You’re going to get what you want. Your whole front furniture will be missing from your mouth.”

If the whole exchange (of which the above is a mere excerpt) reads in transcription a little like a case of “I know what you are but what am I?” served with a side of “I’m not touching you!”, the animosity between two men who bludgeon people into unconsciousness for a living is real. 

“'The last time that my opponent spoke so much and I so disliked him … I broke three of his ribs and his nose,” said Lemieux a few days ago. On Friday, the morning of the weigh-in for his Boxing After Dark main event clash with Stevens at Turning Stone Casino on Saturday night, Lemieux expanded a little on the reason for his animus. 

“Stevens is a guy who likes to downgrade fighters to hype up a fight,” he explained. “I dislike him because of his character. He’s a clown and I’m going to have to deal with it in the ring.”

And yes, this is boxing, where it can be a challenge to distinguish between the honest and the deceitful, the authentic and the artificial. And yes, some of Stevens’ statements and actions have clearly been with the deliberate attempt to stir up a reaction: witness specifically his establishment of a GoFundMe page to pay for Lemieux’s hospital bills. 

But while there doesn’t appear to be the depth of dislike that characterized the relationships between, for example, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales or Fernando Vargas and Oscar De La Hoya, there is legitimate needle between the two middleweights. Part of it may be fueled by some past personal history, dating back seven years or so, although the extent to which Stevens and Lemieux palled around in the past as a result of a mutual association with light-heavyweight Jean Pascal is a matter of some dispute: Stevens insisting they were good friends until he arrived in the Canadian’s weight class, Lemieux throwing cold water on the notion of them fraternizing much at all.

Stevens, it should be noted, has some history at getting under the skin of his opponents. Prior to his November 2013 encounter with Gennady Golovkin, for example, he posted several photos on social media of he and friends gathered in prayer around a coffin emblazoned with the Kazakh’s initials. Infuriated, Golovkin turned to Stevens at the final pre-fight press conference and asked, “Are you serious?” After angrily beating the New Yorker into submission after eight rounds at Madison Square Garden, Golovkin emphasized that it was important to, as he put it in his then-very-fractured English, “respect box.”

Some of that needling is a consequence of Stevens’ character and origin. Whereas Lemieux is sociable and frequently smiling, Stevens is less so. He isn’t hostile to interlocutors by any means, and when in the right mood can be interesting and expansive company. But there is an intensity to his very being that perhaps reflects his being birthed in the same rough Brooklyn neighborhood that spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Zab Judah, among others.

“I’m from Brownsville,” he said on Friday. “I wasn’t supposed to make it out. I’ve got to be special. I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want to make my mother happy.”

How she feels about her Curtis relentlessly poking his opponents into fury is unrecorded, but however much Stevens and Lemieux may want to do harm to each other, they are professional enough to ensure that they set about their task in a measured way, not being reckless and doing only what they do best. Fortunately for fans, what each man does best is box very well and punch extremely hard; their skills and in-ring intensity, mixed with a dash of vitriol, make for a set of ingredients that should ensure the resolution of their rivalry will, for the neutral, be a satisfying one.

Weights from Verona:
David Lemieux: 159 lbs. | Curtis Stevens: 158.25 lbs.

Yuriorkis Gamboa: 131 lbs. | Rene Alvarado: 130.25 lbs.
 

State of the Division: Middleweight

Gennady "GGG" Golovkin, a perfect 36-0, has piled up 23 consecutive knockouts.

Gennady "GGG" Golovkin, a perfect 36-0, has piled up 23 consecutive knockouts.

Photos: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

It’s long been said that the middleweight division is the weight class in which the power of the big men and the speed of the little guys most perfectly intersect. Less frequently observed is the 160-pound division’s distinction as a weight class in which the true champions often need to pay their dues and work extra hard to prove themselves. From Jake La Motta to Marvin Hagler to Bernard Hopkins to Sergio Martinez, the road to the top has often been littered with obstacles.

At the moment, there is some dispute as to who’s truly on top – and there’s some major separation in the number of hoops two particular fighters have had to jump through to stake their respective claims. It’s currently a strong division. It’s currently an attractive division. But above all, it’s currently a division in need of resolution.

Here’s a look at who’s who at middleweight, heading into back-to-back weekends of potentially thrilling main events that will assuredly move us closer – but not all the way – to that answer we crave.

The Lineal Champion: Canelo Alvarez

Canelo next faces Julio Chavez Jr. on May 6.

Canelo next faces Julio Chavez Jr. on May 6.

Alvarez is many things: a massive star, a talented fighter, the man who beat the man who beat the man. But there’s a complicated question looming over all of that: Is he really a middleweight? The popular (if polarizing) 26-year-old Mexican didn’t have to clear many obstacles to become the lineal middleweight champ. He got his crack against Miguel Cotto in 2015 and won, and since then he fought a welterweight, Amir Khan, five pounds below the middleweight limit, and he fought obscure Liam Smith for a junior middleweight belt. On May 6, he’ll meet Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at the creative limit of 164.5 pounds. Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) has yet to fight a single bout for which he and his opponent were allowed to weigh 160. But in terms of the unbroken lineage that tracks back to Hopkins, Canelo is the middleweight champ.

The People’s Champion: Gennady Golovkin

He has been effectively the No. 1 contender to Martinez, Cotto, and now Canelo, but “GGG,” closing in on five years of fighting in America, is still waiting for his shot. So the Kazakh machine, with 23-straight knockouts highlighting his pristine record of 36-0, 33 KOs, has been collecting belts and scalps and will look to do more of that March 18 at Madison Square Garden against Daniel Jacobs. On paper, Jacobs appears to be Golovkin’s toughest test yet. But that’s been said before of other opponents, such as Matthew Macklin, Daniel Geale, and David Lemieux, all of whom were dispatched with ease. In the minds of most fans, Golovkin, 34, is the best middleweight in the world, even if he hasn’t yet been able to pin down the opponent against whom he can conclusively prove it.

The Human (Interest) Highlight Reel: Daniel Jacobs

Jacobs faces Golovkin on March 18. Photo credit: Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions

Jacobs faces Golovkin on March 18. Photo credit: Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions

They call him “The Miracle Man,” the perfect moniker for a fighter who overcame bone cancer. Jacobs’ personal story of perseverance has been told so many times that it tends to overshadow his boxing abilities, but as first-round knockout victim Peter Quillin can attest, the 30-year-old Brooklynite is much more than just a heartwarming story. He has elite speed, power (as evidenced by a record of 32-1 with 29 KOs) and skill. And on March 18 against Gennady Golovkin, he’ll put all of those talents to the ultimate test.

The Big-Mouthed Brit: Billy Joe Saunders

Best known for his NSFW interviews and his ability to find excuses when opportunities to fight Golovkin have been put in front of him, UK southpaw Saunders is just coming into his prime at age 27. He’s undefeated in 24 fights, with 12 KOs, but enthusiasm is tempered because his two most meaningful wins, against Chris Eubank Jr. and Andy Lee, were both razor-close decisions. The 2008 Olympian recent split from longtime trainer Jimmy Tibbs and is now joining forces with Adam Booth, but at the moment, he has no fights scheduled and his name doesn’t seem to be on the tip of Canelo’s or GGG’s tongues anymore.

The Handsome Slugger: David Lemieux

Lemieux, who took a beating from Golovkin in 2015, is looking to prove his staying power when he battles Stevens on March 11.

Lemieux, who took a beating from Golovkin in 2015, is looking to prove his staying power when he battles Stevens on March 11.

With a fan-friendly bombs-away style and a passionate following in his native Montreal, Lemieux, 28, is a fighter destined to keep getting opportunities for as long as he remains a credible contender. Lemieux (36-3, 32 KOs) got jabbed silly – and then hammered into a mercy stoppage in the eighth round – by Golovkin in 2015, but against all middleweights below that level, he’s acquitted himself well. Lemieux’s best wins have come against Gabe Rosado, Hassan N’dam, and Glen Tapia, and on March 11, he’ll have a chance to add Curtis Stevens’ name to that list – provided fellow puncher Stevens doesn’t detonate something on Lemieux’s chin first.

The Tough Out: Hassan N’dam

It’s not an encouraging stat: N’dam touched the canvas 10 times combined in his two losses, against Lemieux in 2015 and Quillin in 2012. But the positive news is that he got up every single time and lasted the distance in both defeats, and along the way the France-based Cameroonian (35-2, 21 KOs) has defeated the likes of Stevens and Avtandil Khurtsidze. Now 33, N’dam’s opportunities may be dwindling. But until someone can knock him down and keep him down, he’ll stand up as the middleweight division’s premier gatekeeper.

The Legacy Kid: Chris Eubank Jr.

The son of the eccentric 1990s middleweight and super middleweight titlist of the same name, Eubank might have seemed a typical nepotism-fueled hype job at first, but he proved his worth in a split-decision loss to Saunders in 2014. At 24-1 with 19 KOs, the sharp-punching 27-year-old still has much to prove, but he’s blossoming into a reliable attraction in his native England and more than just a wannabe skating by on the strength of his daddy’s name.

The Mercurial Banger: Curtis Stevens

Who is the real Curtis Stevens? Is he the vicious hitter who plowed through Patrick Teixeira, Patrick Majewski, Saul Roman, and Elvin Ayala in a round or two apiece? Or is he the guy who didn’t let his hands go enough and lost to Jesse Brinkley and Hassan N’dam, and would have suffered the same fate against Tureano Johnson if not for a final-round rally? Only one version of the 31-year-old “Cerebral Assassin” (29-5, 21 KOs) has a chance against Lemieux on March 11, but if that right version shows up, it will make for one of those nights of pugilism on which blinking is strongly discouraged.

Also in the Conversation:

Peter Quillin, Andy Lee, Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Maciej Sulecki, Willie Monroe Jr., Avtandil Khurtsidze