Contenders Look to Stake Their Claim in Superfly 3 Tripleheader

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Nat Gottlieb

In the loaded super flyweight division, all roads to the top lead through a Thai roadblock named Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Juan Francisco Estrada has been down that path once before, losing a Fight Of The Year candidate bout to Rungvisai in February. The Mexican wants a rematch, but before he can get one he’ll have to maneuver his way around another barrier in two-time world title challenger, Felipe Orucuta, a rugged fighter with something of a size advantage.

The two boxers will headline Superfly 3, a tripleheader that will be broadcast on HBO’s Boxing After Dark this Saturday at 9:45 PM ET/PT.

In the co-feature, three-division champion, Donnie Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KO’s) will be moving up to super flyweight in a quest to add another title to his decorated resume. Nietes will be up against a hard-hitting fellow Filipino, Aston Palicte (24-2, 20 KO’s), who throws wicked uppercuts with both hands.  

In order for the 5’4” Estrada (36-3, 25 KO’s) to defeat a taller opponent in the 5’7” Orucuta (36-4, 30 KO’s), who has fought the majority of his bouts at bantamweight, he’ll have to overcome his tendency to start fights slowly.

In Estrada’s loss to Rungvisai, the Mexican was doing a lot of counterpunching in the early rounds, and while he did land some good shots, the Thai’s higher volume of punches was scoring points on aggression.

A former world champion, Estrada wisely changed tactics in the eighth round and began attacking behind a crisp jab, throwing combos that got through Rungvisai’s defense and did damage. The Mexican appeared to dominate the final five rounds, and it was reflected on two judges’ scorecards. Dave Moretti and Cathy Leonard each gave Estrada four of the last five rounds, but Steve Morrow scored four of them for Sor Rungvisai. The result was Estrada lost a majority decision, 113-115, 114-114, and 111-117.

"I felt I won the fight,” Estrada says. “I boxed him all night long and then I attacked him the last three rounds. I landed great shots at the end. I don't know what the judges saw. I thought I won clearly."

Like Rungvisai, Orucuta is a high-volume puncher. Unless Estrada gets more aggressive in the early rounds, he may find himself in the same boat as he did in his fight with the Thai fighter. Whether Estrada can change his early style is open to question.

In his last fight before facing Rungvisai, Estrada went up against another punching machine in former world champion Carlos Cuadras. Estrada came out counterpunching and was outworked in the early rounds by Cuadras before he picked up his attack in the later rounds. Estrada’s methodical counterpunching nearly cost him the fight. He managed to win a razor-thin unanimous decision, 114-113 on all three cards. The only thing that prevented Estrada from having to settle for a draw was that he knocked Cuadras down in the 10th round.

The 32-year-old Orucuta is a hard one to get a read on. Although he’s had 40 fights, the vast majority of them were against glorified club fighters and journeymen. So, while Orucuta’s 36 victories include 30 by knockout, his 75 percent KO rate doesn’t necessarily prove he has elite knockout power.

Based on his competition, it might even be fair to question whether Orucuta belongs in the same ring as Estrada. Ironically, however, judging by two of Orucuta’s losses, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Those defeats were inflicted by Omar Andres Narvaez, a two-division world champion who dominated the flyweight and super flyweight divisions for eight years, from 2006 to 2014.

Orucuta faced Narvaez twice toward the tail end of his long reign and gave the champion all he could handle, dropping a split decision loss in 2013, and a majority decision defeat the following year. Worth noting is that those two fights took place in Narvaez’s native Argentina.

In the first bout, Orucuta tried to keep the fight in the middle of the ring where he could utilize his four-and-a-half-inch height advantage and four inches longer reach. But the veteran champion, who had won 16 of 17 world title fights at that point, kept backing up to the ropes, forcing Orucuta to fight in tight quarters where he couldn’t extend his long arms. Still, two of the three judges’ cards indicated how tough an out Orucuta was, both scoring it 115-113 for Narvaez, while the other inexplicably had Orucuta winning, 118-110

In their rematch, the scorecards again showed how much trouble Orucuta gave to Narvaez before the champion won a majority decision, 114-114, and 116-112 twice. Since then, Orucuta has won seven of his last eight fights, his lone defeat coming at the bantamweight level to Jose Cayetano, who has since competed at super bantamweight and featherweight.

In the co-feature, Nietes has not lost a fight since 2004, but the three-division champion is moving up to super flyweight for the first time against a bigger opponent in Palicte, who can fight inside or outside and breaks down opponents with stinging uppercuts.

The 36-year-old Nietes, who has been fighting professionally for 15 years, is well aware of the stakes. “This fight represents a lot to me as I will seeking my fourth world championship in a fourth different weight division,” Nietes says. “Winning the world title will put me at the level of Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire and will add worldwide recognition to my career.”

Palicte, nine years younger, will be fighting a world class opponent for the first time, but with 20 of his 24 victories coming by way of knockout, and Nietes moving up in weight, he may be catching the longtime champion at an opportune time.

The first of the three televised fights involve the intriguing return to the ring of former three-division champion, Kazuto Ioka (22-1, 13 KO’s), who retired in November of 2017. Ioka will be moving up to super flyweight for the first time to face two-time world title challenger, McWilliams Arroyo (17-3, 14 KO’s), who scored an impressive majority decision over Cuadras in Superfly 2.

Ioka stunned the boxing world by retiring at 28 while still at the top of his game, having won six straight title fights. Why did he come back and move up in weight?

“First I retired because I fulfilled my initial goal of being a three-class champion,” Ioka says. “I went to Superfly 2 and I had a renewed energy to fight again. It surprised me. I got the urge to fight with a totally new situation. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I un-retired. I had never been in the atmosphere of American boxing and I loved it. Not to be cocky, but when I saw the level (at Superfly 2), I saw that I could compete at this level as well.”

Whyte and Brown Fight to Stay in Title Mix

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

By Nat Gottlieb

There was a time earlier in the new millennia when heavyweight boxing had lost much of its longtime allure for boxing fans. The fights were largely dull affairs with a lot of mismatches. 

But times have changed. The heavyweight buzz is back.

Not only have unbeaten champions Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua brought renewed excitement to the division, but there are several contenders who’ve also generated a lot of interest, such as Dillian Whyte and Lucas Browne. 

Saturday night Whyte and Browne, two hard-hitting heavyweights with seriously bad blood between them, will square off in England with a title shot possibly up for grabs. The fight from the O2 Arena in London will be shown live on HBO Boxing After Dark at 6 PM ET/PT (replayed at 10 PM ET/PT).

Whyte (22-1, 16 KOs) burst onto the scene in 2015. At the time, while he was unbeaten in 16 fights, he had only faced the usual suspects. But then he was matched up against the future champion, Joshua, who had knocked out his first 14 opponents, none of whom had lasted beyond three rounds.

Few gave Whyte a chance to go any further than Joshua’s previous victims had gone. But Whyte was game. He caught Joshua’s attention in the second round by landing a hard left-right combo to the head that hurt the favorite and caused him to stagger backwards. Whyte went for the knockout, throwing a flurry of power punches. But Joshua lasted the round, and Whyte had clearly used up a lot of his stamina.

“When I fought Joshua, I wasn’t in the best of shape and got worn down,” Whyte says.

Despite Joshua having been hurt by Whyte, the heavily partisan crowd was still anticipating a quick end to the fight. Whyte disappointed them. Game, although somewhat depleted, Whyte took Joshua into round seven. Any hopes of an upset ended when a right hook to the temple by Joshua sent Whyte sprawling to the canvas. Whyte showed heart by getting up and fighting for 30 more seconds before a vicious uppercut put him down for good. 

Although he had lost the fight, Whyte had gained in stature. After that bout, Whyte made a commitment to better eating and conditioning habits and has since won six straight fights.

The 38-year-old Browne (25-0, 22 KOs), who hails from Australia, took a different path to this fight. Two years ago, he traveled to Russia to face reigning champion Ruslan Chagaev on his own turf. Up until that bout, Browne had fought no one of distinction and was widely regarded as just a tune-up for Chagaev.

For most of the early rounds, while Browne boxed and moved well, it was clear Chagaev outclassed him and was piling up points on the scorecards. It looked even more dismal for Browne in the sixth round when Chagaev teased him with a right to the body and then landed a clubbing straight left to the face that knocked the Aussie down. When Browne got up, the champion moved in fast to try and take him out. Chagaev connected with six or seven power shots, but Browne managed to stay on his feet until the bell.

By lasting the round, Browne had changed the complexion of the fight. Chagaev had expended a tremendous amount of energy trying to finish Browne. The champion was clearly breathing heavily when he returned to his corner.

Over the next three rounds, Chagaev looked sluggish, and while he did land some power shots, they no longer had the same effect they had earlier. 

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

Browne entered the 10th round behind on all three scorecards, 88-82 twice, and 88-81. But with just under a minute left in the round, Chagaev threw a left hook that Browne ducked under. Standing square-footed, Chagaev tried to follow with a right hand but Browne beat him to the punch with a right hook to the temple. Down went the champion. Chagaev managed to get up at seven, but Browne quickly trapped him on the ropes and threw a flurry of unanswered shots that caused the referee to step in and stop it.

Browne had made history by becoming the first Australian to win a heavyweight title. His day in the sun was short lived. A post-fight urine analysis showed the presence of a banned substance. The Aussie was stripped of his title two months later. Although the ruling was later overturned, and he was cleared of any wrong-doing, eight months after that Browne failed another drug test and lost his title. 

It’s no surprise then that in preparation for his fight with Whyte, Browne has used the hashtag #roadtoredemption on all his social media.

Whyte also has some redeeming to do. 

In December of 2016 he fought Derek Chisora, a heavyweight contender who had lasted 12 rounds with both Vitali Klitschko and future champion Tyson Fury. Whyte, who likes to work outside and box behind his jab, let Chisora bully him into an inside fight. For 12 rounds they brawled with the kind of ebb and flow reminiscent of a Gatti-Ward fight. When the donnybrook was over, Whyte had won a razor thin split decision, 115-113, 115-114, and 114-115.

Many writers, however, felt Chisora had won the fight. Fully aware of that, Whyte knows he desperately needs to beat Browne in order to keep his title hopes. 

Adding some zest to what already shapes up as an enticing fight, there is some seriously bad blood between the two boxers.

At a press conference to promote the bout, both Whyte and Browne engaged in a verbal war, showing strong disdain for each other. “You’re a junkie, mate, a junkie,” Whyte said. When Browne asked how he was a junkie, Whyte said, “You failed a test, and eight months later, while the case is still going on, you fail another test. This is madness. Why would you ever do that?”

Strange words from Whyte, considering he was suspended from boxing two years from 2012 to 2014 due to a failed drug test of his own.

Clearly riled by Whyte’s words, Browne fired back. “I come to fight,” he said. “I do my talking in the ring. If he wants to be a pork chop on social media, that’s his problem. If he has to sell fights by being an idiot, I’m very happy to knock his head in.”

When asked if he was afraid of Browne’s power, Whyte said, “Look, I’ve fought many strong guys. No way Lucas Browne has the same power of AJ (Joshua). Browne is old and slow now.”

Browne laughed that off. “I’ve always got the power,” he said. “So, I can lose 11 rounds and still knock you out and win the fight. From that point of view, I’m dangerous to anyone on the planet.”

So is Whyte.

Given the bad blood between these fighters, and a title shot at stake, this promises to be a fierce and fan-pleasing bout. 

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Favorite Moments

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 select their favorite moments.

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

Nat Gottlieb

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.

Springs Toledo

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.

Hamilton Nolan

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.

Gordon Marino

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.

Oliver Goldstein

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.

Kieran Mulvaney

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.

joshua KO klitschko

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.

Carlos Acevedo

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.

Eric Raskin

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.

Matt Draper

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.

Diego Morilla

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.

Michael Gluckstadt

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:

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

miguel berchelt.jpg

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for Round of the Year

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

Nat Gottlieb: Miguel Berchelt

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

Springs Toledo: Miguel Berchelt

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

Hamilton Nolan: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

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

Gordon Marino: Miguel Roman

Frank Della Femina: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

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

Oliver Goldstein: Sadam Ali

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

Kieran Mulvaney: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

sor+rungvisai+vs+chocolatito+jab.jpg

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

saunders-vs-lemieux-bugged-29.jpg

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.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Best Corner

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 Best Corner – not just for the boxer’s trainer and cutman, but the promoters, managers and entire teams that put their man in the best position to do what they do best. 

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

Nat Gottlieb: Abel Sanchez and Tom Loeffler

The team of trainer Abel Sanchez and promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions combined for two of the most thrilling fights of the year. Sanchez and Loeffler got their undefeated boxer Gennady Golovkin ready for two supreme tests in 2017. In March, Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs put on a sensational show before a packed house at Madison Square Garden in which GGG won a close but unanimous decision. The same team matched up Golovkin and Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas in September. It was one of the most anticipated bouts in years, and although it ended in a controversial draw, it didn’t disappoint for excitement. Loeffler also promoted two more great fights in 2017. In April, he put on the heavyweight battle between longtime former reigning champion, Wladimir Klitschko and rising star Anthony Joshua at London’s Wembley Stadium. It was a fantastic fight with a spectacular finish, as the American slugger knocked down Klitschko twice in the 11th round to earn a TKO victory. Loffler capped his year in September when he promoted the eagerly-awaited rematch of Roman Gonzalez and Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. It too proved to a terrific fight, with the Thai boxer knocking out the former best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Springs Toledo: Dominic Ingle

What Billy Joe Saunders didn't understand and what Dominic Ingle did was that boxing is a character sport first. Although skills are critical and count more than athleticism, it's character that is the foundation of the sport -- roadwork before sunrise, tedious workout sessions, grueling sparring sessions in the ring, self-denial out of it. Saunders walked into the Wincobank Gym in Sheffield in June, reported to Ingle and set up quarters in a house next door. Ingle is the lead in a team that includes nutritionist Greg Marriott and loft-mate Kid Galahad and is built on the age-old boxing principles. "He's got too many distractions," Ingle told Boxing News in June. In September, Saunders defeated Willie Monroe Jr. In October, David Lemieux was formally announced as his opponent. His cloistered devotion to conditioning and craft paid off and he not only won, but astounded everyone. He has no illusions about what and who he needs. If it wasn't for Dominic Ingle, he said in the post-fight interview, "my boxing career would be finished and over."

Hamilton Nolan: Andre Rozier

Andre Rozier. Sadam Ali beat Cotto, and Danny Jacobs did better than anyone had ever done against Golovkin. That's enough for a decade.

Gordon Marino: Virgil Hunter

Frank Della Femina: Andre Rozier

For the past two years we’ve been spoiled by erratic Teddy Atlas-isms to the point where nothing can even come close to matching it. But while this year’s fights missed stoic statements about “water in the basement” or shifting boxing careers to that of “firemen”, I’m going to give this title to Sadam Ali’s corner in his fight against Miguel Cotto. Although it is public knowledge at this point that Cotto was injured in Round 7, Ali’s corner was overly animated, encouraging, and motivating for a guy who was simply written off by everyone watching that fight. Say what you will about him beating a one-handed fighter, but if you’re in the ring with a legend like Cotto, fighting to stay alive and stake a claim in another HBO Boxing main event, you need inspiration, confidence, and direction. Ali executed well, but his corner helped him get there.

Oliver Goldstein: Andre Rozier

Few backed Danny Jacobs against Gennady Golovkin in March. And while Jacobs didn’t emerge with the nod, he took Golovkin into far deeper waters than anyone had managed previously. Jacobs had GGG looking bemused through three, though the Kazakh seemed to waken from slumber when he had him on the canvas in the fourth. No problem – Jacobs returned to his feet and had Golovkin looking defanged all over again. Key to this was a strategy that had GGG frequently off balance as he looked to let go of the combination punches he’s become known for. This was a loss, but Jacobs left the ring a bigger fighter than he entered it. 2018 should be a big year for the New Yorker.

Kieran Mulvaney: Freddie Roach

There are plenty of good candidates for this, numerous occasions on which a corner team has coaxed the best out of its fighter in those difficult moments when all seemed to be going against him. Chepo and Eddie Reynoso, for example, made sure that Canelo Alvarez knew he needed the three best rounds of his life if he had to have any hope of preventing Gennady Golovkin from winning their middleweight battle. But nobody turned around a fight the way Alberto Machado did. In his October bout with Jezreel Corrales, Machado was being hit from every conceivable angle by just about every kind of punch. He was dropped. He was being battered. Through it all, trainer Freddie Roach calmly told him to stick to the fundamentals, work his jab and wait for the openings. And because of the way Corrales flung himself into his unorthodox attack, Roach assured him, those openings would come. In the event, Corrales needed just one, uncorking a left hook that landed on the jaw of his onrushing opponent and dropped him. Corrales juuuuust failed to beat the count, and Machado had the win.

Carlos Acevedo: Rob McCracken

Working with the talented but unseasoned Anthony Joshua—who had never gone into the eighth round before facing his biggest test in Wladimir Klitschko—Rob McCracken provided a calming voice in the corner between rounds. This was particularly evident when an exhausted Joshua, after suffering the first knockdown of his career, plopped onto his stool at the end of the sixth. Joshua struggled for the next few rounds, but with the guidance of McCracken, once a middleweight contender himself, Joshua pulled through for the biggest win of his career.

Eric Raskin: Andre Rozier

I’m picking Ali in part because I want to give recognition to Andre Rozier, who coached Ali to an upset win over Miguel Cotto and guided Daniel Jacobs to what many saw as an upset win over Gennady Golovkin. For my money, Rozier is the clear Trainer of the Year. But Ali was also guided expertly from a managerial perspective. He had his confidence restored with three comeback wins that followed his 2016 knockout loss to Jessie Vargas, and when he was offered a fight with Cotto that many viewed as a mismatch, his team had the confidence to sign for the fight. In and out of the ring, you can’t steer a young fighter any more perfectly than Ali was steered this year.

Diego Morilla: Thainchai “Bank” Pisitwuttinan

Abel Sanchez with Gennady Golovkin

Abel Sanchez with Gennady Golovkin

There were fighters and managers from all corners of the world at the usually boring and pedestrian pre-fight presser in Carson back in September, all of them taking turns to repeat their own self-praise about their great training camps and their gratitude to God and their promoters. But one of them had a story to tell, for a change. His fighter, he said, walked into his gym a few years prior with a dismal 2-3-1 record, and perhaps a dozen more losses in illegal bouts across the country. He was working as a trash collector, and oftentimes he found his meals in those bags as well. He was allowed to sleep on the floor of the gym as he trained, and before he knew it, he said, his fighter had gone from scavenging for food in Bangkok’s garbage bins to building a 25-win streak topped by a title bout that he lost, only to embark on another, 17-fight winning streak topped by back-to-back wins against the best fighter in the world. Wisaksil Wangek, A.K.A. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, said the man they call “Bank” for a reason, had cashed in on the hopes that he had deposited in him less than seven years ago to turn his life around and beat the best fighter in the world – twice. And just as another kid from the slums of an overcrowded Southeast Asian city (Manny something or other), he said, Wisaksil was here to stay. There may not be enough reasons to take his word to an actual bank just yet, but I can see myself betting my rent money on his assessment. I’ve lost more than that on lesser causes.

Michael Gluckstadt: Eddie and Chepo Reynoso

While I thought Gennady Golovkin did enough to secure a close win against Canelo Alvarez, what I thought going into the fight was that GGG would have his way. The Reynosos prepared their man to dismantle Golovkin's considerable arsenal, and Canelo had an answer for all of the questions previous opponents couldn't solve.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Best Blow

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 "Best Blow" -- not necessarily a knockout, but the single punch that stuck out to them the most.

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

Nat Gottlieb: Sor Rungvisai’s right hook on Chocolatito

Call it boxing’s version of the shot heard around the world. For years Roman Gonzalez was considered the best in the game. But then last March, Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai won a tight majority decision over him. Six months later in the rematch, Sor Rungvisai stunned the boxing world in the 4th round by landing a monstrous right hook that dropped Gonzales. Somehow Gonzalez managed to get back up. Still wobbly, the Nicaraguan briefly tried to trade punches with the Thai until a right hook by Sor Rungvisai put him down for good. That first knockdown blow changed the landscape of boxing.

Springs Toledo: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko in the 11th

The uppercut, when thrown with leverage and at the correct range, is a shocking punch that can sneak in and turn the tables. It's the punch that most makes boxing unfun; the spectacle of getting caught by something that comes up from the depths, that you can't see, that puts you on queer street and renders you either unconscious or helpless as the onslaught only heightens. It's the stuff of nightmares.

In the 11th round, Klitschko threw a right at Joshua's head and Joshua rolled around it and came up with a left hook that missed but also torqued a right uppercut that landed flush. Klischko's head flew back and for a second it looked like it flew off.  A photograph of the moment was making the rounds that had been photoshopped to look as if Klitschko's neck stretched like Mr. Fantastic. This writer was among those who had no idea it was photoshopped because the punch was that destructive. Klitschko stutter-stepped and then tried to play it off as if he was unhurt; Joshua swarmed him and he went down about seven seconds later. The fight was called off in the last minute of the round, but the uppercut was what made that conclusion a foregone one.

Hamilton Nolan: Ward’s low blow on Kovalev

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Andre Ward hitting Sergey Kovalev in the nuts. There is no doubt that Ward was outboxing Kovalev in their rematch. It is likely that Ward would have won if the fight had gone the distance, barring him getting caught with a Kovalev shot. But the reason that Ward was able to end the fight when he did was because he landed three, maybe four, good solid uppercuts to Kovalev's nuts, which absolutely drained him and opened him up for the head shot that was the beginning of the end. Well done, I guess.

Gordon Marino: Joshua’s uppercut against Klitschko

Frank Della Femina: Klitschko’s blow on Joshua in Round 6

The biggest blow of the year that sticks with me is the Round 6 bomb that Klitschko landed on Joshua during their heavyweight showdown at Wembley Stadium. At the time I remember thinking it may have been enough to turn things back in his favor, having just been knocked down himself in the previous round. But I also remember thinking Joshua showed the poise of a veteran in that moment to acknowledge he was banged up and allowed momentum to take him down for a breather. Had he not, Klitschko was fully prepared to follow up with something more, as evidenced by his charge through the falling Joshua, which could have truly altered the course of the fight.

Oliver Goldstein: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko

Boxing rarely looks like the films, so it’s always quite something when the representation of it enters the real. This was in the eleventh round, when Joshua had just about taken over the fight after seeing out Klitschko’s mid-bout resurgence. Still, such was the overinvestment in the Brit made by Wembley Stadium’s collective consciousness that no one seemed willing to believe it. Then he landed a right uppercut so outrageously cartoonish that everyone saw the revelation. The fight ended a minute later.

Kieran Mulvaney: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko

Wladimir Klitschko has long been dismissed for having an insufficiently sturdy chin, but that criticism has been overplayed. If you truly have a paper jaw, you don’t get dropped three times by Samuel Peter, get up each time, and go on to win. If your mandible is carved from glass, you don’t get up every time Anthony Joshua puts you down. And you certainly don’t survive the hellacious uppercut Joshua landed in round 11. That punch would have decapitated most mortals. But while Klitschko survived it, it was the beginning of the end: a beautifully delivered punch that snapped back the Ukrainian’s head and short-circuited his nervous system. He survived, but he never truly recovered; various other blows combined to drop him twice more and leave him being pummeled on the ropes. But it was the uppercut that set up the conclusion to one of the greatest nights in British boxing history.

Carlos Acevedo: Sor Rungvisai’s right hook on Chocolatito

sor rungvisai chocolatito 2.jpg

It was a hard end for super flyweight Roman Gonzalez, whose thrilling run as the biggest little man in boxing came to a halt on September 9 courtesy of a compact right hook that left him laid out on the canvas like a patient etherized on a table. In March, Sor Rungvisai won a grueling split decision over Gonzalez that most observers considered dubious at best. Sor Rungvisai was determined to prove his performance in the first fight—whether it was a win or a loss, it was still a rousing brawl—was no aberration. He dropped Gonzalez in the fourth round and when they again swapped blows furiously in center ring, he landed the shattering right hook. For a man who had, for sustenance, been forced to scavenge dross from his job as a trash collector, the definitive blow he landed against Gonzalez was more than just a sporting achievement, it was the myth of rags-to-riches made real.

Eric Raskin: Ward’s right to Kovalev’s jaw

Ward landed quite a few punches below the belt in his rematch with Kovalev, but it was one that landed about three feet above the belt that I’ll remember most. During the eighth round, with Kovalev showing signs of tiring but the fight still up in the air, Ward crashed home maybe the most perfect right hand of his entire career, connecting square on Kovalev’s jaw and causing his legs to do a dance. “Ward by knockout” was the most unlikely scenario before each of their fights because he was the smaller man moving up in weight and was never a heavy puncher. So when he visibly hurt Kovalev, it was a gasp-worthy moment — and the moment that decided the outcome, as Kovalev couldn’t recover and was stopped several follow-up salvos (made up of legal and illegal blows) later.

Diego Morilla: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko

The heavyweight title fight at Wembley was full of historic moments and unforgettable images, but the one picture of Wladimir Klitschko’s neck being stretch upwards with its muscles struggling to hold his head over his shoulders after a brutal uppercut by Anthony Joshua turned out to be a perfect depiction of the defining moment of this magnificent heavyweight title bout. Up to then, Joshua’s resurgence after struggling in the middle rounds was still in progress, and he appeared exhausted as the second half of the bout began. But as Klitschko himself started to lose steam and the championship rounds were rang in, Joshua gained the poise and the control that he needed to finish the job – and that picture-perfect, sweat-spraying, panic-grin-inducing uppercut was the beginning of the end of an extraordinary fight.

Michael Gluckstadt: Joshua's uppercut on Klitschko

There's something especially dramatic about an uppercut that lands flush. The way the victim's head extends violently upwards like a defeated Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot. Gennady Golovkin landed an uppercut like that against David Lemieux, and I remember being shocked by the human neck's capacity for holding on to its head when faced with such force. Joshua's uppercut of Wladimir Klitschko was the heavyweight version of that punch. It's no wonder that Klitschko decided to make that round his final one in a boxing ring.

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

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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.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Round 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 2016. Here, they make their selections for Round of the Year.

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

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.

salido roman.jpg

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

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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.