HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Breakthrough HBO Fighter

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for this year's breakthrough HBO fighter.

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Kieran Mulvaney: Vasyl Lomachenko

This took some thinking. On one level, the clear winner here is Terence Crawford, who broke through from boxing aficionado cult figure to one of the most widely praised and heavily hyped boxers in the sport. But can you win the Breakout Fighter of the Year award when you're already Fighter of the Year award? More to the point, should you? At some point, you have to start letting somebody else win something, right? Another possibility is Sergey Kovalev, who moved to a new level with his dominant win over Bernard Hopkins; but he was hardly a surprise package, even if the thoroughness of his defining win was in fact surprising. Nicholas Walters was a strong contender here after his spectacular wins against Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire. But I'm going with Lomachenko, because even though he went just 1-1 on HBO in 2014, that record obscures a greater truth: that the Ukrainian, with just four professional fights to his name, is an otherworldly talent.

He lost his first fight of the year, but that was a world title challenge in just his second pro bout, against a veteran with 55 professional fights who came in overweight and used every barely-legal and less-than-legal trick in the book to defeat the precocious challenger. And even then Lomachenko was coming on strong at the end. After rebounding to win a title in his next outing, he returned to HBO on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's defeat of Chris Algieri, and totally dominated his opponent (an opponent, moreover, with a 52-1 record coming in) despite effectively having to fight half the contest one-handed after he injured his left wrist. This guy is sensational, and watching him take on the rest of the featherweight division (including Walters) in 2015 is going to be fun.

Eric Raskin: Terence Crawford

He wasn't quite my HBO Fighter of the Year, but I can't possibly deny Crawford this honor. For fans in Omaha and on couches across the country, it was a Crawford lovefest all year long. He went from skilled but unexciting prospect to must-see lineal lightweight champion in a single year, and by the time it was over, nobody could think of a single bad thing to say about Crawford—not even on Twitter, which was mostly invented so that people could hurl insults at people they'll never meet.

Hamilton Nolan: David Lemieux

Terence Crawford had a more impressive year overall, but we already had some idea of how good he was. Lemieux, coming down from Canada, was more of an unknown quantity. He showed he can probably hurt anyone in the world.

Nat Gottlieb: Terence Crawford

With convincing title fight victories over Ricky Burns, Yuriorkis Gamboa, and Ray Beltran, Crawford made boxing fans here and in the UK take notice. He's set to join the packed junior welterweight division in 2015 and will have a chance to thrust himself into the conversation for best-of-the-best.

Oliver Goldstein: Jessie Vargas

Ah, remember the heady days of 2012-3, when ex-Soviet Bloc fighters launched onto HBO airwaves like missiles blown into space? This year was less electric, more steady: those who might have been candidates for this award — Chris Algieri, Jose Benavidez — often either followed up their big win with a loss (as in Algieri's case) or never fully deserved their nod in the first place. In any case, Jessie Vargas has done just enough in my book to warrant being called Breakthrough HBO Fighter, after wins against Khabib Allakhverdiev, Anton Novikov, and Antonio DeMarco established him as a top-drawer light welterweight.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford

He has combined poise, power and charisma with fantastic boxing skills to light up boxing. His two fights on HBO this year were must see-TV.

Diego Morilla: Terence Crawford

As debatable as the rest of the categories may be, this one's the biggest no-brainer of the bunch. A record of 3-0 with two of those wins against former world champions would lock the choice for almost anybody, but Crawford did it with such style and class that it is impossible to ignore him as a potential pound for pound entrant in the very near future. With his amazing athleticism and his polished boxing skills, Crawford took the world of boxing by storm coming out of nowhere – almost literally. Imagining a fighter from Omaha sneaking into the big time boxing picture was probably considered as unlikely as imagining a Jamaican skier making it to the Winter Olympics, but Crawford slalomed his way into the boxing spotlight with the poise of a veteran and the hunger of a young lion, and he is now headed for a career-defining 2015.

Michael Gluckstadt: Nicholas Walters

I almost gave this award to Crawford last year, which makes me think he shouldn't be the one to get it this time. Instead, I'd give it to someone who truly emerged from nowhere this year and has a great nickname to boot. "The Axe Man" chopped down former fighter of the year Nonito Donaire in his HBO debut and set himself up for a tantalizing fight against fellow Breakthrough candidate Vasyl Lomachenko.

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Trainer of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best trainer whose fighters appeared on the network this year:

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Kieran Mulvaney: John David Jackson

Not for a body of work with one or more fighters over the course of the year, but for one specific game plan for one particular fight. Sergey Kovalev entered the ring against Bernard Hopkins in Atlantic City in November with a well-earned reputation as a seek-and-destroy knockout artist, while the 49-year-old Hopkins had spent decades between the ropes honing his pugilistic skills. But, while his first-round knockdown, and twelfth-round pummeling, of the old master dominated the highlight reels, what happened in rounds 2 through 11 was in many ways even more remarkable. Kovalev resisted Hopkins’ efforts to walk into counterpunches, and fought a restrained, disciplined fight that left even the wily veteran bereft of answers. It was a masterful plan, perfectly executed by Kovalev, but conceived by Jackson.

Eric Raskin: Freddie Roach

I know, it’s a boring pick. But with two protégés who both had outstanding years at the elite level in Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, I have to give Roach the slight edge over Abel Sanchez and John David Jackson. Jackson had the singular game plan of the year in Kovalev’s fight against Hopkins, but Roach beats him here on volume.

Hamilton Nolan: John David Jackson

He took Kovalev from a Russian unknown to (my pick for) fighter of the year.

Nat Gottlieb: John David Jackson

There are bigger household names but Jackson took Kovalev to the next level and his game plan against Hopkins was flawless. Maybe one of the most underrated trainers on the planet.

Oliver Goldstein: Freddie Roach

Predictable, perhaps, but who had a better year than Freddie Roach? Manny Pacquiao avenged his loss to Timothy Bradley and thrashed Chris Algieri, while Miguel Cotto is the middleweight champion.

Some pretty handy stuff.

Tim Smith: Abel Sanchez

He has taken some very combustible raw material in Gennady Golovkin and shaped it into an explosive package.

Diego Morilla: Brian "BoMac" McIntyre

Sometimes it’s refreshing to hear things other than “Go for it!” or “Show some balls up there!” from a corner man. And that’s exactly what we’re not hearing in Terence Crawford’s corner in between rounds. Instead, we hear strategic advice, tactical comments, correcting errors and, yes, a healthy but limited dose of the usual alpha-male cheerleading. That, among many things, is what makes McIntyre one of the most interesting trainers to watch, as the head trainer of a well-balanced group that brings advice above attitude in the corner of one of boxing’s most pleasant surprises of 2014.

Michael Gluckstadt: John David Jackson

You may not know this, but Bernard Hopkins tends to talk a lot before a fight. One of the more effective pieces of trash talk before his fight with Sergey Kovalev was calling out Jackson, Kovalev's trainer, who had lost to Hopkins as a fighter in 1999: "How is someone who I beat going to tell Kovalev how to beat me?" He must have figured something out, because Jackson put together the perfect blueprint for not just beating Hopkins, but frankly, embarrassing him. The (much) older fighter didn't win a single round in a fight that established Kovalev as the light heavyweight to beat.

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Best Blow

Photos: Will Hart

Photos: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the single best punch on the network this year:

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Kieran Mulvaney: Gennady Golovkin TKO3 Daniel Geale

For all the outstanding branding by Team Golovkin – from Mexican Style to Big Drama Show, to embracing such Golovkinisms as “good boy” – it would all be for naught if the fighter didn't deliver in the ring. But deliver he does, and big time. To fully appreciate the blow that precipitated Geale's fall, watch it in slow-motion: Geale's face registering a glimmer of glee at landing his best punch of the night – a right to Golovkin's face that knocks back the middleweight champ's head – and that glee transmogrifying to shock and horror as the Australian realizes that there's an even bigger right hand coming in the opposite direction, a right hand that sends him to the canvas and discombobulates him in night-ending fashion.

Eric Raskin: Golovkin's knockout-while-getting-hit move

The Lee-Jackson and Froch-Groves knockouts were more crushing blows. But Gennady Golovkin's KO punch against Daniel Geale gets all the points for creativity. As he absorbed a flush right hand to the face, GGG unleashed a right hand of his own that took his Australian opponent down under. A man who can knock another man out while getting hit is a dangerous man indeed.

Hamilton Nolan: Andy Lee knocks out John Jackson

Jackson outboxed him. Jackson was landing at will. Jackson systematically hurt him, and finally moved in for the kill… and caught one crazy Andy Lee punch thrown from off the ropes on a prayer, and it was over. Craziness.

Nat Gottlieb: Andy Lee knocks out John Jackson

Down in Round 1 Andy Lee picked himself up off the deck only to get schooled by John Jackson over five-plus rounds. No one in the house gave Lee any chance, but with his back to the ropes in Round 6, Lee uncorked a signature right hook that put Jackson to sleep for the evening. With that shot Lee launched himself into a world championship bout.

Oliver Goldstein: Andy Lee against Matt Korobov

Having been whacked out the ring by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in his previous tilt for a belt, Andy Lee must have experienced a familiar feeling through the first five rounds against Matt Korobov. Barring one shot in the third that had Korobov's knees buckle slightly, Lee – tall, gangly, and stiff – was being largely outworked by his stocky opponent. But then came the sixth round – and as an overbold Korobov squared himself up, Lee struck with an incisive right hook that had Korobov's legs fuzzy as analog static. The punch was short, sharp, sweet; and the follow-up onslaught brought the game Lee a first championship belt.

Tim Smith: Golovkin-Geale

The 3rd round KO punch that Golovkin delivered against Geale was a counter right hand over the top a solid left that Geale landed on Golovkin's chin. Golovkin delivered the KO punch while recoiling backwards from Geale's shot.

Diego Morilla: Andy Lee finishes John Jackson

A one-punch stoppage is always an instant candidate for best punch of the year. But if that punch comes while the fighter is being pummeled into submission and almost on the verge of being stopped himself, then the choice is locked. Lee had already visited the canvas of the Madison Square Garden, and was finding himself in the middle of a 20-odd punch salvo while being almost totally outgunned when, out of nowhere, he fired a counter right hook off the ropes from his southpaw stance that landed square on Jackson's cheekbone, sending him to the canvas for the entire count. Irishmen write songs about things like these, and I would be surprised if Lee doesn't already have a ballad written in honor of this demolishing, bone-chilling knockout punch.

Michael Gluckstadt: Golovkin-Geale

This punch shouldn't just win Best Blow, it should win Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or a Drama. The change of expression on Geale's face – and the lack of one on Gennady's – was the boxing year's high point for slapstick humor and range of emotions contained in a single moment.

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: KO of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best KO on the network this year:

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Kieran Mulvaney: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves

After their first meeting ended in a controversial stoppage, Froch left no doubt in the rematch, icing Groves in front of a massive Wembley Stadium crowd with a picture-perfect KO. A little stutter-step, a feinted jab and then a massive overhand right that poleaxed the Londoner: it was as sweet and definitive an ending to a prizefight as you'll see. Honorable mention to Andy Lee's one-punch stoppage of John Jackson.

Eric Raskin: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

It was a virtual coin flip between Lee-Jackson and Carl Froch's violent rematch knockout of George Groves, but the deciding factor for me was how comprehensively Lee was losing when he uncorked the miracle counter right hook. Aesthetically, the two best HBO-televised knockouts of the year were a dead heat. So Lee's stiffening of the previously unbeaten Jackson at Madison Square Garden wins on the strength of its shock value.

Hamilton Nolan: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

Jackson outboxed him. Jackson was landing at will. Jackson systematically hurt him, and finally moved in for the kill… and caught one crazy Andy Lee punch thrown from off the ropes on a prayer, and it was over. Craziness.

Nat Gottlieb: Nonito Donaire KO 6 Nicholas Walters

Featherweight Nicholas Walters took Nonito Donaire's early fire and then turned it around by pummeling the Filipino into a bloody pulp before he blasted him in round 6 with a thunderous overhand right to the side of the head. Donaire managed to get up, but was so dazed and confused the ref waived it off.  A decisive beat down of a onetime superstar.

Oliver Goldstein: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves

How to right the wrong of one of the most disappointing early finishes in recent history? Carl Froch insisted before his second meeting with George Groves that their first was heading toward a fairer conclusion when Howard Foster screwed the pooch, and this time around delivered when he crashed Groves into another dimension at Wembley in May.

This bout lacked the excitement of their initial tussle, when Groves had thrashed Froch about the ring for seven or so rounds, but its ending was truly memorable, as Froch feinted a left, let Groves bite, then let rip with a right for the ages.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford KO 9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Terence Crawford's stunning 9th round of Gamboa. It was a stepping stone fight for Crawford. It was as Crawford KO'ed Gamboa and stepped right into the spotlight as one of boxing's brightest new stars.

Diego Morilla: Wladimir Klitschko KO 5 Kubrat Pulev

Bulgaria's Pulev was tall, bulky, strong, yet agile and skilled, and had the hunger and the credentials of a young Klitschko: an Olympic medal, an unbeaten record and a defiant attitude. Perhaps that's why it was so impressive to see him go down in such a devastating fashion. Klitschko is known for 1-2-ing his foes into submission, using his pawing jab to set up his ramming straight right to then lay a progressive beating on his opponents. But using his often neglected left hook, he sent Pulev to the canvas a total of four times to score his most devastating KO to date.

Michael Gluckstadt: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

How can you not love Andy Lee? He's not the most skilled middleweight, nor the most powerful, but he may have the most heart (a dubious conceit in other sports, but one that certainly exists in boxing). In front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden on the Cotto-Martinez undercard, it looked like we were seeing Andy's end as an elite boxer. Jackson was outworking him and outclassing him, and just when it looked like he was about to finish the job, Lee reached down and unveiled a storybook right hook that ended Jackson's night before he even hit the canvas. Another, similar miracle punch later, and Andy Lee finished 2014 as a middleweight title holder instead of an afterthought.

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Round of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best round on the network this year:

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Kieran Mulvaney: Tie: Cotto-Martinez, Round 1/Kovalev-Hopkins, Round 12

There were plenty of back-and-forth donnybrook rounds, including the ninth round of Terence Crawford-Yuriorkis Gamboa and the fourth frame of David Lemieux-Gabriel Rosado, but partly to be contrarian and partly because to me they were more memorable, I'm picking a pair of rounds that, far from being even, were hugely one-sided.

Even with a recent history of physical ailments, Martinez was favored heading into his middleweight title defense against Cotto, but the Puerto Rican soon blew away the betting lines, as neither the champion's chin nor his balky knees could stand up to Cotto's patented left hooks. The roars that greeted the sight of Martinez hitting the canvas three times in those first three minutes all but lifted the proverbial roof off the proverbial place.

And after eleven rounds of patient boxing, Kovalev erupted in the twelfth to batter Hopkins around the ring in a manner that was – excuse the pun – completely alien to the wily veteran. The shock at the prospect of seeing Hopkins stopped yielded to a desire to see him survive to the final bell and ultimately to a realization that, even if he fights one more time at age 50 just so he can say that he did, it was likely the final round of a lengthy and distinguished championship career.

Eric Raskin: Lemieux-Rosado, Round 4

When my podcast partner Kieran Mulvaney talks about humdingers and slobberknockers, it's rounds like this that he's talking about. Rosado's unreliable (or, more accurately, reliably disastrous) left eye had swollen nearly shut in the third round, and he came out for the next round desperate to swing the momentum. Back and forth they brawled, a couple of cavemen holding invisible clubs, each with the power to crumple the other at any moment. Neither landed that perfect shot, but it was edge-of-your-seat stuff because of the ever-present possibility.

Hamilton Nolan: Cotto-Martinez, Round 1

Many, many, many people doubted that Miguel Cotto could move up in weight and challenge the middleweight champ. Many people thought Cotto was too small to hurt Martinez. It only took the first good hook of the first round to destroy all of those assumptions.

Nat Gottlieb: Crawford-Gamboa, Round 5

After losing the first four rounds, mostly fighting in the orthodox stance, Crawford caught Gamboa with a crushing left hook to the head and followed with another left to knock Gamboa down. Those two knockdowns were a game-changer.

Oliver Goldstein: Cotto-Martinez, Round 1

No doubt there were better rounds in terms of action this year, but the berserk first three minutes between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez are the ones I'll remember in future. Why? Well, there were the three knockdowns here, of course, all caused by some beautiful left-hooking. Is that enough to make it Round of the Year? No, probably not. But there is something else that has stuck with me from the first round between Martinez and Cotto, a brief moment after the second knockdown, when Martinez's knees — protected by heavy strapping, previously hidden under pointedly long shorts — quickly revealed themselves before he scrambled back to his feet. There, briefly, was the desperate futility of it all, unveiled in a flash, a strangely pithy image of age and decline and inevitable loss: the wound that wounds. And a reminder: boxing does tell its trauma quietly, from time to time.

Tim Smith: Algieri-Provodnikov, Round 1

It looked like Provodnikov was on his way to blitzing through Algieri with two powerful knockdowns. But Algieri got up from both of them and survived a badly swollen eye to pull off one of the most stunning upsets of 2014.

Diego Morilla: Marquez-Alvarado, Round 9

If there is something even stranger than seeing lighting striking twice, it's seeing the same lightning striking twice. Earlier in round 8, Marquez had landed a crushing right cross that sent Alvarado on his back and through the lower ropes of the ring while flapping his arms looking for balance. In the following round, Alvarado retaliated with the exact same punch, which landed in the exact same location (left cheekbone) and produced the exact same result. Marquez went down (although not as spectacularly as Alvarado) and what ensued was a classic mini-war of attrition, a two-minute slugfest between the wounded lion and the pissed-off hunter, between the rebellious student and the teacher bent on finishing his lesson, a bloody toe-to-toe stand-off between two proud warriors going for the kill. A terrific statement from both fighters and the peak of an emotional, intense fight.

Michael Gluckstadt: Lemieux-Rosado, Round 4

This round had its share of memorable images. A game Rosado, his eye swollen closed, urging his opponent forward. Lemieux happily obliging with a thunderous hook. But the picture that sticks out in my mind is the smiling face of referee Steve Willis, a decidedly neutral third party, who – like the thousands of screaming Brooklyn fight fans surrounding him – proved unable to contain his glee at the fracas breaking out in front of him. 

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Fight of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best fight on the network.

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Kieran Mulvaney: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

In front of a raucous, pro-Crawford crowd, two highly skilled prizefighters went at each other from the opening bell. Gamboa gained the upper hand over the first four rounds before Crawford began to turn it around, switching to a southpaw stance, using his reach to catch the shorter Gamboa with counterpunches, and ultimately dropping him once in both the fifth and eighth and finally – after Gamboa had wobbled him badly and gone on the attack – twice more in the ninth to bring about the stoppage.

Eric Raskin: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

This is the easiest decision of all the HBO year-end awards. For drama and swings of momentum in a fight contested at a world-class skill level, nothing else came close. This was the night when Crawford, widely perceived as a colorless technician, revealed that he could be an action hero.

Hamilton Nolan: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Gamboa is one of the most insanely talented fighters in the world; Crawford is one of the best pure boxers in the world. Crawford won spectacularly, and with a surprising amount of violence.

Nat Gottlieb: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

The Cuban came out hard and fast in the first couple rounds and it looked like maybe Crawford was in for a long night. But then Crawford switched from an orthodox stance to southpaw and knocked a gutsy Gamboa down four times en route to winning a thrilling brawl.  On this night a star was born.

Oliver Goldstein: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Perhaps not one for the ages, but likely good enough for this year at least. Gamboa started quickly, as "Bud" took time to adjust for the first time facing an opponent with similar handspeed. Nonetheless the fight's course turned in the fifth, when Crawford caught Gamboa on the end of a stiff right, before dropping him with a series of lefts.

Thereafter, Gamboa elected to trundle after the American, leaving his chin regularly exposed in search of an increasingly unlikely knockout, until Crawford unseated him three times more in the eighth and ninth. This was thrilling stuff, which ended when the Cuban was collapsed once more, swelling protruding from both eyes, by a perfect right. Vindication for both, as Gamboa proved his toughness, and Crawford emerged victorious.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

It was a great opportunity for both men to step forward and make a statement and Crawford did it emphatically.

Diego Morilla: Manny Pacquiao W12 Timothy Bradley

Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised when a fight in which we didn’t place our highest expectations turns into a memorable barnburner. But some other times, amidst the hyperbole and ceaseless stream of pre-fight hype, we lose sense of how good certain fighters are. And oftentimes we allow the "slugfest of the year" to creep into our minds when we’re supposed to be looking at the overall performance. If we manage to do that, it would be easy to see why this fight was one of the best of the year. Back and forth action. Both fighters in danger at one point or another. Boxing skills and punching power ability in full display. Two hungry fighters with something to prove to each other and to the world of boxing, leaving everything in the ring. It may not be instantly remembered as a classic, but it had more than enough drama, emotion and action to get to the podium among this year’s best fights.

Michael Gluckstadt: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Before this fight, Crawford and Gamboa were clearly skilled fighters who sometimes bored, or grew bored, in the ring. This night in Omaha saw the two men bringing each other to another level. Gamboa showed he can mix it up with anyone, and that against the right opposition, he's capable of putting in real effort to go with his natural talent. Crawford proved that he can adjust on the fly, marry his technical skills with surprising power, and solve any boxing puzzle placed in front of him. Throw in the hometown atmosphere and a slew of knockdowns, and you end up with HBO's 2014 fight of the year.

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Fighter of the Year

Terence crawford - Photo: Ed Mulholland

Terence crawford - Photo: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the fighter who had the best year on the network.

More: Boxing's Year End Picks

Kieran Mulvaney: Terence Crawford

Sergey Kovalev came close, and the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Nicholas Walters and Gennady Golovkin deserve honorable mentions, but Crawford fought more often – against a consistently higher quality of opposition – than them all and deserves this prize. After taking a lightweight belt from Ricky Burns in Scotland, he came home to Omaha to stop Yuriorkis Gamboa and then returned to the Gateway to the West to score a comprehensive decision win over Ray Beltran. Not only that, he did so by marrying pound-for-pound boxing skills to a crowd-pleasing aggression and a flat-out fondness for digging his toes into the canvas and mixing it up.

Eric Raskin: Sergey Kovalev

Here's the thing: Terence Crawford is going to be my actual pick for 2014 Fighter of the Year. But one of his three wins, against Ricky Burns, was not televised by HBO. All three of Kovalev's wins were. So when you take away the Burns fight, I believe Kovalev had the slightly better year on HBO. No, his first two wins—over Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello—weren't worth much. But his third win, a shutout (and near knockout) of Bernard Hopkins, sure was.

Hamilton Nolan: Sergey Kovalev

Fighter of the Year-- Sergey Kovalev. I'm tempted to say Golovkin. But Kovalev had three wins capped off with a domination of Bernard Hopkins, whereas Golovkin (though it's not his fault) still hasn't been challenged.

Nat Gottlieb: Sergey Kovalev

Light Heavyweight Sergey Kovalev made three title defenses in the year, capped off by a dominant performance over Bernard Hopkins. Kovalev is seasoned, skilled, focused, and active. Hard qualities to beat.

Oliver Goldstein: Terence Crawford

"Bud" wins Fighter of the Year for me, largely by default: he fought (three times), he traveled (to Scotland!), and he won. Though Ricky Burns, Ray Beltran, and a bloated Yuriorkis Gamboa are no murderer's row, Crawford deserves praise for the ease with which he picked off his two gentler opponents (Burns and Beltran), and for the excitement he conjured against Gamboa. For a while now, it has seemed a bad time to be an American fighter not named Floyd Mayweather; but with a committed following in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and much talent to boot, Crawford should help lead a generational shift. Set to move up to light-welterweight next year, a bout with Manny Pacquaio cannot be far away.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford

He stamped himself as a future star with his convincing 9th round KO over Yuriorkis Gamboa.

Diego Morilla: Gennady Golovkin

Golovkin's eruption in the stacked middleweight division a couple of years ago was nothing short of spectacular, and he continued his march towards universal recognition as 160-pound king and pound-for-pound superstar with a memorable 2014 in which he dispatched two solid contenders in demolishing fashion. His stoppage of rugged Aussie Daniel Geale was a testimony of his boxing ability and athleticism while it lasted, and the final punch (delivered a few milliseconds after being hit with a punch that would have knocked anyone else out cold) that sent Geale down for the count is destined to become a highlight in its own right within his already amazing highlight reel. A must-see fighter in his absolute prime. 

Michael Gluckstadt: Gennady Golovkin

2014 is the year we started taking Golovkin for granted. We came to his fights expecting spectacular KOs and he regularly delivered them with his trademark Kazakh casualness. He made warriors of the sport look like cannon fodder – something Sergey Kovalev has only done with, well, cannon fodder. We haven't seen Gennady tested yet, but that's only because he's a level above anyone who'll get in the ring with him. No one looked better in the ring this year than Gennady Golovkin.

MSG: The Mecca of Boxing

MSG: The Mecca of Boxing

Photo: Will Hart

By Tim Smith

You can travel all around the world and talk to any boxer – amateur or professional – and they will tell you that there is one place on earth they want to fight before they finish their career: Madison Square Garden.

That is why the Garden is known as “The Mecca of Boxing.’’

The mystique of the Garden as the epicenter of boxing was cultivated long ago. John L. Sullivan defended his heavyweight title at the original Garden in 1883, establishing the famous arena as the premier destination for big-time champions of the day.

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