HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney sit down with promoter Tom Loeffler for a discussion covering the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez rematch set for May 5, the stacked Superfly 2 card on February 24, and the legacies of the Klitschko brothers.
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.
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
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
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.
With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for KO of the Year.
Nat Gottlieb: Lemieux TKO Stevens
Apparently Curtis Stevens did not get the memo about never trading hooks with David Lemieux. In the third round Stevens connected on a left hook, but Lemieux countered with an overhand right and then followed it right up with a short, but powerful left hook that crumbled Stevens to the canvas flat on his back. Stevens remained unconscious for a long stretch before being removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. It was one of the most brutal knockouts of the year.
Springs Toledo: Lemieux TKO Stevens
The dummy jab is one of boxing's great inventions. It allows you to slide in closer and makes an opponent blink just in time for what's coming next. It works best when your opponent's back is at the ropes. Lemieux's set up a right hand that landed, but at near full-extension, which means most of the force had fizzled, and Stevens did well by countering it with a left hook. However, Lemieux's right hand was something of a dummy too, because Lemieux was still moving in to position himself at mid-range as he threw it. Stevens' left hook landed first, on Lemieux's neck. Lemieux's landed on Stevens' chin, where it says nighty-night.
Before the fight, Stevens referred to Lemieux with a particularly offensive obscenity. That proved a costly mistake, as Lemieux used it to recast a simple contest into a mission. "I wanted to make an example of him," he said in the post-fight press conference. "Respect everybody, respect every fighter."
Hamilton Nolan: Joshua KO Klitschko
No changing of the guard was bigger than Joshua ascending into the heavyweight throne that the Klitschkos have controlled for many years.
Gordon Marino: Joshua KO Klitschko
Frank Della Femina: Lemieux TKO Stevens
David Lemieux knocking out Curtis Stevens gets my nod for KO of the Year. As is common for Stevens, he spent all of fight week talking about how he was going to hurt/kill/maim/severely injure his opponent (see also: Golovkin, Fall 2013). And while this is all good and great when it comes to promoting the fight, if you’re Curtis, at some point you have to consider whether this is actually working out in your favor anymore. Look no further than the left-handed howitzer Lemieux landed in the third round of their March 11th bout that sent Stevens into the shadow realm. The exchange on the ropes was oddly reminiscent of Canelo-Kirkland, which if memory serves was also my 2015 pick for KO of the Year.
Oliver Goldstein: Sor Rungvisai KO Chocolatito
There were good arguments to be made that Chocolatito deserved the nod after his first fight with Sor Rungvisai. None were available after the second. If this wasn’t the knockout as total wipeout, it was still shockingly, solemnly definitive.
Kieran Mulvaney: Lemieux TKO Stevens
In the aftermath of this crushing blow, there was some mild pushback from those who watched the knockout on TV to the reaction of those who were in the arena. “Hey, it didn’t look that bad.” “I’ve seen way worse.” “I’m not convinced it’s knockout of the year.” “Jim and Max sure seemed to be overly dramatic in their selling of it.” Maybe it was one of those moments when you had to be there. I was there, and I’m telling you: there probably wasn’t a single person in the arena at Turning Stone that night who didn’t think, for at least a moment, that Curtis Stevens might be dead. It wasn’t just the hammer blow that knocked him out – and if you like to judge your knockouts on their technical brilliance and not whether or not the guy at the receiving end is unconscious and unmoving afterward, Lemieux’s hook was a thing of beauty, timed perfectly, thrown with precision and purpose. Nor was it solely the way he crashed to the canvas right in front of the announce team, his left arm unfolding from his prone body and convincing the timekeeper to beat a hasty retreat. It’s also that he lay there, completely unmoving, for a loooong time. It is not an exaggeration to say that a lot of eyes were trained on Stevens’ chest, to make sure he was actually breathing. There are knockouts, and there ae knockouts. This was a knockout.
Carlos Acevedo: Lemieux TKO Stevens
There is no telling just where Curtis Stevens went after David Lemieux nailed him with a left hook so concussive it left him draped out on the ring apron. He seemed to have an out-of-body experience as physicians rushed to his aid. In a battle between two left-hooking machines, Lemieux landed his first (and with more accuracy) when the two exchanged blows along the ropes in the third round. The explosive shot sent Stevens in a free-fall. He was unconscious before he hit the canvas. That knockout blow, and its effect, underscored the cruel paradox of boxing: how terror and beauty can co-exist simultaneously. Thankfully, Stevens was not seriously hurt, and likely does not remember a thing about what happened to him. Better for him, then, and better for us as well.
Eric Raskin: Beltran KO Maicelo
It’s the punch you don’t see coming. And Maicelo definitely never saw Beltran’s left hook coming. Beltran feinted just enough to get Maicelo looking at the wrong shoulder, then suddenly the hook struck the jaw, and the Peruvian prospect was out before he hit the canvas. The back of his head slammed into the mat with sickening force, and, maybe it’s distasteful to say it, but that’s why this is my KO of the Year pick over David Lemieux-Curtis Stevens. Both knockouts were the result of vicious, single hooks, but the landing for Maicelo was more violent.
Matt Draper: Lemieux TKO Stevens
I don’t know what could top David Lemieux’s destruction of Curtis Stevens back in March. HBO’s Roy Jones Jr. summed it up best: The Canadian caught Stevens “right on the button.” It was an instant KO, with Stevens’ body just crumbling to the canvas. Our digital team covering the fight paused before posting anything until we had word Stevens was conscious and coherent – because so much time had gone by without him moving a muscle. He eventually left the ring and headed to the hospital, which wasn’t a surprise considering the strike Lemieux landed.
Diego Morilla: Sor Rungvisai KO Chocolatito
The first fight was so mired in controversy that it afforded Gonzalez the chance to keep a lower position in most of the pound-for-pound rankings he had dominated up to then. But the signs were troubling, starting with his razor-thin win over Carlos Cuadras in his previous bout. And it all came crashing down on a chilly night in Carson, when the Nicaraguan paid a heavy price for his jump in weight, his change of training habits, his loss of his lifelong trainer Arnulfo Obando, and especially his fan-friendly style that exposed himself to a lot of punishment in his quest to dish out a similar and more devastating brand of his own. The hopes of imposing such a punishment on Rungvisai in their anticipated rematch finally disappeared in the fourth round, when it became clear that the Thai champ was just too strong and too determined for him. Legend has it that if a fighter falls face-first to the canvas without making an effort to stop his fall with his hands, he is knocked out already. Gonzalez gave testimony of his greatness when he stood up to challenge that notion after nosediving onto the mat in the first knockdown. He was, however, unable to challenge Rungvisai’s claim of superiority for much longer, as he went down on his back in his next trip to the canvas to put an effective end to his run as a pound-for-pound entrant in one of the year’s most devastating stoppages.
Michael Gluckstadt: Lemieux TKO Stevens
There are sports sounds that stay with you. The crack of the bat on an Aaron Judge home run. LeBron James rattling the rim. David Lemieux's punches have their own timbre. And his thwacking KO of Curtis Stevens earlier this year is its signature song.
With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2016. Here, they make their selections for Round of the Year.
Nat Gottlieb: Salido vs. Roman, Round 8
The nod here goes to the eighth round of the Miguel Roman vs. Orlando Salido war on December 9. Relying on years of experience and sheer guts, Salido somehow managed to take Roman into the latter rounds after being knocked down in the fourth round. Then in the 8th came a round for the ages. A stinging left hook from Roman put Salido down hard. Although the aged veteran got to his feet, it seemed there was no way he would make it to the end of the round. But in what turned out to be the final blaze of glory for the 37-year-old, former two-time featherweight champion, Salido turned the tables on Roman and beat him from pillar-to-post for the remainder of the round. As the bell sounded, the Las Vegas crowd rose to its feet and roared with appreciation for the gutsy display of fighting from both men.
Springs Toledo: Salido vs. Roman, Round 8
Round eight of the Mickey Roman-Orlando Salido fight looked like a George Bellows oil from the early 20th century come to life. Salido, a thirty-seven-year-old warhorse with thirteen losses and a reputation that renders every one of them a moot point, stuck his head on the shoulder of Mickey Roman and dug uppercuts and hooks in while Roman, who came into the bout with a last-chance, do-or-die mentality, was his less-grizzled mirror image. Their visages obscured and their gloves a-blur as if Bellows was slashing a canvas in black and yellow, the drama of the round reached a crescendo when a seemingly never-ending combination forced Salido back toward the ropes where he collapsed. Salido sat for a moment and then wearily got himself to his feet.
When the referee asked him if he was all right, his response was that of a street corner kid: "Si," he said with a gesture that looked like he was hoisting up his trunks as if it ain't no thing. "Are you sure?" the referee asked again. "Si!" Salido shot back like an old man offended at a stupid question. He got back to work, and in the last ten seconds was in command--digging in hooks and uppercuts while Roman, winded and stunned, could only keep his gloves high. The bell rang and the old warhorse turned his back and headed to his corner; Roman stood still for just a moment and watched him, with respect.
Hamilton Nolan: Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez 2, Round 4
Round 4, Rungvisai-Gonzalez 2. Sor Rungvisai's knockout of Chocolatito was a few things simultaneously. It was proof their first fight was not a fluke; it was the end of one man's dominance; and it was, probably, the end of Gonzalez's career. He was broken.
Gordon Marino: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 11
Frank Della Femina: Canelo vs. Golovkin, Round 5
During Round 5 of Canelo-Golovkin, both fighters met on the ropes which just around a minute to go. At this point the fight that started so favorably for Canelo was beginning to level out. This exchange between the two was easily my favorite moment of the year, as Golovkin’s right found the head of Canelo, but the Mexican stood his ground, stared back, and just shook his head. Seconds later, Canelo answered back with a few shots and just missed a right of his own over an evasive, grinning Golovkin. GGG responded in kind by shaking his head, Canelo shook his head before fighting his way off the ropes, and by the end of the fight, everyone was shaking their heads.
Oliver Goldstein: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
Four rounds in, Anthony Joshua was doing OK. Boxing on the outside against a cautious but focused Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua seemed content to operate in a holding pattern: if he wasn’t winning, he wasn’t losing either. But then, at the start of the fifth, the Londoner suddenly overcame the gap between them and crashed the Ukrainian to his knees. Badly shaken, Klitschko stumbled to his feet while euphoria surged through the Wembley crowd. Yet as the seconds passed, Joshua, coursing with adrenaline, grew overeager, then reckless. Suddenly, before anyone had time to make sense of it, the Brit was swaying stiffly on his feet, rocked senseless by a resurgent Klitschko. The round ended with Joshua clinging to consciousness.
Kieran Mulvaney: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
This was the round that elevated this clash from interesting to epic, and its story is told in a sequence of reactions from the 90,000-strong, highly pro-Joshua, crowd. First. The roars of delight as Joshua had Klitschko down and seemingly there for the taking. Then an odd quiet for such a large contingent of humanity, as the spectators struggled to comprehend what they were witnessing: Joshua, having been on the brink of victory, now seemingly frozen, his legs leaden. Finally, a different kind of roar: of shocked realization, of concern, of trying to rally their champion from the brink of sudden defeat. Joshua made it to the bell, but it would be a few more rounds yet before the echoes of the fifth finished reverberating around Wembley and Joshua resumed his ultimately conclusive control.
Carlos Acevedo: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
Heavyweights rarely rumble at the pace Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua set last April. And when they do, the results can be mesmerizing. The fifth round of their struggle saw Klitschko cut and dropped after Joshua unloaded some of his precision combinations. In pursuit of a knockout win over the most accomplished heavyweight since Lennox Lewis, Joshua tore after Klitschko, battering the veteran around the ring. Even with Joshua storming after him, Klitschko, a pro since 1996, kept his composure, and when Joshua began to gas, “Dr. Steelhammer” went to work, rallying to hurt Joshua repeatedly before the bell rang to end the round. For the action junkie, the Mickey Roman-Orlando Salido dustup probably had more rounds of all-out ferocity than Joshua-Klitschko. But the fifth round of Joshua-Klitschko did not just stand on its own but was also a harbinger of the dramatic shifts in momentum to come.
Eric Raskin: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
To quote my own Twitter feed (something only really cool people do), the fifth round of the Joshua-Klitschko fight was “one of the best heavyweight rounds I’ve seen in a long time. Wlad has a weak chin, but no lack of testicular fortitude.” Joshua rocked Klitschko early in the round, Wladimir was cut over the left eye, and he finally went down. He tried to hold, looked like he was in pure survival mode — but then the 41-year-old ex-champ started firing back. And before you knew it, Joshua was exhausted and in survival mode himself, eating a right hand, a left hook, a right uppercut. It was as dramatic as a round of heavyweight boxing gets, a round that helped show us what both Joshua and Klitschko are made of.
Diego Morilla: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
There is no legitimate lineage claim in the biggest prize in sports without a dramatic moment to validate the win in the most emphatic fashion. Joe Louis visited the canvas in the first round against Jim Braddock to later stop him in his title-winning bout, Muhammad Ali was almost blind for an entire round before clearing his vision to stop Sonny Liston in his first title fight, and then withstood a non-stop shellacking by George Foreman to score the biggest upset ever in the second one, and the list goes on. And this heavyweight championship bout had to have its moment of drama as well. Going into the fifth round, Klitschko was behind on all scorecards after a dull start, and Joshua moved in for the kill. It turned out to be a bad idea, as the aging champion and fellow Olympic gold medalist withstood the early onslaught and came back to open a cut on the local favorite. Joshua responded with a barrage that sent Klitschko to the canvas, but he rose to produce what ended up becoming the last two truly competitive minutes of his career as he rallied to keep the suddenly gassed out Joshua on the defensive – and on the brink of a stoppage himself. The fight had a few ups and downs before culminating in a well-earned win by Joshua, but this round lives on as a testimony of Klitschko’s grit during what was supposed to be just a ceremonial handing of the scepter to the new king.
Michael Gluckstadt: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5
This is the kind of round you would call unrealistic if they put it in a movie. The ascendant star sees an opportunity to make a statement in front of 90,000 of his countrymen and seizes it. The legendary champ on his way to retirement -- who'd been dinged throughout his career for not showing enough heart -- storms right back at him. So often, boxers finish their careers as husks of what they once were. He's washed. Wladimir Klitschko left the sport after the fight of his life.
With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for Fight of the Year.
Nat Gottlieb: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko did more for the heavyweight division in their one grueling battle than any other pair of heavyweights have done in years. A dethroned, aging champion in Klitschko, and a young, undefeated thoroughbred in Joshua, put on a show for the ages. Knocked down in round five, Klitschko rose to his feet and returned the favor by dropping Joshua in round six. Somehow the young champ weathered the storm. After trading leather over the course of the next five rounds, Joshua knocked Klitschko down twice in round 11 to earn a TKO victory. That was the bitter end for the longtime champion Klitschko and signaled the beginning of what could be a long reign for the 28-year-old Brit.
Springs Toledo: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
This fight, which packed Wembley Stadium with numbers not seen in the USA since the days of Jack Dempsey, is a grand example of how incidental the myriad titles have become. Of what consequence was the WBA Super World Heavyweight title and where is Super World? This fight was certainly not for the true heavyweight crown despite the hype, but it didn't have to be. It represented one of boxing's great narratives which also happen to express the angst between generations: age vs. youth, the past vs the future. Anytime we have a scenario where a former champion -a little grayer, a little more vulnerable- makes a last stand, a question emerges that we'll all ask eventually: is there a once-again for a used-to-be?
At 41, Klitschko never fought a more entertaining fight than he did against Joshua. His last stand was something of a new beginning. He took risks, fought a grueling bout against a man who matched him in size and strength, and answered any lingering questions about his heart. Early in the fifth round, he was cut over an eye and then blitzed with several hard shots that pitched him forward and down. He got up without a count and took control as Joshua, exhausted, tottered around the ring. In the next round, Klitschko landed that old steel hammer of a right and Joshua collapsed to the canvas. But resilient youth laughed and got up. Klitschko faded as we all must and was stopped in the eleventh round. He left us with fond memories of who he was and he left Joshua battle-tested and worthier, affirming him as the heavyweight division's best hope.
Hamilton Nolan: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
That type of back and forth action between world class heavyweights felt like something from the "good" boxing era. Throwback!
Gordon Marino: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin
Frank Della Femina: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
I’m tempted to go with Canelo-Golovkin if only for the name recognition surrounding the event, but I personally feel the Fight of the Year should leave fans satisfied and perhaps even out of breath after watching a few rounds of fireworks (rather than disappointed in a poor decision). So I’m giving this nod to the April heavyweight brawl between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. For all the times we hear people say the division is dead, slow, or struggling outside of one or two heavy hitters, this showdown had everything you could want from two of the biggest names, from past and future. For 11 rounds we watched the veteran Klitschko go toe-to-toe with the younger, up-and-coming Joshua, and for 11 rounds we were spared the notorious jab-jab-jab and hugging often associated with the division of late. What we had instead was an all-out war between two men on distinctly different paths, one with everything to prove, and the other with nothing left to lose. Through the early rounds Klitschko unleashed his heavy right more than in recent fights, at times coming so close as to merely grazing the chin or cheek of Joshua. So when Klitschko tumbled to the canvas in Round 5 after a vicious onslaught from Joshua, you still knew we could be just one right-handed bomb away from watching the fight turn. And would you know it? In the very next round the Ukrainian comes out like a man possessed, ready to return the favor, doing so just over 90 seconds in with a vicious cross that dazed and toppled Joshua. It wasn’t until a massive Round 11 uppercut from Joshua made all the difference in the fight, leading to two more knockdowns in the round and the ultimate stoppage that brought my pick for 2017 Fight of the Year to its glorified end.
Oliver Goldstein: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
I’m biased, because I was there (and possibly because I’m British, but who knows), but Anthony Joshua’s stirring win over Wladimir Klitschko in London was without doubt my fight of the year. Down once, legs a mess, Joshua breathed life into the heavyweight division by somehow coming back to drop Klitschko thrice and stop him at last in the eleventh. No doubt there were other worthy contenders (the first Sor Rungvisai-Chocolatito fight in particular), but for the sense of occasion and for the gravity of the violence, Joshua-Klitschko takes it for me.
Kieran Mulvaney: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
There were some terrific fights this year. Heck, 2017 opened up with a fierce brawl between Takashi Miura and Micky Roman that in many other years would have been a serious contender. And then Roman did it again with a victory over Orlando Salido in December that sent the veteran into retirement for three days. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai’s first win over Chocolatito Gonzalez – never mind the controversial outcome – was a violent battle with serious momentum swings. Both of Gennady Golovkin’s outings, against Danny Jacobs and Canelo Alvarez, were quality, exciting affairs. But there can be only one winner of this: the best heavyweight title fight since at least Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko in 2003, and perhaps since Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield in 1992. Contested in front of 90,000 fans – ninety thousand! -at Wembley Stadium, a bout that saw Joshua seemingly on the verge of knockout victory and then Klitschko in that very same position within a round, before the Briton finally emerged the victor and sent the veteran into a deserved retirement. What a night. What a fight.
Carlos Acevedo: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
It was the future versus the past when veteran heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko faced off against upstart Anthony Joshua in front of 90,000 delirious fans at Wembley Stadium. And the rocking crowd was treated to a rollicking battle. In recent years, most exciting heavyweight fights have been waged by second-tier talents—roundhouse punchers with limited stamina and technique—but Klitschko and Joshua combined to provide enough plot twists to earn the nod as the HBO Fight of the Year. After a slow opening, Joshua came out to rumble in the fifth round, catching Klitschko with a left hook/overhand right combination. A follow-up barrage left Klitschko cut and reeling before he crumpled to the mat for the first knockdown of the fight. With Joshua closing in for the finish, Klitschko seemed at the edge of the abyss. But the long-time titlist, trying to rebound from the first loss of his career (against Tyson Fury in 2015), battled back to stagger Joshua before the round was over. When Joshua hit the mat courtesy of a straight right in the sixth, the suspense reached new levels. Klitschko seemed to take command in the following rounds, spearing Joshua with his jab and applying pressure to keep him on the defensive. Suddenly, at the start of the 11th round, Joshua sent Klitschko backpedaling with a flush straight right. But it was a vicious uppercut that sent Klitschko stumbling and precipitated the violent end. After scoring two hard two knockdowns, the ferocious Joshua forced referee David Fields to intervene, giving “AJ” the credibility he yearned for and the boxing world a thrill.
Eric Raskin: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
Maybe you heard: 2017 was a great year for boxing. In an average year, Mickey Roman KO 9 Orlando Salido, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai W 12 Chocolatito Gonzalez, or Gennady Golovkin D 12 Canelo Alvarez could easily have been the best fight on HBO. But in 2017, they’re all just strong runners-up to Joshua-Klitschko. Even if you ignore the stakes (the present and future of the heavyweight division) and the enormity of the event (90,000 at Wembley Stadium), the in-ring drama was incomparable. Joshua nearly scored a knockout in round five, but then he punched himself out and Klitschko battled back and nearly stopped the Brit in the sixth. Back and forth they slugged, until Joshua landed that rubber-neck uppercut, knocked Klitschko down twice more, and scored the TKO in the 11th. It was the best heavyweight title fight in 25 years. A statement like that doesn’t leave the door open very wide for other fights.
Matt Draper: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin
It’s hard to top the epic, back-and-forth heavyweight battle between Joshua and Klitschko at Wembley, but I’m voting for Canelo-Golovkin. Not only because the September 16 showdown delivered on its years-in-the-making anticipation, but also because it was rare to witness two stars fighting at or near their primes in such a mega-match (cough, Mayweather-Pacquiao). Plus, the Mayweather-McGregor circus had been in town just three weeks prior, and while there was no matching the bluster of that sideshow, Canelo-GGG proved to be a true boxing fan’s fight that became a global must-see.
The atmosphere was through the roof. Vegas was buzzing throughout fight week – it seemed like everyone on the street or in the casinos was selling merchandise, officially or not -- and fight night was nothing short of electric, with the split-crowd chanting “Ca-ne-lo!” and “Tri-ple-G!” most of the bout. And regardless of where you landed on the stalemate decision, there was no debating that both Canelo and GGG absorbed and delivered a ton of punishment, fighting to the final bell with nothing left in the tank.
Diego Morilla: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin
Any time two fighters on the top ten pound-for-pound lists meet in the center of the ring, the expectation for a FOTY-caliber performance is more than justified. And this time, only the result failed to be up to our expectations. It may not have been the emotional fight or the barroom brawl that many of us expected, but both of these fighters forced each other out of their comfort zone continuously, proving to be each other's toughest competition. Canelo’s massively improved defense frustrated Golovkin’s search for a stoppage, and GGG’s more constant and accurate combinations impressed some judges far more than Alvarez’s sparse punch count. It was the first chapter of two great fighters feeling each other out and getting to know each other before -- if it happens -- a sequel that will, for once, outshine the original.
Michael Gluckstadt: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko
For anyone who works in boxing, the common question, "Isn't that sport kinda dying?" is as grating as it is wrong-headed. Obviously the sport has lost its status on the front pages of American newspapers (with notable exceptions), but its audience hasn't disappeared as much as it has shifted. For one example, kids in Mexico are as likely to emulate Canelo Alvarez's moves as they are Chicharito's. And the best evidence that not all of boxing's best days are behind it came on April 29, 2017, when 90,000 screaming Brits gathered in London's Wembley Stadium to watch the heavyweight championship of the world. The thrilling action fight they witnessed would have been rightly celebrated in any era.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney celebrate their 200th episode by looking back on the careers of recently retired warriors Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Tim Bradley, discussing their most memorable fights, best performances, and Hall of Fame credentials.
By Eric Raskin
Wladimir Klitschko, Ph.D., is a man of science. He’s deliberate. He makes calculated risk-reward decisions at every turn. And by putting such consideration and reflection into every decision, he always put himself in a position to land on the correct one.
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the long-reigning former heavyweight champion announced he was ending his career, a verdict reached only after engaging in the same methodical contemplation he employed throughout that career. And it was, in keeping with Klitschko’s track record, the correct decision. Wladimir is retiring at precisely the right moment, with diminishing amounts left to give and absolutely nothing left to prove.
Klitschko last fought on April 29, when he and Anthony Joshua drew 90,000 fans to Wembley Stadium and treated them to the most dramatic heavyweight championship fight in decades. It was undoubtedly Wladimir’s apex as an entertainer and action hero, and by getting off the canvas three times and always punching back, he enhanced his legacy even as he fell to an 11th-round stoppage defeat. As much as he hungered for a shot at revenge, he had to know that 41-year-old fighters rarely improve upon their previous performances. He also had to know that the odds were long that he’d find another chance to leave a final impression like this.
“I deliberately took a few weeks to make my decision, to make sure I had enough distance from the fight at Wembley Stadium,” Klitschko said in his official statement. (In fact, he took more than three months.) “As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second career after sports. I would have never imagined that I would have such a long and incredibly successful boxing career.”
Wladimir’s pro career was indeed long (nearly 21 years) and incredibly successful (64 victories in 69 fights, 25 of those wins in “world” title fights, about half of those in fights with the legit lineal title arguably at stake).
But his legacy is complicated.
He’s a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer. But it’s probable that none of the opponents he defeated will ever see their names on the Hall of Fame ballot.
He was a massive attraction in Europe. But he was partially responsible for a huge drop-off in interest in the heavyweight division in America.
He was a dominant champion. But much of his reign was spent in co-dominance with a man he promised his mother he’d never fight.
The period from 2003, when Lennox Lewis fought for the last time, until 2017, when Joshua went through hell to impress upon Wladimir that fighting is a younger man’s game, will be known in the annals of heavyweight history as the Klitschko Era. Had Wladimir ruled for that long all by himself, he’d have a shot at getting chiseled onto the heavyweight Mount Rushmore. Instead, a good chunk of that run has asterisks attached because he couldn’t truly be The Man until his brother retired for good — and, unfortunately for Wlad, popular opinion suggests that the sturdier Vitali would have been favored had they fought.
His brother aside, however, Wladimir fought everyone who mattered from 2004 to now. It was one of the weakest heavyweight classes ever, sure, but the staggering quantity of B-level names adds up to an A-level resume. There was Chris Byrd, Ray Mercer, Jameel McCline, Samuel Peter, Byrd again, Calvin Brock, Sultan Ibragimov, Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev, Peter again, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, and Kubrat Pulev. Some wins were stirring, like the knockdown-filled first fight with Peter and the explosive KOs of Brock and Pulev. Some were painful to watch, like the cautious jabbing clinic against Ibragimov and the clinch-at-all-costs slog against Povetkin.
Then there were the defeats. Joshua was a proud one. The loss to Tyson Fury in 2015 can mostly be chalked up to age. But between the ages of 22 and 28, Wladimir got TKO’d by Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster, none of whom are remembered for much besides beating Wladimir Klitschko.
As unsightly as those defeats are on Klitschko’s record, they made it possible for him to become quite possibly the most exceptional reclamation project in boxing history. With the help of Emanuel Steward, who taught the 6-foot-6 Ukrainian how to use his height and barely get hit, Klitschko racked up Hall of Fame numbers in the years after many observers had told him this brutal business wasn’t for him and he should retire before he gets hurt. It’s easy to forget now, but after the Brewster collapse in 2004, Klitschko was rotting roadkill, and no fans were slowing down their cars to take a look. All he did after that was win 22 straight over 11 years, including an uninterrupted 9½-year title reign. The magnitude of Wladimir’s rebuild, and the discipline and self-belief it must have required, are remarkable.
It speaks to Klitschko’s extraordinary physical gifts, of course. He had freakish athleticism and skill for a man his size and the slight misfortune to follow Lennox Lewis, the only other heavyweight in history who could stop Wladimir’s particular collection of talents from feeling unprecedented.
But in equal measure, Klitschko’s post-2004 run speaks to his character. There was no more classy champion in this generation. He treated opponents with respect. He treated the sport with respect. When David Haye unveiled a T-shirt depicting Wladimir and Vitali’s severed heads, when Tyson Fury went batty in superhero outfits at press conferences, when Shannon Briggs chased him on land and sea yelling “Let’s go champ!” Klitschko kept his cool and took the high road. Wladimir was an ambassador for boxing, for intelligence, for decency – and you have to assume he’ll continue to be as he focuses on fatherhood and his next career.
The argument will rage on long after Klitschko is gone as to where he ranks among the all-time greats, in large part because we never got to see him against a fellow great in his prime. Had Wladimir come along in the Golden Age of the 1970s, there are those who think he’d have used his size to beat Joe Frazier and even Muhammad Ali, and there are those who think he’d have crumbled against Earnie Shavers or Jerry Quarry. Klitschko retires now at 41, with a record of 64-5, 53 KOs, to become part of that great sports debate that never ends.
There are some fans who miss the Klitschko Era already, and there are others who are thrilled for it to finally be over. The boxing world will move on; all champions have successors. But it figures to be a very long time before we’re treated to a heavyweight champion as dignified and as admirable as this one.
"Wladimir Klitschko earned his right into the Hall of Fame years ago," said Peter Nelson, executive vice president, HBO Sports. "His accomplishments in the ring will be immortalized in the record books. Outside the ring, Wladimir is well-respected as a true ambassador to boxing and role model in sport. We are proud Wladimir and his team have been in the HBO Sports family for the majority of his 21-year career. We are excited for him and his family as he begins his next chapter."