2015 was a strange year for boxing. Like “Charles In Charge,” we took a lot of “bad” to go with the “good.” We got huge fights like Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao, free fights like Keith Thurman vs Robert Guerrero, and no fights like Showtime. New stars emerged, while some faded away before our eyes. Lineal titles changed hands, while alphabet titles remained all the rage for some fighters. With the retirement of Mayweather, the impending retirement of Pacquiao, and the old guard like Wladimir Klitschko and Miguel Cotto taking losses to younger guys, the sport is absolutely wide open heading into 2016. Here’s some of the good, bad, and ugly from this past year.
One of the biggest fights in the history of the sport, Mayweather vs Pacquiao, finally got done. After years and years of will-they-or-won’t-they, they did. The fight shattered every monetary record known to man, and had the mainstream media talking more about boxing than they had in years. The bad news was that the fight sucked, Pacquiao may or may not have fought with one arm, and boxing as a whole got laughed at. Again. It was like in “The Peanuts Movie” when Charlie Brown finally came up with some good dance moves, but slipped on some spilled punch like an idiot and humiliated himself. My life revolves around children’s movies.
Gennady Golovkin, the Kazakh middleweight destroyer, finally got a big pay-per-view date. He made the most of it by smashing David Lemieux to bits in a dominant performance. Unfortunately, the pay-per-view numbers were somewhat less-than-stellar, proving that he’s not yet the universally-loved superstar many hoped he was. That’s not to say he won’t be eventually; bludgeoning guys with your fists has an odd way of endearing you to the public.
Mayweather followed up his victory over Pacquiao by announcing his intent to fight one final time, bringing an end to a brilliant, undefeated career that left no doubt as to who was this generation’s greatest fighter. But instead of issuing one final challenge, he fought Andre Berto, a guy who had lost three of his last six fights. He then bored the pants off of every masochist who purchased the bout before dancing and preening to the crowd like he’d just defeated Ray Robinson. We should have known better.
Andre Ward, super middleweight champion and one of the best fighters in the world, finally ended his ridiculously long layoff. Armed with a new promotional company (Jay Z’s Roc Nation), he looked to fight his way back into the pound-for-pound rankings while securing a fight with lethal light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev. He fought Paul Smith, who didn’t bother to weigh in even remotely close to the contracted weight limit, on the BET channel. He hasn’t done anything since. I wouldn’t secure a hotel room for Ward vs. Kovalev just yet…
Mysterious advisor Al Haymon created “Premier Boxing Champions,” a massive promotion that returned boxing to network television. It was designed to push the sport back into the public eye, and they signed up the heavy hitters for this thing. Marv Albert and his hair were brought in to call the blow-by-blow action. Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the most recognizable faces the sport has ever seen, provided the expert commentary. Laila Ali showed up to do some interviews. Young fighters like Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia were showcased, along with the rest of Haymon’s massive stable. Free boxing for all! Except that it’s been a year and 17,457 PBC broadcasts later, and they still don’t know what they have. Ratings have been declining steadily. Fox Sports One aired a few PBC shows that were watched less than reruns of “Hee Haw.” Albert has often been lost and confused, and Leonard has been god-awful. The production has been superfluous at best, utterly ridiculous at worst. There’s still time to tweak things, but I’m not sure if Haymon’s investors are getting what they paid for.
2015 saw the ascension of Canelo Alvarez as a full-fledged star. The current middleweight champion of the world helped fumigate the room after the stench left by Mayweather and Pacquiao by absolutely eviscerating James Kirkland with a highlight reel knockout in the middle of a ballpark filled with fans. He followed that up by defeating Miguel Cotto to claim the middleweight throne. Despite being the third major pay-per-view fight in as many months, the fight did pretty solid numbers, affirming Canelo’s place as not only a hell of a fighter, but as the biggest name in boxing.
So Wladimir Klitschko lost. Finally. And it couldn’t have been better for the heavyweight division. The once prized-division of the sport has long been teetering on the edge of nonexistence, and Klitschko has been a huge part of the problem. Of course, he was very good — certainly much, much better than anything out there calling itself competition. But he was also less pleasant to watch than one of those torture scenes in “Hostel.” When he was finally defeated by enormous, weirdo gypsy Tyson Fury, the only ones who were bummed out were the seven of Klitschko’s fans left awake after the fight. Maybe he’ll come back and knock Fury on his ass in the rematch. Or maybe a new day has finally arrived for the big boys, where guys like Fury and Deontay Wilder, Alexander Povetkin, and Luis Ortiz can battle it out for heavyweight supremacy. Anything is better than jab, jab, hold…
Some More Good Stuff:
Terence Crawford continued his push to the top of the sport by beating the hell out of Thomas Dulorme and Dierry Jean. It’s a matter of time before he’s in the top three pound-for-pound.
Timothy Bradley looked reborn after hooking up with new trainer and lunatic/genius Teddy Atlas. We are all firemen. Was he helped by the fact that his opponent, Brandon Rios, looked like he’d been dump trucked by a zamboni before the fight even started? Probably. But this pairing, with Bradley’s murderous, football mentality combined with Atlas’ penchant for long-winded, angry pep talks, seems perfect.
Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez emerged as the new pound-for-pound king. He thrashes everyone who gets in the ring with him, and he’s just getting started. His demolition of a more-than-game Brian Viloria was pure pugilistic brilliance.
Danny Jacobs, one of the nicer guys in the sport with a great backstory, scored a shocking 1st round knockout of Peter Quillin to firmly entrench himself in the thick of a nasty 160 lb. division. Who would have thought that the guy who got dropped by Sergio Mora would crush Quillin in under two minutes?
Viktor Postol was supposed to get blasted out of the ring against hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse. Instead, the Freddie Roach-trained fighter ripped out Matthysse’s heart, along with the hearts of all of his fans, by making him quit. Credit to much-maligned referee Jack Reiss for making Postol stop holding and fight. Postol should send him a thank you card.
Ortiz, the massive Cuban heavyweight, looked to be in over his head against the skilled Bryant Jennings. But the flu-stricken southpaw hurt Jennings with nearly every solid punch before ruining him with a gorgeous uppercut. He’s 36, but he’s the freshest face in the division.
Kovalev keeps breaking skulls and terrifying people. Hopefully he gets that Ward fight after his ridiculously unnecessary rematch with Jean Pascal. Pascal will be lucky if he’s not seriously injured next month.
Some Not So Good Stuff:
Amir Khan wanted Mayweather and Pacquiao. He got Chris Algieri and another six months of nothing.
Danny Garcia followed up his bafflingly awful 2014 campaign by squeaking out a disputed victory over Lamont Peterson before waxing whatever is left of Paulie Malignaggi. Presumably it’s just hair gel and a mouth. This is just getting sad now.
Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. tried to make up his own weight class and took an ass beating against Andrzej Fonfara for his troubles. He followed that up by blowing off the weight limit against an already severely undersized opponent, beating him in an uninspired decision, and then letting everyone know he’d agree to a completely pointless rematch. His bizarre interactions with Jim Gray are getting to be way more compelling than his fights.
Chino Maidana blew up to like 200 pounds and appears content with no longer fighting. We take the loss for that one, because he’s a blast to watch.
Roy Jones just ended his year by getting knocked stiff in Russia. The saddest part is that he will likely fight again.
Showtime is not giving boxing fans much of a reason to justify their subscriptions. Last year was filled with horrible fights, this year was left basically empty. Next year? I hear they’ve already booked Wilder’s rematch with an oscillating fan.
Nicholas “Axeman” Walters lost a lot of the momentum he built up from housing Nonito Donaire last year. He won a lackadaisical decision over Miguel Marriaga before ending his year against Jason Sosa. Walters looked okay after moving up in weight, but his punching power doesn’t seem quite as nasty at 130 lbs. Adding to his troubles after having to go the distance with Sosa was the fact that the judges apparently started the holiday celebrations early. Walters suffered the ignominy of a draw with Sosa on his record, despite winning every round. That’s the risk you run when you don’t get the knockout.
Some Things To Look For In 2016:
Everyone is hoping that Canelo and Golovkin get it on in ‘16. It’s a huge fight between two offensively gifted fighters. But this is boxing, so nobody should be surprised if one of them loses an interim bout or if someone suffers a hideous injury right before fight night. I’d feel a hell of a lot better about it if they were fighting sooner than later.
Maybe Garcia will be in a meaningful fight next year. Robert Guerrero, his January opponent, had a brutal 2015 and looks to have lost a significant step or two. Let’s see what Garcia does with him.
Is Fury a one hit wonder, or can he beat Klitschko a second time? I think he will — Klitschko genuinely fought scared the first time, as he has on several occasions. I don’t think he’ll suddenly open up and wing 600 shots in the rematch.
Let’s hope we get to see a third war between Orlando Salido and Rocky Martinez, as it looks like we will. Martinez took the first fight by unanimous decision, but was lucky to get the draw in the rematch, as Salido appeared to do enough to win it. Either way, it’s been 24 rounds of pure hell. We want 12 more.
If Pacquiao keeps his word and retires after a fight next spring, boxing will have lost its two biggest draws within a few months of each other. But fans seem eager to move on toward the new blood. Guys like Canelo, Golovkin, Kovalev, and Gonzalez are ready to carry the torch. Boxing fans show an outward cynicism, but we’re really the most optimistic sports fans on the planet. That’s why we sit through awful decisions, blown fights, bad refs and greedy promoters, yet keep coming back for more.
Here’s to 2016…