Welcome to The Queensberry Rules’ annual year-end boxing awards, continuing throughout this week. Here’s how we do it around these parts:
The major categories are Knockout of the Year, Round of the Year, Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year. The final leg, which will finish after, is a pu-pu platter of awards ranging from Trainer of the Year to more frivolous topics.
For each category, we give five finalists, with video and/or relevant info. You tell us if our finalists and honorable mentions are lacking, and give your vote on who you think should win. Maybe you sway us to adjust the list, and maybe you sway us on the eventual winner. On the second day after a category is introduced, we’ll give you the winner and explain why.
Up now: Fighter of the Year candidates. Before: Knockout of the Year candidates, Knockout of the Year winner, Round of the Year candidates, Round of the Year winner, Fight of the Year candidates. On deck: Fight of the Year winner, Fighter of the Year winner.
THE 2016 FIGHTER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
Terence Crawford beat three top 10-caliber contenders at junior welterweight, one of them the second-best man in the division, all while cementing himself as one of the biggest U.S. regional draws and five (or so) best pound-for-pound fighters going… Stopped Hank Lundy in the easiest of his three battles… After dealing with claims he was afraid of his top rival in the division, made beating Viktor Postol look simple, scoring some knockdowns en route to a unanimous decision… That victory earned him the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board 140-pound championship… Too bad it aired on pay-per-view to almost comically anemic numbers… A win over highly-ranked but outclassed John Molina, Jr. was the cherry on the top at the end of the year… More than 11,000 came to watch that fight live in Omaha… Unfortunately, he caught a 90-day jail sentence over a bewildering auto shop confrontation, further spoiling some of his “good guy” cred via a petulant feud with the Nebraska media… He’s one of boxing’s best pure boxers right now, arguably its #1 American, and while his style is sometimes ponderous, he scores his share of knockouts and knockdowns… Could be in line for a big 2017 if his promoter, Top Rank, gets him in the ring with long-time star Manny Pacquiao.
Carl Frmapton ascended to pound-for-pound top-10 status with two excellent fights against top men at 122 and 126 pounds… Finally made the long-awaited domestic bout with Scott Quigg in a meeting of arguably the two best U.K. fighters in the game (at the time, Tyson Fury had an argument for one of those spots)… Tickets sold out for the Manchester showdown within minutes, with Frampton’s Northern Ireland contingent making a big appearance… Frampton took a split decision after surviving a late charge from Quigg… Moving up a division to featherweight, he took on a fearsome challenge away from his home soil: Leo Santa Cruz, in Las Vegas… An outstanding counterpuncher vs volume puncher emerged, with Frampton taking a close but clear decision… Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz won nominations and honorable mentions, respectively, for TQBR Fight of the Year and Round of the Year… Personality-wise, he’s courteous but outspoken, as when he criticized the BBC for not even putting him on its “Personality of the Year” shortlist… The Northern Ireland fan base clearly gives him a huge leg up… Is set up in 2017 for a highly-anticipated rematch with Santa Cruz.
Perhaps the best overall talent in the world, Vasyl Lomachenko has moved fast in his career, counting four top-10 fighters among his opponents in just eight career pro bouts… But one of the all-time amateur greats moved faster as a pro than ever in 2016, especially compared to his wasted 2015… Stepping up to junior lightweight, Lomachenko demolished Roman Martinez… It was TQBR’s 2016 Knockout of the Year… After Nicholas Walters aborted negotiations for a Lomachenko fight by balking at a career-high payday, the long-marinating bout was salvaged and booked for Thanksgiving weekend… What emerged was a curiously tentative performance from Walters as Lomachenko toyed with him at will… But Walters’ reluctance is no poor reflection on Lomachenko, since Walters’ performance be traced directly to Lomachenko making him feel like a fool… Walters was one of TQBR’s top 20 pound-for-pound fighters, and after beating him, Lomachenko is likely to end the year in the top 5… His Ukrainian background doesn’t give him a natural U.S. constituency, and his fighting style is too disciplined for some, even though he clearly can deliver bone-crunching power when he decides to do so… But his achievements are starting to match his potential, and it feels like almost no expectations are unreasonable… He could get a much-desired Orlando Salido rematch in 2017, where he hopes to avenge his only (and close) loss, which was a crash course in pro tactics.
Manny Pacquiao scored arguably the best win of 2016, fake-retired, then came back and reestablished himself as one of the elite few boxers alive… Not much of anyone was clamoring for Pacquiao to face Timothy Bradley for a third time — decent though the first two were — given that Pacquiao had clearly won both fights, even if the judges didn’t see it in the first meeting… But it turned into the best fight of the trilogy, with Pacquiao emerging with the victory thanks to some knockdowns… With the win he scored yet another victory over a top-10 pound-for-pounder… The fake retirement predictably didn’t last, and by this month he was facing Jessie Vargas, handling the younger, bigger and rising welterweight… At age 38, Pacquiao is no longer the fighter or draw he once was — but he still can do several hundred thousand pay-per-view buys, and despite his pure knockout power evaporating, he has plenty of pop and speed to remain among the very best for a while longer… A potential 2017 bout against Terence Crawford looks tough on paper, but it would be a bold decision from the Filipino legend and a win would wow us as much as his top career wins, if not more.
For a guy who plays the babyface role, Andre Ward stayed controversial in 2016, but he, like Pacquiao, has an argument for the best win of 2016… Strangely enough, the only other contender for that honor is the man Ward beat on the scorecards if not in the court of public opinion… But before that affair, Ward had to beat off ring rust, injury and age in two bouts that provided unexpected difficulty… Ward took on tough Cuban Sullivan Barrera, struggling at times but also flashing some power at his new weight of 175 pounds en route to a clear unanimous decision… The Barrera win looks better than it did then because Barrera stopped top-10 light heavyweight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy afterward… Next up for Ward was the similarly tricky Alexander Brand, who also lost to Ward clearly while making him look less-than-stellar… Still, Ward went ahead with the toughest fight of his life against hard-hitting monster and underrated boxer Sergey Kovalev… Kovalev dominated early, dropping Ward for the first time in years… But Ward rallied impressively, demonstrating for the first time since he became an elite pro that he could overcome trouble… Fans are still arguing over the scorecards, but Ward prevailed in a bout that he probably shouldn’t have won even if it was legitimately close on the scorecards… Still popular in Oakland, his sometimes-negative style and air of entitlement ensure he’ll never be beloved by everyone, and his pay-per-view numbers with Kovalev were pretty bad… Ward has threatened retirement but he owes Kovalev a rematch if he continues.
2016 FIGHTER OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTIONS: Roman Gonzalez; Anthony Joshua; Sergey Kovalev; Joe Smith, Jr.; Shinsuke Yamanaka