Fightful Boxing Awards: Best Fight Of 2017

The following appeared in this week's edition of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which publishes each Thursday at 6 AM ET.

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Fight Of The Year: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

This really isn’t a surprise to most people and this fight had been deemed fight of the year when it happened in April, but I find no value in picking any other fight and being a contrarian just for the sake of being one and going against the grain.

Back in the long days of the Fightful Boxing Podcast, I had said this fight was one of the greatest heavyweight title fights in history and although this fight won’t be on the same historical level as the legendary fights Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Rocky Marciano had in their respective careers, no other heavyweight title fight has had as much impact on the sport since perhaps James “Buster” Douglas beating Mike Tyson.

Everything I had said and written about this fight still holds true to this day. This fight had just about everything you’d expect out of a great fight such as this.

In front of a record crowd attendance that easily dwarfed this year’s WrestleMania, this mega event had it all: the perfect matchup between the old king of the heavyweights and the new, young lion trying to take the crown, WrestleMania-style entrances, 90,000 boxing fans (a British boxing record) filling Wembley Stadium and Michael Buffer, the boxing voice for many a fan in the 21st century being the Master of Ceremonies of sorts, and this was all before the fight even started.

As for the in-ring action, it was about as dramatic as one can hope. Like I had said back in April, this fight told an incredible story that was akin to a three-act Shakespearean masterpiece that proceeded as follows:

Act 1 (Rounds 1-4): Our main characters are introduced, the setting is Wembley Stadium and the spectators are the 90,000 fans and millions watching all over the world. The fight starts off slow, with both men trying to feel one another, find out about each other’s strengths and weaknesses: a human chess match as you will. The crowd clearly has their favorite in the young Anthony Joshua, but both men do an effective job at settling down and focusing on the task at hand. After all, these are our main actors and their job is to do their best, give the performance possible and win. The fourth round sees Joshua make a calculated move to attack using the jab, putting more and more pressure on the aging former champion, setting up for a big moment soon after.

From Fightful’s live coverage of the fight:

Round 4: Klitschko starts with a solid 1-2 punch, his cleanest punch connected in the fight. The two men clinch again. Joshua lands a hard right hand, but it doesn't fully connect. The two men clinch again and Joshua gets a stern warning for dirty hitting. Joshua lands a hard right to Klitschko's body. Counter right by Joshua and Klitscko is still gun shy after the solid start in the round. They cinch and Joshua hits a couple of short right hooks to the body to end the round.

Fightful scored round 4 for Joshua 10-9

Act 2 (Rounds 5-8): The second act begins with Joshua landing a ferocious flurry of punches that hurt the giant, a sight unseen in many years. The crowd is shocked to see Klitschko down and elated to see Joshua potentially ending the fight right here and now. What the crowd, and Joshua, didn't know is that Klitschko was only saving his best up to this point. After the knockdown, the crowd of 90,000 at Wembley saw the former champion and longtime veteran take control of the fight momentarily and dominate Joshua, who seems to be confused and somewhat lost in his own hubris.

It was the first time Joshua had been beaten around in this manner and he didn't know what to do. All of his opponents had mentally or physically surrendered whenever Joshua gets on a roll. It was the first time in Joshua's pro career that someone dared to fight, with Klitschko preventing Joshua from taking the mantle of best heavyweight in the world away from Klitschko. Klitschko scores a knockdown in round 6, silencing the record crowd in London. It looked like Joshua might not be worth the hype after all.

Round 5: Joshua explodes out of the gate and lands several solid hooks and uppercuts, hurts and cuts Klitschko and Joshua knocks down Klitschko. After the knockdown, Klitschko gets his turn at numerous flurries and Joshua is then tired and eats a hard left hook from Klitschko.

Fightful scored round 5 for Joshua 10-9

Round 6: Joshua throws a few body shots and Klitschko is jumping back and forth, showing a spring in his step after being knocked down. Joshua's mouthpiece flies out and then Klitschko gets his revenge by knocking down Joshua. Klitschko is on the offensive and has Joshua in the corner. Klitschko lands a clubbing right hand to Joshua and the two men clinch once more. Joshua eats another left jab.

Fightful scored round 6 for Klitschko 10-8

Act 3 (Round 9-11): Despite the mental shakedown Joshua must have felt when he was knocked down, Joshua rebounded from the fight beautifully, seemingly gaining a wealth of experience from every hit he received from the future Hall of Famer. It seemed that Joshua truly has broken his previous limits and has surpassed Klitschko. Joshua opens the 11th round by dominating Klitschko, showcasing his evolution with every passing second and knocks down Klitschko for the second time in the fight. Like the hungry young lion ready to pounce on a weakened foe, Joshua continued to relentlessly attack Klitschko, knocking him down again and ending what was a masterful performance for Joshua.

Round 11: Joshua starts off very well landing a right and Klitschko is moving back, getting rocked in the opening seconds of the round. Joshua lands a short left hand before Klitschko clinches. Joshua knocks down Klitschko for the second time this fight and once he gets back up, Joshua is back to attacking the head and Klitschko goes down again! Referee stops the fight and Joshua is the new face of heavyweight boxing.

Official result: Anthony Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko via TKO, round 11, 2:25, to retain the IBF world heavyweight title and win the vacant WBA "super" heavyweight championship.

This fight was a rare example of a fight getting an insane amount of hype and delivering on everything promised. Was it the hardest hitting fight of the year? No. Was it the most action-packed bout with the highest punch volume? Not even close. Did both men finished the fight looking like they just finished 15 rounds in a Rocky movie? Absolutely not. But those aren’t the only ways to judge a fight on how good it is.

It’s about encapsulating the human spirit inside the squared circle, showcasing the strength of one’s will and physical abilities, invoking one’s passion and trying to overcome adversity and telling a story between two fighters who will do what it takes to prove they are the absolute best. To many people, these boxers are larger-than-life people and fans all over the world flocked to London in order to watch something truly special.

What they got is the gracious fall of one legendary boxer and the true rise of who could potentially become the next global superstar the sport desperately needs. Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin are still the top two stars in boxing, but the sport needs the heavyweights to succeed in order to bring back the popularity fans yearned since 2017 is the year the stars of the past generation passed the torch one way or another. With fights against Joseph Parker, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury looming over the horizon, Joshua (or whomever beats him) is primed to have an even bigger 2018, which seems tough given the he toppled a giant in the heavyweight division and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. This fight only solidified Joshua’s status as boxing’s next big thing.

Honorable Mentions (In No Order):

  • Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin
  • James DeGale vs. Badou Jack
  • Milan Melindo vs. Hekkie Budler
  • Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Carlos Cuadras
  • Jarrett Hurd vs. Austin Trout
  • Miguel Berchelt vs. Francisco Vargas
  • Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman Gonzalez 1
  • Takashi Miura vs. Miguel Roman
  • Miguel Berchelt vs. Francisco Vargas
  • Orlando Salido vs. Miguel Roman
  • Keith Thurman vs. Danny Garcia
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