Fightful Boxing Newsletter (1/10): NYE Week Tokyo Boxing Show Review, Year-End Awards, 2019 Preview

Fightful Boxing Newsletter (1/10) Table Of Contents:

  1. December 30 Tokyo Boxing Show Review
  2. 2019 Boxing Preview
  3. Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa Fallout
  4. Fightful Boxing Awards: Event of the Year
  5. Fightful Boxing Awards: Upset of the Year
  6. Fightful Boxing Awards: Breakout Star of the Year
  7. Fightful Boxing Awards: Fight of the Year (10-1)
  8. Fightful Boxing Awards: Female Boxer of the Year (5-1)
  9. Fightful Boxing Awards: Male Boxer of the Year (5-1)
  10. U.S. Boxing Roundup
  11. Japan Boxing Roundup
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington II Scheduled For UFC 268 In November

December 30 Tokyo Boxing Show Review:

Japan’s final big boxing show of 2018, taking place at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, featured three impressive performances from their native boxers, all looking primed for big fights in 2019.

In what has been an annual tradition for Japanese boxing, the New Year’s Eve show (this year taking place on December 30 instead of December 31), is generally one of, if not the biggest boxing card of the year for Japan. The show featured three title fights, all involving a Japanese star in action, but all had somewhat predictable results.

In the main event, Masayuki Ito retained his WBO super featherweight title with a dominant victory over mandatory challenger Evgeny Chuprakov. On the undercard, Takuma Inoue won the interim WBC bantamweight title and Ken Shiro defended his WBC light flyweight title.

While the show was solid and by no means a bad card, this year’s New Year’s Eve card wasn’t as good or star-studded as some of the cards held this time of the year in previous years. The 2017 iteration, which had two cards on the last two days of the year, featured a title unification on one show and Naoya Inoue on the other show. In 2016, which had three shows on NYE, had an extremely competitive fight and a total of four title fights.

When looking at who could have been on the card, perhaps the three biggest names in Japan that could have been on the show were Kosei Tanaka, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Kazuta Ioka. In the case of Tanaka, he would have defended his WBO flyweight title on the show, but still needed time to recover from his war against Sho Kimura back in September. Kyoguchi and Ioka were in their respective title fights the day after in Macau, China, leaving something to be desired for the Tokyo card. Again, that’s not to say there wasn’t anything good to see.

ESPN+ aired Inoue’s and Ito’s fights live and both bouts certainly had something good to talk about. Inoue’s fight against Petch Sor Chitpattani ended being an enjoyable bout towards the end and left viewers wanting Inoue to fight either Luis Nery or Rey Vargas, both of which would have made for exciting matchups at bantamweight. Ito, whom ESPN+ remember him from his title win over Christopher Diaz last July, is now being eyed by Top Rank to have a title defense in 2019 against Jamel Herring.

Shiro was not featured on the ESPN+ stream due to time constraints, but had perhaps the most dominant performance among all three champions on the card. Shiro won almost every round in his win over Saul Juarez. Heading into 2019, possibly the biggest all-Japanese fight would be one against Kyoguchi, the new WBA champion at light flyweight.

Such a fight would be the perfect main event for the 2019 NYE card, but there is one potential roadblock that could stop the fight from happening. Kyoguchi is a part of Watanabe Gym, who fights on Tokyo Broadcast System (TBS), while Shiro fights on Fuji TV, the domestic television station that aired the December 30 show. It’s a similar situation to Terence Crawford, who fights on ESPN for Top Rank Boxing, and the rest of the welterweight champions, who are aligned with PBC and have broadcast deals with Showtime and Fox. While a unification fight might be the best thing for boxing, behind-the-scene wars for television supremacy might stop it from happening.

Results From Ota-City General Gymnasium, December 30, 2018:

Masayuki Ito defeated Evgeny Chuprakov by TKO, round 7 to retain the WBO super featherweight title: Ito opened things up with a solid first round, landing the right hand with ease while Chuprakov barely landing anything as he clinched throughout the opening frame. The champion would continue outboxing Chuprakov throughout the first three rounds, but Chuprakov would land big punches in the fourth, including a left hook to Ito's chin. The rest of the round saw both men trade blows as the crowd at the Ota-City General Gymnasium was cheering loudly for the action to continue. As the fight progressed into the middle rounds, both men would start receiving cuts thanks in part to several clashes of heads throughout the fight. Ito would still continue to land the bigger punches even while dealing with a cut right above the left eye. In the seventh round, Ito lands a flurry of punches that stunned Chuprakov into the corner and Ito let his hands go, trying to find the stoppage. The referee would step in to stop the fight with less than a minute remaining in the seventh round.

Takuma Inoue defeated Petch Sor Chitpattana by unanimous decision (117-111, 117-111, 117-111) to win the interim WBC bantamweight title: The fight started off with Inoue landing the straight right hand effectively, causing a cut near Chitpattana's right eye. Throughout the first couple of rounds, Chitpattana's head movement was almost nonexistent, allowing Inoue to let his hands go and take control of the fight early. Chitpattana did manage to get back and starting landing punches, some to the body, but was still outmatched by Inoue. In the middle rounds, Inoue's punch output started to decrease and Chitpattana established his right hand to pressure Inoue. Late in the ninth round, Inoue, with his back against the ropes, landed a right hand that caught Chitpattana off-balance and Inoue finished the round with a flurry of shots. In the 10th round, Inoue landed a body shot that stunned Chitpattana, reclaiming the momentum that he had in the early rounds. Chitpattana tried to come back pressure forward to Inoue, looking to work the body, but Inoue proved to be too much for Chitpattana to handle.

Ken Shiro defeated Saul Juarez by unanimous decision (120-108, 119-109, 119-109) to retain the WBC light flyweight title: The fight was a one-sided bout that saw Shiro establish his superior boxing abilities almost from the start. Shiro primarily utilized the jab to keep Juarez in check while mixing things up with various punches to win the fight. Shiro tried to find his fourth consecutive stoppage win, but Juarez proved to be too tough, having been knocked out once in his nine losses as a pro. The 26-year-old Shiro had been one of boxing's busiest champions since defeating Ganigan Lopez to win the WBC title in May 2017. After beating Lopez, Shiro would go on to retain his title five more times. A showdown against Kyoguchi should be next, but that is still somewhat unlikely to happen due to opposing television networks wanting to broadcast the fight.

2019 Boxing Preview

2019 promises to be a fantastic year in boxing, but it is also a make-or-break year for the sport as well.

Of course, one of the biggest questions heading into the new year would be the future home of former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Golovkin, the hottest free agent in the sport, is currently being courted by Top Rank, Matchroom Boxing and Premier Boxing Champions, all looking to add the former unified titleholder as one of the centerpieces for their respective franchise. Golovkin’s choice could have huge ramifications for the sport

The other big question is the state of the heavyweight division. For more than a year, fans were under the premise that a fight between WBA, WBO and IBF champion Anthony Joshua and WBC champion Deontay Wilder was inevitable, but now we enter 2019 with no guarantee it will happen. After the success that was Wilder’s fight against Tyson Fury, the WBC titleholder seems content to have a rematch with Fury before moving forward with a fight against Joshua. If the sport is to succeed, it needs its two heavyweight champions to meet in order to crown the next undisputed champion.

One of the more intriguing storylines within the sport is the three-way war between Top Rank, Matchroom Boxing/Golden Boy Promotions and Premier Boxing Champions for supremacy in the American market. When DAZN was first released to the United States and later added Golden Boy Promotions to its boxing arsenal, it seemed like the streaming service had the momentum in the war but after PBC got renewed broadcast deals with Fox and Showtime, the tide seems to have turned in PBC’s favor. Now the three entities are looking to sign as many stars as they can and make deals with various boxing companies all over the world with the aftermath of HBO Boxing going under.

It’s certainly an interesting time to be a boxing fan. There’s never been more options to watch all different kinds of boxing than now, but with that comes a price. Since various television networks and boxing companies have their own agenda and are looking out for themselves, it’s tough to envision some of the sport’s best matchups ever being made. One example is the welterweight division. While Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter, all PBC fighters, had been playing a game of hot potato with the WBA and WBC titles, WBO champions and Top Rank superstar Terence Crawford is left fighting the fringe contenders that Top Rank can offer him.

In some ways, the sport is more united than ever before due to the abundance of resources one has at their disposal to consume the sport, but it is also more fractured than ever before as well. With the behind-the-scenes struggles taking its toll on the sport, this is truly the year where we find out what can boxing do to help improve its reach into a mainstream audience. If the networks and companies refuse to cooperate, then it could be an era of frustration where some of the best fights never get made. If we do in fact get to see these massive corporations make compromises for the better of the sport, we could see dream matches finally become a reality and with that, boxing as a whole becomes all the more better.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa Fallout:

While the last boxing card featuring a world title at stake for 2018 took place on New Year’s Eve, the talk of the sport featured Floyd Mayweather’s in-ring return, albeit in an unofficial manner.

True to his word when he spoke about when he would fight again a few months back, Mayweather fought in Japan on December 31, but did so in an exhibition bout. Mayweather fought Japanese kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa as the final bout at the Rizin 14 card from Saitama, Japan and ended things very quickly inside the ring. The exhibition, like with Mayweather’s August 2017 bout against Conor McGregor, was held under boxing rules, giving Mayweather a clear advantage.

Mayweather took control of the fight almost from the start of the bell and knocked Nasukawa down three times, forcing Nasukawa’s corner to throw in the towel with less than a minute remaining in the round.

It was a bizarre concept, surreal to watch live and the end result left everyone befuddled.

The idea that Mayweather was going to be a part of a major Rizin show seemed ludicrous at first, even after the initial press conference that featured the unbeaten boxer being announced to fight Nasukawa. Those doubts seemed to be had been confirmed when the deal between both parties fell through until the fight was seemingly back on track.

Now that the exhibition has come and gone, questions arose regarding the legitimacy of this whole endeavor. Many were confused by how erratic Nasukawa looked in the ring, especially by how Nasukawa was falling down in each of the knockdowns. If you asked those who believe the exhibition was staged, they would tell you that Nasukawa shouldn’t have been able to lose in the manner that he did and the way he fell down looked like how a boxer in one of the Rocky movies would fall down whenever they get knocked down.

There’s also the fact that Nasukawa was already being built up as this once-in-a-generation talent (and he is) and that some people’s expectations were that he was going to come in and beat up Floyd Mayweather in his boxing debut (and I use debut loosely under these pretenses). Obviously, that was never going to be the case even with Nasukawa’s credentials, which include a knockout victory over former IBF flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng in a kickboxing fight back in 2017.

Just as Ruenroeng had come over to Nasukawa’s sport and was overwhelmed, Nasukawa was overmatched when he transitioned over to Mayweather’s sport. Nasukawa was reckless, didn’t have proper footwork against Mayweather and didn’t have the necessary experience to be able to provide any sort of challenge to someone who is pretty much the greatest defensive boxer of this generation, not to mention Nasukawa being a much smaller athlete in size compared to Mayweather.

The conspiracies about this exhibition being staged really doesn’t hold any water if the result was that Nasukawa would get knocked around the ring for nearly three minutes. Rizin stood nothing to gain from having their young superstar being humiliated on a global stage. Mayweather is likely never going to be associated with Rizin ever again, so how is staging this fight even remotely makes any sense.

Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that it’s been so long since a high-profile boxer (retired or not) had an exhibition in this manner. Going all the way back to the 1800s, this was commonplace with some of the biggest names in boxing’s long history.

Early in the 20th century, boxing exhibitions became popular across the United States. Many times, official fights had to be advertised as exhibitions, due to state laws prohibiting professional boxing. As the century progressed, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson and others fought exhibition fights. Benny Leonard did an exhibition for the United Drive Rally on May 23, 1923.

In Russia during the early 1890s, aristocrat Mikhail Kister performed at exhibition boxing fights. In England, such boxers as Jem Mace, Jimmy Wilde and Tommy Farr boxed both official and exhibition bouts at what were called "boxing booths."

Even Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most impactful personality in the history of boxing, had his fair share of exhibitions against non-boxers and non-athletes including pro wrestling legends Antonio Inoki and Gorilla Monsoon, former NFL player Lyle Alzado, former NHL player Dave Semenko and Puerto Rican comedian Jose Miguel Agrelot, whose name the country’s 18,500-seat stadium in San Juan was given.

But now the last question about this whole matter is whether or not Mayweather will properly come out of retirement? Mayweather said after the exhibition that he remains retired and will not come back, but we have played this song so many times, it’s hard to take Mayweather at his word regarding his in-ring return, or on any other topic for that matter.

Only time will tell whether or not Mayweather's retirement is genuine or not.

Fightful Boxing Awards: Event of the Year

Special Honorable Mention: Ota-City General Gymnasium: December 30 (Ito vs. Chuprakov): The final big boxing show for Japan provided three of Japan’s biggest stars (Masayuki Ito, Takuma Inoue and Ken Shiro) win title fights with two of those bouts being shown on ESPN+. Between Ito’s dominant performance and Inoue’s decently entertaining fight against Petch Sor Chitpattana, there was a little bit of everything on this show. Overall, this wasn’t as good as some of the New Year’s Eve week shows from the past few years, but still an enjoyable card to watch, especially for fans of Japanese boxing.

5. The Forum: February 24 (SuperFly 2): The second edition of HBO’s critically-acclaimed boxing series saw another outstanding card with multiple title fights and the return of former world champion Kazuto Ioka. Like with many events on this list, one of the best fights of the year took place and on this night, it was Srisaket Sor Rungivsai and Juan Francisco Estrada, both fighters used to providing incredibly entertaining skirmishes, who gave us our FOTY candidate. The two boxers battled for 12 rounds for the WBC super flyweight title, but it was Sor Rungvisai who emerged victorious. As for the undercard, a number of big fights and surprising results took place. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the event saw McWilliams Arroyo defeat Carlos Cuadras, putting himself in title contention at the time. The two title fights featured Donnie Nietes and Artem Dalakian win title fights for the IBF and WBA flyweight belts, respectively. It was overall an incredibly entertaining evening for fans of the lower weight classes and for boxing in general.

4. Madison Square Garden: December 15 (Canelo vs. Rocky): DAZN put all their chips on the table when the streaming platform signed Canelo Alvarez to the largest contract for an athlete in the history of boxing. So their first event featuring Alvarez had to be a major success. Although reports and rumors of DAZN’s subscriber count being way below expectations, it still doesn’t take away from what has been an interesting December night at Madison Square Garden. What’s unique about this event is that not a single fight was actually competitive. All fights on the card were incredibly one-sided, but for some reason, they each carried some form of entertainment or something to take away from. The main event was definitely the shortest and least competitive among all the main events on this list as Alvarez destroyed Rocky Fielding to win the WBA “Regular” super middleweight title. The co-main event featured IBF super featherweight champion Tevin Farmer display exceptional boxing skills in his latest title defense. Ryan Garcia had perhaps his best performance of his career, showing a more mature and disciplined boxer under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso, looking more like a contender now than at any prior point in his career. Lastly, the lone women’s title fight between Katie Taylor and Eva Wahlstrom was one-sided but the last ninth and 10th rounds were two of the most exciting rounds in women’s boxing for 2018.

3. O2 Arena: July 28 (Whyte vs. Parker): Say what you want about Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing, but when he makes a big show in the United Kingdom, odds are that the show will be a successful and entertaining one. Look no further than the July 28 show from the O2 Arena. On paper, there wasn’t anything that stood out too much that had people outside of the UK to get excited for. The main event was Dillian Whyte vs. Joseph Parker, a fight that was a solid heavyweight matchup, but nothing special on paper. But the fight, and the rest of the card, certainly exceeded expectations. People at the O2 Arena witnessed perhaps one of the biggest British heavyweight upsets of 2018 when David Allen knocked out Nick Webb as well as unified women’s light lightweight champion Katie Taylor prove she is one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in women’s boxing with a third-round victory over Kimberly Connor. This was also the same show that had Dereck Chisora and Carlos Takam engage in perhaps the most-action packed and entertaining heavyweight fights of the year. Even the main event was a dramatic battle that went down to the wire as Parker managed to score a surprise knockdown in the final round to create a suspenseful finish on the scorecard, but Whyte emerged victorious. Add in great performances by Anthony Fowler, Joshua Buatsi and Frank Buglioni and you have, from top to bottom, arguably the best British boxing show of 2018.

2. Staples Center: December 1 (Wilder vs. Fury): PBC’s first foray to pay-per-view brought a lot of skepticism, mainly with the company putting faith on a heavyweight champion who has never headlined a pay-per-view and a former champion who last fought in a big fight back in 2015. Regardless, both Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury proved that they can be a pay-per-view draw. Both fighters gave fans a competitive bout for the WBC title and also created perhaps the highlight of 2018 when Wilder knocked Fury down with a lights-out right hand in the final round. The only thing is that Fury somehow got back up from the knockdown. Unfortunately, the fight ended in a draw which angered many people on social media. Fortunately, a rematch is almost surely going to take place later this year. As for the rest of the card, knockout wins from heavyweight prospect Joe Joyce and unified junior middleweight Jarrett Hurd were fun to watch, but Luis Ortiz’s win over Travis Kauffman dragged on for way too long and had an unsatisfactory stoppage win for Ortiz. That fight certainly watered down the overall quality of the show, but everything else was so enjoyable to watch, that the event was still considered a critical success by many fans and pundits from the boxing community.

1. T-Mobile Arena: September 15 (Canelo vs. Golovkin 2): On paper, this event had the makings of becoming something truly special. Not only was the main event a very appetizing one, but the undercard featured a number of stars from the past and future. Once the event actually started, it seemingly ticked off every possible box for it to be a success. Let’s take a look at what this pay-per-view was able to accomplish:

- “Fight of the Year” candidate in the main event

- “Knockout of the Year” candidate

- Have a young superstar look impressive in his fight

- Feature a number of stars and former world champions in dominant performances

The biggest attraction of the event was the highly-anticipated rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, which was sure to be another thrilling battle between two of boxing’s biggest stars. But what really set this show apart from virtually every other boxing show of the year is the excellent undercard that supported the rematch. The show started off with the return of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, winning a quick fight against Moises Fuentes that sent Gonzalez back up to title contention. We then witnessed a vintage performance by David Lemieux, scoring another social media-buzzing knockout when he defeated Gary O’Sullivan in a title eliminator. Lastly, the undercard saw Jaime Munguia, boxing’s next young superstar score another successful title defense by taking out Brandon Cook. As for the main event, we got an incredible title bout that had some believing it was the best boxing fight of the year. It was really everything a fan can ask for in an event. The one blemish on this show was the ungodly wait people had to endure between the co-main and main event fights, with more than an hour between the two fights with nothing to fill the time, killing off a lot of the momentum the prior three fights had created. Still, there is no question that this was boxing at its finest.

Fightful Boxing Awards: Upset of the Year

Special Honorable Mention: David Allen defeats Nick Webb: This does constitute as an upset at the time and it is perhaps my personal favorite of this year. For British boxing fans, they may know Allen to be a charismatic boxer who may have been elevated to a higher level on the card due to his public image. Allen has gone toe-to-toe with several noteworthy heavyweights such as Dillian Whyte, Lenroy Thomas and Luis Ortiz, but has yet to secure a big win that would prove people he is a legitimate heavyweight. Allen traveled to Paris in June, losing to French prospect Tony Yoka in a tough fight that saw Allen get stopped in the 10th round. Some would think that Allen would wait a few months before getting back to action but with days remaining before a Matchroom Boxing show in London in July, Allen surprised folks by becoming a last-second opponent for Nick Webb, another up-and-coming prospect. It seemed like this would be another loss for Allen, but lo and behold, Allen shocked the boxing world by knocking out Webb late in the fourth round. Even with the O2 Arena not being full, Allen’s shocking win sent the crowd in an uproar. Allen has since then won his last two fights, putting him in position to potentially challenge for a title, perhaps either the British or Commonwealth heavyweight title, sometime in 2019.

5. Antonio Lozada Jr. defeats Felix Verdejo: Back in 2016, Verdejo was primed for a title shot against WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan and the two sides were nearing a deal to fight before the end of the year. But a motorcycle accident caused Verdejo to miss the last four months of 2016, leading to a downward spiral that had him not only drop out of the mandatory challenger spot for the title but also drop out of the WBO rankings altogether. But in early 2018, Verdejo was still offered a road to a world title: win a fight against Lozada and he’s back in the rankings, making him eligible once more and possibly face Raymundo Beltran for the title. Unfortunately, Verdejo did not expect the kind of challenge that Lozada brought to the table. What was supposed to be a squash match to get Verdejo back into title contention ended up being a surprisingly brutal and competitive fight. Verdejo was taken to his limit and Lozada managed to knock Verdejo down in the final round, enough to give Lozada the win on the scorecards.

4. Maurice Hooker defeats Terry Flanagan: Speaking of Flanagan, his move up to junior welterweight was suppose to start this summer with a world title in hand in front of his countrymen. Flanagan had already made a name for himself being one of the more consistent, yet unspectacular lightweight champions in the last few years. But when he moved up in weight, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would be Hooker to win the WBO title previously held by Terence Crawford. The fight came and what we saw was Hooker outboxing Flanagan almost from the start of the fight. Hooker, with an excellent showcase of technical boxing, managed to soundly win his first world title (although one judge had it in favor of Flanagan). At the time of the fight, this probably would have won this award, but after Hooker impressed many with his win over Alex Saucedo and Flanagan getting dominated by Regis Prograis, the June win is starting to look a little less impressive for Hooker. It’s probably a combination of underestimating Hooker’s skills and overestimating Flanagan’s ability to win big fights at this weight class. That still doesn’t mean that this was a great upset at the time of its time.

3. Rob Brant defeats Ryota Murata: It may not have been the biggest upset of the year, but it was perhaps the most disappointing one out of the bunch, especially for fans of Murata and fans of a certain hypothetical matchup against a certain former champion whose nickname is one letter three times (take a guess). After Gennady Golovkin lost to Canelo Alvarez on September 15, Murata was probably the biggest loser of them all as Murata had been hoping to get Golovkin at the Tokyo Dome sometime in 2019 which could have resulted in the biggest boxing show in the history of Japan. But there was still hope of making that fight possible. All Murata had to do was defeat Rob Brant, who was eliminated from the World Boxing Super Series in the first round just a year prior. It seemed like this would be another easy WBA “Regular” middleweight title defense for Murata. But Brant surprised everybody by completely dominating the Japanese champion, eventually winning a unanimous decision by a very wide margin. It shattered the hopes of Murata and Golovkin fighting in a big event in Japan and even if they were to fight, the significance of such a bout would be exponentially less than before Golovkin’s loss to Alvarez.

2. Cristofer Rosales defeats Daigo Higa: Chalk this up as one of the more bizarre upsets of the year. The fight was supposed to be for the WBC flyweight title, but Higa missed weight and was subsequently stripped of the belt, meaning only Rosales was eligible to win the title. Regardless, Higa was a massive favorite to win the fight and win comfortably, looking to win back the title later in the year. Higa was not unbeaten in 15 fights as a pro but had won every single match inside the distance. Rosales was unfazed by the now-former champion’s power, utilizing his jab to outbox Higa, eventually hurting Higa and later stopping him in the ninth round. It was an incredibly shocking upset considering the betting odds for this fight. Rosales was looked as a +900 underdog, making it one of the biggest upsets from a betting standpoint.

1. Roberto Ramirez defeats Dejan Zlaticanin: Remember Dejan Zlaticanin, the former WBC lightweight world champion? Boxing fans today probably remember him being the one who was on the receiving end of a devastating right hook from Mikey Garcia in January 2017. Since then, Zlaticanin pretty much fell off the face of the Earth with almost no word on his ring return for months. It took 11 months before Zlaticanin came back, winning a fight against Hevinson Herrera with a first-round knockout. Everything seemed to be peachy for Zlaticanin right? Well, not really. Fast forward to this past June, at a ballroom in Queens, New York and Zlaticanin was still on the comeback trail, looking to earn another title opportunity. Enter Roberto Ramirez, a 25-year-old from Tijuana, Mexico who sported a solid 17-2-1 record at the time. It seemed like this would be a walk in the park for Zlaticanin, with betting odds having Zlaticanin as much as a +4500 favorite. Ramirez would then proceed to obliterate Zlaticanin, busting up his nose, sending him to the canvas more than once and ultimately stopping him in just the second round. Before the fight, no one in the boxing world had this fight on their radar, but when the results came, social media was dumbfounded. How can a world champion fall from grace so much that he can’t win a fight in which he was favored 45-1? Ramirez wasn’t not a once-heralded contender like Rob Brant who manage to surprise people by beating a champion. Ramirez was not an overlooked contender in a crowded division like Maurice Hooker or even someone with a public image like David Allen. Ramirez was about as unknown as unknown can get and scored the biggest win of his life by knocking out a former world champion. It was another wake-up call for the sport of boxing that on any given day, anyone can win a boxing match.

Fightful Boxing Awards: Breakout Star of the Year

5. Jarrell Miller: In a heavyweight division whose top three is Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, Jarrell Miller might just be one small step below those three. Miller, one of the most colorful characters in the division, has this innate ability to keep getting heavier yet to retain the same level of mobility and power. Looking at Miller’s resume, it’s certainly one with wins over C and B-level heavyweights, but has yet to fight any of the upper echelon of boxing’s biggest weight class. Wins over Johann Duhaupas, Tomasz Adamek and Bogdan Dinu were solid, but nothing that will set the world on fire. It was Miller’s personality and his callouts to Joshua and Dillian Whyte that got Miller a lot of attention in the boxing world. But his personality isn’t the only thing Miller has. Sporting a frame like a barrel and power of a fully loaded one, Miller has turned into one of the scariest heavyweight contenders to this day. The jury is still out on whether or not Miller can win a fight against either of those three or if he can even secure a title fight, but for the time being, the 30-year-old kickboxer’s stock has been shooting up for some time and could result in a big 2019.

4. Maurice Hooker: Terence Crawford moving up in weight to welterweight after becoming the undisputed champion at 140 pounds may have been the best thing to happen for the junior welterweight division. Pretty much any of the champions at 140 pounds (Kiryl Relikh, Ivan Baranchyk, Jose Ramirez, Regis Prograis) can be selected for this spot and no one would bat an eye. In fact, this whole list can be comprised of just the 140 pound champions and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone complain about it.

But the reason Hooker gets the nod over everyone else is the caliber of year that he had and the unique circumstances surrounding it. Hooker traveled to England to face off against Terry Flanagan and was an underdog heading into the fight. In turn, Hooker managed to shock the world and win the WBO junior welterweight title with a decision win over Flanagan. Hooker then traveled to the United States to fight Alex Saucedo, who is coming off of one of the most exciting fights in the United States up to that point in the year against Lenny Zappavigna on ESPN. After a negotiation war that saw a purse bid result in Top Rank winning the rights to the fight, ESPN picked up the title bout, giving Hooker a chance to showcase skills in front of a national audience. After Saucedo knocked Hooker down early in the fight, Hooker recovered and eventually won the fight with a seventh-round stoppage. Now that he’s on the DAZN, getting unification fights might not be possible in 2019 due to the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight running through the summer, but Hooker could eventually land a fight with former lightweight champion Jorge Linares, which would be an exceptional bout at 140 pounds.

3. Daniel Roman: Roman has just about done everything possible to become one of the sport’s rising stars and more. Roman has a marketable face and youth on his side along with a world title and skillset to back up that title. Roman originally held the WBA “Regular” super bantamweight title in 2017, but after Guillermo Rigondeaux was stripped of his “Super” title in the aftermath of his loss to then-super featherweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, Roman was elevated. As the sole WBA titleholder, Roman now had to contend with better opposition, but passed each test with flying colors.

The 28-year-old started 2018 with a unanimous decision win over once-beaten Ryo Matsumoto back in February and followed it up with an impressive win over Moises Flores on the undercard of Errol Spence’s IBF welterweight title defense against Carlos Adames back in June. In an effort to get big fights in the United States, Roman signed a promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing USA to fight on DAZN and his first fight was a dominant victory over Gavin McDonnell in Chicago back in October. Roman is now primed for even bigger fights in 2019 with WBC champion Rey Vargas and IBF champion TJ Doheny potentially fighting on DAZN for the foreseeable future. With victories against those two fighters, Roman could make a run at “Male Boxer of the Year.”

2. Naoya Inoue: This is a weird pick as Inoue was by no means an unknown name, especially in Japan. But in the west, where his presence was only limited to hardcore fans, Inoue became an instant sensation in the United States despite his two fights taking place in his home country out in the east. Inoue's two first-round knockouts, especially the one against Juan Carlos Payano in the World Boxing Super Series, were the kind of performances that will get people from all four corners of the world talking about. Inoue has shown throughout the years that he is one of the best boxers in the world, but his two wins in 2018 made him an instant hit with American fans. In fact, Inoue graced the cover of Ring Magazine in 2018 with the cover page being one of the most popular boxing magazine covers in recent history, so much so to the point where Ring Magazine is selling the actual cover with Inoue as a poster. It goes to show that no matter where you are from, fighting is a universal language and a strong enough of a performance can transcend the language and culture barrier. Inoue is the favorite to win the World Boxing Super Series this year and if he does so, Inoue could see himself at the top of the pound-for-pound charts in less than one year.

1. Jaime Munguia: If anybody has personified the concept of “becoming a star from absolute obscurity,” then it’s Jaime Munguia. At the start of the year, no one had any idea who he was, except for very hardcore Mexican boxing fans. The first time Munguia’s name was mentioned by most boxing fans was when it was revealed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission denied Munguia as a late replacement opponent for Gennady Golovkin on May 5 after Canelo Alvarez withdrew from the fight after testing positive for clenbuterol in February.

By then, no one figured to see Munguia step into the ring in a major capacity after being denied a shot at Golovkin and his middleweight world titles. But life is an open road with endless possibilities.

Just shortly after Munguia was denied his Cinco De Mayo fight, Liam Smith went down with a skin condition, leaving an open spot for a dance partner for Sadam Ali and his May 12 WBO junior middleweight title defense.

Munguia replaced Smith for the title fight and what boxing fans were treated with was one of the most one-sided beatdowns in recent memory. From the opening bell, Munguia, sporting a frame and body befitting of a top light heavyweight, decimated Ali, crushing the world champion with barely any chance for Ali to recover. Munguia became the world champion and a potential superstar was born. But Munguia didn’t settle for just the Ali fight. Munguia’s first title defense was against Smith and although Smith did manage to expose some flaws of Munguia’s game, the raw power that the new world champion carried was undeniably titanic. Smith was eventually stopped by Munguia.

With two title defenses under his belt, Munguia’s last fight of 2018 was on the biggest stage possible: the co-main event of Canelo vs. Golovkin 2. Like with all his other opponents, Jaime Munguia overwhelmed Brandon Cook in Las Vegas, giving a global audience a taste of his overwhelming potential. At just 22 years old, Munguia has become the frontrunner to be Mexico’s next big boxing star.

Fightful Boxing Awards: Fight of the Year (10-1)

10. Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury: Wilder had struggled throughout the entire fight to connect on any of his power punches fans have been accustomed to seeing. Fury's agility and head movement was reminiscent to when he defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to win the unified WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles and was the key for him throughout the fight. Even so, Fury, like all of Wilder's opponents, succumbed to the champion's power and was knocked down twice in the fight. The first knockdown came in the ninth round of the fight as Wilder pressured Fury to the corner and landed a combination of punches that ended with a left hand to the side of the head which knocked down Fury. Fury was able to barely beat the count and went on to outbox Fury in the 10th and 11th rounds. Wilder made the 12th round arguably the most exciting one of the evening as Wilder landed a stiff right hand that knocked down Fury and nearly knocked him out. Fury miraculously got up and continued to look for a way to box his way to a win, but it did not come tonight.

9. Oleksandr Usyk vs. Mairis Briedis: While the talk of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semifinals was the incredible fight between Yunier Dorticos and Murat Gassiev, make no mistake. This other WBSS cruiserweight semifinal matchup is almost just as good. While not providing as much power as Gassiev vs. Dorticos, the technical mastery between the two cruiserweight champions was on full display. Up to this point, Usyk had pretty much dominated every fight in his pro career, but Briedis provided a challenge that Usyk had never encounter in the paid ranks. Not only was Briedis handling Usyk's power and jab well, but also showcasing his own power in front of a hometown crowd in Riga, Latvia, even landing harder punches than Usyk. Usyk eventually got the win, advancing to the finals where he eventually defeated Gassiev to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion.

8. Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz: The first of Wilder’s two big fights of 2018 may not have been as dramatic as the second one, but the action was higher. At the time, Ortiz was Wilder’s toughest opponent to date and knocking the Cuban down was also the WBC champion’s biggest challenge to date. The fight started somewhat slowly as the two boxers tried to find their range in the first few rounds. Ortiz was the one outboxing Wilder throughout most of the first half of the fight, which was unheard of at the time. But Wilder would eventually turn it around, throwing around his signature power shots to eventually stop Ortiz in the 10th round.

7. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Francisco Estrada: Estrada got off to a solid start in the first couple of rounds, keeping Sor Rungvisai's power in check with numerous right jabs, a natural answer for the southpaw Sor Rungvisai. Estrada would later abandon the jab in favor of taking the fight up close, a decision that would result in Sor Rungvisai using his powerful left hand to turn the tide in the middle portion of the fight.

Sor Rungvisai would find himself in control of the fight until Estrada pushed back and started winning rounds late in the fight, but at that point, it was a little too late for the Mexican fighter to win in the scorecards. This comes despite the fact that the 12th and final round saw both fighters throw everything but the kitchen sink at each other in a round that is already an early Round of the Year contender.

The fight was the definition of a boxing slugfest. More than 1,500 total punches were thrown in the fight with a little more than 1,200 of those punches being power punches. Sor Rungvisai was the busier fighter in both of those categories, throwing more than 200 power punches than Estrada.

6. Murat Gassiev vs. Yunier Dorticos: In a bout that had the makings of an instant classic, the fight began with Dorticos putting his best foot forward and pressuring Gassiev from the start, preventing Gassiev from getting into an offensive rhythm early and force him to move backwards throughout the first four rounds. Gassiev may not have been the more active fighter in the early going, but he did tag Dorticos with numerous big left hooks and uppercuts. Despite Gassiev’s impressive power, Dorticos did not seem fazed by anything Gassiev threw at him, that is, until the end of the fight.

As Gassiev kept getting more confident with each punch landed on Dorticos, the Cuban’s defenses and stamina started to dwindle little by little. The 11th round saw Dorticos get visibly shaken for the first time, with his knees buckling down and almost going to the canvas before a last-gasp attempt at holding on to Gassiev’s trunks saved him from going down.

The 12th and final round was a completely different story. Gassiev’s left hooks and uppercuts knocked Dorticos down twice before a third knockdown sent Dorticos tumbling through the bottom and bottom middle rope and almost out of the ring entirely, ending the fight at that point.

5. Dereck Chisora vs. Carlos Takam: As described in the “Event of the Year” section of this issue, this fight was an absolute delight to watch. Unlike the other heavyweight fights on this list, this fight featured non-stop action from start to end. Chisora and Takam found ways to attack each other since the opening bell and the action simply never stopped. Chisora's hard shots helped him get to an early lead, but Takam was the one outworking Chisora. Chisora would receive more and more punishment and was starting to fall behind in the cards once the first half of the fight ended. The eighth round was when everything changed when Chisora landed a mean right hand to knock down Takam. Chisora used the newly-found momentum to his advantage, connecting on a similar punch later in the fight, eventually stopping him with one minute remaining in the round. It was two heavyweights throwing punches like they were middleweights and it was the division's best action fight of 2018.

4. Alex Saucedo vs. Lenny Zappavigna: As the shortest fight on this list, one would think that something special had to have happened in order for this fight to be ranked this high. All it takes is one look at the fourth round of this bout to see why many believed this fight to be the best one of the year at the time. To say this was non-stop action would be putting it lightly. But what really put this war over some of the others on this list was the pure brutality both men had to endure. This fight wasn't for the faint of heart, as there was more blood spilled in this brawl than an Extreme Championship Wrestling event from the 1990s. The two men were pouring out blood left and right, a visual reminder of how this sport can treat its warriors. This fight was amazing and the most gruesome one in the top 10, so it is not for anyone that doesn’t like to see a lot of blood on television. For those that can stomach it, do watch this fight.

3. Jarrett Hurd vs. Erislandy Lara: After the disappointment that was Lara's last fight prior to this bout, there was some skepticism about whether or not this bout, for the unified WBA and IBF junior middleweight titles, would amount to anything good. Well both men answered that question and that answer was an outstanding, ultra-competitive fight with some late drama to boot. The two boxers traded blows throughout the entire fight, with Hurd getting a slight edge in many of their exchanges. Hurd had never been pushed around as a world champion as much as he had in this fight, but proved he was up to the challenge. Despite Hurd seemingly ahead only slightly in the fight, he was actually behind on the official scorecards. Only a very late rally would end things favorably for Hurd. He manage to get that rally by knocking Lara down in the final round, the catalyst for Hurd's split decision victory in what was one of the most enjoyable fights of this past year.

2. Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin 2: The rematch between the two middleweight stars promised to be more exciting than the first one, which was a tall order in and of itself. After all, the first fight was already a 2017 "Fight of the Year" contender. Despite the high expectations, both men did battle for 12 more rounds with neither man being the clear winner. The fight was back-and-forth and Golovkin looked to once again establish the jab and outwork Alvarez. Both fighters constantly exchanged power punches with Golovkin coming forward with the jab to Alvarez’s head and Alvarez tagging Golovkin’s body with multiple left hooks. Starting in the second half of the fight, Golovkin looked like he was starting to tire out a bit. But Golovkin caught his second win in the last few rounds of the fight, landing right hands to the Mexican star which stunned him and even in one instance in the 11th round, hurt Alvarez. But it was Alvarez who got the win, seemingly ending their rivalry.

1. Sho Kimura vs. Kosei Tanaka: If anybody has seen my social media for the past few weeks, they would know that this fight was going to be awarded the “Fight of the Year” award.

Both Kimura and Tanaka wasted zero time getting to the action as the first round had both men throwing dozens of power punches. Tanaka initially overwhelmed Kimura with combinations starting with the left jab and ending it with a big right jab. Tanaka, on the other hand, established an offense that saw him primarily try to take down Kimura with hundreds of body punches and uppercuts.

It was Tanaka who initially had the upper hand, hurting Kimura in the second round with a right jab, but the champion quickly bounced back and continued working the body. Over the course of the next few rounds, Kimura would start breaking down Tanaka with the aforementioned body shots. Despite getting slowed down just a bit by Kimura’s body shots, Tanaka continued to press forward, still throwing vicious combinations. While Kimura tried to fight Tanaka at close range, the challenger wanted to keep his distance a bit and throw the lead right to Kimura. The fight never slowed down with neither fighter taking a round to rest up or simply play defense. At most, the fight had only a couple of clinches and the referee stopping the action at times with Kimura leaning forward and almost headbutting Tanaka, though no foul was ever committed.

The last couple of rounds saw both fighters still throwing every punch imaginable at each other with both faces swelling up from the constant punishment. In the last round, there was a moment where both men threw a single right jab to each other four straight times simulated which sent the crowd at the Takeda Teva Ocean Arena in Nagoya, Japan in a frenzy. By the end, both men were exhausted and unsure of who won the fight.

Fightful Boxing Awards: Female Boxer of the Year (5-1):

Special Honorable Mention: Amanda Serrano:

1-0 record in world title fights

Won WBO junior welterweight title

Only woman to win a world title in six weight classes

Serrano’s only fight of 2018 saw her break her own record and win a world title in a sixth weight class. Back in September, Serrano moved all the way up to 140 pounds to challenge for the WBO title and eventually won it with another impressive performance, this time against Yamila Esther Reynoso. Aside from the fight, Serrano did not really do much as far as boxing is concerned as Serrano spent the majority of 2018 focusing on her MMA career. But her record-breaking win against Reynoso is something that should be acknowledged and admired, especially since Serrano is not done in the ring. On January 18, Serrano kicks off her three-fight deal with DAZN with a fight for the vacant WBO super flyweight title. Another title win, plus a win over potential opponent Katie Taylor at the end of the year could potentially secure her a shot at winning next year’s award.

5. Heather Hardy

1-0 record in world title fights

Defeated Shelly Vincent on an HBO telecast

Won the WBO featherweight world title

Hardy had a busy year last year and not just in boxing. After winning her second pro MMA fight at Bellator 194 back in February, Hardy decided to go back into boxing with the hopes of finally winning her first world title. Although she didn't quite get that title opportunity in her fight against Iranda Paola Torres, a fight that Hardy won by unanimous decision, Hardy did get that opportunity on a national stage. After Hardy was announced to fight for the WBO featherweight title, it was revealed that the fight was not going to be televised by HBO. But a strong effort by Hardy and women's boxing enthusiasts persuaded HBO to change its mind and decided to air what was at the time the second-ever live women's boxing match on the network. Under the bright lights of HBO and Madison Square Garden, Hardy dominated Shelly Vincent, winning her first title and cementing her status as a true women's boxing star.

4. Daniela Romina Bermudez

2-0 record in world title fights

Won the IBF super bantamweight title

Successfully defended her WBO bantamweight title in December

Bermudez was one of the reasons this awards issue took an extra couple of weeks to make as her bantamweight title defense took place on December 29 and if she emerged victorious in that fight, there was no way she would be left out of the ballot. Bermudez started the year as the WBO bantamweight titleholder, but had decided to take the Amanda Serrano career path and moved up in weight to add another title to her collection. In April, Bermudez won a really close fight to win the IBF super bantamweight title and become a three-division champion. But her time as a super bantamweight was brief as she decided to go back down to bantamweight to defend her WBO title once more. This latest title defense was what secured her spot on this list. Bermudez scored four knockdowns in the first three rounds, eventually stopping former title challenger Yolis Marrugo Franco after four rounds. Bermudez might be the least well-known fighter on this list, but her accomplishments this year deserve some attention.

3. Cecilia Braekhus

First woman to win a boxing fight live on HBO

First woman to headline a boxing card on HBO

3-0 record in world title fights

Cecilia is not only women’s boxing’s only undisputed champion, but also the first woman to fight on HBO and headline a boxing card on HBO. To say that her year was impactful would be the understatement of the century. A win over Kali Reis is May was certainly not a bad one and the fight had a brief moment of suspense when Braekhus was knocked down, but it ended with another win for Braekhus. The Norway native ended 2018 with big decision wins over Inna Sagaydakovskaya and Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes, with the last fight being the main event of HBO’s final boxing broadcast.

What certainly hurts Braekhus’ case is the level of opposition doesn’t exactly scream “Boxer of the Year” and at the very least, the two women ahead of Braekhus for the award engaged in some very riveting fights that were highlights for the sport. Braekhus is really here based on the history that she made and that alone is very impressive considering HBO’s past, or lack thereof, when it comes to promoting women’s boxing. Still, Braekhus is arguably the best pound-for-pound female boxer today and is likely to stay on top in 2019 and beyond.

2. Katie Taylor

4-0 record in world title fights

Unified the WBA and IBF lightweight titles

Made three successful unified lightweight title defenses in 2018

In just 12 fights, Taylor has fought on some of the biggest boxing shows all over the world, facing a number of past world champions, present day champions and future titleholders, passing each test with flying colors. 2018 was her banner year thus far, becoming not only a unified champion, but also making a case for being the best pound-for-pound boxers in women's boxing. A win over Victoria Bustos secured her the unified titles, but it was her wins over Cindy Serrano and Eva Wahlstrom that truly turned her into a top superstar. The fight against Serrano was suppose to be an incredibly competitive fight on paper, but Taylor instead turned it into a 20-minute clinic with Taylor dominating every single round with ease. Her fight against Wahlstrom at Madison Square Garden on December 15 was definitely the best fight of the night with the last two rounds perhaps being two of the most exciting rounds in women's boxing throughout the entire year. Taylor's career will only go up from here with a potential showdown against Amanda Serrano later this year being the biggest test as a boxer. A win over Amanda would pretty much already secure her a spot on the Hall of Fame ballot.

1. Claressa Shields

4-0 record in world title fights

Successfully defended her WBC and IBF super middleweight titles

Won the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles

For the second year in a row, Shields wins this award, becoming the only boxer to win "Boxer of the Year" honors more than once. After a super middleweight title defense against Tori Nelson in January, Shields decided 168 pounds was not enough for her. The two-time Olympic gold medalist moved down in weight to become a two-division champion. Shields' middleweight debut featured a great fight against Hanna Gabriels back in June to win the IBF and WBA titles. Shields sought an even greater challenge and looked to hopefully secure a shot at Christina Hammer for the undisputed middleweight crown. The two had originally set out to fight at the end of 2018, but a health issue caused Hammer to withdraw from the bout, leaving Shields to go out and win the WBC title on DAZN back in November. As if that wasn't enough, Shields would go on to fight once more, this time on the final HBO broadcast of 2018. What's more impressive about that feat is that the time between Shields' last two fights was less than three weeks. What other world champion fights on less than three weeks' notice? Shields may not be everybody's cup of tea, but there is no doubt that she is the biggest women's boxing star in the United States and will only continue to rise from here.

Fightful Boxing Awards: Male Boxer of the Year (5-1)

Special Honorable Mention: Anthony Joshua

2-0 record in world title bouts

Unified the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles against Joseph Parker

Knocked out Alexander Povetkin in September

5. Mikey Garcia

2-0 record in world title bouts

Won the IBF junior welterweight and IBF lightweight titles

Defeated Sergey Lipinets in a “Fight of the Year” contender (No. 20)

What can one say about Mikey Garcia that hasn’t already been said? The guy is perhaps the most well-rounded boxer in the sport today, showing perhaps no weakness in his game and is on a mission to fight in as many weight classes as possible. Garcia started off the year as the WBC lightweight champion, his third weight class conquered, but he moved up in weight to fight Sergey Lipinets for the IBF junior welterweight title. The two battled in what was one of the sleeper hits of 2018, but it was Garcia who won the fight and a title in a fourth weight class. Instead of defending his title, Garcia moved back down to lightweight to not just defend his title, but to unify. Garcia went on to face IBF champion Robert Easter Jr. and instead of a war between two world champions, Garcia dominated Easter, knocking him down early in their fight in July and proceeding to outbox Easter for the rest of the fight, becoming a two-belt holder at 135 pounds. Garcia may not have a flaw in his arsenal, but his willingness to take on all kinds of challenges could cost him his perfect record. His next fight will be against Errol Spence Jr. for the IBF welterweight title in March, a task many believe to be too tall for Garcia. But if Garcia can somehow pull off the upset, expect Garcia to be the favorite to win 2019’s “Male Boxer of the Year” award.

4. Canelo Alvarez

2-0 record in world title bouts

Defeated Gennady Golovkin to become the unified WBA and WBC middleweight champion

Knocked out Rocky Fielding to win the WBA super middleweight title

Now this could be a controversial for a number of reasons, specifically two reasons. As in, the two failed drug tests he had in February that ultimately resulted in a six-month suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The only reason why he’s considered for this award is because he served his suspension and has since then been clean (that we know of). Onto his actual in-ring work, it’s hard to deny Alvarez a spot on the list after defeating Gennady Golobkin in a very enjoyable pay-per-view main event, one that some may argue was even better than their excellent first match in 2017. Although there are still people who believe Alvarez lost the rematch against Golovkin, the record books will still say that Alvarez was the official winner. As if that wasn’t enough, the Mexican superstar announced that he has signed a gargantuan deal to fight for DAZN, leading Golden Boy Promotions to join the streaming platform and add another layer of depth to its boxing programming. In his first fight under the DAZN banner, Alvarez moved up in weight to challenge for Rocky Fielding’s WBA “Regular” super middleweight title. Instead of a competitive, high-action battle, we saw Alvarez punish the bigger Fielding for nine minutes, knocking him down a total of four times in just three rounds. It was another feather in the cap that is the career of Alvarez and although his time at 168 pounds is expected to be brief, there’s no denying Alvarez had an outstanding last four months of 2018.

3. Naoya Inoue

2-0 record in world title bouts

Won the WBA “Regular” bantamweight title in bantamweight debut

Knocked out Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in the first round

If you are a boxing fan and you have yet to see Inoue in action, do yourself a favor and watch Inoue’s two fights from this past year. At 118 pounds, Inoue hits like a truck and has had no equal at any weight class throughout his career. After failing to secure unification bouts at super flyweight, Inoue decided to move up in weight to win a title at bantamweight. His bantamweight debut was short, yet spectacular. Inoue knocked out McDonnell to win the WBA “Regular” bantamweight title this past summer in the very first round. The surprise in this was not that Inoue won the fight, but that he did so by knocking out a top five bantamweight so easily. This win earned him a spot in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, where he is considered by many to be the clear favorite (despite being ranked No. 2). Inoue further proved his standing as the top bantamweight in the world by knocking out Payano in, you guessed it, the first round, showing that the McDonnell knockout was not a fluke. Inoue is such a treat to watch in the ring and has been so successful wherever he goes, it’s no wonder some has Inoue tabbed as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world today. Oleksandr Usyk is unnaturally gifted as a cruiserweight, Mikey Garcia is the most well-rounded boxer of the P4P bunch, Vasiliy Lomachenko has unbelievable agility and footwork and Terence Crawford is perhaps the most talented boxer in the world. But Inoue might just be the most dangerous boxer in the sport today. There’s a reason why his nickname is “The Monster.” All it takes is just three minutes of in-ring action throughout 2018 to show just how monstrous he truly is.

2. Vasiliy Lomachenko

2-0 record in world title bouts

Knocked out Jorge Linares in lightweight debut

Defeated Jose Pedraza to unify the WBA and WBO lightweight titles

Once again, Lomachenko showcased why he is one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound boxers. Lomachenko ended 2017 with an impressive win over Guillermo Rigondeaux, but the was last we saw of Lomachenko as a super featherweight. Kicking off the new year, Lomachenko chose greener pastures at 135 pounds and look to win another title. A win over Jorge Linares, considered a top three lightweight at the time, earned Lomachenko the WBA belt, which now makes it three weight classes in which the two-time Olympic gold medalist has won a title. Unfortunately, Lomachenko spent the next several months rehabbing a surgically-torn labrum he suffered during the fight against Linares. It was initially feared that he would miss the remainder of the year, but Lomachenko recovered well enough to fight at the end of the year. Headlining his third straight boxing show at Madison Square Garden, Lomachenko wowed the boxing world with a thorough beatdown over Jose Pedraza to unify the WBA and WBO titles. 2019 could provide even more unification fights for Lomachenko as he could be facing the winner of the IBF title fight between Richard Commey and Isa Chaniev later this year.

1. Oleksandr Usyk

3-0 record in world title bouts

Defeated Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis to win the World Boxing Super Series

First undisputed cruiserweight champion to hold the WBA, WBO, WBC, IBF and Ring Magazine titles simultaneously

The question surrounding the “2017 Boxer of the Year” debate was whether or not Vasiliy Lomachenko’s dominance over Guillermo Rigondeaux to go along with two more world title defenses was enough to trump Terence Crawford’s historic win over Julius Indongo to become the undisputed 140-pound champion for year-end honors? In the case of Oleksandr Usyk, he made a better case over both of those fighters from last year and cemented what is possibly one of the greatest calendar years in recent boxing history.

It wasn’t enough that Usyk was victorious over Mairis Briedis in an outstanding cruiserweight title unification at the start of 2018. It wasn’t enough that this past summer, Usyk turned a fight against Murat Gassiev, which on paper could have been one of the best cruiserweight fights in years, and turned it into a showcase of masterful technical boxing. It wasn’t enough that Usyk became the first World Boxing Super Series champion and first undisputed cruiserweight champion to hold the WBA, WBO, WBC and IBF titles at the same time. Usyk capped off 2018 with a huge win over former champion Tony Bellew, cementing him as one of boxing’s true pound-for-pound superstars.

U.S. Boxing Roundup

- Top Rank Boxing announced that it has signed a pair of top amateurs: super bantamweight Jeremy Adorno and heavyweight Sonny Conto. Both boxers will make their professional debuts on a boxing card at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia on February 8. The card, promoted by Michelle Rosado, will also feature unbeaten bantamweight Christian Carto in action. Adorno is the younger brother of undefeated lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno.

- New York promoter Lou DiBella is aiming to put together an all-female boxing show for the spring, tentatively scheduled between March and April. The idea is to have Showtime, whom DiBella has had “meaningful discussions” with Showtime about putting the card together. DiBella, a longtime advocate for women’s boxing, has a number of women’s boxing stars that could be great for an all-female show, mainly WBO featherweight champion Heather Hardy. There’s also WBA super middleweight champion Alicia Napoleon, who appears to be in talks to fight on that card as well. As of this writing, Hardy and Napoleon have verbal agreements for big fights: Hardy facing WBA and WBC champion Jelena Mrdjenovich and Napoleon vs. WBC champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn, giving Showtime a solid main and co-main event if those fights do end up happening. This wouldn’t be the first time an all-women’s boxing show had been done in the United States, but this would potentially be the first to be aired on a major television network. There had been all-female shows in 1998 in Atlantic City, New Jersey with multiple title fights taking place.

- The IBF, whose headquarters are located in New Jersey, has made a major change in the rules that govern its purse bids that went into effect with the start of the new year. The split of the money if a fight went to a purse bit had been 75 percent of the winning offer to the titleholder and 25 percent to the mandatory challenger. Now the titleholder is entitled to 65 percent and the challenger 35 percent. A vacant title fight remains 50-50. Also, in the event of a titleholder versus a mandatory challenger who is No. 3 or below in the IBF rankings the split remains 85-15 in favor of the titleholder. In another change, the IBF reserves the right to alter the split if requested and it’s approved by a majority vote of the board of directors.

- Anthony Dirrell, who will fight for the vacant WBC super middleweight title in the near future, will be a part of the FS1 broadcast team that will call the action for the January 13 PBC card from Los Angeles. The card will be headlined by Jose Uzcategui vs. Caleb Plant for the IBF super middleweight title. The broadcast team also includes Chris Myers serving as the play-by-play broadcaster and former lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini as an extra color commentator.

- There has been a slight change in the January 11 ShoBox: The Next Generation card from Louisiana. Originally, undefeated featherweight Ruben Villa was supposed to face Carlos Vidal, but Vidal withdrew due to unknown reasons. In Vidal’s place is unbeaten Colombian boxer Ruben Cervera with the fight set to be in the co-main event slot. The televised main event on Showtime will be Devin Haney vs. Xolisani Ndongeni in a 10-round lightweight bout. It’s a shame that Vidal is no longer on the card as there were many in his native country of Puerto Rico who believe he is a solid featherweight prospect with an impressive physique and above average height. Side story: In my first few weeks of my boxing training, Vidal once entered the gym I trained and asked if I knew how to spar to help him get some rounds in. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to accept as I was still very early in my training, so I declined. Vidal did still give me some advice on how to improve my stance and tighten my punches.

Japan Boxing Roundup

- One thing that was strange about the announcement of TJ Doheny’s first IBF super bantamweight title defense, set for January 18 on a DAZN show at Madison Square Garden, was the fact that no opponent was announced. ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported that relatively unknown Japanese fighter Ryohei Takahashi is being targeted as Doheny’s opponent. The problem with this is securing a visa for Takahashi and as of this writing, there is still no word on who Doheny will face.

- Top prospect Ginjiro Shigeoka has two fights penciled in for the first six months of this year. One fight would take place in February, but no date or venue was mentioned. The second fight will take place in April in Kumamoto, with the idea being that Shigeoka faces a ranked Japanese opponent.

- After some initial fear and speculation that former world title challenger Hirofumi Mukai might retire after his last fight, Mukai recently posted on his blog that he will indeed return to the ring sometime in the future, though no date has been set. Mukai, no stranger to having exciting fights, is coming off a loss to former three-division world champion Akira Yaegashi back in August in what was one of the best all-Japanese boxing fights of 2018, which is certainly no small feat to accomplish.

- For boxing fans in Japan, WOWOW Prime will broadcast the WBA “Regular” welterweight title bout between Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner on January 19.

- OPBF flyweight champion Keisuke Nakayama will fight on the February 14 Korakuen Hall boxing show. Nakayama will fight 27-year-old Yusuke Sakashita on the same card as the Japanese light flyweight title bout between Kenichi Horikawa and Satoru Todoka.

- This Saturday, January 12 will feature a solid card at Korakuen Hall, headlined by two Japanese title fights. The first one involves Mugicha Nakagawa and Ryoichi Tamura for the vacant super bantamweight title while Shin Ono will defend his Japanese minimumweight title for the second time in this current reign when he faces Norihito Tanaka. Should Ono successfully defend his title on Saturday, there is no reason to think he won't be under consideration for a title shot against any of the champions later this year. Ono is ranked by all four governing bodies and is even ranked No. 5 by the WBO, whose minimumweight champion is Vic Saludar.

- Fresh off his split decision loss to Donnie Nietes on the December 31 boxing show in Macau, China, Kazuto Ioka is looking to return to the ring next spring, possibly in the United States. The plan is to have Ioka return to action soon and hopefully secure a world title fight by the end of year. It’s interesting to note that some media reports stated that a possible date for Ioka’s next fight would be whenever a fourth “SuperFly” card takes place. HBO, who ran the first three “SuperFly” cards, is no longer in the boxing broadcast business, but it’s possible that another broadcaster picks the series up. ESPN has IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas, DAZN, through association with Matchroom Boxing, has WBA titleholder Kal Yafai, and WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is currently a television free agent as far as U.S. broadcasters are concerned.

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