As boxing fans we have a lot to look forward to in 2020 but can we have another year to match the one we’ve just had? I’m not sure that’s possible due to some of the amazing performances and unexpected results we saw during the past 12 months.
Thinking quickly, Pacquiao’s amazing win over Thurman, Porter vs Spence, Golovkin vs Derevenchenko, Taylor vs Prograis, Hurd vs Williams, Inoue vs Donaire, Charlo vs Harrison II, Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Artur Beterbiev, Ramirez vs Hooker, all great fights that together, stack up to make 2019 a match against any year in recent boxing history. But what about the biggest heavyweight upset since Tyson vs Douglas in 1990?
Surely the most sensational global sports headline of 2019, Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat at the hands of late substitute Andy Ruiz Jr at Madison Square Garden on June 1st brought more attention to our sport than any other event since Tokyo 1990.
It became clear during the build-up that Joshua was viewed by most as the number 1 heavyweight on the planet. Some American’s have gained that view due to boxing’s demise in popularity in the USA during the last decade. Many did not even know who he was, but that he held three of the four most recognised belts. America has been the home of heavyweight boxing since its earliest days and yet their own Deontay Wilder, the WBC champion struggles to draw 10,000 fans to his fights, Joshua, on the other hand, could fill 90,000 seats on any given weekend in the United Kingdom.
Saudia Arabia hosted the second Joshua vs Ruiz Jr fight of 2019 and the Englishman rose to the occasion while Ruiz let himself down with poor preparation. I still believe that a fully motivated Ruiz is a match for any heavyweight on the night. I just wish he had taken the chance and given it his all.
Unification fights were popular in 2019. The sport of boxing needs this phenomenon to take place on a more regular basis. It appears that rival promoters have once again decided to allow their boxers to risk their titles against champions from rival promotional groups. True, there were matches such as the phenomenal Errol Spence Jr vs Shawn Porter welterweight unification bout, in which promoter PBC had the winner no matter who that was, but also Top Rank and Matchroom Boxing coming together to give us Jose Ramirez and Maurice Hooker battling it out for the WBC and WBO super-lightweight titles. Coupled with the Josh Taylor vs Regis Prograis WBSS 140lb final which gave us a unified IBF and WBA champion as well as Inoue and Donaire’s WBSS bantamweight classic which also unified the WBA and IBF 118lb belts.
The WBC and IBF light-heavyweight titles also now have one owner due to the excellent Artur Beterbiev vs Oleksandr Gvozdyk bout we enjoyed in October, so to say that we saw so many unification bouts in one year is a very positive statement.
Of course, the deaths in the ring of Patrick Day, Maxim Dadashev, Hugo Alfredo Santillan, and Boris Stanchov remind us of the realities of the sport we love so much and should be a stark reality check for those who demean boxers and their sometimes poor performances. Boxers routinely take part in contests that can potentially end their lives.
On a brighter note, boxing has its fair share of talented youngsters coming through. Vergil Ortiz is the one that has impressed me the most, but Otha Jones III, Guido Vianello, Raymond Ford, and Anthony Sims Jr and quite a few others make 2020 a year to savour moving forward.
I think Manny Pacquiao’s July victory over the previously undefeated champion Keith Thurman stands out as an important moment in 2019. At 40 years old and facing a talented and 10 years younger boxer, Pacquiao never doubted himself for a moment. He looked close to his very best. The pace he kept up over the 12 rounds was one that younger, fresher fighters will never achieve. He showed once again what a special fighter he is.
Fight of the year for me was Spence vs Porter. The right man got the decision but by the skin of his teeth due to an 11th round knockdown. I wanted to see a rematch but of course, Spence had a car crash and put his career on hold for the time being.
Josh Taylor’s brilliant victory over Regis Prograis showed all that is good in boxing and was a close runner up to Spence vs Porter. A superb display of skilful in-fighting, stamina, toughness, and will to win was topped off by Prograis’s gracious acceptance that he had been beaten by the better man on the night. I had Louisiana born ‘Rougarou’ two points up at the end but wouldn’t have argued whichever one had had their arm raised, it was too close to argue. A truly wonderful advert for boxing.
2010 has a lot to live up to. Wilder vs Fury 2 on February 22nd is a true 50/50 heavyweight battle between a master boxer and a murderous knockout artist, so that might be an indicator of what we have to look forward to.