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BOXING IN 2019 | A YEAR IN REVIEW

Boxing fans have been treated to an exciting year of pugilistic action. We’ve experienced a mix of highs and lows, but the fact remains that our sport continues to grow and there are some positive signs for the future. As we wave goodbye to 2019.....

Boxing fans have been treated to an exciting year of pugilistic action. We’ve experienced a mix of highs and lows, but the fact remains that our sport continues to grow and there are some positive signs for the future. As we wave goodbye to 2019, it’s time for my yearly boxing awards. Of course, this is completely subjective, so I understand people may concur or disagree with certain selections. I’ve whittled it down to a winner and runner up for each category, so let’s get cracking!

PROSPECT OF THE YEAR

WINNER: VERGIL ORTIZ JR.

This was a difficult category to determine a winner because the likes of Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez and Shakur Stevenson were regarded as prospects at the beginning of the year but have since graduated and each won world titles. A guy who is a notch below those guys but will eventually catch up is Vergil Ortiz Jr. 

The hard-hitting welterweight was relatively unknown at the start of the year but over recent months has cemented himself as one of the most exciting youngsters within the sport. After a routine victory over Jesus A. Valdez Barrayan in January, he stepped up in class to face former world title challenger, Mauricio Herrera. Ortiz sailed through his first real test with flying colours, battering the Californian into submission inside three rounds. 

Next up was the Mexican, Antonio Orozco, who had previously challenged for the WBC strap against now unified 140-pound champion, Jose Ramirez, losing on a unanimous decision. Once again, Ortiz delivered a mature display, as he dominated and stopped the capable contender inside six rounds.

The hard-hitting Texan concluded the year with a stoppage victory over the tricky and experienced Brad Solomon in California.

In 2020, we’ll see Ortiz make the jump from contender to championship level and I’m looking forward to seeing how he fares. I would like to see him in against the likes of like Sergey Lipinets, Josesito Lopez or Egidijus Kavaliauskas to gauge whether he is ready to advance to the elite level of the division.

RUNNER UP: DANIEL DUBOIS

In 2019, Daniel “Dynamite” Dubois proved to be the most exciting prospect in the heavyweight division. After picking up the WBO European title against Razvan Conjanu in March, then a routine knockout of Richard Lartey, he was matched against unbeaten Nathan Gorman for the vacant British title. This was seen as the biggest test of his career and many were predicting that Gorman would prove to be too versatile for the youngster.

However, Dubois passed the test with flying colours, outboxing Gorman before knocking him out in the fifth. He went onto pick up the Commonwealth title in his next fight, brutally dispatching Ebenezer Tetteh inside a round at the Royal Albert Hall.

The 22-year-old rounded off an impressive year with a knockout victory over Japan’s Kyotaro Fujimoto for the WBC Silver and WBO International titles. He’s now ranked highly in both organisations and will be looking to step up his calibre of opposition in 2020, before attempting to win a world title in 2021. Next year will see Dubois graduate from a prospect to a fully-fledged contender and we’ll learn more about his chances of becoming world champion.

However, time is on his side, so there is no rush whatsoever.


UPSET OF THE YEAR

WINNER: ANDY RUIZ JR TKO 7 ANTHONY JOSHUA

We all knew this was coming. Not the outcome of the fight obviously, but the fact that it is probably everyone’s most shocking victory of 2019 and beyond. Andy Ruiz Jr stepped in as a late replacement for drugs cheat Jarrell Miller and was supposed to be an easy night’s work for Anthony Joshua on his American debut.

Everything was going to plan for the first two rounds. The fight finally caught fire in the third when AJ landed a thunderous right uppercut, left hook combination that sent the Mexican-American sprawling. That’s when Joshua’s plans of a 2020 fight with Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury completely unravelled, as Ruiz clipped him with a series of hooks that removed his legs from underneath him. The decisive blow proved to be the left hook that clipped the right side of AJ’s cranium. 

The Brit, suffering from concussion, failed to regain his bearings and looked vulnerable for the remaining rounds. Ruiz maintained composure and targeted the body with single hard shots, which created the opening for counters over the top.

Joshua managed to stay on his feet for three more rounds until Ruiz found the target again in the seventh, resulting in two further knockdowns and the fight being waved off by referee Michael Griffin. Mexico’s first world heavyweight champion was crowned and the landscape of the division changed significantly.

AJ ultimately put things right in the rematch earlier this month in Saudi Arabia and the heavyweight division now resumes normal service. But that doesn’t take away from the shock element of Ruiz’ triumph back in June. No one predicted that the chubby Mexican who was asking to hold AJ’s belt at the presser would inflict such an embarrassing and brutal defeat on Britain’s biggest boxing star.

RUNNER UP: JEAN PASCAL TD 8 MARCUS BROWNE

Narrowly missing out was the aforementioned war between Julian Williams and Jarrett Hurd, along with two-time Olympic Gold Medallist, Robiesy Ramirez, tasting defeat on his first professional outing. However, a fight I felt deserved a mention was Jean Pascal’s victory over Marcus Browne in July.

Browne announced himself on the world stage back in February, beating two-weight world champion Badou Jack by unanimous decision to pick up the regular version of the WBA strap. Pascal was deemed a solid opponent for the first defence of his title, but a challenge that he was expected to overcome.

The former unified light heavyweight champion is a well-known name and looks impressive on any young fighters’ résumé. Since losing to Bernard Hopkins back in 2011, he failed to regain a world championship and was only beaten by world-class fighters in Sergey Kovalev, Eleider Alvarez and Dmitry Bivol.

Browne won the first three rounds clearly and the fight was going to plan until the Haitian-born Pascal flipped the fight on its head in round four, when he landed a beautiful counter right hook. It was the first time we’ve seen Browne in trouble and his inexperience showed, as he rose from the canvas too quickly and staggered around the ring. The American responded well to win rounds five and six but he was again dropped heavily twice in round seven.

An accidental clash of heads opened a huge gash above the left eye of Browne, forcing the referee to halt the contest and to take the fight to the cards. After eight rounds, Pascal was crowned the new champion by technical decision. This was a shocking defeat because most expected Browne to win comfortably before progressing to bigger fights in 2020, and it had seemed like Pascal’s best days were well behind him.


PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

WINNER: JULIAN WILLIAMS UD 12 JARRETT HURD

This would have been a worthy candidate for Fight of the Year and Upset of the Year but I thought Julian Williams deserved more credit for his flawless performance to unseat Jarrett Hurd as king of the light middleweight division.

Prior to this fight, J-Rock had unsuccessfully challenged for the IBF title against Jermall Charlo in 2016. Williams boxed well but was tagged by a beautiful right uppercut that he failed to recover from. He was forced to rebuild and work his way back up the rankings, which he did with four successive wins over Joshua Conley, Ishe Smith, Nathaniel Gallimore and Francisco Javier Castro.

Meanwhile, the WBA (Super), IBF and IBO light middleweight champion, Jarrett Hurd, was undefeated in twenty-three fights and held victories over the likes of Tony Harrison, Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. He was the considerable favourite heading into his fight with Williams and many expected a comfortable victory for the Maryland resident.

I made a bold prediction before the fight that I felt Williams could dethrone Hurd because he was the more skilled boxer and could frustrate him by sticking to the back-foot. However, my main concern was that Hurd would impose his size, strength and power in the latter half of the fight to wear Williams down and take him out.

On the night, Williams was simply sensational and proved everyone wrong. He won the fight by using his superior boxing skills but also prevailed in the war by standing his ground and beating Hurd at his own game. J-Rock delivered a throwback performance and dominated from start-to-finish to become the unified light middleweight champion and take Hurd’s unbeaten record. 

The pair opened tentatively in the first but the fight soon caught fire in the second when Williams rocked Hurd with a flurry of punches. With thirty seconds remaining in the round, the challenger dropped the champion with a hard left hook. Hurd rose quickly but barely managed to survive the round.

Williams was in cruise control until the fifth when he was startled by Hurd’s power and was forced to lean on the ropes. Hurd, sensing a brief shift in momentum, was intent on getting Williams out of there in the following round. He opened the sixth round with a solid right hook, which forced J-Rock to engage and the pair went toe-to-toe in one of the most ferocious and violent rounds of 2019. 

At the end of the seventh, Hurd and his team were struggling to deal with the cut over his right eye and he was feeling the pace of the high-action affair. Williams remained composed and dominated for the final third of the contest. 

At the end of twelve hard-fought rounds, Williams was awarded the unanimous decision by scores of 116-111, 115-112 and 115-112. The pair were rumoured to rematch in the latter part of the year but it looks like Hurd is set to move up in weight instead.

RUNNER UP: ARTUR BETERBIEV TKO 10 OLEKSANDR GVOZDYK

One of the most eagerly anticipated fights of 2019 saw IBF light heavyweight champion, Artur Beterbiev, square off against WBC holder Oleksandr Gvozdyk, in a battle to establish the dominant man at 175-pounds.

This was regarded as a complete fifty-fifty encounter, with opinions divided on who would win and in what manner. Personally, I felt Gvozdyk would overcome a poor start and rally in the later stages to edge a close fight on the cards.

However, Beterbiev prevailed in an extremely high-level and exciting encounter, where he proved to be too strong and too powerful for the Ukrainian. The subtle jabs and short right hands to the body took the wind out of Gvozdyk physically, but the concentration required to stay switched on against a dangerous fighter like Beterbiev proved to be mentally draining as well.

The fight was closely contested throughout but Beterbiev’s power and durability shone through during the second half of the fight. The judges had Gvozdyk narrowly winning heading into the tenth, but the fight would be stopped after the Russian managed to score three knockdowns. A series of ramrod jabs, stiff right hands and lashing left hooks rained down on the Ukrainian and the referee dived into spare him further punishment.

This takes the runner up spot for me because Beterbiev brutally but systematically dismantled a fellow elite fighter in Gvozdyk and proved himself as the king at light heavyweight.


KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR

WINNER: YUNIER DORTICOS KO 10 ANDREW TABITI

The clash of styles made for an aesthetically displeasing fight, but the ending proved to be well worth the wait. Dorticos was the aggressor, whilst Tabiti did pretty much everything to avoid being caught by the “KO Doctor”.  In the sixth round, an exchange caused a nasty cut over the right eye of Dorticos, who pleaded to the referee to allow him to continue.

Both men picked up the work rate in the second half of the fight, with Tabiti finally coming out of his shell and beginning to take some risks, which ultimately backfired when Dorticos landed a perfectly timed right hand that left the unbeaten American motionless on the canvas. 

It was one hell of a punch and reiterated just how powerful the giant Cuban is. The knockout meant Dorticos advances to the final of the cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series, where he will face the formidable Mairis Briedis – likely to take place in the early part of 2020.

RUNNER UP: ARCHIE SHARP KO 4 DECLAN GERAGHTY

Another fight that I managed to witness live this year was Archie Sharp against Declan Geraghty. Sharp, a celebrated amateur, was the heavy favourite going into his fight with Geraghty for the WBO European title. However, things didn’t quite go to plan, as the Irishman outboxed Sharp with relative ease for the first three rounds. He was growing in confidence and switched off for a split second, allowing Sharp to counter with a thunderous right hook that left Geraghty prostrate on the canvas.

The shock element certainly added to the knockout but the counter itself was timed and thrown to perfection. Plenty of contenders could have made the runner up spot, such as Deontay Wilder’s first-round knockout of Dominic Breazeale, but being able to watch this live made it stick out in my mind.


FIGHT OF THE YEAR

WINNER: JOSH TAYLOR MD 12 REGIS PROGRAIS

The fight I looked forward to most in 2019 was Josh Taylor vs Regis Prograis, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The final of the 140-pound World Boxing Super Series tournament saw two undefeated champions square off for the prestigious RING Magazine belt and inaugural Muhammad Ali Trophy.

I was lucky enough to attend the fight at the O2 and I can confidently say it was the best fight I have witnessed live. In terms of drama and pure action, I’ve seen more ferocious scraps. But I have never been more engrossed in a fight as I was on the 26th October in London, simply because the skill level, resilience and versatility of the two combatants was on another level and it made for a thrilling and competitive affair.

As a patriotic fight fan, I was rooting for my fellow Brit, Josh Taylor, to emerge victoriously but I do have a soft spot for Prograis. When Regis was interviewed by famous boxing author, Don McRae, I was impressed with both his boxing knowledge and how deeply he is invested in the history of the sport. That made me a complete neutral on fight night, so I was able to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

I thought the fight would be decided by who proved to be more effective on the inside. Prograis started the fight strongly, with fluid upper body movement and thudding body shots.

Taylor’s response in the middle-to-late stages proved to be the real difference. From an offensive standpoint, he used his superior strength to rough up and nullify the Prograis attacks. He also utilised his fleet-footedness to transition quickly from defence to attack, which prevented Prograis from setting up his shots.

Prograis ended the fight strongly and forced Taylor onto the retreat for the remaining six minutes. However, it proved to be a little too late as the Scotsman took home the majority decision and was crowned the number one light welterweight in the world.

RUNNER UP: NAOYA INOUE UD 12 NONITO DONAIRE

The World Boxing Super Series has seriously delivered in 2019. Prograis vs Taylor tops my list but the second final of Season 2 takes the runner up spot.

In terms of action, Inoue against Donaire was the most visually explosive fight of 2019. Inoue experienced his first real gruelling war, suffering a broken orbital bone, a hideous cut and a broken nose. His exceptional skills and fast hands were on display as per usual, but Inoue showed something we hadn’t seen before in the form of a cast-iron chin and a tremendous will to win.

Donaire is one of my favourite all-time boxers and I was genuinely fearful that he would get hurt in this fight, given that he is well past his peak. However, he delivered a sublime performance to give the pound-for-pound star the most difficult bout of his professional career. Donaire exceeded expectations and showed he still has fuel left in the tank.

A brilliant, high-level affair between the former and current bantamweight kings.


FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

WINNER: SAUL CANELO ALVAREZ

Boxing’s brightest star had a stellar year in 2019, and in the eyes of many, cemented himself as the pound-for-pound number one in boxing. He kicked off on Cinco de Mayo weekend, putting his RING Magazine, WBC and WBA (Super) middleweight titles on the line against IBF holder, Danny Jacobs.

The Mexican controlled the first half of the fight, eluding Jacobs’ blows with cat-like reflexes, whilst returning fire with dazzling, rapid combinations. However, he took his foot off the pedal in the second half of the fight and allowed the American to regain some ground. Despite the early dominance, it proved to be a close, competitive fight but Canelo was the decisive winner.

He then made the ambitious jump up to light heavyweight to challenge WBO holder, Sergey Kovalev. The Russian was once considered the most dangerous fighter in the sport but the fear factor subsided after Andre Ward handed him back-to-back defeats, followed by a stoppage loss to unbeaten contender, Eleider Alvarez.

He went back to the drawing board and revived his career under the tutelage of Buddy McGirt, who guided him to revenge in the rematch with Alvarez and a stoppage against the powerful unbeaten British prospect, Anthony Yarde.

Canelo had to overcome a significant height and reach disadvantage to beat Kovalev but he delivered a sublime performance to defy the odds. He was patient, relaxed and delivered a lesson in educated pressure. He allowed the Russian to box at his usual pace, but chipped away at the body and drained the older champion increasingly, round by round.

In the eleventh, the Mexican increased the tempo and made Kovalev work at an uncomfortable pace. Canelo landed with a straight right that sent Kovalev onto the defensive, before following up with a venomous left hook that sent him sprawling into the ropes. The challenger then delivered the deciding blow in the form of another crushing straight right hand, which left Kovalev unable to beat the count.

Boxing’s brightest star had a stellar year in 2019, and in the eyes of many, cemented himself as the pound-for-pound number one in boxing. He kicked off on Cinco de Mayo weekend, putting his RING Magazine, WBC and WBA (Super) middleweight titles on the line against IBF holder, Danny Jacobs.

The Mexican controlled the first half of the fight, eluding Jacobs’ blows with cat-like reflexes, whilst returning fire with dazzling, rapid combinations. However, he took his foot off the pedal in the second half of the fight and allowed the American to regain some ground. Despite the early dominance, it proved to be a close, competitive fight but Canelo was the decisive winner.

He then made the ambitious jump up to light heavyweight to challenge WBO holder, Sergey Kovalev. The Russian was once considered the most dangerous fighter in the sport but the fear factor subsided after Andre Ward handed him back-to-back defeats, followed by a stoppage loss to unbeaten contender, Eleider Alvarez.

He went back to the drawing board and revived his career under the tutelage of Buddy McGirt, who guided him to revenge in the rematch with Alvarez and a stoppage against the powerful unbeaten British prospect, Anthony Yarde.

Canelo had to overcome a significant height and reach disadvantage to beat Kovalev but he delivered a sublime performance to defy the odds. He was patient, relaxed and delivered a lesson in educated pressure. He allowed the Russian to box at his usual pace, but chipped away at the body and drained the older champion increasingly, round by round.

In the eleventh, the Mexican increased the tempo and made Kovalev work at an uncomfortable pace. Canelo landed with a straight right that sent Kovalev onto the defensive, before following up with a venomous left hook that sent him sprawling into the ropes. The challenger then delivered the deciding blow in the form of another crushing straight right hand, which left Kovalev unable to beat the count.

Prior to the Kovalev victory, there was plenty of debate about Canelo’s credentials as the pound-for-pound number one. But after unifying a third title at 160 and then putting on another fifteen pounds to beat an established champion at light heavyweight, no one can argue that his résumé is now unrivalled (aside from Manny Pacquiao) and his ability is also right up there with the very best. This is why he takes home my 2019 Fighter of the Year.

RUNNER UP: JOSH TAYLOR & NAOYA INOUE

2019 has been one big celebration for Josh Taylor. In May, he picked up his first world title in his fourteenth fight, defeating unbeaten IBF champion, Ivan Baranchyk, over twelve rounds. In the process, he progressed into the final of the World Boxing Super Series to face unbeaten and highly-avoided American, Regis Prograis.

The pair went to battle for twelve rounds, with Taylor doing just enough to edge it on the scorecards and become Scotland’s first unified world champion since Ken Buchanan, whilst also claiming the RING Magazine belt. 2020 looks set to be a big year for Josh, with a fight against current WBC and WBO champion Jose Ramirez being his main priority.

Inoue, like Taylor, also won the World Boxing Super Series to prove himself as the number one in his respective division (bantamweight). In the semi-final, he faced a formidable, unbeaten opponent in Emmanuel Rodriguez, whom many anticipated would provide Inoue with the sternest test of his professional career. The fight failed to live up to the hype, though, as the “Monster” proved to be too sharp and too powerful for the Silky Puerto Rican, stopping Rodriguez in just the second round.

He then met former pound-for-pound superstar and bantamweight king, Nonito Donaire, in the final. Many, including myself, felt that the Inoue would blast through the Filipino in a handful of rounds. However, Donaire rolled back the years and gave an impressive performance to take Inoue the full twelve rounds for the first time since 2016. Inoue unified the IBF and WBA (Super) titles, whilst also bringing home the prestigious RING Magazine belt and inaugural Muhammad Ali Trophy.

Although Inoue’s opposition was slightly superior overall, I felt Taylor deserved to be recognised for his impressive achievements in 2019, which is why I can’t split them and gave the pair joint runner up position.


2020 – ONE TO WATCH

JARON ENNIS (24-0-0, 22 KO’s)

In my honest opinion, Jaron Ennis is the most exciting talent in boxing and is destined for superstardom. I would have liked to have made him my Prospect of the Year but he’s been relatively inactive, which has also meant he hasn’t received the same adulation as Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, Teofimo Lopez or Shakur Stevenson. However, I truly believe that he might well be the best of the bunch.

For those that haven’t seen this guy fight; firstly, where have you been? Secondly, he is a quick-handed, elusive southpaw that can effortlessly switch between stances. He is a vicious body puncher that utilises his fluid footwork to create a wide range of angles. 

He’s struggled to remain active this year because of promotional issues and legal troubles. However, 2020 will be the year we see Ennis transition from a prospect to a genuine world level contender, and I think the progression will prove to be seamless. By the end of next year, Ennis will be pushing for world honours and will be in line for some major fights at welterweight.

Follow Jaron on Twitter (@JaronEnnis)

ALFIE PRICE (7-0-0, 0 KO’s)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alfie in October of this year and have been seriously impressed by the start to his professional career. He was a standout amateur for Team GB, beating the likes of Josh Kelly, Chris Kong and Sam Maxwell, whilst winning seven national titles and a European Bronze Medal.

After turning professional in 2018 and campaigning at light welterweight, he decided to jump down to 135-pounds and pursue new opportunities there. After just six fights, he was rewarded with a shot at the Southern Area title against the unbeaten holder, Jeff Ofori. Many were expecting a competitive fight but Price won a shutout points decision with ease.

Ofori has since gone onto pick up two impressive wins against Gerard Carroll and Kieran Gething, and has made the semi-finals of the MTK Golden Contract light welterweight tournament on Sky Sports.

In 2020, guided by promoter Frank Warren, he will be looking to push for further domestic honours and build his profile. With Joe Cordina moving down to 130 and pursuing opportunities on the world stage, the British lightweight title will become available at some stage and I expect Alfie to be in the mix.

With his exceptional amateur pedigree and awkward southpaw style, he’s one that has flown under the radar but you must keep an eye out for in the future.

Follow Alfie on Twitter (@AlfiePrice_)

REMEMBERING BOXING’S BEST

Pernell Whitaker

1964 – 2019

José Nápoles

1940 – 2019

Maksim Dadshev

1990 – 2019

Patrick Day

1992 – 2019

Hugo Santillán

1996 – 2019

Harold Lederman

1940 – 2019

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