2022 was not short of thrilling action inside the ropes of the boxing ring, and it served up its fair share of lasting memories as well.
Here are my picks for the best in each of five categories.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR – Dmitry Bivol
Bivol made the choice easier than in years gone by. His performances against Canelo Alvarez in May and Gilberto Ramirez six months later were showcases of his ability to adapt to challenges at the highest level. His measurement of distance against Canelo was a masterclass and one underpinned by self-belief, despite the odds-makers listing him as the 4/1 second favourite.
Ramirez had gone unbeaten in 44 fights but Bivol left him looking mesmerised at the gulf in class. Bivol’s mastery of Ramirez was a template in how to deal with a southpaw. He trod repeatedly on Ramirez’ front foot and, while such a move is common practice, he was often happy to defy conventional coaching wisdom by placing his left foot inside (rather than outside) Ramirez’ right before unloading. Bivol did it his way, the winning way.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR - Sebastian Fundora v Erickson Lubin
Of the fights I saw from ringside, Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan produced the most memorable … elsewhere, the super-welterweight clash in April between Fundora and Lubinwas also special. Two men on the fringes of world title contention both hit the canvas and Lubin was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards when he was pulled out by his trainer Kevin Cunningham at the end of the ninth round. Lubin had been floored in the second and then rallied under severe pressure to deck Fundora (for the first time in his career) in the seventh. Like the best fights in any era, each man looked certain to win at different stages. It didn’t have the technical quality of the Bivol nights but it was another example of how boxing has the power to enthral in so many ways.
ROUND OF THE YEAR – R12 of Estrada v Chocolatito III
Like the fight itself, the final round started relatively tamely but developed into a breath-taking exhibition of fighting in the pocket. The last two minutes – in what was their 36thround of combat - were fought exclusively at close range and both were effective in defence and in attack, landing to the head and body. Estrada edged the win on two judges’ cards and there’s a been clamour since for a fourth showdown - but if they never meet again, they left us with something special that night in Arizona.
KO OF THE YEAR – Joe Cordina vs Kenichi Ogawa
So many candidates: Tyson Fury, Gervonta Davis, Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford all produced finishes which will be replayed for years to come but I agree with Tony Bellew in voting for Joe Cordina and his second-round knockout of Kenichi Ogawa. When football pundits judge the Goal of the Month/Season competitions, they often cite the status and circumstances of the match as key factors. On the most important night of his career, Cordinabuilt on a fairly level first round to stun everyone in the second. He feinted a jab to Ogawa’s body before unleashing the right hand over the top that none of us sat ringside will ever forget. So simple to watch, so difficult to pull off at top level.
UPSET OF THE YEAR – Opetaia vs Briedis
For me, the only result to rival Bivol’s win against Canelo was the points verdict in favour of Australia’s Jai Opetaia over Mairis Briedis for the IBF cruiserweight title in July. The Latvian had been beaten only by Oleksandr Usyk in the past – yet Opetaia won more convincingly than Usyk on the scorecards. He fought at a pace and distance which suited him and, like Cordina, rose to meet the magnitude of the occasion. At 37, Briedis might have been caught at the right time but Opetaia was impressive all the same.