In the blink of an eye, we’ve sped through half of 2019. The usual surplus of ifs, buts and maybes has thwarted this opening stanza of the year from becoming particularly memorable. Despite this, there have still been flashes of brilliance peeking above the parapet of the political status quo we have become so used to in boxing.
Whether it’s the big-ish fights, the bigger nights, the biggest upsets or the unrivalled honour in being unveiled as a contender for the WBC’s ‘pearl title,’ there would have been something for most of us to get reasonably excited about in the opening 180 days of the year. Right? Or has it all been a huge waste of time?
Despite a slow start to the year, the ball eventually got rolling in 2019 with a slow drip-feeding of fight announcements. But what fights were announced that stopped us in our tracks?
The distinct lack of a “super fight” so far this year is as disappointing as was expected. The big three heavyweights avoided each other settling for — what was assumed at the time to be — knock over jobs in simple defences of their titles or lineal statuses.
Two out of three prevailed, but the feeling towards all three of these bouts before the opening bell was that of pure dismay. We wanted it now! Tyson Fury’s Top Rank/ESPN deal seemed to be the main catalyst in his rematch against Deontay Wilder being shelved, whereas Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua were seemingly happy walking their own path, a path that hit an Andy Ruiz Jr-shaped wall in emphatic style.
Canelo Alvarez vs Daniel Jacobs in a middleweight unification bout was more like it. Jacobs was regarded as the most likely candidate to upset the odds in claiming the scalp of the Mexican icon, with Hearn and De La Hoya striking while the middleweight iron was hot — well, hot ‘enough’ seeing as we knew we shouldn’t have expected the Canelo vs GGG trilogy so early in the year.
Errol Spence Jr vs Mikey Garcia was a strange one. Sure, by the time fight night rolled around we had all heard enough opinion flip-flopping that we convinced ourselves this would be a good fight after all. What it turned out to be was a Spence masterclass against an elite fighter who was simply too small. We wanted an alternative, more competitive option for both guys — the Crawford and Lomachenko bouts, respectively, still, seem too far away — but were forced to settle for what turned out to be a bit of a fantasy fight: two top 10 pound-for-pound guys whose gulf in weight spoke volumes.
The last six months have been littered with rematches, rematches where you find yourself changing your pick six times during the ring walks. Juan Francisco Estrada avenged Srisaket Sor Rungvisai at The Forum following a tight majority decision loss just 14 months prior; Emanuel Navarrete proved that thunder can strike twice in repeating against the rapidly rising Isaac Dogboe; Miguel Berchelt did the double over Francisco Vargas following a sixth-round retirement.
In the United Kingdom, we had a spicy “loser must retire” fight between Chris Eubank Jr and James DeGale. Well, it was being dubbed with that stipulation solely by DeGale, and the former Olympic gold medalist and two-time IBF world champion was true to his word in hanging up his gloves following a 12-round beatdown by Junior.
The World Boxing Super Series continued to deliver where so many other promotional companies have begun to fail. Josh Taylor beat Ivan Baranchyk in a fantastic scrap for the IBF super lightweight title; Naoya Inoue destroyed Emmanuel Rodriguez inside two rounds in what was billed as being ‘The Monster’s’ toughest test to date; Regis Prograis looked sharp in progressing against Kiryl Relikh.
The real drama came via the cruiserweight division. Yunier Dorticos slept Andrew Tabiti whereas Mairis Briedis elbowed Krzysztof Glowacki on the way to controversial WBO world title win.
A nod also needs to be given to ITV’s boxing coverage in the United Kingdom. Their relationship with the PBC has allowed ITV4 to scoop some of the bigger fights Stateside, mainly free-of-charge. This being said, we are slowly stepping into pay-per-view territory, with £12.95 being charged for Manny Pacquiao vs Keith Thurman.
Let’s move on to some of the most exciting results of the year. So, the important distinction to make here is noting the fights where the result made it memorable. Hindsight is a wonderful tool used by promoters to hype up a fight post-result, when really, it was expected to be a foregone conclusion.
There is only one place to start. Andy Ruiz Jr’s dissection of Anthony Joshua for the unified heavyweight marbles sent shockwaves around the world of boxing. Ruiz was given five weeks notice and was assigned the role of cannon-fodder for Joshua’s US debut — despite the challenger being in fighting condition having beaten Alexander Dimitrenko in late April. The ‘Destroyer’ didn’t read the script, and over seven rounds of jaw-dropping boxing, Ruiz sent AJ to the canvas four times en route to creating another historic night inside Madison Square Gardens.
As much as this result has blown open the heavyweight division, it’s a lesson for all parties involved at the highest level of the sport. The constant marinating of a fight over years and years of “maybes” is playing with fire — often sticking can prove more fruitful than constantly twisting.
Another memorable bout was seen on the undercard of Joshua vs Ruiz Jr. Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon put on a Fight of the Year candidate over 10 rounds to determine the undisputed lightweight champion. Constant aggression from Taylor was countered by powerful digs from the experienced challenger (and former WBC champion) in a fire-fight where you struggled to catch a breath. Taylor won a razor-sharp decision where many onlookers felt the Belgian had just done enough.
Polish fight fans were treated to another Fight of the Year contender in April during a bout that saw 10 knockdowns in the opening five rounds. Middleweights Robert Talarek and Patryk Szymansk traded hell for leather in the scheduled eight-round contest, with the referee stopping the fight in the fifth.
Julian Williams catapulted his name into the light-middleweight conversation after dethroning Jarrett Hurd for his WBA (Super) and IBF light middleweight titles. ‘J-Rock’ stunned the former undefeated champion starting out the fight as a 5/1 underdog travelling to Hurd’s backyard in Fairfax, Virginia. Williams floored ‘Swift’ in the second round on his way to a deserved unanimous decision.
Scott Fitzgerald ignited scenes of jubilation across Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena in late March, as the underdog dropped Anthony Fowler in the final round of their British domestic grudge-match. Acting as support to Liam Smith vs Sam Eggington, the former Team GB teammates stole the show putting on an incredible ten rounds of emotionally-driven boxing. Fowler looked to be sneaking home until ‘Fitzy’ pegged Fowler in the last, proving pivotal in the 95-94, 95-94, 94-96 scorecards. Fitzgerald, from Preston, took over 1,000 fans with him that night to Fowler’s home town.
Great Britain stole the show at the European Games claiming an impressive seven medals. Two golds came via Pat McCormack in the welterweight division and Lauren Price in the female middleweights. Big things are expected of 24-year-old McCormack, who will be eyeing up gold at Tokyo 2020.
Outside of the ring, there has been plenty for us to get our teeth stuck into. Often, begrudgingly.
The expansion of belts continues at an alarming rate, with the WBC looking to overtake the WBA with their confusing list of divisional champions. Canelo Alvarez was awarded the title of WBC “franchise champion” whereas Amir Khan was set to take on Neeraj Goyat in Jeddah for the “pearl title.” Following Goyat’s withdrawal and the replacement of Billy Dib, the pearl belt has also been pulled, an honour that will “be reserved for another special occasion in the future.”
Amateur boxing’s governing body, AIBA, was stripped of its right to host the Tokyo 2020 Olympic boxing tournament after a report concluded that its behaviour presented “serious legal, financial and reputational risks to the IOC and the Olympic Movement.”
Good news, however, as boxing will go ahead at the 2020 Games, with the IOC confirming a taskforce headed by Morinari Watanabe – president of the International Gymnastics Federation – would be appointed to oversee the tournament. Watanabe has since admitted to being “unprepared” for the role but insists the best solution will be found for athletes.
One of the most troubling stories of these opening six months was the unravelling of Jarrell Miller. ‘Big Baby’ failed three drugs tests in the lead up to his scheduled world heavyweight title fight against Anthony Joshua, throwing away a life-changing purse in the process.
A six-month ban imposed by the WBA is a drop in the ocean to the damage that a fighter could cause his opponent having taken illegal substances prior to fight night. More needs to be done — particularly in the US — to clamp down on illegal drug taking in boxing before a fatal tragedy occurs.
It already looks like Miller’s actions have been swept under the carpet. ‘Big Baby’ is apparently being lined up to be Tyson Fury’s next opponent later this year, with promoter Frank Warren claiming it’s not down to himself to “police the sport.”
These concerns were underlined last week upon the announcement that Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) won’t be in control of the drug testing for the Manny Pacquiao vs Keith Thurman fight on July 20th. It will instead be looked after by the questionably run Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
So here’s to the next six months. To the sport that no matter how many times it knocks you down, you’ll still manage to make the ten count.