By: Kasim Aslam (@JDilla19)
Another year has flown by in boxing. There have been many talking points that range from the ever occurring questionable decisions to the rise of unlikely world champions. Yet this year has been bitter sweet. Although, we have seen a handful of excellently matched fighters who have produced equally exciting fights, fight fans have been left disappointed by the lack of quality from promoters on both sides of the pond. It seems that the Mayweather Vs Pacquiao syndrome, which has handicapped the sport for so many years, has resonated around boxing’s most popular divisions across the world. This is why choosing the fighter of the year has been quite simple, as there have been a small amount of fighters who have demonstrated the ethos of previous winners of this category and were not victim of promoter rivalries and protected matchmaking.
We start with my 3rd best fighter this year, Roman Gonzalez. Gonzalez has had a very good year in terms of his popularity. Like his fluid style, the Nicaraguans floated in most people estimation landing him in many pound for pound lists by showcasing breathtaking ability and lighting up the lower weight classes. The light flyweight put many of our big stars to shame by fighting four times this year and stopping all four opponents inside the distance. What made me choose Gonzalez is not only the fact that he beat Akira Yaegashi to become the WBC Flyweight Champion and the experience Rocky Fuentes. It’s actually his boxing style and the fact that he is an exciting fighter to watch. The sad reality is that due to his weight class, Gonzalez has struggled to gain popularity by a lot of boxing fans but the adoption by adoring aficionados in Tokyo have allowed us to witness the slippery skills of one of the world’s best technicians today.
In September this year, the 27 year old moved up to flyweight in a bid to become a three weight world champion by taking on the WBC Champion Yaegashi. The Japanese fighter had lost 3 times prior to their meeting but had never been stopped, until that evening in the Yoyogi gymnasium in Tokyo. The start of the fight saw the challenger claim the centre of the ring while the champion skated on the outskirts to avoid an effective jab. Yaegashi was having some success early on, until Chocolatito put his foot on the gas pedal and assumed control through sharp movement, reactions and combinations. In the 3rd round, the Nicaraguan landed an exceptionally devastating left hook that rocked the champion back until his backside met the canvas. From there on the man from Japan was in survival mode and decided to meet fire with fire by trying to throw a number of wild punches that allowed Gonzalez to counter at will. In the 9th round, Gonzalez landed a quick flurry of uppercuts and straight rights that sent Yaegashi down in the corner. The champion never recovered and his belt was taken from him by an artist so skilled at his trade that everything he would do was almost perfect. All we need now is for this man to get the recognition he deserves.
“He has very good mechanics and patience. It was smart that he stayed patient. He had a really good game plan. I will give him that.” These were the words uttered by a dejected Bernard Hopkins when he was dismantled by the methodical monster Sergey Kovalev. The Russian makes this list due to his sheer dominance of one of the all time greats of the sport, and his blueprint defying tactics of 2 undefeated fighters.
First up were Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello. Not household names by any stretch of the imagination, but with their records combined at 48 victories and no defeats they could have proved to been different challenges for the ‘Krusher’. Nope! Kovalev exhibited his destructive self by winning every round against Agnew, while dropping him in the 2nd and 6th round of the fight just to keep the fans in the Boardwalk Hall happy. But things did not go so swimmingly for the WBO Light Heavyweight Champion. Kovalev was cut on the right eye and soon on the left, keeping to the trend of an orthodox fighting a southpaw. All the butts and cuts did was to rile up the Russian further which culminated in the seventh round with a straight left to the body that looked tame but probably had the effect of a swinging baseball bat. Things then went a bit pear shaped against another southpaw in Caparello. In the first round the champion met glove with canvas, when the challenger landed a straight left to the head. This was a bad idea because you should never make an emotionless power punching Russian unhappy. Kovalev came into the 2nd round and beat his opponent into submission, knocking him down 3 times just for good measure.
Next up was the immortal Bernard Hopkins to unify the division by fighting for the WBO, IBF and WBA versions of the belt. What ensued was something that not many people expected, the boxer was outboxed. The WBO champion did what no other man had done by completely boxing circles around one of the greats, by using a wonderful array of technical ability that began from the simple and effective jab and carried on with precise and intimidating ring cutting ability. Hopkins was down in the first round and had no answers for the remainder of the fight. Whatever questions he had posed were answered in emphatic fashion as Kovalev took the sting out of the executioner, winning every round in one of the most one sided fights of the year. For this reason Kovalev has to be up there as one of the fighters of 2014, adding to the momentum he had last year. 2013 was a breakthrough year for this man but 2014 was the year in which he established himself at the top of the light heavyweight food chain. This could have been his year by a landslide, if only a certain Canadian hadn’t made endless excuses to avoid a fight.
Nothing pleases fans more than to see a star shine in the midst of darkness. Let’s be honest, the sport has had better years than this, but through all the doom and gloom (and occasionally multi million pound purse rejections) comes a quiet man from Omaha Nebraska who just wants to fight. That was proven when the tall, talented technician flew to the other side of the pond to face Scotland’s Ricky Burns for the WBO lightweight belt and won emphatically. The hostile crowd did its best to unsettle the American Terrance Crawford by the roaring boos and the celebratory cheers when the champion had an inch of success. However, Crawford proved too tall, too rangy and just too damn good as he cruised to a point’s decision to become the new lightweight champion.
You would have excused ‘Bud’ for picking a limited opponent in his first fight back as he was in his native Nebraska and in front of his doting home fans. But for this fact I have chosen him as my fighter of the year. He didn’t pick a gatekeeper, nor did he pick someone on the cusp of world class, he picked Yuriokis Gamboa. The Cuban excelled his way up the rankings and was fantastic to watch with his astonishing skill and exciting power. However, his career remained stagnant through promotional dilemmas and inactivity so he came in as the challenger looking to rejuvenate a career that had lost direction. Things got off to a good start for Gamboa as his combinations and speed bewildered Crawford, while the champion found it difficult to counter the smaller man. Yet, things soon changed in the fifth round when a right hand to the back of the ear completely flattened the Cuban. What ensued was an enthralling and entertaining fight as the Gamboa decided to go all out and brawl his way to a victory. Crawford dually obliged and the method of attack suited the bigger man better. The skills were on show when counters from Crawford were magnetically attracted to the head of his opponent, memorising the fans and punishing the other man. Gamboa, who was exhausted from his efforts, went down in the eighth round and twice in the 9th. The referee had no choice but to call it off.
The American then met Raymundo Beltran, a fighter not as skilled as Gamboa but as tough as nails so he posed a different problem. What happened was a convincing domination, with Crawford winning almost every single round to conclude his status as fighter of the year.
Some may ask why I have chosen Crawford over Kovalev. I feel that even though the Russian emphatically beat a future hall of famer, the American fought 3 very good fighters in his bid to become champion and to defend his gold. However, the key point for me is that many people expected Kovalev to continue to dominate after a successful 2013 and to some extent he’s exceeded that but Crawford came out of nowhere. In one year he broke through and established himself as the premier lightweight of the sport.by