A serious contender for fight of 2018 would be Vasyl Lomanchenko vs Jorge Linares at Madison Square Garden in May, as Lomanchenko became the fastest man to win three world title belts at three difference weights. Despite the victory this was undoubtedly the Ukrainian’s toughest fight in the pro ranks, he had to recover from a sixth-round knockdown after been caught with a stiff straight right hand. But in the 10th round a short and powerful left hook left Linares unable to continue. This doesn’t tell the whole story as there were plenty of positives for Linares to take from this defeat, he was even ahead on one judge’s card, behind on another and level on the third. In the aftermath of the fight Twitter went into meltdown as the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and Lou DiBella had their say on the action which had taken place. After GGG v Canelo II, this is a rematch that most fight fans want to see.
Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz served up a thriller at the Brooklyn Centre in New York in March, Wilder survived the biggest crisis of his destructive career so far. Despite dropping Ortiz in the fifth round, the Cuban found a way back into the fight and clearly hurt Wilder in the seventh. Entering the championship rounds the American found his way to motor through the gears, stopping his opponent with a cracking uppercut which resulted in Ortiz hitting the canvas for the second time during the 10h. Wilder was delighted with the outcome: “a true champion always finds a way to come back. I showed everyone I can take a punch. Ortiz was a great opponent and I take my hat off to him.” It was the perfect set up for a unification match-up between Wilder and Anthony Joshua, although that fight is unlikely to take place this year.
James DeGale proved his critics wrong with a fantastic performance reclaiming his IBF world super-middleweight title from Caleb Truax at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in April. With his career at a crossroads “Chunky” showed the heart of a true champion by overcoming a deep cut over his right eyebrow during the third round which affected his vision for the rest of the fight. He also had to contend with contentious refereeing decisions including a harsh point deduction for nudging his shoulder in the clinch and letting a deliberate headbutt by Truax go unpunished. This didn’t deter DeGale who has now won, defended and regained his IBF title in the USA. Getting back to winning ways has put DeGale back amongst the elite of the super-middleweight division, with a future battle between the winner of George Groves and Callum Smith final of the World Boxing Super Series on the horizon
The highlight of the year so far in the UK was the Anthony Joshua bandwagon rolling on. He beat Joseph Parker to retain his IBF and WBA heavyweight belts and win Parker’s WBO belt at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff in March. With another 80,000-capacity crowd and PPV records being made the ‘Golden Boy’ of British boxing is taking the sport to the masses. The fight itself was one-sided as expected which left certain sections of his fanbase disappointed, but these same people would have probably reacted the same to an early stoppage. Tempering expectations whilst his management struggle to negotiate a unification battle with Deontay Wilder is something ‘AJ’ will have to learn to deal with.
Controversy reigned supreme as it was revealed by VADA in early March that Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on the 17th and 20th February had tested positive for the banned steroid clenbuterol. Canelo’s camp claimed that these failed drugs tests were a direct result of eating contaminated meat back home in Mexico and pointed to two subsequent passed drugs tests ahead of his re-match with Gennady Golovkin. Despite the use of steroids becoming a major problem in professional boxing, it was thought in some sections of the media that the Nevada State Athletic Commission would possibly go easy on the popular Mexican, due to the massive financial implications for Las Vegas of the fight not going ahead. In a complete shock to the world of sport, the NSAC called for a hearing to take place on the 19th of April forcing the cancellation of ‘Canelo vs GGG II’ which was scheduled for the 5th of May. This resulted in a one-year ban for ‘Canelo’ reduced to six months due to his co-operation with the investigation, leaving him free to fight after 17th August as the ban was also back-dated to his first failed test. The press and fans alike felt this was something of ‘kop out’ by NSAC, as Erik Morales was banned for two years with no reduction to his ban for similar offences. Hostilities will resume with Golovkin on 15th September which is a Mexico’s Independence Day, money clearly talks.
The destruction of David Haye by Tony Bellew in May brought to an end the illuminating and sometimes controversial 16-year professional career of the ‘Hayemaker’. Haye’s legacy shouldn’t be defined by these two final back-to-back defeats where ‘Father Time’ caught up with him following multiple injuries and one previous retirement. Fans should remember him for becoming a two-weight champion, his knockout power, tremendous reflexes and unique fighting style. There were fantastic nights at cruiserweight as he got up off the canvas in the fourth round to stop Jean-Marc Mormeck in the seventh at Levallois-Perret near Paris to win the WBA and WBC titles, stopping Enzo Maccarinelli in two rounds to add the WBO title to his collection. The inevitable move to the more lucrative heavyweight division came shortly after, where his magnificent performance in beating Nikolai Valuev over 12 rounds in November 2009 will live long in the memory, as will his destruction of former WBA John Ruiz the following April. A comprehensive loss to Wladamir Klitschko in Hamburg in July 2011 dented the Hayemaker’s pride and he left himself open to ridicule with his claim of going into the fight with a broken toe affecting his ability to perform on the night. He went on to fulfil his promise of retiring on his 31st birthday in the October after the Klitschko defeat. There was the spat with Derek Chisora at the post-fight press conference following Chisora’s defeat by Vitali Klitschko, which resulted in a non-BBBC licensed match up at West Ham United’s Upton in the July 2012, where he stopped Chisora in the fifth round after putting him down twice in the round. Multiple pull outs against Manuel Charr and Tyson Fury (twice) led to a second retirement. The third and final comeback with the stinkers against Mark de Mori and Arnold Gjergjaj ultimately led to the Bellew showdowns.
Comeback was king as the trio of Kell Brook, Amir Khan and Tyson Fury wanted to see if they could rekindle former glory days in the sport. Khan’s was a resounding success as he overcame a brutal knock out defeat by ‘Canelo’ Alvarez back in May 2016, to show that his hand speed and reflexes were still intact, as he stopped Canadian Phi Lo Greco in only 39-seconds. Brook was hoping there wasn’t going be any hangovers following two back to back defeats to ‘GGG’ and Errol Spence Junior, where each fighter had shattered a cheek bone. The Sheffield man fought at light-middleweight in April despite wanting a domestic showdown with the man from Bolton (who’s boxing at welter). The lay-off hasn’t affected his footwork which was far superior to the over-matched Rabchenko as a straight right in the second finished him off. Now both fighters are promoted by Eddie Hearn, all the obstacles are seemingly out the way for the public to get what it wants and for this match up to take place next year. In contrast Fury’s comeback at the start of June was somewhat hollow as he seeks to regain his crown as heavyweight champion, which he lost through a combination of boxing politics and a raft of personal problems. Fury’s limited opponent Sefer Seferi offered little, which resulted in a nervous performance from the ‘Gypsy King’ and was further hindered by Seferi failing to come out for the fifth round.
The tragic death of Scott Westgarth following his title eliminator victory over Dec Spelman in February cast a dark shadow over the sport. Westgarth appeared to be in some pain whilst carrying out his post-fight interviews, but later fell ill backstage when he was taken to hospital where he later died. His promoter Stefy Bull posted on social media, “God bless Scott Westgarth. To promote a boxing show and a young man doing a job he loves losing his life, I have no words.” The BBBoC reiterated its stance that fighter safety has improved despite this happening. Secretary Robert Smith said, “We are one of the most forward-thinking commissions in the world regarding medical aspects.” He was also very honest in the face of the tragic events, “This is a tough, tough sport and we try to make it as safe as possible, but you can’t make it 100% safe. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a disaster, but more importantly it’s a disaster for his family and that’s the most important thing.”
The rise and rise of George ‘Saint George’ Groves continued as he progressed to the final of the World Boxing Super Series with a comprehensive victory over Chris Eubank Junior at the Manchester Arena in February. Groves has shaken off those damaging defeats to Carl Froch (twice) and Badou Jack between 2013-15. The fight was a cracker but ultimately Groves was just too big, too strong, too technical and experienced, in the final stretch especially, for his younger opponent. In the final round Groves suffered a dislocated shoulder, which might have led him to conceding defeat, but not that night in Manchester as he clung on for a deserved victory. Now the Sauerlands have allowed him time to recover, he can look forward to fighting fellow Brit Callum Smith and if successful a showdown with former foe James DeGale.