It’s been another wild year in boxing. From heavyweight-title redemption to the crowning of fighting queens, and a WWE crossover that nobody saw coming: Here is a look at the biggest boxing moments of 2019, from A to Z.
A– Alvarez — It’s been quite a year for Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who with two significant wins has lived up to his billing as boxing’s No. 1 star. Alvarez first defended his three world middleweight titles against Daniel Jacobs, showing the full range of his abilities in a unanimous points win in May.
The Mexican then made the bold move of jumping two weight divisions to take on the formidable Sergey Kovalev in November. Alvarez knocked out the Russian in the 11th round to win a world title in a fourth weight class and holds world titles at light-heavyweight, super-middleweight and middleweight.
B — Brilliant bantams — Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire produced a brilliant bantamweight battle — arguably boxing’s best fight of 2019 — in November. Donaire, then 36, rolled back the years to threaten Inoue, of Japan, like no other opponent has. Inoue had to contend with a bad cut, but his power and accuracy eventually broke the resistance of U.S.-based Filipino Donaire, who touched down in the 11th round, and Inoue went on to win by a unanimous decision victory in the world title unification fight.
C — Comeback — There’s a surprising comeback story every year, and this time it was the news Floyd Mayweather Jr. is returning in 2020. Mayweather has been linked to a rematch with Manny Pacquiao, and also with a move to UFC after being photographed with UFC president Dana White. Mayweather, 42, has not boxed since August 2017 and, although he has made comebacks before, don’t bank on a serious comeback happening again.
D — Deaths — Boxing mourned four deaths in 2019, two of which were within days of each other in July. Maxim Dadashev, a 28-year-old Russian, died on July 23 four days after a super-lightweight fight in Maryland. Hugo Alfredo Santillán, a 23-year-old Argentine, died on July 25, five days after a lightweight fight in Buenos Aires. Bulgarian Boris Stanchov, 21, died in Albania in September, and American Patrick Day, 27, died four days after suffering a brain injury in a super-welterweight fight against Charles Conwell in Chicago in October.
E — Eight — The World Boxing Super Series, an eight-man elimination tournament, again has been a success in its second season. After rumours of money problems, the WBSS produced two of the best fights of the year: Inoue’s win over Donaire to unify two versions of the world bantamweight title, and Josh Taylor beating rival super-lightweight world champion Regis Prograis. The WBSS has become of the highlight of the boxing calendar, producing great fights and unifying titles.
F — Feel-good — Boxing produces some great human-interest stories, and this year it has been fun following the progress of Jamel Herring. Aged 33, the former U.S. Marine, who served in two tours of Iraq, won his first world title shot with a unanimous points decision over Lamont Roach for the WBO junior-lightweight title. Herring, from Ohio, has overcome personal tragedy to fulfil his dream of becoming world champion this year.
G — Great — Manny Pacquiao’s career continues to defy belief. Now 41, the all-time boxing legend, who turned professional 25 years ago as a junior flyweight, has had two impressive points wins this year over Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman to strengthen his position among the world’s leading welterweights. Filipino Pacquiao’s split decision win over Thurman was one of his best in recent years.
H — Heartbreak — Spare a thought for Ryan Burnett, the former unified world bantamweight champion who retired through injury aged 27 in October. The Northern Irishman lost his belts when he was forced to retire after four rounds against Nonito Donaire in November 2018.
I — Intoxicated — Errol Spence Jr. was charged with drunken driving after flipping his Ferrari several times in October. Spence was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from his car after it veered over the centre of the road. Spence emerged from the crash pretty banged up, but with no broken bones. The Dallas County DA’s office filed a DWI charge against Spence in November. The one-car accident came 12 days after Spence’s win over Shawn Porter to add the WBC world welterweight title to his IBF belt, which confirmed his place as one of the world’s best boxers. However, he seems set for a lengthy exile.
J — ‘J Rock’ — Julian ‘J Rock’ Williams silenced Jarrett Hurd’s home fans to win two versions of the world super welterweight title in May. Williams became the man to beat in the division after pulling off one of the biggest shocks of the year.
K — KO king — Deontay Wilder’s right hand is the biggest punch in boxing right now, and his knockout wins this year have prompted some to suggest it is even the biggest in heavyweight history. Check out his seventh-round KO of Luis Ortiz for proof of the Alabama boxer’s power.
L — Late — Two of the best welterweights of all time died in 2019. Pernell Whitaker, a brilliant former four-weight world champion and Olympic gold medallist, died aged 55 after being hit by a car in Virginia. Whitaker had great balance, defence and boxing IQ. His highest-profile fight was against Julio César Chávez, a controversial draw, in 1993. Cuba-born, Mexico-based Jose Napoles died aged 79 and will be remembered for wins over Emile Griffith and Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez in two reigns as world champion.
M — Movement — Vasiliy Lomachenko’s sublime footwork and fluidic movement about the ring is the most impressive sight in boxing today. Lomachenko, ESPN’s pound-for-pound No 1, is a futuristic boxer who glides around the ring, controlling the action with his movement and ensuring opponents like Luke Campbell and Anthony Crolla, whom he has faced this year, cannot get close to him as he punishes them with fast combinations.
N — Nicaragua — It is a good time for boxing in Nicaragua, with twins Rene and Felix Alvarado both holding world titles. Rene captured the WBA junior lightweight title with an upset, seventh-round TKO win over Andrew Cancio in November. In May, Felix made his first defence of his IBF junior flyweight title. The Nicaraguans became the fourth set of twins to win world titles after Khaosai and Kaokor Galaxy (Thailand), Ramon and Raul Garcia (Mexico), and Jermall and Jermell Charlo (United States).
Rene said: “My objective was to make sure that I become a world champion on this important day, the 23rd of November, when 45 years ago Alexis Argüello [Nicaragua’s first and best world champion] became a world champion for the first time. And now for the first time, we have two world champions.”
O — Olympics — It looks like there will be no Russian boxers at the 2020 Olympics. Russia is one of the powerhouses of amateur boxing, but the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation reportedly said Russian boxers will boycott the Games if recent doping sanctions against the country are not lifted. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) handed down a four-year doping ban to Russia, preventing it from competing at the next Olympics.
P — Positive — Boxers continue to test positive for banned substances, and the question won’t go away: How many boxers are doping?
There is also confusion as to the validity of positive tests as recent decisions have been overturned or ignored. Rey Vargas, the WBC junior featherweight world champion, and Julio Cesar Martinez tested positive for clenbuterol in tests by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association — but both escaped punishment as the WBC world governing body said the “the amounts found in the tests are not sufficient to register any performance-enhancing benefit”.
Heavyweight Dillian Whyte was also cleared recently after initially testing positive for a steroid, due to an ‘adverse finding’ in his pre-fight drug test.
Q — Queens — Ireland’s Katie Taylor, 33, became the standout star in women’s boxing in 2019 when she became undisputed lightweight champion via a disputed, majority decision win over Delfine Persoon in June. Then, last month, Taylor stepped up a division to outpoint Christina Linardatou to become a two-weight world champion. Taylor’s move up in weight makes a future clash with Norway’s Cecilia Brækhus, 38, the undisputed world welterweight champion, more likely.
Claressa Shields had a super year, too. She beat Christina Hammer for the undisputed women’s middleweight world championship in April.
R — Redemption — Anthony Joshua won back the IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles with a safety-first, convincing points win over Andy Ruiz Jr. Joshua, of England, avenged the shock knockout loss to the American in June when they met again in Saudi Arabia. Joshua’s sharp and smart boxing repaired his reputation that had been shredded earlier in the year, but he was also helped by Ruiz’s poor condition: The Californian was 15 pounds heavier for the rematch.
S — Spider — Have you ever heard of a boxer being KO’d by a spider bite? Well, New Zealand’s former WBO world heavyweight titleholder Joseph Parker was forced to withdraw from facing Derek Chisora in October due to a spider bite, which left him feeling lethargic and unable to train. Parker hopes to be back early 2020.
T — Trainer — Just a little over two months before he was scheduled to fight WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in a rematch, Tyson Fury chose to split with trainer Ben Davison and hire Javan “Sugar” Hill. Davison, 27, had been with Fury for two years, helping the former champion return to the sport after a break of two-and-a-half years and lose nearly 10 stone.
U — Upset — There have been a few shocks in 2019, but none bigger than roly-poly Ruiz — a substitute opponent — flooring ripped Joshua four times in a seventh-round stoppage in New York in June. It was one of the biggest shocks in heavyweight history. Wins for Julian Williams over Jarrett Hurd, and Pablo Cesar Cano over Jorge Linares were also big upsets.
V — Venue — A temporary 15,000 arena in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, was the surprise and odd location for the Ruiz Jr- Joshua rematch, known as ‘Clash on the Dunes.’ Spectators got soaked on the night as a storm swept in from the desert, and the following week the venue was used for a tennis tournament before being dismantled.
It was the first world heavyweight title fight in the Middle East, and Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn says big-time boxing will return to the region in 2020. But taking the fight to Saudi attracted criticism for the nation’s human-rights record, restrictions on freedom of expression and women’s rights.
W — WWE — Tyson Fury also fought in Saudi in 2019… in a WWE event. Fury defeated Braun Strowman in his first WWE match after making his entrance at the King Fahd Stadium for his wrestling debut in traditional Saudi dress. Expect to see Fury back in wrestling at some point.
X — X-rated — Fury’s last appearance in a boxing ring did not go to plan as he nervously battled for most of the fight versus little-known Otto Wallin with a gruesome cut. The former IBF-WBA-WBO world heavyweight champion kept his unbeaten record intact with a unanimous points win, which should have been a lot easier than it was, and the fight looked in danger of being stopped when a gaping cut opened over his right eye that later required 47 stitches.
Y — Young — Americans Devin Haney, 21, and Teofimo Lopez, 22, showed if you’re good enough, you’re old enough to fight and win world titles. Haney, then 20, was elevated from an interim lightweight world titlist to a full champion in October and made a successful defence last month. Haney, of Las Vegas, claims to be “the youngest world champion in the last 23 years.” Lopez added himself to the list of youngest world champions with an impressive knockout of Richard Commey earlier this month.
Z — Zzzzzz — Gennady Golovkin branded Alvarez boring after his rival’s win over Jacobs in May, but the criticism did not succeed in luring Canelo into a third fight with Triple G. Other fights to be called boring — or worse — included Josh Warrington’s points win over Kid Galahad, and Joshua’s recent win over Ruiz lacked excitement for some.