A 2018 Boxing Year Review

December 28, 2018

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The end of December is generally a time for reflection, on life or simply how much food you managed to eat over Christmas without needing a hospital visit. Boxing is in a similar place and in a year in which Tyson Fury lost almost an entire welterweight from his already large frame, we can look back on how the sport fared in 2018.

The World Boxing Super (WBSS) series cemented its place as part of the sport’s furniture with the culmination of the two inaugural tournaments. British fighter Callum Smith finally won his first world title when he defeated George Groves in the super-middleweight decider in September while Oleksandr Usyk proved he was the best man in the cruiserweight competition by outpointing Murat Gassiev in July.

The only question surrounding Usyk’s claim of being ‘the man’ at 200 lbs was from Tony Bellew. However, Bellew was busy in the early part of the year as he brutally wrapped up his rivalry with David Haye. Many people thought the ‘Bomber’ had been lucky in the first fight thanks to Haye’s injury, but the matter was put to bed with a dominant performance from the Evertonian.

Amir Khan and Kell Brook continued to circle each other like two bald men fighting over a comb. Khan came back after two years away to beat Phil Lo Greco inside a round and defeated Samuel Vargas over twelve.

Brook had a rather less auspicious year in beating Siarhei Rabchanka and labouring to a decision victory over the unheralded Michael Zerafa. Talk of Kell facing Khan appeared to be dead in the water with the latter chasing a fight against Manny Pacquaio. That was apparently news to the Filipino legend who subsequently signed to fight serial disaster Adrien Broner in January. We still face the question of whether Brook and Khan will ever fight but now there is the added intrigue of does anyone even care?

In women’s boxing Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields continue to set the gold standard. Both fought four times in 2018 and remain undefeated. It is not unfair to say that perhaps Taylor and Shields are somewhat hampered by the lack of genuine competition in their respective weight divisions and that has sparked talk of a fight between the two somewhere in the middle. The size gap is probably insurmountable but the fact that people are even discussing it suggests there’s a market for the bout to be made.

Fans were treated to several superb fights in 2018. February saw Srisaket Rungvisai battle Juan Estrada for the WBC super-flyweight belt. Rungvisai eventually won a majority decision but the fight was non-stop action from the first bell to the last.

Another all-out war was the contest between Alex Saucedo and Lenny Zappavigna. This one only lasted seven rounds but the fourth was as good a session of boxing as you’ll see anywhere in history. Saucedo took the win but it’s a fight both men would have felt for weeks afterwards.

Before Deontay Wilder‘s fight with Tyson Fury, ‘The Bronze Bomber’ faced Luis Ortiz back in March. Ahead of this contest many fans criticised Wilder for not beating anyone of note. He changed that by stepping up against one of boxing’s most avoided men in Ortiz. Wilder met fire with fire and had to come through some stern examinations before stopping the Cuban in the tenth round.

Other great showdowns included the rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Canelo took the win and moved up to also win a title at super-middleweight. The fact that he looked so comfortable in doing so leaves a question mark as to whether he’ll go back down for a third fight with GGG.

You could make an argument for many boxers to be considered as fighter of the year. Josh Warrington upset the odds by beating Lee Selby in May and then did the same by defeating Carl Frampton before Christmas to retain his world title.

Japanese machine Naoya Inoue fought for a total of two minutes and fifty seconds this year as he destroyed both Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano. Inoue is a favourite to win the WBSS bantamweight tournament and reinforce his position as one of the most dangerous fighters in boxing.

Vasiliy Lomachenko fought twice in 2018. He got up off the canvas to beat Jorge Linares with one arm after tearing his labrum in only the second round. ‘Loma’ also beat Jose Pedraza in a fight which saw the Ukrainian pushed a little more than he has been used to. Despite that Pedraza was still down twice in round eleven and held on to see the final bell.

Even with these stellar performances it is Lomachenko’s gym mate Oleksandr Usyk who stands head and shoulders above his peers as the year draws to a close. Usyk fought away from home on three separate occasions against some of the best cruiserweights of this era and beat them all comfortably.

In Latvia, he conquered Mairis Breidis to reach the WBSS final. To contest that final, he travelled to Moscow, dispatching Murat Gassiev and on winning the fight he called out the only legitimate cruiserweight force left in Tony Bellew. The meeting was made in Manchester and Usyk looked imperious as he took Bellew apart, controlling the fight from start to devastating finish.

There is talk that Usyk will now move up to heavyweight once the dust settles on the Joshua, Wilder and Fury negotiations don’t be surprised if the cruiserweight king rules at heavyweight too.

If Oleksandr Usyk is to beat the big men he will almost certainly have to defeat Tyson Fury. In the last huge bout of the year, Fury proved that he has put many of his issues behind him by almost beating Deontay Wilder. He boxed beautifully and was proving elusive until Wilder caught up with the former champion later in the fight.

Even allowing for the two knockdowns many thought that Fury had done enough to win but the fortitude shown in getting to his feet after seemingly being out cold was truly astonishing.

Whatever happens in 2019 it seems that we have a fit and healthy heavyweight division which is only a good thing for boxing. The leviathans of the sport bring new fans and that has a trickle-down effect for the lighter weight classes. Here’s to the next twelve months and all the excitement that it will undoubtedly bring.

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Author: George Ogier

George has been writing about boxing and other sports for over seven years. He has written for various sites including The Mirror, Joe and Boxing Scene. He also runs his own social media management company from West Oxfordshire. When not feverishly staring at his laptop he likes to be ultimately disappointed by Tottenham Hotspur.

Twitter @george_ogier

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