Boxing’s Best of 2016

By Caryn A. Tate on December 31, 2016
Boxing’s Best of 2016
Carl Frampton overcame Leo Santa Cruz. (Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions)

All of my favorite fights of the year had a few specific things in common: they involved two of the top fighters in their respective divisions…

Despite the continued political grievances in the sport of boxing, 2016 produced some excellent fights and revealed stars at the pinnacle of the game as well as those who helped them get there. While much is being said about it not being a banner year for boxing, it should be noted that there were actually several critical bouts that saw the top boxers in their divisions facing off for supremacy. When that happens, it’s a good year.

Prospect of the Year:
Claressa Shields

There were a lot of great prospects this year, but my top choice is two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields. She stormed onto the scene in her professional debut in Las Vegas on November 19, on the undercard of Kovalev-Ward. With an incredibly impressive amateur run, culminating in a second gold medal this past summer in Rio, a moving personal story of triumph, and a seemingly unshakable confidence, Shields has helped pique the general public’s interest in women’s boxing. The premium network Showtime is now claiming that they will be airing women’s boxing in 2017—and not just for a one-off fight, but regularly.

The renewed interest is the culmination of a lot of hard work by folks who may not get much credit, including promoter Lou DiBella, who has been signing female fighters for some time (including fan favorites Heather Hardy and Amanda Serrano) and has worked hard to push them further into the mainstream. Claressa Shields may be just what the female side of the sport needs to help catapult it into the spotlight where it belongs.

Fight of the Year:
Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton

All of my favorite fights of the year had a few specific things in common: they were exciting (obviously); they involved two of the top fighters in their respective divisions—and, hence, there was a lot on the line; and the fighters involved displayed a high level of skill. I enjoy a good slugfest as much as the next fight fan, but if you can show me an exciting fight that also has advanced boxers involved, even better.

It was a tough choice this year—there were several great and exacting fights in 2016. Santa Cruz vs. Frampton was a wonderful bout that featured two of the best boxers in the featherweight division, with the added drama of Frampton moving up from super-bantamweight for this fight. Most pundits didn’t expect Frampton to be able to overcome Santa Cruz’s extremely high work rate or his larger size. While it was a very competitive fight with an incredible number of punches thrown by both men, the fighter from Belfast did indeed overcome Santa Cruz to win a split decision in a thrilling fight. In January, the two will do it again, and I can hardly wait.

Runners up:
Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward
Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter
Roman Gonzalez vs. Carlos Cuadras

Trainer of the Year:
Virgil Hunter (trainer of Andre Ward and Amir Khan)

For anyone who watched the broadcast of the Kovalev vs. Ward fight, it was impossible to miss the downright cinematic drama of trainer Virgil Hunter’s coaching in Ward’s corner on the night of November 19. At times touching, at times sensational, and at all times riveting, Hunter displayed an uncanny ability to say what his fighter needed to hear in order to dig deeper and pull out all the stops. There’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship between Hunter and Ward—and Hunter’s ability to see through all of the emotion and noise to the heart of the matter at hand—is a big part of how Ward was able to overcome an early knockdown by the heavy-handed Kovalev to win a close decision.

On top of his impressive coaching of Andre Ward, Hunter coached welterweight Amir Khan when he moved up to middleweight to fight Canelo Alvarez in May. Obviously the fight didn’t go Khan’s way as Canelo ended it with a stunning knockout in round 6; but it must be acknowledged that, until that final round, Khan had a great game plan from Hunter, which he executed incredibly well in the early rounds by largely out-boxing the bigger and stronger Canelo. Despite any coach’s best efforts, sometimes your fighters may lose, but how they perform in that loss speaks volumes not only about them but about their trainers.

Runners up:
Shane McGuigan (trainer of Carl Frampton and David Haye)
Ronnie Shields (trainer of Jermall Charlo and Erislandy Lara)

Fighter of the Year:
Andre “S.O.G.” Ward

In March, Ward returned to the sport after a nine month layoff by facing the number one contender in the light heavyweight division, Sullivan Barrera. On top of his ranking, Barrera is Cuban, which means a lot in the sport of boxing due to the incredible boxing background and culture in said country and the strict coaching there. Before the fight, pundits claimed Ward might be biting off more than he could chew, that Barrera was a solid light heavyweight who would test S.O.G. After his dominating performance, most pundits backpedaled and opined that perhaps Barrera wasn’t as good as they had thought, and that Ward’s real test would come when he faced unified champion Sergey Kovalev later in the year.

In November, the face-off happened when Ward challenged Kovalev for his titles in Las Vegas. Kovalev, known for being incredibly heavy-handed, dropped Ward for only the second time in his professional career in round 2. Many who were watching thought it was over, that Ward was going to be stopped the same way 26 of Kovalev’s 30 prior opponents had been. But Ward immediately got up, smiled as if chiding himself for the miscalculation that led to the knockdown, and continued. The knockdown proved to be a one-time thing, and Kovalev was not able to stop Ward as he had promised. Not for lack of trying—Kovalev showed incredible boxing skill and made Ward dig deeper than perhaps he has had to for years. After the knockdown, Ward seemed to realize his mistake (he did the same thing twice in a round and Kovalev timed him coming in); after that, for the remaining ten rounds, he pressured Kovalev and most of the time never did the same thing twice again. He showed Kovalev different looks, kept him guessing, and displayed excellent skills and tremendous heart as he moved around the ring and worked Kovalev hard on the inside and to the body.

In the end, Ward won a close unanimous decision. Some thought Kovalev deserved the nod, but however you scored it, it can’t be denied that Ward put on an excellent performance and overcame incredible odds to pull out an exciting win.

Again, the pundits picked up the goalposts and moved them after Ward’s win over Kovalev. The fight was named “Pound for Pound,” with HBO and pundits stating that here was a bout between two of the top pound for pound fighters in the sport; the winner would surely be the number one pound for pound boxer in the world. After the fight, suddenly Ward could not be acknowledged as the top pound for pound fighter, despite his win and despite what he overcame in the fight. Pundits stated, incorrectly, that the top fighters in the sport don’t struggle the way Ward did. If that’s the case, how does one explain most pundits’ choice of Roman Gonzalez as their top pound for pound fighter, and his last two performances against McWilliams Arroyo and Carlos Cuadras? How does one explain Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s first bout with Marcos Maidana, where he lost rounds and was visibly rocked more than once? Throughout the history of boxing, similar comparisons can be drawn. All great fighters struggle at some point in their careers. Anytime a top fighter faces the best opposition out there, it stands to reason he/she will struggle at some point.

Andre Ward displayed incredible heart, intelligence, doggedness, and ring IQ in 2016, particularly in his fight with Sergey Kovalev. He displayed a level of skill that very few possess, and he did it against another top pound for pound boxer. Not just a good fighter. Not a stay busy fighter. Not a fighter from a lower weight class. Sergey Kovalev, one of the best in the sport. Because of this, he deserves Fighter of the Year.

Follow Caryn A. Tate on Twitter@carynatate

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton: Recap | SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING

Best of the Best in 2016: Thurman vs. Porter | SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING

Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward Full Fight ⁄ Сергей Ковалёв Андре Уорд Полный бой 777

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  1. Your Name 07:13am, 01/23/2017


  2. beaujack 09:32pm, 01/01/2017

    AKT- you ask “who has GGG fought” ? It is true Golovkin has not fought any top notch fighters of times past. But GGG nor any fighter ever can choose the time of their birth, and whoever he fought GGG has chewed up convincingly. And Lemieux was a pretty good MW who could hit and might beat a Canelo were they to meet. In about 340 Amateur and pro bouts GGG has never been FLOORED which tells me he has a solid chin with devastating power to the body and head. When needed he has a hard accurate left jab too. I have been watching boxing ringside since the 1940s. Saw some great middleweights over the years and something tells me GGG thought rough no fault of his own not facing better opposition, would more than hold his own with most any MW of modern times. One other point : Marvin Hagler was a GREAT MW no doubt. But I cannot see a bleeder like Vito Antofuermo lasting 15 rounds with a cutting power puncher like GGG….Golovkin is damn good…

  3. Koolz 11:22am, 01/01/2017

    Jacobs was Knocked out by Pirog the fighter GGG was supposed to fight instead of Proksa.  Pirog would have been destroyed by GGG.
    I see Jacobs fight as four rounds unless Golovkin is silly with his drama show then it might go six rounds.

    Yes Moon-Man there is still going to be patting the “Made up Chosen people, Chosen land, Chosen leaders backs” 
    But honestly Trump will also clean house.  20 days!
    2017 is the year that Cruiser Weight Division just blows up!  It’s more exciting then anything in the Super Middle Weight Division.

  4. Moon-man 11:12am, 01/01/2017

    Koolz..I’m not too happy with some of Trump’s cabinet selections, but he sure beats the alternative.

  5. Koolz 10:26am, 01/01/2017

    Moon-Man the part starts in 20 days!
    Oh man what a party it will be!
    I am wondering if GGG is trapped now.  Wants the Canelo fight, would move up to 168 to fight others like Degale…but can he move back down to middle weight.  At his age how hard would be to get back to one 160 and get that last belt.
    Only Glovkins’ trainer knows.

  6. Koolz 10:17am, 01/01/2017

    crap who has GGG fought?
    Instead here is more Japanese Boxing to end this year.
    Kazuto Ioka vs Yutthana Kaensa

  7. AkT 06:57am, 01/01/2017

    Who has GGG fought? I promise you any decent fighter can consistently look spectacular in any ring against B-level/lighter opponents until he faces true opposition. GGG has power - that much is clear, but his boxing skills are have some holes in ‘em. When he defeats a skillful boxer that can take a punch or 2 and fight back, then he’ll definitely get the credit you claim he deserves. Danny Jacobs and Canelo will present some challenges I believe. Let’s see what happens.

  8. Moon-man 06:49am, 01/01/2017

    Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yeah. Obummer only has a few more days left. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE AT BOXING.COM!!! Whether you agree with Caryn or not, she does explain her position well, and writes some good articles. I like GGG as well, but if he is really all that, then a move up to 168lbs or even 175lbs should be in order instead of holding court in a lesser talented division. Jones Jr, Toney, Dick Tiger, all made the jump, and Tiger was only about 5’8” and never weighed more than the super middleweight limit, while holding the light heavy crown. Hell, Bobby Czyz was 5’10” on his best day and he moved up from middleweight and captured the light heavy and cruiserweight crown. Czyz even took on heavyweights Holyfield and Corrie Sanders later on.

  9. Koolz 06:07am, 01/01/2017

    agree Beaujack!
    GGG would destroy both of them.  I used to think they would be 50/50 fights but after the Kovalev and Ward fight I have GGG beating them.

  10. Boy-Z 04:41am, 01/01/2017

    too much credit for Ward.. man there are a lot out there more deserving than him.

    werz bud crawford? or Loma?

    GGG… ring a bell?

  11. Beaujack 09:33pm, 12/31/2016

    Golovkin is so good, he is never given the credit due him. If GGG and Kovalev or Ward fought each other at equal weights GGG would destroy the two of them.

  12. AkT 08:17pm, 12/31/2016

    Well written article Caryn A. Tate. Keep ‘em coming.

    Oh and Happy New Year to you and everyone at!

  13. Koolz 06:06pm, 12/31/2016

    I don’t agree with one damn thing you said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Caryn A. Tate

    All I can look forward to is GGG plowing through the middle weight division like a take.

    Inoue Destroying Gonzalez if he will even fight him(Gonzalez is all about the money now)

    The Return of Gypsy King!

    that’s just the icing on the cake.  Yes 2017 Oishii da!

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