So another year has come and gone, and we are now into 2023. But before we move forward, a look back at the past 12 months. As inactivity becomes more and more the norm in boxing, it becomes more difficult to actually chose a 'fighter of the year'. Basically, it becomes an award for who had the biggest singular victory.
In 2022, there were four guys who I believe separated themselves from the pack. My only requirement was that you had to have fought at least twice. At a certain point, activity has to matter. Only in rare cases should a fighter get this distinction with just one fight (such as Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987, after defeating Marvin Hagler), and while the days of boxers being as active as Archie Moore are long gone, it's not too much to ask guys to perform more than once in a calendar year.
With all due respect to guys like Jermell Charlo, Oleksandr Usyk and Regis Prograis, here's my fearsome foursome for 2022....
- Dmitry Bivol: It wasn't too long ago that Bivol was just another talented guy with a string of rather desultory defenses of his WBA light heavyweight title. There was a belief that he was a boxer that had plateaued. But he was given the opportunity to face Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez, last May, after the Mexican superstar had become the undisputed king at super middleweight.
Bivol, despite being the natural light heavyweight and reigning champion, was a substantial underdog coming into this contest. But nobody told Bivol that was just there as cannon fodder on this Cinco De Mayo weekend and he systematically out-boxed Canelo round after round. And as this bout went on, he gained more confidence as he proceeded to string together long, flowing combinations that had Alvarez on his heels and on the defensive.
He didn't just defeat the sports biggest name, Bivol dominated him.
Then in November he conclusively downed the previously undefeated Gilberto Ramirez in Abu Dhabi. Some pundits believed that in 'Zurdo' he was facing a naturally larger man, and that the physical advantages he held against Alvarez wouldn't be in play this time around.
But fighting and boxing with a new-found confidence, Bivol from the opening bell took control of the center of the ring and had no problems taking the fight to Ramirez. He came into 2022 with some questions, and he left the year making a bold statement that he is one of the premiere prizefighters in the world.
- Jesse Rodriguez: They say that fortune favors the bold. That was certainly the case for 'Bam', who had a very disappointing 2021 (when he had just a single bout). Rodriguez was known in boxing circles as a very talented young fighter but it seemed as though his career was stalling a bit early on.
Yet things were about to turn dramatically as he began the year by facing Carlos Cuadras on six days notice in place of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. He proceeded to put forth a strong outing and won the vacant WBC 115-pound title in February. In June, he was matched with Sor Rungvisai and scored an eighth round stoppage of the Thai fighter, in what was a sterling effort.
Rodriguez capped off the year by scoring a distance victory over the game Israel Gonzalez on the Alvarez-Golovkin III undercard. The 22-year old came a long way in a short time. No longer just a highly touted prospect, he earned acclaim as one of the best technicians in the sport.
- Devin Haney - This was a man at work, as Haney went to Australia twice in '22, to first defeat George Kambosos for the undisputed lightweight crown back in June. Then with the rematch clause in place, he had to go back 'Down Under' and proceeded to score another clear cut decision over Kambosos.
Devin Haney Remains Undisputed Champion After Dominate Performance Over George Kambosos | HIGHLIGHTS
In an era when so many boxers refuse to travel, or even fight outside their own zip code, Haney broke out his passport and got the job done. Yeah, you could arge he was made an offer he couldn't refuse, but the bottom line is that Haney went out and did what he had to. Now he holds all the belts at 135.
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And this upcoming year could be another big one, as he is slated to face former unified champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko in the spring. Haney isn't long for this division, but he's getting everything out of his run in it.
- Naoya Inoue: Anytime you can become an undisputed champion, it's a good year. He first took care of Nointo Donaire in their rematch in June. Their first encounter back in 2019 was a back-and-forth battle that was a 'fight of the year' contender, and 'the Filipino Flash' was coming off successive fourth round KO's of Nordine Oubaali (for the WBC bantamweight belt) and Reymart Gaballo.
The second go-around was an exhibition by 'the Monster' who took care of business early in devastating fashion. Inoue floored the future Hall-of-Famer at the end of the first with a short right, and then finished him off in the second with a barrage of well-placed power punches.
Then to end '22, he finally chased down and vanquished Paul Butler in 11 rounds, for the WBO belt, to complete his collection at 118. Now, the three-division sets his sights on the junior featherweight class. Right now, Inoue is the most devastating blend of power and technical precision in the sport.