As the calendar turns to 2022, we take one last look at 2021. Various publications and boxing scribes have put out their annual awards to highlight the past year. But with all due respect to all the boxers who performed the past 12 months, and gave us some memorable moments, there was one man who dominated the boxing landscape.
It was the year of Canelo Alvarez.
This is the man who essentially carried the boxing business on his muscular shoulders.
In an era where boxers look at this profession as a part-time endeavor, Alvarez took it upon himself to stay active as possible, and in the process unified the super middleweight division. You can debate if he's the best boxer in the world, but it's undeniable that nobody has a greater impact on the sport. It isn't just his talent, but his commitment to his craft.
He fought three times in '21, and if you include his victory over Callum Smith, four times since December of 2020.
How much more active was Canelo compared to the rest of his world-class colleagues? Well, as I've detailed in the past (Canelo, Bigger, Better and Busier), most of the other boxers on the Ring Magazine pound-for-pound list didn't fight more than twice. In fact, six of the ten boxers fought just once (or less) in '21. Nobody else performed three times the way Alvarez did.
To put this into further context, the four best boxers in the sports glamour division ( Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk) fought a combined four times between them. Between the quartet of Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez and Ryan Garcia, 'the Four Caps' -- who are all in their youthful 20's -- none fought more than two times last year.
He's now 31 years old, and his blade has never been sharper. Alvarez isn't letting his physical prime go to waste.
In defeating the trio of Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant, he was able to fully unify 168. Yeah, you could make an argument that this wasn't exactly like defeating Joe Calzaghe, James Toney and Roy Jones, but they came in with a combined mark of 78-0. Ask yourself what your favorite boxer has done recently within their own division.
At last count, Alvarez has been a unified champion at junior middleweight, middleweight and now undisputed at super middleweight.
But going back specifically to his run in '21, after handling Avni Yildirim in his WBC mis-mandatory match with ease in February in Miami, he then set an indoor attendance record for boxing by stopping Saunders in eight rounds in front of 73,126 at AT@T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Then he followed up by halting Plant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in November in a pay-per-view event that had a reported 800,000 buys.
Meaning he played in front of the largest audience for any fight in the States, and the highest grossing pay-per-view in successive bouts. That's true star power.
There are very few nights where boxing takes center stage, where the sport still matters to the general public. But anytime Alvarez performs, this is the case. The dates when he fights, are circled in red ink on the calendar. His fight nights matter, and are vital to the sport and business of boxing.
Alvarez stated after his conquest of Plant that he planned to return to the ring in May, which is really a shame as it may lock him into fighting just twice this year (although it's been mentioned to me that a December outing wouldn't be out of the question, after going in September). While his team petitioned for a shot at WBC cruiserweight titlist, Ilunga Makabu, it's not clear if they will go through with this task.
But wherever and whenever he lace's em up, he is the cash cow. His mere presence in weight classes causes more of a traffic jam than the 405 on a weekday afternoon, as boxers angle to win the Canelo sweepstakes, and put any other career aspirations on hold.
Amanda Westcott/Showtime Sports
He is not without critics. Some will point to his past history with PED's, others will state he has the advantage of favorable matchmaking because of his economic power, and yeah, he's gotten the benefit of the doubt on past scorecards, There is some truth to all of this.
But where would boxing be without him?
And to go further, who takes the mantle when he's gone?
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
The consensus is that the third chapter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was the 2021 'Fight of the Year', I get it, it was a high profile heavyweight match-up that delivered. But in truth, while it was certainly exciting and had some compelling back-and-forthing, it was for the most part a fight dominated by Fury.
As Fury survived his two trips to the canvas in round 4, by the late rounds it was clear that Fury would inevitably defeat Wilder. Which he did by stopping him in the 11th frame.
For me, the rematch between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez, which took place in March in Dallas, was the best pure fight at the championship level I saw in 2021. There were incredible ebbs-and-flows, and some heated exchanges throughout. The fight reached a crescendo in round 12 with both men letting it all go.
My only complaint about this contest was that I think the wrong man got his hands raised in victory. But while 'Chocolatito' didn't get the nod, he added to his legend. This duo will run it back again in early March in San Diego.
Ed Muholland, DAZN
It just had to be Alabama and Georgia in the college football playoff finals. They are by far the two best teams in the land...So that's it for Antonio Brown, right?...Seriously, will any of the elite fighters in boxing fight three times in 2022?...Does Joe Burrow get some MVP consideration?....Will Ryan Garcia actually face Isaac Cruz, next?....Happy New Years to everyone out there... I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org....