If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
As we begin to turn the page on another year of boxing, popular boxing outlets become awash with nominees for various subjective accolades. This year the page feels distinctly heavier, with further honours unfurled across a decade of our sport, with discussions ignited ascertaining the best and worst of the 2010s.
While it’s tempting to try to separate the wheat from the chaff over 10 years of action, the genesis of an annual Bad Left Hook awards seems more appealing; more present. The 2019 Fight of the Year was tricky enough to deduce, before adding another 3,286 days into the mix.
So, 2020 is around the corner and awards season seems in full swing. Nobody asked, but we’ve delivered — who have Bad Left Hook’s four un-wise men (myself, Scott Christ, Wil Esco, and Patrick L. Stumberg) chosen for glory in five cherished categories?
Buckle up. Things are about to get remarkably uncontroversial.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Canelo Alvarez (Majority Decision, 3-1)
Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez ends 2019 as a four-weight world champion with an astonishing record of 53–1–2 – this, all before he has celebrated his 30th birthday. In current possession of the WBA secondary title at 168 pounds and the full title at 160 pounds, Canelo sits atop many pound-for-pound listings as the best fighter across the sport.
Recording emphatic wins over Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev – separated by a two-division jump up to light-heavyweight – Canelo washed away a river of controversy which threatened to capsize his legacy over the past couple of years.
Using his stiff jab and controlled, balanced attacks to the body of the “Miracle Man”, Canelo dominated his first fight in May, which saw the judges award a unanimous decision to the 160 pounds ruler by scores of 115-113, 115-113, and 116-112. Jacobs threatened and improved in the second half of the fight but was fundamentally outworked and outthought inside the T-Mobile Arena.
Canelo’s return to the ring in November saw a climb up to 175 pounds to challenge the feared, yet faded, Sergey Kovalev for the WBO light-heavyweight strap. Kovalev was given just over two months in preparation for his clash, and “Krusher” surprised many by controlling significant phases of the fight until a thunderous right cross in the eleventh round saw the Russian crumble onto the canvas.
A nervy, tactical affair was blown to smoke in the blink of an eye, as the Mexican became a four-weight world champion in his 56th professional fight. Canelo had used his nimble, intelligent footwork, fluid combos and superior ring generalship to disarm Kovalev in style, confirming his power in the land of the light heavys.
A return to super-middleweight – after a brief stint defeating Rocky Fielding for the WBA secondary belt at the end of 2018 – is expected to follow for Canelo in 2020 as the 29-year-old looks to cement his legacy further across a catalogue of weight classes.
Widely regarded as the “face of boxing”, Alvarez has plenty more to offer the sport as we move into his fifteenth year as a professional. Adding to his ever-growing list of accolades is Bad Left Hook’s Fighter of the Year 2019.
Also nominated: Josh Taylor
FIGHT OF THE YEAR: Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire (Unanimous Decision)
In a category that had so many contenders, all four staffers settled on one unanimous answer: November’s World Boxing Super Series bantamweight final thriller between Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire.
It was a fight that, despite worthy competition – Josh Taylor’s win over Regis Prograis and Errol Spence Jr edging out Shawn Porter, for instance – ticked every box you could wish when concocting the perfect recipe for a Fight of the Year contender.
Billed as “mission impossible” for the lovable veteran from the Phillippines, Donaire entered Inoue’s den inside the Super Arena in Saitama for a chance to become No. 1 in the 118 pounds division. Inoue had forged a path of destruction leading up to this fight, blitzing through his previous eight opponents without hearing the final bell. For many, Donaire’s fortunate trail to the World Boxing Super Series final was to culminate in the WBA champion becoming cannon-fodder at the hands of one of the biggest punchers in the sport.
Donaire didn’t read the script.
”The Filipino Flash” proved an antidote to “The Monster” for large pockets of the fight which produced drama in each and every round, with an infectious tempo draining the eyes of moisture as fans across the globe became hypnotised over 36 irresistible minutes.
An uppercut followed by a left hook in the second round set the tone for an impressive start by Donaire who was defiant in the early rounds despite fast attacks from the hometown hero. A cut to the right eye of Inoue threatened to hamper the 26-year-old but was dealt with well in the corner, facilitating a robust riposte of pressure in the middle rounds.
Donaire fired back in the ninth, finding joy with the right hand before the fight turned from memorable into unforgettable in the eleventh.
Inoue loaded up with his trademark bodywork forcing Donaire to take a knee with the fight seemingly coming to an end; however, Donaire miraculously beat the count after looking down and out and countered an Inoue onslaught to turn the round on its head. A left hook from the veteran halted “The Monster” in his tracks before further attacks to the body followed – the sound of the bell echoed around the Super Arena to call an end to one of the rounds of 2019.
The scorecards read 116-111, 117-109 and 114-113 to Inoue, who unified the bantamweight division and took home the Muhammad Ali Trophy after passing the biggest test of his career. Donaire proved there is life in the old dog yet and for many, cemented his spot as a future Hall of Famer.
An honest up-and-downer between a top-five pound-for-pound star and an adored veteran: Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire has become a modern-day classic
TRAINER OF THE YEAR: Eddy Reynoso (Split Decision, 2-1-1)
“What I consider to be my crowning achievement is the entirety of Canelo’s career,” Eddie Reynoso told the LA Times at the end of last year.
Canelo was in camp, primed to embark on an assault of Britain’s Rocky Fielding for the WBA’s secondary title at super middleweight, paving the way for further feats in 2019.
Since then, Reynoso has guided the Mexican to world titles at middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight, confirming Canelo’s standing as the man to beat in the sport and the “golden ticket” for any aspiring fighter looking to make that next step up.
2019 has also seen Reynoso guide the careers of Ryan Garcia and Oscar Valdez in positive directions. Two early stoppages from “King Ry” and a successful trio of wins for Valdez have emphasised the success of Reynoso over the last 12 months with a focus on defence a primary objective for both men.
Reynoso’s 2019 will prove hard to beat. Masterminding Canelo’s perfectly executed gameplan against Sergey Kovalev is the jewel in a polished crown over the past year.
Also nominated: Shane McGuigan, Brian McIntyre
ROUND OF THE YEAR: Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr – Round 3 (Majority Decision, 3-1)
Stumbling home at 3 am after a friend’s birthday, I fumbled my way through the front door and plonked myself on the sofa for what I, and most, expected to be a routine win for Anthony Joshua on his US debut.
Andy Ruiz was drafted in at a month’s notice to play dance partner to AJ on June 1st, as the Briton continued his #RoadToUndisputed, expecting it to culminate in a fight against Deontay Wilder sometime in the next year.
I’d dropped a tenner bet on Joshua to win by 3rd round stoppage in an attempt to recoup my spending for the evening, and with 6 minutes and 44 seconds of the fight gone, I was already counting my winnings as the champion floored Ruiz with a right-left combination.
Joshua – regarded as one of the best finishers in the business – strolled back to his corner, poised, as he waited for Mexican-American to clamber back to his feet. Ruiz obliged, held his gloves in the air at the command of referee Michael Griffin and walked towards Joshua to engage for the remaining two minutes of the round that will go down in boxing history.
Ruiz’s eyes were crystal clear. By no means was it a flash knockdown, but Joshua had woken up something inside the “Destroyer” which would fuel his journey to becoming the unified heavyweight champion of the world.
As Joshua unloaded – catching Ruiz with a flush, neck-jerking right hand – Ruiz rallied, held his feet and began throwing in unison with the adrenaline-pumped champion. Ten seconds of fire culminated in a short left hook to the temple which – followed by a messy combination – saw Ruiz drop Joshua for the second time as a professional, bringing Madison Square Garden to its feet in unison.
Ruiz scuttled back to the corner which was occupied by the back of the champion just moments ago as Joshua faced a similar count from Michael Griffin, gaining his composure to rise from the canvas.
The pair were instructed to meet again in the middle of the ring for the third time in the round with 90 seconds remaining on the clock. Ruiz smelt blood – this was the cue for the challenger to empty his tank in the biggest round of his life; Joshua’s legs still wobbling, still shaking from the onslaught that preceded.
Messy exchanges followed with Ruiz finding the upper hand bullying Joshua in the pocket until several cuffing right hands floored the champion for the second time in the round. It sent him crashing to the bottom rope where a line of the world’s media documented a champion’s fall from grace from half a yard away.
AJ rose, somehow beat the count, and the bell for the end of the Round of the Year rang around a deafening Garden. This signalled the beginning of the end of Joshua’s first reign of heavyweight champion of the world.
I caught my breath, sat back down and text a mate an incoherent message looking to confirm the reality of what I was watching. As I began to sober up, I fell asleep to the image of Andy Ruiz’s blubbery frame pirouetting around the canvas, achieving the impossible in his very own “Fairytale of New York”.
Also nominated: Mairis Briedis vs Krzysztof Głowacki – Round 2
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: Deontay Wilder KO-1 Dominic Breazeale (Majority Decision, 3-1)
Wilder swept the nominations in 2019 for Knockout of the Year, with destructive finishes of Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz supplementing a successful year for the “Bronze Bomber”.
It was the first-round stoppage of “Trouble” that has scooped this year’s price, however, as Wilder detonated a right hand down the pipe with a minute remaining on the clock in the Big Apple.
In a first-round that saw Breazeale attempt to fight fire with fire, the 2012 Olympian ended his world championship attempt motionless on the Barclays Center canvas having walked onto one of the biggest shots of Wilder’s esteemed career.
Wilder recorded his 20th first-round knockout and underlined his one-punch power to rivals Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury who would take to the ring in the subsequent weeks that followed.
For all his weaknesses, Wilder has demonstrated in 2019 why he is Box Office. Blink, and you risk missing the dynamite exploding in the right hand of the “Bronze Bomber”.
Also nominated: Deontay Wilder KO-7 Luis Ortiz