Boxing fans don’t always get what they want. The heavyweight championship remains fractured, as another year passes without an undisputed champion crowned. The thriving lightweight division still hasn’t matched any of its multiple unbeaten champions against each other and Jake Paul continues to fight meritless quasi-exhibitions against anyone but a professional boxer.
But what we did get plenty of in 2021 was amazing fights. There were upsets galore, who can forget Kiko Martinez turning back the clock to knock out Kid Galahad? There were incredible knockouts, like Oscar Valdez’s blistering finish against Miguel Berchelt. And there were classic wars. It is the latter category that we pay tribute to here. These are The Sportsman’s picks for Fight Of The Year.
Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez vs Juan Francisco Estrada II
It is rare that a sequel surpasses the original. ‘Chocolatito’ and Estrada served up a fiery twelve rounds for the WBA light flyweight title back in 2012, but this year they delivered the Godfather Part II of the squared circle.
Their March fight for the WBC, WBA and The Ring super flyweight belts was astonishing. The pair combined to throw 2,529 punches, a record for the weight. These were not absent-minded swings either, the quality on show was incredible. This was a game of chess played at the speed of a Formula 1 race, with both men displaying shot-picking and defensive acumen amongst the brutality.
‘Chocolatito’ won a controversial decision in their first encounter, and it was Estrada’s turn to get the surprise nod this time. Logic has prevailed, and the pair will clash again in 2022. Don’t be surprised to see that fight on next year’s list.
Troy Williamson vs Ted Cheeseman
The British title has a way of bringing the best out of boxers. This country’s iconic Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt has been on the line for some of history’s greatest fights. Troy Williamson’s gruelling win over super welterweight champion Ted Cheeseman belongs on that list.
The pair swung wildly from the first bell, making no secret of how badly they wanted victory in Liverpool. These frightening levels of activity continued throughout, with the advantage ebbing and flowing from one fighter to the other frequently. At times the title-level experience of Cheeseman looked like winning out, but Williamson would not be denied.
The fight had been close, but the ending was emphatic. Williamson pinned Cheeseman to the ropes, and threw a series of sharp uppercuts before ending matters with a brutal left hook.
Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder III
On the very same night as Cheeseman and Williamson’s heroics, WBC, The Ring and lineal heavyweight champion of the world Tyson Fury looked to settle his business with Deontay Wilder once and for all. They had drawn a dramatic first fight, while Fury had dominated the second. The third will go down in the annals of boxing history.
After the American made a strong start, he was floored by Fury in the third. Smelling blood, the champion tried to apply pressure in the fourth, only to be knocked down himself by a thudding combination. ‘The Gyspy King’ rose, and was sent back to the canvas with a bracing right hook. His title, and unbeaten record, were in severe jeopardy.
Fury re-asserted himself through the second half of the fight, and Wilder took untold punishment from the champion. The shots he stood up to seemed impossible to take, and yet Wilder resisted their concussive effects. Wilder would hit the canvas again in round ten, but somehow found the resilience to get back up. In the eleventh, Fury finally put one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time to bed, folding Wilder with a right hand to the temple. The fight was over, but what these two warriors shared will live on forever.
George Kambosos Jr vs Teofimo Lopez
Kambosos was supposed to be a stepping stone. Certainly, the champion saw him as no more than a bump in the road on the way to bigger fights ahead. But Teofimo Lopez would leave the ring without his treasured lightweight title belts, and shorn of his unbeaten record, by the time the Australian was done with him.
Lopez came out determined to score a knockout, and single-mindedly pursued Kambosos through the early going. His hyped-up demeanour caught him out though, as Kambosos scored a surprise knockdown. This would be no routine title defence for Teofimo.
While Lopez’s father, Teofimo Sr, gave him mixed messages in the corner, the underdog was clear in his intent. Throw endless shots, don’t walk onto anything stupid, make Lopez uncomfortable. It was a gameplan he played almost to perfection.
There was a single fly in the ointment, when Kambosos himself was knocked down late. But he responded confidently, and took the fight back to ‘Takeover’. It was a glowing performance and an astonishing fight from the new lightweight champion of the world.
Joseph Parker vs Derek Chisora
A buzzer-beater to make this list, this past weekend saw a scintillating heavyweight war between the former WBO champion and Finchley’s grand old gatekeeper.
Their first fight had been a close and at times entertaining affair, but this was an all-time classic. Parker had Chisora on the verge of the abyss countless times, forcing a knockdown and two standing eight counts. But whenever ‘Del Boy’ was in peril, he battled back with steely determination, and no shortage of crunching hooks.
The cheers that went up in Manchester Arena as the bell sounded for the twelfth round were as much in disbelief than joy. How had this fight continued at this pace for this long? The answer? Two very brave warriors who don’t know how to quit.