Boxing review of 2019: Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, Deontay Wilder, Errol Spence and more

We run through the best fights, performances, controversies and more in 2019

Jack Rathborn
Saturday 28 December 2019 09:36
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Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz presser

In one of the most enthralling chapters of the heavyweight division, 2019 gifted us Anthony Joshua against Andy Ruiz in two compelling fights .

Fate saw the pair collide in June after justice caught up with drugs cheat Jarrell Miller. Initially there was nothing perilous about promoter Eddie Hearn’s decision to gift the Mexican-American the winning lottery ticket as Joshua’s late replacement following a desperate plea on social media. The Briton entered the contest as an overwhelming favourite, but in hindsight may have been burdened by the pressure to replicate fellow world champion Deontay Wilder, who delivered a devastating knockout of Dominic Breazeale just weeks earlier.

His plans to conquer America were shredded when Ruiz defied the shoddy aesthetics of the rolls around his midriff to dish out one of the greatest upsets in the history of the heavyweight division.

Ruiz’s credentials are and were respectable, despite the optics in the ring: from a distinguished amateur career to the brink of world honours in the shape of a razor-thin points defeat to Joseph Parker in 2016. It was Ruiz’s ability to seemingly freeze time that enabled him to pull this one off after tasting the canvas for the first time in his career during a captivating third round at The Garden (undoubtedly our round of the year – but more of that and our awards later).

Any trepidation in Ruiz soon evaporated as his head cleared quickly. A stunning 30 seconds later and Joshua was tasked with clambering off the canvas himself after foolishly pouring petrol on the fire to spark pandemonium at The Garden. With his senses scrambled, Joshua was toppled three more times before the breathtaking seven-round contest concluded was halted by referee Michael Griffin.

Joshua displayed his bravery and loyalty by immediately pursuing the rematch alongside much maligned trainer Rob McCracken. The pair meticulously carved out a masterful plan to recapture the belts, while stripping 10 pounds of muscle, in the remote location of Diriyah in Saudi Arabia.

The move drew widespread criticism due to the Kingdom’s numerous instances of alleged human rights violations, though Joshua gladly pocketed a career-high payday of £50 million and insisted the move was designed to expand the reach of the sport.

His vulnerability, packaged with his potential to hand out brutal punishment already made him one of the must-watch fighters in the sport. But he managed to mostly avoid both of those qualities by carefully correcting his mistakes and producing an impressive but cautious display to nullify a sluggish, overweight Ruiz.This two-fight saga defines 2019 in boxing in the most prominent chapter of Joshua’s career to date.

Before Indy Sport’s awards for boxing in 2019, it is important to note the immense sadness and collective grief the sport experienced this year after fighters Patrick Day, Maxim Dadashev, Hugo Alfredo Santillan and Boris Stanchov all passed away following injuries suffered in the ring.

Fight of the year: Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire

Inoue survived a scare to triumph over Donaire

There are so many brilliant fights to sift through in 2019, but we’ll give it to Naoya Inoue‘s war with Nonito Donaire, which delivered 12 brutal rounds in Saitama.

The relentless high quality of Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis would be equally worthy of this title. While a special mention for Errol Spence Jr vs Shawn Porter, Gennady Golovkin vs Sergiy Derevyanchenko and also Guillermo Rigondeaux, who reminded us that his mesmeric skills can also be part of brilliant fights, when he triumphed in eighth rounds over the entertaining Julio Ceja.

Fighter of the year: Errol Spence Jr

Many will point towards Canelo Alvarez, the face of the sport, who enjoyed two big victories to start reimbursing DAZN’s £280.6 million investment. But Danny Jacobs pushed Canelo and Gennady Golovkin had already beaten the American, while Sergey Kovalev was clearly damaged goods by the time the Mexican dispatched him, even if the leap to light heavyweight is an impressive layer to his outstanding career to date.

Errol Spence Jr on the other hand comprehensively outboxed a four-weight world champion in Mikey Garcia. And even if the size difference dissuades many from dishing out credit, his fight of the year contender with Shawn Porter, to unify world titles at welterweight, is certainly a superior win than either of Canelo’s.

The 11th round knockdown of a ferocious Porter saw him edge his rival in a split decision, though his year was not all good, after ‘The Truth’ suffered a devastating, high-speed car accident, which he miraculously emerged from relatively unscathed. Still, it looks like he’ll be back in the ring in June, with Danny Garcia the most likely opponent, which would not cause many to grumble.

Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter put on a show (Getty)

Breakout Fighter of the Year: Teofimo Lopez

The IBF world lightweight champion announced himself as a serious player at the top of the division with his knockout victory over Richard Commey.

The manner of the victory propelled himself to the front of the queue to meet – and perhaps at least unsettle – the sensational Vasyl Lomachenko.

The 22-year-old, now 15-0 with 12 knockouts, completed a perfect 2019 against the Ghanaian after victories over Diego Magdaleno, Edis Tatli and Masayoshi Nakatani. One of the sport’s most exciting finishers, Lopez took pleasure in the manner of his win over Commey, dishing out an avalanche of shots in a thrilling second round to beautifully back up the vicious right hand that turned Commey’s world upside down. The Brooklyn sensation is appointment viewing in 2020.

Knockout of the year: Derek Chisora vs Artur Szpilka

This was a scary knockout from a resurgent Derek Chisora, who pinned the Pole against the ropes, forcing his hands to drop with slashing shots to his body, before a whipping right turned out his lights while standing. The referee’s inability to promptly stop the fight saw Chisora land one more devastating right to leave a Szpilka motionless beneath the ropes for several minutes.

Honourable mentions

Canelo Alvarez vs Sergey Kovalev: the beautifully disguised left that appeared to be going downstairs before the Mexican whipped it up top, followed by a straight right to send the Russian through the ropes. A career highlight for Canelo.

Deontay Wilder: the knockout king delivered a pair of hellacious straight rights which saw Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz crumble.

Fight we’d like to see again: Taylor vs Persoon

It was the fight that dared to steal Anthony Joshua’s thunder on his US debut, this was one of the greatest female fights you will ever see, with the legendary Irish woman prevailing in a tight decision at The Garden. For the sake of the growth of women’s boxing, alongside Taylor’s legacy give many thought the Belgian won, this one needs to happen again in 2020.

Round of the year: Joshua vs Ruiz 1 (3rd)

Honourable mention: Spence vs Porter (11th)

Prospect of the year: Vergil Ortiz Jr (USA)

We cannot wait to see Ortiz Jr’s progress through the welterweight division, where some fascinating fights await.

Trainer of the year: Shane McGuigan

A mightily impressive game plan and execution from Josh Taylor proved too much for Regis Prograis in the final of the light welterweight World Boxing Super Series. This would usually be enough by itself, but to help Luke Campbell in a competitive fight (even if the scorecards said otherwise) against the mercurial Vasyl Lomachenko was a sight to behold.

Controversy of the Year

Boxing continues to have an endemic problem with performance enhancing drugs, as displayed by the farcical misdemeanours of Jarrell Miller as challenger to Anthony Joshua and the sport’s crown jewels in the form of the heavyweight world title. It further sullied the sport, which is not far from having the same scepticism cycling endured in the previous decade.

There was the outrageous antics of Kubrat Pulev and ‘kissgate’ following his win over Bogdan Dinu, when he forcibly kissed reporter Jennifer Ravalo on the lips. We will likely be seeing more of the Bulgarian in 2020, given his mandatory status for Joshua’s IBF world title.

There was also the drama of Skakur Stevenson and his feud with his girlfriend’s brother Joet Gonzalez, which ended in a points victory for the Olympic silver medallist.

While the WBC took the abrupt action of reversing Charlie Edwards’s loss to Julio Cesar Martinez due to the Mexican hitting the champion while taking a knee. The contest was masked in controversy due no apparent sign of video technology permitted in the body’s rules to impact a decision, but president Mauricio Sulaiman, sat at ringside, was steadfast in his decision.

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