Boxing Monthly Mailbox: Overseas fighters and fights of the year
Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Welcome to the Boxing Monthly Mailbox! Last week writer Tom Craze and online editor Luke G. Williams discussed who they felt deserved to be recognised as the British Fighter of the Year and which bouts on British soil deserved British Fight of the Year kudos...
Today they give their picks for Overseas Fighter and Fights of the Year. (And, by the way, don't miss the February issue of Boxing Monthly magazine - in shops on the last Thursday of January - in which the official BM awards in these categories will be made...)
In a Twitter poll on the @BoxingMonthlyEd page this week, 355 of our readers and followers had their say on who should be anointed the Overseas Fighter of the Year. What with Twitter's somewhat restrictive 'four options' poll design, we were only able to offer voters a choice of Oleksandr Usyk, Naoya Inoue, Vasyl Lomachenko and 'other'.
Usyk garnered a whopping 72% of the votes, Lomachenko 20%, Inoue 6% and 'other' 2%, with Canelo Alvarez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai getting several mentions.
Over to Tom and Luke for their views...
LW: I can't look past Usyk for this honour. Three wins on away turf against three of the most accomplished cruisers in the world, while also winning the WBSS and unifying the division might just make him the best cruiserweight of all time and he's now second in the world on my personal pound for pound ranking. Although he didn't attract much support on our poll I would place Inoue second, even if his total in the ring time in 2018 didn't even total six minutes. The destructive fists of the Japanese sensation are a wonder to behold and his two opening stanza victories on moving up to super flyweight both came against solid, world level opposition.
Lomachenko rounds out my top three. The Ukrainian's win against Linares was a top quality victory against a top quality opponent who had held a 'world' title belt of some description since 2014. Hi-Tech shipped some criticism for his victory against Jose Pedraza which I felt was wholly unwarranted. The Puerto Rican is a canny boxer and Loma is not a natiral lightweight. The fact he's currently king of that division is testament to his incredible skillset.
Finally I'd like to address those who feel Canelo Alvarez should be in contention for this honour. I don't think there's any way he can be considered ahead of the three men I've mentioned. As well as his drugs test controversy this year, I didn't feel he deserved the nod against Gennady Golovkin and his 168lbs victory against Rocky Fielding isn't as good a victory as any of the wins achieved by Usyk, Inoue and Lomachenko this year.
TC: As far as I’m concerned, you can omit the qualifier ‘Overseas’ from the title of this award and the choice becomes no less clear. Oleksandr Usyk, by a country mile – in any of the three countries he fought in, each time as the ‘away’ fighter – is 2018’s Fighter of the Year.
That he travelled to Riga, Latvia to overcome Mairis Briedis – a top 5 cruiserweight – in the semi-final of the inaugural WBSS tournament in one of the best contests of 2018, under the focus of a raucous home crowd, might’ve been enough in other years to put him in the frame. That he, a Crimean-born Ukrainian, then went on the road to Moscow for the Final, against a politically-charged backdrop and another hostile audience, to shut out Murat Gassiev in Russia with one of the finest virtuoso performances of the decade and become undisputed champion, would underline it.
To then complete the hat-trick by taking on Tony Bellew – the best cruiserweight not involved in the WBSS – in the UK, and add a beautifully-constructed showreel KO to his ledger in the process, destroys any other argument. Usyk’s 2018 wasn’t just great – it was one of the best anyone’s had in the 21st century.
Completing the podium places, I have Naoya Inoue in second place, and am too at odds with the voting in the poll. To see Inoue win a title in his third weight class – bearing in mind he skipped past 112lb altogether – so emphatically was a joy, even though it was only the questionable WBA ‘Regular’ strap (a bauble that was, alas, later propelled into increased mainstream legitimacy via Canelo-Fielding). For the Japanese to go on to announce himself on a bigger stage in the WBSS in many ways felt, I’m sure, like a vindication for some observers. Inoue’s shown he’s everything we suspected him to be. In third place, Vasyl Lomachenko had a superb year in stepping up to, winning a belt in, and then unifying a weight class that is clearly a little above his natural frame.
The poll on the BM twitter page for best Overseas Fight of 2018 attracted 355 votes and saw Usyk vs Briedis secure 57%, ahead of Tanaka vs Kimura (23%) and Saucedo vs Zappavigna (12%). There were also shout outs for Lomachenko vs Linares, Canelo vs GGG 2, Fury vs Wilder, Budler vs Taguchi. and Gassiev vs Dorticos among others.
Do Luke and Tom agree with the public verdict?
LW: No. As good as Usyk vs Briedis was, I would make the incredibly intense, non-stop battle between Tanaka and Kimura my overseas fight of the year. Both Japanese pugilists displayed incredible heart, bravery, technical skills as well as iron chins in a 12-round war that is crying out for a rematch.
Saucedo vs Zappavigna I'd place second. A wild brawl which included an extraordinary fourth round and almost as much blood as you'd see in an abattoir.
Although it lacked the thrill quotient of some rival fights - I'm thinking Gassiev vs Dorticos and the aforementioned Usyk vs Briedis in particular - I'm going to put Fury vs Wilder in third. To me it felt like such a significant event - far more so than either of Anthony Joshua's bouts this year or even Canelo vs GGG2 - and that unreal 12th round enabled it to cross over into the sporting mainstream in a way few boxing matches do these days.
TC: I can’t look past Kimura vs Tanaka. It should come as no surprise, of course, that this was a fight overlooked by the major US outlets in their year-end honours – having boxers from the lower weight classes in a contest held a long way from American soil missing out on the big awards might be one of boxing’s most unwelcome annual traditions itself – but it ticks all the boxes. From the word go, this was a fight that, with every three minutes that passed, seemed to put forward another contender for Round of the Year. It was a wonderfully brutal battle with a fantastic ebb and flow, and all decided by the finest of margins.
Like Luke, I’ll go Saucedo-Zappavigna as runner-up. Every year tends to bring about at least one outstanding, crimson-soaked war from a rung or two below world level, and this was the standout from 2018. Kimura-Tanaka was both technically better and of more consequence, but in terms of visceral back-and-forths, this was 2018’s tidemark.
I don’t, however, agree with Wilder-Fury in third. While, of course, it provided perhaps the round of the year, and without a doubt the year’s most memorable moment, there was an extended stretch in the early-to-mid-rounds where Fury, to his immense credit, made it look like a procession. That’ll get washed over as the months and years pass, and perhaps rightly so, but on reflection Usyk vs Briedis – and a fair few more – leapfrog it in terms of the best fights from what was an excellent year.