As we usher in the New Year, full of optimism, hope and resolutions, let’s reflect on the year that was, 2018. The theme was intended to be unification across multiple weight classes, and while this occurred in some divisions, others were delayed by injuries and/or conflicting promotional agendas. Projected big fights fizzled out, others materialized out of thin air. Twenty-Eighteen wasn’t quite the fistic year it could have been, but it ended up being more than good enough. In a business where your arrow is always pointing upwards or downwards, never in between, boxing elevated itself, producing more outlets for world class fights than ever before and more cost-effective platforms by which to watch it. Please take this final stroll with Pugilism Company, as we revisit 2018 for the last time before getting acclimated to 2019.
Upset of the Year – Tony Harrison UD12 Jermell Charlo
It was supposed to be a showcase, stay-busy fight for WBC super welterweight champion, Jermell Charlo, co-headlining a heavily hyped card on FOX with twin brother, Jermall. Though a credible opponent, it was believed Tony Harrison’s punch resistance would fail him as it did in his two most important bouts to that point, TKO losses to Jarrett Hurd and Willie Nelson. In hindsight, the Detroit native was ahead in both instances until fatigue and the size advantages of Hurd and Nelson led to his undoing. Harrison was the slightly bigger man than Charlo, however, and used his jab and elite level counter-punching skills to squeeze out a largely unpopular upset decision.
Fight of the Year – Alex Saucedo vs. Lenny Zappavigna
Jarrett Hurd’s IBF/WBA unification bout with Erislandy Lara was more important and a higher caliber affair in terms of aggregate level of talent, but it wasn’t as fun, nor as consistently violent as Alex Saucedo’s toe-to-toe bloodbath with Lenny Z. This was a throw-back, Zale-Graziano, Gatti-Ward type of battle. A phone booth sized ring was our first hint and by the end of round 2, Lenny Z was bleeding. Dropped in the 3rd, Zappavigna finished stronger and badly hurt Saucedo in the 4th with head rattling shots. Saucedo was now bleeding as well and arguably sustained a 10-8 beating in that stanza. It got so bad, droplets of blood were on the lens of the ESPN camera filming the fight. Lenny Z’s features eventually deteriorated to the point he couldn’t see out of his left eye at all, was cut under, over and around it, and bled from his right eye as well. The ref mercifully stopped the proceedings in the 7th. Lively punching exchanges, momentum shifts, knockdowns, gore, Saucedo-Zappavigna had it all.
Prospect of the Year – Shakur Stevenson (9-0, 5 KO’s)
Teofimo Lopez and Devin Haney are getting more publicity right now, but Lopez was widely recognized as 2017’s “Prospect of the Year” and Haney has literally shunned prospect accolades on the strength of being rated in the top ten by three sanctioning bodies. “I’m not a prospect, I’m a contender”, as he puts it. Shakur Stevenson still is though, despite being contemporaries of the aforementioned. The baby faced 2016 Olympic silver medalist stepped in the squared circle five times this year, producing a record of 5-0, 3 KO’s against increasingly tougher, more experienced opposition. More importantly, he sat down on his shots more and got rid of foes more frequently. After another year of seasoning, this talented southpaw should be ready for primetime by 2020.
Knockout of the Year – Teofimo Lopez KO 1 Mason Menard
With apologies to Dillian Whyte vs. Derek Chisora II, Teofimo Lopez’s 1-round destruction of Mason Menard is Pugilism Company’s “Knock Out of the Year” for 2018. What separates them is Lopez essentially landed two punches. A looping right hand which forced Menard to retreat early in the round, then another which face planted him at the 44 second mark. Whyte-Chisora II lasted until round 11.
Action Fighter of the Year – Alex Saucedo (28-1, 18 KO’s)
He comes forward, he let’s his hands go, he’s got nuts, he’s not hard to hit and he gets cut. Alex Saucedo checks every box for “action fighter” prerequisites. An underrated pocket war with Abner Lopez, in March, saw Saucedo get cut under one eye, marked under both and emerge victorious with a liver shot finish. In June, Saucedo registered Pugilism Company’s 2018 “Fight of the Year” in his hometown of Oklahoma City with a breath takingly bloody, back and forth slugfest with Lenny Zappavigna. “El Cholo” ended the year with a title shot in OKC vs. WBO super lightweight champion, Maurice Hooker in yet another fan friendly occasion. Saucedo dropped Hooker in the 2nd, kept constant pressure on his foe, but eventually his skin failed him, and he suffered his first loss, via 7th round TKO. Even in losing, Saucedo never once failed to entertain.
Fighter of the Year – Oleksandr Usyk (16-0, 12 KO’s)
The no-brainer award for 2018; the Ukrainian began the year as undefeated WBO cruiserweight champion, added the WBC version, then the WBA and IBF. In the process, Usyk defeated Mairis Breidis and Murat Gassiev (both undefeated) in their backyards, won the high-profile “World Boxing Super Series” cruiserweight tournament and the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist joined Bernard Hopkins and Terence Crawford as the only men to hold all four of boxing’s recognized title bouts within a division. The word of the year was “unification” and that’s precisely what Oleksander Usyk achieved. He even added a cherry on top, stopping Tony Bellew in defense of his laurels, in one the better KO’s on the calendar.
Condolences - Adonis Stevenson (29-2-1, 24 KO’s)
For more than five years, Adonis Stevenson reigned as WBC light heavyweight champion, rattling off 9 title defenses. He lost that belt via 11th round stoppage to Oleksandr Gvozdyk and subsequently fell into a coma for three weeks. Now off a respirator and somewhat responsive, Stevenson still cannot speak and was given a tracheotomy to insure breathing. He recognizes his fiancee and makes slow, subtle movements with his arms, but he has a very long, arduous road to recovery in front of him. Stevenson didn’t always seem to take the most challenging path in terms of risking his laurels against other champions, particularly Sergey Kovalev. That said, knowing this man’s quality of life is now in peril puts into perspective just how meaningless a fighter’s resume is, at the end of the day. Had he fought just one fewer time, Adonis Stevenson would be living a normal life right now instead of being laid up in a hospital during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday season, and that truly saddens me. The ultimate goal for every fighter should be to get out of the game before it’s too late.
Story of the Year – HBO Takes the 10-Count, No Longer Broadcasting Boxing
I was a wee child when HBO started televising boxing in 1973. Barry Tompkins, Jim Lampley, Harold Lederman, George Foreman and Larry Merchant were like family; ever-present in my home and thoughts, on a weekly basis. The absolute best, prime fighting years of Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Oscar Dela Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Felix Trinidad, Lennox Lewis, Marco Antonio Barrera, Sugar Ray Leonard, Erik Morales, Pernell Whittaker, Manny Pacquiao, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and a litany of others were all televised on HBO. HBO was boxing for the bulk of the 45 years they covered the sport. So, it goes without saying it was a shock to learn they were getting out of the business of boxing at the end of 2018. Showtime ramped up their boxing coverage over the years on the strength of Al Haymon’s PBC stable, which dwarfed HBO’s. ESPN signed Top Rank to an exclusive deal, launched a streaming app service (as did DAZN) and Haymon branched out his PBC roster to FOX, on subscription free television. HBO fought the good fight, but it no longer made dollars or sense to carry on. They’ll be sorely missed.
Miscalculation of the Year – Eddie Hearn and Team Joshua Lowballing Team Wilder
Even when you’re dealt a good hand, there’s always the risk of overplaying it. This time last year, Anthony Joshua was far and away the marquee name in the heavyweight division. After he unified with Joseph Parker in March, as Deontay Wilder knocked out the feared Luis Ortiz, there was only one fight to be made; Joshua-Wilder for all the marbles, for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. That’s when Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, got greedy. Instead of giving the boxing public what it wanted, Hearn threw out an absurd flat-fee offer to Wilder, knowing it’d be rejected, to milk an extra payday for Joshua vs. Alexander Povetkin. What Hearn and Team Joshua failed to factor in was the lineal heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, swooping in out of nowhere, stealing his countryman’s luster, any semblance of respect he had from American audiences and signing for a fight to end 2018 which became the...
Event of the Year – Wilder vs. Fury
Heavyweight boxing matters again in the United States, thanks to Eddie Hearn, Anthony Joshua, the “Bronze Bomber” Deontay Wilder and the “Gypsy King” Tyson Fury. Team Joshua’s reluctance, lies and disingenuous offers spawned Wilder-Fury, a bout made with little to no fuss. An entertaining 3-city tour ensued, the pairing was pushed on both sides of the pond, fight week and the weigh-in didn’t fail to deliver. A-list celebrities attended in droves and the fight itself not only exceeded expectations, it has hardcore and casual boxing fans salivating for a rematch. Team Joshua’s loss was Wilder-Fury’s gain and the biggest heavyweight fight of 2018 didn’t even consist of the possessor of 3 of the 4 belts.
Farce of the Year – Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa
$9 million dollars for a 3-round exhibition against a 5’4 featherweight kick boxer, mixed martial artist, who could stand to lose as much as $5 mil for throwing (not landing but throwing) a single kick? With your favorite referee in tow? Floyd’s body never looked softer, it’s doubtful he “trained” more than a week max, he was so sure of victory he was literally laughing at Tenshin as the “fight” began, then Nasukawa flopped around on the canvas, like a fish out of water, grossly exaggerating the effects of the punches that dropped him. I’m inclined to call Mayweather-Tenshin a joke, but there was nothing the least bit funny about it.