Let’s face it, 2016 has hardly been a vintage year for boxing. Fight fans have been left frustrated over the past 12 months as a combination of promotional spats, poor matchmaking and blatant ducking has prevented the best from facing the best on a consistent basis. But it hasn’t been all bad. Knockoutpunch picks out the best three fights of the year that went some way to restoring our faith in the sweet science.
1. Dillian Whyte SD12 Dereck Chisora at Manchester Arena, Manchester, on 10 December 2016
After such a fractious buildup – during which Chisora threw a table at Whyte at a rowdy press conference – the only way the trash-talking British heavyweights could redeem themselves in the eyes of boxing fans was by producing the goods in the ring on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s IBF title defence against Eric Molina. And boy, did they deliver! The two London rivals engaged in a brutal war of attrition that had the Manchester crowd on their feet for 12 action-packed rounds. With both men throwing and landing haymakers as if they were going out of fashion, it was a minor miracle there were no knockdowns and they were still standing at the final bell. The fifth and eighth rounds of the fight were particularly memorable, with Chisora badly hurting Whyte in the former before his bitter foe somehow regained his senses and ended the stanza on top. But the gruelling brawl reached a crescendo in the eighth, with both big men landing punishing blows and looking on the verge of stoppage as the momentum continued to swing like a pendulum. It seemed cruel to pick a winner in such a closely-contested scrap, but the younger, fitter Whyte was awarded a razor-thin majority decision on scores of 114-115, 115-113, 115-114. Chisora, however, won over the paying punters with his brave and determined display and can hold his head high for the way he refused to give in, despite his obvious fatigue in the later rounds. Hopefully, we will see a rematch this year – without the circus that proceeded it and left a stain on the sport.
2. Carl Frampton MD12 Leo Santa Cruz at Barclays Center, New York, on 30 July 2016
In his second major fight of the year – after seeing off domestic rival Scott Quigg to unify super-bantamweight titles in February – Frampton travelled to New York to challenge the highly-regarded Mexican-American Leo Santa Cruz for his featherweight title. Expectations are always high when two undefeated fighters meet in the ring, and Frampton and Santa Cruz certainly lived up to the pre-bout hype, putting on a thrilling slugfest that featured non-stop action and swings in momentum as both fighters let it all hang out before a raucous crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. After 12 highly competitive rounds, Frampton got the deserved nod for his more effective work by way of majority decision. Thankfully, we’ll get to see it all again later this month as the pair quickly signed up for a rematch on 28 January. Expect more of the same from these two classy warriors.
3. Francisco Vargas MD12 Orlando Salido at StubHub Center, California, on 4 June 2016
The fact that these two Mexican warriors produced such a memorable scrap came as no surprise whatsoever. Salido in particular has been in some epic fights during his long and decorated professional career, and the 36-year-old promised to give everything against his younger, unbeaten countryman in a matchup that had hardcore fight fans counting down the days the moment it was announced. Vargas himself had become a firm fan favourite in the wake of his gutsy ninth-round knockout win over Japan’s Takashi Miura in November 2015 to win the WBC junior-lightweight title, so plenty of fireworks were expected come fight night. What followed however was beyond even most reasonable expectations, as Vargas and Salido went hell for leather from the opening round until the final bell, trading relentless blows to the body and head during countless toe-to-toe exchanges that had the crowd in raptures. At the end of their bruising battle, both men received a well-deserved standing ovation as Vargas clung on to his title courtesy of a majority draw.
Honourable mentions: Keith Thurman UD12 Shawn Porter, Frank Buglioni KO12 Hosea Burton, Gennady Golovkin TKO5 Kell Brook, Adonis Stevenson KO4 Thomas Williams Jr, Jorge Linares W12 Anthony Crolla, Roman Gonzalez UD12 Carlos Cuadras