1. Carl Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs) The Northern Irishman enjoyed a stellar 2016, defeating longtime British rival Scott Quigg via split decision in February to unify super bantamweight titles. If that domestic dust-up in Manchester was a bit of an anticlimax, then Frampton’s next outing against Leo Santa Cruz in July more than made up for it. Entering his first bout at featherweight as an underdog, ‘the Jackal’ put on a boxing clinic in New York against the Mexican-American to earn a well-deserved majority decision in a thrilling slugfest. However, in an eagerly-awaited rematch in Las Vegas on 27 January, Frampton duly lost his title – and his unbeaten record – via a wafer-thin majority decision. Trilogy, anyone?
2. Anthony Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) London’s Joshua has barely put a foot wrong since turning pro about four years ago, racking up 19 wins from 19 contests, with none of his opponents hearing the final bell. The 27-year-old faced the first stern test of his professional career on 29 April when he took on former lineal heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium in the most anticipated fight of the year. And the bout more than lived up to the hype, with IBF champion Joshua rallying from a hard knockdown in the sixth round to stop the 41-year-old Klitschko in the 11th in front of 90,000 screaming fans. It will go down as one of the great heavyweight battles of the last 20 years, but more importantly for Joshua it establishes him as the king of boxing’s glamour division as both a unified titleholder and a global attraction.
4. James De Gale (22-1-1, 14 KOs) Olympic gold medalist De Gale won 13 fights in a row after dropping a contentious decision to amateur rival George Groves in May 2011, picking up the IBF super-middleweight title along the way with a unanimous decision over Andre Dirrell. But the Londoner only fought once last year, earning a points win over tough-than-expected mandatory challenger Rogello ‘Porky’ Medina in April. In his first fight of 2017, ‘Chunky’ retained his belt, courtesy of a majority draw with with Sweden’s Badou Jack in New York. It was a thrilling battle in which DeGale lost two front teeth and was dropped for the first time of his pro career in the 12th round as he somehow survived a late onslaught.
5. Tony Bellew (29-2-1, 18 KOs) Liverpool’s Bellew underlined his status as one of the best cruiserweights in the world with a pair of hugely impressive wins in 2016. In May, ‘Bomber’ put a beating on contender Ilunga ‘Junior’ Makabu at his beloved Goodison Park, winning a vacant world title with a picture-perfect third-round KO. He made his first defence against the lightly-regarded but durable BJ Flores in October, dropping him four times on his way to a third-round stoppage. The outspoken 34-year-old then surprised everyone by moving up to heavyweight to challenge British countryman David Haye in a big-money bout on 4 March. Although most pundits gave him little chance of victory against the heavy-handed ‘Hayemaker’, Bellew pulled off one of the biggest upsets in British boxing history with a stunning 11th round TKO win at London’s O2 Arena.
6. Lee Selby (23-1, 8 KOs) The ‘Welsh Mayweather’ only defended his IBF world featherweight title once last year, eking out a hard-fought unanimous decision win over American challenger Eric Hunter. It was a less than stellar performance from Selby, who was knocked down in the second round, the first time he had been dropped in his professional career. After his mandatory defence against former titleholder Jonathan Victor Barros on the Framtpton-Santa Cruz II undercard was cancelled at the 11th hour, Selby returned to action with a routine stoppage win over Spain’s Andoni Gago on 4 March at London’s O2 Arena.
7. Terry Flanagan (32-0, 13 KOs) Manchester’s Flanagan made three successful defences of his WBO lightweight world title in 2016, beating countryman Derry Mathews on points in March, routing South Africa’s Mzonke Fana in another shutout decision in June and stopping Puerto Rico’s Orlando Cruz in the eighth round of a one-sided fight in November. In his only fight of 2017 so far, Flanagan cruised to a comfortable – but dull – points win over the game but limited Petr Petrov.
8. Kell Brook (36-2, 25 KOs) Sheffield’s Brook has now suffered consecutive knockout defeats after losing his IBF welterweight strap to American sensation Errol Spence Jr on 27 May in his home city of Sheffield. In an exciting and close bout at Bramall Lane, Brook seemed to be getting the better of the early exchanges before suffering yet another serious eye injury in the 7th round. The 31-year-old was dropped in the 10th but bravely fought on before finally succumbing to his injury by taking a knee in the 11th as referee Howard Foster counted him out. Whether we’ve seen the last of ‘The Special One’ in the ring remains to be seen, but he is unlikely to campaign at 147 pounds again after struggling to make the weight and gassing late as Spence ruthlessly targeted his body. That decision to jump up two weight classes to take on heavy-handed middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin last September is looking more foolhardy by the day.
8. Kal Yafai (22-0, 14 KOs) On 13 May Birmingham’s Yafai made the first defence of the WBA super flyweight title he won from Luis Concepcion in December, outclassing teak tough challenger Suguru Muranaka (25-3-1, 8 KOs) to earn a unanimous points decision in his hometown. It was another classy performance from the he 27-year-old former Olympian, who after the fight stated his desire to face fromer P4P king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez later this year, if Gonzalez regains the WBC belt from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in an expected rematch.
9. George Groves (26-3, 19 KOs) At the fourth time of asking, London’s Groves finally won his first world title after stopping Russian hardman Fedor Chudinov (14-2, 10 KOs) in the 6th round of a thrilling fight on the undercard of the Kell Brook-Errol Spence Jr clash in Sheffield. The 29-year-old was certainly made to work hard for the vacant WBA super middleweight title by the hard-charging Chudinov, who had him on the backfoot throughout and landed some eye-catching shots of his own. However, Groves stood up to the relentless pressure and once he had his man hurt in the 6th stanza, ‘The Saint’ unleashed a barrage of hard, unanswered punches that forced the referee to step in and end the contest, even though the hard-as-nails Chudinov was still standing.
10. Amir Khan (31-4, 19 KOs) It’s fair to say 2016 was another underwhelming year for Bolton’s Khan, a former junior welterweight world titlist and 2004 Olympic silver medallist. The 30-year-old fought just the once, moving up to meet Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at a catchweight of 155-pound in Las Vegas on 7 May. The fight played out just as many predicted, with Khan using his speed and movement to outbox the slower Alvarez in the early going before eventually losing his concentration and getting brutally knocked out by vicious right hand in the sixth round. He now plans to campaign at welterweight, but as yet has no fight scheduled this year following the collapse of his proposed superfight with former stablemate Manny Pacquiao.
Honourable mentions: Billie Joe Saunders, Nathan Cleverly, Scott Quigg, Chris Eubank Jr, Anthony Crolla, Dillian Whyte, Callum Smith, Josh Warrington