This year has been a great one in boxing. Pound-for-pound top fighters clashing, the re-emergence of the heavyweights, amazing fights, knockouts and new faces all setting the stage for 2017 to be one of the strongest years of competition in the sport’s long and rich history.
When considering fighters for the year’s top honour, three factors are paramount: the strength of their performances, the level of competition they’ve faced and how this year has affected not only their value but also how the fans and the media perceive them as fighters.
With that in mind, only two fighters, in my opinion, have a debatable case for fighter of the year honours and those men are the pride of Belfast Northern-Ireland Carl Frampton and the Ukraine’s fighting dynamo Vasyl Lomachenko.
This is not to say that fighters such as GGG, Canelo Alvarez, Andre Ward, Terrance Crawford and Roman Gonzalez haven’t had an impressive 2016 but their performance in one of my three ranking criteria simply makes their year less impressive to me than those of Lomachenko and Frampton.
That being said, only one man can be fighter of the year and to determine who that man is we must stack their individual cases against each other.
“The Jackal” started his year off in February with a clash of unbeaten champions, putting his IBF super bantamweight title on the line opposite Scott Quigg and his WBA title. The bout started off slow and ended in a slugfest with Frampton’s hand eventually being raised in a split decision.
He followed that bout up by moving up in weight and claiming another formerly unbeaten champion’s belt, besting Leo Santa Cruz by majority decision in one of this year’s best overall fights.
Frampton had the toughest match-ups of any fighter at the championship level this year and exceeded all expectations. He twice overcame the odds, delivered incredible fights and lifted himself above the ranks of a championship underdog demonstrating his skill, determination and grit, endearing himself to viewers and creating a demand to see him fight that quite simply wasn’t there a year ago.
Lomachenko was pegged, at the start of 2016, as a technical wizard with no real pop to his punches and no real headlining buzz to him much like other technical wizards Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara.
He started his year off by moving up in weight and absolutely destroying the then champion Roman “Rocky” Martinez, delivering one of this year’s most devastating knockouts in claiming the WBO super featherweight title.
He then followed that up by making the unbeaten former number one ranked featherweight in Nicholas “The Axeman” Walters quit after seven of this year’s most impressive rounds of movement, speed, power and technical brilliance.
Lomachenko was already highly regarded at the start of the year with many pegging him as the greatest raw talent to ever step in the ring but upon entering 2017, only eight fights into his professional career is already fighting, according to many experts, to rank himself amongst the sport’s greatest fighters.
From technical darling to must watch entertainment, he elevated not only in the minds of the boxing analysts and critics but also to the fans, making himself a fighter that can headline and sell Pay-Per-Views – a notion that many dispelled at the start of the year.
Winner: Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko
At the end of the day, boxing is an individual sport that celebrates the hard work, performance and outstanding gifts of individuals, and although Frampton overcame this year’s toughest schedule and fought impressively, no one fighter has really deserved the honour more than Vasyl Lomachenko has this year.
“Hi-tech” started the year as a star on the rise and ends it with many saying that he is not only changing the way people fight but that he may be the best fighter that the world has ever seen. If that is not Fighter of the Year worthy nothing is.
Who do you think was the best boxer of 2016? Let us know in the comments section below.