As 2018 ends boxing’s popularity has mushroomed thanks to stacks of fights and some brilliant individual performances throughout the year.
BoxNation pundit Steve Lillis delivers his stand-out highlights and moments of 2018 (in no particular order):
LEE SELBY V JOSH WARRINGTON
Frank Warren was certain that Warrington would cause a huge upset and boy did he achieve that ripping the IBF Featherweight Title from the Welshman. It was a special night with 25,000 fans roaring Warrington on at Elland Road and a set from Leeds favourite musical sons the Kaiser Chiefs.
TYSON FURY COMEBACK
What an amazing return by the Lineal Heavyweight Champion. 12 months ago he emerged from a dark place, but managed to shed eight stone and even getting back in the ring to beat unknown Sefer Seferi and then former World Title challenger Francesco Pianeta was an achievement.
DEONTAY WILDER V TYSON FURY
Only shocking scoring robbed Fury of boxing’s greatest ever comeback and he had to be content with the draw. He may be the uncrowned WBC title holder, but after rising from being unconscious on the canvas in the 12th round, Fury became the undisputed people’s Champion.
ALEX SAUCEDO V LENNY ZAPPAVIGNA
BoxNation brought this x-rated clash, which is my personal favourite fight of 2018. Saucedo came through a war in seven rounds. Round four was the highlight when both teetered on the brink of defeat particularly Saucedo.
DEONTAY WILDER v LUIS ORTIZ
Wilder might have had a lucky escape against Fury, but his stock rose in the win against ageing, but dangerous Luis Ortiz. The American had to show a granite chin, but finally turned things his way clubbing the Cuban to defeat in round 10.
CANELO ALVAREZ V GENNADY GOLOVKIN 2
Many believed the fight was tainted because of Canelo’s dope test issues, but after 12 rounds that was forgotten by many. GGG was unlucky to get a draw in their first fight and felt cheated again as Canelo won a majority decision in a contest of the highest quality.
JORGE LINARES v VASYL LOMACHENKO
The sort of performance why many have Lomachenko number one in their pound-for-pound rankings. To become a three-weight World Champion in 12 fights is special, but the manner in which he battered WBA Lightweight Champion Linares was something to remember. He was handicapped by serious shoulder injury from round two, dropped in round six but still controlled the fight breaking Linares heart for a late stoppage.
TONY BELLEW V DAVID HAYE 2
Liverpool’s Bellew left Haye’s remarkable career in ruins beating him for the second time. He teased Haye throughout and put him out of his misery in round five. Nobody can doubt what an event it was as Bellew confirmed his status as Liverpool’s second best boxer ever after John Conteh.
OLEKSANDR USYK V TONY BELLEW
Usyk was putting all four major Cruiserweight belts on the line and this time it was brave Bellew whose career was ended. It was a fine last stand, but Usyk’s knockout performance showed why he can be classed as an all-time great at the weight.
ZELFA BARRETT V RONNIE CLARK
It’s not a result that will be remembered for decades, but Clark’s points won over the hyped Mancunian was one of domestic boxing’s shocks of the year. It was a night when Clark would not be denied and Zelfa’s bubble was burst. Clark is now looking forward to a British Super-Featherweight Title crack against Sam Bowen in February.
ANTHONY JOSHUA V JOSEPH PARKER
The fight was billed as ‘Road to Undisputed’. Joshua’s IBF and WBA Titles were on the line and Parker was offering his WBO belt in their Cardiff clash. Parker was a huge disappointment and although AJ went 12 rounds he was rarely troubled.
ADONIS STEVENSON V BADOU JACK
Stevenson clung onto his title with a majority draw after a thriller in Toronto and fight that showed why the Light-Heavyweight division reeks with excitement. Both showed extraordinary courage in a bloody battle where Stevenson just about survived the final round
GEORGE GROVES v CALLUM SMITH
Defeat to Smith in the WBSS Super-Middleweight final, which also saw him lose his WBA crown, could signal the end of George’s magnificent career. Their fight in Saudi Arabia was like a passing of the guard and in 2019 Smith deserves to become mainstream. The WBSS tournaments have been excellent in 2018.
SRISAKET RUNGVISAI V JUAN ESTRADA
Too often the small men are forgotten but what these two 115lb brutes delivered back in February was another level. Rungvasai made a second successful defence of his WBC Super-Flyweight Title by a majority decision after a fight that swung both ways throughout.
JARRETT HURD V ERISLANDY LARA
Pure boxing drama was unexpectedly served up in a fight Hurd was expected to romp. IBF Super-Welterweight Champion Hurd was trailing going into the final round but with half a minute left dropped the Cuban to take a 10-8 round and snatch a last gasp split decision. It was a serious Fight of the Year contender.
One of the saddest happenings in boxing during 2019 came when Stevenson suffered a serious brain injury after being knocked out by Oleksandr Gvozdyk in a WBC Light-Heavyweight Title defence in early December. It reminded us of boxing’s pitfalls just a few hours before Wilder and Fury did battle.
The U.S. cable channel was the serious home of boxing for fans across the pond for more than 40 years showing many of the sport’s epics, but in recent times it has been run down and in December the network threw in the towel. The channel had become mocked, but nobody should forget what it did for modern boxing.