Monday, January 1, 2018

The 2017 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

A boxing year that delivered numerous high-profile matches and exciting fights, 2017 will be remembered as a strong year for the sport. After such an enjoyable boxing campaign, it's time to hand out some hardware. Here is the seventh annual Saturday Night Boxing Awards. Similar to past years, awards have been given for Fighter, Fight, Knockout, Round, Upset, Trainer, Promoter, Network and Referee of the Year. Without further ado, onto the awards! 

Fighter of the Year: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
Courtesy of HBO
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai entered 2017 as a virtual unknown to all except the hardest of the hardcore boxing cognoscenti. In 2014, he had given Carlos Cuadras a very tough fight before that bout was stopped due to a cut, resulting in Srisaket losing a technical decision. After that match, he resumed his career toiling in anonymity in his home country of Thailand. This past March he had another opportunity for a big fight, going up against Roman Gonzalez, the reigning pound-for-pound king in boxing. The oddsmakers didn't like Srisaket's chances. He was listed on some sites as more than a 10-1 underdog. (But that may be a case of the bookies not doing their homework, which happens every now and then.)

Immediately Srisaket made his presence felt in the fight by dropping Gonzalez in the first round. Gonzalez, known as a relentless offensive dynamo, was now in deep trouble as Srisaket peppered the defending junior bantamweight champion with a barrage of straight left hands and right hooks. 

Eventually Gonzalez settled into the fight and started landing his own damaging punches. Most of the middle rounds were Gonzalez's and it looked as though he was successful in staving off Srisaket's early threat. Srisaket, however, had no intention of yielding. He held his ground in the second half of the fight, matching Gonzalez's ferocity and intensity. Although Gonzalez was out-throwing and out-landing Srisaket in many of the latter rounds, Srisaket's hooks and crosses certainly did their share of damage. Gonzalez rallied to have an outstanding 12th round and the fight went to the cards. 

Srisaket was declared the winner by majority decision, which was unpopular in boxing circles. Scores were 114-112, 114-112 and 113-113 (Srisaket was docked a point in the 6th for a head butt). Many boxing observers had Gonzalez comfortably ahead in the fight. I scored it a draw, giving Srisaket credit in a number of latter rounds because I believed that his blows were more damaging. I didn't see the scores as a robbery, but in my estimation, Srisaket could only have won seven rounds at best. Two of the judges gave him every possible benefit of the doubt. 

As is often the custom in boxing, controversy leads to a rematch. In September, both fighters returned to the ring to settle the score. This time there was no doubt about the outcome. Srisaket was easily the fresher fighter of the two and consistently attacked in the opening rounds. Gonzalez remained cautious; he was non-committal about applying pressure, not a formula for success considering that he was the fighter who needed to win at close range. By the fourth round, Srisaket continued to unload with power shots, detonating massive hooks for which Gonzalez had no answer. Srisaket scored a knockdown and then moments later ended things with a pulverizing right hook. Gonzalez never saw the shot and remained supine on the canvas. 

By beating the pound-for-pound champion in such a conclusive fashion and performing extremely well in his initial bout with Gonzalez, Srisaket was the clear choice for me as Fighter of the Year. Although a number of boxers had impressive resumes in 2017, no one matched Srisaket's success against such a high level of competition.

Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:
2016: Carl Frampton
2015: Floyd Mayweather
2014: Naoya Inoue
2013: Adonis Stevenson
2012: Nonito Donaire
2011: Andre Ward


Fight of the Year: Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko:
Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
When last in the ring in November of 2015, Wladimir Klitschko turned in a listless performance against Tyson Fury. He was dominated over 12 rounds and couldn't pull the trigger. As a result, he lost his title belts and his position as the top heavyweight in the world. 2016 was full of dead ends for Klitschko. A rematch against Fury was announced and cancelled twice as Fury had an assortment of problems outside of the ring that resulted in his inability to fight. 

Meanwhile, Anthony Joshua, the British heavyweight star, won a title belt (one that had been stripped from Fury) in April of 2016. Joshua continued to mow down lesser fighters such as Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina but what he really needed was to defeat a top opponent, which would confer legitimacy on his heavyweight reign. Klitschko, looking to reestablish himself as the top guy in the division, volunteered his services, creating the type of mega-fight that the heavyweight division hadn't seen since the Tyson days. 90,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium to see if Joshua would emerge as the true heir apparent in the heavyweight division. Would he defeat an old master, confirming a new heavyweight era, or would the proud former champion teach the upstart a lesson? 

Immediately from the opening bell, Klitschko demonstrated that he had far more in the tank than he had displayed against Fury. Even though he was fighting at the almost ancient age of 41, he was light on his feet and used the ring to control the action. Overall, the first four rounds were tense and well-contested, as both fighters had periods of success. Klitschko scored at times with his jab while Joshua found a home for right hands and left hooks. 

The fifth round brought the fight into a new echelon as Joshua floored Klitschko early in the frame and, in a huge surprise, Klitschko went on the attack after the knockout, successfully hurting Joshua by the end of the round (see Round of the Year below for more details). In the sixth, Klitschko landed his patented one-two. Joshua tasted the canvas and was hurt. Klitschko got wild going for the knockout later in the round, missing with some huge left hooks, which gave Joshua needed time to tie-up. 

Klitschko continued to win the next few rounds while Joshua tried to recuperate. Klitschko jabbed and controlled the action, but in a controversial tactical decision, he didn't go for the kill. By the ninth round, Joshua caught his second wind and started to go on the offensive. After 10 rounds, it was still anyone's fight.  

The momentum changed once again in the beginning of the 11th round. Joshua landed a blistering right uppercut. Somehow, Klitschko remained on his feet, but the blow had done its intended damage. Within moments, Joshua's follow up assault had knocked Klitschko down again. Klitschko beat the count but his legs were shaky. Shortly thereafter, Joshua unleashed a beautiful right uppercut-left hook combination that sent Klitschko to the canvas for a third time in fight. Showing tremendous bravery, Klitschko made it to the feet; however, he had little left to offer. Joshua continued to fire power punches and referee David Fields had seen enough – he waved the fight off (see Referee of the Year Award below for more on Fields). 

Everyone associated with Joshua-Klitschko realized the enormity of the moment. The crowed showered Joshua with rapt and frenzied affection; he officially was their new heavyweight hero. Joshua was gut-checked in a manner he had never experienced in his professional career and demonstrated a stunning resolve. Klitschko, despite winding up on the losing end of the fight, exited the arena as a gallant warrior, going out on his shield in a crowed-pleasing war. In a poignant moment, the British fans in Wembley gave Klitschko a rousing ovation for his performance during his post-fight interview. In the end, the night was a victory for all.    

Previous SNB Fights of the Year:
2016: Vargas-Salido
2015: Miura-Vargas
2014: Coyle-Brizuela
2013: Bradley-Provodnikov
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
2011: Rios-Acosta


Knockout of the Year: Zolani Tete KO 1 Siboniso Gonya

Zolani Tete scored the Knockout of the Year with his first punch of the fight. Facing Siboniso Gonya, a fellow South African, Tete, a bantamweight world champion, lowered his eyes as if he was going to shoot a straight left to the body. This move forced Gonya to bring his hands down. Then Tete came back upstairs with a short right hook that landed perfectly on the chin. And with a snap of a finger the fight was over. Gonya remained on the canvas for several minutes. With a clever feint and perfect execution, Tete scored the signature moment of his career.

Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:
2016: Hassan N'Dam KO 1 Alfonso Blanco
2015: Yenifel Vincente KO 3 Juan Dominguez
2014: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson
2013: Stephen Smith KO 5 Gary Buckland
2012: Juan Manuel Marquez KO 6 Manny Pacquiao
2011: Takashi Uchiyama TKO 11 Jorge Solis 


Round of the Year: Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko Round 5
Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
The most surprising aspect of the fifth round of Joshua-Klitschko was not that Joshua knocked Klitschko down. Klitschko had been a frequent visitor to the canvas in his earlier years. That Klitschko made it to his feet after the knockdown should also not shock. Sam Peter dropped Wlad three times in their first fight, but Klitschko kept getting up. Before his bout was mercifully stopped against Corrie Sanders, Klitschko literally resembled one of those inflatable plastic punching bags. He was sent to the floor repeatedly but would rise just as fast. No, the most surprising aspect of the fifth round of Joshua-Klitschko was that after being hurt Klitschko attacked Joshua with a ferocity rarely seen throughout his career. 

Klitschko has never been known for his aggression. Despite two knockout weapons, he has been defined by his patience and caution. Most often he jabs to break down an opponent. Eventually he finds opportunities to land his straight right and left hook. 

But Klitschko briefly abandoned caution in the fifth against Joshua. Scoring with powerful left hooks and right hands, Klitschko deftly turned the tables on Joshua, who may have been temporarily punched out after scoring the knockdown. Klitschko was even throwing uppercuts and body shots, tactics rarely used throughout his long title reign. 

By the end of the round, Klitschko, the old fighter who had just hit the canvas, was gunning for the victory with a youthful enthusiasm while Joshua, the supposed fresh face of the division, looked like a truck had run over him. It was a truly unexpected turn of events. This round featured great work from both fighters, resulting in three minutes of sublime action – boxing at its best. 

Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:
2016: Edwin Rodriguez-Thomas Williams Jr. Round 2
2015: Edwin Rodriguez-Michael Seals Round 1
2014: Thomas Williams Jr.-Cornelius White Round 1
2013: Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov Round 12 
2012: Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Round 12
2011: Hernan Marquez-Luis Concepcion I Round 1


Upset of the Year: Caleb Truax MD James DeGale
Courtesy of BoxNation
Caleb Truax was selected as James DeGale's opponent for a few reasons: 1. Like DeGale, he was affiliated with Al Haymon. 2. He was in the top 15 of the IBF Rankings. 3. He wasn't considered to be a threat. A middling super middleweight, Truax didn't offer much in terms of knockout power and had always lost at the world-level. To DeGale, Truax was seen as a tune-up opponent. Nevertheless, DeGale-Truax demonstrates why fights aren't contested on paper. 

DeGale entered the ring against Truax coming off an 11-month layoff. His previous fight was a bruising draw against Badou Jack, where DeGale required shoulder and oral surgery after the fight, and also had a ruptured ear drum. 

From the start of DeGale-Truax, DeGale didn't look to be at his best. Although he possessed significant athletic advantages, he refused to remain in the center of the ring and consistently retreated to the ropes, which provided opportunities for Truax to land his power shots. Truax had big rounds in the fourth and fifth, hurting DeGale with straight right hands and uppercuts. DeGale was able to survive and win a few rounds as the fight progressed but Truax did the better work throughout much of the bout. Although DeGale won a few scattered rounds, the judges preferred Truax's consistent work rate and power punches. Truax would win via a majority decision. 

The betting houses gave Truax little chance of winning the fight. He was anywhere from a 15-1 to 30-1 underdog. Some gamblers claimed they saw him as much as a 40-1 dog. Nevertheless, for one night, Truax put it all together. Executing a terrific game plan and jumping on DeGale whenever the action was along the ropes, he defeated one of the best super middleweights in the world. For whatever else happens in Truax's career, he can one day retire knowing that he had been a world champion. 

Previous SNB Upsets of the Year:
2016: Joe Smith Jr. KO 1 Andrzej Fonfara
2015: Tyson Fury UD Wladimir Klitschko
2014: (tie) James de la Rosa UD Alfredo Angulo and Tommy Karpency SD Chad Dawson
2013: Jhonny Gonzalez KO 1 Abner Mares
2012: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO 6 Pongsaklek Wongjongkam


Trainer of the Year: Derrick James
Courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime
Dallas-based Derrick James achieved tremendous success in 2017 with two of his main fighters, Errol Spence Jr. and Jermell Charlo. In his highest-profile bout of the year, James helped guide Spence to a win over welterweight champion Kell Brook in Brook's hometown. Despite disadvantages in hand speed and world-level experience, Spence methodically broke down Brook on his way to earning an 11th-round stoppage. James's game plan of working the body and sacrificing quantity to land hard power shots paid off handsomely during the fight. By the second half of the match, Spence was clearly the fresher of the two fighters. James would return to America with a new world champion. 

Charlo had left Ronnie Shields for James, which was mildly controversial at the time in that his brother remained with Shields. Jermell had been regarded as the lighter-hitting puncher of the two Charlo brothers and perhaps the lesser talent. But Derrick James refused to believe in the scouting report. Instead of relying on cute boxing, Jermell's style changed under James's coaching. Charlo now sat down on his punches more frequently and fought with a more aggressive temperament. 

The results were stunning. Charlo destroyed Charles Hatley in three rounds in April. In October, Charlo scored one of the knockouts of the year by stopping highly-touted prospect Erickson Lubin with a sweet double jab-right uppercut combination in the first round. 

Spence dethroning a world champion and Charlo's metamorphosis into a feared puncher represented a spectacular year for James. The trainer stresses poise, power punching, punch placement and intelligent pressure. His results in 2017 suggest that he's a force to be reckoned with in the upper levels of boxing.  

Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:
2016: Shane McGuigan
2015: Peter Fury
2014: Freddie Roach
2013: Kenny Porter
2012: Robert McCracken
2011: Robert Garcia


Promoter of the Year: K2 Promotions

Tom Loeffler, who has been the Managing Director of K2 Promotions, has helped to turn an upstart company into one of the best promotional outfits in boxing. Without a deep roster of talent, Loeffler has played a significant role in cultivated boxers who have become international stars. He also believes in making big events whenever possible. In 2017 K2 Promotions helped to make a number of the best fights of the year, from Joshua-Klitschko to Gonzalez-Sor Rungvisai to Canelo-Golovkin. 

Although most of K2's top boxers experienced setbacks of one degree or another in 2017, no promotional company rivaled its willingness to make the best events of the year. K2 also put together the wildly successful Superfly card in September, which featured Gonzalez-Sor Rungvisai II and a spectacular fight between Carlos Cuadras and Juan Estrada. 

However, no company can successfully sustain itself with multiple years of its top fighters losing; the desire for big fights needs to be balanced with the long-term viability of an organization. If 2017 felt like a cash-out year for K2, perhaps Loeffler's announcement that he will be starting his own company, 360 Promotions, can help provide additional context for K2's actions in 2017. As of now, it seems that Loeffler will remain affiliated with K2, but it will be interesting to see how the chess board pieces get rearranged after his new entity takes shape. Nevertheless, boxing fans have K2 to thank for many of their favorite moments from 2017.  

Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:
2016: Matchroom Sport
2015: Golden Boy Promotions
2014: Matchroom Sport
2013: (tie) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions
2012: Golden Boy Promotions
2011: Top Rank Promotions


Network of the Year: Showtime

Here's a snapshot of the best fights on Showtime and its affiliated networks in 2017: Jack-DeGale, Khytrov-Aleem, Frampton-Santa Cruz II, Thurman-Garcia, Joshua-Klitschko, Brook-Spence, Broner-Garcia Mayweather-McGregor, Hurd-Trout, Baranchyk-Ramos and Berto-Porter. I'm sure there are a number of other quality fights that could have been included as well. Although HBO and Sky Sports certainly had good moments throughout the year, Showtime, by consistently televising high-quality fights, eclipsed all other major boxing networks in 2017.

Credit must be given to Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Sports.  Espinoza has retained quality control over the myriad fighters under the PBC banner. Power broker Al Haymon proposes scores of fights for Espinoza to consider every year, ranging in various levels of quality. In 2017, Espinoza did an admirable job in ensuring that Showtime received the best of the PBC content, while lesser offerings often were shipped to other networks. Espinoza has one major talent provider for Showtime's boxing program but he deftly navigated those challenging waters in 2017 to ensure that his network's subscribes received a superior boxing product. 

Previous SNB Networks of the Year:
2016: Sky Sports
2015: No award given
2014: ESPN
2013: Showtime
2012: BoxNation


Referee of the Year: David Fields
Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
David Fields is a low-profile referee based in New York and New Jersey. He doesn't have cute catch phrases and rarely calls attention to himself. However, when given the opportunity to ref big fights, he always seems to do an excellent job. In 2017, Fields wasn't particularly busy, only reffing 15 bouts, but his most significant assignment was a massive one: the heavyweight showdown between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. 

Fields's work during Joshua-Klitschko was outstanding. Both fighters hit the deck in that match and overall four knockdowns occurred. Despite both boxers being hurt at various points in the fight, Fields inspected each combatant throughout the match and let the action continue. He finally stopped the bout after Klitschko had been dropped twice in the 11th round and unable to defend himself against the ropes. Perhaps a few were disappointed that Fields concluded that contest while Klitschko was still on his feet. However, he gave the former champ multiple opportunities to work his way back into the fight. Overall, it was an outstanding performance. 

The first two-time winner of the Saturday Night Boxing Referee of the Year – he also did excellent work in 2015's Huck-Glowacki battle – Fields is clearly one of the best referees working in boxing today. Let's hope he doesn't remain anonymous for much longer. 

Previous SNB Referees of the Year:
2016: Raul Caiz Sr.
2015: David Fields
2014: Steve Smoger
2013: Tony Weeks
2012: Eddie Claudio

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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