After a year that was curtailed by the COVID pandemic, boxing returned in 2021 with a full slate of compelling offerings. 2021 will be remembered for significant upsets and unification matches, including three undisputed fights: at junior welterweight, junior middleweight and super middleweight. Although boxing fans didn't get all of the big fights that they wanted (and frankly, this will never occur), there was more than enough quality to go around and some deserving award winners.
Here are the 2021 Saturday Night Boxing Awards (the 11th annual edition), with accolades given for Fighter, Fight, Knockout, Round, Upset, Trainer, Promoter, Network and Referee.
Fighter of the Year: Saul Alvarez
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez made history in 2021, becoming the undisputed super middleweight champion. He fought three times during the year and stopped each opponent: Avni Yildirim, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant; the last two were undefeated titleholders.
|Canelo with all the 168-lb. belts|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin
As Alvarez has moved up in weight over the past few years, he has perfected a come-forward style that relies on power punches and defensive head movement. Even though he lacked the foot speed of Saunders or Plant, he was able to impose his style on both opponents. It's also clear that Canelo is fighting at his optimal weight class. His endurance and conditioning are now more consistent. He also doesn't waste punches. Everything is thrown with purpose and usually with bad intentions. And his punching power is devastating at the weight.
Canelo's activity level and quality of opposition also work in his favor. He's not out of the gym for too long and this has helped his consistency. Furthermore, he is now able to deal with difficult styles with more ease. In the past, movers such as Saunders and Plant could have led to potential losses, but he has now proven he can defeat that style without any controversy. Canelo's march to undisputed status at 168 has been one of the highlights of 2021. He also becomes the first two-time Saturday Night Boxing Fighter of the Year.
Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:
2020: Teofimo Lopez
2019: Saul Alvarez
2018: Oleksandr Usyk
2017: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
2016: Carl Frampton
2015: Floyd Mayweather
2014: Naoya Inoue
2013: Adonis Stevenson
2012: Nonito Donaire
2011: Andre Ward
Fight of the Year: Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder 3
Fury-Wilder 3 is my pick for the best heavyweight fight of the past 20 years. Featuring five knockdowns, wild swings in momentum and both boxers giving everything they had in the ring, Fury-Wilder 3 was far more than a sporting contest; it was a fight for survival, almost primal in nature. Fury scored knockdowns in the 3rd, 10th and 11th while Wilder dropped Fury twice in the fourth. And although Fury winning by knockout (11th round KO) wasn't surprising given their second fight, the end result was less meaningful than the action that preceded it. This is a fight to show non-boxing fans; it was a perfect advertisement for the thrills that boxing can provide.
|Fury and Wilder go toe-to-toe|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
The fight highlighted the considerable talents of both combatants. Fury showcased his unusually large arsenal of punches for a heavyweight: jabs, left and right hooks, uppercuts, straight rights and body shots. He also further demonstrated the development of his inside fighting skills. His ability to grapple, use his body to lay on Wilder, and work in the clinch helped to deplete Wilder; it wasn't just his punching that led to victory.
Wilder uncorked his missile-like right hand in the fourth round, but he also displayed additional skills that weren't present in the first two Fury fights. He jabbed to the body well to start the fight. He landed a couple of hellacious right uppercuts. He also countered well at points.
Ultimately, Fury was the more versatile fighter, but he had to take some huge shots to get the win. Nothing was given to him and his victory was not guaranteed.
The Fury-Wilder trilogy will be remembered for producing thrilling moments in the ring and their third fight will become part of heavyweight boxing lore. This fight will be watched for generations to come.
Previous SNB Fights of the Year:
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
Knockout of the Year: Gabe Rosado KO 3 Bektemir Melikuziev
In the beginning of the fight Bektemir Melikuziev, known as Bek the Bully, was having his way with Gabe Rosado. Throwing menacing straight left hands to the body and sharp right hooks to the head, Bek forced Rosado to take a knee in the first round to stave off additional damage.
|Rosado celebrates after his knockdown|
Photo courtesy of Stacey Snider
But the veteran Rosado started to notice some patterns. Before Melikuziev would throw his left to the body, there would be a slight hitch or delay in his delivery. In the third round Rosado waited for this hitch, and he unfurled the punch of his career. As soon as Bek cocked his left hand back, Rosado beat him with a straight right that connected with maximum force. Instantly, Rosado knew. He high-stepped it across the ring and celebrated triumphantly. The fight was over and in a career full of close losses and disappointments, belatedly Rosado had his signature moment.
What made this knockout even more impressive was that there had been no softening up of Bek prior to the knockout. Rosado took out a rising prospect who was at full capacity. It was the perfect punch at the perfect time.
Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:
2020: (tie) Alexander Povetkin KO 5 Dillian Whyte and Gervonta
Davis KO 6 Leo Santa Cruz
2019: Nonito Donaire KO 6 Stephon Young
2018: Naoya Inoue KO 1 Juan Carlos Payano
2017: Zolani Tete KO 1 Siboniso Gonya
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: Kenshiro Teraji-Masamichi Yabuki, Round 9
This little-seen fight from Japan was an absolute treat. Yabuki scored one of the upsets of the year when he defeated light flyweight champion Teraji by tenth-round stoppage. And the fight provided unexpected surprises throughout. Although Teraji was supposed to be the more polished and technical fighter, in the early rounds of the bout Yabuki was superior, especially when countering on the inside. But eventually Teraji's pressure and work rate would lead to a tightening up of the scorecards.
The ninth round was a thrilling battle with both fighters staggered at different times in non-stop action. In a dramatic moment, Teraji literally throws blood off the side of his face before uncorking a barrage of power punches, which forces Yabuki back to the ropes. In another great moment in the round, Yabuki is getting peppered with punches along the ropes and then explodes out of the corner with menacing punches that stun Teraji. Yabuki then takes the initiative and marches forward behind power shots, forcing Teraji, who had been the aggressor, to the other side of the ring.
For those who like action along the ropes, this round was an example where both fighters did tremendous work. Teraji chopped away at Yabuki's body with left hooks and right uppercuts. And while Yabuki couldn't match Teraji's volume, he countered with brilliant right hands to the body and right uppercuts to the head. Overall, Teraji would get the best of the round, but not without taking significant punishment. There aren't too many available streams of this fight floating around, but if you can find one, check this gem out.
Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:2020: Jose Zepeda-Ivan Baranchyk Round 5
2019: Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Round 3
2018: Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury Round 12
2017: Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko Round 5
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: George Kambosos SD Teofimo Lopez
George Kambosos was an IBF mandatory challenger for Teofimo Lopez. In his previous fight, he had been fortunate to get the nod over the tricky Lee Selby, winning by split decision. It's not that Kambosos was a fighter undeserving of a title shot, but it was tough to foresee areas where he would have advantages over Lopez, who had dethroned Vasiliy Lomachenko in his last bout.
|Kambosos (right) springs the upset|
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland
But this is why they fight the fights, and in this case, the bout was postponed multiple times over several months before it finally happened. According to Kambosos, he continued his training throughout the year, whereas Lopez had COVID, family problems, promotional difficulties and a huge case of hubris. He and his father were expecting an easy knockout.
Lopez started the fight guns blazing, throwing every punch with knockout intentions. He connected with several power shots, but they were only coming one at a time. By the end of the round, Kambosos timed Lopez and dropped him with a beautiful counter right hand.
Kambosos seized this moment and dominated the next several rounds of the fight. Featuring intelligent, compact boxing, he was far more active and he landed impressive right hands, jabs and left hooks. He also got the spacing right. He understood that Lopez was just trying to wing power punches. So, he used his legs and wasn't too greedy. He realized that Lopez wasn't interested in winning rounds and took advantage of that.
Lopez did eventually come back into the fight and dropped Kambosos in the tenth, but Kambosos dominated the eleventh, perhaps his best round of the match, and had a solid final round. Ultimately, Kambosos won by split decision, but all three judges were perhaps a little too kind to Lopez; he didn't have a legitimate case for winning.
On a final note, some fighters don't like to watch tape of their opponents, claiming that what you see in the ring on fight night might not resemble what you've observed on tape. Although I'm not advocating that position, Lopez-Kambosos is an example of where the tape may not always be the final story. Kambosos scarcely resembled the rugged plodder who fought against Selby. Against Lopez he was a polished boxer with fluid skills and a multiplicity of weapons. Lopez and his father didn't foresee that level of improvement in Kambosos, and perhaps few others would have either, but Lopez and his corner never made any impactful adjustments. And that played a significant role in why they lost.
Previous SNB Upsets of the Year:2020: Robert Helenius TKO 4 Adam Kownacki
2019: Andy Ruiz TKO 7 Anthony Joshua
2018: Rob Brant UD Ryota Murata
2017: Caleb Truax MD James DeGale
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: Eddy Reynoso
Even if Reynoso only trained Canelo during 2021 then he would still garner serious consideration for Trainer of the Year. However, his year included far more creditable work than just the results of his most famous pupil. Reynoso helped set the game plan for Oscar Valdez's destruction of Miguel Berchelt. He saw Ryan Garcia notch the most impressive win of his career over Luke Campbell. He won an intriguing 50/50 heavyweight prospect matchup with Frank Sanchez over Efe Ajagba. And he saw Andy Ruiz return to the win column, with a victory over Chris Arreola.
In fact, Reynoso didn't lose a notable fight all year. He won fights as favorites and as underdogs. He demonstrated his abilities with fighters of vastly different skill sets and styles. In addition, he has helped to improve his fighters. Witness Oscar Valdez using his foot speed and clever angles to beat Berchelt or Garcia's ability to go to the body even with his tall frame. It was a great year for Reynoso and he becomes the first two-time winner of the Saturday Night Boxing Trainer of the Year.
Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:
2020: Teofimo Lopez Sr.
2019: Eddy Reynoso
2018: Anatoly Lomachenko
2017: Derrick James
2016: Shane McGuigan
2015: Peter Fury
2014: Freddie Roach
2013: Kenny Porter
2012: Robert McCracken
2011: Robert Garcia
Promoter of the Year: Premier Boxing Champions
I don't think that there was one boxing promoter/entity that had a truly magnificent year, but I believe that Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) was the best of the bunch. They were responsible for several of the best fights of the year, including Fury-Wilder 3 (co-promoted), Apochi-Glanton, Fulton-Figueroa, Charlo-Castano and Davis-Cruz. They also put together a series of outstanding fights in the junior featherweight division.
|Charlo-Castano was one of 2021's undisputed fights|
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott
Most of PBC's top fights went to Showtime in 2021 (see the next award) while Fox has seemingly become a platform for several of their young fighters. In a perfect world, perhaps PBC would use the higher visibility of Fox for larger fights, but nevertheless, the company delivered quality throughout the year, and in 2021 that was more than enough to win the Promoter of the Year award.
Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:
2020: Top Rank
2019: Matchroom Boxing
2018: Premier Boxing Champions
2017: K2 Promotions
2016: Matchroom Boxing
2015: Golden Boy Promotions
2014: Matchroom Boxing
2013: (tie) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank
2012: Golden Boy Promotions
2011: Top Rank
Network of the Year: Showtime
After a couple of down years, Showtime rebounded with a strong 2021. Showtime sports head Stephen Espinoza did an excellent job in working with the PBC to get many of their best fights on his network or via Showtime pay per view. In particular, Showtime (and PBC) rewarded boxing fans with a series of great fights at junior featherweight and junior middleweight.
At 122 lbs. this year, Stephen Fulton demonstrated that he is among the best fighters in the sport while Brandon Figueroa, Ra'eese Aleem and former champ Danny Roman have proven that they are formidable. At 154, Showtime broadcasted the undisputed fight between Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano. It was an excellent match, which resulted in a draw, and it certainly delivered value to their subscribers.
ShoBox, Showtime's developmental series, went missing through large stretches of the year. I'm sure that the pandemic played a role in this, but hopefully we will see more of ShoBox in 2022; it plays a crucial role in the North American boxing developmental ladder.
Previous SNB Networks of the Year:
2016: Sky Sports
2015: No award given
Referee of the Year: Mark Lyson
In the fourth round of the Terri Harper-Alycia Baumgardner fight, Baumgardner connects with a short, powerful right hand and Harper completely freezes. She's out on her feet, but somehow she remains balanced in the center of the ring, with her hands down and her back towards Baumgardner. She's in no position to defend herself. Baumgardner rushes toward Harper and is about to throw a left hand, but referee Mark Lyson is quick enough to get between the two fighters and call off the bout.
This all happens in an instant. Many refs wouldn't be in position to see the damage of Baumgardner's punch or wouldn't be close enough/fast enough to stop the action. But by not letting Baumgardner connect with that left hand, Lyson saved perhaps untold damage for Harper.
A referee has a series of responsibilities to ensure that a fight transpires according to the rules, but what's paramount in all of their duties is fighter protection. Lyson was a credit to his profession on this night. He ensured that a defenseless fighter was saved from further punishment. In a normal year, the exemplary work that Nevada referee Russell Mora did in several high-profile fights would have won this award, but Harper-Baumgardner was a special circumstance. It was an unusual occurrence in the ring and Lyson handled the moment perfectly. He was in the right position and reacted incisively to limit further damage. His performance was an example of refereeing at its finest.
Previous SNB Referees of the Year:
2020: Michiaki Someya
2019: No award given
2018: Jack Reiss
2017: David Fields
2016: Raul Caiz Sr.
2015: David Fields
2014: Steve Smoger
2013: Tony Weeks
2012: Eddie Claudio