Monday, January 2, 2023

The 2022 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

It's that time of year again, to hand out the annual boxing hardware. Although I don't believe that 2022 will be remembered as a particularly strong year for the sport, the winners deserve to be honored and commemorated. So, let's get right to it! 

Here are the 2022 Saturday Night Boxing Awards (the 12th annual edition), with accolades given for Fighter, Fight, Knockout, Round, Upset, Trainer, Promoter, Network and Referee. 

Fighter of the Year: Dmitry Bivol

Dmitrii Bivol entered 2022 having lost much of his career momentum. Once upon a time he was an HBO Boxing darling, with dominant victories over solid light heavyweights such as Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. But he was hurt badly in a fight against Joe Smith in 2019 and after a lengthy time off during the pandemic, looked listless in scraping by with a win over unheralded Craig Richards. 

Bivol's first fight of 2022 was to be against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, the two-time Saturday Night Boxing Fighter of the Year (2019, 2021), who had just completed a tremendous run at super middleweight to become undisputed champ. In addition, Alvarez had already knocked out a light heavyweight champion (Sergey Kovalev) in 2019. So, did Bivol represent another instance of brilliant matchmaking from Canelo and his team, picking off a champion removed from his best, or would this be an example of Canelo biting off more than he could chew? 

Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

The answer to this question became obvious within the first few rounds of their fight, where Bivol dominated with his speed and control of range. Bivol beat Alvarez during every phase of the fight. With his superior hand speed and pinpoint counters, he won almost all of the battles in the center of the ring. When Alvarez went to the ropes in the middle rounds, Bivol again demonstrated his superiority, by picking his shots beautifully and not getting sucked into a war. 

And it wasn't just a backfoot demonstration by Bivol. When he decided to go forward, he bested Canelo with quick combinations and avoided damage. Bivol did get hit with a handful of big shots throughout the match, but he took them well, and was never really troubled during the fight. Although the judges had the fight close (115-113), it really wasn't. Bivol defanged one of the top talents in the sport, and made it look easy. 

Later in the year Bivol dominated undefeated Gilberto Ramirez, a former super middleweight champ who had become a contender at 175 lbs. In the ring, the gulf in class between Bivol and Ramirez was vast. Bivol could do whatever he wanted. His speed and accuracy flummoxed Ramirez, who didn't feel comfortable letting his hands go. It was a masterful display of boxing and ring generalship. 

2022 was Bivol's year. He elevated himself from a champion, of which there are many in the sport, to the highest level in boxing: the elite of the elite. 

Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:

2021: Saul Alvarez
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: Leigh Wood-Michael Conlan 

What I'll remember most about boxing from 2022 is Leigh Wood (and pardon my French here) getting his shit kicked in for more than half his fight, close to being stopped on multiple occasions, and then somehow finding the internal fortitude to not just fight his way back into the match, but to knock Michael Conlan clear out of the ring in the last round. It was the stuff dreams are made of, fairy tale land. 

From the opening round, things started poorly for Wood (who was defending his secondary featherweight title). Conlan, a crafty switch hitter not necessarily known for his power, dropped Wood with an overhand left out of the southpaw stance. And it wasn't a flash knockdown; Wood was badly hurt. And Conlan kept going back to that same shot in the subsequent rounds, landing it at will.

Wood (left) and Conlan in an epic battle of attrition
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

But it was a strange performance from Conlan in that although he was hurting Wood, he didn't have the temperament to go for the finish. He was content to land a couple of big bombs a round instead of stepping on the gas to try to end the fight. 

By the middle rounds it became clear that Conlan only wanted to work in spurts. Perhaps he had spent a lot of energy unloading his big power shots; maybe the enormity of the moment, being the away fighter in the biggest opportunity of his career, got to him; but let's also give Wood credit for his body attack. Although Wood lost most of the rounds in the first half of the fight, whenever he could he would go to Conlan's body with his best power shots. 

As the fight progressed, Conlan wasn't landing with the same sting and Wood felt more comfortable imposing himself physically. Toward the end of the 11th, Wood scored a knockdown during a brief tussle in the middle of the ring. It was a flash knockdown and not the cleanest contact, but it was a 10-8 round for Wood. Could the fight still be on the table for him? 

In the final round, Wood kept marching forward behind his vociferous hometown support. In the concluding sequence of the fight, Conlan retreated to the ropes and Wood blasted through Conlan's defenses, knocking him out of the ring (more on this later).

Wood-Conlan is an advertisement for boxing at its elemental best, an epic battle of attrition. It's fights like this one that build and bind fans' allegiance to the sport. Wood-Conlan captured the spirit and magic of prizefighting at its best.

Previous SNB Fights of the Year: 

2021: Fury-Wilder III
2020: Zepeda-Baranchyk
2019: Inoue-Donaire
2018: Chisora-Takam
2017: Joshua-Klitschko
2016: Vargas-Salido
2015: Miura-Vargas
2014: Coyle-Brizuela
2013: Bradley-Provodnikov
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
2011: Rios-Acosta

Knockout of the Year: Leigh Wood TKO 12 Michael Conlan

As referenced above, Wood was down early in his fight against Conlan and badly hurt multiple times, but he was able to crawl his way back into the match. Picking away at Conlan with body shots and lead hooks, Wood started to impose himself late in the fight. He scored a knockdown at the end of the 11th round and heading into the 12th, somehow, after all he had endured, he was the fresher fighter. 

With two minutes left in the 12th, both fighters exchanged power shots with Wood getting the better of the action. Wood's final right hook in this sequence forced Conlan back to the ropes. Wood pressed forward, trapping Conlan. 

Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Wood threw out four quick, pawing jabs that Conlan evaded, but Conlan only moved his head not his hands – one glove remained by his side while the other was below his waist. Wood’s jab flurry forced Conlan to lose his defensive posture, creating the perfect opening. Wood then landed a hard, short right hand on the right side of Conlan's face that turned out his lights and sent him crashing through the ropes. The action was so quick and sudden that multiple replays were needed to confirm how Wood was able to accomplish this stunning feat. 

There were better one-punch knockouts in 2022, but you aren't going to find a stoppage as dramatic as this one. Wood was just about done and dusted earlier in the fight and somehow had the perseverance, the will and, most importantly, the execution to send Michael Conlan through the ropes. It was an incredible turn of events. Wood's stoppage was 2022's signature boxing moment.  

Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:

2021: Gabe Rosado KO 3 Bektemir Melikuziev
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: Mauricio Lara-Emilio Sanchez Round 3

Emilio Sanchez had been dropped by Mauricio Lara in the first round of their fight and hurt badly in the second. Instead of trying to outbox Lara, which Sanchez's trainer Manny Robles said was their game plan, Sanchez was determined to go toe-to-toe. In the third round, Sanchez changed the dynamic of the fight by landing a hard straight right hand in an exchange with just over two minutes left in the round. That punch tempered Lara's aggression. Sanchez then jumped on this opportunity, connecting with pulverizing uppercuts with both hands, landing four in quick succession. These shots took the wind out of Lara's sails and he spent most of the next minute trying to recuperate. 

Sanchez continued to apply pressure with his forward movement and lead jabs. When Lara finally was able to recover, he started winging power shots. But Sanchez then connected with a counter left hook that forced Lara back to the ropes. With Lara weakening, Sanchez flurried and Lara was unable to stop the onslaught. Desperate, Lara alternated between holding on and throwing whatever he could to keep Sanchez away. But Sanchez kept attacking Lara's body with wicked left hooks, causing further damage. 

Lara (left) and Sanchez in an unforgettable 3rd round
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

A hook with 40 seconds left in the round hurt Lara so badly that he held onto Sanchez and walked him completely across the ring, eventually falling down when his balance gave out. It wasn't ruled a knockdown, which was the correct ruling, but Lara looked spent. When he got to his feet, referee Ray Corona warned him for holding and threatened to take away a point. 

With under ten seconds left in the round, Lara walked over to Sanchez, unconvincingly, but then uncorked a powerful left hook that stung Sanchez. He followed up with a right hand that forced Sanchez to take a backward step. Sanchez then retreated to the corner where Lara connected with a vicious double left hook combo to the body and head. Lara then cuffed Sanchez with a wild right hand and Sanchez moved back to the next available corner. With Sanchez's legs gone and Lara in hot pursuit, Lara connected with a hard right hand to the head, a left hook to the head, a right hook/uppercut to the head that began to send Sanchez down and a final left hook to the head that dropped Sanchez flat on his back below the bottom rope. Sanchez was done and Corona immediately stopped the fight. 

Within 30 seconds both fighters were in danger of being stopped. Lara ultimately had more firepower and better recuperative powers. It was an insane round of boxing where in an instant Sanchez went from springing the upset of his career to being a footnote in Lara's continued rise in the featherweight division. Thrilling stuff. 

Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:

2021: Kenshiro Teraji-Masamichi Yabuki Round 9
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: Hector Luis Garcia UD Chris Colbert

Chris Colbert was supposed to be a star. Hailing from New York, he was flashy in the ring and brash out of it. He had already starred in a documentary, "CounterPunch," and more than a few in the sport regarded him as a phenom. He could switch hit in the ring effortlessly, his punch placement was pinpoint, and the timing on his counters was special. 2022 was supposed to be his year. He was set to face Roger Gutierrez for a 130-lb. belt before Gutierrez had to withdraw on late notice. In stepped Hector Luis Garcia, who was a relatively unknown fighter from the Dominican Republic (just 2 of his 14 previous fights had been outside of the D.R.).

But no one told Garcia that he was there to be the "opponent." From the opening bell Garcia attacked Colbert relentlessly, yet he displayed significant craft. His onslaught wasn't crude, just merciless in its effectiveness. Garcia's success made the lightning-handed Colbert reluctant to throw. And as the fight progressed, Garcia demonstrated that his fast start wasn't a fluke. He kept hammering away at Colbert, bludgeoning him with big body shots and combinations to the head. In the seventh Garcia scored a knockdown and Colbert was reeling. 

Late sub Garcia (left) dominated the highly touted Colbert
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey

Garcia's beating of Colbert was so comprehensive that Colbert spent the championship rounds of the fight in pure survival mode, literally running away from contact, happy to make it to the final bell; he had been thoroughly dominated. 

To put an exclamation point on an incredible win, Garcia defeated Gutierrez later in the year to win a world title, but it was the Colbert performance that put him on the map. Garcia, a southpaw and an Olympian, displayed an intoxicating package of aggression and refinement.  I'm not sure if Colbert, who hasn't fought since the defeat, has yet to figure out what happened to him that night. He got run over by a freight train.

Previous SNB Upsets of the Year:  

2021: George Kambosos SD Teofimo Lopez
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: Derrick James

James, a previous SNB Trainer of the Year for 2017, had a sublime 2022. It's not just that his major fighters (Jermell Charlo, Errol Spence and Frank Martin) won their matchups this year, it's that they dominated excellent competition. With Charlo and Martin in particular, you could see them improve before our eyes, with Charlo finally becoming a finished product and Martin demonstrating that he's a serious contender in the lightweight division. 

I think James' greatest success this year was how he was able to raise Charlo's performance level in the rematch against Brian Castano. I think that Castano was unfortunate to get a draw when they fought in 2021. In the corner during that fight, James beseeched Charlo to stop looking for the knockout and box Castano more, yet Charlo often ignored those instructions, and it was to his detriment. 

Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

But in the rematch, Charlo implemented a number of adjustments. Most importantly, he stayed off the ropes, where Castano had his best periods of success in their first fight. Furthermore, Charlo demonstrated his full range of offensive gifts: leading and countering, using his jab to set things up, going to the body, utilizing all of his power shots. He wasn't left-hook happy or selling out for the knockout. He stayed within himself. He tried to win rounds. Ultimately, he dismantled Castano with a steady dose of debilitating power punches, especially body shots, and he stopped Castano in the tenth round. The knockout did come, but it was through Charlo displaying his manifold gifts, realizing that when employing his full arsenal, he could fight at a higher level than Castano, and James deserves credit for Charlo buying into this.  

James also had high-profile fights with Errol Spence against fellow welterweight titlist Yordenis Ugas and Frank Martin facing the undefeated Michel Rivera. In both matchups, James' fighter dominated proceedings and took away the opponent's best weapon. Ugas' counter right hand was rarely successful while Rivera never was able to establish his jab. James' fighters exhibited technical and tactical mastery over their opponents in the ring. He has become one of the best trainers in the sport

Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:

2021: Eddy Reynoso
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: No Award Given  

Allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment. If we really want to memorialize boxing in 2022 then we have to remember that the year featured several big fights that didn't get made, such as Spence-Crawford, Joshua-Fury and Davis-Garcia. You will notice that all of the sport's major promoters in the U.S. and the U.K. had at least one boxer who was involved in these failed mega-fights. 

Certainly there were memorable fights in 2022, with great performances and thrilling action. However, the health of boxing is predicated on big events. They are crucial in elevating boxing beyond its hardcore base; they can capture the imagination of a larger sporting public. Mega-fights are vital in expanding the economic footprint of the sport, with fighters making career-high paydays and promoters, managers and networks taking their cut, ensuring that they remain engaged in maximizing boxing's economic potential. 

So, in this regard, the major promoters failed the sport in 2022. Boxing squandered several significant opportunities to expand its base this year and I hope that the powers that be in 2023 realize that cutting up a pool of imaginary money isn't the same thing as cutting up a pool of actual money. Boxing needs its promoters to be good stewards for the sport and to realize that "winning" a negotiation only matters if a big fight takes place. It was often frustrating to be a fan of boxing in 2022 and the promoters were a big reason why. There will be no award given for Promoter of the Year this year and none of the big promoters should feel particularly content with their overall contribution to the sport: They let their sport down. 

Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:

2021: Premier Boxing Champions
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: ESPN

2022 was the year where ESPN and its companion streaming format, ESPN+, demonstrated the power and breadth of their overall boxing offerings. In addition to ESPN's regular American-based Top Rank offerings (which were solid, but not spectacular), ESPN presented several meaningful fights and fight cards from around the globe. Whether it was Inoue-Donaire 2 or Teraji-Kyoguchi in Japan, Fury-Whyte or Joyce-Parker in England, or Yoka-Bakole in France, the overall quality of matchups presented by ESPN's platforms was excellent. 

Now, let's not be naive here. Understand that nothing gets put on ESPN without Top Rank's blessing and for that, the promoter deserves a lot of credit. I'm not going to pretend that promoters didn't do anything good in 2022. In this instance I think that ESPN (with Top Rank as its content provider and conduit to other major fights) delivered a lot of value for boxing fans. 

Previous SNB Networks of the Year:

2021: Showtime
2020: ESPN
2019: DAZN
2018: Showtime
2017: Showtime
2016: Sky Sports
2015: No award given
2014: ESPN
2013: Showtime
2012: BoxNation

Referee of the Year: David Fields

Perhaps it's time to rename this award after Fields, for this is the third time that he has taken home the honors in this category. In one night in November with two different fights, Fields once again showed why he is among the elite of his profession. 

In the main event, Fields made the unpopular but correct choice of disqualifying the hometown fighter, Montana Love, for throwing his opponent Steve Spark out of the ring. Now, there were a lot of political factors that could have mucked up a lesser referee's decision making. Love was in the highest-profile fight of his career, just after signing with Matchroom Boxing. In addition, Spark wasn't necessarily hurt by the infraction. 

Fields (right) gives Love a count after a knockdown
Photo courtesy of Boxingscene

But Fields wisely disregarded the outcome instead of the intention of the action. What Love did was inexcusable, far beyond the rules of professional boxing. His conduct could have led to significant bodily harm, and it was 100% intentional. The disqualification was the correct move. Fields demonstrated the professional judgment to make the correct call and the convictions not to backtrack on his initial assessment. It was decision unpopular with the hometown crowd and the house promoter, but it was absolutely correct. 

In an earlier fight on the card, Fields refereed a war between Thomas Mattice and Christian Tapia. Mattice knocked down Tapia in the second round and had him badly hurt at various points in the first four rounds of the fight. A lesser referee would have stopped the fight, but Tapia showed tremendous recuperative powers. Even after absorbing significant punishment, he kept coming and had moments of real success, winning several rounds in the back half of the fight. Mattice needed to fight his heart out to win the match, and he did just that. Because of Fields' expert professional judgement, fans were treated to a memorable war. Fields understood what he was looking at, that the fighter who was down, and badly hurt, still had more to give. And he was proven correct. Overall, these two fights showcased a referee at the absolute top of his game. 

Previous SNB Referees of the Year:

2021: Mark Lyson
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

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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