Friday, January 28, 2022

Best of Boxing in 2021: Canelo Alvarez runs away with Fighter of the Year honors

The sport of boxing was Canelo Alvarez’s world in 2021 and the rest of us just existed in it. 

Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs), the 31-year-old Mexican superstar, lived up to his lofty reputation as the simultaneous pound-for-pound king and the sport’s biggest draw by winning three fights and unifying all four super middleweight world titles in less than one calendar year.  

This turned out to be as clear-cut a runaway vote as this award has seen in years. Let’s take a closer look at why Alvarez deserved such accolades and who else was in contention for honorable mention.  

Fighter of the Year 

Winner: Canelo Alvarez — 3-0 (def. Avni Yildirim, Billy Joe Saunders, Caleb Plant) 

During an era in which top fighters sometimes struggle to make two appearances in a single year, the reality of a worldwide pandemic only made things more difficult. Not for Alvarez, however, who completed a stretch of four fights in under 12 months dating back to December 2020. Although just three of Alvarez’s wins came within 2021, all three were stoppage wins in title fights, including two against unbeaten champions.  

Alvarez might have entered the new year as the consensus best boxer on the planet, but he cemented that status in a major way with his performance, becoming not just the first undisputed champion of the four-belt era at 168 pounds but fully unifying the titles in less than one year.

While Alvarez’s dismantling of Yildirim, a mandatory opponent who was largely undeserving of the opportunity, will get remembered as simply a footnote to his 2021 success, the two wins that followed over a six-month span against Saunders and Plant fully showcased what makes Alvarez so great.  

Both unbeaten champions brought difficult styles to the table as pure boxers who are hard to look good against. None of that stopped Alvarez, however, from taking his time in adjusting to their speed and timing before delivering a resounding finish.  

Having already become the face of the sport in the aftermath of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao era, it isn’t necessarily a surprise that Alvarez would find himself in this position as the most acclaimed critical and commercial fighter of his day. What has been astonishing to see, however, is the ease in which Alvarez has moved up in weight along the way, seeming to be almost more dangerous with each rise.

Second place: Oleksandr Usyk 1-0 (def. Anthony Joshua) 

The southpaw wizard from Ukraine cemented his name in the history books as an all-time great by unifying titles in a second weight class thanks to his upset of Joshua in September. Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) burst the bubble of many critics’ fears that the former undisputed cruiserweight champion was too small to compete among the division’s elites by walking Joshua down without succumbing to his opponent’s power. Usyk was as daring as he was tactically brilliant in securing a trio of world titles and likely securing a big-money rematch.

Third place: Josh Taylor 1-0 (def. Jose Ramirez) 

Taylor (18-0, 13 KOs), the undisputed junior welterweight champion, edged out a crowded field for third place on the strength of his title unifying victory over unbeaten Ramirez. The 30-year-old native of Scotland also cemented himself among the pound-for-pound best in the game as a southpaw boxer with legitimate finishing power. 

Others receiving votes

Gervonta Davis (26-0, 24 KOs), who recorded a pair of exciting pay-per-view title wins in separate divisions, also deserved consideration, as did 39-year-old Filipino legend Nonito Donaire (42-6, 28 KOs) for his pair of knockout wins against unbeaten fighters Nordine Oubaali and Reymart Gaballo, the former of which saw him reclaim a piece of the bantamweight title. George Kambosos Jr. (20-0, 10 KOs) might have scored the biggest upset of the year by outlasting Teofimo Lopez Jr. to become the unified lightweight champion while Katie Taylor (20-0, 6 KOs) powered through for a trio of decision wins in defense of her undisputed women’s lightweight title. 

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