Friday, January 28, 2022

Stephen Fulton Jr. vs. Brandon Figueroa edges out Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder 3 for 2021 Fight of the Year

For as weird as 2020 turned out to be for boxing, with much of the sport’s best-laid plans postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, the year that followed saw a return to the sweet science at its best.  

Pay-per-view events delivered upon their promise of action and entertainment. In fact, seemingly every weekend there was a fight of some level of consequence. With that, we saw fighters in both corners bring their absolute best and produce high theater over the course of 10 or 12 rounds.

A panel of CBS Sports experts sat down to vote on our picks for some of the years top moments, including best fight and knockout, with some very interesting results. Let’s take a closer look at who we thought produced the best fights of the year. 

Awards as voted on by Brian Campbell, Brent Brookhouse, Brandon Wise and Shakiel Mahjouri.  

Fight of the year 

Winner: Stephen Fulton Jr. def. Brandon Figueroa via MD12 

This junior featherweight unification bout from November featured a pair of unbeaten champions at the peak of their physical primes. What it produced, however, somehow exceeded the highest expectations fight fans had coming in. Fulton (20-0, 8 KOs) proved off the start he had little issue fighting on the same terms as the all-action Figueroa (22-1-1, 17 KOs) as the two exchanged endless streams of two-way action from close range inside the Park Theater in Las Vegas. Fulton, who took home the WBA title to pair with his WBC crown, spent the first half of most rounds beating Figueroa to the punch while making a point to show the judges he was the more accurate sniper of the two. But Figueroa’s late-round rallies became a consistent trend, fueled by his relentless pursuit to the body. In the end, the fight could’ve gone either way given how even the action appeared to be. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that a draw would’ve been the most satisfying conclusion to guarantee the two fighters square off a second time. There was simply never a dull moment throughout the 12 rounds as both fighters showed an equal amount of poise, chin and persistence.

Second place: Tyson Fury def. Deontay Wilder via KO11 

How does the best fight of this historic trilogy and one of the greatest slugfests in heavyweight boxing has ever seen on the title level not win best of 2021? It was that kind of year. Although customer fatigue seemed to be high after Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs) forced a court injunction to secure his contractually mandated third meeting with Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs), no one was complaining after the fight. Fury defended his WBC and lineal titles by rising from the canvas twice in Round 4 and dropping Wilder three times overall en route to a brutal knockout finish. This fight, which took place in October inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, was less about skill and more about heart as both boxers overcame a long layoff to force one another to pour out everything they had.

Third place: Juan Francisco Estrada def. Roman Gonzalez via SD12 

This long-awaited rematch between two of the best lower weight fighters of the modern era proved to be worth the wait some nine years after Gonzalez (50-3, 41 KOs) edged Estrada via decision in their junior flyweight title bout. Their second meeting, which took place in March at American Airlines Center in Dallas, saw the two fighters unify titles at 115 pounds in a classic 12-round thriller that was both savage and skillful. The only thing that somewhat dampened the aftermath of the decision was the fact that most observers felt Estrada (42-3, 28 KOs) had been gifted with an overly kind result. At 34, “Chocolatito” had seemingly turned back the clock to remind fans of his pound-for-pound greatness. Here’s to hoping these all-time greats decide to give it a go for a third time in 2022. 

Others receiving votes: Mikaela Mayer def. Maiva Hamadouche via UD 10 (November), Terence Crawford def. Shawn Porter via TKO10 (November), Gervonta Davis def. Mario Barrios via TKO11 (June), Josh Taylor def. Jose Ramirez via UD12 (May).

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