Choosing one boxer as the Fighter of the Year is a thankless task. There are tens of thousands of fighters who step between the ropes to compete each year.
Some years, there is one who clearly separates from the pack and gets widespread recognition as the year’s best.
Such, though, is not the case in 2015, when there were a number of good candidates but no slam-dunk choice.
Six men, though, stick out as deserving choices, and each could be honored without complaint.
The now-retired Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in a mega-event in May that set all sorts of financial records, but failed to live up to its promise in the ring.
He then rebounded with a predictably one-sided victory over an outclassed, overmatched Andre Berto in September.
But whenever a man wins the biggest fight of the year by a wide margin and defeats a longtime rival, as Mayweather did when he beat Pacquiao, a strong case could be made for him as the Fighter of the Year.
Canelo Alvarez, Mayweather’s one-time opponent, fits the same category. He knocked out James Kirkland in a rousing battle before a massive crowd in Houston in May, then bested Miguel Cotto to win the WBC middleweight title in November.
Alvarez was 2-0 with a knockout and in beating Cotto came out on top in a hotly anticipated fight.
Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is nowhere near the most talented fighter in the sport, but that’s not what the Fighter of the Year is about. It’s about performance in one year, and it’s hard to deny Fury recognition after he knocked off long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko in November.
Fury opened the year with a “Who cares?” type of win over Christian Hammer, stopping him in the eighth round. He was a massive underdog against Klitschko, but dominated an admittedly terrible fight and won a clear decision to become the heavyweight champion.
Middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin, who was the 2014 Yahoo Sports Fighter of the Year, had another solid year in 2015. He defeated Martin Murray in February, Willie Monroe Jr. in May and David Lemieux on pay-per-view in October.
He won all three bouts by knockout and ended the year holding the WBA, IBF and interim WBC middleweight belts.
And then there was Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, the sensational flyweight who is Yahoo Sports’ choice as boxing’s pound-for-pound best.
Gonzalez, who is 44-0 with 38 knockouts, had three knockouts in as many fights in wins over Valentin Leon, Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria.
Daniel Jacobs went 3-0 with three defenses of the WBA middleweight title. It’s crazy, because Golovkin also holds a WBA middleweight belt, but unless you follow boxing and understand the intricacies (actually, lunacies) of its sanctioning policies, it’s a silly situation.
But Jacobs defended his belt in a 12th-round stoppage of Caleb Truax, a second-round TKO of Sergio Mora and a first-round TKO of Peter Quillin.
Any of those six would be a deserving 2015 Yahoo Sports Fighter of the Year.
But let’s break them down, eliminating them man by man until we get to the winner.
The first to go is Fury. The win over Hammer meant essentially nothing and resonated with exactly zero people outside the Fury and Hammer households.
And while Fury deserves tremendous props for being the one to eventually dethrone Klitschko, the fact is that Klitschko looked every one of his 39 years in that fight. It was more Klitschko performing poorly and losing than anything Fury did.
Given that, Fury is out, the first man eliminated and No. 6 on our list.
The next to go is Jacobs. His win over Quillin was no doubt impressive, but I tend not to be as taken with first-round knockouts as perhaps some others. This isn’t to minimize what he did, but one punch turns the tide of a fight, and in this case ended the Quillin fight early.
It would have been more impressive if he’d handled Quillin over six or eight rounds and then stopped him.
He had a terrific year, and yes, we’re splitting hairs here, but this is an elite group. Jacobs is out and he is No. 5 in the derby.
Alvarez was extremely impressive in defeating Cotto, but there is no one who legitimately thought that Kirkland would provide serious competition for him. He destroyed Kirkland, but Kirkland is a brawler with a weak chin who has never won when he’s stepped up in competition level.
He pummels the lesser lights and those he’s able to intimidate, but when a real fighter like Alvarez stands up to him, he doesn’t perform.
That eliminates Alvarez and puts him at No. 4 on the list.
The top three, then, are Mayweather, Golovkin and Gonzalez.
We’ll cut Mayweather next. He dominated Pacquiao, but it was a Pacquiao who had a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He underwent surgery to repair the injury several days after the bout.
Now, I’m of the mind that a prime Mayweather would have beaten a prime Pacquiao, and I’ve said that publicly repeatedly, but this was a watered-down, diminished version of Pacquiao that Mayweather faced. Pacquiao’s last win by stoppage was in 2009, and he lost twice since that TKO before facing Mayweather.
It would have been a much tougher, more entertaining fight had they fought in 2010 instead of 2015, but I do believe Mayweather’s style would have bested Pacquiao’s on each of their best days.
But because Pacquiao was injured, and failed to perform at a high level, that takes away from what Mayweather did in the fight. It’s not Mayweather’s fault, of course, and he did what he had to do, but he didn’t stop a guy who was essentially fighting with one arm after the fourth round.
The win over Berto was predictable and nothing to brag about. So Mayweather lands at No. 3 in the rankings.
Choosing between Golovkin and Gonzalez is very difficult. Both were 3-0 with three KOs, and both totally dominated.
But Golovkin’s opposition in 2015 was slightly better than Gonzalez’s, and that puts him over the top.
For his wins over Murray, Monroe and Lemieux, Gennady Golovkin is not only the 2015 Yahoo Sports Fighter of the Year, but he’s also the first boxer to repeat as the winner.