2019 Yahoo Sports Boxing: Fight of the Year

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Naoya Inoue (R) of Japan competes against Nonito Donaire of the Philippines during the WBSS Bantamweight Final at Saitama Super Arena on Nov. 7, 2019, in Saitama, Japan. (Toru Hanai/Getty Images)
Naoya Inoue (R) of Japan competes against Nonito Donaire of the Philippines during the WBSS Bantamweight Final at Saitama Super Arena on Nov. 7, 2019, in Saitama, Japan. (Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

It was late January and Xu Can and Jesus Rojas fought for a featherweight title that didn’t receive a lot of attention. It turned out it deserved plenty, because it was an unbelievable match with almost nonstop punching and back-and-forth action.

It instantly became a Fight of the Year candidate. 

In March, Sergey Lipinets and Lamont Peterson met in yet another bout that wasn’t heralded all that much before the opening bell. It turned into one of those jaw-dropping matches that makes boxing so compelling.

Just three months into the year, having a pair of fights of that quality was a signal of what 2019 was about to become. For all of the dirt heaped upon boxing’s supposed grave by fans and media who don’t pay enough attention, this was a year in which there was a new candidate on an almost weekly basis.

Culling through my list, I whittled it down to five finalists:

I was tempted to pick the Kownacki-Arreola fight because it was as my friend, the longtime pro wrestling announcer Jim “JR” Ross, would say, a slobber-knocker. But there were too many fights with too much skill involved to pick that, as much as I enjoyed it and as much as I shouted at the television while watching it.

Golovkin was under the weather when he fought Derevyanchenko, but it did not stop him from putting on a Herculean effort. What made it a great fight, though, is that Derevyanchenko fought with as much passion and intensity and was never out of the bout.

Williams upset Hurd in a dramatic back-and-forth battle in which there was nonstop action and constant momentum shifts. And Joshua and Ruiz both hit the deck in a slugfest that became the talk of the boxing world when Ruiz stopped Joshua to become the first man of Mexican descent to win a piece of the heavyweight title.

But the 2019 Yahoo Sports Fight of the Year goes to Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire for their pitched battle in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series’ bantamweight tournament.

Donaire had been given up for dead several years ago, but revived his career after signing with promoter Richard Schaefer. He earned a spot in the WBSS and proved he was worthy of it by making his way to the final opposite Inoue.

Inoue is one of the most exciting stars in the sport, reminiscent in many ways of a young Manny Pacquiao. He’s one of the best body punchers in the sport and he pushes a pace few can handle.

The veteran Donaire showed why many believe he’ll secure a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he’s finally done, as he managed to stand in there with “The Monster,” and gave as good as he got throughout a compelling battle.

The drama unfolding before a huge crowd was remarkable, as the momentum shifted and neither man backed down.

It was a match that had everything, and it’s the choice as the 2019 Yahoo Sports Fight of the Year.

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