To some, the race for boxing’s male Fighter of the Year ended on May 7 when Dmitry Bivol was announced as a unanimous decision winner over Canelo Alvarez in their fight for the WBA light heavyweight championship at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In defeating Alvarez cleanly, Bivol beat the man who at the time was regarded as the best fighter in the world. He handed Alvarez his first loss in nearly nine years and thrust himself into the conversation as the sport’s pound-for-pound king.
But there are too many great fighters who did big-time things for that to be the case. While not all of the fights we want to see are being made — we’re looking at you, Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford — a large batch of them are.
And so, I came up with six finalists for my 2022 Yahoo Sports Male Fighter of the Year for boxing: Bivol; undisputed bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue; former super flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez; undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney; WBC super flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada; and WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
Given the performances of these six men, it was difficult to put anyone into the Fighter of the Year race who fought just once.
Bivol defeated Alvarez and returned to dominate Gilberto Ramirez in his next defense. He won by scores of 117-111 twice and 118-110, with Ramirez never in the fight.
Inoue began the year as the unified IBF-WBA bantamweight champion. He knocked out the great Nonito Donaire in the second on June 7 to add the WBC belt, then became undisputed champion on Dec. 13 when he dominated Paul Butler and stopped him in the 11th to add the WBO belt.
Rodriguez went 3-0, scoring a wide decision victory over Carlos Cuadras on Feb. 5. He stopped Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in the eighth on June 25 and then won a wide decision over Israel Gonzalez on Sept. 17.
Haney won the undisputed title by going to Melbourne, Australia, and dominating George Kambosos Jr. Because of a contract stipulation, he owed Kambosos a rematch in Australia and beat him by an even wider margin.
Estrada was a late entrant, since he didn’t fight until Sept. 3. On that date, he won a unanimous decision over Argi Cortes. On Dec. 3, Estrada followed that with a majority decision win over Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez to win the vacant WBC title.
Fury made two title defenses, neither of which was hugely significant, but he did draw more than 160,000 combined in them, which is significant. He stopped Dillian Whyte in the sixth in front of 94,000 fans on April 23. After a brief retirement, he stopped Derek Chisora in the 10th on Dec. 3.
In breaking the logjam, Fury is the first eliminated because he faced the lowest level of opposition among the contenders. Rodriguez is out because two of his three wins came over fighters who have seen their best days.
And I’ll drop Estrada because I don’t believe he won the fight with Gonzalez. Haney's opposition wasn't the best and so he is out.
That leaves me with Inoue and Bivol. This one is tougher, as Inoue finished both of his fights against solid opponents. Butler was 34-1 entering the bout with Inoue, and he was never close to being in the fight. Donaire had been on a roll but was routed by the great Japanese star.
Neither of those wins, though, was as big as Bivol’s win over Canelo. And given how thoroughly Bivol dominated Ramirez, it proves that the win over Alvarez was no fluke.
For those reasons, Dmitry Bivol is the 2022 Yahoo Sports Male Fighter of the Year in boxing.
Three-way battle for Female Fighter of the Year
I have three finalists for my 2022 Yahoo Sports Female Fighter of the Year in boxing: Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor and Alycia Baumgardner.
Shields was 2-0 with an impressive win over long-time rival Savannah Marshall for the undisputed middleweight title, as well as a shutout unanimous decision over Ema Kozin.
Taylor was 2-0, as well, winning a split decision over Amanda Serrano for the undisputed lightweight title, as well as taking a one-sided unanimous decision over Karen Elizabeth Carbajal.
Baumgardner went 2-0, defending her WBC super featherweight title by decision over Edith Soledad Matthysse, then becoming unified champion by claiming a controversial split decision over then-IBF-WBO champion Mikaela Mayer.
This, though, is really a two-horse race. Shields’ win over Marshall not only gave her the undisputed middleweight title, but it also proved she’s an attraction. She fought in front of more than 20,000 at O2 Arena in London with a television audience of over 2 million on SkySports in the U.K.
Taylor’s win over Serrano gave her the undisputed lightweight title and came on an historic night at Madison Square Garden in New York with a crowd of 19,187.
The tiebreaker is that Shields cleanly beat Marshall, where there was a minor bit of controversy surrounding Taylor’s victory over Serrano.
Thus, Claressa Shields is the 2022 Yahoo Sports Female Fighter of the Year in boxing.