Muhammad Ali’s death on June 3 overshadowed all boxing stories in 2016. The legendary heavyweight champion’s accomplishments during a storied career and his influential role as a leader for social justice transcended the sport.
The year also featured boxing undergoing a new phase. No longer a dominant personality overwhelmed the sport’s landscape and claimed pound-for-pound supremacy.
Instead, a group of fighters built sufficient ring accomplishments to usher in a new era that hopefully — and finally — make the clean break from Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s near-decade stranglehold. With Mayweather retired, the search continues to determine the sport’s new pound-for-pound king.
For many fight followers, Gennady Golovkin already has the edge thanks to his middleweight division reign that now spans six years and 16 title defenses. Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) scored knockout victories over Dominic Wade and welterweight champion Kell Brook during the year.
Golovkin still has not landed a high profile fight against a marquee opponent to permanently move him into pay-per-view events. Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez remains the logical Golovkin opponent because of his pay-per-view pedigree, which features a financially successful bout against Mayweather three years ago.
But Alvarez, who won a middleweight title in late 2015, vacated the belt and fought as a junior-middleweight in 2016, scoring knockout victories over outclassed opponents Amir Khan and Leam Smith.
The public demand for a Golovkin-Alvarez bout intensified throughout the year but Alvarez’s return to the 154-pound class — and admission by his promoter Oscar De La Hoya that Alvarez needs additional time to gradually develop into a 160-pound fighter — continues to keep the event on ice.
Another fighter seen among the sport’s best is Nicaragua’s Roman }Chocolatito” Gonzalez. In 2016, Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KOs) defeated McWilliams Arroyo to retain his flyweight belt and moved up to the super-flyweight class, defeating defending champion Carlos Cuadras in a close decision.
Andre Ward also is mentioned frequently in the pound-for-pound best discussions. Ward defeated Miami resident Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand, setting up a highly-anticipated match with light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in November.
Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) overcame a second-round knockdown and won a hotly-disputed decision over Kovalev. The outcry from the bout’s scoring has intensified talks of a rematch next year.
Terence Crawford, another of the sport’s notable unbeaten champions, also seeks to stake his claim as best fighter. Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) knocked out Henry Lundy and John Molina, and won a lopsided decision over previously unbeaten Viktor Postol to unify super-lightweight belts.
The welterweight division continues to feature one of the sport’s talent-heavy classes.
Keith Thurman, a Clearwater resident, defended his welterweight belt with a hard-fought decision over Shawn Porter on June 25 in one of the year’s most exciting title bouts.
Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) now looks to unify welterweight belts against Danny Garcia. A former super-lightweight champion, Garcia (33-0, 18 KOs) won a welterweight crown after his convincing decision against Robert Guerrero and stopped Samuel Vargas.
Brook earned praise for pressing the action against feared puncher Golovkin. Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) will likely return to the welterweight class after recovering from an eye injury he sustained in the Golovkin fight.
While Thurman-Porter has supporters for “Fight of the Year” recognition, the bout between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz on July 30 also received praise. Frampton and Santa Cruz traded punches at a furious and entertaining pace before Frampton won a majority decision and retained his featherweight title.
The heavyweight division has a new, and perhaps, more appealing figure after Wladimir Klitschko’s nine-year title run ended. England’s Anthony Joshua defines the heavyweight that fans have missed so far in the new millennium. Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) impressively finishes opponents as evidenced by his title-winning performance against Charles Martin and subsequent knockout wins over Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina.
Tyson Fury’s heavyweight reign ended without a title defense. The native of England withdrew from two scheduled rematches against Klitschko and eventually vacated his two belts to deal with medical issues. It was later revealed that Fury tested positive for cocaine.
Manny Pacquiao returned to the ring in April following his loss against Mayweather in May 2015. Pacquiao won a decision in his rubber match against Timothy Bradley. After the fight, Pacquiao announced his retirement only to return seven months later as the Philippines native defeated Jessie Vargas.
▪ During the first half of the year, Premier Boxing Champion continued to showcase the sport throughout the multiple TV networks, such as the Thurman-Porter bout on CBS. However, by late summer and fall, the company overseen by influential manager Al Haymon virtually shut down its TV presence. One of the few exceptions was the Abner Mares-Jesus Cuellar featherweight title fight that Showtime broadcast on Dec. 10.
▪ Part-time Miami Beach resident Bernard Hopkins returned to the ring after a two-year absence on December 17 for what he billed as his farewell fight. Hopkins, a former middleweight and light-heavyweight champion suffered an eighth-round TKO loss against Joe Smith.
▪ The local boxing scene had another light year of events. Promoters again shunned the South Florida fight market as a combined five shows were presented in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. One show, however, featured a world title fight, when Cuba’s Rances Barthelemy retained his junior-welterweight title with a split decision over Mickey Bey at the Seminole Hard Rock Live Arena on June 3.