Those who have predicted boxing’s demise for years, better re-evaluate their opinions.
The sport is on a popularity uptick and 2017 served as an example why the casual fan again might be paying attention to boxing.
Compelling bouts, the emergence of new stars to replace the familiar headliners of the past decade and the sport’s showcasing on important viewing platforms provide optimism of boxing’s growing appeal.
Although Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, the sport’s top attractions, each had bouts in 2017, the occasional observer now identifies with Gennady Golovkin, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and is renewing an interest in the heavyweight division.
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Golovkin and Alvarez fought in one of the year’s most important bouts. Golovkin appeared to have done sufficient activity for the victory but managed a disputed draw in his middleweight title defense Sept. 16 in Las Vegas. The entertaining bout was marred by the horrendous scorecard submitted by judge Adelaide Byrd, who had Alvarez winning 10 of the 12 rounds.
The draw extended Golovkin’s five-year middleweight reign to 19 successful defenses, one behind all-time leader Bernard Hopkins. Talk continues that Golovkin and Alvarez will meet in a rematch next year.
One of Golovkin’s impressive streaks ended in March. Golovkin won a hard fought unanimous decision over Daniel Jacobs, ending his string of knockout victories at 23.
Mayweather, who exchanged spots with Pacquiao as the sport’s pound-for-pound best fighter during an eight-year period that ended in 2015, returned following a two-year absence for what many boxing insiders considered a spectacle. Yet Mayweather and mixed martial arts fighter successfully hyped their bout on Aug. 26 as a must-see event.
McGregor held his own for three rounds before Mayweather gradually wore him down and scored a 10th-round TKO victory.
After the bout, Mayweather, 40, again announced his retirement. Mayweather fulfilled his goal of ending his career with a 50-0 record. The bout against McGregor generated 4.3 million pay-per-view buys.
For nearly 15 years, fights featuring Mayweather and Pacquiao were available only through pay-per-view. But Pacquiao’s only bout of the year signaled a possible shift to how fight fans will watch the top performers.
Pacquiao lost his welterweight belt in a disputed decision against Jeff Horn in Horn’s native Australia July 2. ESPN televised the bout, the first notable event of the network’s multi-year deal with Pacquiao’s promoter, Top Rank.
The Pacquiao-Horn fight attracted an average rating of 3.1 million, the highest-watched boxing telecast since 2006.
Top Rank’s other signature fighters - Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko - also appeared on ESPN-televised bouts.
Crawford knocked out Julius Indongo in three rounds Aug. 19 to become the undisputed 140-pound world champion as recognized by boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies. Crawford immediately announced a move to the 147-pound welterweight class in search of a word title in a third division.
When pound-for-pound best fighters are discussed, Crawford is frequently mentioned along with Lomachenko and Golovkin.
ESPN showcased 130-pound champion Lomachenko in two of his fights of the year – technical knockout victories over Miguel Marriaga on Aug. 5 and Miami resident Guillermo Rigondeaux two weeks ago.
Not since Lennox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson in their highly anticipated bout 15 years ago has the heavyweight division caught the attention of American fight fans. However, the division’s popularity in Europe isn’t questioned first with the lengthy reigns enjoyed by brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko and now Anthony Joshua.
Joshua’s following in his native England prompted the move of his two recent fights to soccer stadiums. Joshua overcame a sixth-round knockdown and knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in 11 rounds April 29. The fight, considered one of the year’s best, attracted a crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium.
Six months later Joshua retained his sanctioning body belt with a 10th-round TKO over Carlos Takam before a crowd of 78,000 in Cardiff, Wales.
A new Britain-U.S. heavyweight rivalry could develop next year thanks to the growing dominance of American Deontay Wilder, who holds another of the heavyweight belts. Wilder has been calling out for a unification match against Joshua following Wilder’s first-round knockout over former champion Bermane Stiverne on Nov. 4.
Wilder, who is gradually becoming the most appealing American heavyweight since Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe in the 1990s, also stopped Gerald Washington in five rounds Feb. 25.
When Crawford begins his tenure as a welterweight, he will encounter arguably boxing’s deepest class.
Clearwater’s Keith Thurman became a unified welterweight titleholder following his hard-fought split decision victory over Danny Garcia in a bout between unbeaten champions March 4. CBS televised the bout and its ratings outdrew an NBA game televised the same night on ABC.
The division also features Errol Spence, another unbeaten champion already earning pound-for-pound consideration. Spence won his welterweight title with an 11th-round knockout victory over former champion Kell Brook May 27.
The year’s breakthrough performer was Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. When Sor Rungvisai faced four-division and pound-for-pound elite fighter Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez March 18, few expected him to dethrone the defending super-flyweight champion. Sor Rungvisai stunned Gonzalez with a majority decision victory and stopped him in four rounds in their rematch five months later.
Mikey Garcia continues to shake off the ring rust that sidelined him for two years because of a promotional dispute and again is considered among the sport’s best. Garcia won a lightweight title in January and scored a convincing decision over four-division champion Adrien Broner six months later.
Mayweather wasn’t the only noteworthy fighter who retired.
Following his loss against Joshua, Klitschko, a part-time Hollywood resident, announced his retirement. Four division world champion Miguel Cotto hyped his bout against Saddam Ali on Dec. 2 as a ring farewell. Cotto confirmed it following his unanimous decision loss.
Andre Ward’s retirement surprised many. Ward solidified his status as the sport’s best fighter after he stopped former light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in eight rounds in their rematch on June 16. But Ward, 33, retired three months later.
With the exception of shows on three successive Saturdays in June, the local boxing scene remained dormant. Hialeah Park and Casino also hosted bookend shows in January and December.
Miami resident and heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz was scheduled to fight Wilder but the bout was postponed after Ortiz tested positive for a banned substance.
Plantation resident Xander Zayas became one of the top amateur boxers in the country following his string of championships. Zayas, 17, won four state and two regional tournaments and capped the year by winning the USA Boxing Elite and Youth national title on Dec. 9.
▪ Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the last surviving member of Muhammad Ali’s training team, died Nov. 16. Pacheco, who was 89, transitioned from his years as Ali’s cornerman and personal physician to a successful two-decade career as a boxing analyst on NBC.