It’s Been a Bruising Year as a Boxing Fan


Addison Keeley, Assistant Editor

Whether it’s due to COVID-related pullouts, good matchups not falling through, old legends being beaten up, or bad decisions, it has definitely been a rather bruising year to be a boxing fan. Especially in comparison to the rather epic year of 2020, which was full of plenty surprises, some glorious knockouts, and a handful of rather incredible fights such as Jose Zepeda vs Ivan Baranchyk, Juan Francisco Estrada vs Carlos Cuadras 2, and Jermall Charlo vs Sergey Derevyanchenko.

Due to the tremendous quality that was maintained last year, even after a several month drought in the first half of the year due to the arrival of COVID-19, I was confident that the sport would be as good if not better than last year was. With 2021 having a few months left, I can thoroughly say my prediction was wrong so far, and it is likely to stay that way.

This year started off rather painful this year for me as far as boxing goes. My favorite current fighter to watch, Miguel Berchelt, took on his biggest test to date yet in undefeated, former featherweight champion, Oscar Valdez in what was expected to be an all-Mexican slugfest. The fact this fight had been in talks for over a year and had been postponed once before due to Berchelt testing positive for COVID made me only anticipate it more. I was so confident the persistent, hard, and unorthodox combos of Berchelt would be too much for the leaky style of the smaller fighter in Valdez. I was so confident, I even placed $500 in total bets among acquaintances. The fact I had remained humble in comparison to said acquaintances, who were oozing with confidence had me expecting that my reward would be handed to me on a silver platter. Once fight night occurred, two things were quite clear- it was the best night in the career of Valdez, and the worst of Berchelt’s. While Berchelt virtually lacked a game plan and showed plenty of signs of being a weight drained fighter (decreased speed, lack of stamina or volume in combinations), Valdez managed to work his game plan nearly to a tee, improvements in every way, as he beat up Berchelt for nine rounds before brutally knocking him out in the 10th. Needless to say, I lost interest in sports betting for a while.

Ten days ago, Valdez successfully defended his new WBC super featherweight belt againt Robson Conceicao of Brazil. The fight was seemingly jeopardized after Valdez had failed not one, but two drug tests upon testing positive for a diuretic called phentermine. Immediately, fans started to question if he has been under the influence of performance enhancing drugs throughout his career, particularly in his standout victory over Berchelt this year. The WBC gave him the green light to go on with the fight, which he won in unspectacular, and somewhat controversial fashion. The bitter result of the fight enhanced the bad taste that Valdez had left in the mouth of fans like me from the fishiness of his drug tests.

The entire situation makes one wonder how many fighters are currently or have ben using performance enhancing drugs without us knowing.

Another negative for me that somewhat turned into a positive was due to several issues, I was unable to get my hands on tickets to see unified welterweight champion take on one of my all-time favorites in future first ballot hall of famer, Manny Pacquiao in what was one of the biggest fights boxing had to make this year.

Unfortunately, Spence was forced to withdraw due to a retina injury, which can be quite detrimental to his career. Spence notably had to spend time off after dodging death in a frightening alcohol-related car crash in 2019, but passed his comeback test with flying colors against Danny Garcia in December 2020.

However, Pacquiao was still set to fight for a world title, as Yordenis Ugas of Cuba put his super WBA title on the line against him on August 21st. Ugas notably won this title from Pacquiao, after the WB stripped Pacquiao due to inactivity, therefor upgrading Ugas as their super champion. After starting well, Pacquiao was outboxed convincingly for a majority of the fight. The fight would have been an opportunity for Pacquiao to regain a title at welterweight once more at the age of 42, but instead it was a fight where father time seemed to finally catch up with him, exhibiting the all-time great as a shell of his former self.

Speaking of legends getting beaten up, hall of fame cruiserweight and 4x heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield took on MMA’s Vitor Belfort at the age of 62. While Holyfield has been clearly showing signs of CTE, most specifically in his speech, he was somehow cleared to fight, ultimately causing him to suffer a short beating before being stopped in the first round.

Oddly enough, hall of fame 6-division champion, Oscar De La Hoya was set to fight Belfort initially after being retired for 13 years. However, being hospitalized from COVID-19 deemed him as unable to participate in the bout, which is why Holyfield stepped in.

Unfortunately, hall of fame 2x heavyweight champion, Riddick Bowe is set to box former NBA player, Lamar Odom in October in an exhibition. Bowe clearly suffers from CTE and is in no condition to be fighting, even if it is just in an exhibition.

The initially exciting, but overall disappointing exhibition between aged legends Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. clearly has been inspiring other greats of the sport to get back in the ring, all the while showing more signs that they should get out of it. One cannot help, but to find this sad.

While boxing is still on weekly throughout the world and a substantial number of fans are allowed to be seated in the audience for fights now, COVID-19 is still hurting the sport. Teofimo Lopez, who is coming off of a monumental upset victory over Vasyl Lomachenko, cementing him amongst the best fighters today pound for pound, as well as making him a unified (or undisputed depending on who one asks) champion at lightweight. In the middle of June, he was revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19, pushing back his mandatory defense against Australia’s George Kambosos till October. Some have speculated that Lopez, who maintains a rather voluminous stature for lightweight has been having trouble making weight, and/or even has gotten so caught up in the lifestyle of stardom that he wanted time away from training or merely needed more time to do so in order to come into the fight in top form. Tyson Fury, who is riding high off of a stoppage win over former heavyweight champion, Deontay Wilder from February of last year revealed in June that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The positive test results for former 2x super middleweight champion, David Benavidez pushed back his fight date with awkward veteran, Jose Uzcategui, which is more than likely to be a barnburner.

I hate to point the finger at anyone, due to never fully knowing what goes on in the life of a fighter or who is actually sick, but one may just take in the possibility that these rather frequent positive COVID tests may not be COVID-related at all and could indeed be a fitting excuse to earn more training time. With medical reports seemingly never being released, this makes the theory easier to believe Should this be the case, I cannot help but to understand to a degree, especially since I am not the one actually doing the work. However, the question shall remain unanswered for all of us, and will never be anything more than speculation. Regardless, it sucks as a fan to see these fights get taken from us

Like it always has been and likely always will be, questionable and sometimes purely bad decisioning continues to tarnish the sport.

In the best fight of the year so far between two future hall of famers, Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada picked up right where they left off in their first meeting in 2012. The first fight was an instant classic and full of nonstop action, and this fight was arguably better. While many, including me expected Gonzalez to lose handily and show signs of his age catching up with him, he managed to virtually outclass and outpunch Estrada after 12 rounds. However, 2/3 judges awarded the fight to Estrada in one of the most unpopular decisions this year, with one judge being suspended as a result.

Maryland’s Mykal Fox dominated Venezuela’s decorated former amateur champion, Gabriel Maestre for nearly an entire 12 rounds only to be rewarded with a unanimous decision loss for his efforts. Maestre, who holds the interim title for the WBA, a division with Venezuelan roots, which many believe benefitted him for the decision.

Jermell Charlo, who holds ¾ belts at junior middleweight took on the undefeated Argentinian, Brian Castano, who holds onto the other remaining belt in the division (the WBO belt). After a thrilling affair with lots of twists and turns, the bout ended up in a split draw. Lots of fans believe that Castano fell victim to a hometown bias, as the fight took place in Texas, where Charlo was born. The fact that a rematch may not take place soon or at all is another blow that us fans have to take.

Despite all the bad aspects of the sport in 2021, we have certainly been rewarded with some great fights. As mentioned, Gonzalez vs Estrada 2 is likely the best fight of the year so far, and will likely go down as an all-time classic. The controversial result has called for a third fight to take place between the two, which is expected to happen in October. The always thrilling Emanuel Navarrete successfully defended his WBO featherweight title against Puerto Rico’s Puerto Rico’s Christopher Diaz in a dominant performance.  Angel Fierro cemented a breakthrough win during another Mexico vs Puerto Rico affair in a fire fight with Alberto Machado. Puerto Rico’s unorthodox, yet powerful buzzsaw in Subriel Matias stopped a second undefeated prospect in a row in Batyrzhan Jukembayev, in a slept-on slugfest. Josh Taylor of Scotland was officially crowned undisputed and king of the junior welterweight division after beating who was the fifth undefeated fighter in a row in former unified champion Jose Ramirez. The young and ruthless Vergil Ortiz continues to step up in competition by stopping his two best opponents Maurice Hooker and Egis Kavaliauskas back to back, retaining his unbeaten and knockout streaks. Pound for pound king Canelo Alvarez is set to take on the undefeated IBF champion, Caleb Plant in a super middleweight unification bout this November. In the same month, my two personal favorite welterweights of this generation, Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter are set to clash in what promises to be one of the best fights of the year.

While it has been an underwhelming year indeed, and certainly the weakest year that I have been a fan of the sport, I still have faith it can finish strong. More importantly, I know the sport will always be great, and one lukewarm year does not convince me that the sport will ever die, as I already am eager to see what lies ahead for next year.