B/R Boxing Awards for 2022

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 27, 2022

B/R Boxing Awards for 2022

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 17: Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin are introduced before their super middleweight title fight at T-Mobile Arena on September 17, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alvarez retained his titles with a unanimous-decision victory. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    It's the most wonderful time of the year.

    Families have gathered. Feasts have been devoured. Presents have been opened.

    And writers of all shapes, sizes and affiliations have compiled best-of lists to honor the top moments, events and principals of 2022 as it approaches its final few hours.

    It's no different here at B/R, where the combat staff busily recalled the past 12 months in boxing to come up with awards for the year's top fight, KO, upset, prospect and fighter.

    As always, there were plenty of worthy nominees in all categories, which left the significance of the event(s) involved served as a primary tiebreaker from one to the other.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with, and drop a thought of your own in the comments.

Best Fight: Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 30: Katie Taylor of Ireland (L) trades punches with Amanda Serrano of Puerto Rico (R) for the World Lightweight Title fight at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2022 in New York, New York. This bout marks the first women’s boxing fight to headline Madison Square Garden in the venue’s history. Taylor defeated Serrano on a judges decision. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Ask any fan of a certain age if they thought it would ever happen.

    A fight between two women. A headline slot at a jam-packed Madison Square Garden.

    And an event that delivered the goods in every conceivable way.

    A generation after women were thrown onto pay-per-view undercards as a combative novelty, the lightweight scrap between undisputed champ Katie Taylor and multi-division claimant Amanda Serrano was not only the main event on an eight-bout show at the world's most famous arena—it was the best fight on the best fight night of 2022.

    In MSG's history-sopped 140 years, a main event featuring female fighters happened precisely zero times.

    In the end, the two women engaged in a classic that ended with a bloodied, swollen Taylor winning a split decision—taking 97-93 and 96-93 scores on two cards while Serrano took a 96-94 margin on the third. And though B/R agreed with the dissenting judge and scored Serrano as the winner, the close call did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm.

    "Women can sell. Women can fight," Serrano said. "And we put on a hell of a show."

    Both Taylor and Serrano returned once by year's end, and each won a 10-round decision and called for a rematch in 2023, perhaps at Croke Park in Taylor's native Ireland.

    All that remains, Taylor said, is for promoters Eddie Hearn (Taylor) and Jake Paul (Serrano) to work out the pertinent business details.

    "I do believe that's the only thing that would top Madison Square Garden is headlining a huge show here in Ireland. Eighty-thousand people," she told the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani (8:49 mark). "It's exactly what myself and Amanda Serrano deserve."

Best KO: Caleb Plant-Anthony Dirrell

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    BROOKLYN, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 15:  Caleb Plant knocks out Anthony Dirrell in the ninth rounduring their WBC world super middleweight title eliminator bout at Barclays Center on October 15, 2022 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    If you take your boxing with a side of enmity, this was the KO for you.

    Ex-super middleweight title claimants Caleb Plant and Anthony Dirrell were threateningly chatty heading into their mid-October fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but the first eight rounds of the bout weren't particularly memorable by "best of" measures.

    But then came the ninth round. And a reminder that combat is, well...combative.

    Though not regarded as a puncher, Plant ripped Dirrell with a left hook to the body before coming with a follow-up to the head that dumped his foe to the floor in a semiconscious state and prompted medical personnel to rush into the ring to ensure his safety.

    As they huddled around the stricken fighter, Plant added menacing insult to the competitive injury by strutting past and mimicking shoveling dirt onto his prone rival before referee Harvey Dock whisked him away to a safe, less-offensive distance.

    It was the first fight after an 11-month absence for Plant, who'd been bludgeoned by Canelo Alvarez in his previous match. And it was the first one-punch KO loss for Dirrell, who'd lost just two of 38 fights since turning pro in 2005, when Plant was just 12 years old.

    "I was just burying the beef between us. That's all," Plant said of his celebration.

    "He had a lot to say about me, you know, calling me a lot of names, talking about my race, what I'm able to do. You know, ;I ain't never fought nobody, I ain't never, you know, hurt nobody.' Well, I fought him, and I hurt him."

Biggest Upset: Hector Luis Garcia-Chris Colbert

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 26:  Chris Colbert (L) takes a punch from Hector Luis Garcia during a super featherweight bout at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on February 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Garcia won the fight by unanimous decision. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
    Steve Marcus/Getty Images

    As high-profile bouts go, 2022 wasn't a banner year for upsets.

    If the biggest fights actually got made, it seemed, they typically went according to script.

    But that doesn't mean there weren't some surprises along the way.

    And when it comes to encounters at or near the championship level, none were larger than unheralded late sub Hector Luis Garcia's unanimous decision defeat of previously unbeaten top contender Chris Colbert on a Showtime telecast from Las Vegas in February.

    A flashy 25-year-old from Brooklyn, Colbert arrived with a pristine 16-0 record and a mix of speed, power and personality. He'd been scheduled to meet the WBA's title claimant at 130 pounds, Roger Gutierrez, but was left with Garcia, an unbeaten 31-year-old southpaw, when Gutierrez tested positive for COVID-19 three weeks before the fight.

    Far from an ineffective stand-in, Garcia took the initiative from the start, fighting off his front foot and landing hard, accurate combinations while handling all Colbert returned in his direction. Garcia scored the fight's lone knockdown with a counter left in the seventh, and he maintained the advantage throughout, winning 11, 10 and 10 of 12 rounds on the scorecards.

    He parlayed the triumph into a title-belt collection six months later when he landed a fight with Gutierrez and won it by another wide unanimous decision. He's now scheduled to appear opposite Gervonta Davis on a pay-per-view show next month in Washington, D.C.

    Colbert, meanwhile, has not returned since the loss.

    "He was just the better man," he said. "I'm going to take my defeats the way I take my [victories], as a man. I'm going to keep my head up. And I want to run it back.

    "Let's do it again."

Fighter on the Rise: Xander Zayas

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: Xander Zayas (L) and Alexis Salazar (R) exchange punches during their super welterweight fight at Madison Square Garden on December 10, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
    Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

    Xander Zayas is one of those guys.

    Take away the baby face and any other knowledge of his age bracket, and you'd swear by watching that the unbeaten Puerto Rican prospect was a multiyear veteran.

    A full-fledged 154-pounder with a 5'10" frame and a 74-inch reach, Zayas fights intelligently and cuts off the ring well while aiming to land lead left hooks to the body.

    But somehow, he's only 20.

    In fact, the Florida-based fighter has fought just once since celebrating his most recent birthday in September, having gone 14-0 with 10 knockouts as a professional teenager after winning gold at both the 2017 and 2018 national amateur tournaments.

    He's already fought in six states and his native Puerto Rico and most recently appeared at Madison Square Garden (for the third time) in December on the undercard of a Top Rank-promoted show headlined by Teofimo Lopez.

    Having the backing of the Bob Arum-led conglomerate certainly won't impede the ladder climb for Zayas, who said before the pre-Christmas defeat of Alexis Salazar that he expected 2023 to be a year that'll end with him on the verge of a championship.

    Salazar, who'd gone 16-1 since early 2015, won a total of two rounds on three scorecards.

    "I should be in the top three by the end of next year," Zayas, ranked ninth by the WBA and seventh by the WBO, told Keith Idec of Boxing Scene, "and in the beginning of 2024, just get that world title."

Best Fighter: Dmitry Bivol

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 07: Dmitry Bivol (R)punches Canelo Alvarez during their WBA light heavyweight title fight at T-Mobile Arena on May 07, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bivol retained his title by unanimous decision. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    If you were a boxing person, you knew Dmitry Bivol long before 2022.

    After all, the now-32-year-old was a decorated amateur while winning more than 200 bouts and had already compiled a 19-0 professional record entering the year with a reign as WBA light heavyweight champion that stretched back to 2017.

    But it's different now.

    Thanks to a comprehensive schooling of pay-per-view stalwart Canelo Alvarez when the reigning 168-pound king climbed to 175 in May, the victorious Russian has become something of a household name to those who celebrate technique as much as persona.

    He was awarded seven of 12 rounds on all three scorecards against the ambitious Mexican champion, though, in reality, it could have been closer to 9-3 or even 10-2.

    It was his third defeat of a reigning or former world title claimant—following decisions over Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr. in 2018 and 2019, respectively—and quickly moved him onto most respected pound-for-pound lists, including a lofty No. 6 spot according to The Ring.

    He returned to the ring six months later against another super middleweight in 44-0 ex-champ Gilberto Ramirez and was even more dominant, working over his taller, longer opponent for nearly every moment of 12 rounds in scoring an even wider decision victory in Abu Dhabi.

    Bivol won nine rounds on two cards and 10 on the third, and pronounced himself ready for a 2023 that could include an Alvarez rematch alongside a unification bout with fellow 175-pound title claimant Artur Beterbiev.

    "I proved myself. I can beat the best guy in the world. And now, I beat another guy who doesn't know what losing is," he said. "I have another goal, I want to be undisputed champion. But everything is not up to me. It doesn't depend only on me who I fight next.

    "We have to agree as a team on which is better for us. But I hope they will listen to me and what I want."