By Derek Bonnett: Each year, SecondsOut writers consider the body of work for numerous fighters to determine the SecondsOut Fighter of the Year. For boxing fans, 2016 was a disappointment as some of the best fighters in the world failed to meet one another, such as Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez, to determine divisional superiority.
The winner of such a contest surely would have achieved strong consideration for Fighter of the Year. Other mega-bouts came off, such as Sergey Kovalev versus Andre Ward, but this bout in particular was sullied by a controversial decision. A clear victor was not awarded and thus took another pair of big names out of the race for Fighter of the Year. Vasyl Lomachenko’s showdown with Nicholas Walters was completely one-sided and disappointed fans in terms of Fight of the Year contention, but Lomachenko was propped up as a solid candidate for Fighter of the Year. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez put on a Fight of the Year show against Carlos Cuadras and also put his name in the ballot box for Fighter of the Year with the win. However, one boxer stood out above all the others with two world title victories over two unbeaten world champions in two separate division. That man is Belfast, North Ireland’s own Carl Frampton: the SecondsOut 2016 Fighter of the Year.
Between February and July of 2016, Carl Frampton tidied up the Fighter of the Year race with two excellent wins. The first, against Scott Quigg in a IBF/WBA super bantamweight title unification bout at Manchester Arena. Two of the United Kingdom’s best fighters put in a memorable twelve rounds with the outcome largely determine in the first half of the bout. After a feeling out round in the first, Frampton established a workman-like jab to gain the advantage over his rival. The Frampton jab continued through three rounds and put Quigg on the losing end of those rounds. Quigg failed to find his range consistently although he did land some good power shots to keep hope alive for offensive attack. Frampton impressed as he outboxed the more than capable Quigg with his jab. After the bout, it was revealed that Quigg suffered a broken jaw in round four. Frampton’s aggression increased by the midway point, but it was Quigg in great need of a boost. Like a champion, Quigg found it.
Quigg’s jabs and hooks started finding their mark more and more and the Bury native started pocketing some rounds to keep his momentum going. Frampton swallowed a hook in round eight that had him fighting a little more apprehensive than before. His output also dropped allowing Quigg back into the fight. Frampton withstood Quigg’s offensive, but began to see the fight drawing closer on the cards. Quigg’s power shots to the head and body. Frampton looked hurt at times during the fight, but his championship spirit kept him in the game long enough to step on the gas in the final rounds when needed. The final decision was split. One judge favored Quigg 115-113, but was overruled by two counts of 116-112 for Frampton. Frampton unified the two titles with the win and showed grit holding on to victory in the face of an unbeaten champion not ready to let his "0" go.
Frampton got back in the ring in July to take on Leo Santa Cruz at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The two battled for Santa Cruz’ WBA featherweight title in a memorable twelve rounder. Just as the jab was key for Frampton against Quigg, movement made the difference in the Santa Cruz bout. Santa Cruz’ flat-footed stalking style was troubled and allowed Frampton to rock the champion with a counter left hook in round two. Frampton kept himself mobile and found a home for his compact hooks in the inside. Santa Cruz was again put back on his heels from a left hook in the third. Santa Cruz was not about to lay down though and mounted his comeback in the third, fighting on even terms with Frampton to remind him that he was the champion in the ring that night. The rounds become more closely contested and harder to score as the mid-rounds approached. Frampton was still boxing masterfully, but Santa Cruz’ inside pressure mounted in terms of success. Santa Cruz dominated round six and even appeared to stun Frampton for the first time. It was the first clear round for the champion though and, like Quigg, he found himself in a hole early. Frampton brazenly took punches from Santa Cruz, perhaps to show his level of confidence, but it was not a wise move on his part in terms of winning rounds. Santa Cruz began to flurry more instead of seeking one big shot and Frampton began to slow down.
In the eighth, Frampton found his second wind and got his punches off more quickly. His blows were by far the more telling and were exactly the kind of work that built his earlier foundation. Santa Cruz was not finished though and he hurt Frampton in the ninth with a right hand. Frampton showed an excellent chin in spite of buckling a tad in the knees. However, it was his own mistake to stay too long on the ropes with Santa Cruz. After ten rounds, the fight looked even with Frampton landing the more telling blows throughout the bout, but Santa Cruz’ recent work unfolding a whole new storyline. It was clear, that like the Quigg bout that the final verdict of the fight would be determined in the championship rounds. Santa Cruz continued to pressure, but Frampton was equally game and fired back with hooks and straight punches. The decision handed down was a majority verdict with one judge seeing the bout 114-114. A fair score, but overruled by margins of 116-112 and 117-111 in favor of Carl Frampton, who won his rounds more decisively early on.
Many rounds were hard to score as they were hotly contested but the finer work was rewarded. Carl Frampton finished 2016 with a record of 23-0-0 (14) and three championship belts in his trophy case, two of which were captured this calendar year. Frampton deservingly receives the award of SecondsOut’s 2016 Fighter of the Year. Honorable mentions to Vasyl Lomachenko who stopped both Roman Martinez and Nicholas Walters, Roman Gonzalez who won a pair of decision over McWilliams Arroyo, and Joe Smith Jr. who stopped three opponents, including Andrej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins, in eleven rounds of work.
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Janauary 1, 2017