Matt Davies rounds up 2020 and hands out our alternative awards for the year, with Alexander Povetkin vs Dillian Whyte, Joe Joyce and Katie Taylor all featuring
As a highly turbulent year has now ended, it’s time to reflect on 12 months of boxing that will never be forgotten. In a time of fear and uncertainty, boxing has survived a spell on the sidelines and come back with a bang, albeit largely without the fans. And though we look forward to what will hopefully be a better 2021, it’s only right to look back at some standout moments from 2020.
Upset of the Year: Anthony Yarde defeated by Lyndon Arthur
We start with a frankly bizarre bout, in which world-level prospect Anthony Yarde fell to a split-decision defeat to light-heavyweight Commonwealth champion Lyndon Arthur, who moved to 18-0 with victory. Though suffering his first professional defeat to the experienced Sergey Kovalev in 2019, Yarde answered a lot of questions with a highly encouraging performance in a hostile atmosphere in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The Brit seemingly proved that, experience aside, he was a top-level fighter in the making. And after two bounce-back TKO wins against Diego Jair Ramirez and Dec Spelman, Arthur was mostly expected to be no more than another step in the rebuild. That was not to be the case, however. Instead, Arthur’s jab proved problematic for the 29-year-old, who appeared oddly cautious in his approach. Perhaps with the gas tank in mind, it was only in the 12th and final round Yarde mounted his first prolonged attack, in which he nearly spared the judges their duties. Instead, it went to the scorecards, with Yarde’s reaction to Arthur’s hand being raised nothing short of alarming. Initially describing the result as a “robbery”, Yarde refused to accept the outcome and has since professed his desire for a rematch. Where 2021 could have seen a return to elite level for Yarde, he’s now set for another rebound mission. Many believe he needs to move away from current trainer Tunde Ajayi, and though Yarde has hinted that changes will be made, the specifics remain to be seen.
Punch of the Year: Alexander Povetkin knocks out Dillian Whyte
There were two standout candidates in the Punch of the Year, the other coming in Gervonta Davis’ frightening knockout victory over former four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz. The American had threatened with the left hook while marginally on top in an even opening five rounds, but no one could have anticipated what was to come. Having previously never been knocked out, Santa Cruz was sent crashing to the canvas after a fierce left uppercut connected clean on the chin. The Mexican was out cold as Davis sent out a pertinent message to his super-featherweight rivals.
While Davis’ emphatic punch will be present in highlight reels for years to come, Alexander Povetkin’s stunning uppercut against Dillian Whyte comes out on top. The 41-year-old looked a sluggish shadow of his former self as Whyte floored him twice in the fourth round. The course of history changed in a split second, however, as Povetkin’s left hand in the fifth both catapulted him into title contention and robbed Whyte of his long-standing WBC mandatory position. With no fans present, the silence was deafening. Shock overcame Matchroom’s Fight Camp in an eerie encounter that once again shifted the landscape in the heavyweight division.
Statement Win of the Year: Teofimo Lopez defeats Vasyl Lomachenko
To be the best, you have to beat the best, something Teofimo Lopez certainly did this year. At just 23 years old, Lopez is already arguably one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in boxing after proving too big, strong and skilful for the usually masterful Vasyl Lomachenko. In just his 16th pro fight, the American added the WBA and WBO lightweight titles to his IBF belt. Lopez now stands at the top of a brimming lightweight division, with jaw-dropping bouts against the likes of Gervonta Davis and, more likely, Devin Haney hopefully to come sooner rather than later. Many will view Tyson Fury’s victory over Deontay Wilder as the win of the year, but Lopez announced himself to the world with a quite spectacular victory.
Trainer of the Year: SugarHill Steward
When deciding the Trainer of the Year, there can only be one winner. It goes to SugarHill Steward, nephew of the legendary trainer Emanuel Steward. Of course, SugarHill is now the trainer of Tyson Fury, who initially raised a few eyebrows when he parted with Ben Davison. His decision was emphatically justified by a career-best performance in his stoppage victory over Deontay Wilder in February, however. It was not just the end result that was so impressive, but the performance itself. Fury is known for his evasive style, deceptive speed, boxing IQ and an unparalleled jab - a master on the backfoot, you might say. What we saw against Wilder was a brand-new Fury, one who never took a backward step; one who essentially bullied Wilder, knocking him down twice until his corner finally thew in the towel in the seventh round. On top of his remarkable powers of recovery and boxing skill, Fury proved he does in fact carry the power and aggression to trouble any heavyweight in the world. In bringing out this new ferocious Fury, Hill deserves an abundance of credit. Next up, a mouth-watering, legacy-defining all-British clash with Anthony Joshua awaits.
Heavyweight on the Rise: Joe Joyce
Sticking with the heavyweights, it would simply feel harsh to leave Joe Joyce out of any end-of-2020 list. After turning professional late in 2017 following a stellar amateur career, the Juggernaut has swiftly moved into world title contention, with 2020 a defining year for the 35-year-old. After stopping Michael Wallisch in July, Joyce stepped up his calibre of opponent with a highly anticipated bout against the fearsome Daniel Dubois. It was the youngster who came into the fight as favourite; and had ‘DDD’ won, Joyce’s title aspirations would have been over before they ever truly began. Though Joyce’s style will never win a beauty contest, its effectiveness cannot be disputed. His engine, chin and accuracy of a fierce jab proved too much for Dubois, who took a knee and stayed down in the 10th round of their intriguing bout, in which it later transpired the 23-year-old had suffered a double fracture to his left eye socket. Joyce now looks ahead to a promising 2021 with an abundance of options at his disposal. With Joshua and Fury looking to lock horns, a rematch with Oleksandr Usyk – who beat him in the amateurs – could make sense for both parties.
Female Fighter of the Year: Katie Taylor
Now, this one will hardly come as a surprise, as Katie Taylor once again showed this year why she is held in such high esteem. The 34-year-old had perhaps been fortunate to hold onto her belts as she was awarded a majority decision victory over Delfine Persoon in Madison Square Garden in 2019. After a gruelling encounter, Taylor refused to shy away from a rematch and showed exquisite skill as she outclassed the Belgian in a more one-sided affair in August. Taylor was back at it less than three months later, this time totally dominating WBA mandatory challenger Miriam Gutierrez, who hit the canvas in a demolition job at Wembley Arena. Taylor now looks forward to a huge 2021, with potential superfights against Amanda Serrano, Jessica McCaskill, Cecilia Braekhus or Cris Cyborg hopefully to come. Though the award goes to Taylor, special mentions have to go to both Terri Harper and Chantelle Cameron. Harper started the year with a bang, defeating Eva Wahlstrom in February to claim the WBC super-featherweight title. She then defended her title with a hard-fought points win over Natasha Jonas, before seeing off 2020 with a TKO victory over Katharina Thanderz. After years of graft, Cameron also became a world champion this year courtesy of a dominant points win over Adriana Arujo to become the WBC super-lightweight queen.