Boxing review of 2021: A series of undisputed fights alongside Jake Paul’s journey into the pro game defined a superb year for the sport.
The breathtaking brutality of Fury vs Wilder 3 satisfied years of frustration and emerged as the standout moment of boxing in 2021.
Yes, Tyson Fury delivered amid the circus aiming to reinvent the sport through a series of celebrity fights. The Briton was pushed into a trilogy bout with Deontay Wilder after a courtroom squabble, prevailing in a slugfest for the ages.
There were limited expectations after Fury’s crushing win in the rematch a year earlier. And that only supplied the explosives for a fight packed with plenty of moments to propel fans off their seats.
Las Vegas erupted amid a crimson filter as another iconic chapter to the rich history of the heavyweight division was finally settled.
Cruelly denied a first undisputed fight in the sport’s premier division since 2001, Oleksandr Usyk snatched his moment to clinch legendary status by upsetting Anthony Joshua. Another classic chapter in heavyweight history.
As boxing emerged after months of complications surrounding events due to Covid, it was comforting to welcome back these epic shows, which Joshua produces better than anybody. Amid a spectacular backdrop at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, an irresistible Usyk dazzled over 12 engrossing rounds to scupper British boxing’s hopes of the defining fight of a generation.
Even if the ultimate heavyweight fight in British boxing slips away, Dillian Whyte negotiated his own way through the courtrooms in pursuit of that elusive shot at Fury’s WBC title, likely destined for the first quarter of next year. Joe Joyce patiently waits for his turn too, and another Olympic medalist, Frazer Clarke, fresh from a sensational run in Tokyo to claim bronze, is all set to begin his journey.
Fury and Wilder combined to rise above a controversial trend that threatens to mask the rich tradition built up over more than a century.
Nonetheless, Jake Paul has provoked discussion and reflection in a sport that rarely acknowledges its flaws. The fascination of Paul, who edged past Tyron Woodley once and then completely flattened the former UFC champion after Tommy Fury pulled out of their fight through injury and illness.
It will be fascinating how boxing learns from the Paul experiment. While the mere prospect of fighters meeting provokes interest, that soon fades once the excuses and politics stack up to block those fights for the fans. There is a degree of responsibility, too, from those in charge, as proven by Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Logan Paul exhibition and the frankly dangerous Triller venture that saw Evander Holyfield succumb to a sickening knockout against Vitor Belfort.
But Paul is merely tapping into boxing’s system, training hard and gradually revealing quite how far somebody can go with enormous resources and intense dedication.
If an undisputed bout at heavyweight evaded the sport, another enriched it, as Canelo Alvarez completed a ruthless foray at super-middleweight after tearing through Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant.
The latter dared to confuse and frustrate the Mexican superstar with his slick movement and crisp jab, but Canelo would eventually close the show, as he has made a habit of in recent years. A menacing finisher, Canelo’s balance, poise and variety of shots left Plant in a crumpled heap, exhausted after 11 rounds.
The sport lost a legend through retirement in 2021 too, leaving no doubt as to Canelo’s status atop the throne. Manny Pacquiao faded at the hands of Yordenis Ugas, with the Cuban able to tame the blurring hand speed of the legendary Filipino, meaning Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford is now the ultimate fight at welterweight. A career that has thrilled and inspired millions around the world ends with a tinge of disappointment, but the 42-year-old walks into a new career in politics with his legacy secure as a six-weight world champion.
Pacquiao’s exit comes just too soon for Josh Taylor after the Scot’s supreme performance over Jose Ramirez continued boxing’s undisputed theme in 2021.
Inspired by the legendary Ken Buchanan, the Scot is now playing with house money at 140 pounds and beyond after his magical night in Las Vegas. The Tartan Tornado must negotiate Jack Catterall first before the super fights arrive.
In the women’s code, Claressa Shields added another layer to her greatness with a dominant victory over Marie-Eve Dicaire to pair the undisputed junior middleweight crown to her undisputed reign at middleweight. Shields has now eclipsed anything seen before in either the women’s or men’s sport during the four-belt era.
While Katie Taylor remained active throughout 2021 and the Bray Bomber is still perfect in the pro ranks at 20-0, prevailing against Natasha Jonas, Jennifer Han and Firuzi Sharapova. The undisputed queen at lightweight is now destined to finally meet seven-weight champion Amanda Serrano: a mouthwatering prospect that should define a legendary career inside the ring.
Fighter of the year: Canelo Alvarez
Fight of the year: Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder
Knockout of the year: Oscar Valdez vs Miguel Berchelt
Breakthrough fighter of the year:George Kambosos Jr
Upset of the year: Teofimo Lopez vs George Kambosos Jr
Bold prediction for 2022: At least two British fighters will win world titles at light heavyweight.