There are a couple things I’ve always promised myself.
I barely play golf.
But if I was ever lucky enough to score a hole in one, I’ve vowed to pluck the ball out of the cup, slide the club into the bag and head straight to my car – because it’ll never get any better.
Same goes for bowling.
I consider myself a decent bowler, but If I ever was lucky enough to string together 12 strikes, I’d unlace my shoes, put down my beer and never set foot in another alley.
Problem is, I’ve never followed that advice when it’s come to boxing.
Though I probably hit my high prediction watermark a decade ago when I said – on the eve of 2011 – that a then-unheralded and title-less Andre Ward would prove to be that year’s best fighter, it hasn’t stopped me from trying to replicate the success in each of 10 tries since.
To no one’s surprise, I’ve never been nearly as prescient.
Which again leaves me with the December task of recapping the crystal-ball claims I made at this time last year, when I was sure I knew precisely what would happen in the dumpster fire that’s been 2021.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Fitz’s Hits and Misses – Edition 11.
UPSET OF THE YEAR
The Pre-2021 Guess: Saunders UD 12 Golovkin
The Post-2021 Reality: Kambosos SD 12 Lopez
Hey, didn’t you used to be Gennady Golovkin?
At this time last year, the Kazakh boogeyman – just days off a beatdown of the completely forgettable Kamil Szeremeta – was trolling the middleweight waters for his next opponent as he waited for Canelo Alvarez to deem him worthy of a third shot at sharing space on the marquee.
Brash English claimant Billy Joe Saunders seemed perfect for the role, though the expectation here was that he’d be just dynamic enough to pull off a surprise. Instead, Canelo skipped to the front of the line, took on Saunders himself and dispatched him after eight intermittently violent rounds.
That left the upset void wide open and George Kambosos was only too happy to fill it.
The 28-year-old Aussie with Greek roots walked straight into Teofimo Lopez’s backyard, dropped him with a precise counter in the first round and spent much of the remaining 33 minutes outhustling and outworking him on the way to a career-defining, life-changing split decision.
There were other surprises, sure.
But none where the pre-fight contrast had been so stark.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
The Pre-2021 Guess: Fury KO 9 Joshua
The Post-2021 Reality: Paul KO 6 Woodley
Well, perhaps some partial credit is in order here.
Tyson Fury did take part in one of the year’s best knockouts when he separated Deontay Wilder from his senses for a second time, this time in the 11th round of one of the year’s best fights.
But as good as that ending was, it didn’t quite measure up to a December night in Tampa.
Indeed, just a week before Christmas on the Gulf Coast, the purist-enraging gift that is Jake Paul was delivered yet again – for the third time in eight months.
And while no one with sense considers him a contender and no one who’s seen a boxing match ought suggest he’d go the distance with one, the bomb he dropped on ex-UFC stud Tyron Woodley was precisely the sort of shot over which purists would have drooled had it been thrown by a “real boxer.”
And now that he’s packed another arena and cashed checks worth another couple million, there’ll be a long list of fighters – both real and otherwise – hoping they’ll be on his list in 2022.
Ho, ho, ho.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
The Pre-2021 Guess: Davis KO 8 Garcia
The Post-2021 Reality: Fury KO 11 Wilder
Got to admit, this pick looked pretty good on January 2, as Luke Campbell crumpled in the seventh round and Ryan Garcia looked as if he’d crossed the threshold from pretty boy to contender.
A match between Garcia and Gervonta Davis seemed a natural progression at that point, right up until Garcia put himself on the shelf with personal issues.
He seems close to a return and Davis is still unbeaten, so hope springs eternal that this one will get made and it figures to be great when it does – but we’ve still got to fill this space in the meantime.
So, among the fights that did get made, particularly the ones that had any level of real significance – always a tiebreaker in this space – we didn’t see any better than Fury’s aforementioned trilogy capper with his petulant, but compelling nemesis Wilder.
Truth told, it looked like a blowout when Fury started landing big shots in the second round, but the Alabaman showed remarkable mettle with a third-round rally that pushed the Englishman to the brink, and he found a reserve and returned fire each time he encountered through from four through 10.
It wasn’t enough to get through the 11th, but the sturdiness he showed and the tumult it created for 30-plus minutes made this one the best big-stage bout of 2021.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
The Pre-2021 Guess: Errol Spence Jr.
The Post-2021 Reality: Canelo Alvarez
Again, we’re claiming some partial credit here.
Among the reasons we’d suggested Spence would be 2021’s best fighter was his scheduled bout with Manny Pacquiao, which figured to be a career-defining victory.
History shows that Spence exited with an eye injury just weeks beforehand, leaving Cuban contender Yordenis Ugas to step in and record the upset for himself.
And while that victory alone with get Ugas his share of FOTY votes, he’s beaten out in this space by quantity.
Not only was Canelo Alvarez the most active high-profile fighter in 2021 – fighting three times – but he also recorded a pair of belt-acquiring victories on the way to become the first undisputed four-belt super middleweight champion in the division’s history.
Did wins over Avni Yildirim, Saunders and Caleb Plant make you think Alvarez is a star if you hadn’t already? No. None of them were particularly transcendent opponents. But the final two did present some stylistic issues that the Mexican was able to overcome while adding the IBF and WBO titles.
Three fights. Three wins. Three KOs. Two new belts.
No one else can match that output.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO junior bantamweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Kazuto Ioka (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Ryoji Fukunaga (No. 6 WBO/No. 21 IWBR)
Ioka (27-2, 15 KO): Fourth title defense; Twenty-first title fight in fourth weight class
Fukunaga (15-4, 14 KO): First title fight; Five straight wins since two-fight losing streak
Fitzbitz says: Full credit to the challenger for agreeing to step in when Ioka lost his scheduled unification bout, but he won’t be as successful as some of the other recent late subs. Ioka in 10 (95/5)
Last week's picks: None
2021 picks record: 52-17 (75.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,208-392 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.