Last year can be seen as a bit of a disappointment for the boxing community as fighters such as Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia, Andre Ward, and others either failed to fight enough or killed their momentum with obvious mismatches (Garcia vs. Salka). But, 2014 did feature some new and familiar faces who displayed their skills and grit in exciting matches. It’s the time of the year where boxing sites decided which fighter had the biggest impact on the sport and accomplished great things in the squared circle. Without further ado, here are our picks for the 2014 Fighter of the Year.
- Roman Gonzalez: The man they call “El Chocolatito” is becoming one of, if not, the best little fighter in the world and one of the best pound-for-pound. Unfortunately, his, er, compact physique draws little attention from the majority of the media. However, his talent cannot be questioned and it is a shame fans and the media rob themselves of witnessing someone who not only is a powerful puncher, but also a good boxer with underrated defense. After blowing out overmatched opponents in Juan Kantun (TKO 6) and Juan Purisima (TKO 3) Gonzalez fought respected and talented Akira Yaegashi for the WBC flyweight title. In a fight expected to be competitive, Yaegashi fought bravely but became overwhelmed by the precise powerful shots of Gonzalez, who won the fight and title with a 9th round TKO. In November, Gonzalez defended the title with a dominant victory over experienced challenger Rocky Fuentes (TKO 6). Gonzalez has proven himself to be “the man” in the lower weight divisions and besides a fighter he’s already beaten in Juan Estrada, there aren’t a lot of guys who can really challenge him. He’s that good.
- Terence Crawford: If 2013 established the Omaha resident as a top prospect, 2014 became his breakout year. First, he traveled to Scotland to take the WBO lightweight title from hometown hero Ricky Burns by beating him by a deserved and dominant unanimous decision. This is a bit of a Catch-22 because Burns’ credentials have come under attack due to some hometown decisions and his fall as a relevant fighter since Crawford beat him. Nevertheless, Crawford sought to prove himself in the division and took a tough first defense against ultra-talented and heralded Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa. He brought a title fight back to Omaha, Nebraska for the first time in 42 years and delivered a star-making performance by knocking out Gamboa in the 9th round after losing the beginning rounds and adjusting to the speed and movement of the Cuban. Before the Gamboa bout, Crawford had been looked at as a good, but somewhat dull fighter. Crawford vs. Gamboa is a top candidate for fight of the year. Five months later Crawford defended his title for the second time against Raymundo Beltran, a fighter many felt beat Burns in his challenge for the title, and completely outclassed Beltran over twelve rounds to retain the title and establish himself as the best lightweight in the world.
- Gennady Golovkin: Since making his U.S. debut three years ago, Golovkin has gained a reputation as one of the most avoided fighters in the sport. This reputation has made him well known, but lucrative fights still elude the powerful Kazakhstani. He still managed to have an impressive 2014 starting with a stay-busy bout against tough but limited Osumanu Adama (TKO 7). Golovkin then stepped up the competition by obliterating former titlist Daniel Geale in only three rounds. Geale was thought to be Golovkin’s toughest challenge to date, but Golovkin showed his superior punching power and poise in taking out the brave Geale. The year would close out for Golovkin with an impressive 2nd round knockout of veteran world title challenger Marco Antonio Rubio. Although Rubio isn’t the most talented fighter in the division, he had challenged for titles in the past against the likes of Kelly Pavlik and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but none of those guys overwhelmed Rubio the way Golovkin did. Martin Murray, another veteran world-title challenger, will be Golovkin’s next opponent this February. Assuming he gets past Murray, let’s hope the other belt-holders finally give Golovkin a chance to display his talents in a high-profile fight.
Fighter of the Year: There were even more fighters who made a strong case, but none made a bigger impact in their careers like Terence Crawford. The Omaha native did exactly what a top prospect needs to do: take the next step. Crawford took a big step in outpointing Burns in Burns’ hometown and then following that victory with an impressive knockout of highly regarded Yuriorkis Gamboa in an action-packed fight. Crawford has drawn some criticism for being too big in the division, but it’s absurd to tell a man he can’t fight in a certain weight class when he’s making the weight. Besides, Crawford was the bigger man when they first signed the contract to fight Gamboa. Gamboa’s team knew Crawford was the bigger man chose to fight him anyway. If Gamboa and his team didn’t see any problem with it, why should anyone else? After the Gamboa bout, Crawford followed that up with a boxing exhibition over Beltran. The same Beltran who this author knows beat Burns regardless of the ridiculous draw the fight was scored.
Gonzalez is my runner-up choice because although he had an impressive year, Gamboa and Beltran are arguably better fighters than Yaegashi and Fuentes. No disrespect intended to those fighters or Gonzalez. The Nicaraguan had an worthy resume, it isn’t his fault the fighters in his division are either unfamiliar to the boxing community or are just limited fighters.
Although I always enjoy watching Golovkin, there really wasn’t any surprise in his victories. I expected him to beat his opponents decisively. Rubio and Geale are tough fighters but lack the talent to compete on the highest level, which is where Golovkin belongs. It isn’t really his fault he was unable to fight like the likes of Miguel Cotto or Andre Ward, but when selecting the fighter of the year the actual opposition is what counts.
Honorable Mentions: Sergey Kovalev, Naoya Inoue, Manny Pacquiao, Kell Brook, and Amir Khan