Boxing was transformative in 2021, however, there were five bouts that impacted the game on the ultimate divisional levels.
We took a look at the best five fights of 2021.
Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk
2021 was a year of upsets and role reversals in divisions that seemed to have their hierarchies set in place. The heavyweight division looked at Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder as its three kings.
Then Oleksandr Usyk stepped up in weight and entered the heavyweight ranks, where he transformed the division in one night.
For many, the 6-foot-6 Joshua, who looked significantly better in his most recent wins over Andy Ruiz Jr. and Kubrat Pulev, seemed an insurmountable challenge for Usyk; but that’s if you don’t know boxing. Usyk’s underwhelming heavyweight displays fooled many against Chazz Witherspoon and Derek Chisora.
However, Usyk proved any doubters wrong with a masterful 12-round display on away soil at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He outclassed Joshua to become the unified champion in only three heavyweight fights.
Joshua did succeed in the middle rounds but struggled with a busted eye in the championship rounds. The Ukrainian, who had Joshua hurt many times, convinced the judges, who scored it 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113 for Usyk.
Teofimo Lopez vs. George Kambosos
In November, George Kambosos Jr. followed in Oleksandr Usyk’s footsteps when he shocked the world. He defeated Teofimo Lopez Jr., who initially shocked the world when he defeated Vasyl Lomachenko in his previous outing.
Then Kambosos did the same, claiming the IBF, WBA, and WBO lightweight titles, alongside the WBC “franchise” strap. Kambosos came into the bout as a 6-1 underdog and usurped the lightweight division hierarchy.
Kambosos set it off, dropping Lopez in the opening round. Kambosos felt the canvas in the 10th, but he walked away with a split decision win with scores of 115-112, 115-111, and 114-113.
The previously unbeaten Lopez insisted he won the fight after the final bell.
“He’s a hell of a fighter, but I won tonight; everybody knows that,” said Lopez after the loss. “The referee raised my hand. I won tonight; I don’t care what anybody says; I won tonight.
“At the end of the day, I’ve been here, I done that, I want to thank God, I want to thank everybody that came out tonight, look, I ain’t no sore loser, I take my wins like I take my losses.”
Now Kambosos is the man on top of the lightweight division with all eyes on him.
Terence Crawford vs. Shawn Porter
Terence “Bud” Crawford successfully defended his WBO welterweight title against “Showtime” Shawn Porter, putting the welterweight division on notice. Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs) got the biggest win of his career at the Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay via a 10th-round TKO victory.
The fight ended in a tenth round stoppage by Kenny Porter, the father-trainer of “Showtime,” and for many, it was controversial. Porter (31-4-1, 17 KOs) applied relentless pressure in a tough, tit-for-tat battle before Crawford scored two knockdowns in Round 10.
The elder Porter then stepped up on the ring mat and decided to take his son out of danger. By the stoppage time, Crawford was up on the judge’s cards 86-85, 87-84, and 86-85.
Porter, who was fighting for just the second time since a September 2019 loss to Errol Spence Jr., announced his retirement after the bout. Crawford announced his intention to leave Top Rank and Bob Arum’s promotional abilities to control the rest of his career independently.
With Errol Spence reportedly slated to face Yordenis Ugas in 2022, the world is waiting to see when Crawford and Spence will prove who’s the best in the division.
Canelo Alvarez vs. Caleb Plant
Saul “Canelo” Álvarez, boxing’s biggest superstar and consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, made history by becoming the first undisputed Super Middleweight World Champion when he stopped IBF champion Caleb Plant.
The fight came to a dramatic end in the 11th round when Canelo connected flush on a left hook that signaled the beginning of the end for Plant, who fought bravely in his pay-per-view main event debut.
Canelo (57-1-2, 39 KOs) followed up the left hook with a huge right uppercut that sent Plant to the canvas for the first time in his career. Plant (21-1, 12 KOs) returned to his feet but could never recover. Canelo pounced on his injured opponent, unleashing a barrage of power shots that again floored Plant. This time, referee Russell Mora stepped in to end the action at 1:05 of the 11th.
The future Hall of Famer Canelo, 31, already a four-division world champion, slowly broke Plant down throughout the fight with a steady diet of body shots. Fifty-three of his 117 landed punches were to the body, and he landed 40 percent of his power shots. Canelo closed the show landing 9 of 14 power shots in the 11th round.
It was a history-making night for boxing’s biggest star. In addition to becoming the first undisputed 168-pound champion in history, he became just the sixth male undisputed champion in the four-belt era and the first undisputed Mexican fighter in history.
Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder III
The third Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder fight was unforgettable as they waged an all-time epic heavyweight championship fight in which they were down a combined five times and ended with Fury finally putting Wilder away with a thunderous right hand in the 11th round to retain The Ring championship and WBC title on Oct. 9.
It was a breathtaking battle — the apparent fight of the year — from start to finish in which most of the crowd of 15,820 at T-Mobile Arena stood as Fury and Wilder slugged it out and finished a rare and historic heavyweight championship trilogy dramatically.
They had promised this kind of fight throughout the build-up, with Fury declaring, “I’m going to go all guns blazing, full-out attack, all in victory, straight out of the door from Round 1 until it finishes. It’s either going to be me or Wilder.”
Wilder told everyone to “get ready for war. This is going to be an amazing fight.”
They fulfilled their promises in spades as Fury proved his dominance over Wilder by winning the trilogy 2-0-1 with two knockouts and giving boxing fans memories forever from their 30 rounds together.
According to CompuBox statistics, Fury landed 150 of 385 punches (39 percent), and Wilder connected with 72 of 355 blows (20 percent). The 150 landed on Wilder is the most ever landed by an opponent.
The heavyweight division has reset with Usyk and Fury at the top of the heap, and Wilder and Joshua are now fighting to get back to championship status.
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