In a year unlike any other in recent memory, the 2020 Yahoo Sports Fighter of the Year in boxing is a man unlike any other.
There was no elite high-end fighter who put together multiple impressive wins in 2020. The 10 men who make up the Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound rankings fought a combined total of nine times. Only No. 10 Shakur Stevenson fought twice, and No. 7 Manny Pacquiao and No. 9 Artur Beterbiev did not compete.
And so it’s a lot harder to come up with a clear choice for Fighter of the Year under those circumstances. If all of the top fighters essentially fought once, then do we just look at which of them faced the toughest opponent and in that case, pick him? If we went that route, the winner would be unified lightweight champion, Teofimo Lopez, who decisioned Vasiliy Lomachenko in October in a brilliant performance.
Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue fought only once, but was incredible in a victory over Jason Moloney. Inoue may be the best fighter in the world for many years to come.
Or do we look toward someone like the legendary super flyweight champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who performed brilliantly in two wins in 2020 but didn’t beat anyone at the top of the division?
As I mulled the choices over, one name came up again and again. This man came up huge in his only appearance and stunned fans not only with his one-sided win but in the manner in which he pulled it off.
WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury’s only fight was a seventh-round TKO of an overmatched Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas in February.
If someone picked Fury to win before the fight, it was because they thought he’d fight at range, peck and poke at Wilder and keep the heavy-hitting WBC champion at a safe distance.
For weeks before the fight, though, Fury said he’d walk Wilder down and bring the fight to him. Wilder is one of the hardest punchers in the sport, if not the hardest, and no one assumed Fury was serious. But when the bell rang at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas to start the fight, Fury raced to the center of the ring and pressured Wilder.
It was a brilliant strategy and one for which Wilder had no answer. In their first fight, Fury boxed from the outside and controlled much of the fight with his jab. But he was at risk of Wilder’s power, and Wilder knocked him down twice.
The second knockdown in that first bout, in the 12th round, nearly ended as a KO for Wilder. So even though Fury established in the first bout a plan that worked, he understood it came with risks.
The new plan wasn’t foolproof in that exchanging with a puncher puts you at risk of a fight-ending counter shot, but it brought the element of surprise and Fury executed it perfectly.
Fury outclassed Wilder from the opening bell to the moment in the seventh when trainer Mark Breland raised Wilder’s ire by throwing in the towel.
He fought a formidable, dangerous opponent and was thoroughly dominated.
For that, Fury is the 2020 Yahoo Sports Boxing Fighter of the Year.
Runners-up: Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Naoya Inoue, Errol Spence Jr., Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Emmanuel Navarette.
Prospect of the Year
This was a hard choice because there are a lot of good young prospects in the sport. For this, I limit it to boxers who are 25 or under as of Dec. 31, 2020, who have 25 fights or less and who have never fought for a world title.
In this case, there are four names that stand above the rest: welterweight Jaron Ennis, super middleweight Edgar Berlanga, super lightweight Elvis Rodriguez and super welterweight Sebastian Fundora.
The key here is finding the guy who will turn out to be the best fighter down the road, not who is the best now.
All four will probably wear world titles around their waist and I may regret passing on Fundora and Ennis, in particular, but I’m going to go with Berlanga. A guy who can punch like he does doesn’t come around often and that gives him the potential to be a breakout champion.
Trainer of the Year
SugarHill Steward is the man. He took over in Fury’s corner and led him to the win over Wilder. I chose him over Stephen “Breadman” Edwards and Derrick James.
Fight of the Year
This was a year filled with great fights, but the one that gets my nod had eight knockdowns in five rounds and a crushing KO finish.
No one was talking about Jose Zepeda versus Ivan Baranchyk as a Fight of the Year contender before it occurred, but it was impossible to stop talking about it after it ended.
Just a spectacular action battle with momentum switches, huge shots aplenty and a dramatic ending.
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