Dear readers, each year, East Side Boxing announces the winners of our coveted ESBY awards.
And despite coping with a quirky boxing schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve stayed true to our mission by recognizing 2020’s best fighters, fights, and knockouts in boxing.
As usual, our selections emphasize facts over fiction and truth over spin.
So, without further ado, here are the winners and nominees for our 2020 ESBYS:
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, MALE
This year was unlike any other, with COVID-19 ravaging the globe. Likewise, our pick for ESB’s top honor was an unconventional one involving considerable deliberation. Our selection for FIGHTER OF THE YEAR came down to two men, TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ and TYSON FURY, who distanced themselves from the field with their 2020 accomplishments, which rendered them equally deserving in our eyes.*
LÓPEZ outfoxed one of boxing’s elite tacticians, VASILIY LOMACHENKO, beating the pound-for-pound star in dominant fashion. Although the knowledge and experience gaps were obvious, LÓPEZ had no problem in bridging these gaps, pulling off one of boxing’s finest performances of 2020.
In contrast, TYSON FURY knocked out one of boxing’s most lethal punchers in the modern era, DEONTAY WILDER, who had iced 95% of his opponents and remained in the top 15 pound-for-pound discussions prior to his second scrap with FURY. Despite receiving a highly disputed draw against FURY in 2018, WILDER was brutalized in the rematch. Simply put, the rangy Alabamian was thoroughly waxed by FURY and stopped for the first time as a pro.
With LÓPEZ and FURY only fighting once in a truncated boxing season (of no fault of their own), and both fighters entering their respective bouts versus Lomachenko and Wilder as betting underdogs (albeit less so in the case of FURY vs. WILDER), both LÓPEZ and FURY earned a legitimate claim to our FIGHTER OF THE YEAR honors.
* WINNER (TIE)
TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ & TYSON FURY
Lightweight | Heavyweight
ERROL SPENCE JR.
Featherweight / Lightweight
Super Middleweight / Middleweight / Light Heavyweight
ROMÁN “CHOCOLATITO” GONZÁLEZ
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, FEMALE
In arguably the hardest decision of this year’s awards class, JESSICA McCASKILL edged out her fellow contenders to snag ESB’s top spot as the FEMALE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR. McCASKILL’s impressive win over the über-talented CECILIA BRÆKHUS was enough to tip the scales in her favor and solidify her status as 2020’s alpha female in this competitive category. By outpointing BRÆKHUS, McCASKILL became the undisputed Welterweight World Champion and a two-division champ while pulling off one of 2020’s biggest upsets over a previously undefeated (36-0), undisputed welterweight world titlist, and perennial pound-for-pound entrant. McCASKILL’s signature win undeniably elevated her profile while representing a palpable changing of the guard in the welterweight division.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
DUH. JOSE ZEPEDA’s knockout win over IVAN BARANCHYK is ESB’s consensus pick for 2020 FIGHT OF THE YEAR.
No fans in attendance due to COVID-19? No problem. This barnburner had it all, including a whopping eight knockdowns — yep, let that sink in — over five pulse-pounding rounds that were heavy on momentum shifts and light on lulls in the action. Throw in ZEPEDA’s unforgettable KTFO to close the show (a contender for KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR), and the decision is clear: When it comes to the best fight of 2020, there is ZEPEDA vs. BARANCHYK, and then everyone else.
JOSE ZEPEDA KO5 IVAN BARANCHYK
JUAN FRANCISCO ESTRADA TKO11 CARLOS CUADRAS
GERVONTA DAVIS KTFO6 LÉO SANTA CRUZ
Super Featherweight / Lightweight
ADAM LOPEZ MD10 LOUIE CORIA
ARNOLD BARBOZA JR. UD10 ALEX SAUCEDO
FIGHT OF THE YEAR, WOMEN’S BOXING
Photo © Mark Robinson | Matchroom Boxing
If you missed it, that’s a damn shame. With hundreds of combined punches thrown, TERRI HARPER and NATASHA JONAS put on a modern classic when they traded leather at the MATCHROOM Fight Camp (UK) on August 7th. HARPER and JONAS let their fists fly at a breakneck pace for 10 rounds, fighting the majority of their bout in close quarters. Both fighters rarely took a step backward and repeatedly received oohs and aahs from the broadcasting team and those in attendance. Although the contest ended with ΩΩ retaining her WBO and IBO World titles via a split draw, the duo put on an unforgettable, under-the-radar fight that over-delivered. It produced a handful of stanzas that were ROUND OF THE YEAR caliber. For their efforts, we recognize HARPER vs. JONAS as 2020’s FIGHT OF THE YEAR in women’s boxing.
TERRI HARPER SDRAW10 NATASHA JONAS
ELIN CEDERROOS UD10 ALICIA NAPOLEON-ESPINOSA
ALEJANDRA JIMÉNEZ NC (SD10) FRANCHÓN CREWS-DEZURN
JESSICA McCaskill MD10 CECILIA BRÆKHUS
PROMOTER OF THE YEAR
In a year of tremendous adversity, BOB ARUM and TOP RANK made lemonade out of lemons, promoting our FIGHT OF THE YEAR (ZEPEDA vs. BARANCHYK), PROSPECT OF THE YEAR (BERLANGA), and one of our FIGHTERS OF THE YEAR (LOPEZ). ARUM et al. also kept its pound-for-pound contenders busy (CRAWFORD, LOMACHENKO) while becoming one of the earliest promotional outfits to put on shows during the pandemic. For their efforts and eye toward fighter safety, ARUM and TOP RANK snag our ESBY award for PROMOTER OF THE YEAR.
PREMIER BOXING CHAMPIONS
PBC | Haymon Boxing
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
Photo © Esther Lin | SHOWTIME
On October 31st, GERVONTA DAVIS and LÉO SANTA CRUZ locked horns at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Both fighters were reigning WBA world champions in their primes, putting their respective titles on the line in a matchup with high potential risks and rewards.
After 5 nip-and-tuck rounds, with DAVIS ahead of SANTA CRUZ on all scorecards by a mere point, the man is better known as “Tank” showed the world why his power, literally, hits different. With less than 30 seconds to go in the 6th round, DAVIS parried a SANTA CRUZ right hand upstairs and followed suit with his own counter headshot, after absorbing a second right hand to his forehead courtesy of SANTA CRUZ’s follow-up right hand. The Baltimorean’s counter was of the “shot from the gods” variety; however, a clock-cleaning left uppercut that switched SANTA CRUZ’s senses off on impact and dropped the Mexican-born warrior with the quickness. And there was no need for the referee to bother counting; the fight was over the moment DAVIS connected with SANTA CRUZ’s chin.
More important, DAVIS’s wipeout KTFO proved two things: that (1) his power is real, and (2) this knockout was undoubtedly the KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR.
GERVONTA DAVIS KTFO6 LEO SANTA CRUZ
Super Featherweight | Lightweight
ALEXANDER POVETKIN KTFO5 DILLIAN WHYTE
JERMELL CHARLO KO8 JEISON ROSARIO
JOSE ZEPEDA KTFO5 IVAN BARANCHYK
NAOYA INOUE KTFO7 JASON MOLONEY
TRAINER OF THE YEAR
DERRICK JAMES was boxing’s best cornerman in 2020, training and game-planning for two of boxing’s top fighters: Errol Spence Jr. and Jermell Charlo. Spence Jr. and Charlo experienced ongoing success during a coronavirus-shortened year of boxing, with both fighters ranking among our finalists for FIGHTER OF THE YEAR. Spence Jr. was also boxing’s COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR. For these accomplishments, DERRICK JAMES takes home our ESBY for 2020 TRAINER OF THE YEAR.
(Notable fighters: Errol Spence Jr., Jermell Charlo)
BRIAN “BOMAC” McINTYRE
(Terence Crawford, Jamel Herring, Rob Brant, Steven “So Cold” Nelson)
(Canelo Álvarez, Ryan Garcia, Óscar Valdez)
TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ SR.
CALVIN FORD / KENNY ELLIS
(Gervonta Davis, Lorenzo Simpson, Demond Nicholson)
COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Photo © @errolspencejr | Instagram
ERROL SPENCE JR. was the architect of one of boxing’s most inspirational comeback stories of 2020. After sustaining life-threatening injuries from a horrific rollover car crash in October 2019 — an accident that saw SPENCE JR. Badly lacerated and reportedly ejected from his Ferrari — some of boxing’s cognoscenti wondered whether the Texan would emerge from the crash as a damaged fighter either physically and/or psychologically.
Nevertheless, SPENCE JR. Erased any thoughts of him being a potentially washed fighter by regaining his form and winning convincingly over former world champ DANNY GARCIA in December. And while SPENCE JR. Showed some ring rust in spots versus GARCIA, which is to be expected given his ordeal; SPENCE left no doubt that he remains a formidable welterweight and pound-for-pound caliber fighter after besting GARCIA.
SPENCE’s triumph over a life-altering event and noteworthy win over GARCIA makes him our clear-cut choice for the 2020 COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR.
Errol Spence Jr.
ROMÁN “CHOCOLATITO” GONZÁLEZ
JOE SMITH JR.
MOST IMPROVED FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Our selection for MOST IMPROVED FIGHTER OF THE YEAR is CLAY COLLARD. The middling mixed martial artist turned prospect killer became the quintessential “Mr. Upset” in boxing during his 2020 campaign. CLAY COLLARD beat 5 emerging prospects throughout the year, including RAYMOND GUAJARDO in February and Egis Klimas charge, DAVID KAMINSKY in June. And despite COVID concerns, COLLARD fought 6 times this year, going a respectable 5-1 (3 KOs) and derailing a handful of prospects’ dreams in the process.
What’s more, COLLARD often took many fights on short notice and had only turned to boxing as a way to bolster his stand-up game for his MMA career. Nevertheless, COLLARD paved a lane for himself in the sweet science and proved that, if you’re a prospect looking to pad your record, you’d best beware of him.
Given his ambitious schedule, throwback “anyone, anytime, anywhere” mentality, and penchant for pulling upsets out of a hat secured CLAY COLLARD spot as our frontrunner in this important category.
JOE SMITH JR.
JOSEPH DIAZ JR.
UPSET OF THE YEAR
TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ’s win over the stalwart pound-for-pounder, VASILIY LOMACHENKO, was a masterclass in self-confidence and execution. Quite frankly, LÓPEZ “LOMACHENKO’d” LOMACHENKO: dominating the Ukrainian at his own game with superior footwork, speed, strength, and skill over 12 rounds. Although LÓPEZ’s margin of victory is debatable, even a boxing greenhorn could see that he was the superior fighter that night. And for LÓPEZ’S virtuoso performance, which saw him leave the ring with 3 world titles and unified Lightweight Champ status, the talented Brooklynite takes home our ESBY award for 2020’s UPSET OF THE YEAR.
TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ UD12 VASILIY LOMACHENKO
TYSON FURY TKO7 DEONTAY WILDER
PANYA PRADABARI UD12 WANHENG MENAYOTHIN
ALEXANDER POVETKIN KTFO5 DILLIAN WHYTE
JOE SMITH JR. KO9 ELEIDER ÁLVAREZ
JEISON ROSARIO TKO5 JULIAN WILLIAMS
BREAKOUT FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
JOE JOYCE’s style isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, but the heavyweight bruiser usually gets results, and 2020 was no different. JOYCE stayed busy, fighting twice, earning wins over the lesser-known MICHAEL WALLISCH and ESB’s 2019 PROSPECT OF THE YEAR, DANIEL DUBOIS.
In beating DUBOIS, JOYCE showed his pedigree, stopping a fellow unbeaten prospect in a matchup that was fought, by-and-large, on equal footing. As Joyce began to close the distance, however, he continued to pump his jab and rattle off power shots to Triple D’s dome. The accumulation of punches ended up closing DUBOIS’s eye and ultimately forced HIM to take a knee and fail to beat the count due to the eye damage he sustained courtesy of JOYCE.
Taken together, JOYCE firmly entrenched himself in the heavyweight mix, and he showed the ability to upend a fellow undefeated, up-and-coming heavyweight prospect. These achievements netted JOYCE our vote for ESB’s BREAKOUT FIGHTER OF THE YEAR.
VERGIL ORTIZ JR.
JARON “BOOTS” ENNIS
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR
ESB’s blue-chip PROSPECT OF THE YEAR is EDGAR BERLANGA. BERLANGA was an absolute wrecking ball in 2020, going 3-0 with 3 knockouts and terrorizing opposing super middleweights in the process. BERLANGA pitched virtual shutouts against the boxing field over a coronavirus-shortened year, extending his overall record to an impressive 16-0 with 16 first-round knockouts. Yes, you heard that right: not a single foe survived long enough to hear the second-round bell versus BERLANGA since the 23-year-old began his pro career in 2016. Based on his track record, future opponents would be wise to batten down the hatches before facing BERLANGA because (as the Brooklynite put it after beating the brakes off of Lanell Bellows in October) he’s “a F****** monster!”
JESSE “BAM” RODRIGUEZ
WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR
Photo © Matt Power | MATCHROOM
We saved the worst for last. Although there were too many fights to choose from in this category, the dubious distinction of WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR goes to the judges and scorecards turned in for LEWIS RITSON’s “split decision win” over MIGUEL VÁZQUEZ. Make no mistake. VÁSQUEZ clearly won this fight, and it’s a damn shame that his ledger was robbed of a legit “W” over RITSON. In all honesty, this decision was yet another example of inept judging gone wild, which continues to plague the sweet science and chip away at boxing’s fan base. The fact that 2 of 3 judges had this fight for RITSON was beyond laughable. In fact, in an interview posted by iFL TV, Matchroom Boxing promoter EDDIE HEARN opined: “I can’t see a way that MIGUEL VÁZQUEZ didn’t win that fight . . . . and 117-111 [for RITSON] is an absolute disgrace.” To have RITSON’s own promoter at odds with the decision speaks volumes. It’s no wonder why the judges in RITSON vs. VÁSQUEZ earned our vote for rendering boxing’s worst decision of 2020.
LEWIS RITSON SD12 MIGUEL VÁZQUEZ
Joshua Franco ND Andrew Moloney
Rolando Romero UD12 Jackson Marinez
Jack Cullen SDraw10 Zak Chelli
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Finally, I’d like to thank you all for your continued readership. I wish all of you a Happy New Year and good health in 2021!
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*Notes. The last time ESB gave the Fighter of the Year award to two boxers was in 2017, when CRAWFORD and LOMACHENKO took home the top prize.
About the Author: Paul R. Jones! is a boxing writer and ringside photographer for East Side Boxing. A scientist by day and boxing writer by night, Paul covers the humorous, offbeat, and absurd from the sport of boxing. You can keep up with more of what Paul is thinking about on Twitter @boxingepicenter. You can also e-mail him at email@example.com.
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ESB Best of 2017! Lomachenko, Crawford, Joshua, More!
ESB Best of 2016! Frampton, Thurman, Álvarez, More!
The Year in Review: Six Notable Fights in 2014 – Part I — Pacquiao, Hopkins, Froch, More!