2021 Fighter-of-the-Year: Canelo Alvarez

Canelo Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) scored three knockouts in 2021, two against previously undefeated (in their prime) world champions, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant. After his victory over Plant, Alvarez became the sixth male boxer (and first Mexican fighter) to be an undisputed world titleholder in the four-belt era (since 1988) and the first undisputed super middleweight champion.

Alvarez started the year off with a crushing third-round technical knockout over his over-matched WBC mandatory opponent, Avni Yildirim (24-4, 13 KOs) in February, as Yildirim did not come out for the fourth-round. Alvarez won every round on the three judges’ scorecards (30-26), as he out-landed Yildirim 67 to 11 (58 of those punches were power shots), in this one-sided fight. He knocked Yildirim down in the third from a left jab followed by a straight right.

Three months later, he scored an eighth-round technical knockout over the former WBO titleholder, Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs). Alvarez connected on a hard right uppercut in the eighth-round that shattered Saunders’ right orbital bone and caused his right eye to immediately swell shut. Saunders did not come out for the ninth-round. At the time of the stoppage, Alvarez was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards (78-74, 78-74, and 77-75). He connected on fifty-three percent of his power shots.

Alvarez, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, ended the year in November with an eleventh-round technical knockout over the former IBF world champion, Plant (21-1, 12 KOs). He knocked Plant down twice in the eleventh-round from a hard right uppercut and then from a barrage of punches, after which referee, Russell Mora stopped the bout at one minute and five seconds. Alvarez was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards (98-92, 97-93, and 96-94) when the fight was halted. He out-landed Plant in body shots (53-13) and connected on forty-one percent of his power shots.

He was an extremely active boxer, especially nowadays, with four fights in the last eleven months. Alvarez won a twelve-round unanimous decision (119-109, 119-109, and 117-111) over the previously unbeaten WBA, WBC, and The Ring super middleweight champion, Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) in December 2020.

Runner Ups:

Light welterweight WBA and IBF world champion, Josh Taylor (18-0, 13 KOs) won an entertaining, competitive twelve-round unanimous decision (114-112 on all three judges’ scorecards) over the previously undefeated WBC and WBO champion, Jose Ramirez (26-1, 17 KOs) to become the undisputed light welterweight world champion. He was the fifth male boxer to become an undisputed world champion in the four-belt era and the first Scottish fighter to hold four belts in any division. Taylor, in his lone fight this year (May), dropped Ramirez in the sixth from a short left hand. Then in the next round, he almost stopped Ramirez as he connected on a brutal left uppercut to Ramirez’s chin, in which Ramirez barely survived the round.

Former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) scored a big upset victory over the former two-time heavyweight champion and IBF, WBO, and WBA titleholder, Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) in September via a twelve-round unanimous decision (117-112, 116-112, and 115-113) in Joshua’s home country, England. Usyk, in his only fight of the year, badly hurt Joshua in the third and seventh-round and almost finished him off in the twelfth when he landed twenty-nine punches, the most by a Joshua opponent. He became the third cruiserweight champion (David Haye and Evander Holyfield) to win a heavyweight world title, in just his third fight in the division. Joshua exercised his rematch clause, so they will fight again, possibly in April.