2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

By Paul R. Jones!: Each year, East Side Boxing (ESB) announces the winners of our coveted ESBY awards.

And despite a year that was far from normal (e.g., Omicron tightening its grip, political unrest), we stayed true to our mission by recognizing boxing’s top fighters, fights, and knockouts of 2021.

So, dear readers, here is our list of winners and nominees for our 2021 ESBYS:

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, MALE 

🏆 WINNER

SAÚL ‘CANELO’ ÁLVAREZ

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

Winning ESB’s FIGHTER OF THE YEAR honors is no easy feat. Pulling it off twice over the past three years (2021, 2019) is the stuff of boxing legends. CANELO ÁLVAREZ did just that based on his stoppages of two unbeaten champs, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant, and an over-matched mandatory, Avni Yildirim, in in 2021. ÁLVAREZ’s strength of schedule, activity level, and consecutive closeout performances made him a lock for this award, further showcasing why the Mexican badass is a surefire Hall of Famer. 

NOMINEE

Oleksandr Usyk

NOMINEE

Josh Taylor

NOMINEE

Nonito Donaire

NOMINEE

Stephen Fulton Jr.

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, FEMALE

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

KATIE TAYLOR

KATIE TAYLOR, like Canelo Álvarez, is a two-time winner of ESB’s FIGHTER OF THE YEAR award (2018, 2021). Three defenses of her undisputed women’s lightweight title in 2021 were enough to distance TAYLOR from Claressa Shields in our voting, albeit by a razor-thin margin given the historical significance of Shields’s win over Marie-Eve Dicaire. 

NOMINEE

Claressa Shields

NOMINEE

Amanda Serrano

NOMINEE

Jessica McCaskill

NOMINEE

Mikaela Mayer

FIGHT OF THE YEAR, MALE

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

TYSON FURY KO11 DEONTAY WILDER

I thought I knew what the FIGHT OF THE YEAR was after watching Juan Francisco Estrada and Chocolatito González put on a record-setting performance in March. Some, including Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, even called Estrada vs. González-II, “The best fight I have ever seen!! 

But, boy, were we wrong. Fury vs. Wilder-III hit different. 

With high stakes, five knockdowns, and a close fight on the scorecards going into the championship rounds, TYSON FURY and DEONTAY WILDER gave fans an instant classic. Bottom line. Fury vs. Wilder-III was too compelling to be denied top honors as the FIGHT OF THE YEAR.

NOMINEE

Juan Francisco Estrada SD12 Román ‘Chocolatito’ González

NOMINEE

Stephen Fulton Jr. MD12 Brandon Figueroa

NOMINEE

Josh Taylor UD12 José Carlos Ramírez

NOMINEE

Brandon Glanton SD10 Efetobor Apochi

FIGHT OF THE YEAR, FEMALE

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

MIKAELA MAYER UD10 MAIVA HAMADOUCHE

Despite the abysmal scores turned in by the ringside judges overseeing MIKAELA MAYER’s 10-round UD win over MAIVA HAMADOUCHE, there was no denying that this fight was one of the year’s best irrespective of gender. Mayer and Hamadouche fought at a high level throughout, in nip-and-tuck affair, with WBO and IBF junior lightweight titles hanging in the balance. In fact, this unification fight might be one of the best that I’ve seen over the last decade, despite the inflated margin of victory attributed to Mayer.  This fight easily earned our top spot as the FIGHT OF THE YEAR in Women’s Boxing.  

NOMINEE

Shannon Courtenay UD10 Ebanie Bridges

NOMINEE

Katie Taylor UD10 Natasha Jonas

NOMINEE

Amanda Serrano TKO9 Daniela Romina Bermudez

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR, MALE

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

ÓSCAR VALDEZ KTFO10 MIGUEL BERCHELT

Although the 2021 crop of KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR candidates were admittedly weaker than in previous years, ÓSCAR VALDEZ’s flatline KTFO of former world champ MIGUEL BERCHELT was one of the best knockouts of the decade. The reigning WBC World Champ, VALDEZ, stiffened the oft-avoided knockout artist, BERCHELT, with a chilling left-hand finisher that registered as one of the year’s biggest surprises, and earned our nod for KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR.  

NOMINEE

Gabriel Rosado KTFO3 Bektemir Melikuziev

NOMINEE

Brandun Lee KTFO3 Samuel Teah

NOMINEE

Joshua Buatsi KTFO4 Daniel Dos Santos 

NOMINEE

Efe Ajagba KTFO3 Brian Howard

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR, FEMALE
  2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

ALYCIA BAUMGARDNER TKO4 TERRI HARPER

ALYCIA BAUMGARDNER’s knockout of former world champion, TERRI HARPER, was elegant in its simplicity: a well-timed right hand from BAUMGARDNER that left Harper out cold on her feet via delayed reaction. Not only was BAUMGARDNER’s win one of women’s boxing biggest upsets, but it was a shoo-in for our KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR. 

NOMINEE

Sandy Ryan KO4 Leksandra Vujovic

NOMINEE

Amanda Serrano TKO9 Daniela Romina Bermudez

UPSET OF THE YEAR

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!  

🏆 WINNER

GEORGE KAMBOSOS SD12 TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ

Despite being undefeated, and earning his way into position as a mandatory challenger for TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ’s IBF strap, few oddsmakers gave 10-to-1 underdog, GEORGE KAMBOSOS, a snowball’s chance of beating LÓPEZ. But the brash Aussie talked the talk and walked the walk, lumping up and bloodying LÓPEZ en route to a split decision win in November. KAMBOSOS ability to silence his critics, knock off a rising pound-for-pound star, and scoop up the WBA, IBF, WBO, and WBC (Franchise) World Titles in the Big Apple were enough to sway our voting in his favor for UPSET OF THE YEAR.  

NOMINEE

KIKO MARTINEZ TKO6 KID GALAHAD 

NOMINEE

MAURICIO LARA TKO9 JOSH WARRINGTON

NOMINEE

SANDOR MARTIN MD10 MIKEY GARCIA 

NOMINEE

YORDENIS UGÁS UD12 MANNY PACQUIAO

PROSPECT OF THE YEAR

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!  

🏆 WINNER

JARED “BIG BABY” ANDERSON

At 11-0 with 11 knockouts, JARED ANDERSON is rapidly becoming one of boxing’s preeminent knockout artists. With TNT in both hands, the 22-year-old ANDERSON laid waste to four opponents sporting a combined 60-4-3 record going into their bouts with “BIG BABY” in 2021.  Given ANDERSON’s activity level and knack for producing highlight-reel knockouts, he’s our pick for PROSPECT OF THE YEAR.  

NOMINEE

Brandun Lee 

NOMINEE

Xander Zayas

NOMINEE

Fabio Wardley

NOMINEE

Alen Babic

BREAKOUT FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

JARON “BOOTS” ENNIS

JARON ENNIS, one of boxing most talented fighters in years, made a smooth transition from blue-chip prospect to ESB’s BREAKOUT FGHTER OF THE YEAR. ENNIS displayed all the attributes a five-tool fighter, including a rare blend of ring IQ, speed, timing and precision, strength, and defense. Knocking out former world champ, Sergey Lipinets, and world title challenger, Thomas Dulorme, in 2021 made ENNIS an easy choice for this award.

NOMINEE

Janibek Alimkhanuly 

NOMINEE

David Morrell 

NOMINEE

Conor Benn

NOMINEE

Radzhab Butaev

MOST IMPROVED FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

 🏆 WINNER

STEPHEN FULTON JR.

STEPHEN FULTON JR. came back from a COVID-19 diagnosis in 202O to have one his best campaigns yet in 2021. FULTON JR. out-dueled two undefeated young fighters in ’21 (Angelo Leo, Brandon Figueroa) to claim dibs on our MOST IMPROVED FIGHTER OF THE YEAR award.

NOMINEE

Conor Benn

NOMINEE

Jerry Forrest 

NOMINEE

Ra’eese Aleem 

NOMINEE

Luis Alberto Lopez

COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!      Photo © TOM HOGAN-HOGANPHOTOS/ GOLDEN BOY

🏆 WINNER

ROGER GUTIÉRREZ

The hard-nosed Venezuelan, ROGER GUTIÉRREZ, suffered a tough personal loss and even contemplated retirement back in 2018, before being talked out of it by those in his inner circle. All of these setbacks led to GUTIÉRREZ spending over a year out of the ring. However, 2021 saw GUTIÉRREZ run it back with one-time conqueror, Rene Alvarado, avenging his loss in the rematch and proving it was no fluke in the rubber match. These accomplishments earned GUTIÉRREZ our vote for COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR.  

NOMINEE

Andre Dirrell 

NOMINEE

Andy Ruiz Jr.

NOMINEE

Karl Dargan

NOMINEE

Steve Geffrard

TRAINER OF THE YEAR

  2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER 

EDDY REYNOSO

EDDY REYNOSO had a monster year in 2021. Under his stewardship, CANELO ÁLVAREZ, was the consensus FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, ÓSCAR VALDEZ landed the KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR, ANDY RUIZ JR. got back on track, and RYAN GARCÍA notched his biggest victory to date. REYNOSO is undoubtedly the TRAINER OF THE YEAR.  

NOMINEE

Anatoly ‘Papachenko’ Lomachenko 

NOMINEE

Derek “Bozy” Ennis Sr.

NOMINEE

SugarHill Steward

NOMINEE

Ben Davison

PROMOTER OF THE YEAR

  2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER 

PREMIER BOXING CHAMPIONS (PBC)

PBC cranked out more compelling cards in 2021 than any other promoter, earning them our vote for PROMOTER OF THE YEAR.  

NOMINEE

TOP RANK 

NOMINEE

Matchroom Boxing

NOMINEE

Golden Boy Promotions

NOMINEE

Ring City USA 

GUTSIEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

🏆 WINNER

EBANIE BRIDGES

EBANIE BRIDGES fought valiantly against Shannon Courtenay, though she came up short in her bid for a vacant WBA World Bantamweight title. BRIDGES’ epic battle with Courtenay left the Australian with a gruesome eye injury, which BRIDGEScouldn’t see [out of] AT ALL rounds 9-10.” Despite looking more like a James Bond villain after sustaining the injury than her “Blonde Bomber” moniker, BRIDGES gutted it out and finished like a champ. Her effort earned our admiration and vote for the GUTSIEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR.

NOMINEE

TEÓFIMO LÓPEZ

(lost his titles to George Kambosos, but saw the final bell despite sustaining deep cuts, swelling, and excess air in his chest that could have killed him, per a report from ESPN’s Mark Kriegel) 

NOMINEE

Axel Aragon Vega 

(was on pace to become boxing’s shortest world champ before breaking his hand versus Hiroto Kyoguchi) 

NOMINEE

Christopher Pearson

(was ultimately stopped by Carlos Gongora, but fought valiantly with a badly swollen eye before the KO)

NOMINEE

Demond Nicholson

(survived 4 knockdowns to finish an 8 rounder vs. Edgar Berlanga, and broke Berlanga’s streak of consecutive 1st round knockouts)

WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR  🏆 WINNER

2021’s Best Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts: East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2021 Awards!

GABRIEL MAESTRE UD12 MYKAL FOX

We saved the worst for last. And this one was a bonafide ROBBERY, no cap.  

MYKAL FOX dropped GABRIEL MAESTRE early, and owned the former Olympian for the remainder of the fight. This was easy work for FOX. But leave it to judges DAVID SINGH, JOHN MARIANO, and GLORIA MARTINEZ RIZZO to give the Marylander the shaft with the laughable scorecards of 114-113, 115-112, and 117-110 (respectively) in favor of MAESTRE. MAESTRE’s ‘win’ cost FOX a rightfully-earned Interim WBA Welterweight World title, easily qualifying this bout as the WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR.

NOMINEE

Juan Francisco Estrada SD12 Román ‘Chocolatito’ González

NOMINEE

Jermell Charlo SDRAW12 Brian Castaño 

NOMINEE

David Adeleye DEC6 Kamil Sokołowski 

NOMINEE

Campbell Hatton PTS6 Sonni Martinez

Did We Get It Right?

Don’t forget to let us know by leaving a comment below and ‘liking’ and retweeting this article on social media.

It would mean a lot to us.

Finally, I wish you all a Happy New Year and all the best in 2022!

* * *

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 prjones1@hotmail.com.

More from Paul:

Which Fighters, Fights, And Knockouts Were Truly the Best Of 2020? East Side Boxing Hands Out Its 2020 Awards!

The “ESBYS”: Handing Out East Side Boxing’s 2019 AWARDS – Winners and Nominees!

EAST SIDE BOXING’s 2018 AWARDS: Complete List of Winners, Nominees, More!

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!