It’s about that time again, when fans, experts, fellow fighters, pundits, indeed just about everyone who has an interest in boxing, gets busy choosing his or her best of the year: be it Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year, KO of the Year, Round of the Year, Trainer of the Year, Comeback of the Year, and so on. When all is said and done, 2021 was a good year for boxing; arguably a great year.
2021 saw the heavyweights shine, as the big stars of the division – Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk (he’s a genuine star now), Deontay Wilder, and Anthony Joshua – rumbled in memorable fashion. Also, Joseph Parker and Dereck Chisora gave us a heavyweight battle towards the very end of the year that dropped jaws. 2021 was also a year in which most of the stars of the sport boxed just once each. To a man, almost any big-name fighter/champion you care to mention fought just once this year. Apart from one guy: the man who simply has to be handed The Fighter of the Year trophy for 2021.
It’s Canelo Alvarez. We really have no other choice this year than to hand the Mexican superstar the award. Canelo managed to fight three times this year, this substantially more action than his closest rivals managed in 2021, and this during a time when the ongoing battle with the coronavirus slowed things down in a major way. But Canelo managed to stay busy. Very busy.
And Canelo made boxing history this year, too.
Canelo, 57-1-2(39), had a safe one in his initial bout of 2021 when he wiped out the little-known Avni Yildrim in easy fashion in February. Somehow, Yildrim was Canelo’s mandatory challenger. The big challenge of unifying all four belts at 168 pounds was in Canelo’s sights. Already the WBC and WBA champ at super-middleweight, Canelo wanted to become the first four-belt ruler at the weight.
That meant he needed wins over TWO young, unbeaten, arguably peaking fighters. Not a worry; Canelo handed both WBO champ Billy Joe Saunders his first pro loss, this by stoppage, and then he did the same to Caleb Plant, the reigning IBF champion.
Canelo practically caved in southpaw Saunders’ face in their May fight, Alvarez getting the 8th round TKO when Saunders, in great pain, was pulled out by his corner. Canelo had handled the slick and tricky boxing approach of Saunders, who was 30-0 coming in, and he slowly broke his man down. Literally.
Plant, who Canelo met in November, was even more verbally cocksure than Saunders had been. Plant, who was 21-0, seemed to get under Canelo’s skin in the lead-up to the fight, yet Canelo once again took care of business. Plant, a tall and classy boxer, won some rounds early on, yet Canelo was again impatient unstoppable pursuit. Finally breaking through in the 10th round when he decked Plant, Canelo closed the show in the following session.
Canelo was now the holder of all four belts at 168 pounds, and he was also, for many fans, well on his way to becoming recognized as the greatest Mexican fighter ever. Now that’s some year. That’s Fighter of the Year material.