Every so often there comes a year without a definitive choice for boxing's Fighter of the Year. With so few elite fighters competing more than twice a year it becomes tedious to find someone worthy of this distinction. Even if the recognition comes from a podcaster who blogs from time-to-time.
I've selected five potential candidates to count towards the 2015 Fighter of the Year. Long-time listeners of my show know I love a good ole' fashioned countdown. And so it begins...
5. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez
The new "Pound-for-Pound King" had a breakout year. While his legend was firmly established in Japan a while ago, 2015 saw Roman Gonzalez acquainted with the western world in a big way. Paired twice as the co-feature on cards headlined by boxing's boogeyman, Gennady Golovkin, the undisputed flyweight champion exceeded expectations and delivered with dazzling dominance against Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria. The confirmation of Chocolatito's much-lauded ring mastery is precisely why he was a finalist for Fighter of the Year.
4. James DeGale
James DeGale entered 2015 with many questions to be answered. None more pressing than his ability to put together complete performances against top opponents. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist finally earned an opportunity to prove himself against 2004 bronze medal-winner, Andre Dirrell. The recently vacated IBF Super-Middleweight crown was up for grabs, and DeGale seized the moment with a decisive win on the road, becoming the first Olympic gold medalist from the United Kingdom to win a major world boxing championship.
DeGale returned to North America in November to face former title challenger, Lucian Butè, defeating the Quebecer in one of the better fights of 2015. DeGale's consideration for Fighter of the Year could have been argued on quality alone. During an era when fighters show little desire to travel outside of the cozy confines of their nation's borders, DeGale bucked this concerning trend and was lauded for it. What's remarkable is he did this twice, taking home a world championship, and in the other defending it.
3. Gennady Golovkin
Arguably the most avoided man in boxing, Gennady Golovkin once again garnered consideration for Fighter of the Year by defeating two top-10 middleweights and unifying the 160-pound division. Golovkin defeated top middleweight Martin Murray in Monte Carlo with a complete performance, ending in an 11th-round knockout victory.
"GGG" returned to the States in the summer to take on 2014 Boxcino champion, Willie Monroe, Jr. A sold out crowd was in attendance at the historic Forum in Inglewood, California. While the crafty southpaw put together an inspired performance early on, the fight ended abruptly with a monstrous finish in the 6th-round.
Golovkin closed the year by unifying the division with a dominant win over Canadian slugger David Lemieux in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd. It was a different perspective of Golovkin that secured the victory against Lemieux. "Triple-G" deployed a telephone pole jab and a level of ring-generalship we hadn't seen from the Kazakh before. Oh yeah, Golovkin also extended his streak of knockouts to 21. The legend of "GGG" continues...
2. Canelo Alvarez
Canelo Alvarez continued his ascension to super-stardom in 2015. His year began in spectacular fashion in front of 30,000+ fans at Minute Maid park in Houston, Texas, where he defeated the dangerous James Kirkland with the 2015 Knockout of the Year.
"Kid Cinnamon" closed his year with a career defining victory against future hall-of-famer, Miguel Cotto, to become the lineal middleweight champion of the world. Not only did we see Canelo take his fight game to another level, he became a bonafide superstar in the process.
While 2015 was an enormous year for the 25-year-old Mexican champion, Canelo faces a fight beyond that of the Cotto clash in 2016, a middleweight mega-fight with unified middleweight champion, Gennady Golovkin. A win over Golovkin would almost guarantee Canelo the 2016 version of this award.
1. Tyson Fury
In 2015, boxing's most glamorous weight class had already been under the control of one man for over a decade. Wladimir Klitschko's reign over the heavyweight division seemed like it would never end. For the longest time it was as if the division could not produce a fighter to pose a legitimate threat to the super-heavyweight. It would take an enigmatic giant, in stature and ring savvy to dethrone him.
Tyson Fury earned his shot at the undisputed heavyweight championship in the second-half of 2015 after fighting his way into mandatory status. Fury would have to go on the road to challenge Klitschko on his home-turf in Dusseldorf, Germany. With Germany's reputation of bias judging looming over the fight, many believed that Tyson Fury's only shot to win would be by knockout.
Fury traveled to Germany and did the unthinkable. Not only did he contradict the experts and fight prognosticators who thought he stood no chance over the distance of the fight, but Tyson Fury stymied Klitschko for the entire contest, winning as many as 10 out of 12 rounds. Klitschko seemed perplexed the entire evening by the constant feinting and unorthodox rhythms of the 6'9 challenger. By the end of the scrap, not even a reputation for biased scorecards could keep Fury from boxing's ultimate prize. Fury defeated Klitschko over the distance to become the undeniable, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. And for this amazing accomplishment, Tyson Fury is The Boxing Rant's 2015 Fighter of the Year.
Check out Episode 96 of the Tale of the Tape Boxing Podcast for a more in-depth breakdown of the Fighter of the Year countdown, and the rest of the 2015 Boxing Awards.