As the world grappled with the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, boxing struggled to find a path forward. That set up an odd year for the sport, with many of boxing’s biggest stars unable to keep up a “regular schedule” either because of lockdowns or the lack of a live crowd making big fights financially unrealistic.
Despite those rough months, boxing fans were still treated to dramatic moments, incredible performances and some thunderous knockouts. More important than anything else, several rising stars proved that the future of boxing is safe.
A panel of CBS Sports experts sat down to vote on our picks for fighter, knockout and fight of the year, with some very interesting results. Let’s take a closer look at who shined the brightest throughout boxing in 2020.
Awards as voted on by Brian Campbell, Luke Thomas, Brent Brookhouse, Jack Crosby and Brandon Wise.
Fighter of the Year
Winner: Teofimo Lopez Jr. — 1-0 (def. Vasiliy Lomachenko)
In a year where few top names were able to fight more than once, the vote came down to who scored the most impressive win. In beating Vasiliy Lomachenko, Lopez announced himself as a true elite fighter. Lopez and his father had spent years promising that he would be beat Lomachenko, a longtime fixture at the top end of pound-for-pound lists. Lopez not only beat Lomachenko, but raced out to a big lead, winning every round for the first half of the fight. Lomachenko started to come on midway through the fight, but Lopez showed his true quality as a champion by putting in the best round of the fight in Round 12, showing he still had plenty in the tank as he delivered in the biggest moment of his career.
Second place: Tyson Fury 1-0 (def. Deontay Wilder)
In many ways, Lopez and Fury were No. 1 and No. 1a in 2020. Both men picked up massive victories, but Lopez just edged out the win in the vote by unseating a pound-for-pound talent. Fury’s demolition of Deontay Wilder was another case of a fighter delivering on a promise. Fury guaranteed that he wouldn’t just beat Wilder but would knock him out. The fight was complete and total dominance by Fury before the stoppage, sending Wilder into a spiral of excuses ranging from his walkout costume sapping his energy to accusations that Fury had doctored his gloves to a wide-ranging conspiracy involving his own cornermen fixing the fight. For beating the common sense out of Wilder, Fury secured his second-place spot in our vote.
Others receiving votes: Charlo edged out a crowded field for third place over Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Gervonta Davis. Charlo’s clear decision win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko during September’s loaded Showtime pay-per-view was enough for him to land in third place for the year.
Knockout of the Year
Winner: Alexander Povetkin knocks out Dillian Whyte
Dillian Whyte waited for his shot at the WBC heavyweight title for years, locked in as the sanctioning body’s top contender while never being set up for a title fight. With hopes of a massive payday against the likes of Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury, Whyte kept plugging along, looking to stay active and maintain his status until his chance came along. Povetkin, viewed as well past his prime, seemed like a safe option for Whyte. The fight played out as expected, with Whyte controlling the fight and scoring a pair of fourth-round knockdowns. Things changed on a single punch, however, with Povetkin landing a massive uppercut early in Round 5, flattening Whyte and winning the WBC interim heavyweight belt in the process.
Second place: Gervonta Davis knocks out Leo Santa Cruz
Davis is loaded with talent and could be one of boxing’s brightest stars moving forward — if he can get his life together outside of the ring. Against Santa Cruz, Davis scored the biggest win of his career. As the action was heating up against the ropes, Davis dipped down and uncorked a perfect uppercut to shut Santa Cruz’s lights out for one of most vicious knockouts of 2020.
Third place: Jose Zepeda knocks out Ivan Baranchyk
Eight knockdowns in five rounds. That should tell you enough about the level of power punching on display when Zepeda and Baranchyk shared the ring. But the final shot from Zepeda was the one that closed the show. A cracking left hand sent Baranchyk backward, bending his leg at an unnatural angle under his unconscious body.
Fight of the Year
Winner: Jose Zepeda vs. Ivan Baranchyk
Boxing fans aren’t typically treated to a fight this dramatic unless it takes place within the scripted world of a “Rocky” movie. Yet the pair of junior welterweights combined in October to produce eight knockdowns over a thrilling five rounds in Las Vegas that was all-action from start to finish. Zepeda was knocked down four times in all, including twice in the opening round and once shortly before the fight ended in Round 5. But he saved his most savage combination for last when he caught Baranchyk with a right hand and a left hook that caused the former IBF champion to hit his head hard on the back of the canvas and pin his right leg awkwardly behind him. The fact that Zepeda, a slick boxer and counter puncher, has never been known as a brawler only made the outcome more unexpected.
Second place: Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Carlos Cuadras II
For as good as their 2017 scrap was, this October rematch for Estrada’s WBC junior bantamweight title was even better as both fighters got up off the canvas before “El Gallo” finally stopped him in Round 11. Cuadras was game but ultimately outgunned in the face of Estrada’s more technical shots as the two brawled inside an empty television studio in Mexico City.
Third place: Masayoshi Nakatani vs. Felix Verdejo
In his first fight following a 15-month layoff due to a broken jaw suffered against Teofimo Lopez Jr., Nakatani went through hell and back to deliver a thrilling comeback in December against the once can’t-miss prospect Verdejo. Nakatani simply refused to be denied as he recovered from two early knockdowns to floor Verdejo twice in Round 9 before the stoppage in Las Vegas.
Others receiving votes: Teofimo Lopez vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko (October); Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez vs. Kal Yafai (February); Katie Taylor vs. Delfine Persoon II (August); Jermall Charlo vs. Sergiy Derevyanchenko (September); Adam Lopez vs. Luis Coria (June)
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