Matt Bevan (@MBevs68)
2015 has been a phenomenal year for British Boxing and the sport is going from strength-to-strength. With Billy Joe Saunders victory over Andy Lee last Saturday, Britain now has 12 fighters holding world titles and others closing in on potential shots next year.
But, there is only one place to start and that was Tyson Fury’s monumental victory in Germany on November 28th, when he became the heavyweight champion of the world, defeating Wladimir Klitschko, who hadn’t been beaten in 11 years before their clash.
Fury’s antics before the fight created plenty of interest and you could tell Klitschko was rattled, but even then there were very few who actually thought he could go to Germany and beat “Dr Steelhammer”. To do it on points, something thought to be impossible in Germany, is even more impressive and shows how good Fury was.
The Manchester giant has courted controversy since with his comments before and after the fight, yet he still appeared on the list for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, despite protests. Fury came 4th and righted the wrongs in a brief interview and will next be in action against Klitschko in a money-spinning rematch next year.
Until Fury’s heroics in Germany, the frontrunner for “Fighter of the Year” was Doncaster’s WBA bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell who has twice this year flew to Texas in the USA, and beaten the much hyped Japanese star Tomoki Kameda.
McDonnell was down early in the first contest, but rallied superbly to steal the win on the scorecards back in May, before returning in September to do it all again, this time much more convincingly and he has his sights set on a big fight in early 2016 in the States once again.
The story of 2015 was without doubt Anthony Crolla, who became WBA lightweight champion in November with a stunning stoppage of Darleys Perez in his hometown of Manchester.
Crolla started the year off preparing to fight then champion Richar Abril, until he was injured trying to stop some burglars who had broke into his neighbour’s house. With his career in the balance, Crolla refused to be beaten and returned in July to face Perez, but was controversially denied the victory as it was declared a draw.
However, the two returned to the scene of their first fight four months later, and Crolla gained the redemption he deserved and stopped Perez. You’d struggle to find a single British boxing fan who wasn’t proud to support Crolla that night and was dragged into the emotion as “Million Dollar” celebrated.
The much mooted clash between WBA super-bantamweight champion Scott Quigg and IBF belt-holder Carl Frampton didn’t happen in 2015, but we needn’t wait much longer, as it has finally been agreed and arranged for 27th February in Manchester next year.
Neither had a particularly vintage year, as Quigg suffered from injury and only fought once, when he stopped Kiko Martinez in July inside two rounds. Quigg looked all at sea in the first, but the way he destroyed Martinez in the second deserves massive credit and was highly impressive.
Frampton smashed the brash Chris Avalos at the start of the year in his Belfast stronghold, before signing with Al Haymon and the PBC to make his American debut against Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. on the same night Quigg fought Martinez.
If Quigg had a bad first round, Frampton’s was disastrous, as he was dropped twice. But “The Jackal” recovered well to ease to victory on the cards and enhance his name further. There isn’t a more highly anticipated clash in 2016 than Frampton and Quigg, which is sure to be a barnstormer.
That is unless IBF welterweight king Kell Brook finally gets the fight he has long been craving with Amir Khan. Brook returned from a gruesome leg injury to defend his belt twice against mandatory challenger Jo Jo Dan and domestic rival Frankie Gavin, but a rib injury has sidelined him once again.
As for Khan, who struggled at times on his way to beating Chris Algieri, he has continued to chase fights with Floyd Mayweather, who has subsequently retired, and Manny Pacquiao, who is about to retire, but neither have materialised. I can see Khan’s reasoning for chasing the biggest names in the sport, but he is out of options and the Brook fight has got to happen.
Britain also saw some history created in May, when James DeGale became the first Olympic gold medalist to win a world title, in his case the IBF super-middleweight crown, in the pro ranks, when he outpointed Andre Dirrell in Boston.
DeGale recently made the first defence of his title in November, as he outpointed the veteran Lucian Bute in an entertaining scrap and is destined to have a big 2016.
As is Lee Selby, who claimed the IBF featherweight title in May after taking apart Evgeny Gradovich. He then got the better of the experienced former world champion Fernando Montiel in October and the Welshman is going from strength-to-strength.
Liam Smith became the first of the four Smith brothers to win a world title, stopping John Thompson in Manchester to win the WBO light-middleweight strap. He made the first defence last Saturday, stopping the overmatched Jimmy Kelly and is eyeing some big fights in 2016.
Terry Flanagan won his WBO lightweight title in unfortunate circumstances back in July, when opponent Jose Zepeda suffered a shoulder injury early on. Flanagan however proved he is top dog in the British lightweight’s with a scintillating destruction of Diego Magdaleno in October and will defend against Derry Mathews in February in a much awaited domestic clash.
Lee Haskins was supposed to challenge for the IBF bantamweight title on the undercard to Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez in November, until his opponent Randy Caballero missed weight and the Bristol man was awarded the belt.
Haskins had already proven he belonged at the top level in 2015, with a cracking stoppage of Ryosuke Iwasa in June and will be looking to defend his new title as soon as possible. A domestic unification fight with McDonnell would be a massive fight.
In other fights, Anthony Joshua continued his wrecking ball impression, but was finally made to work a bit as bitter rival Dillian Whyte definitely posed him a few questions. Joshua came through the test and the hype train rolls on, but 2016 is the most important of “AJ’s” career so far.
Joshua’ fellow Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell looked to have the world at his feet and it was surely a matter of time before he won world honours. He battered Tommy Coyle in the “Rumble on the Humber”, but then shockingly came unstuck a couple of weeks ago against Yvan Mendy. It was the right fight at the right time and Campbell has got some re-building to do.
Paul Butler also suffered a bad loss, as he was stopped by the outstanding South African Zolani Tete in March. Butler was out of his depth, but has since recovered and is pushing back up the rankings. A domestic clash with Jamie Conlan should happen in 2016, with the winner going on to fight for a world title later in the year.
One man who is seemingly guaranteed to win a world title next year is Callum Smith, who blitzed Rocky Fielding in a round in November and could get his chance in the Summer. It would be a tough fight with current WBC super-middleweight champion Badou Jack, but Smith, who is rumoured to be challenging for the European belt first, certainly has the momentum and ability to do it.
It was a bad year for Kevin Mitchell and George Groves however, as Mitchell lost twice at the top level, his loss to Ismael Barroso in particular was another bad one, whilst Groves travelled to Las Vegas to challenge Jack for his title, but was dropped and outpointed.
Groves has since teamed up with Shane McGuigan and is focused on securing a fourth world title shot, whilst Mitchell’s career at the top looks over, similarly to Martin Murray and Matthew Macklin, who may join Mitchell in never winning world honours.
There are some great names that are worth keeping an eye on in 2016. Jack Catterall, Ryan Burnett, Nick Blackwell and Liam Williams appear to be the next names that have the potential to reach the summit, but the one to really keep an eye on is Andrew Selby, who has looked sensational since turning pro.
Regardless, we can look back on what has been a superb year for British boxing. Fans have been treated to some quality fights and some unbelievable success, but the hardest part is to maintain it. The sport is in a healthy state and 2016 could be the year it hits another level. I can’t wait.