JEFF POWELL: 2020 was the year boxing got back up off the canvas

JEFF POWELL: From dazzling displays in Eddie Hearn’s garden, Anthony Joshua’s destructive return and Tyson Fury becoming a champion once again… 2020 was the year boxing got back up off the canvas

  • Boxing bounced back tremendously in a year tainted by a global pandemic
  • Anthony Joshua put on a brilliant display to defeat Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev
  • Eddie Hearn even staged shows in his back garden to keep fans entertained
  • Tyson Fury completed his comeback be dethroning Deontay Wilder in February 
  • Sportsmail’s JEFF POWELL reflects on a year like no other for the sport of boxing

The abolitionists almost had their way with boxing in this time of Covid-19.

Almost but not quite, despite the amateurs being plunged deeper into the dark than theatres and the noble art being denied so much as a penny of the billions in funding lavished by government on almost every other activity they could think of.

Did nobody in his adolescent cabinet think to advise Bruiser Boris that boxing is the second most popular sport with the male population of this country? And growing in the excitement of the ladies, too?

Anthony Joshua (left) stunned a live crowd with his victory over Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev (right)

Tyson Fury (left) emerged as one of the stars of 2020 after he defeated Deontay Wilder (right)

Getting behind King Football served this Prime Minister’s populist agenda but Mr Johnson missed a trick here. The evidence is still in front of him. Boxing has survived through lockdown after knock-down. 

Leading promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn kept punching away, often biting the bullet of financial loss simply because the shows must go on.

Their fighters kept climbing through the ropes whenever they had the chance, swallowing blood and purse cuts as they did so.

Fast Eddie perched a ring in his Essex back garden with its hill-top views of London.

Doyen Frank hired the religious cloisters of Church House in the reverent shadow of Westminster Abbey, its August splendour posted with requests for us to refrain from swearing.

Around the country such valiants as Mick Hennessey and Dennis Hobson kept the flag flying, the latter innovatively bringing the drive-in to ringside.  

 Eddie Hearn took matters into his own hands to stage shows as he hosted them in his garden

Frank Warren (middle) also thought outside the box to continue putting fights together

Through it all Robert Smith, general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, kept beavering away for his sport to be given the same right as others to stage events under strictly sanitised conditions.

Thus the hard old game fought on throughout a year ignited by Tyson Fury’s explosive beginning, to Anthony Joshua’s belated reappearance.

For this correspondent 2020 began in earnest with a trip across the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa , home of the University of Alabama’s famed Crimson Tide college football team. There to meet with the most devastating puncher since Mike Tyson.

Deontay Wilder’s dynamite power would not be enough to deter Fury a few days later. On February 22 in Las Vegas the Gypsy King stunned the world by fulfilling his own prediction that he would smash the also-undefeated Bronze Bomber to smithereens.

He did just that inside seven blistering rounds, becoming world heavyweight champion a second time as the towel fluttered in from the American’s corner.

That should have given lift-off to a momentous year for British prize-fighting. There were a handful of looseners lower down the order but then clang, down came the coronavirus curtain. Scott Quigg, whose absolute dedication made him Bury’s only world champion, heard it the loudest and retired. 

Fury (right) was dominant back in February when he claimed Wilder’s WBC heavyweight title

British fans were made to wait for another huge fight but it was eventually won by Alexander Povetkin after his ferocious uppercut flawed Dillian Whyte in Hearn’s Essex garden

Not until August did this green and increasingly unpleasant land see anything approaching a major fight. And then Alexander Povetkin went and knocked Dillian Whyte into dreamland in Hearn’s back yard – and off his nominal perch as No 1 contender for Fury’s WBC heavyweight title.

Hit the pause button, again.

There was a disturbance of the force in the US early in October as Vasyl Lomachenko – Luke Campbell had found out for himself why the Ukrainian was then widely regarded as the best boxer in the world – lost his unified world lightweight titles to young sensation Teofimo Lopez.

On the last day of that month Olexsandr Usyk boxed the ears off Dereck Chisora to put his spoke into the complexity of the world heavyweight championship picture. 

Could the Ukraine’s former undisputed cruiserweight champion yet be next for Joshua instead of Fury in that long-awaited mega-fight? Hopefully not.

November saw two Brits at the opposite ends of their careers run into big trouble. Kell Brook’s fourth round stoppage by Terence Crawford the master-craftsman seems to leave Sheffield’s Special K with nowhere worthwhile to go unless he can finally lure Amir Khan into the opposite corner. 

Kell Brook (left) bit off more than he could chew as he was stopped by Terence Crawford (right)

Daniel Dubois suffered a first defeat of his professional career after retiring against Joe Joyce

Then potential heavyweight star Daniel Dubois suffered the first defeat of his young career. Former Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce’s persistent jab forced him into 10th round retirement in their British title fight with a broken socket of his gargoyle left eye. As Dubois headed into an abeyance of six months’ surgery for multiple fractures, so Joyce also edged closer to world heavyweight contention.

Later that night the circus came to La-La town as two legends now fast approaching Senior Citizenship in America came out of retirement. Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr boxed to an eight-round draw which, although it was sold as an exhibition match, drew a bigger pay-TV audience than anything else in these 12 months.

But it has to be said that these grand 50-somethings still look more like real boxers than the YouTube celebrities who also drew big virtual audiences. Sadly, Floyd Mayweather is trading into that farce by taking on one of those Paul brothers for a few million more in the New Year.

Normal service resumed this month as Joshua came out of pandemic mothballs to treat the first live, albeit small, crowd allowed back into boxing halls to an eye-catching knock-out of Kubrat Pulev.

In reality the Bulgarian was older, smaller, slower and the home win was never in doubt. But Pulev’s courage in taking a nine-round beating made the occasion all the more welcome, as well as entertaining. 

Closing out the year was the eye-catching exhibition of Mike Tyson against Roy Jones Jnr

Canelo Alvarez dominated Callum Smith for WBA and WBC world super-middleweight titles

Less happily for the UK the year’s action has ended with Callum Smith, the youngest and best of Liverpool’s four boxing brothers, being overwhelmed by Canelo Alvarez in the San Antonio Alamadome fight for the unified world super-middleweight title. 

So much for a seven-inch height advantage, heavier natural weight and reach longer than the best of pickpockets when coming up against the Mexican great who now stands atop the pound-for-pound world rankings.

So it ends as Canelo’s year. It has been the year of the pandemic. It has also been a year tarnished by farce.

But with that dramatic battering of Wilder, his ongoing campaign for mental health, his front-cover accolade as Ring magazine’s fighter of 2020 and a personality far bigger than that BBC award which he punched through the ropes, this is very much the year of Tyson Luke Fury.




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