Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez: Who was the greatest boxer in 2020?

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Boxing has suffered more than most sports in 2020.

The pandemic put paid to bills for much of the year and most fighters were lucky if they got quality sparring let alone a paying bout.

With that in mind, this list of the top 15 boxers in the last 12 months considers one main criterion – who moved their career forward the most?

Knocking out a ‘stiff’ with a padded record does little in my eyes, neither does marking time with a solid, yet utterly predictable victory. Those who buck the trends and buckled their opponents fare the best in these rankings.

And despite everything, many fighters did manage to move the needle on their careers in 2020.

15) Gennady Golovkin

Jermall Charlo is surely the next logical fight for Gennady Golovkin unless ‘Canelo’ Alvarez can be tempted into a trilogy fight. The Kazakhstan fighter marked time in 2020 with a comprehensive win over Kamil Szeremeta in December. At 38, Golovkin needs to be securing his legacy (and his pension fund) with bigger contests next year.

14) Jermall Charlo

On the same bill as Jermell Charlo’s victory, his twin brother Jermall beat Sergiy Derevyanchenko to retain his WBC middleweight title with a comfortable points decision. The Ukrainian is something of a litmus test for the elite of the division. He had previously only lost to Danny Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin via narrow decisions. Charlo’s victory was more comfortable and enhanced his reputation.

13) Jermell Charlo

“I'd give myself an A tonight,” said the ever-modest Jermell Charlo after adding the WBA and IBF belts to his WBC light-middleweight strap by knocking out Jeison Rosario in September. The fight was an impressive pay-per-view debut for Charlo and means he can target a fight against WBO holder Patrick Teixeira for all the belts in 2021.

12) Oleksandr Usyk

The Ukrainian with the gap-tooth smile and dancing feet started the year as a rising force in the heavyweight division having cleared up at cruiser late in 2018. In October, he met Dereck Chisora in his traditional role as gatekeeper to the elite in the blue-riband division. Usyk was troubled by the Brit's roughhouse tactics, but won a decision with something to spare. It was enough to make him the mandatory challenger for Joshua's WBO title.

11) Joe Joyce

Perhaps the most intriguing fight of the year was between two unbeaten British heavyweights who had yet to compete for world honours. It was no surprise to see Joe Joyce gamble. The Olympic superheavyweight silver medalist was 35 when he took on Daniel Dubios in November, that's four years older than Anthony Joshua. But it was a shock to see Joyce stop his much-hyped opponent with a persistent ramrod jab. It catapulted ‘The Juggernaut’ into the world's top 10. Given the pace of his career, it would be no surprise to see him fight for a world title at the end of 2021.

10) Terence Crawford

The fourth-round knockout of a jaded Kell Brook in November did little to boost the standing of Terence Crawford. It was already sky-high. However, it did maintain his winning run in 15 consecutive world title fights going back to March 2014. It also kept alive the possibility of a super-fight with Errol Spence.

9) Roman Gonzalez

‘Chocolatito’ fought twice in 2020, winning back his world super-flyweight title with an eye-catching knockout of Kal Yafai in February then defending it against Israel Gonzalez in October. It cemented the Honduran’s place as one of the best lower-weight fighters since the turn of the Millennium.

8) Alexander Povetkin

One single punch saved Povetkin's place in the heavyweight elite. It came in August at the start of the fifth round in his world title eliminator against Dillian Whyte. Povetkin had been down twice the previous round, but, as the Englishman went in search of a conclusion, he was laid out by a fierce uppercut. If the Russian can repeat the win in the rematch in 2021, then he should take Whyte's place as mandatory for Tyson Fury's WBC heavyweight belt.

7) Naoya Inoue

Boxing is a murky world, but the authority of Ring Magazine still shines through. So it is significant that they place Inoue as No.2 in their pound-for-pound rankings at the end of the year, behind only ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. The Japanese fighter clinically knocked out Jason Moloney in October to retain his IBF and WBA bantamweight belts. He is undoubtedly the most exciting name operating at the lower weights.

6) Saul Alvarez

‘Canelo’ fought just once in 2020, a unification bout for the WBA and WBC super-middleweight titles against Callum Smith shortly before Christmas. The width of the points victory suggests the Liverpudlian was not up to the task. In reality, it was all about Canelo’s class. The Mexican topped ESPN’s year-end rankings at both middleweight and super-middleweight. The victory over Smith barely moved the needle for Canelo, but it did keep his career on an unprecedented ascent.

5) Anthony Joshua

Joshua had regained his titles with a safe but dull points victory over Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia late in 2019, but he needed an emphatic knockout against a highly-regarded opponent to recover his reputation. Kubrat Pulev was a game mandatory foe. The Bulgarian was dropped early and taken out late as part of a polished performance. It was good enough to put the Joshua bandwagon firmly back on track. Next stop - Tyson Fury.

4) Gervonta Davis

‘Tank’ sent Leo Santa Cruz to sleep in November with an uppercut that GiveMeSport ranked as its knockout of the year. This devastating victory against an elite-level opponent thrust Davis into the big-money bracket. It secured him the WBA belts at lightweight and junior-lightweight as well as providing excellent value on his debut as a pay-per-view star.

3) Errol Spence

Errol Spence did not have just the WBC and IBF welterweight titles plus an unbeaten record to protect when he took on hard-hitting Danny Garcia in December. The Texan was also looking to prove that a horrific car crash 14 months earlier had left him with no long-term effects. In the end, he secured a comfortable points victory with his slick movement and an intelligent jab. All the question marks surrounding Spence disappeared that night except for the obvious one - when will he fight Terence Crawford?

2) Teofimo Lopez

With dazzling footwork and clever fists, Vasyl Lomachenko was considered among the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world as well as WBA and WBO lightweight champion. However, Teofimo Lopez had been calling out the Ukrainian long before he won the IBF crown in December last year. In the end, their October fight was not even that close. It took Lopez from a talented trash-talker to a global star.

1) Tyson Fury

The ‘Gypsy King’ bamboozled Deontay Wilder in their previous contest in December 2018 before being poleaxed in the last round. Somehow he got up and then somehow the judges conspired to score the bout a draw. In the rematch in February, Fury defied the critics to bully the bully. There were still significant doubts around Fury before this bout, but, yet again, he changed his story. Anthony Joshua may have more belts, but after his intelligent belligerence forced Wilder’s corner to throw in the towel in the seventh round in Las Vegas, Fury is considered the true heavyweight king.

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