Let’s consider the candidates: Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin both produced far more action and excitement in the ring and now stand as compelling figures for the future of boxing; Roman Gonzalez was far more gratifying to watch, a truly committed and complete fighter; and Tyson Fury delivered a far more dramatic and landscape-altering result; but when it comes to Fighter of the Year, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the only real choice.
The 38-year-old Mayweather likes to call himself “the best ever.” (He even markets hats emblazoned with TBE for all those fans eager to spread the message of his all-time stature.) He’s not that, of course, not by a long shot. Just for fun, consider the record of the guy most people would give that TBE title to, Sugar Ray Robinson. The Ring magazine awarded its Fighter of the Year honor to Robinson for the first time in 1942. That year Robinson fought 14 times, running his career record to 40–0, with wins over such all-timers as Fritzie Zivic, Sammy Angott and Jake LaMotta. Now, that was a year. (The following year, by the way, Robinson would suffer his first loss, a decision to LaMotta, then bounce back to beat the great California Jackie Wilson and, finally, top LaMotta again in a rematch—all in the space of three weeks in February.)
To say that Mayweather’s record in 2015 was, by comparison, a trifle thin would be an understatement. Of course, times have long since changed. No one expects any champion to fight a dozen times a year. Mayweather’s annual once-in-the-spring-once-in-the-fall dance card, for tens of millions of dollars a spin, serves him just fine and he certainly earned it. But before assessing the merits of Mayweather’s performance in 2015, it’s worth taking a closer look at those other contenders.
Golovkin had a fine year, winning three fights by knockout to burnish the Triple G image of crowd-pleasing destroyer. But Golovkin’s opponents, Martin Murray, Willie Monroe Jr. and David Lemieux, were all second-tier fighters. Despite the tremendous threat he presents, Golovkin’s increasing popularity and marketability should draw top-class talent for future bouts. That’s when he’ll have a real shot to earn FOY honors.
Alvarez showed in 2015 that he’s becoming more complete as a fighter. He dispatched an overmatched James Kirkland in May and then last month delivered a very disciplined and capable performance to earn a clear decision over Miguel Cotto, a guy no one can call a second-tier opponent. Alvarez is already a pay-per-view star. He, too, will have plenty of chances in the future.
Gonzalez, the 28-year-old undefeated (44–0) flyweight champion from Nicaragua, is the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound. El Chocolatito, as he’s known, brings a thrilling blend of technical skill and sheer offensive firepower to every bout. Like Golovkin, he had three KO victories this year. But, also like Golovkin, Gonzalez was in against less-than-stellar opposition in Valentin Leon (who brought a record of 38-29-3 with him into the ring in Managua last February), Edgar Sosa (51–8) and 35-year-old Brian Viloria (36–4).
And then there’s Fury. The 6' 9" native of Manchester, England, can come off as a bit, well, unhinged in his public appearances, but he delivered a tremendously disciplined, if esthetically unappealing, performance to take Wladamir Klitschko’s heavyweight title in November in what was clearly the upset of the year. To be fair, Klitschko fought with such caution and lack of offense that he might well have lost the decision even if he were alone in the ring. Fury’s a surprising and intriguing new face on the boxing scene, but he was not the fighter of the year.
- MORE BOXING: Triple G's Abel Sanchez is SI's Trainer of the Year
So, Mayweather: All he did was to prevail over Manny Pacquiao, a true hall of famer, in the most anticipated fight in decades (and the richest of all time), and prevail with such ease that the bout ended up as a true stinker. Part of that was Pacquiao’s fault. He’s not the joyful offensive force he once was. But even had he been, Mayweather’s skill and tactics were such that it probably would have made no difference. That Mayweather, unlike Gonzalez or Canelo or Golovkin, chooses control over offense has been a huge disappointment throughout his career, but it doesn’t change the record. Mayweather followed up his erasure of Pacquiao with another unruffled win in September, over the capable Andre Berto in what Mayweather promised was his last fight. Not the rousing send-off one might have hoped for, but another clear demonstration of his utter superiority.
TBE? Nope, but TB’15 for sure.