Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated tabbed super middleweight kingpin Saul “Canelo” Alvarez as its Fighter of the Year and recognized YouTuber-turned-pugilist Jake Paul as its Breakout Boxer. With 2021 now in the rear view, SI recognizes several other standout performances.
Trainer of the Year: Eddy Reynoso
In a year filled with terrific training efforts, the sheer volume of Reynoso’s brilliance stands out. He began the year cornering Ryan Garcia to the biggest win of his career, a body shot stoppage that came after Garcia was dropped. Up next, Oscar Valdez, who picked up a stunning 10th-round knockout over Miguel Berchelt to win a 130-pound title. Later, Reynoso guided Andy Ruiz to his first win since losing his heavyweight titles to Anthony Joshua in 2019 and steered Frank Sanchez to the biggest win of his career, a decision victory over Efe Ajagba. Mixed in, the big one: three fights, three wins for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who in 11 short months became boxing’s first undisputed super middleweight champion.
Fight of the Year: Tyson Fury TKO 11 Deontay Wilder
Bad blood, a prolonged legal dispute and COVID-19 issues delayed the rematch between two of boxing’s top heavyweights for nearly 20 months. But when Fury and Wilder finally squared off again last October, it proved to be well worth the wait. Fury appeared to pick up where he left off early, dropping Wilder in the third round. In the fourth, Wilder rallied, putting Fury down twice, staggering the 6’9”, 277-pound champ. Fury, though, was relentless. As he did in the first fight, Fury applied pressure, forcing Wilder to fight off his back foot. A right hand midway through the 10th caught Wilder on the side of the head, dropping him to his knees. Then, in the 11th, with Fury advancing and Wilder on wobbly legs, Fury landed a chopping right hand to Wilder’s skull, sending him crashing to the canvas for the third and final time. It was, in every way, a modern-day classic, a signature win for Fury and the kind of brave, gutsy performance Wilder will always be remembered for.
Prospect of the Year: Conor Benn
Little was expected of Benn, 25, when he turned pro in 2016, with a high profile last name (Benn is the son of Nigel Benn, the heavy handed former two-division world champion) but limited amateur experience. Matchroom took a flyer, and it has paid off: Benn is 20–0 over his first four years as a professional, none more impressive than 2021, which saw Benn wipe out the usually durable Samuel Vargas in one round, outpoint veteran Adrian Granados over 10 and need less than four rounds to violently stop former 140-pound champion Chris Algieri. With concussive power and savage finishing instincts, Benn used this year to catapult himself into the welterweight title picture. A showdown with Adrien Broner or the winner of Amir Khan-Kell Brook could be in the offing in the first half of ’21. A world title opportunity could come soon thereafter.
Knockout of the Year: Oscar Valdez KO Miguel Berchelt
In a year highlighted by several spectacular stoppages—Gabriel Rosado’s one-punch knockout of Bektemir Melikuziev, Efe Ajagba’s brutal KO of Brian Howard, Brandun Lee’s counter right finisher to Samuel Teah—Valdez’s win over Berchelt stood out. Valdez, just two fights into his campaign at 130 pounds, was an underdog when he stepped in to challenge the bigger, stronger Berchelt for Berchelt’s super featherweight title. And from the opening bell, Valdez took the fight to him. Knockdowns in rounds four and nine powered Valdez to a commanding lead on the scorecards. In the 10th, he finished it. With Berchelt advancing, Valdez, feet planted, landed a crushing left hook that sent Berchelt crashing to the canvas. Arguments can be made, perhaps, that there were more crushing knockouts in 2021. But Valdez’s stoppage, against an accomplished opponent in a world title fight, was the most significant.
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