Frampton bringing in FOY honors - who else is in the running?

December 28, 2016

By CJ Russell

Carl Frampton has had a great 2016, no question about it.  ESPN named him their fighter of the year yesterday and he is in the running for a lot more awards.

In February, the Northern Irishman battled Scott Quigg in a highly anticipated super-bantamweight unification match.  He edged out a split decision to add the WBA strap to his collection, which already included the IBF belt.  He did this on the road, fighting on Quigg’s home turf in Manchester.

In July, Frampton decided to move up in weight and take on an even bigger challenge – tough Mexican warrior Leo Santa Cruz.  This was a great fight, where Frampton showed off a lot of slick boxing abilities to gain the WBA featherweight belt.  This fight was in New York, so both of Frampton’s big victories came on the road this year.  This was a fight of the year candidate, and Santa Cruz and Frampton will go at it again on January 28th.

One thing that makes me hesitate to be particularly enthusiastic about saying Frampton is the fighter of the year is the situation surrounding him moving up in weight.  He was ordered by the WBA to face Guillermo Rigondeaux, but Frampton did not respond to their request and was subsequently stripped.  I honestly don’t blame him that much for not taking on the highly skilled Cuban, as there was little demand from the public for him to do so since most people don’t really like watching Rigondeaux’s defensive style.  Therefore the risk highly outweighed the reward in Frampton’s eyes.  But it still would leave a bad taste in my mouth to call him the fighter of the year when he so blatantly ducked Rigondeaux.

Here are the other major candidates for Fighter of the Year:

Vasyl Lomachenko

The more I think about it, I would lean towards saying that Lomachenko deserves the fighter of the year honors.  He absolutely dominated the capable Rocky Martinez to win a belt in his second weight class, then embarrassed the supposedly tough Nicholas Walters in his first defense.  No one looked more impressive and overwhelmingly dominant in 2016 than Lomachenko, and I think the reason that he isn’t running away with fighter of the year awards is because he made his competition look so bad.

Roman Gonzalez

P4P king Chocolatito also won a belt in a new weight class.  His big victory over Carlos Cuadras got him the WBC super flyweight title, and makes him world champ in his fourth division.  I will point out that moving weight classes is slightly overblown, as there is only 10 pounds between minimumweight (the lowest class he got a belt in) and super flyweight, but that doesn’t make him any less of a great boxer.  Aside from beating Cuadras, Gonzalez beat McWilliams Arroya by wide decision on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin vs Dominic Wade.  Chocolatito as fighter of the year doesn’t quite cut it for me since his (amazing) fight with Cuadras wasn’t very decisive, but he still had a great year.

Terence Crawford

Crawford suffers a bit from the same problem that Lomachenko does, he made his opposition look so bad that he maybe isn’t getting the props that he should be.  Viktor Postol was thought to be an elite fighter in the lightweight division after dominating Lucas Matthysse, but Crawford outclassed Postol so greatly in their fight for the WBO, WBC, The Ring, and lineal light welterweight titles that most have reconsidered the Ukrainian’s standing.  Crawford also beat the decent Hank Lundy and the totally overmatched John Molina Jr., and while I’d say he has a case for fighter of the year honors I still would pick Frampton and Lomachenko over him.

Manny Pacquiao

Pacquiao has gone a bit under the radar as far as fighter of the year goes, but I think he actually has a good case.  He beat two top 10 welterweight contenders decisively in Jessie Vargas and Tim Bradley and showed that he is still an elite fighter in the late stages of his career.  I think that other fighers’ years stick out a bit more than Pacquiao’s, however.  No one wanted to see Pac-Bradley III, and Pacquiao-Vargas had little buzz outside of Pacquiao’s die hard fanbase.  He did have a great year, though.

Joe Smith Jr.

In a year that nobody really runs away with the award, I would love to see somebody give Joe Smith Jr. fighter of the year.  He is definitely has the feel-good story of the year in boxing.  Nobody thought the obscure construction worker had a chance to beat Andrzej Fonfara, but he shocked the world and knocked him out in the first round of their bout in June.  This gave him a huge “Rocky” type shot at taking on living legend Bernard Hopkins in his farewell fight.  Smith wasn’t even on the poster for HBO, and it seemed like nobody was even paying him any mind.  Hopkins wanted to take on a reputable opponent and Smith was seen as one, but I think most everybody was counting him out and thinking the crafty “Executioner” would be able to take out one last opponent.

But everyone was wrong!  Smith knocked Hopkins out of the ring in the 8th round and Hopkins’ career came to a frustrating end.  Smith didn’t really beat an elite opponent so he isn’t going to get many fighter of the year nods, but it’s a great story and I think he can continue to be a factor in the light heavyweight division.

Who do you think is the fighter of the year?  Let us know!

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