By John J. Raspanti
Picking the fighter of the year isn’t always easy. Manny Pacquiao first won the award in 2006 followed by a guy named Floyd Mayweather. Paquiao was honored the next two years as well. He was the man and the debate was muted. Those particular years were easier. This year was not.
Two names stood out as obvious front runners.
Terence Crawford displayed his talents twice in 2017. He beat the stuffing out Felix Diaz, and Julius Indongo. Southpaw Indongo was on a roll when he faced Crawford, having defeated Ricky Burns, and knocked out Eduard Troyanovski. He ventured all the way to Nebraska to face Crawford. He never had a chance. Crawford took him apart immediately—stopping him in round three with a vicious bodyshot. With the victory, Crawford unified the junior welterweight division—capturing all four title belts.
Vasyl Lomachenko looked unstoppable in 2017. His victories, all by stoppage, weren’t the conventual kind. He didn’t leave any fighter unconscious on the floor. What he did was worse--he took his opponent’s heart. After so many rounds with “Hi Tech,” Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Guillermo Rigondeaux didn’t want to fight anymore. They were tired of being beat in every conceivable way. It was monotonous, frustrating, and painful. In other words, they took their marbles and went home.
As prominent as Crawford and Lomachenko were in 2017, what they accomplished was expected. They’re the cream of the crop-two of the best boxers in the world.
A much lessor name (or two actually) belongs to a fighter who did something totally unexpected this year.
Wisaksil Wangek, also known as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, was virtually unknown outside of Thailand, for obvious reasons. Rungvisai had never ventured out of his home country in his 47-fight professional career.
That is until an opportunity to fight pound-for-pound king, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez presented itself. Rungvisai jumped at the chance. His only edge, and small one to boot, against the undefeated Gonzalez appeared to be in activity. Rungvisai fought nine times in 2014, six times the following year, and five times in 2016. His last two fights before meeting Gonzalez were six-rounders. Modern day championship fighters don’t engage in six-rounders.
Who is this guy? Gonzalez was a heavy favorite on fight night. Rungvisai, the six-round fighter, was considered by many to be nothing more than a showcase bout for Gonzalez. Seemingly forgotten was Rungvisai’s showing against Carlos Quadras two years before. He lost that fight, but showed more skill than expected, plus grit and toughness. Wouldn’t matter against Gonzalez, right?
Wrong. Rungisai knocked Gonzalez down and won the fight via a controversial decision. Gonzalez demanded a rematch. Most figured that Gonzalez would get his revenge, but instead it was obvious from the opening bell that Rungisai was the stronger fighter. He knocked Gonzalez cold in round four.
While it would be easier to award Crawford or Lomachenko the fighter of the year award, my thinking is that it should go to a guy who beat the best fighter in the world twice in 2017.
Once controversially, and the second time, emphatically.
For that, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is the 2017 Maxboxing Fighter of the Year.