Max Warren reflects on the best he witnessed in 2019
2019 was quite a volatile year, and honestly taught fans that the sport and its participants should be respected to an even greater degree. Two horrific ring deaths occurred on major promoters’ fight cards. Patrick Day and Maxim Dadashev are two young men who were humble and worked as hard as any fighter out there. Anyone who has encountered them has had nothing but positive things to say about them. Fighters put their health and lives on the line when inside the ring, and the sport should be treated with the utmost seriousness by the fans. While 2019 brings about painful memories, the year still delivered plenty of excitement. Below, I will list my top 5 memories from this calendar year.
In 2019, Devin “The Dream” Haney went from prospect to contender, and capped off the year by defending the WBC lightweight world title. Many believed he was a solid prospect with quality footwork and boxing ability when the year began. And honestly, that was my opinion as well. But, Haney went on to exceed expectations. He fought four times this year, and defeated three undefeated opponents. But no fight of Haney’s captivated the boxing world like his devastating KO win over Antonio Moran at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD. Up until the knockout, Haney was frustrating and out-boxing Moran. It seemed like “The Dream” was going to cruise to another lopsided decision victory.
Instead, he made a statement. Moran was concerned about getting hit to the body, after being hurt there on several occasions. In the 7th, Haney backed Moran to the corner by landing a jab and straight right. While Moran had his back against the ring post, Haney landed a jab and right hook to the body. This made Moran overly conscious of Haney’s body attack. Moran pressed his arms to his ribs to avoid getting hit there. Unfortunately for him, this opened up an opportunity for Haney to land to the head.
Haney stuck out his left arm, and Moran guarded his body, expecting a right hook. Instead, Haney threw an overhand right that was delivered in a similar motion to a pitcher winding up and throwing a pitch. Moran suddenly slumped down to the canvas, off his feet as soon as the punch landed. Haney impressed in his DAZN debut and showed why he could be one of the biggest superstars in boxing.
Coming into the scintillating summer match-up at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Errol Spence was on a high after pitching a shutout against Mikey Garcia, while Shawn Porter was coming off a disputed decision victory over Yordenis Ugas. The one thing that people could focus on was a potential superfight between WBO Welterweight World Champion Terence Crawford and Errol “The Truth” Spence. The summer bout was seen as another stepping stone that would lead into the Crawford fight in the distant future. But, many forgot that Porter is never an easy opponent to face and he has only lost by close margins throughout his career.
Porter came after Spence relentlessly, like a whirlwind. Spence had to stand his ground, picking off punches and going to the body. Porter showed up with more determination than was ever seen from him before, and that’s saying something, since he always comes ready to fight. The two fought a grueling war of attrition. Porter would rush inside, throwing barrages of hooks and body punches. Spence took some of Porter’s punches in order to land the powerful body shots that ended up wearing Porter down by the later rounds.
It was the body work that allowed Spence to finish strong and floor the solid-chinned Porter in the 11th round with a left hook that landed on the chin. The fight was perhaps a classic. It demonstrated that Porter is a tough match-up for anybody at welterweight, and proved that Spence can weather the storm and carry his power late in fights. This bout stands as such a great memory due to the surprise that it exceeded expectations. Many complained about the pay-per-view price, but no buyer of this card was arguing with the price after the incredible fight was over.
The intense hatred between Tony Harrison and Jermell Charlo is genuine, and was not at all used simply for promotional purposes. Even after Charlo bested Harrison in the rematch, both men still admitted to disliking each other. Everything was calm and cordial between them when they met in the ring the first time, but losing lit a fire in Charlo that could not be extinguished. Once the beef began, there was no ending it. After Harrison bested Charlo by unanimous decision in December 2018, Charlo cried robbery and declared that Harrison was a phony. A rematch was set for June 2019 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, but Harrison had to pull out due to an ankle injury that he suffered during training. Charlo incessantly claimed that the ankle injury was fake and he was only “injured” so he wouldn’t have to face him.
Jorge Cota served as a late-replacement and was knocked out in the 3rd round. Charlo promised that his KO win was a taste of what was about to happen to Harrison. The verbal sparring continued up until their rematch, nearly an entire year after their first fight. Harrison made fun of how emotional Charlo would get during verbal exchanges, saying that Charlo wasn’t genuine. Their press conferences would have lasted for hours if there weren’t any mediators to step in and end their personal squabbles. They finally met in the ring once again on December 21st, and the action did not disappoint, considering both men talked a big game in the lead-up.
Harrison fought with an entirely different gameplan than in their initial match. This time, he decided to be the aggressor rather than fighting on the back foot and utilizing movement. The strategy paid off at certain spots in the fight, since Charlo isn’t accustomed to fighting on the back foot and countering. But, Harrison coming forward made him more susceptible to Charlo’s power shots. Harrison rallied back in the fight after getting knocked down in the 2nd. He started to mix up punches well to the head and body, freezing up Charlo’s attack.
Harrison’t success may have led him to become too relaxed in the ring, as he showboated multiple times to taunt Charlo. Harrison admits that he exercised poor judgement and shouldn’t have displayed such a lapse in focus. Charlo knocked Harrison down twice in the 11th round, prompting referee Jack Reiss to stop the fight. Even though boxing feuds are usually settled in the ring, this dispute was only marginally settled. After the win, Charlo said, “I don’t like this dude. He can get it again, but I’m off to bigger and better things.” Their level of animosity has diminished, but the battle of egos still persists.
In July, Manny Pacquiao took the chance of facing off against an undefeated welterweight in his prime, Keith “One Time” Thurman. During the lead-up, Thurman promised to end Pacquiao’s career just like Pacquiao ended Oscar de la Hoya’s career. It was a pick-em fight. People in the boxing world weren’t sure if Pacquiao could still handle such capable opponents at this stage in his life. On the other side, many wondered if Thurman’s inactivity would plague him, and he was badly hurt and nearly knocked down by Josesito Lopez in his prior fight leading into the clash with Pacquiao.
The fight ended up as an instant classic with Pacquiao winning a close split decision victory. To many people’s surprise, Pacquiao floored Thurman at the end of the 1st round. He threw a one-two combination that made Thurman pull straight back. But by Thurman pulling straight back, Pacquiao was able to follow up after the missed punches and land a sharp right hook that knocked Thurman down. The knockdown made Thurman much more wary than he was at the opening bell. He decided to exercise caution during the first half of the fight, which may have cost him the decision. Pacuiao continued his fast pace and utilized unique punching angles that confused Thurman.
While the first half was Manny’s, Thurman turned it on in the 2nd half, and even outlanded Pacquiao in the final punch totals by connecting on 210 blows to Pacquiao’s 195. Thurman began to adjust by the 7th round, backing up Pacquiao and pressing on the gas more often.
“One Time’s” rally was put to an immediate halt when the “Pac-Man” landed a brutal left hook to the body that made Thurman retreat. While Thurman retreated, he took out his mouthpiece in order to get some air before putting it back in. After Pacquiao’s dominant 10th round, Thurman fought well during the championship rounds. Despite Thurman doing great work on several occasions during the fight, Pacquiao’s first-half dominance and major 10th round was too great a hurdle for Thurman to get over. That night, Pacquiao demonstrated why he is a true legend of the sport.
On June 1, 2019 at Madison Square Garden, British heavyweight star Anthony Joshua was supposed to have his American coronation. Andy Ruiz was a late-replacement opponent with only a few weeks notice heading into the fight. People didn’t take him seriously due to his chubby physique, and believed Joshua would blow him out of the water. Joshua was a 15-to-1 favorite, and it looked like he would be defending his title another time before eventually facing WBC Heavyweight World Champion Deontay Wilder in a major unification bout for all of the heavyweight belts. Ruiz attempted to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage, and was getting the chance of a lifetime. He lost to Joseph Parker in his prior crack at the heavyweight title, and his June match-up versus Joshua seemed like it was his last opportunity to become heavyweight champion.
Ruiz shocked the world, knocking out Joshua and becoming a global sensation. He got up off the deck in the 3rd after receiving a brutal left hook to the chin from Joshua. Immediately after the knockdown, Joshua decided that he wanted to end Ruiz’s night early. Joshua went on the inside, firing off a barrage of power shots and exchanging with Ruiz. This strategy did not pay off, as Ruiz timed Joshua, countering with a left hook to the temple that fazed Joshua and affected his equilibrium. He then landed a right to the back of Joshua’s head that knocked him down. Once floored, Joshua was never the same throughout the rest of the fight. Ruiz continued to stay on his opponent, looking for more opportunities to counter and get inside. Once again in the 3rd, Ruiz landed a barrage of power shots while Joshua’s back was against the ropes. Joshua was knocked down for a second time, and he seemed lost in there.
Joshua recovered to some degree, and was starting to look more comfortable after the hectic third round. But in the 7th, he was knocked down twice more. Ruiz’s inside punching and countering were too much for Joshua to handle. He was a stylistic nightmare for the Brit. He continued to land the overhand right in the 7th. After the second knockdown of the round, Joshua didn’t say he wanted it to end, but his body language did. Ruiz won and became the IBF/WBA/WBO Heavyweight Champion of the world. The fight had the feel of a boxing movie in which the underdog achieved glory that nobody thought would be possible. It was one of the most memorable heavyweight fights since 2000, and Ruiz proved to be an inspiring figure. Even though Joshua got his revenge in the rematch, winning by unanimous decision, Ruiz’s upset win was far more impactful for the boxing fan. This fight stands alone as the most memorable moment of 2019.