Anthony Joshua, Billy Joe Saunders top brilliant year for British boxing

There were plenty of high profile fights involving British boxers in 2017. Getty Images

It was a brilliant year of fights in British rings that defied the odds, thrilled millions of fans, left some with broken hearts and made heroes of many.

There was no escaping the joyful night at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 when Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko dragged heavyweight boxing back to the glorious dark ages in a slugfest from history. It was the type of heavyweight championship fight that most boxing fans thought was extinct.

In round five Big Wlad was cut and dropped heavily but Joshua was so exhausted he could barely wobble to the neutral corner, where he sucked in air like a man suddenly stranded on top of Everest. Both survived the round and in the sixth Joshua was sent crashing to the canvas.

I still think, after a dozen screenings, that my immediate reaction from 10-feet away was right, that Joshua was out cold for a second or two. I think he woke up when he hit the canvas. The vicious end came in the 11th, Joshua was the winner and, as he said, he answered all the questions about his heart, stamina and chin. Big Wlad retired, Joshua stopped a brave Frenchman called Carlos Takam later in the year.

In December Tyson Fury, having dropped three stone of gut, was cleared to box after a complicated deal with the doping authorities. The tiny clips of Fury training were impressive and the testimony from the gym was even more powerful. Fury was back and back on his terms; the fallen heavyweight champion had also moved his trainer and uncle, Peter, to one side and had hired a new trainer for his assault on the heavyweight division.

Fury's first public appearance was ringside in Canada in December to watch his friend Billy Joe Saunders retain his WBO middleweight title with the finest performance by a British boxer in 2017. Saunders risked everything when he agreed terms to fight David Lemieux; it was, before the first bell, a 50-50 fight.

However, at the end of 12 truly mesmerising rounds Saunders was the clear winner, Lemieux was broken and suddenly Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez had somebody else to consider. It was a flawless display, leaving Lemieux as dazed and confused as the American interviewer after the fight. It was at times quite uncomfortable to watch Lemieux swinging so crudely and Saunders countering with power and a sneer. Brilliant, quite brilliant.

It was a brutal start to the year for world champions James DeGale and Carl Frampton and it never really improved for either. DeGale fought a bloody, draining and disturbing draw with Badou Jack in January in New York.

I thought DeGale did enough on the night. DeGale then required surgery on his right shoulder, his nose and some work on lost teeth. In December he finally returned against a hand-picked opponent called Caleb Truax.

It went wrong early, DeGale lost a tight decision and his IBF super-middleweight belt. However, the belt is a cosmetic, replaceable commodity and not the most disturbing thing that DeGale seems to have lost -- against Truax he looked like a shadow of the old boxer. He has gone away to think long and hard about his future: DeGale is just 31.

Frampton lost his rematch with Leo Santa Cruz in January in Las Vegas. It was tight, Frampton got it wrong on the night and Santa Cruz was excellent. A few months later a fight in Belfast collapsed less than 24 hours before the first bell when his opponent slipped in the shower, then Frampton split with Cyclone Promotions and before the end of the year legal proceedings were initiated by his former promoters.

It was ugly and will get a whole lot uglier. Thankfully, Frampton did have a homecoming in Belfast and won over ten hard rounds. Frampton had talked in late 2016 of having just a couple of more fights, but his troubling year has left him determined to win back the featherweight and add the super-featherweight world title.

In the lonely hours after DeGale lost, his bitter rivals Chris Eubank Jr and George Groves were savage in their online assessment. Boxers, we must remember, are big boys and if you make bold claims, you have to expect some rough verbal abuse in return when you fall short.

Groves won a world title and was sharp in a defence against Jamie Cox, taking the Swindon fighter's heart and unbeaten record with a sickening body shot. Eubank added a version of the title and was impressive in Germany when he knocked out Avni Yildirim in Stuttgart.

These are rare days to be a British super-middleweight and Groves and Eubank fight in February. DeGale is now an uncomfortable observer in a division he dominated.

The fun fight of the year was the David Haye and Tony Bellew scrap back in March. The dialogue was foul and thankfully the fight was as hostile as the words and endless promises before the bell. Haye was in bad shape -- mentally and physically -- and his timing was awful but he still won the first five rounds.

In round six he popped his Achilles and that was it; Bellew took over and the fight finished in the 11th round. It was great drama to watch and the rematch was planned for December but Haye injured a shoulder and it is now taking place in May.

Haye, oddly, has been made a betting favourite. Bellew, meanwhile, has done his best to get a fight with either Fury, Joseph Parker or Deontay Wilder. He deserves a break and if Haye had won he would have fought Joshua or Wilder. Nobody ever said boxing was fair.

Kell Brook finally returned to the ring in May in his hometown of Sheffield outdoors and risked it all against unbeaten Errol Spence. Brook had last fought in September of the year before when Golovkin shattered his eye socket; Spence did the same to win the IBF welterweight title. Brook is now just 31, his face a mask of hidden metal and screws.

The Brook and DeGale defeats are the extreme opposites to the sold-out nights of glory and perhaps the many young, unbeaten British prospects should look at the nights when the fallen champions have failed for their inspiration and not necessarily at the nights when Joshua thrilled crowds of 90,000 out under the stars.