Through its first two seasons, the World Boxing Super Series has consistently produced exciting, high-stakes fights between elite combatants in four different divisions.
But the most exciting of all -- and for enormous stakes -- came Nov. 7 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Japanese favorite Naoya Inoue, the pound-for-pound-ranked star who has won world titles in three weight classes, clashed with Nonito Donaire, a future Hall of Famer who has won titles in four divisions, in what unexpectedly turned out to be the 2019 fight of the year.
Inoue, 26, came into the bantamweight title unification bout having stormed through his first two fights of the tournament in less than three rounds, stopping Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez. Inoue was a significant favorite against the 37-year-old Donaire, who had dropped down in weight to enter the field. Donaire won a title in the quarterfinals when favored Ryan Burnett suffered a freak injury in the fourth round and had to retire from the bout. Donaire then scored a brutal knockout of overmatched Stephon Young in the semifinals. Young was a late replacement for Zolani Tete, who suffered a shoulder injury days before the fight.
Inoue-Donaire was expected to be a coronation of "The Monster," but "The Filipino Flash" gave Inoue the most demanding fight of his career.
It was a mesmerizing, punishing battle from start to finish between two master boxers whose inclination is to stand and fight. They dispensed with the sweet science and rumbled in an enthralling and superb fight, which Inoue won 117-109, 116-111 and 114-113 on the scorecards -- but not before he had to overcome tremendous adversity for the first time in his career.
Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) opened a cut over Inoue's right eye with a clean left hook in the second round, and it caused him problems for the rest of the fight. Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) said he had double vision thereafter and he also suffered a fractured orbital bone and nose in the second or third round. But Inoue fought through the problems and repeatedly rocked Donaire with right hands.
Then came the epic 11th round, which featured massive momentum swings and included Inoue dropping Donaire with a left to the body and nearly finishing him before Donaire stormed back to hurt Inoue. Before the round was over, Inoue turned the tables and nearly dropped Donaire again. Then they slugged it out again in the 12th round to conclude an unforgettable fight.
Other memorable fights
2. Errol Spence Jr. W12 Shawn Porter (Sept. 28 at Staples Center, Los Angeles): One of the year's most significant showdowns easily met the hype when Spence and Porter met to unify their welterweight world titles. The fight turned into an all-out slugfest in the third round and never let up. Spence, who scored a stunning knockdown with a left hand in the tremendous 11th round, would ultimately eke out a split decision.
3. Gennadiy Golovkin W12 Sergiy Derevyanchenko (Oct. 5 at Madison Square Garden, New York): GGG won a vacant middleweight belt by the slimmest of margins -- many had Derevyanchenko winning -- but nobody could dispute that this was an absolutely savage fight, perhaps the hardest of Golovkin's glorious career. Even though GGG scored a first-round knockdown and badly cut Derevyanchenko in the second round, he was pushed to the limit.
4. Sergey Lipinets TKO10 Lamont Peterson (March 24 at MGM National Harbor, Oxon Hill, Maryland): Former world titleholders Lipinets and Peterson, vying for a possible title shot, put on an absolutely grinding, physical, back-and-forth welterweight battle not for the faint of heart, until Lipinets dropped hometown favorite Peterson in the 10th round. After that knockdown, Peterson's corner threw in the towel and he announced his retirement.
5. Daniel Roman W12 TJ Doheny (April 26 at The Forum, Inglewood, California): Roman and Doheny gave everything they had in this incredibly fierce back-and-forth junior featherweight title unification fight. Roman, fighting in his hometown, pounded Doheny's body throughout the fight and dropped him with left hooks to the head in the second and 11th rounds. Doheny nearly dropped Roman in the seventh round, but ultimately, Roman won by split decision.
6. Julian Williams W12 Jarrett Hurd (May 11, EagleBank Arena, Fairfax, Virginia): In a dramatic battle, mandatory challenger Williams, fighting in Hurd's home region, dropped him with a clean left hook in the second round of a fight that had unrelenting and hellacious action. It ended with Williams winning a unanimous decision to take the unified title from Hurd, who had previously unified two belts by winning the 2018 fight of the year.
7. Jose Ramirez TKO6 Maurice Hooker (July 27 at College Park Center, Arlington, Texas): The undefeated junior welterweight titleholders met to unify their belts on Hooker's turf in a high-stakes showdown that more than lived up to the hype. It was an action-packed, toe-to-toe brawl that Ramirez led 48-46 on two scorecards, with the third 47-47, going into the sixth round, when Ramirez ended the memorable fight with a barrage of unanswered punches.
8. Josh Taylor W12 Regis Prograis (Oct. 26 at O2 Arena, London): The undefeated junior welterweight titleholders met to unify their belts in a very worthy final of the World Boxing Super Series, which Taylor won by majority decision. Both men elevated themselves in this classic fight -- one Prograis nearly pulled out with a 12th-round onslaught -- that was waged at the highest level.
9. Artur Beterbiev TKO10 Oleksandr Gvozdyk (Oct. 18 at Liacouras Center, Philadelphia): There had never been a light heavyweight world title unification fight between undefeated titleholders until Beterbiev and Gvozdyk, both Olympians, clashed in a terrific fight that was close and exciting all the way until the more powerful Beterbiev scored three knockdowns for the stoppage in the 10th round.
10. Alfredo Angulo W10 Peter Quillin (Sept. 21 at Rabobank Theater, Bakersfield, California): Although they are in the twilight of their nearly 15-year careers, Angulo and Quillin, each in need of a notable victory, showed they possess enormous heart and determination as they waged a ferocious all-action super middleweight battle that Angulo, who rocked Quillin several times but could not drop him, won by split decision.
2019 Knockout of the Year: Devin Haney KO7 Antonio Moran
Joe Tessitore, Timothy Bradley, Mark Kriegel and Andre Ward debate the top candidates for the best boxing knockout of 2019.
When former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk suffered a torn biceps that prevented him from making his heavyweight debut on May 25, rising lightweight star Devin Haney, who had just signed with Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, was elevated from the co-feature to the main event of the card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
As it turned out, the sensational way Haney finished Antonio Moran, who was supposed to be the toughest test of Haney's career to that point, was worthy of the main-event spotlight.
Not only had Haney utterly dominated Moran, but he drilled him in such memorable and devastating fashion in the seventh round that the finish is the pick for 2019 knockout of the year in a 2019 loaded with excellent candidates.
Haney, who turned 21 on Nov. 17, is not known as a huge puncher, but he is obviously developing his man strength, and he showed it off against Moran with a knockout as sick as it gets.
In the seventh round, Haney connected to the body with a right hand, stuck his left out to find his range as Moran retreated to the ropes and then wound up and came over the top with a monstrous right hand.
The punch slammed into the point of Moran's chin, his head swiveled and his body slithered down to his rear end before he fell over on his side in a heap, with his head coming to rest on the ring mat.
"Devin Haney, a walk-off home run," DAZN broadcaster Todd Grisham roared. "The dream continues for the 20-year-old sensation! He promised something special and he delivered!"
Referee Kenny Chevalier immediately waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 32 seconds, and Moran was down for several minutes receiving medical attention.
Haney said he was pleased with his work.
"I think that was a beautiful shot," Haney said. "That was probably my best shot."
Other sweet shots: 2. Yunier Dorticos KO10 Andrew Tabiti; 3. Canelo Alvarez KO11 Sergey Kovalev; 4. Dereck Chisora KO2 Artur Szpilka; 5. Deontay Wilder KO7 Luis Ortiz; 6. Nonito Donaire KO6 Stephon Young; 7. Jermell Charlo KO3 Jorge Cota; 8. Vergil Ortiz Jr. KO3 Mauricio Herrera; 9. O'Shaquie Foster KO8 Jesus Bravo; 10. Deontay Wilder KO1 Dominic Breazeale; 11. Chris Colbert Miguel Beltran Jr.; 12. Cassius Chaney TKO1 Joel Caudle; 13. Jose Cardenas KO1 Antonio Vargas; 14. Michael Seals KO2 Christopher Booker; 15. Vasiliy Lomachenko KO4 Anthony Crolla.
2019 round of the year: Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua I (third)
Joe Tessitore, Timothy Bradley, Mark Kriegel and Andre Ward recap the best and most meaningful rounds of boxing in 2019.
Andy Ruiz Jr. entered Madison Square Garden in New York as a massive underdog June 1, when he challenged Anthony Joshua for Joshua's three heavyweight world title belts, and through the first two-plus rounds, Joshua had taken control using a stiff jab to nail Ruiz.
But then came the unforgettable third round -- the 2019 round of the year -- when Ruiz set the stage for what ultimately would become a seventh-round knockout victory and a monumental title-winning upset victory.
Joshua continued to dominate as the round began, and at 40 seconds, he landed a clean left hook to the chin that dropped a stunned Ruiz to his rear end. Ruiz got up quickly, but the sellout crowd of 20,201 -- mostly fellow Britons who had made the trip across the pond to see their hero, Joshua, in his American debut -- anticipated a knockout seconds later, as did DAZN commentator Chris Mannix.
"More than two minutes to go in this round," he said. "Anthony Joshua is a composed and ferocious finisher. Watch this."
We all watched as Ruiz dramatically flipped the script moments later when he staggered Joshua with a left hook to the head. After Ruiz connected with a few more shots, including a damaging right, Joshua went down in the center of the ring with 1:46 to go. The crowd was in shock, and the fight had changed in the blink of an eye.
Joshua was unsteady when he rose, got rocked by a right hand and, as he tried to hold, Ruiz chopped him down to the mat with a series of punches that nearly sent Joshua through the ropes and out of the ring.
Joshua barely beat referee Michael Griffin's count and the round ended before Ruiz could get off another shot but it was an unforgettable, seesaw round that was the turning point of a historic fight.
"That was my first time getting dropped on the floor. It just made me stronger," Ruiz said afterward. "It just made me want it more. I just had to knock him down back. [I took his power] because of the Mexican warrior I am. I have that Mexican blood in me. Talking about the Mexican fighting style, I just proved it."
Other scorchers: 2. Naoya Inoue-Nonito Donaire (11th); 3. Errol Spence Jr.-Shawn Porter (11th); 4. Ryota Murata-Rob Brant II (first,); 5. Mairis Briedis-Krzysztof Glowacki (second); 6. Jose Ramirez-Maurice Hooker (third); 7. Irosvani Duvergel-Jerhed Fenderson (third); 8. Jeff Horn-Michael Zerafa II (ninth); 9. Patrick Teixeira-Carlos Adames (seventh); 10. Ray Beltran-Hiroki Okada (second); 11. Efe Ajagba-Iago Kiladze (third); 12. Xu Can-Jesus Rojas (12th).