Boxing 2015: Chocolatito, Golovkin Lead Fighter of the Year Debate

Gennady Golovkin - Will Hart
Photo by Will Hart

It was unsurprising that Sports Illustrated named Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing’s Fighter of the Year for 2015. Lesser-known commodities Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Gennady Golovkin didn’t stand a chance.

Mayweather’s name has long carried more pull than anybody in the sport. His record-shattering pay-per-view with Manny Pacquiao demonstrates this. That’s reason enough for any juggernaut publication to hand the award over to him.

Pacquiao was also the second-best boxer in the world when Mayweather ran rings around him.

Si.com’s Richard O’Brien argued that no other boxer beat an opponent with as much merit as Pacquiao. As so, O’Brien says the defensive savant out of Michigan was the only choice for Fighter of the Year.

But a single win doesn’t end the debate.

If that was the case, why didn’t Sports Illustrated etch Pacquiao’s name onto the trophy last year for beating two ranked opponents, and more specifically, pelting away at Tim Bradley. Bradley was the No. 3 pound-for-pound boxer in the world at the time. That was a win no other gloved fighter could match. Yet, somehow, the panel saw fit to side with Sergey Kovalev.

ESPN and the Boxing Writers Association of America also snubbed Pacquiao, awarding Terence Crawford the distinction.

Even more puzzling was everybody’s hasty decision to name a winner in early December ahead of Naoya Inoue’s New Year’s Eve clash with premier super flyweight Omar Andres Narvaez. The Japanese’s wipe-out knockout wound up giving him arguably the best claim to Fighter of the Year honors.

This writer is fully aware of TBS Japan’s stacked cards closing out the year.

The final three days of 2015 features seven world title fights. The only champion facing a legitimate contender, however, is Kazuto Ioka in a rematch with Juan Carlos Reveco. RingTv.com summed up Ioka’s win in April and called it controversial.

Ioka could very well starch Reveco and still only have one dominant win over a ranked opponent. That’s one less than both Gonzalez and Golovkin who knocked out all six of their combined challengers.

Jamie McDonnell and Badou Jack are the only other boxers to post two ranked wins this year. But their decision victories were evenly-contested scraps.

Another name being thrown into the hat is Tyson Fury. And for the same reason Sports Illustrated made Mayweather their choice. Fury pulled off a decision victory over a gun-shy Wladimir Klitschko earlier this month. It was a historic win and made the Englishman the lineal, undisputed heavyweight champion. The other half of Fury’s 2-0 mark on the year, though, is a stoppage of Christian Hammer, a European-level slugger.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez earned a place in lineal history too. Miguel Cotto relinquished the middleweight crown to the Mexican superstar in November. Canelo, like Fury, only has one other win. It was a thrilling knockout of James Kirkland. Kirkland is a scintillating brawler, sure, but one who hadn’t ducked his head under the ropes in over two years.

Chocolatito and Golovkin each fought thrice in 2015, fighting twice on the exact same bill. They dished out an unparalleled brand of violence, punching in three knockout victories mostly over noteworthy competition.

The Fighter of the Year debate comes down to these two men.

Chocolatito opened the year with a Round 3 TKO of Valentin Leon in January.

Roman Gonzalez vs.
Photo by Ed Mulholland

Next were his first two appearances on HBO. The Nicaraguan pocket monster made easy work of TBRB-recognized top five flyweights and former champions Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria.

The main event those nights were Golovkin in defense and unification of the WBA and IBF middleweight belts. “Triple G” stamped his fists on David Lemiuex, a top-five middleweight per TBRB, and Willie Monroe Jr., adding to his crushing triumph of Martin Murray in February, another top-five win.

Both Gonzalez and Golovkin were as impressive and ruinous as prizefighters can be, substantially more awe-inspiring than Mayweather or Fury’s dull performances.

It’s not easy ranking one above the other.

Boxing: Gabriel Rosado vs. Gennady Golovkin
Photo by Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

Their top-five wins would seem to match up evenly at first glance. But their unranked opponents (Leon and Monroe Jr.) do not.

Golovkin shattered a tremendous athlete in Monroe Jr., the great nephew of one Willie “Worm” Monroe—the only man to ever decisively beat Marvin Hagler.

Pushing six feet tall and shredded to the gills, the current day Monroe is an intimidating physical specimen. And also just one fight removed from outclassing Bryan Vera, a real savage, when Golovkin got his mitts on him.

Most have never heard of Gonzalez’s first opponent of 2015, Valentin Leon who is much less of a sight to behold than Monroe. At 5’4” and with over 30 losses on his record, Leon doesn’t seem like anybody to write home about. Although he’s shared the ring with the most esteemed little men of the last decade across four weight classes, fighting Isaac Bustos, Ivan Calderon, Viloria, Giovani Segura, Eric Ortiz, Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. and Hernan “Tyson” Marquez.

It’s an impressive ledger, but Leon never actually won any of those fights. When Gonzalez fought him he was closer to 40 than 30 and coming off a knockout loss. Monroe was the fresher opponent with far more upside.

Chocolatito’s notable opponents, however, are more proven than Golovkin’s.

Sosa picked up his first title, the WBC light flyweight strap, in 2007. He’s since become a longtime 112-pound contender whose only three real losses dating back 43 fights and 11 years are to lineal flyweight champions, past or present.

Viloria, a former 108-pound champion himself, claimed the WBO and WBA flyweight belts in 2012. He proved himself a bonafide top 10 pound-for-pound boxer after dispatching Segura and Tyson Marquez.

Murray, who gave Golovkin a tough go in their bout, has failed to reach the pinnacle of the sport Viloria stood strong on. Sometimes by a matter of inches.

In 2011, the Englishman fought Felix Sturm to a split-decision draw in Germany that could have gone either way. The three other blemishes on his record were all failed title bids. Still, Murray gave Sergio Martinez the sternest title defense of the Argentine’s four-year reign.

Lemiuex’s firepower looked to make him a stiff test for Golovkin too. 31 big knockout wins complement his locks of flawless hair. Two upset losses in 2011 to Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine were devastating, but the Canadian overcame adversity to reel off nine-straight wins before falling to Golovkin.

It’s a real pick‘em between Gonzalez and Golovkin.

The duo are neck and neck in this debate, sharing the spotlight like they did in Inglewood, California and Madison Square Garden in New York.

Both are similar in their demeanor and practice. Both crack smiles that denote love and snap fists that shriek hate. And both are deserving of recognition as 2015’s Fighter of the Year.

Who gets your vote?

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