Highlights from NoSmokeSport's 2023 Boxing Awards including top fights and knockouts

NoSmokeSport’s 2023 Boxing Awards: Fight Of The Year, Knockout Of The Year, Upset Of The Year And MORE

Fight Of The Year (M)

Joe Cordina SD 12 Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov

Joe Cordina controversially lost his title at the end of 2022 when he pulled out of his mandatory defence against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov due to injury.

It was a hasty decision and met with plenty of criticism but the IBF are known to be strict and we saw the most recent example of that with Jai Opetaia.

Rakhimov would go on to come from behind on the cards to stop Zelfa Barrett in Abu Dhabi and be ordered to face Cordina next.

A packed-out Cardiff Arena still had Cordina’s brutal knockout of Kenichi Ogawa in the back of their minds, and the Welsh Wizard gave them another night they’ll never forget.

In round two, Rakhimov backed Cordina up and the Brit was countering Rakhimov for the first 30 seconds or so. The pair then met in the middle of the ring, both having success at punching range, Cordina notably with the right uppercut and Rakhimov with his left hand to the body.

With around a minute to go, Cordina dropped Rakhimov with a brilliant 1-2-3 combination with the left hook doing all the damage. Rakhimov rose to his feet and would go on to fight fire with fire and trade with Cordina for the remainder of the round.

Rakhimov had his best moment in the fight in round five where a right hook wobbles Cordina and forces him to hold on and cover up on the ropes.

Cordina caught a second wind in the seventh and had another strong round as Rakhimov’s eyes began to close from a cut and the Welshman would aim his backhand on the left eye.

Rakhimov slowed down slightly allowing the Welshman to build up a strong lead in rounds 7, 8 and 9 and put him well in front heading into the championship rounds.

Cordina won a 114-113, 115-112, 111-116 split-decision over the man from Tajikistan to regain his world title.

Fight Of The Year (F)

Katie Taylor MD 10 Chantelle Cameron

Katie Taylor became a two-weight undisputed world champion when she defeated Chantelle Cameron in their thrilling Dublin rematch.

After losing for the first time in May, Taylor managed to win a majority decision (scorecards: 98-92, 96-94, 95-95) when the pair battled in front of 9k of Taylor’s home fans.

Taylor started the fight strong, using her fast hands and feet to get the better of exchanges and move in and out of range before Cameron could get her work off.

There were two controversies in the fight, a stiff jab appeared to be landed by Cameron in round one which was not counted as a knockdown and the apparent use of the head by Taylor which led to a cut opening above Cameron’s eye in the third.

A fast start from Taylor was much needed as if she let Cameron pressure her, push her back and control the rhythm of the fight, there would be no way back. And that is what the Irish woman managed to do with the almost won at the halfway point.

Cameron caught Taylor with an eye-catching uppercut in the eighth which momentarily stunned her but the work rate and accuracy of Taylor was superior for the majority of the rounds and the successes for Cameron, compared to the first fight, were few and far between.

Fighter Of The Year (M)

Naoya Inoue

Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford are each other’s biggest challenges, not inside the ring but outside of it.

The pair will battle for the P4P #1 spot, Fighter of the Year (2023) and Performance of the Year (2023).

But for NoSmokeSport, it is the Japanese Monster who takes the first two of those positions.

Inoue moved up to super bantamweight to face the division’s #1 fighter, Stephen Fulton, in July. It was certainly the biggest fight he had ever been in and for maybe the first time ever, people thought there was a chance that Inoue could lose.

But the 30-year-old made the contest completely one-sided, stabbing the power jab to Fulton’s stomach and to his head.

Inoue was too fast and too powerful for the American, who never really got into the contest and was halted in the eighth after losing every round.

Marlon Tapales gave Inoue a harder fight than expected just a few days ago taking 1/2 rounds but eventually, the power became too much for him and he wilted in the tenth in their four-belt unification.

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The Japanese star unified the 122-pound division within five months of entering it and became only the second male two-weight undisputed champion.

Fighter Of The Year (F)

Katie Taylor

The consensus over the past few years has been that Katie Taylor is ageing, slowing down and that her best years are past her.

Taylor’s historic bout with Amanda Serrano was the fight that people thought we’d see as the beginning of the end but the P4P #1 managed to do just enough to nick a razor-tight decision in their fight of the year contender.

The pair were meant to rematch on May 20 this year but Serrano pulled out of the fight as it was too soon after her war with Erika Cruz.

In came Chantelle Cameron, a bigger, stronger and fresher woman. Taylor-Cameron was a fight that had been talked about for years with some experts confident that Cameron was the woman to dethrone Taylor.

Much to the dismay of the sold-out 3 Arena, Cameron did just that and pulled off a minor bookies’ upset in Dublin earlier this year.

Fans had pretty much ruled out any chance of Taylor beating Cameron in their rematch, ‘rematchroom’, ‘another pointless rematch’ – you get the picture.

But Taylor defied all odds and produced a near-perfect performance when it mattered more than ever before.

Whilst some will criticise her tactics, which involved smothering Cameron’s work and not allowing her to get leverage on her punches, it was effective.

Taylor showed why she was so masterful in the unpaid ranks, using her fast feet, sharp counter-punching and blistering combinations to enact revenge on the British women and become a two-weight undisputed champion.

Knockout Of The Year

Junto Nakatani KO 12 Andrew Moloney

On the undercard of Devin Haney vs Vasily Lomachenko, Junto Nakatani faced Andrew Moloney for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. What on paper could have been somewhat competitive, absolutely wasn’t.

Nakatani pummeled Moloney, won every single round, and was landing heavy uppercuts and straight-back hands throughout.

The Japanese pugilist floored the Australian in the 2nd heavily and put him down even worse in the 11th. Moloney barely made the count and was stumbling around trying to regain his composure after making it, beaten, bruised and in no fit state to continue.

The fight should’ve been stopped after the eleventh but for some reason, Moloney was allowed to go out for the twelfth and he paid the price. The Aussie took a huge left hand from Nakatani that rendered him unconscious for around 5 minutes in the ring.

Nakatani squatted down as if he was planning to throw a backhand to the body, bringing down the right glove of Moloney which allowed Nakatani to land a loaded-up overhand left that was devastating on impact.

The fight was called off less than a second after the punch connected with Moloney crumbling in his stance and his head banging onto the canvas.

Performance Of The Year

Terence Crawford TKO 9 Errol Spence

Terence Crawford produced a masterful performance in one of the most important fights in the sport, not only in 2023 but in the last few years in boxing.

The timing is crucial. Naoya Inoue just four days earlier had lept to P4P #1 for a lot of fans after dominating and stopping Stephen Fulton in RD 8 in a fight many pundits figured would run close.

Crawford needed something extraordinary to dethrone Inoue and he found it in his 9th-round TKO win over Errol Spence at a packed-out T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A fight that was dubbed the most evenly-matched in the sport, it was anything but after the first round.

Crawford dropped Spence three times, once in round two and twice in round seven before the referee Harvey Dock decided he’d seen enough in the ninth.

In a largely one-sided beating, Crawford proved too intelligent a fighter for Spence, perfectly controlling the distance and foretelling Spence’s every move, allowing him to counter with ease.

The two-division undisputed champions’ clear edge in Ring IQ against another top, undefeated P4P fighter in his natural weight was a sight to behold.

Upset Of The Year/Comeback Of The Year

Ja’Rico O’Quinn KO 5 Peter McGrail

Peter McGrail was set for his US debut on a Brit-heavy card against the once-beaten Ja’Rico O’Quinn.

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A strong favourite, the 2020 Olympian was proving just why he was dubbed the ‘Scouse Lomachenko’.

McGrail scored his first knockdown in the second, stopping the jab of O’Quinn, moving to his left and catching the American square on with a back hand.

The Liverpudlian grew in confidence in rounds three and four, bouncing in and out with quick feet catching O’Quinn with sharp left hands to the head and body at range.

Early in round four, McGrail moved his feet outside the lead foot of O’Quinn giving him leverage to connect with a power left hand scoring a second knockdown, much heavier than the one in the second round.

O’Quinn looked baffled in the remainder of the fourth, completely unaware of where the punches were coming from and where McGrail’s feet would be seconds later.

McGrail had an 80-19 connect advantage heading into round 5 with the end surely near. The commentators could not praise him enough, “This guy looks like a world champion already…His head’s never in the same spot, it’s hard to counter a fighter like that…He’s absolutely fantastic and his judgement of distance is brilliant”

Just seconds later, his judgement distance wasn’t perfect, his head was in the same place and O’Quinn scored with a right hand that knocked McGrail clean out.

A fight that was made for McGrail to look good in his US debut and was pretty much one-sided until O’Quinn finished it with a highlight-reel shot – similar to Melikuziev-Rosado.

Not only the upset of the year but a contender for knockout of the year and the frontrunner for the comeback of the year.

Round Of The Year

O’Shaquie Foster vs Rocky Hernandez Round 11

O’Shaquie Foster had to go to the challenger’s backyard in Mexico to make the first defence of his 130-pound title against the heavy-handed Rocky Hernandez.

Through ten rounds the contest was pretty much dead level and neither man could be sure who would walk out with the belt heading into a brutal eleventh.

Hernandez was on the backfoot at the beginning of the penultimate round looking to engage as infrequently as possible as the bout had clearly taken more out of him than the American at this stage.

The Mexican leapt in off-balance and was caught by a right hook and left hand forcing him onto the ropes, Foster unloaded on him and Rocky did what he knew best, fight fire with fire.

On the verge of being stopped, Rocky found a backhand from somewhere that completely changed the momentum and pushed Foster onto the ring ropes.

It was an unbelievable turnaround, with Hernandez in a stronger position now as the pair traded on the ropes but both were taking heavy shots in the exchanges.

The Mexican hurt Foster in the last forty seconds with a right hand that promoted the crowd to cheer Rocky on to try and force a stoppage.

Trainer Of The Year

Ben Davison

The two frontrunners for trainer of the year are Brian McIntyre (BoMac) and Ben Davison.

BoMac coached Terence Crawford to his 9th-round TKO win over Errol Spence in the most important fight in 2023 and helped Chris Eubank Jr avenge his only stoppage defeat to Liam Smith in September.

Ben Davison answered British fight fans’ wishes just days ago when Anthony Joshua easily stopped Otto Wallin in five rounds. It was a more spiteful, aggressive and confident AJ after just months with Davison and it was clear to see the impact the British trainer, alongside Lee Wylie, had on Joshua.

Leigh Wood outboxed Mauricio Lara for 16-17/19 rounds they shared across two fights in the first half of this year. A very dangerous opponent for Wood but a masterful performance in the rematch down to a near-perfect gameplan saw the Nottingham boxer take a wide decision to regain his title in their second encounter.

Alongside this, Davison has provided behind-the-scenes tactical advice to undisputed champion Devin Haney, who earned a career-best win over Vasyl Lomachenko in May and became a two-division titleist with a wide decision over Regis Prograis in December.

There is no wrong answer going with either for trainer of the year but NoSmokeSport awards it to Davison.

By Darshan Desai

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Inoue Fulton Image: Naoki Fukuda, Spence Crawford Image: EPA via Shutterstock