When it was confirmed that professional boxing would return in June following an enforced hiatus, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was natural curiosity and anticipation surrounding behind closed doors shows.
A majority of the shows post-pandemic have been in closed door studios, a minority in outdoor spaces and just a few in front of limited crowds in Texas.
How would fighters fare without a raucous crowd behind them? Many have described the experience, as feeling like a sparring session, whilst others have dismissed the impact.
Despite an unusual feel to this new-norm, 2020 has produced some breakout stars and a host of memorable bouts.
Fighters and promoters took significant pay cuts to ensure some of the most lucrative and eagerly-anticipated contests took place, with the biggest names in the sport, including Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko all featuring.
Below are our picks for the top five fights of 2020:
1. Jose Zepeda vs Ivan Baranchyk- October 2020
Without a doubt, the stand-out fight of 2020 and one to compete in any year.
Top Rank’s bubble inside the MGM Grand Conference Centre, Las Vegas brought boxing back in June with Shakur Stevenson stopping Felix Carabello and the same venue produced a five round, eight-knockdown thriller.
Former two-time world title challenger, Zepeda was floored twice in the opening round and once in the second round, before dropping former world champion, Baranchyk in each of the second to fifth rounds.
The Californian hit the canvas in the fifth round himself, before finally ending proceedings with a devastating, left hand which left Baranchyk out cold, a worthy contender for knockout of the year.
The fight was deservedly awarded fight of the year by the coveted Ring Magazine and it will take something special to top a sensational night in Sin City, which promoter Bob Arum described as one of the best fights he’d seen since George Foreman’s battle with Ron Lyle in 1976, which was also awarded fight of the year by the Ring.
2. Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury- February 2020
February’s highly-anticipated world heavyweight title rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury was one of the most memorable fights of the year and the last major bout before the sporting world was put on hold following the coronavirus pandemic.
After a compelling build-up, Fury dominated the clash at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, dramatically knocking down Wilder twice, before Mark Breland threw in the towel in the seventh round, as the Brit claimed the WBC title and was crowned two-time world champion.
The fight itself was relatively one-sided, however such was Fury’s domination and his composed display on the biggest stage captured the imagination of the public far beyond the hardcore contingent.
The Gypsy King produced one of the biggest wins of a British fighter since he spectacularly dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf in 2015.
The victory was even more impressive for two reasons. One that very few expected him to implement the aggressive approach he had promised in the build-up and win the fight in such supreme fashion and secondly to regain his spot at the top of the sport within four fights, after battling back from chronic depression and drug abuse and a two-and-a-half year absence is one of the most remarkable stories in sporting history.
Wilder’s team took to mediation to enforce a trilogy with Fury’s team insisting the timeframe has passed. If unsuccessful, Fury will press ahead for a unification with unified world champion, Anthony Joshua.
3. Ted Cheeseman vs Sam Eggington- August 2019
Eddie Hearn decided to diverge away from the norm of behind closed door studio shows, returning his innovative Fight Camp idea in August, which saw four consecutive shows in the headquarters of Matchroom HQ, culminating in Dillian Whyte’s defeat to Alexander Povetkin.
Night one saw an all-action war between Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington with the former edging the clash by decision.
Cheeseman appeared to be in control of the early stages, but the relentless Eggignton fired back, as the pair traded for large parts of their twelve round affair.
4. Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez- October 2020
Vasiliy Lomachenko’s clash with Teofimo Lopez was arguably the most-anticipated of the post-pandemic era and a compelling build-up did not disappoint with a gripping twelve round unification battle inside the MGM Grand bubble.
Lopez, the IBF champion had vowed for years prior to beat double Olympic Gold medalist and the unified WBA ‘Super’, WBO and Ring Magazine Lightweight champion and ‘The Takeover’ lived up to his words.
Most had expected Lomachenko’s supreme skill and pedigree to prove crucial and for the three-weight world champion to outbox Lopez, who had only become champion with a second round knockout of Richard Commey in December.
However, the 23-year-old ripped up the script, largely dominating the opening seven rounds and pick up a sizeable lead. The Ukrainian clawed back the deficit, as he rallied back with a late onslaught, but Lopez did enough taking a unanimous decision and becoming a star overnight.
Lopez, who was also awarded the WBC Franchise belt from Lomachenko set the mark for his Lightweight rivals, with Gervonta Davis spectacularly knocking out Leo Santa Cruz at the end of October, Devin Haney retaining his WBC crown with a shutout over Yuriorkis Gamboa in November, whilst Luke Campbell and Ryan Garcia lock horns for the WBC Interim title this Saturday in Dallas.
5. Terri Harper vs Natasha Jonas – August 2019
2020 has been a breakout year for many of the top female talent, especially in the UK with Savannah Marshall and Chantelle Cameron becoming world champions, whilst Irish great Katie Taylor shined with a rematch victory over Delfine Persoon, followed up by a dazzling display against Miriam Gutierrez, as she headlined in November.
Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas kickstarted the feel good factor, as their WBC and IBO Super Featherweight title showdown produced fireworks in the second week of Fight Camp.
Harper was a heavy favourite to retain her crown, however Jonas proved the doubters wrong, pushing the Denaby native all the way in a contentious split decision draw, as Harper defended her titles.
General consensus edged the fight towards Jonas, but nonetheless the British pair fought a fascinating ten rounds and generated huge attention on the sport, let alone female boxing.
Just like Cheeseman’s battle with Eggington, a rematch is certainly on the wishlist for 2021.