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As 2022 winds down, Sports Illustrated is looking back at the themes and teams, storylines and throughlines that shaped the year.
As always, the boxing year was filled with spectacular moments, brilliant performances and the emergence of new stars. Here are Sports Illustrated’s picks for the best of 2022.
Click here for SI’s picks for Men’s Fighter of the Year and Fight of the Year.
Women's Fighter of the Year: Katie Taylor
Taylor’s meteoric rise in the pro ranks crested last April, when she defeated longtime rival Amanda Serrano, narrowly edging Serrano in an electric performance. In front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden—the first women’s boxing fight to ever headline MSG—Taylor survived a mid-rounds battering from the heavy-handed Serrano to rally in the final rounds to squeeze out a win. The win over Serrano—a widely recognized top three pound-for-pound fighter—cemented Taylor’s status as the top women’s boxer. Taylor picked up a second win in October, defending her 135-pound titles in a lopsided win over mandatory challenger Karen Carbajal. At 35, Taylor remains at the top of her game.
Prospect of the Year: Frank Martin
Prospect can be a subjective word, but it says here that Martin, who has never won so much as a minor title and competed in his first 12-round fight at the end of the year, fits. It was a banner year for Martin, the centerpiece (the only piece, really) of Errol Spence’s promotional company. In January, Martin stopped veteran Romero Duno. In July, he knocked out a slick veteran in Jackson Marinez. In December, Martin faced Michel Rivera. In a battle of top prospects—the kind of matchup that rarely happens in boxing—Martin dominated, knocking Rivera down in the seventh round en route to a wide decision win. With speed, power and rapidly developing skills, Martin, 27, will be a contender in the lightweight division next year
Trainer of the Year: Bob Santos
The man behind Hector Luis Garcia? Santos. The cornerman for Alberto Puello? Santos. The guy instructing Carlos Adames? Santos. No trainer has had a more impressive year than Santos, a boxing lifer who has overseen the rise of several top Dominican fighters and emerged in 2022 as one of the sport's top tacticians. Garcia surprised many by scoring a lopsided decision win over Chris Colbert before taking a 130-pound title from Roger Gutierrez later in the year. Puello edged Botirzhon Akhmedov to win one of the 140-pound belts Josh Taylor vacated, and Adames claimed an interim 160-pound title with a knockout win over Juan Macias Montiel. Santos also operates as a co-trainer of David Morrell, a rising 168-pound contender.
KO of the Year: Leigh Wood vs. Michael Conlan
There were, perhaps, more eye-catching knockouts than Leigh Wood’s final-round finish of Michael Conlan last March. It was a right hand that did the damage to a weary Conlan and a grazing left that sent the slumped-over ex-Olympian tumbling out of the ring. But Wood’s dramatic KO was about more than just one punch. It was improbable, with Wood trailing on the scorecards and needing something big in the final minutes to get the win. And it was consequential: A loss would not only have cost Wood his 126-pound title, but might have ended the 33-year-old Wood’s chances of competing at the championship level. Instead, Wood delivered a signature performance and a chilling finish that will propel him into bigger fights next year.
Upset of the Year: Dmitry Bivol vs. Canelo Alvarez
Alvarez and Bivol were both undefeated titleholders when they met last May, but they appeared to be fighters moving in two different directions. Alvarez was white-hot, fresh off collecting four 168-pound belts in 11 months. Bivol, coming off a more competitive than expected win over Craig Richards and a lackluster performance against Umar Salamov, had lost some of his early career momentum.
Against Alvarez, he got it back, controlling the fight in a less-competitive-than-the-scorecards-reflected decision win. Alvarez had fought at 175 pounds before, knocking out Sergey Kovalev in 2019. But Bivol proved to be a different experience. Physically stronger, Bivol used his superior size to push Alvarez back. Athletically gifted, Bivol used superior athleticism and footwork to stay out of range of Alvarez’s biggest shots, limiting Alvarez to an average of seven landed punches per round. Technically skilled, Bivol used a superior jab and a 32-punch edge in power shots, per CompuBox, to secure the career-defining win.
Men’s Breakout Boxer of the Year: Jessie Rodriguez
At the start of the year, Rodriguez was a little-known 112-pound prospect. Today, Rodriguez, known as “Bam,” has a 115-pound title, a Fighter of the Year-level resume and is widely considered one of the top fighters in boxing. Rodriguez took a chance when he agreed to face Carlos Cuadras in February, stepping in as a late replacement for Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Against an established veteran, Rodriguez dominated, dropping Cuadras in the third round en route to a decision win. In June, Rodriguez faced Sor Rungvisai, stopping one of the heaviest hitters in the super flyweight division in the eighth round. In September, fighting in the co-main event of Canelo Alvarez’s anticipated showdown with Gennadiy Golovkin, Rodriguez blew out former title challenger Israel Gonzalez. Rodriguez will move down to 112 pounds for his next fight which, after a stellar ’22, will be an anticipated event.
Women’s Breakout Boxer of the Year: Ebanie Bridges
Bridges was seen as little more than a gimmick when she made her UK debut in 2021, losing a competitive decision to Shannon Courtenay in her first world title attempt. But the Australian-born Bridges built on the strength of that performance, rebounding with two wins to close ’21 and last March picked up a bantamweight title with a decisive decision win over Maria Cecilia Roman. In December, Bridges defended her title, knocking out countrywoman Shannon O’Connell in the eighth round.
Bridges has leaned into the perceptions of her; after O’Connell referred to her as a “skanky stripper,” Bridges used it as a hashtag in the days leading up to the fight. The “Blonde Bomber” routinely wears lingerie to weigh-ins and in interviews directs supporters to her OnlyFans page. But Bridges, 36, has proven she is more than an attraction, ending ’22 as arguably the top fighter in the 118-pound division.