WITH the New Year now upon us, it’s time to assess the performances of Australia’s best in 2017.
We grade the year for each of our Pound for Pound top ten, assessing their overall campaign, while picking their best point, and biggest area for improvement.
1. Jeff Horn (18-0-1, 12 KOs)
A maiden world title win, a landmark deal with the Queensland Government and a successful first defence give Jeff Horn the closest thing to flawless year.
The Brisbane-based Horn fulfilled his prophecy and broke the mould in more ways than one. The naysayers who criticised his much maligned signing with New Zealand promotional firm Duco Events in 2014 are now left red-faced. The 29-year-old headlined one of the biggest events in Australian boxing history in July, where he dethroned Manny Pacquiao in front of over 51,000 spectators at Suncorp Stadium.
Horn topped that off with a workmanlike stoppage in his first defence of his WBO welterweight crown, hustling unheralded Gary Corcoran over eleven rounds in the first fight of a two-fight deal with the Queensland Government.
Best Point: All of the above. Every move that Horn made in 2017 was the right one. From sitting out until July until the Pacquiao fight was finalised, through to the decision to pursue the Pacquiao rematch, until the future Hall of Famer opted against a second meeting. It will be hard to top the banner 2017 campaign that Horn put together.
Worst Point: The public perception. For reasons unbeknown to most, the sporting public wrongly assume that three Australian’s judged Horn’s title winning performance against Manny Pacquiao. However, there were two Americans being Waleska Roldan and Chris Flores along with an Argentine in Ramon Cerdan.
Key question: How will Horn handle mandatory challenger Terence Crawford?
If the Pacquiao title challenge was daunting, there are few superlatives to describe the challenge at hand against the uber-talented Crawford, who is the former lineal and undisputed world champion at light welterweight, having captured all four of the major alphabet titles in 2017.
2. Sakio Bika (34-7-3, 22 KOs)
Sakio Bika broke a two year absence in 2017, making a well overdue return to the ring after spending 27 months on the sidelines following unsuccessful back-to-back title challenges against unbeaten duo Anthony Dirrell and Adonis Stevenson for the WBC super middleweight and WBC light heavyweight thrones. Let that sink in.
Best Point: Given the extended time away, the fact that Bika competed twice in 2017 has to be seen as an overwhelming positive. Although routine wins against Luke Sharp and Geard Ajetovic are unlikely to cause ripples overseas, activity is essential at this stage of his storied career. With ties to influential advisor Al Haymon, Bika is now planning a campaign to challenge reigning WBC super middleweight ruler David Benavidez.
Worst Point: Quality of recent opposition. Nobody can knock Bika for seeking the best challenges available, having done so throughout his established career, with fights against legendary names such as Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward amongst a plethora of notable opponents. However, have tune-ups against the aforementioned Sharp and Ajetovic prepared Bika for world level challenges? This remains to be seen.
Key Question: How much is left in the tank?
3. Lucas Browne (25-0, 22 KOs)
Inactivity has continued to plague the career of former WBA heavyweight titleholder Lucas Browne. The 38-year-old competed just once in 2017 – a worrying sign for the Perth-based heavyweight – who has fought just once a year since 2015. Browne was granted a return after a fourteen month stint on the sidelines, crushing an overmatched Matthew Greer in two rounds.
Best Point: Social media. The best part of Browne’s 2017 campaign took place outside of the ring, providing some light entertainment with his social media. The undefeated Browne has developed a reputable fan-base in the United Kingdom, which he has used to rally for a fight with WBC #1 rated heavyweight Dillian Whyte, which has been discussed at nauseam for March.
Worst Point: Inactivity. If Browne competed in half of the fights that he’d verbally agreed to take, he would be one of the most active fighters in his division. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case, with multiple high-profile fights falling through, particularly a mouth-watering challenge for the WBO heavyweight title against Kiwi kingpin Joseph Parker, whom Browne signed to face.
Key Question: Can Browne sustain enough activity to make another run at a heavyweight title?
4. Lenny Zappavigna (37-3, 27 KOs)
Lenny Zappavigna continued his ascension towards a second world title shot, beginning his rebirth as a fully fledged welterweight after having dreams of an IBF light welterweight title shot crushed by eventual titleholder Sergey Lipinets. The Sydney-based slugger went 2-0 in 2017, crushing Fidel Monterrosa Munoz and Nestor Faccio in body-punching clinics.
Best Point: The tune-ups. In the Lipinets loss, Zappavigna showed that he has the ability to compete with world level opposition and is only a refinement or two away from producing his best form. The 30-year-old reaped the benefits of being aligned to promotional powerhouse Top Rank, who secured the Australian two quickfire wins in three months along with some much needed activity.
Worst Point: Lack of direction. Having secured two quick wins, Zappavigna is now in a position to begin an assault on the bigger names at welterweight. With that said, there appears to be some mixed messages in relation to his next move. Despite moving up in weight, Zappavigna made a point to call-out the aforementioned Lipinets after his last fight, in spite of having no apparent path back to the IBF light welterweight champion.
Key Question: Is Zappavigna big enough to challenge the established names in the welterweight division?
5. Blake Caparello (26-2-1, 10 KOs)
Unless you’re a consensus top ten fighter at either super middleweight or light heavyweight, there’s a good chance Blake Caparello handsomely beats you. Since capturing the Australian light heavyweight title in 2011, the 31-year-old has long been revered by his contemporaries as the best defensive fighter in the country, while only losing to genuinely world-class opposition.
Best Point: Championship mentality. For as long as he’s been a professional, Caparello and his team have always pursued the hardest fights available. For that reason, the technically astute southpaw has struggled to gain notable fights with few domestic opponents willing to risk their record, despite being tabled respectable offers. Caparello can never be knocked for his take-on-all-challengers approach.
Worst Point: Recent opposition. It’s difficult to criticise Caparello in this category, but even the most ardent supporter will admit his recent opposition has been subpar. In 2017, the Greenvale-resident made light work of Jordan Tai and Fabiano Pena, with neither posing any real threat. However, it’s worth noting that Caparello was initially slated to face former WBC light heavyweight title challenger Dmitry Sukhotsky in July before a late withdrawal scuppered those plans.
Key Question: Will Caparello secure a second title shot before Sergey Kovalev attempts to unify the light heavyweight titles?
6. George Kambosos Jr. (13-0, 7 KOs)
A world title challenge looms for George Kambosos Jr. The self-assured Sylvania resident rose to the top of the lightweight division domestically in 2016, and remained as the consensus number one in his division in 2017, despite competing just two times. It was a mixed year of both frustration and elation for the world rated Kambosos, with several fights falling through.
Best Point: Dominant performances. For all the talk and bravado that Kambosos offers, the 24-year-old backs it up, which he can only be lauded for. Many insiders believed that previously unbeaten Australian light welterweight titleholder Qamil Balla had all the tools to unseat Kambosos ahead of their meeting in May. However, as he has continued to do in his biggest fights, Kambosos rose to the occassion and made a competitive fight on paper look comparatively easy.
Worst Point: Lack of a promoter. A good year could have easily been a great year for Kambosos. Having secured one of his best wins over the previously mentioned Qamil Balla, the undefeated lightweight was scheduled to face durable Bolivian Franklin Mamani just 35 days later. However, hoaxical promoter Whack Promotions folded just weeks before the event, leaving Kambosos without a fight. However, the farce was quickly forgotten when Kambosos secured a major coup, becoming the major sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao’s ill-fated date with Jeff Horn.
Key Question: Does Kambosos have the backing to secure a probable title eliminator against world level opposition?
7. Zac Dunn (25-1, 20 KOs)
At his best, the sheer brute force of Zac Dunn’s offence would blunt even the most impregnable of defences. However, 2017 quickly became a year to forget for the quietly spoken Melburnian, with Dunn losing his prestigious Commonwealth super middleweight title against Scottish minnow David Brophy in his first defence. With nimble footwork and a strategic attacking approach to the body, Brophy halted Dunn in seven heats.
Best Point: The rebuild. Following his first career defeat to Brophy, Dunn made wholesale changes to his team, splitting from former manager Barry Michael and career-long trainer Danny Kay. The 26-year-old has since relocated to Miami, training under the astute guidance of Cuban mastermind Pedro Diaz at his Mundo Boxing stable. Dunn scored back-to-back wins over Luis Eduardo Paz in Mexico and Cedric Spera in Melbourne to close out the year.
Worst Point: The Brophy defeat. There weren’t many apparent holes in Dunn’s style, but Brophy was still able to highlight some key areas for improvement. The change of trainer appears to have reinvigorated Dunn to a degree, with the super middleweight showing development with both his footwork and head movement.
Key Question: Can a change of scenery bring back the Zac Dunn of old?
8. Billy Dib (43-4, 24 KOs)
Billy Dib’s professional career has been a remarkable story of longevity. Alongside Sakio Bika and Anthony Mundine, the former two-division titleholder stands as the last active members of the old guard for Australian boxing, which speaks volumes about both Dib’s ability and staying power for well over a decade.
Best Point: Rise in the ratings. Dib took major strides towards a third world title in 2017, where he now holds a lofty IBF #3 world rating. The 32-year-old showed glimpses of vintage form against Yardley Cruz in his first US appearance in over four years, before an ultimately clash of heads resulted in a no contest. Dib closed out his year by halting Natthawat Thawithong on New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, although the victory is yet to be added to his official record.
Worst Point: Change of trainers. Dib moved camp twice in 2017, starting the year in Oxnard, where he trained under respected tactician Robert Garcia at his renowned academy. However, the relocation was short-lived, with Dib employing Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech for his training duties. With the IBF yet to make a formal decision on the future of the recently crowned Kenichi Ogawa, Dib needs to keep some stability in his corner.
Key Question: Will Dib be offered a shot at IBF super featherweight titleholder Kenichi Ogawa before Tevin Farmer?
9. Andrew Moloney (15-0, 10 KOs)
The former Commonwealth Games gold medallist mirrored his impressive form from 2016 – fighting four times – with three routine stoppage victories. The 26-year-old became the first ever Australian to secure Commonwealth honours as both an amateur and professional when he lifted the Commonwealth super flyweight title in October.
Best Point: Continued improvement. Moloney kept an active schedule in 2017, fighting four times, which is a rare feat for a fighter that is on the cusp of a world title eliminator. Although it’s clear that his schedule will only decrease in time, the relocated Melburnian has replaced quantity with quality, fighting high level opposition consistently.
Worst Point: Attacking intent. Given the immense success Moloney has achieved, there is little room for criticism, as he has barely put a foot wrong in the paid ranks. However, Moloney tasted the canvas for the first time as a professional against Filipino veteran Raymond Tabugon. Although Moloney rallied to score a thrilling come-from-behind victory, one can only hope he adopts a more patient approach in title fights.
Key Question: Has Moloney developed enough as a professional to challenge world level opposition?
10. Damien Hooper (13-1, 8 KOs)
Damien Hooper entered 2017 with no promoter, no world rating and a lot of ground to make up. Remarkably, the dexterous former Olympian made up for lost time with a singular fight, edging the highly-touted Umar Salamov in a major upset on the untelevised prelims of the Pacquiao-Horn card.
Best Point: The performance against Salamov. The 25-year-old Hooper was listed as wide as 10-to-1 underdog against the previously unbeaten Russian, who had been tipped by many to challenge for world honours in 2018. However, as the best fighters do, Hooper stepped up when it mattered most and has made himself a player in a stacked light heavyweight division that is wide open following the retirement of Andre Ward.
Worst Point: Inactivity. With just one fight in 2017, the Indigenous firebrand – now under the guidance of No Limit Boxing’s Matt Rose – needs to stay active and take advantage of the momentum he’s earned with his unlikely win in Brisbane. As a promotional free agent, many promotional entities are keeping tabs on Hooper, who has all the tools to win a legitimate world title.
Key Question: Can Hooper stay out of trouble long enough to remain in title contention?
Photo: Getty Images