Boxing had an incredibly interesting year. But ‘interesting’ only begins to describe the sweet science in 2017, with all the surprising, unexpected, and, of course, entertaining events that happened in and around the boxing ring. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor fought possibly the most anticipated fight ever, with a buildup and payday to match. Anthony Joshua went to Wembley Stadium and took down Wladimir Klitschko in what some argue was the best heavyweight fight in many years. And Errol Spence Jr. lived up to the hype, taking down Kell Brook to win the IBF welterweight title.
Paulie Malignaggi, Showtime boxing analyst and former IBF junior welterweight and WBA welterweight champion, was ringside for much of the action. He reflects on his favorite fight of the year, what he’ll remember about the Mayweather-McGregor super fight and the fighters to watch in 2018.
CBS Local Sports: What was the biggest thing you learned about the world of boxing this year?
Paulie Malignaggi: Expect the unexpected, and anything is possible. I don’t think I learned that, but it was certainly reiterated this year. We had a fight where the most popular fighter on the planet and former number-one pound-for-pound fighter in Floyd Mayweather fought the biggest draw in Mixed Martial Arts in Conor McGregor, and that was totally unexpected. This year reiterated that boxing won’t go away and won’t die. Boxing had a very strong year. Every year will not be a great year, but there will be years like this one, when people get excited about boxing, especially those people who follow the sport closely.
CBS Local Sports: Mayweather vs. McGregor stole all the headlines in 2017. What was your favorite fight of the year?
Paulie Malignaggi: Mayweather vs. McGregor wasn’t the top fight, it was the top draw. The best fight of the year that I saw was Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko. That was probably the most amazing event I’ve ever been a part of. That took the cake. It beat Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, it beat Mayweather vs. McGregor. That was their Mayweather vs. McGregor in the UK. What an amazing experience. On top of the insane amount of hype and press coverage it got, the fight actually lived up to the expectations. Without a doubt, that was my favorite moment from a very exciting year in boxing.
CBS Local Sports: It was a big year for Anthony Joshua. Which boxer took the biggest jump in their career this year?
Paulie Malignaggi: There are a lot of guys you can mention. You can mention Errol Spence Jr. winning the IBF welterweight title. I don’t know if it was a jump, because a lot of people expected that from him. Errol Spence Jr. finally lived up to the hype and joined the elite in the welterweight division. Anthony Joshua solidified himself with a win over Klitschko. He is for real, even though there was always a question mark about him. There’s a lot of hype around him and deservedly so. He’s a very good fighter and great personality.
CBS Local Sports: You mentioned the fighters who stood out this year. Who should we keep our eyes on in 2018?
Paulie Malignaggi: Now that Errol Spence Jr. has won the welterweight title, there’s really a chance for him to solidify himself and set a precedent that he is the dominant force in the welterweight division. I’m sure Keith Thurman will have something to say about that. We’re going to see how hungry Keith Thurman is, because he’s made a lot of money and is living very well. You get to a point in your career when you are a little bit more settled in. Thurman’s reign at the top will definitely be tested by the young phenom Errol Spence Jr. That’ll be interesting to see.
CBS Local Sports: You said Mayweather vs. McGregor was the biggest draw of the year. Five years from now, what will you remember most about this fight?
Paulie Malignaggi: Just the amazing amount of coverage it got. I don’t think the fight will ever go in the annals of [boxing] history. There wasn’t anything in particular from the fight to remember. The insane amount of hype and buildup was a lot of fun. We will probably remember that more than the actual fight. It will also be remembered for how we all felt going into the fight. Everybody was excited about it and the unexpected possibilities.
CBS Local Sports: Finally, why will boxing continue to be relevant across the mainstream-sports spectrum?
Paulie Malignaggi: I think boxing will always remain popular, because people will always be interested in watching a good fight. While not every fight is a great fight, when you have a good fight, nothing can match it. When you have an insane boxing event, nothing can match it. You can put people in a stadium to watch a soccer match or a baseball stadium, and if a fight breaks out, everybody’s head turns toward the fight. People are always attracted to any kind of combat or any kind of fighting. If we can keep generating major fights, like the great matchups we had in 2017, you can just never get rid of the sport.