Best boxing fights of 2017: Canelo-Golovkin makes the list, but misses top spot

If the sport of boxing underwent a bit of a renaissance in 2017, the backbone of the calendar year was the gluttony of great fights. 

Wether you liked rousing brawls between all-action heroes who never take a step backwards or preferred the dramatic build of pairings between elite boxer-punchers which actually lived up to pre-fight expectations, the past 12 months had it all -- just about every weekend. 

Let's take a look at which five fights best exemplified boxing's recent biennial return to respectability:

1. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai MD12 Roman Gonzalez I -- March 18, Madison Square Garden in New York

Very few boxing fans knew of Sor Rungvisai before the junior bantamweight warrior form Thailand challenged "Chocolatito," the reigning pound-for-pound king, in the co-main event of middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin's pay-per-view title defense against Daniel Jacobs. They know him now. 

Sor Rungvisai's savage will and iron chin proved to be major factors in producing such a violent slugfest with Gonzalez, largely fought inside a phone booth. This one featured most of the elements that make a legendary bout, including plenty of blood, high drama, an insane work rate and a controversial finish. But even better, it was an action fight that was contested at such a high level from a technical standpoint. 

The 12-round thriller was also contested for legitimate stakes as Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer and demolition man in the lower weight classes, suffered his first defeat and lost both his WBC 115-pound title and his status as boxing's best fighter. Six months later in their rematch, won via brutal fourth-round knockout by Sor Rungvisai, we would learn that "Chocolatito" may have also lost his prime in one night during their first fight. Yet to his credit, the four-division champion went out guns blazing in one final stand. 

Gonzalez tasted the canvas in Round 1 when he was caught off balance with a body shot. A head butt from Sor Rungvisai in Round 3 opened a cut on Gonzalez's right eye that covered his face with blood for most of the fight. Only adding to the drama, Sor Rungvisai was docked a point for leading with his head by referee Steve Willis in Round 6. 

Not only was the fight a frontrunner for upset of the year, it produced one of the most disputed results as Sor Rungvisai, despite being outlanded 441 to 284 according to CompuBox, was awarded the decision (13-113, 114-112, 114-112).

2. Anthony Joshua TKO11 Wladimir Klitschko -- April 29, Wembley Stadium in London

It's quite possible there will come a day when Joshua's knockout of Klitschko is looked back upon as a turning point in heavyweight boxing history. In a clear passing of the torch between the division's former king in Klitschko and boxing's next great star in Joshua, this was the kind of thrilling theater that reignites the passion of casual and lapsed fans alike. And it was contested in front of 90,000 rabid fans who provided an unforgettable soundtrack.

Joshua, 29, passed the most difficult test of his young career and did so by getting off the canvas in Round 6 and overcoming a stamina dump to finish a determined Klitschko five rounds later. But even though Joshua lived up to his own hype in a star-making performance, it was the toughness showed by the Klitschko in the final bout of his career that made it a classic as the 41-year-old never stopped coming despite absorbing three ferocious knockdowns (Round 5 and two before the stoppage). He would go on to decline a big-money rematch despite holding a contractual option. 

This was the best heavyweight championship bout since Klitschko's Hall of Fame older brother, Vitali, pushed Lennox Lewis to the limit in their 2003 war. The only thing that held Joshua-Klitschko back from universal acclaim as the year's best was the lack of sustained action over the course of the fight compared to others on this list. But that doesn't take away from how historically great this fight was and the suspense that came from feeling like it could end at any given time.

3. Miguel Roman TKO 9 Orlando Salido -- Dec. 9, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Eleven months after being stopped in the final round by Takahashi Miura in one of 2017's most vicious bouts, the journeyman Roman returned unsure, at 32, whether he would continue his career if he lost. It turns out it was his opponent who called it a career after such a rousing and brutal defeat. 

Salido -- 37 and best described as the Mexican Arturo Gatti for the many wars he has given fans -- went on to end his brief retirement after just a few days. But the fight he produced against Roman would've been a worthy exit after such a fun career. Sure, this fight had action, intensity and barbaric exchanges. But most importantly it had character and heart. Each time Salido, who was knocked down three times, was hurt, he would rally almost instantly to place Roman back on his heels. 

If the comparison of Salido to Gatti felt apropos, this fight very much had a Micky Ward-Gatti I feel to it as the two junior lightweights entered with a combined 25 defeats in a matchup that was created exclusively due to its potential for fireworks. How violent was it in the end? Of the 374 combined punches landed by Roman and Salido, 350 (94 percent) were power shots. Roman, who was badly hurt in the opening round, routinely was able to steady the ship amid danger and finally stopped Salido with a flurry of shots along the ropes, including an uppercut to the body. 

4. Canelo Alvarez D12 Gennady Golovkin -- Sept. 16, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

It's incredibly rare that a high-profile PPV bout, including one like this middleweight championship that had been hyped for two full years, actually lives up to expectations. But one thing the incredibly controversial decision has robbed from us in the aftermath of this split draw (and Adelaide Byrd's infamous 118-110 scorecard for Alvarez) was how great the give and take was throughout between two of the top P4P fighters in the world. 

This one very much felt like a throwback fight to the 1980s' heyday of middleweight lore. Even though there wasn't knockdown scored by either fighter, the fight featured ebbs and flows as each took turns dictating control (including a strong close from Alvarez). Both fighters were elevated by their respective performances, as was the sport as a whole due to the fact that the event actually lived up to its hefty price tag.

5. Takahashi Miura KO12 Miguel Roman -- Jan. 28, Fantasy Springs Casino in indio, California

In the co-main event to another fight of the year contender between Francisco Vargas and Miguel Berchelt, this junior lightweight war might win the award for the singular most violent fight of the calendar year. The southpaw Miura, who took part in 2015's fight of the year against Vargas and went on to retire in July at 33 following a decision loss to Berchelt, was forced to give as good as he took in order to get the win. 

With his face a bruised and swollen mess, Miura faded at times but never broke. He finally dropped Roman in Round 10 on a merciless left hand to the body. After the brave Roman miraculously survived the round, he was down again in Round 11 after an accumulation of blows against the ropes. Miura finally ended matters in the final round with a left cross that sent Roman face first to the canvas after a delayed reaction. 

Honorable mentions: Oscar Valdez UD12 Miguel Marriaga, Gilberto Ramirez UD12 Jesse Hart, Badou Jack D12 James DeGale, Dominic Breazeale KO5 Izuagbe Ugonoh, John Molina Jr. TKO3 Ivan Redkach, Miguel Berchelt KO11 Francisco Vargas, Miguel Berchelt UD12 Takashi Miura, Juan Francisco Estrada UD12 Carlos Cuadras, Leo Santa Cruz MD12 Carl Frampton II, Jeff Horn UD12 Manny Pacquiao, Ivan Baranchyk UD10 Abel Ramos. 

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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