The 2016 Irish-Boxing.com Awards – Editor Picks

The winners of the 2016 Irish-Boxing.com Awards were announced this morning following a hotly contested public vote.

See full results here.

In addition to the public vote, Irish-Boxing.com editors Jonny Stapleton and Joe O’Neill would also like to share our picks for the end-of-year honours.

Our choices were made independently and without deliberation.

The Kevin McBride Shock of the Year
Jonny – JJ McDonagh KO1 Jake Ball
JJ McDonagh’s first round knockout of Jake Bell wasn’t the most shocking occurrence of of the year, that honour probably goes to ‘No Medals in Rio,’ which was shocking in more ways than one. However, I tried to stay positive and didn’t go with what surprised me the most, rather my favourite shock from the list. Therefore, my shock of the year was McDonagh’s KO win. The victory and the manner in which it was achieved should finally see McDonagh be provided with a breakthrough chance. We have heard for a number years that if the super middleweight was to maintain focus and was given some backing he could compete at a high level.

Joe – Katie Taylor loses first fight in five years
While Mick Conlan’s loss to Vladimir Nikitin was painful, it was perhaps not that surprising. Fighters, sadly, get robbed at the Olympics all the time. On the other hand, Katie Taylor’s loss to Yana Alekseevna in the European Olympic Qualifier was different. Before that fight Taylor just did not lose. Her hand being raised was a pillar of consistency in the always-changing world of boxing. Alekseevna had ran the Bray boxer close at the European Games, but she was meant to be no more than a tricky, albeit processional, step en-route to a second Olympic gold for Taylor. Oh how we were wrong.

The Fighting Irish Photo of the Year
Jonny – Sean Creagh v Gyula Tallosi
Always a ‘what you like’ type of pick. The eventual winner captures the story of the Frampton v Quigg build up brilliantly. Eddie on the wind up, Frampton fired up and Quigg seemingly on the defensive. However, aesthetically, I just like the look of the Sean Creagh snap. The glance over the shoulder as he makes his way to the neutral corner is caught brilliantly.

Joe – Sean Creagh v Gyula Tallosi
The photo of Sean Creagh casually walking away from a knocked down, and out, Gyula Tallosi in their fight in June is just brilliant. The look over the shoulder, the light hitting Creagh, the clearly struggling opponent, the ringside official, there’s so much going on in the photo.

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The Micky Ward Round of the Year
Jonny – Luke Keeler v Tom Doran (Round 1)
It seems to me Luke Keeler was half a step back from registering an eye-catching, high profile, maybe even career-changing first round knockout win. As a result, watching it back with Irish-Boxing.com bias can prove frustrating, but Keeler vs Doran Round 1 is still my Round of the Year. It had a bit of everything and, like all of the great rounds, was rollercoster in nature. It ended in heartbreak, but not before an injection of that nervous buzz and excitement all sports fans crave. Plus, from an Irish boxing perspective, we could reflect on it as a very important round. The fight lasted less than six minutes, but Keeler has been open as to how much he learnt from the clash. The middleweight’s career outside the ring suggests learning isn’t a problem for the Ballyfermot scholar and, if that remains the case in the ring, the potential Round of the Year could one day go down as the Round of Keeler’s career. The lessons learnt in Doran defeat may be key to seeing Keeler fulfilling his obvious potential.

Joe – Luke Keeler v Tom Doran (Round 1)
From an Irish boxing perspective it was not great, but the opener of Keeler’s battle with Tom Doran in Liverpool is unrivaled for drama this year. The Dubliner had the Welshman down heavily but rushed in recklessly looking to finish the job and ended up getting caught with the perfect shot himself and being put down. A still-dazed Keeler would then be stopped in the following round. Earlier that day in April I had watched Doran’s 2011 fight with Max Maxwell in amazement as a hurt Doran caught his onrushing opponent to stop the fight, little did we know however that a similar sequence of events was about to take place at the Echo Arena

The Muhammad Ali Wild Goose of the Year
Jonny – Joe Smith Jr
You can’t knock out Bernard Hopkins and not win this award. Joe Smith Jr has a sensational year and finished it off in style. In January he was an unknown and by December he is defeating a legend. Stopping the world title-chasing Andrzej Fonfara was deemed the shock of the year, but the Long Islander went one further and stopped ‘The Executioner’ before the year was out. Dillian Whyte pushed the New Yorker close after his win over Derek Chisora and it’s great to see the big heavyweight embrace his Irish roots. I expect to see him appear on the undercard of Ryan Burnett or Katie Taylor’s undercards when Matchroom bring the pair home.

Joe – Joe Smith Jr
The Irish Bomber has come from nowhere this year to move into world title contention. The New Yorker claimed two shock knockout wins in 2016, with a first round flattening of Andrzej Fonfara and a party-ruining eighth round stoppage of retiring legend Bernard Hopkins. A full-time construction worker, Smith is (as I have written before) a modern day Cinderella Man.

Show of the Year
Jonny – Queensberry Boxing, Homecoming
FS Promotions and Red Corner did produce impressive debut shows, but there is only one winner in this category. I will argue it could have been a better event if Queensberry had put more effort into promoting the show and used the brilliant Belfast media to generate more hype but, still, Homecoming had the standout line-up on the island in 2016.

Joe – FS Promotions, The Future
While the Queensberry Promotions ‘Homecoming’ show played host to higher-quality action, the return of boxing to Dublin was my favourite night of the year. I have never been to one of the bumper shows at the York Hall in London, but I imagine they are something like this – bigger than small hall but more madcap than a television show, and featuring just hours and hours of non-stop boxing to feed hungry fans.

The Alejandro González Jr Opponent of the Year
Jonny – Sergio Abad
The sight of Sergio Abad on this list warms my heart. The long-armed fight-hungry Spainard not only deserves the recognition, but should provide the away fighter blueprint for all promoters. I get the role of the journeyman and how important it is for developing a fighter, but it has to be noted the majority of people who buy fight tickets are not versed in the arts of early boxing management and promotion. Blowover merchants may safely increase the winning start to pro life, but they can reduce ticket sales. Too many ‘bums’ in opposing corners means no bums on seats! There are experienced journeymen, who know how to play the panto villian and can entertain crowd enroute to defeat, but when they can’t be found the likes of Abad should be drafted in. Abad came to fight. He put all manner of pressure on Gerard Whitehouse for six rounds and, as a result, drew the best out the prospect. We saw Whitehouse’s true capabilities for the first time as he answered the various questions Abad was asking. The away fighter also ensured the Balbriggan native got six fast-paced rounds under his belt and more importantly played his part the Fight of the Night, entertaining the crowd in the process. If we had more away fighters like him, things would be a lot healthier at home.

Joe – Zoltan Szabo
The Hungarian was outsized and underestimated going into his first fight with Stephen Ormond but would cause a huge shock with a sensational body shot in the fifth that left the Dubiner pinned to the canvas. A rematch was sought and Ormond this time came in prepared, but Szabo again put up a game showing and lost a competitive fight on the scorecards. A likeable character with a fair bit of pop, I’d love to see Szabo fight an Irish fighter such as Paul Hyland Jr next year.

The Freddie Gilroy Young Boxer of the Year
Jonny – Gabriel Dossen
I wouldn’t be as well-versed in this category as Joe, but what I have seen has prompted me to vote for Gabriel Dossen – plus a World Bronze medal at any age isn’t to be sniffed at.

Joe – Gabriel Dossen
During the Summer we published the IABA draw for the U18 Championships. In it the Olympic BC fighter was incorrectly listed as Gabriel Dossan. The 16 year old contacted us to alert us to the misspelling in the press release and promised that people would know his name soon enough. He wasn’t wrong. The stylish Galway boxer took out some big names to take top prize and would then head to the World Youth Championships where, as the youngest member of the Irish team, he won light welterweight bronze – a phenomenal streak for a boxer who had not won an Irish title up until this year.

The Steve Collins Warrior of the Year
Jonny – Sean Creagh
I love me some Alec Bazza, the most entertaining and game journeyman out there and I look forward to the day we can write about him winning a fight. I also thought Lynn Harvey showed more balls in the six rounds of her first career defeat than a lot of her male counterparts have shown over their entire careers. However, I went for Sean Creagh. When the Tallaght man says ‘I’ll fight anyone, anywhere, anytime,’ it’s not line. He means it, and proved it by taking a fight with Tyrone McKenna so early in his career. McKenna produced a brilliant eye-catching performance to defeat the game Creagh, but the Dubliner’s attitude to the fight game has proved refreshing. The man just wants to fight and has nigh on embarrassed other Irish fighters into following suit. If we get a record number of all-Irish fights next year you can be sure Creagh’s warrior spirit was one of the catalysts.

Joe – Christina McMahon
I consider myself lucky to have been able to give some coverage to an inspirational fighter this year in Chistina McMahon. The Monaghan super flyweight has suffered disappointment and mistreatment her entire career but continues to soldier forward with admirable and infectious optimism. Nothing would please me more than to see Lightning McMahon finally get a well-deserved world title fight, on her own terms, in Ireland in 2017.

The @paddyb_ireland Social Media Star of the Year
Jonny – Spike O’Sullivan
Unlike our Joe, I don’t need an hourly Twitter fix so I am not too well-versed on this one, but I went with Spike O’Sullivan just because he uses the social media tool to promote himself so well. He can pick a fight, create a demand and ensure a lucrative enough offer via his phone!

Joe – Mick Conlan
The Belfast boxer went ‘viral’ following his controversial defeat to Vladimir Nikitin, his post-fight outburst, and his subsequent tweet to Vladimir Putin. However, Conlan doesn’t take this award due to statistics alone. The Top Rank prospect is hugely engaging on Twitter, always answering the questions of fans, doing organisational work for his pro debut, and recently turning auctioneer to sell off a wardrobe full of memorabilia in aid of charity

The Eamonn Magee Jr Prospect of the Year
Jonny – Katie Taylor
It might be hard for some to view Katie Taylor as a prospect, but any fighter with just two pro fights is a pro prospect by name at the very least. The label may not fit such a talented and experienced amateur, but Katie Taylor fits the criteria and makes the list. While she is great company, I don’t think you can look past her for this award. The future looks beyond bright for the supreme talent. Her debut was one of, if not the most impressive, I have ever seen an Irish fighter produce. Polished, powerful and panache-packed! After almost a decade of heralding Taylor’s genius there was something wonderful about seeing her make the World sit up and take note. Even more gratifying is the fact she is now been praised as a skilled boxer not a skilled female boxer. Again there are some fighters with bright futures on the list. Gary Sweeney has impressed, Eric Donovan’s last performance was standout, even special, Sean ‘Big Sexy’ Turner could be just three or four wins away from a massive heavyweight fight, same goes for Niall Kennedy, you have to believe Paddy Barnes will reach World level and I could go on.

But my personal pick is Taylor!

Joe – Katie Taylor
The Bray super featherweight has looked unbelievable so far in the pros. Matched progressively, Taylor’s debut saw her steamroll the capable, albeit grossly overmatched Karina Kopinska. The Wicklow woman then took an underappreciated huge jump in class for her second fight, an easy win over Viviane Obenauf. Should Taylor take a commensurate jump for her third fight she wont be too far away from a world title. The ladder is already starting to run out of rungs.

Knockout of the Year
Jonny – Jamie Conlan KO8 Anthony Nelson
Frankie Cleary’s was probably the most eye catching and dramatic and admittedly I hovered my finger over the circle beside his name come vote time, but I had to go for Jamie Conlan’s stoppage of Anthony Nelson for reason pointed out earlier. There was just something special about finishing a back and forth war with flair. The Belfast showed he had heart in abundance, but also showed that he isn’t defined by courage alone with a perfectly timed body shot.

Joe – JJ McDonagh KO1 Jake Ball
An almost gut-wrenchingly violent knockout. The initial knockdown saw Ball tumbling over the top rope in a scene similar to a Royal Rumble, before a perfect shot had the hot prospect near unconscious on the canvas.

The Barney Eastwood Manager/Promoter of the Year
Jonny – Mark Dunlop, MHD Promotions
This is an easy one! The competition will be better next year with a host of promoters promising shows. Established big names such as Frank Warren via Queensberry promotions and Eddie Hearn via Matchroom are beyond the stage of just flirting with the idea of running big TV shows on these shores. Red Corner Promotions have a February date set, FS Promotions are looking at a March fight night, while Belfast Promotions are hoping to run four shows. However, 2016 saw Dunlop stand out. The Belfast-based promoter is the only man to run two shows in the calendar year – and that was a low amount by his standards – and having secured James Tennyson a British title fight and James Fryers an British title eliminator he proved capabilities beyond just keeping his charges busy. From a media point of view, Dunlop is equally impressive, and knows how to use Irish-Boxing.com to reach our readers, working tirelessly to promote his fighters.

Joe – Mark Dunlop, MHD Promotions
The only promoter to run two shows in Ireland this year, Mark Dunlop was the top Irish promoter last year putting on entertaining shows at the Europa Hotel in February and October, and we’re hoping for the same again, if not more, next year. Dunlop certainly has carved out a corner for himself and his stable in Belfast and he is a man committed to pushing his fighters forward, as well as one of the few who enjoys good working relationships with every promotional outfit in Ireland.

Club of the Year
Joe – St Brigid’s Edenderry
When fighters from as far afield as Taiwan are making the trip to a small club in Offaly for training camp, you know you must be doing something right. Arguably one of the top clubs in the world for women’s boxing, it is home to reigning Irish Elite light flyweight champ Lauren Hogan, and this year added Girl 5 and Senior Cadet honours for Lauren Kelly, a Girl 4 crown for Tiffany O’Reilly, an amazing eleventh title for Saidhbh Greene at the Senior (Intermediate) championships while there were also honours for young Jack Crampton in the Boy 1 class. Internationally the club has seen success this past year with big wins in Canada at the prestigious Brampton Cup (with Natasha Logan taking gold and best boxer) as well as big wins in Switzerland, Turkey, and even an appearance for Shannon Edge on the world title undercard of Cecilia Braekhus’s Norwegian homecoming

Breakthrough of the Year
Jonny – Jason Quigley
I think one of the most impressive performances of the year was Tyrone McKenna’s win over Sean Creagh. The rangey Belfast southpaw really made people sit up and take note with the manner of that win, but I went for Jason Quigley in the category. The Donegal middleweight really made the most of the last 12 months, continued to grow his record and name by jumping up the levels and now seems primed and ready for a big 2017.

Joe – Kelly Harrington
If you’re not a huge follower of Irish women’s boxing you would have been forgiven for assuming that Kelly Harrington’s World Championships silver came out of the blue, and that the Dubliner was soon fresh new hotshot on the scene. It’s different to that however, with Harrington being on the radar for the best part of a decade, reaching the quarter finals of the EU Championships way back in 2008. Known as a supremely dedicated athlete, Harrington persevered for years and years and finally made the breakthrough in Kazakhstan, winning a major international medal and marking herself out as a new star of the new generation of Irish boxing.

The John Duddy Fight of the Year
Jonny – Jamie Conlan v Anthony Nelson
A late Thursday night and a broken alarm meant I missed the flight that would have ensured I would have been ringside for my choice of Fight of the Year – and I have regreted it ever since. Hearing those who were within earshot of the various thudding shots recount their ringside experience makes it even worse. Carl Frampton’s win over Leo Santa Cruz was something special but, if you were to take away what was on the line and just judge this award on how entertaining a fight was, Jamie Conlan versus Anthony Nelson just pips it. Conlan is more war-hungry than the USA on a terror alert and he gave us another battle to enjoy when he claimed the Commonwealth title. It literally had its downs for Conlan, but finished on a high. There is something stirring about seeing one of Ireland’s best little men show the heart of a lion. That banging of the canvas before returning to your feet is like a glorious call to arms. A collective ‘lets do this’ in an individual sport. Another massive positive about the fight, which was the boxing equivalent of end-to-end, was the finish. Not only beautiful to watch, but concrete proof that Conlan isn’t just a brawler. That body shot was a punch of a skilled operator and to end a fight that quenched the appetite of the blood thirsty with a shot which purists would drool over stands out.

Joe – Jamie Conlan v Anthony Nelson
Just an absolutely bonkers fight, and one which I was unable to watch live. That night in April I was attending my uncle’s retirement party and so I had to spend a half an hour in the toilets following the fight on Twitter. What I read left me gobsmacked, and when I finally got home and watched the fight it was even better than I anticipated, with more twists than a Mexican soap opera

Comeback of the Year
Jonny – Luke Keeler
No obvious winner in this category. You could argue a case for all those listed. I personally voted for Luke Keeler. I can’t argue with Katie Taylor winning upon reflection. Keeler’s win over Bradley Pryce in Dublin came on the same night as the Homecoming show in Belfast, so may have gone under the radar. However, after the disappointment of the Doran defeat, he came back to easily defeat a relatively known name. There is a sense the Dubliner could now start to build some momentum going into the New Year.

Joe – Steven Donnelly
A little over a year ago Steven Donnelly had basically retired from the sport. However, a surprise side-door into the Olympics and a long road back to fitness and sharpness saw the Ballymena man exceed almost everyone’s expectations in Rio where he was the best-performing Irish boxer and one of the few positive things to come from a disappointing Games.

The Wayne McCullough Performance of the Year
Jonny – Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz
Carl Frampton moved up weight for the first time in his pro career, took on an undefeated three-weight world champion in America, played his part in a global Fight of the Year contender, and won to become only Ireland’s second ever two weight World champion. Performance of the Year – if not the decade!

Joe – Tommy McCarthy v Jon-Lewis Dickinson
A fight I watched, and heartily enjoyed, with a few pints on a StenaLine coming back from Holyhead (whilst the rest of the ferry watched the Champions League final). It was brilliant to hear the Sky commentators do a 180 degree turn on McCarthy, whom it was quite apparent they had never seen any footage of. From starting out questioning his experience and his ability to deal with the veteran Dickinson, they soon became fully fledged McCarthy fans as he counter-punched to a comfortable win in the British cruiserweight title eliminator, downing Dickinson in the sixth.

The Patrick Hyland Sr Trainer of the Year
Jonny – Shane McGuigan
Again we have been blessed with good trainers over the years here in Ireland and in recent times a host of young coaches have joined the more established and known names in manning corners come fight night. I plumped for a young coach, but one who by now has to be seen as experienced. For me Shane McGuigan has to be Coach of the Year. He suffered his first defeat as a trainer in 2017, but he oversaw two massive wins for Carl Frampton. Frampton’s talent and skill set won him both World title fights, but McGuigan set the game plan for very differing performances. Also, anyone who has listened to Frampton over the years will know how much respect he has for his coach and the role he has played in his big wins.

Joe – Shane McGuigan
Shane McGuigan has plenty of detractors who point to his lack of experience and indeed the fact he hasn’t brought someone from their teenage years right up to world championship level. This was something which Joe Gallagher tried to emphasise in the lead up to Frampton v Quigg, but on the night McGuigan would claim a tactical victory over the Manchester-Sligo coach. The scientific trainer would then continue to break records and show a cool head on the big stage when Frampton stepped up to challenge and claim Leo Santa Cruz’s WBA featherweight title. McGuigan is not only part of a new generation of boxing coaches, he is leading the charge.

Moment of the Year
Jonny – Frampton rules the World
There was something special about seeing Frampton make his mark on the global stage with victory over Leo Santa Cruz. A historic win live on American TV, a massive win for Frampton and a massive win for Irish boxing.

Joe – Davey Oliver Joyce qualifies for Rio
A verdict that had me punching the air in delight. Joyce had tried to qualify for the Olympic Games, and was dubiously denied many times, for the best part of a decade. The Kildare fighter however would not be denied against home fighter Volkan Gokcek in their Rio box-off a the European Olympic Qualifier in Turkey, taking a split decision win and exploding with a rare show of emotion.

The Rinty Monaghan Fighter of the Year
Jonny – Carl Frampton
A number of fighters have made good progress over the last 12 months and could kick on massively in 2017. However there can, and should only be, one winner. Carl Frampton has been the leading light in the Irish fight game for the last few years and in 2016 that light never shone brighter. ‘The Jackal’ unified by defeating Scott Quigg then became a two weight World Champion with victory over Leo Santa Cruz, two important milestones – yet his achievements over the last 12 months seem even bigger than two important wins. There is a real legacy and legendary feel to the Belfast man’s achievements this year. Granted the Scott Quigg fight didn’t catch fire. It was an easy win for Frampton, but it gave Irish fight fans the Sky Sports News-backed experience. It almost seems Frampton fans always knew their charge would beat the Bury man, so they wanted hurt Sky and Matchroom furhter by showing both that they had lost a massive ticket seller who generates an atmosphere that makes his fights unmissable TV viewing. The build up right from the first press conference to the ring walks were Frampton fan-owned. The Irish invaded Manchester and made it a special weekend.

Ricky Hatton always highlights the fan base he amassed as the biggest achievement of his career and Frampton must feel equally as proud of the ‘Jackal Army’. New York in the Summer was something different. Frampton took on one of the biggest names in the world and won. He jumped up to featherweight to fight a three-weight World champion that had never been beaten and cracked America by coming out on top of a Fight of the Year contender. The prize? Another world title and a place in the pound-of-pound rankings. Frampton became only Ireland’s second ever two weight World champ a fact that will put him down as one of our greatest ever. It’s not often we have fighters known on both sides of the Atlantic, but Frampton is now a world famous name and what makes it all the more special is that he still wants to fight at home and still has a connection with the fanbase he started building when fighting back in the Ulster Hall.

So while Frampton is no doubt deserves the Fighter of the Year gone for his achievements inside the ring he always deserves a nod for what he has achieved as a man of the people outside it.

Joe – Carl Frampton
Nevermind Ireland, Carl Frampton was the best fighter in the world in 2016. Two huge fights against undefeated champions, both on the road, saw Frampton unify his IBF super bantam belt with Scott Quigg’s WBA strap before jumping up in weight and straight into a WBA title fight with Leo Santa Cruz. In this time, the Belfast man has seen the diehard ‘Jackal Army’ grow into perhaps the most world-renowned following in boxing. And the run of big fights is set to continue for the foreseeable future as ‘The Jackal’ has agreed another away bout with Santa Cruz in Las Vegas on January 28th.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie