A good fight needs two fighters and in 2016 Irish boxers have shared the ring with some great opposition at all levels.
For this honour we look at the best performances put on by the men in the opposite corner. The award is not a mere measuring stick of the talent level of opposition and is instead more of a case-by-case assessment of each contest.
This award has been renamed in honour of former Carl Frampton opponent Alejandro González Jr who, earlier this month, was tragically murdered near his home in Mexico.
The Yorkshire super feather was just too tricky for James Fryers when they met in Belfast in February. The southpaw negated a size difference and counter-punched effectively to take a deserved points win on away ground against his young opponent in their British title eliminator.
Gary Russell Jr
Pajo Hyland challenged for the WBC featherweight title in April in Connecticut but was powerless against the lightning speed of the American who floored him thrice in the second round to retain his title with shots that needed to be looked at in slow-motion. It was a clinical, frighteningly efficient win from Russell to defend his belt for the first time.
While he was the reigning Commonwealth super flyweight champion, nobody gave Anthony Nelson much hope against Jamie Conlan in April. A first-round knockdown followed by domination from the Belfast man in round two gave the initial impression that the pre-fight predictions were correct. The South Shields man fought back brilliantly though, downing Conlan in the third and the seventh before ‘The Mexican’ ended the bout in the eighth.
Leo Santa Cruz
Not only did the Mexican-American grant Carl Frampton a shot at the belt, the former WBA featherweight champion brought the best out of the Belfast man in their July title fight in New York. Hurt early by ‘The Jackal,’ Santa Cruz came on strong in the middle rounds to set up a grandstand finish in a Fight of the Year contender at the Barclays Centre/
Brendan Irvine‘s Olympic dream never really got off the ground in Rio, mainly due to his opening Uzbeki opponent. Zoirov was just too sharp and too strong for the Belfast man, and dominated the bout before going on to win flyweight gold.
The Hungarian caused a huge shock in October when he stopped Stephen Ormond with a stunning body shot in the fifth round of their bout in Scotland. A rematch was hastily arranged and Ormond returned in better physical and mental shape, but was still given an exceedingly tough eight-round fight by ‘The Sticky Man.’
Belfast’s Ryan Burnett defended his British bantamweight title for the first time in October, taking on home favourite Farrag in Liverpool. The former European champion pushed Burnett all the way and brought out the previously unseen physical side of his game in a competitive twelve rounder.
Phil Sutcliffe Jr was given his break-out opportunity in November but was made to work for every inch by the talented Welshman, a two-time British light welterweight title challenger. Jenkins recovered from first round knockdown to boss much of the middle rounds in an exciting contest eventually won by Sutcliffe on the card.
Gerard Whitehouse returned from a year out and stepped up to six rounds for the first time in Dublin in November. Here he was given a huge test by a relentless Spanish opponent who came forward for the entire eighteen minutes, landing plenty, and drawing a career-best performance out of the Balbriggan welterweight.
The English champion was meant to be a fading force in the cruiserweight division when he took on Tommy McCarthy in November, but the Blackpool boxer put on a tactically brilliant performance. Askin scored two heavy fourth round knockdowns and showed brilliant footwork down the stretch to keep the Belfast man at bay and win their British title final eliminator.
Honourable mentions: Charlie Edwards (v Luke Wilton), Isaac Lowe (v Marco McCullough), Scott Quigg (v Carl Frampton), Brandon Ogilvie (v Darragh Foley), Tom Doran (v Luke Keeler), Brian Rose (v Matt Macklin), Ryan Walsh (v James Tennyson), Anthony Yigit (v Phil Sutcliffe Jr), Eusebio Osejo (v Declan Geraghty), Jordan Ellison (v Joe Fitzpatrick), Innocent Anyanwu (v Jake Hanney), Josh Warrington (v Pajo Hyland), Ivailo Boyanov (v Feargal McCrory), Nelson Altamirano (v Paul Hyland Jr), Bradley Pryce (v Luke Keeler), Kamil Sokolowski (v Con Sheehan), Tamuka Mucha (v Paddy Gallagher).