Thinking back over 2020, it’s hard to believe that on Saturday 22 February over 15,000 people witnessed Tyson Fury taking on Deontay Wilder at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, in their hotly anticipated ‘Unfinished Business’ rematch.
When you consider what happened in the months that followed, it’s surreal to think of how normal it would have been at the time, to have all those people packed into an arena – with no distancing, no hand sanitising, no masking, no nothing.
Of course, in March we saw the world of boxing – like much of the rest of the planet – come to a grinding halt.
Closed for over 110 days, the UK professional boxing game had more than 50 shows cancelled, leaving 1,050 boxers and around 350 support staff without jobs.
After the sport did finally kick into life again – with Brad Foster defending his British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight titles from James Beech Jr. on Frank Warren’s show at London’s BT Sport Studio in July – less than 60 boxers were able to find work.
Warren’s rival promoter Eddie Hearn had been busy constructing ‘Fight Camp’ in the back garden of his home and Matchroom's headquarters in Brentwood, Essex. Despite the nearly silent surroundings, Hearn described Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington’s August match-up at super-welterweight as one of the best fights he had ever seen live.
Also taking place that month, the rescheduled fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin ended in disappointment for the Brit when he lost his WBC interim heavyweight crown via technical knockout, though he did vow to return with a victory in the rematch.
Female boxing was back with a vengeance in August too, with Katie Taylor taking a deserving win in a thrilling fight against Delfine Persoon at the Matchroom Fight Camp, retaining her WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO female lightweight titles. Once in 2020 wasn’t enough, and Taylor went on to retain her titles again when she beat Miriam Gutiérrez by unanimous decision in November at the SSE Arena in London.
After winning the WBC female super-featherweight title in a fight against Eva Wahlström before Covid-19 struck, Terri Harper went on to make two defences of her crown when boxing returned. In October, Savannah Marshall’s win over Hannah Rankin was described as the most complete performance by a British female professional, ever.
Other fighters deserving of a mention in this 2020 round up include winning underdogs Joe Joyce and Lyndon Arthur, who unexpectedly beat Daniel Dubois and Anthony Yarde respectively. Saul Canelo Alvarez gave a boxing masterclass when he beat Liverpool’s unbeaten world super-middleweight champion Callum Smith in a fight in San Antonio, Texas.
By the time December rolled around, British boxing was finally in a position to host a live crowd at a fight.
On Saturday 12 December, fans were allowed into Wembley Arena to cheer on defending unified WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO world champion Anthony Joshua, as he knocked out IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev in the ninth round after a fine display of power and patience.
The awesome sound of 1,000 fans singing Sweet Caroline before AJ emerged to the ring was bittersweet – both a stark and sad reminder of how boxing should be, and at the time a hopeful indicator that we might start to return to normality sometime soon.
So, despite, the many trials and tribulations the boxing world encountered during 2020, the year at least ended on a more positive note. Now it is time to look ahead to what might come next. Whatever it may be, our New Year’s wish is that fans can soon be back where they belong; ringside and ready for action.