A few weeks ago in New York, following the weigh-in for the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Guillermo Rigondeaux junior lightweight world title fight, Terence Crawford engaged two boxing writers in a debate about who should be the fighter of the year.
It seemed clear that Crawford and Lomachenko, should Lomachenko prevail the following night, were the two obvious frontrunners. But Crawford didn't want to hear it.
"I won the [fourth] belt, [so] it shouldn't even be up for debate," Crawford said. "You tell me right now why I shouldn't [be fighter of the year]? Three fights [for Lomachenko], but who did he fight that amounts to [being fighter of the year]?"
One reporter pushed back, telling Crawford that while he had a good chance to win, it was by no means a done deal. Crawford, in a dead serious tone and with a steely look in his eyes, shot back, "Not a good chance. I feel like I've won it."
Well, guess what? Crawford did. He is the 2017 ESPN.com fighter of the year.
It is the second nod for Crawford, who also won it in 2014, when most major outlets, as well as the Boxing Writers Association of America, honored him for going on the road to Scotland to win a lightweight world title from Ricky Burns in dominant fashion before making two strong defenses against Yuriorkis Gamboa and Raymundo Beltran. Crawford eventually moved up to junior welterweight and unified two belts in 2016 before his big 2017.
On May 20, at Madison Square Garden in New York, Crawford defended his belts against highly regarded contender Felix Diaz, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic whose only prior loss was a controversial decision at welterweight to former world titleholder Lamont Peterson.
Diaz campaigned hard to get the fight, and Crawford obliged. It was a one-sided demolition. Crawford landed all kinds of heavy shots with both hands and made Diaz, a very good fighter, look helpless. By the end of the 10th round, Diaz had taken a beating, and his trainer, Joel Diaz, threw in the towel.
Sitting ringside that night was Julius Indongo, a 2008 Olympian from Namibia who held the other two major belts in the 140-pound division. Crawford promoter Top Rank and Indongo's representatives were looking to match them next, and that is what happened.
Indongo traveled to Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, just outside of Crawford's hometown of Omaha, for an ultra-rare four-belt title unification fight on Aug. 19.
The 30-year-old Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs) sliced through then-undefeated Indongo with ease. He dropped him in the second round and knocked him out with a brutal body shot for an electrifying finish in the third round to become the undisputed world champion.
Crawford made history by becoming only the third fighter of the four-belt era to hold all four major sanctioning body belts at the same time, joining former middleweight champions Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor. He also proved that his crystal ball worked well when he told those two reporters last month that he would surely have fighter of the year honors coming his way.
"It's already won. I won it already. Why wouldn't I have," he said.
He was right.
Lomachenko overpowers Rigondeaux for TKO win
Tensions rise between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux in the middle rounds as Lomachenko continues to land furious punches, leading to Rigondeaux giving up after the sixth round. Lomachenko retains the WBO junior lightweight title.
2. Vasiliy Lomachenko: Ukraine's brilliant Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) defended his junior lightweight world title three times, made all three opponents quit in utterly one-sided fights and ascended to the No. 1 position in the ESPN pound-for-pound rankings. In April, he stopped Jason Sosa, who vacated a world title to facilitate the bout, in the ninth round followed by a seventh-round knockout of Miguel Marriaga in August. Then came Lomachenko's big win -- in the eyes of most fans and media but not the man himself -- on Dec. 9, when he toyed with junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux in the first-ever bout between two-time Olympic gold medalists. Rigondeaux was considered a pound-for-pound talent, but he was no match for Lomachenko, who dominated and made him meekly quit after the sixth round.
3. Anthony Joshua: England's Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs), one of the biggest stars in boxing, defended his heavyweight title for the third time and also claimed a vacant belt in an epic fight with former longtime unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko in April. Fighting before a British-record crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, Joshua survived a knockdown and scored three of his own en route to an 11th-round knockout in a fantastic fight that sent Klitschko into retirement. Joshua then knocked out late replacement opponent Carlos Takam in the 10th round to retain his title for the fourth time before 78,000 at sold-out Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
4. Mikey Garcia: Having already won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) moved up to lightweight and scored a blistering third-round knockout of then-undefeated Dejan Zlaticanin to win a world title in a third weight division. When Garcia couldn't land a big fight at lightweight after that, he moved up to junior welterweight for a much-anticipated showdown with former four-division titlist Adrien Broner in July and took him apart in a great performance en route to a unanimous decision win.
5. Gennady Golovkin: In March, GGG retained his unified middleweight world title by hard-fought unanimous decision against Daniel Jacobs, whom he knocked down but who gave him the toughest fight of his career. Then in September, the boxing world got the fight it so desperately wanted: a Golovkin showdown with Canelo Alvarez. It was an excellent fight, and when it was over, most thought Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) had clearly done enough to win, but he was saddled with a split draw because of goofy scorecards turned in by Adalaide Byrd (118-110 for Alvarez) and Don Trella (114-114), a decision that very well could have cost him fighter of the year.
6. Ryan Burnett: Northern Ireland's Burnett (18-0, 9 KOs) scored two knockdowns and rolled to a lopsided decision victory against Lee Haskins to take his bantamweight world title in June. In his first defense, he faced Zhanat Zhakiyanov in a world title unification fight in October and pounded out a lopsided unanimous decision.