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A giant upset, must-see KOs and the top moments of '19 -- so far

Andy Ruiz Jr. scored one of the biggest upsets in boxing history with a TKO victory over Anthony Joshua to win three heavyweight titles. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

We are halfway through what has already been an eventful year in boxing. There have been unforgettable moments, big fights, action-packed bouts, great knockouts and plenty more is on the way.

But here's my look back as we hit the midpoint of 2019.

Biggest story: Andy Ruiz Jr.

Without question, Andy Ruiz's shocking/stunning/massive seventh-round knockout of Anthony Joshua in an action-packed fight June 1 to win three major heavyweight world titles is the story of the year so far -- and by a mile. It was an upset of historic, Rocky-like proportions that turned the heavyweight division, and the sport, on its head.

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Stephen A.: 'Anthony Joshua lied to us'

Stephen A. Smith says it became apparent during the fight that Anthony Joshua wasn't prepared to fight Andy Ruiz Jr.

Not only did Ruiz collect a bunch of belts by surviving a knockdown to score four of his own, he destroyed the prospect of a showdown between Joshua and Deontay Wilder for the undisputed title -- the biggest fight in boxing until Ruiz took AJ's perfect record and flushed the prospect of that fight down the toilet.

Within days after the fight, which was Joshua's U.S. debut in New York, he exercised his contractual option for an immediate rematch and they are slated to meet again in the fall, although Joshua has not decided whether to return to Madison Square Garden or force Ruiz to face him in his native United Kingdom.


Best fight: "J Rock" Williams vs. Jarrett Hurd

While Ruiz-Joshua was a terrific scrap with much drama, there were two others that stand out for pure action that were better. The fight of the year so far is Julian "J Rock" Williams' upset decision on Jarrett Hurd's home turf to take his unified junior middleweight titles May 11. Williams dropped Hurd in the second round and they fought toe-to-toe for virtually the entire fight.

Another absolute barnburner was the March 24 welterweight slugfest between former world titleholders Sergey Lipinets and Lamont Peterson. They went at it for 10 brutal rounds until Lipinets dropped hometown favorite Peterson followed by Peterson's corner throwing in the towel. Peterson announced his retirement after the sensational fight.

And who could forget the fight between Polish middleweights Robert Talarek and Patryk Szymanski? They threw down in an incredible slugfest buried on an April undercard in Poland that produced a mind-boggling 10 knockdowns before Talarek (down four times) stopped Szymanski (down six times) in the fifth round.


Biggest event: Canelo Alvarez vs. Daniel Jacobs

Unified middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez got an 11-fight, $365 million contract from DAZN to leave pay-per-view and deliver big fights and subscriptions to the streaming service. In the second fight of his deal, on May 4 in Las Vegas, Alvarez made the biggest fight possible at the time, a unification bout against Daniel Jacobs that Alvarez won by clear decision in the year's biggest event so far.

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What makes Fury the lineal heavyweight champion?

Joe Tessitore explains how Tyson Fury can be connected all the way back to John L. Sullivan and lay claim to being called the lineal champion.

There were four other big-deal events as well: Joshua's American debut against Ruiz that filled Madison Square Garden, legend Manny Pacquiao's first fight under the Premier Boxing Champions banner in January in which he rolled past Adrien Broner to retain a secondary welterweight title; Errol Spence Jr.'s shutout of the much smaller Mikey Garcia, who dared to be great by going up two weight classes in March but showed he could not handle the much bigger and more skilled man in the first PPV fight for both of them; and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson's Fury's massively hyped Top Rank/ESPN debut against Tom Schwarz, which got Super Bowl treatment for what was a second-round knockout win on June 15.


Fighter of the year (so far): Andy Ruiz Jr.

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Atlas: Ruiz 'just wrecked a hundred years of physical fitness'

Teddy Atlas says that Anthony Joshua didn't look interested in the fight vs. Andy Ruiz Jr. and gives credit to Ruiz for catching Joshua behind the ear, throwing off his equilibrium.

  • Andy Ruiz Jr.: Scoring one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history will do that for a fighter.

  • Runner-up Canelo Alvarez: Unified middleweight titles by decision over a top opponent in Daniel Jacobs (with no controversy).


Best knockout: Devin Haney vs. Antonio Moran

Rising lightweight star Devin Haney's seventh-round destruction of Antonio Moran on May 25 was as sick as it gets. Haney, stepping up in class to face his best opponent, finished the fight in style with a massive overhand right hand to the chin that left Moran slithering to the canvas in a heap along the ropes. He was down for several minutes receiving medical attention.

There were several other eye-catching knockouts, but this particular KO stood out to me:

  • Heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder, known for his ability to separate men from their senses with one punch, did it with his vaunted right hand in the first round against mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale on May 18. Wilder connected clean on the chin and dropped Breazeale hard on his back spread eagle. Although Breazeale was counted out, he amazingly did get to his feet just after the count was complete.


Feel-good story: Andrew Cancio

It's hard not to be happy for junior lightweight Andrew Cancio, a hard worker and by all accounts a good guy. He had suffered a knockout loss and was going nowhere when he retired in late 2016. He returned in 2018, won two fights and was handpicked to challenge titlist Alberto Machado in what was supposed to be an easy defense on the way to bigger fights. Instead, Cancio, who works a 9-to-5 job as a field technician for a California gas company, knocked him out in the fourth round to win the title in February. And then he did it again, this time in easier fashion in the third round to retain the belt in their June 21 rematch. One hopes he can quit that day job soon.


Prospects update

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Lopez beats Magdaleno with brutal KO, outlandish celebration

Teofimo Lopez takes it to Diego Magdaleno with a knockdown in the sixth round, and a crushing knockout in the seventh round to finish the fight.

Let's check in and see how some of the 2018 ESPN top prospects are faring so far this year. These guys have looked great against improved opposition:

  • Vergil Ortiz Jr.: The heavy-handed Ortiz has blitzed both opponents so far this year, stopping Jesus Valdez in January and then moving up to welterweight to drill veteran Mauricio Herrera in May. He will take another step up in opposition against Antonio Orozco, a former junior welterweight world title challenger, in a very interesting fight Aug. 10.

  • Devin Haney: Haney appears on his way to a world title, having gone 2-0 so far with an impressive shutout decision over unbeaten Xolisani Ndongeni in January and a massive seventh-round knockout of Antonio Moran in May. In September, he will face Zaur Abdullaev in a lightweight eliminator with a shot at a world title on the line.


Wish list rewind

At the start of each year, I write a column on my boxing wishes for the new year. With six months behind us, how did these few work out?

  • Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder.
    Result: Swing and miss!

  • Canelo Alvarez to line up Daniel Jacobs for his May fight and then a third fight with Gennady Golovkin for his September bout.
    Result: A-plus for the first part, doesn't look good for the second part.

  • Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Mikey Garcia.
    Result: We can keep dreaming.

  • Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.
    Result: See above.

  • Continued good mental health for Tyson Fury and rematch with Wilder.
    Result: Nailed it (as long as they win interim bouts).

  • A speedy recovery for Adonis Stevenson.
    Result: Thankfully, this one is working out well.

  • Fewer interim and secondary titles.
    Result: Franchise title!

  • World title shots for heavyweight Dillian Whyte and junior bantamweight Juan Francisco Estrada.
    Result: 1-1. Estrada got it and won; Whyte still waiting.

  • A homecoming fight in Dallas for junior welterweight titlist Maurice Hooker.
    Result: A July 27 hometown fight to unify belts against Jose Ramirez.