Wade Ryan, George Kambosos Jr and Ebanie Bridges (L to R) all feature prominently in our 2021 Australian boxing awards - Photos (L to R): No Limit Boxing/Facebook, Matchroom Boxing/Twitter, DAZN Boxing/Twitter

Who were the cream of the crop among the nation's fighters this year? We break down the best of Australian boxing with our 2021 awards.

As the year draws to a close, it is fitting that we reflect on another strong showing for Australian boxing with The Inner Sanctum’s 2021 awards.

Over the past 12 months, the sport has continued to deliver high quality action at all levels. From world title tilts to amazing amateur outings and all points in between, boxing has gone from strength-to-strength.

In an effort to put a wrap on proceedings, as well as highlight some of this years’ great performances by Australia’s fighters, we have created our inaugural awards. Across nine different categories, a chosen a winner and four honourable mentions, for an overall short-list of five, have been named.

Though each award has its own set of parameters, one criteria had to be adhered to – involve an Australian or take place on Australian soil.

Let’s get into the Australian boxing awards.

Male Fighter of the Year – George Kambosos Jr

While some might have had a more active year, no fighter had the same impact as newly crowned unified World Lightweight champion, George Kambosos Jr (20-0, 10 KOs). The Sydneysider not only sent an already surging Australian boxing scene into overdrive, but changed the landscape of one of world boxing’s most interesting divisions in the process.

Stepping into boxing’s spiritual home Madison Square Garden to fight prodigious talent Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12 KOs), Kambosos Jr took the pressure in his stride en-route to a split decision and the WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring Magazine Lightweight World titles.

At the time of writing, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, has stated that the organisation recognises Kambosos Jr as their World champion, after the Australian also won the WBC Franchise title from Lopez.

Such a ruling muddies the waters of the Lightweight title picture however, as the undefeated Devin Haney (27-0 15 KOs) has previously been considered the WBC title holder.

Kambosos Jr definitively holds a lion’s share of the World Lightweight titles. More importantly, he holds all the chips at a negotiating table that will more than likely include former three division World champion, Vasyl Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs) and Haney.

Honourable mentions: Tim Tszyu; Brock Jarvis; Liam Paro; Issac Hardman

Female Fighter of the Year – Shannon O’Connell

The widely-proclaimed Queen of Australian boxing, Shannon O’Connell (22-6-1, 10 KOs) maintained her reign over her peers in 2021. Though a pair of younger opponents proved to be worthy challengers to the throne, the 38-year-old confirmed her place as the number one Bantamweight in the country.

Following a split decision victory over the previously undefeated Cherneka Johnson (13-1, 6 KOs) in March, O’Connell continued her momentum into an October barnburner with Taylah Robertson (4-1, 1 KO). Here, ‘Shotgun’ took another split decision after 10 action packed rounds, defending her Commonwealth Bantamweight title in the process.

With a strong year in her rear-view, O’Connell will aim to extend her current seven fight win streak and push for a third chance at a major world title.

Honourable mentions: Beck Hawker; Ebanie Bridges; Taylah Robertson; Krystina Jacobs

Male Fight of the Year – Floyd Masson vs Mark Flanagan

A category worthy of its own article, Australia’s male boxers dished up several high quality fights for fans to marvel at in 2021. Although a literal plethora of worthy bouts took place, one stood out above the rest.

The Eaton’s Hill Hotel played host to a magical meeting between Cruiserweight pair, Floyd Masson (11-0, 7 KOs) and Mark ‘Bam Bam’ Flanagan (25-9, 18 KOs). A contest in which both men fell to the canvas, each would not relent in their quest for Australian and Australasian title honours.

After starting the fight in trademark aggressive fashion, Flanagan was the first to make an impact, dropping his opponent with a hard counter right in the opening round. Rattled but unbroken, Masson fought back gallantly to drop the former World title challenger with a thunderous body shot in the fourth.

The second half of the fight saw a true blending of styles between southpaw and orthodox to create a boxing masterpiece. Playing the role of matador, Flanagan aimed to counter the heavy pressure of Masson, the bull in the equation, who moved forward relentlessly.

Even more impressive is that the activity of both pugilists did not diminish until the final bell sounded.

Ultimately, it was Masson who walked away with a majority decision win (94-94, 96-92 x 2), but both fighters won the adulation of the nation’s boxing public.

Honourable mentions: Wade Ryan vs Koen Mazoudier; Leti Leti vs Conor Wallace; Manuer Matet vs Jye Lane Taylor; TC Priestley vs Ben Dencio II

Female Fight of the Year – Ebanie Bridges vs Shannon Courtenay

A war of words gave way to intriguing theatre when Australia’s Ebanie Bridges (7-1, 3 KOs) and Shannon Courtenay (7-2, 3 KOs) of England, clashed for the WBA World Bantamweight title in April.

Pre-fight, Courtenay took umbrage with her opponent’s looks and use of sex appeal to garner fan engagement, while Bridges felt slated by the lack of recognition for her talent.

Thus, the London showdown, fuelled by such bad blood, resulted in immense bloodshed. At the end of the contest, the nasty cut across Courtenay’s head paled in comparison to the swelling of Bridge’s left eye.

Even after sustaining heavy damage, both fighters battled on willingly, exchanging combination upon combination behind stiff jabs. After 10 gruelling rounds, it was the more composed Courtenay who secured a unanimous decision win (98-92 x 2, 97-94).

Afterwards, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn sung the praises of the fight, appropriately calling it “a great advertisement for women’s boxing.”

Honourable mentions: Shannon O’Connell vs Taylah Robertson; Jasmine Parr vs Nicila Costello; Beck Hawker vs Amanda Klein II; Krystina Jacobs vs Lorrinda Webb

More Boxing News:

Paul Gallen victorious as Harry Garside and Sam Goodman pass tests

Who’s next? Australia’s top five boxing prospects

Andrew Moloney secures emphatic win, calls for WBO title shot

Knockout of the Year – Miles Zalewski KO 5 Lee Fook

The unpredictability of boxing was on full display in Miles Zalewski’s (9-2, 7 KOs) July meeting with Lee Fook.

Both combatants fought with limited output in the opening four rounds of their undercard bout at No Limit Boxing’s Tszyu vs Spark card in Newcastle. That was until Zalewski uncorked a savage left hook 13 seconds into the fifth, leaving his foe laying unconscious on the canvas.

Just as shocking as the punch itself, the 32-year-old told those at ringside that he was going to deliver the knockout blow mere moments before it happened.

Rising to his feet to enter the round, Zalewski motioned to broadcaster Ben Damon, promoter George Rose and his corner that he was about to finish proceedings.

Thankfully, Fook returned to consciousness afterwards, standing with referee Will Soulos as the result was announced.

Honourable mentions: Dana Coolwell KO 10 Miles Zalewski; Ryan Lucas KO 6 Emmet Brown; Max Reeves KO 1 Ross Pearson; Jack Bowen KO 1 Ryan Heck

Upset of the Year – George Kambosos Jr defeats Teofimo Lopez (SD)

Everything seemed to conspire against George Kambosos Jr in the lead up to his eventual meeting with Teofimo Lopez. From COVID-19 interruptions and promotional incompetency causing scheduling problems, to the loss of his beloved grandfather, the 28 year old faced mounting hurdles on the road to his shot at World title glory.

These challenges do not even take into account the fight itself.

Having stunned all pundits in his defeat of Vasyl Lomachenko to become unified World Lightweight champion the year prior, Lopez appeared to have the world at his feet. Gifted with a right hand as powerful as it is fast, many predicted the rising phenom would not only beat the Aussie, but to do it in dominant fashion.

It is no surprise then, that when the words, “and the new” rang out from David Diamante’s mouth, a seismic shift had taken place. World boxing had been shaken to the core.

After dropping Lopez with a well-timed overhand right in the first, Kambosos Jr executed a smart game plan for the remainder of the fight. Of note, an incredibly accurate left hook found the American’s chin consistently.

Despite being felled himself in the tenth round, the man known as ‘Ferocious’ lived up to the moniker over the final six minutes. Sensing that Lopez was not willing to take further risk, Kambosos Jr pushed the pace to the final bell, sealing the upset victory and becoming Australia’s first World champion since 2017.

Honourable mentions: Paul Gallen def. Lucas Browne (TKO 1); Luke Woods def. Ethan Law (UD); Koen Mazoudier def. Joel Camilleri (SD); Lucas Browne def. Faiga Opelu (KO 7)

Prospect of the Year – Sam Goodman

At just 23-years-old, Sam Goodman (10-0, 6 KOs) seemingly has a bright future ahead of him. With well crafted skills and a command of distance reminiscent of someone with greater experience, the Joel Keegan trained fighter has all the tools to become a contender.

For evidence, look no further than his three performances in 2021.

After winning a decision against Daniel Carr (3-7, 1 KO), Goodman won his pay-per-view debut, as well as the vacant Australasian Featherweight title, by stopping the ultra tough, Nort Beauchamp (19-5, 3 KOs) in June.

To cap off a stellar year, the Wollongong product moved back to the more natural Super Bantamweight division in December. This time, he would defeat three-time World title challenger, Richie Mepranum (36-9-1, 11 KOs) for the WBO Oriental title.

Now with 10 fights to his name and having passed his toughest test yet, Goodman will no doubt be aiming to break into the rankings of one of boxing’s major governing bodies in 2022.

Honourable mentions: Justis Huni; Taylah Robertson; Jake Wyllie; Dana Coolwell

Comeback of the Year – Wade Ryan’s career resurgence

For the better part of a decade, Wade Ryan (20-9, 7 KOs) has been a staple of the Australian boxing scene. In that time, he has built a reputation for acquitting himself well in each outing, often against high level competition.

Despite strong showings, he has also been no stranger to falling short, boasting decision losses to Tim Tszyu (20-0, 15 KOs), Michael Zerafa (29-4, 18 KOs) and Emmanuel Carlos (12-2, 7 KOs) by the time January rolled around.

To this end, the southpaw entered the year with a record of 17-9 (5 KOs), having lost three of his past five contests. Yet he stayed the course, dedicated as ever to the sport and training hard in his native Gunnedah.

The result of such hard work was a campaign that re-wrote Ryan’s career.

Across 2021, he defended his IBO International Super Welterweight title in three action packed bouts with Koen Mazoudier (9-2, 4 KOs), Troy O’Melley (11-2, 2 KOs) and Nath Nwachukwu (7-2-2, 3 KOs). With each performance being more emphatic than his last, Ryan created a wave of momentum that he will look to carry across the next 12 months.

Honourable mentions: Luke Woods’ career resurgence; Brock Jarvis’ rally to defeat Alejandro Frias; Sam Ah See’s first round victory after a six year hiatus; Lenny Zappavigna’s comeback after a three year break

Storyline of the Year – Harry Garside wins Australia’s first Olympic boxing medal in 33 years

A lack of fans in attendance did not result in a shortage of support for Australia’s Olympians in Tokyo this year. Across all sports, those donning green and gold captured the hearts and imaginations of fans who watched along ‘Down Under.’

One such athlete was Harry Garside, who brought the first boxing medal back to Australia since Grahame ‘Spike’ Cheney won silver at Seoul in 1988.

Fighting in a talent laden Lightweight division, the Victorian secured bronze with wins over Papua New Guinea’s John Ume and Jonas Jonas of Namibia. Though he would lose a wide decision in his semi-final bout with Cuban sensation, Andy Cruz, Garside showed a fighting spirit that enthralled audiences from coast to coast.

Since then, the 24 year old has made his professional debut, winning via first round TKO. With 2022 approaching, boxing fans, many captivated by Tokyo 2020, will follow his journey through the pro ranks with bated breath.

Honourable mentions: George Kambosos becomes World champion; Justis Huni forced to withdraw from Tokyo 2020 through injury; Skye Nicolson’s inspiring Olympic run in honour of late brother, Jamie; Stevie Spark steps up in weight to fight Tim Tszyu following Michael Zerafa’s withdrawal

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