BRITISH boxing took a bit of a battering in 2021 with world champions like Anthony Joshua, Josh Warrington, Terri Harper and Kid Galahad losing their world titles.
But a handful of stars like Maxi Hughes, Savannah Marshall, Leigh Wood and Sunny Edwards have jumped into the spotlight with great victories and performances.
But some of the very best fights don’t always feature a world title, a faultless performance or even a packed stadium.
Up and down the UK, there are brilliant bouts for area titles, English and British honours and good old bragging rights every weekend.
We’ve seen underdogs spring surprises, journeymen refuse to be beaten, sparring partners become stars and away corners get the result.
But some of the best bouts almost need no result. There are times when the valiant loser limps away with equal credit and respect.
There have been chess matches and all-out-wars that have left both men covered in blood and glory.
It’s been tough but SunSport has tried to narrow it down to a handful of the best of 2021:
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Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder 3 – Oct 9 – Las Vegas
Fight fans of this generation so often feel robbed of the old glory days of Rumbles in Jungles, Thrillas in Manillas and Brawls in Montreal but this was a magnificent throwback and reminder of how great the sport can be.
Both men were tied at 2-2 for trips to the canvas, somehow dragging their giant and broken bodies back to their feet four times in total.
And then the Gypsy King went to the well one more time to collapse Wilder and retain his WBC crown and confirm his name at the very top of the pile.
Wilder redeemed himself, Sugar Hill Stewart’s thrilling cornerwork emerged as a bonus later on and everyone walked away reminded of why these men – the heavyweight champions of the world – are at the peak of all sport.
Troy Williamson vs Ted Cheeseman – Oct 9 – Liverpool
If Bermondsey braveheart Cheeseman has now retired at the age of 26, with a lovely young family and various businesses to enjoy, he leaves behind a magnificent body of work any fighter would be proud of.
The Tony Sims-trained ace went through back-to-back wars with Asinia Byfield, Sergio Garcia, Kieron Conway, Scott Fitzgerald, Sam Eggington, JJ Metcalf and finally Williamson – all in the space of three breath-taking years.
His record from that amazing run reads WLDLWWL but everyone is worth going back and watching again.
Round seven alone of this barnstormer was incredible as both men took barrages of punishment but remained upright.
But Williamson – who bravely went over to Cheeseman’s promotion and broadcaster – knocked him out violently with a left hook in round 10.
Joe Joyce vs Carlos Takam – Julie 24 – Londen
The 36-year-old Juggernaut was supposed to enjoy a nice tune-up fight against the teak-tough slugger who had suffered defeats to Anthony Joshua and Derek Chisora, but it turned into a hellish affair.
Joyce’s famously granite chin was tested a terrifying amount of times for the five opening rounds before he unloaded and got a contested stoppage win.
It lacked the spectacle of Fury vs Wilder 3 and the bloody chess match of Williamson and Cheeseman, but the Copper Box was filled with gasps and groans as all of the Brit’s fans worried he was going to blow his lofty rankings in a stunning upset.
Of course the ice-cool Putney giant assured everyone after that he had it all under control.
Sam Eggington vs Bilal Jkitou – Sept 10 – Coventry
This magnificent Midlands ruck would not have looked out of place at Madison Square Garden or the MGM, Las Vegas.
Mick Hennessy put on a thrilling headliner that was so popular, it got a run at a local cinema shortly after.
Eggington – still only 28 – already has about three career’s worth of fight-of-the-year contenders and he went to war once again with the unknown Frenchman.
The Brummie got a split decision win after 12 rounds of relentless middleweight action.
It was a reminder that Hennessy – who usually has to play third fiddle to Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren – can still put on a brilliant ball, when he has the right dance partners.
Anyone who watched the first clash would definitely support Channel 5 rerunning it again in 2022.
Jack Cullen vs Avni Yildrim – Julie 31 – Essex
Turkey’s middleweight had rounds of experience from previous defeats to Chris Eubank Jr and Canelo Alvarez so was the heavy favourite to travel to the UK and beat the Englishman.
Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver – the man with the North Face tattoo on his shoulder after a drunken bet – was not standing for it though.
A brilliant rabble of Cullen’s friends and family paid the pricey £750 PER TICKET to cheer their local legend on.
And he repaid them with a wonderful performance to win wide on all three cards.
The 28-year-old beanpole is one of Britain’s must-watch boxers as he has been in brilliant battles with John Harding Jr, Felix Cash, Zak Chelli, John Docherty and Yildrim.
Joseph Parker vs Derek Chisora – Des 18 – Manchester
After the first instalment last May ended in a lukewarm points win for the New Zealander, few people wanted to see these two middle-aged millionaires trash talk and swap punches again.
But 37-year-old British ring icon Chisora put on a magnificent show of courage to survive three counts and still end the fight on his feet and swinging for the rafters.
Parker, 29, packed with 10lbs of more muscle from the first clash landed a hat-trick of sickening uppercuts that Del Boy could not deal with.
One folded the Finchley ace to his knees and the other two clattered him back into the ropes where Howard Foster gave him eight seconds to recover.
In werklikheid, Parker is no closer to a world title, with Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk and Dillian Whyte tying them up for a couple of years at least.
So it just showed how much fighting pride both men had to smash each other senseless and then share the Five Guys burgers Chisora bought for everyone backstage.
When the Zimbabwe-born warrior retires he will be missed and it’s unlikely we will ever see his likes again.
Katie Taylor vs Natasha Jonas – Mei 1 – Manchester
Nine years on since these two lit up the London 2012 Olimpiese Spele, with Irish icon Taylor taking the gold, the pioneers met again as pros.
Taylor put her four lightweight world titles and undisputed status on the line while Liverpool’s Jonas looked for revenge.
Over ten brilliant rounds – sadly only two minutes long in the women’s code – we saw constant nip and tuck action.
Jonas landed the bigger shots, Taylor the more precise points scoring.
Eventually the judges inside the eerily empty arena scored it 96-94, 96-95 en 96-95.
It was not elite female boxing, it was simply elite boxing.