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Aussie boxing year in review: The best fighter, performance, KO, upset and more from 2022

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Coming in to 2022, it was George Kambosos who carried the crown for Australian boxing.

While Kambosos lost his belts to the classy Devin Haney, three Australians – Ebanie Bridges, Cherneka Johnson and Jai Opetaia -stepped up to the level of world champion this year.

Along the way, fight fans have been treated to some incredible moments.

Here’s our look back at the year that was in Aussie boxing.

Fighter of the year

Ebanie Bridges

It’s easy to forget just how wild and improbable the Ebanie Bridges story is.

Previously a ring girl, Bridges, 36, didn’t make her professional debut until 2019.

And while her choice of weigh-in attire might be a tactic to get more eyes on her fights, once there, Bridges makes the most of the attention, taking on tough challenges and putting on exciting scraps.

Bridges fought twice in 2022, first defeating Maria Cecilia Roman to cap her incredible rise to the IBF bantamweight title.

Then came a long-awaited grudge match with Shannon O’Connell, who many considered to be the uncrowned queen of Aussie boxing.

Bridges was wobbled in the first round but fought back beautifully, dropping O’Connell in the third, a turning point from which she never let up.

The referee eventually stepped in during another Bridges flurry in the eighth round, saving O’Connell from taking more unnecessary damage.

Performance of the year

Jai Opetaia vs. Mairis Briedis

There’s little else to add that hasn’t already been said about the toughness Jai Opetaia showed in his unanimous decision victory over Mairis Briedis.

With blood streaming from his mouth courtesy of a badly broken jaw, Opetaia met Breidis in the middle of the ring, seeing out the last two rounds and making it to the final bell.

Prior to that, the Aussie had outboxed the veteran whose only loss to that point had come via razor-thin decision to unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk.

Opetaia’s out-of-this-world performance saw him go from talented contender to IBF and The Ring cruiserweight champion.

Now back training after a long recovery, Opetaia has his eyes on more belts.

Knockout of the year

Issac Hardman vs. Beau Hartas

Prior to the fight with Beau Hartas on the Gold Coast, Hardman had spoken of his new-found patience and his wish to box rather than brawl, having learned from the mistakes of his loss to Michael Zerafa.

As it turned out, the fight wouldn’t even see the end of the first round after Hardman landed a powerful right hand, sending Hartas to the mat where he lay motionless for some time.

Fortunately Hartas was able to make it out of the ring under his own steam but it served as a timely reminder of Hardman’s knockout power.

Fight of the year

Male: Paul Fleming vs. Jackson England

With a pair of ring names like “Showtime” and “Action”, fans would have been hoping for an exciting spectacle and that’s exactly what they got when Paul Fleming and Jackson England met on the undercard to Sonny Bill Williams vs. Barry Hall.

The super-featherweights showed incredible stamina and skill over the 10-round war, leaving fans in Sydney breathless just watching the contest.

Fleming was briefly dropped in the second round but fought back strongly, eventually taking a close unanimous decision victory, although England lost no fans with the quality of his performance.

Female: Shanell Dargan vs. Ashleigh Sims

When promoter No Limit matched a pair of debutants up against each other at the Hordern Pavilion back in April, they probably weren’t expecting the four rounds of chaos they got.

Dargan and Sims’ coaches would have been going off their nut as the fighters threw out the textbook and swung for the fences.

Both fighters landed big shots as they stood in the pocket and traded.

The bout set social media alight and left viewers wanting more.

In the end, a draw felt like an appropriate result.

Statement of the year

Liam Paro KOs Brock Jarvis in the first round

The maiden Australian show for powerhouse promoter Matchroom saw two undefeated Aussies in Liam Paro and Brock Jarvis face off.

After a fascinating build up in which both camps showed a combination of respect and extreme confidence, it was the Queenslander who put on a show in Brisbane.

Paro appeared to have the speed advantage over Jarvis who was fighting angry after being clipped several times in the opening exchanges.

The southpaw Paro then walked Jarvis onto a power left hand, sending the Jeff Fenech-trained fighter to the canvas and ending the bout.

Paro, ranked no. 1 with the WBO, is now eyeing off a shot at the world title.

MORE: Liam Paro lands stunning first-round knockout win over Brock Jarvis

WTF moment of the year

We’re sitting on the fence and going with two moments which made us go “what the f***?!” this year.

Fists fly at Michael Zerafa vs. Issac Hardman presser

Michael Zerafa and Issac Hardman are two of Australia’s most outspoken boxers so it was no surprise to see them clash in the lead up to their bout earlier this year.

It did however catch us off guard to see the action start a day early.

After a fiery verbal back-and-forth, things kicked up a notch and the pair had to be separated as all hell broke loose at the press conference venue in Melbourne.

Take a look at the unbelievable moment here.

When it finally came to the fight, it would be Zerafa who had the last laugh, stopping Hardman in the second round the following day.

Stevie Spark’s DQ win over Montana Love

Toowoomba’s Stevie Spark was always going to be up against it when he travelled to Cleveland to take on local boy and super-lightweight prospect Montana Love.

Up for the fight as ever, Spark scored a big knockdown in the second round to swing the momentum his way.

The Aussie looked to have the better of the contest when a frustrated Love inexplicably chucked Spark over the ring ropes, seeing the American disqualified.

Love appealed the ruling but it has since been upheld.

Upset of the year

Lucas Browne defeats Junior Fa

After losing to Paul Gallen, many had assumed the career of former WBA heavyweight champ Lucas Browne was all but over.

When the 43-year-old was matched with Junior Fa on the undercard to George Kambosos vs. Devin Haney at Marvel Stadium in June, eyebrows were raised.

Punters could easily get $7 or $8 on Browne to defeat the 32-year-old Kiwi who had gone the 12 rounds with Joseph Parker last time out.

Those who did get on “Big Daddy” didn’t have to wait long as he landed a thundering right hand to drop Fa in the opening round.

Most viewers had seen enough but the referee allowed Fa to continue and eat yet another big shot which closed the show and revived Browne’s career.

MORE: Lucas Browne delivers with shock first round KO

OMG moment of the year

Mark Hunt knocks out Sonny Bill Williams

This was the ultimate “ya’ll must’ve forget” performance from the Super Samoan.

Hunt had looked okay albeit a long way from his best when he fought Paul Gallen in 2020, while on the other hand, Williams destroyed Barry Hall inside a round earlier this year.

The fight looked like it would go the way of the footy great over the opening couple of rounds as Williams’ length made it difficult for Hunt to get inside.

Everything changed in the fourth round as SBW got to taste Hunt’s legendary power, going down once before the former K1 Grand Prix champion unloaded several bombs to end the fight.

After such a decorated career, it was only fitting that Hunt bowed out with another jaw-dropping stoppage victory.

Breakout fighter of the year

Male: Paulo Aokuso

It takes a certain level of self-belief for a debutant to announce they want to win a world title in six fights but that’s exactly what Olympian Paulo Aokuso did.

The Western Sydney southpaw has gone 3-0 with three knockout victories to start his professional career.

Despite his inexperience, “Sweet P” has been chasing the toughest fights possible.

In his last two bouts, Aokuso scored second-round stoppage victories against opponents – Robert Berridge and David Zegarra – with a combined record of 65-16-2.

Female: Skye Nicolson

There’s being active and then there’s doing what Skye Nicolson did in 2022.

The Queenslander’s success in the pro ranks will come as little surprise to those who followed her decorated amateur career.

Since making her debut in March, Nicolson went 5-0, fighting in San Diego, Leeds, New York and Cardiff before a long-awaited homecoming in Brisbane.

Expect Nicolson to keep the momentum going with another active year and a possible title shot in 2023.

Honourable mentions: Joel Taylor, Nikita Tszyu, Rocky Ogden, Harry Garside, Ella Boot

What to look out for in 2023

Aussie boxing fans can get set for another big year in 2023, with several big fights already locked in and a host more potential matchups to get excited about.

First cab off the rank is Tim Tszyu with his blockbuster undisputed super-welterweight world title clash with Jermell Charlo in Las Vegas on January 28 (Jan. 29 in Australia).

Can Tim emulate his legendary father and become undisputed champ?

Less than a week later, Liam Wilson faces two-weight world champion Emanuel Navarrete for the WBO super-featherweight title in Glendale, Arizona on February 3 (Feb. 4 in Australia).

Beyond that, we can expect Jai Opetaia to line up his first title defence, or a possible unification attempt, in the first half of next year.

Former lightweight king George Kambosos is also due back in the ring following some time off after a huge 2022 featuring back-to-back undisputed world title fights.

We can also expect to see the likes of Liam Paro, Michael Zerafa and the Moloney brothers, Jason and Andrew, all ranked at the very top of their respective divisions, fighting for world championship belts.

Australia’s strong and growing stable of elite women boxers will also be looking to repeat the dose in 2023.

IBF champions at bantamweight and super-bantamweight, Ebanie Bridges and Cherneka Johnson, are due defences of their respective titles, while Taylah Robertson looks likely to fight for a world championship at super-flyweight next year.

Make sure you’re following The Sporting News for the most comprehensive coverage of Aussie boxing in 2023.

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Credit: sportingnews.com

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