Oleksandr Usyk named ESPN 2018 fighter of the year

Oleksandr Usyk had a dominant 2018, winning all four major crusierweight belts. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Editor's Note: This list was created by ESPN senior boxing writer Dan Rafael.

Some years there is an honest debate over who warrants fighter of the year honors. There might be two or three worthy candidates and it can be a tough call.

This year it was as easy as it gets to pick undisputed cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk as the 2018 ESPN.com fighter of the year.

Usyk already had a résumé stuffed with impressive accomplishments before the year began. He won the heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. And in his 10th professional fight, he outpointed Polish star Krzysztof Glowacki -- in Poland -- to take his cruiserweight world title to break the division record for fewest fights needed to win a world title, surpassing the great Evander Holyfield, who won a cruiserweight belt in his 12th fight.

But in 2018, Usyk added considerably that resume with a fantastic year in which he made more history.

Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), 31, of Ukraine, went 3-0 with each of the victories coming in his opponent's home country. He won the Muhammad Ali Trophy as the victor in the eight-man World Boxing Super Series tournament and in the process became the undisputed cruiserweight champion, the first in that division in the four-belt era and only the fourth fighter overall to become an undisputed champion in the four-belt era as he joined middleweights Bernard Hopkins (2004) and Jermain Taylor (2005) and junior welterweight Terence Crawford (2017).

In January, in the WBSS semifinals, Usyk traveled to the hometown of Mairis Briedis in Riga, Latvia, and won a majority decision to unify two of the major 200-pound world titles.

In July, in the WBSS final, Usyk traveled to Moscow to face fellow two-belt titleholder Murat Gassiev on his Russian turf and cruised to a virtual shutout to unify all four major titles in a virtuous performance.

For good measure, Usyk returned in November and traveled to Manchester, England, to defend all the belts against Brit Tony Bellew, a former cruiserweight titleholder who had been fighting as a heavyweight but came down in weight for the fight. Usyk scored a sensational one-punch knockout in the eighth round to put a big bow on his tremendous 2018.

Manager Egis Klimas strongly believed that Usyk deserved acclaim as the fighter of the year.

"Only one thing can keep somebody away from not voting for him as the fighter of the year and that's because he didn't fight in the United States this year," Klimas said. "All of his fights were outside of the United States -- Latvia, Russia and the U.K. He fought on the road all of his fights and he won them all. He made history. It was the best year for him. He won the Muhammad Ali Trophy. He unified all four titles. He never fought in his backyard, always on the road. I don't see another name that can compare to him."

Nobody did compare to him.

Other contenders


Lomachenko defeats Pedraza via decision to unify titles

Vasiliy Lomachenko scores two knockdowns in the 11th round and dominates Jose Pedraza to unify two lightweight world titles.

2. Vasiliy Lomachenko: In May, the pound-for-pound king moved up to lightweight to challenge Jorge Linares, the No. 1 fighter in the division, for his world title. They put on a terrific fight in which Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs), 30, of Ukraine, tore the labrum in his right shoulder in the second round and survived a sixth-round knockdown to win a 135-pound title by impressive 10th-round knockout. It was a victory that gave Lomachenko, a former featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder, a world title in his third weight division. On Dec. 8, Lomachenko faced Jose Pedraza in a title unification fight and dominated. He knocked Pedraza down twice in the 11th round and won a wide unanimous decision.

3. Mikey Garcia: With a strong desire to win a world title in a fourth weight division, lightweight titleholder Garcia, who had also won belts at featherweight and junior lightweight, moved up to junior welterweight in February to challenge then-undefeated Sergey Lipinets for his 140-pound belt. Garcia dropped him in the seventh round and won a clear decision to claim the belt. Then Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), 31, of Moreno Valley, California, returned to lightweight, where he still had a title, and squared off with fellow undefeated titleholder Robert Easter Jr. in a July unification fight. Garcia easily handled the bigger Easter, knocking him down in the third round en route to a clear unanimous decision.

4. Anthony Joshua: Boxing's biggest star other than Canelo Alvarez kicked off his year in March by winning a lopsided unanimous decision against Joseph Parker to unify his two heavyweight world titles with Parker's belt. In September, Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), 29, of England, faced top contender Alexander Povetkin, whose only previous loss was a decision to then-unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2013, and brutally knocked him out in the seventh round.


Hooker retains belt with wild TKO victory over Saucedo

Maurice Hooker defeats Alex Saucedo via 7th-round TKO in Friday's Top Rank main event to retain the junior welterweight world title.

5. Maurice Hooker: As 2018 dawned, Hooker (25-0-3, 17 KOs), 29, of Dallas, was a relatively unknown junior welterweight contender headed overseas as the underdog in a world title fight. He traveled to Manchester, England, the hometown of undefeated former lightweight world titlist Terry Flanagan, whom he met for a vacant 140-pound belt in June. Hooker came away with a well-deserved split decision on the road to win the belt. And then he kept up his road warrior status by traveling to Oklahoma City, the hometown of mandatory challenger Alex Saucedo, for his first defense in November. Hooker once again was the underdog but knocked out Saucedo in the seventh round of a terrific back-and-forth battle.