Then-light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson likely anticipated a June 8 challenge from Adonis Stevenson with less trepidation than his showdown nine months earlier with Andre Ward. He was back at a more comfortable weight, instead of shedding seven pounds to take on the super middleweight champion. And rather than taking on one of the two best boxers in the sport, he was facing a little-known 35-year-old who had only turned professional at the age of 29 and who had once been stopped by journeyman Darnell Boone.
But if Dawson's camp and the bookmakers tipped this as a return to winning ways, another man -- physically absent but very much present in spirit on this night -- had long predicted otherwise. "He said to me that I would be a world champion," Stevenson said of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who raved about Stevenson's potential after bringing him into the Kronk Gym fold a few months before his death in October 2012. "He saw that, and he told Yvon [Michel], my promoter, that if I got a chance to fight Chad Dawson, we should make the fight happen."
In particular, Steward enthused over the Haitian-born southpaw's devastating left hand, and it was that very left hand that ended the Dawson fight and earned Stevenson ESPN.com's 2013 knockout of the year.
The style book identified Dawson as the slick boxer and Stevenson as the powerful brawler. But perhaps hoping to banish any thoughts that he might be gun-shy after his beating by Ward, perhaps to establish that he was the natural light heavyweight or perhaps just to keep his powerful foe on the back foot, Dawson stepped forward at the opening bell, pumping out a stiff jab as his challenger circled. Stevenson jabbed in response, and twice fired his vaunted left hand. Twice, Dawson stepped inside it and the punch whizzed behind his head. The third time, however, it exploded off the champion's right temple, and Dawson crumpled, his head dropping forward as his trunk slumped backward until he was flat on his back on the canvas.
It seemed improbable that he could possibly make it to his feet, but after lifting his head and blinking uncertainly, he somehow succeeded in doing so. As soon as he was vertical, though, he staggered back into the ropes, and although his eyes looked straight at referee Michael Griffin, they did so vacantly. When Dawson failed to raise his hands or respond to any commands, Griffin called a halt to the contest. A grand total of 76 seconds had elapsed since the opening bell.
Dawson protested the stoppage, as a champion should, but his complaints were drowned out by the explosion of ululation as Stevenson ran around the ring in celebration. Stevenson would win twice more before the year was out, both times by stoppage, but his one-punch blitz of Dawson remains the signature win of his career thus far.
2. Gennady Golovkin KO3 Matthew Macklin
After Golovkin had opened his year's account with stoppage wins over Gabriel Rosado and Nobuhiro Ishida, Macklin was supposed to provide GGG his first big test: a legitimate 160-pound contender who had previously pushed middleweight champion Sergio Martinez hard. But from the opening bell, Macklin looked overwhelmed by Golovkin's power and pressure until, in the third round, the Kazakh-born fighter maneuvered his opponent into position along the ropes and whipped a picture-perfect short left hook into Macklin's body. The Anglo-Irishman dropped like a stone to the canvas, where he lay in pain for several minutes. In a devastating and dominating statement, Golovkin didn't just answer the putative big question being asked of him -- he ripped up the test sheet and threw it back at his examiners, as if daring them to provide a more dangerous challenge.
3. Jhonny Gonzalez KO1 Abner Mares
Mares was on a roll. He had erased the controversy over his August 2011 assault on Joseph Agbeko's testicles by registering a clean-and-clear rematch win over Agbeko, dominating Eric Morel, ending Anselmo Moreno's 27-fight unbeaten run and taking apart Daniel Ponce de Leon in an eye-opening featherweight debut. But Gonzalez brought that roll to a screeching halt with a short left hook to the jaw in the opening round of their Aug. 24 contest. Mares crashed to the canvas, and although he beat the count, he was still stunned. After a follow-up barrage put Mares down again, referee Jack Reiss waved the bout to an end.
4. Gennady Golovkin KO3 Nobuhiro Ishida
Yes, Ishida's career had been conducted primarily at 154 pounds, not in Golovkin's middleweight division. Yes, with the exception of his shock first-round stoppage of James Kirkland in April 2011, Ishida had lost whenever he had stepped up in class. And yes, he was on a two-fight losing streak. But even when he had come off second-best, Ishida had proven resilient and remained vertical. Not against Golovkin. After tattooing his foe with his stiff jab through two-plus rounds, Golovkin sneaked a curling right hand over Ishida's lowered guard and sent him crashing to the deck. Ishida was unconscious by the time he landed beneath the bottom rope. As with so many of Golovkin's stoppage wins, it wasn't just that the fight ended inside the distance, it was that Golovkin finished it with frighteningly emphatic finality.
T-5. Sergey Kovalev KO2 Ismayl Sillakh
Whether for reasons personal or political, or because Sillakh had been taunting him with too many "Yo mama" jokes, Russia's Kovalev seemed to possess a particular animus toward Ukraine's Sillakh, and the appropriately nicknamed "Krusher" sought to punish his foe from the opening moments of their Nov. 30 matchup. Sillakh managed largely to stay out of danger during the first round, but barely 30 seconds into Round 2, Kovalev landed a thumping right hand that deposited Sillakh on his back and scrambled his senses. As Sillakh rose to his feet and referee Marlon Wright completed his mandatory eight-count, Kovalev snarled in his corner, a chained junkyard dog. The moment action resumed, Kovalev flew toward his opponent and landed another devastating right hand that sent Sillakh down again, aided by two rapid-fire lefts. This time, Wright didn't bother to count.
T-5. Lucas Matthysse KO3 Lamont Peterson
This wasn't a fight so much as a beatdown, an aggressive puncher at the peak of his powers blowing past an overmatched foe with a shocking brutality. After a relatively quiet opening frame, Matthysse flattened Peterson with a hook in the second, reacquainted him with the canvas with another devastating hook in the third, and sent him crashing in the corner one more time in that same round to bring an end to what passed for a contest. Danny Garcia, seated ringside, would have the last laugh. Yet at that moment, Matthysse looked all but unstoppable.