The BWAA first presented the trophy in 1938. The original purpose of the trophy was to recognize "an individual who did the most for boxing in the previous year."
The ** mark indicates the boxer was not active in the year he actually won the award. Over time, the award went strictly to the best fighter of each year as decided by the BWAA. The members of the BWAA vote to decide the best boxer each year regardless of weight class or nationality.
The award was previously named for Edward J. Neil, an Associated Press sportswriter and war correspondent who was killed in 1938 while reporting on the Spanish Civil War. The 2009 award was renamed after boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson. The "Fighter of the Year" award is presented with other honors given by the BWAA at an annual awards dinner.
Starting with the 1990s, the BWAA also began to give an award for "Fighter of the Decade." The winners of this award are listed at the end of each decade along with the "Fighter of the Year" winners.