By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Welcome back, my Tuesday friends, to the show that never ends.
I’m so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside.
With last-day-of-the-year kudos to Emerson, Lake and Palmer – whose lyrics I’ve unapologetically co-opted to begin this week’s piece – I thank you for arriving to this, the annual crystal ball forecast column for the year that’s about to get under way.
As last week’s installment showed, looking forward 12 months in boxing is, at best, an inexact science.
Unlike football, baseball or their collective ilk, there are no master schedules from which to pluck events to predict. And even if I was prescient enough to know now which fights would be made between which guys, say, next October, there’s always a chance that three people sitting on the ring’s perimeter would pound my forecasting into dust with their definition of what constitutes a “boxing lesson.”
But those are excuses and gripes for another day. Today is a day of forward thinking, and, with that, here are the advance story recaps that other boxing scribes will be writing about 12 months from now.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: Victor Ortiz
He’s got a ways to go before he reaches the number of final write-offs and sudden returns of fellow 140-147 pound veteran Zab Judah, but “Vicious Vic’s” 2014 nonetheless featured his second rally from what many had prematurely determined was a career-ending defeat.
Last seen retiring in his corner thanks to a broken jaw inflicted by behind-on-the-scorecards foe Josesito Lopez in June 2012, Ortiz spent his time away both healing and rebuilding his brand, as evidenced by a multi-week stay on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars competition.
He reappeared with a workmanlike 10-round pounding of faded ex-welterweight claimant Luis Collazo and got back into the title-bearing fraternity with a defeat of Carlos Molina on Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s Showtime PPV undercard in September. Thanks to that win, he’s got a 2015 PPV date of his own on the horizon with another of “Money’s” past victims, Canelo Alvarez.
UPSET OF THE YEAR: Timothy Bradley-Manny Pacquiao II
Though the result was the same in terms of whose hand was ultimately raised, far more people – fans, media and moderately interested passers-by – were convinced that this time the official verdict actually corresponded to what went on in the ring.
A 3-to-1 ‘dog when the two met in 2012, Bradley raised his welterweight street cred in the interim with defeats of Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez, while the Filipino was KO’d by the latter and didn’t fight for 11 months before returning for a glorified heavy bag session with Brandon Rios.
Faced with Pacquiao a second time in March, the man billed as “Desert Storm” showed the same skills that befuddled Marquez in their match, using quick feet to keep Manny out of sync and handling the former seven-division champion’s best punches with aplomb en route to three scores of 116-112.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos Maidana
The rugged Argentine reached the Mayweather radar thanks to his surprise whipping of wannabe “Money” man Adrien Broner, but by the time his September audience with the consensus pound-for-pound elitist was through in Las Vegas, he might have wished he’d remained anonymous.
Unlike Broner, who was clearly rattled by Maidana’s aggression and punching prowess, Mayweather emerged from the first handful of rounds with a scrape under his right eye – thanks to persistent rough stuff on the inside – but with no significant damage inflicted on his jaw.
His precision became the rule of the day as the fight evolved, and the left hook/straight right pairing that dropped a bloody Maidana for the 10-count in round 10 was at least somewhat reminiscent of the same combo Mayweather had used to finish an unsuspecting Victor Ortiz three years earlier.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR: Abner Mares-Jhonny Gonzalez II
The first one had the makings of a slugfest going in. But rather than a fight of the year, that Aug. 24 encounter in Carson, Calif. instead turned into an upset of the year candidate courtesy of a precisely placed left hook that cracked the right side of Mares’ previously unconquered jaw.
The second go-round in L.A. possessed additional intrigue thanks to the first result and it delivered belatedly on the initial excitement promise with multiple rounds of intense action before Mares – who was again dropped, but this time able to continue – gradually began landing his own impactful shots.
The unyielding body work in the early rounds paid dividends by incrementally removing the starch from the older man’s punches and leaving him a stationary and defenseless target by the time it was waved off at 2:12 of the 10th round.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
He was last honored by the BWAA in 2007. A few, including my former TigerBoxing.com colleague Kevin Iole, insisted he was the obvious choice for 2013’s award. But by the time 2014 had ground to a close, few had credible arguments that Mayweather hadn’t had the year’s best year.
Back on the two-fight schedule that he’d returned to in 2013, Mayweather opened with a 12-round defeat of game Englishman Amir Khan in a May bout far more competitive and compelling than many anticipated, ultimately winning by scores of 116-111, 116-111 and 115-112 on the official cards.
The award was cemented in his nightcap performance four months later, however, when he dispatched WBA champion Marcos Maidana in the 10th round of a bout that provided him his first non-controversial stoppage since a demolition of Ricky Hatton – also in 10 rounds – in 2007.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA super featherweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Takashi Uchiyama (champion) vs. Daiki Kaneko (No. 4 contender)
Uchiyama (20-0-1, 17 KO): Eighth title defense; Ten straight victories by stoppage
Kaneko (19-2-3, 12 KO): First title fight; Seven straight victories by stoppage
Fitzbitz says: “Kaneko has built himself a moderately impressive resume as a regional champ, but he’s in a few levels against his class with Uchiyama, who’s legitimately one of the world’s best.” Uchiyama in 6
WBC super featherweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Takashi Miura (champion) vs. Dante Jardon (No. 2 contender)
Miura (26-2-2, 19 KO): Second title defense; Lost WBA title shot in 2011
Jardon (24-3, 20 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Mexico
Fitzbitz says: “Miura failed in a grab for a higher rung on the 130-pound ladder two years ago, but he’s settled in for some success on his tier and that should continue uneventfully here.” Miura by decision
IBF junior lightweight title – Minneapolis, Minn.
Argenis Mendez (champion) vs. Rances Barthelemy (No. 1 contender)
Mendez (21-2-1, 11 KO): Second title defense; Fighting in ninth U.S. state (15-1 in U.S. fights)
Barthelemy (19-0, 12 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in scheduled 12-round fights (2-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Mendez is one of the early-stage prize ponies in the Iron Mike stable, but the unbeaten Cuban has a higher ceiling and should make it apparent in his initial title try.” Barthelemy by decision
Last week’s picks: None
2013 picks record: 83-42 (66.4 percent)
Overall picks record: 546-194 (73.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.