By Ryan Maquiñana
It’s that time again.
The Boxing Writers Association of America has released its list of finalists for their annual awards, and before my fellow members fill out their ballots, I’m going to share with you gets my nod for each of the categories—and why.
SUGAR RAY ROBINSON AWARD (FIGHTER OF THE YEAR)
FINALISTS: Nonito Donaire, Danny Garcia, Robert Guerrero, Juan Manuel Marquez, Brian Viloria
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Donaire. In an era where elite fighters are largely inactive, he took on four reigning or former world titleholders in his first four fights at 122 pounds—and he floored all of them en route to going 4-0. Critics panned him as a one-trick pony with a left hook and nothing more, so what does he do? Knock out the top dog in the division, Toshiaki Nishioka, with his right hand. Then he set his own standard by becoming the only fighter in combat sports, much less boxing, to submit to year-round random drug testing. For those reasons, in a sport that had garnered so much negative press this year from bad decisions to PEDs, what Donaire accomplished in 2012 both in and out of the ring was nothing short of spectacular.
HONORABLE MENTION: Marquez. He only fought twice, but was methodically dominant against Serhiy Fedchenko before unceremoniously putting an end to Manny Pacquiao’s reign on the top of the sport with what should be the Knockout of the Year.
MUHAMMAD ALI-JOE FRAZIER AWARD (FIGHT OF THE YEAR)
FINALISTS: Roman Gonzalez UD12 Juan Francisco Estrada, Robert Guerrero UD12 Andre Berto, Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao, Brandon Rios TKO7 Mike Alvarado, Orlando Salido TKO10 Juan Manuel Lopez, Brian Viloria TKO10 Hernan Marquez
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Marquez-Pacquiao. I was ringside for both this fight and Rios-Alvarado, and the latter did not disappoint in terms of nonstop action. It was an incredibly brutal confrontation of attrition that tested both warriors’ limits and had everyone on their feet in anticipation until referee Pat Russell determined that Alvarado could slug no more. But I felt it was devoid of the same drama that surrounded Marquez-Pacquiao. From the despair the Pacquiao fans suffered when their hero tumbled to the canvas for the first legitimate time since coming to America 11 years ago (the Barrera I and Mosley “knockdowns” were really slips), to their collective euphoria when he recovered to deck Marquez in the fifth, the encounter was emblematic of the same ebb and flow that marked the two rivals’ first three bouts. Of course, the one-punch exclamation point from Marquez that abruptly ended it all in the sixth elicited an amalgam of painful shrieks and rapturous roars—depending on your contingent. There was a lot of that in the Rios-Alvarado fight, too, but not at this intensity, and not at this magnitude; some of the repercussions from the result include the official end of Pacquiao’s prime, Marquez’s admission into the discussion of greatest Mexican fighter of all-time, and the diminished value in a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rios-Alvarado. See above.
MARVIN KOHN GOOD GUY AWARD
FINALISTS: Don Chargin, Steve Farhood, Norm Frauenheim, Scott Ghertner, Wladimir Klitschko
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Chargin. Well into his eighties, the Hall of Fame promoter has amassed a myriad collection of allies and acquaintances all over the world in his 61 years in the business, from the late great Carmen Basilio, a lovable curmudgeon who chose to sit next to him at the annual enshrinements in Canastota, to former titleholder Tony Lopez, with whom he reconciled decades after a contract dispute almost destroyed their friendship. Known for his honesty, when Chargin learned that he had made the IBHOF, he lobbied to enter with his wife Lorraine, arguing that they operated as a team. In recent times, Chargin has continued to promote shows in Northern California and has served as a consultant for Golden Boy. In perhaps a telling sign of the respect he commands, when Oscar De La Hoya fought Mayweather five years ago in the most lucrative fight in boxing history, Golden Boy entrusted Chargin with co-promoter duties that included ensuring that Mayweather’s $20 million-plus check reached its recipient. And he never turns down anyone who wants to talk the sweet science, from the most high-profile of people to the most faceless of fans.
HONORABLE MENTION: Frauenheim. Whether he’s calmly offering young writers a helping hand on press row even in the testiest of deadlines, or going out of his way to make you cognizant of news that might be pertinent to your beat, Norm is one of the classiest people in the sport and is trusted by its movers and shakers. From his time at the Arizona Republic to Ring Magazine and currently 15rounds.com, Frauenheim has cultivated boxing fanbases both locally in the Southwest as well as on a national level.
BILL CRAWFORD AWARD (COURAGE IN OVERCOMING ADVERSITY)
FINALISTS: Alfredo Angulo, Johnathon Banks, Danny Jacobs, Peter Quillin, Paul Williams
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Jacobs. The Brooklyn native went from “The Golden Child” to “The Miracle Man” for his miraculous comeback from osteosarcoma, a form of spinal cancer. After being diagnosed with the disease in May of 2011, Jacobs went from contending for a piece of the middleweight world title to sitting in a wheelchair inflicted with paralysis. However, his indomitable spirit would not allow him to concede, and by the end of 2012, he had dramatically recovered to the point where he returned to the ring—posting two wins in three months and inspiring the boxing world to believe in the power of hope.
HONORABLE MENTION: Angulo. When visa issues not only put the Mexican junior middleweight star on the shelf, but landed him in a Southern California immigration detention center for eight months, he refused to sulk and in turn, found a cause to champion. Mired in a contentious situation without even the definitive deadline of a trial date, Angulo chose to remain in the general population in order to learn more about the issue that caused his imprisonment. Upon his release due to the efforts of a stellar legal team, he has not abandoned his cross and continues to work with his attorneys to aid the cases of those in similar predicaments. On the boxing side, "El Perro" has partnered with new trainer Virgil Hunter to go 2-0 with one stoppage and has commenced his comeback in the 154-pound division.
AL BUCK AWARD (MANAGER OF THE YEAR)
FINALISTS: Cameron Dunkin, Frank Espinoza, Gary Gittelsohn, Al Haymon, Luis Decubas Jr.
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Haymon. Based on the influence he has accrued over the premium cable networks that lord over boxing as well as his relationships with a cavernously deep stable of fighters, all of which are positive from my accounts, the music concert mogul is my choice for the award this year. Although he is known as an adviser (and some would say a de facto promoter), Haymon is actually licensed as a manager in Nevada according to the New York Times. While it’s very likely that the fact he handles Floyd Mayweather’s career affords him significant bargaining leverage, Haymon has parlayed that into several opportunities for his other clients. This year alone, Danny Garcia, Peter Quillin, Austin Trout, and Josesito Lopez challenged or secured world titles on either HBO or Showtime. And the future is even brighter for the notoriously incognito Haymon, as he also steers the careers of projected pound-for-pound talents Adrien Broner and Gary Russell Jr.
HONORABLE MENTION: Espinoza and Dunkin. If not for Haymon, the perpetually “suited and booted” Espinoza would have been my pick. Top client Abner Mares captured his second world title, as did Daniel Ponce de Leon, who shocked Jhonny Gonzalez in accomplishing the feat. In an era where managers protect their fighters to a fault, the Southern California-based stalwart has built a stable of prospects without the fear of putting them in tough. Promising junior welterweight Antonio Orozco and much-ballyhooed Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez are among the up-and-comers that Espinoza expects will make waves in 2013. Dunkin had quite a momentous year as well. Nonito Donaire appears to be the consensus pick for Fighter of the Year, Tim Bradley got the biggest payday of his career in June against Manny Pacquiao, and Brandon Rios has emerged as a potential pay-per-view star after his Fight of the Year candidate against Mike Alvarado. In addition, junior featherweight Manuel Avila was named Northern California Prospect of the Year by Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
SAM TAUB AWARD (BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR)
FINALISTS: Max Kellerman, Tony Paige, Bob Papa, Travis Pomposello, Dan Rafael
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Papa. As someone who personally worked with him this summer as part of the NBC Olympics boxing team, I saw firsthand the outstanding job he does on a daily basis, from his meticulous preparation for a 13-division competition to his ability to clearly communicate the importance of certain details to the viewer. In the midst of not only the worst finish by the American men in Olympic history, but also, the most globally derided display of judging throughout the London 2012 tournament, Papa (and broadcast partner Teddy Atlas) declined to mince words. His impassioned assessment after the most controversial decision of all—a points “win” for Azerbaijan’s Magomed Abdulhamidov despite eating the canvas six times in the final round against Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu (one that Papa called “a joke” and more)—was right between the crosshairs in its ruthless accuracy. In fact, Papa and Atlas so infuriated the AIBA with their fearless honesty that they were forced out of their ringside seats at the ExCeL London and did the gold medal bouts from the International Broadcast Center in protest. Papa’s year in boxing was not limited to the Olympics; he made a seamless transition back to the pros as a blow-by-blow announcer for HBO in addition to his duties as the radio voice of the NFL’s New York Giants.
HONORABLE MENTION: Pomposello. The EPIX senior executive of the fledgling network finished the year with scores of acclaim from both the sport’s pundits and fans alike. Though their boxing budget paled in comparison to established giants like HBO and Showtime, EPIX made quite a splash by buying a couple European-based fights that were well worth the money in Carl Froch-Lucian Bute and David Haye-Dereck Chisora.
EDDIE FUTCH AWARD (TRAINER OF THE YEAR)
FINALISTS: Nacho Beristain, Eric Brown, Robert Garcia, Ruben Guerrero, Virgil Hunter
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Garcia. The former junior lightweight titleholder has put together quite the stable, led by Donaire who went 4-0 with him in the corner this past year. Junior welterweight contender Brandon Rios shook off a subpar performance against Richard Abril with the aforementioned explosive stoppage of Alvarado, and his little brother Mikey, whom he shares training duties with their father Eduardo, is pegged as a future star as well. The resurgent duo of Kelly Pavlik and Marcos Maidana also credit Garcia for their respective renaissances, and although Hernan Marquez fell short in his title unification tilt, he gave Brian Viloria (a former Garcia fighter) all he could handle thanks to the man known as “Grandpa.”
HONORABLE MENTION: Everyone else. This was probably the toughest vote for me because you can make a strong case for any of these celebrated cornermen. Long overshadowed at the Wild Card Boxing Club, Eric Brown deservedly garnered his share of the spotlight in 2012 after guiding Paulie Malignaggi and Peter Quillin to championship gold. Virgil Hunter, last year’s winner, continues to attract top talent to Northern California for his defensive wizardry; Amir Khan and Alfredo Angulo have joined a stable that already included Andre Ward, Karim Mayfield, and Brandon Gonzales. Also hailing from Hunter’s region, Ruben Guerrero is no longer the guild’s best-kept secret for his masterful work with his son Robert. Beristain finally got the best of Freddie Roach as Marquez scored his first official win over Pacquiao.
JOHN F. X. CONDON AWARD (LONG AND MERITORIOUS SERVICE)
FINALISTS: Bob Canobbio, Lou DiBella, Kathy Duva, Steve Smoger, Bruce Trampler
WHO I’M VOTING FOR: Trampler. Any discussion regarding the best matchmakers of all-time has to involve the Ohio University graduate, who once plied his trade in 1977 under the tutelage of the legendary Teddy Brenner of Madison Square Garden. A former amateur boxer who has also managed fighters and worked their corners, Trampler has seen and done it all. Known for his keen ability to evaluate talent, the Hall of Famer has helped build fighters from the root to the fruit; among his masterpieces at Top Rank include his instrumental role in developing the careers of Oscar De La Hoya, Erik Morales, Floyd Mayweather, the comeback of George Foreman, and his latest Picasso yet—Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s transformation into a viable middleweight contender.
HONORABLE MENTION: Duva. The Main Events CEO may have taken the helm of the New Jersey-based company in 1996 after her husband Dan passed away, but the Seton Hall Law School graduate has been around the sport much longer than that, having started as a publicist and working her way up the ladder. Any organization reflects its leader, and no one can question Duva’s grit, as she has beaten breast cancer twice and is among the most unflappable negotiators in the business. In recent years, she has been able to fill the void left by the retirement and tragic death of longtime franchise face Arturo Gatti, resurrecting the career of Zab Judah while turning scrappers like Tomasz Adamek into ticket-sellers on the Eastern seaboard. Duva’s reputation was further bolstered by NBC’s agreement to bring her brand back to network television last month, and Main Events is now flourishing once again under her control. If she doesn’t win this year, she’ll definitely get my vote in 2013.
NOT A BWAA AWARD BUT WORTH THE RECOGNITION
BREAKTHROUGH FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Robert Guerrero. Can you hear him now? For all of Guerrero’s detractors who grew tired of his calling out the elite fighters of the sport, “The Ghost” delivered in 2012. In a matter of 12 months, the Gilroy, Calif., native has gone from the most avoided lightweight in the world, to tearing the rotator cuff in his left shoulder before his junior welterweight debut, to a pair of wins over top 10 welterweights and ultimately what appears to be the shot of a lifetime against Floyd Mayweather. And he’s earned it. Following his decisive points victory over the unbeaten, cement-fisted Selcuk Aydin, Guerrero surprised the boxing world by playing the role of swashbuckling aggressor against a faster, two-time beltholder in Andre Berto.
HONORABLE MENTION: Adrien Broner. No one from 130 through 135 pounds has yet to find an answer to “The Problem,” and the pride of Cincinnati has excited ringside fans and HBO executives alike with his flamboyant displays before, during, and after bouts. The idea that many have already talked about fantasy fights involving Broner and his hairbrush against the big names at 140 and 147 is indicative of his limitless potential. When questions still lingered regarding the quality of opposition (or in Vicente Escobedo’s case, Broner’s professionalism) during his first title run, the explosive boxer-puncher showed that the hype was warranted with a wipeout of the highly regarded Antonio DeMarco in November.
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.