By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Some weeks are easy. And some weeks are far harder.
Welcome, this week, to one that’s decidedly of the latter flavor.
Now that the calendar year has flipped past the halfway point and into July, it’s time take to take the annual mid-year look at how far off I was when making my annual pre-year predictions six months ago.
As it turns out, for 2014 I was way, waaaaaaaaaaay off.
And while I’m somewhat comforted in knowing that many of my colleagues – especially those of the self-labeled “expert” variety – are no more accurate in January than the common house plant, it still hurts a little bit to go back to my own January picks and realize I’m about as on target as fertilizer, too.
Nonetheless, we’ll press on with the recap.
The subsequent paragraphs will break down each of my pre-2014 picks by category, then re-label each category with the winner I would choose now that half the year has indeed unfolded.
Get it? If so, on we go.
If not, well… don’t worry, you’ll probably catch on eventually.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
January prediction: Victor Ortiz
July reality: Miguel Cotto
We might as well start out with the ugliest one first, no?
Thanks in part to the confidence shown in him by Showtime and after his return to mainstream recognition with a several-week stint on Dancing With the Stars, I was clearly among those who believed Victor Ortiz would regain past ring status – starting with a downing of Luis Collazo and followed by a would-be title win over Carlos Molina.
Collazo clearly had other ideas. The Bronx-bred Puerto Rican’s two-round blitz of the former welterweight champ not only foiled my pick, but took Ortiz not only off the list of fighters in line for a Mayweather fight before Floyd Jr. retires, and probably ended his career as a top-shelf draw.
In his place as a half-year pick steps Cotto, who seemed out of his element upon challenging Sergio Martinez for the middleweight belt, but instead turned in the most impressive performance of his long career in his first big turn under the guidance of Freddie Roach.
UPSET OF THE YEAR
January prediction: Timothy Bradley-Manny Pacquiao II
July reality: Chris Algieri SD 12 Ruslan Provodnikov
I won’t apologize for this one, but I still wish I’d have gotten it right.
A streaking Bradley seemed on the verge of truly great things after a gutty downing of Ruslan Provodnikov and a clinical dismantling of Juan Manuel Marquez last year, so there was no hesitation here in thinking he could foil his former Filipino rival with the same tactics that bedeviled Marquez.
Didn’t happen. Instead, Manny was a lot closer to being Manny than we’d seen in many moons, and Bradley – whether due to another lower-body injury or simply because he wasn’t good enough – failed to live up to the standard he’d promised during a chatty run-up to April’s rematch.
Doesn’t matter, though, because seeing Algieri just surviving 11 more rounds with Provodnikov after a hellacious first three minutes was upset enough. And when he actually got the split decision and the Russian’s WBO 140-pound title, he guaranteed this category as a done deal for the rest of the year.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
January prediction: Floyd Mayweather Jr. KO 10 Marcos Maidana
July reality: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves
Stay tuned in September, because the KO forecasted for the first run-through of “The Moment” might still happen when May and Mai get together again this September.
Now that he’s seen Maidana’s reckless approach first hand and taken most of what the rugged Argentine has to offer, the stage seems set for “Money” to play a little more defense, pick his spots a little more on offense and do a clinical number on a guy more comfortable with slugging than science.
But when it comes to the first half of the year that’s already gone, no stoppage beats that which was delivered by a motivated Froch in his second go-round with a less-accomplished, but more mouthy challenger before 80,000 strong in Wembley Stadium.
Froch was already establishing himself after another strong Groves start, but the right hand shot that he described as “the best punch I’ve thrown in my life” was enough to drop the challenger flat on his back, end the fight suddenly and lock this category up… at least for the first six months.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
January prediction: Abner Mares-Jhonny Gonzalez II
July reality: Terence Crawford-Yuriorkis Gamboa
Timing is everything… or, in this case, nothing.
The grizzled Gonzalez had earned most people’s Upset and/or KO of the year tags in 2013 with his quick surprise over Mares in their initial featherweight title match last August, and the would-be sequel was eagerly anticipated as one of 2014’s early-year slugfests.
It was initially scrubbed by a Mares rib injury, though, and ultimately written off entirely as Gonzalez chose to defend his belt against another fighter in May and Mares’ comeback was further delayed until this weekend, when he’ll finally reemerge on the Alvarez-Lara undercard in Las Vegas.
Conveniently, the fight that we’ll be recalling at year-end awards time occurred last weekend in Omaha when Crawford announced his star status with a stirring defeat of a still-viable Gamboa. Crawford will rise to 140 in the aftermath while his rival shrinks to 130, but they made their 27 minutes in the same division completely worthwhile.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
January prediction: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
July reality: Miguel Cotto
I didn’t think he deserved it last year, but enough of my BWAA colleagues disagreed and Mayweather was celebrated as the best of 2013. This year, powered by what I envisioned as a KO of Maidana and a competitive defeat of Amir Khan, I thought the 37-year-old would have done enough to warrant a repeat commendation.
Maybe, but not quite. The first run with Maidana was a win, but not a great one, and the eventual showdown with Khan will have to wait until next May (beat the rush, book your London flights now) thanks to the Englishman’s strict adherence to his religious beliefs.
To me, at least, what’ll wind up as two defeats of Maidana isn’t enough to earn the hardware.
What has already been enough, though, is the resurrection act Cotto pulled in front of a jam-packed Madison Square Garden house last month. Regardless of who he picks as a first title defense, presuming it ends in a win, that first outing of the year trumps anything that anyone else has done or is likely to do before this year becomes next.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior lightweight title – Miami, Fla.
Argenis Mendez (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Rances Barthelemy (No. 1 contender/Unranked IWBR)
Mendez (21-2-1, 11 KO): Third title defense; Winless since winning title (0-0-1, 1 no-contest)
Barthelemy (19-0, 12 KO): Second title fight (0-0, 1 no-contest); Win in first fight changed to no-contest
Fitzbitz says: Mendez was able to keep his title thanks to video replay, but what the legal six minutes showed is that Barthelemy had things all his way. Unless than changes, he’ll repeat. Barthelemy in 8
WBO bantamweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Tomoki Kameda (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Pungluang Sor Singyu (No. 1 contender/No. 11 IWBR)
Kameda (29-0, 18 KO): Second title defense; First fight in the United States
Sor Singyu (46-2, 31 KO): Third title fight (1-1); Held WBO title (2012-13, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: The 22-year-old Kameda beat the man who beat the man, so, when it comes to these two at least, that makes him the man. Showtime is mining for action and this will deliver. Kameda by decision
Last week's picks: 0-0
2014 picks record: 47-12 (79.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 594-206 (74.2 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.