by David P. Greisman
In the grand scheme, the annual Fighter of the Year awards are an honor, but they are otherwise not as important as we might think.
That’s because a fighter’s legacy is judged for how he performs beyond predefined 365-day stretches. He is judged for winning and losing streaks, for title reigns and for significant victories and defeats. There are no seasons in boxing, and so a boxer need not judge himself by how one calendar year’s worth of work compares to his accomplishments in another, or whether his 2014 was better or worse than another fighter’s. His goals are title shots and television spots, to come out on top and to get paid well while doing so.
But as with many things in boxing, pondering who should be the Fighter of the Year can make for a fun debate. And as with several recent years, that debate can be a frustrating one.
That’s because this hasn’t been the kind of year in which one or many fighters put together awe-inspiring campaigns. Once again, a remarkable number of big-name fighters are expected to step into the ring only twice in the course of this calendar year. Often times, only one of a boxer’s wins will be a big one, with the other will come over a lower-level opponent.
Then again, sometimes that one big win is enough — and we’ll have more on that later when we talk about this year. In 2012, The Ring magazine picked Juan Manuel Marquez on the strength of his one-punch knockout over Manny Pacquiao; a decision over Serhiy Fedchenko earlier in the year likely didn’t factor in. (Nonito Donaire, who went 4-0 in 2012, picked up the award from the Boxing Writers Association of America.)
Andre Ward won Fighter of the Year in 2011 thanks to his victories over Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch in the semifinal and final, respectively, of the “Super Six” tournament. Sergio Martinez picked up the award in 2010 following his middleweight championship win over Kelly Pavlik and his highlight-reel knockout of Paul Williams.
The remainder of the schedule for 2014 is still to shake out. That will dictate how the debate goes. Here’s where things stand for now:
The strange thing about Fighter of the Year voting is that we don’t give much credit if a heavy favorite beats his challenger, yet we reward the underdog who upsets a star.
That means that Wladimir Klitschko, for example, won’t be Fighter of the Year if he beats Kubrat Pulev in September. Klitschko’s other win in 2014 came over the completely outmatched Alex Leapai. Pulev, meanwhile, has only beaten a 20-23 opponent named Ivica Perkovic this year. Yet a win over the heavyweight champion would launch Pulev into consideration.
Ditto for Marcos Maidana if he wins the rematch with Floyd Mayweather a week later on Sept. 13. Mayweather wouldn’t get anywhere near as much credit for topping Maidana twice.
Then again, Mayweather received honors from the BWAA last year thanks to his wins over Robert Guerrero and Canelo Alvarez. The Ring magazine opted for Adonis Stevenson, who won the light heavyweight championship with a one-punch stoppage of Chad Dawson and then went on to defend it against Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew, going 4-0 in 2013.
Stevenson’s out of the running for 2014. He struggled at times in his win over Andrzej Fonfara earlier this year, and the lack of a unification bout against either Sergey Kovalev or Bernard Hopkins doesn’t help his cause.
Kovalev’s first two wins of 2014 came against guys who never belonged in the ring with him: Cedric Agnew, whose movement allowed him to last seven rounds, and Blake Caparello, who didn’t even make it past two. If Kovalev beats Hopkins this fall, though, that at least could put him in the conversation so long as the rest of the pack hasn’t done too much more of significance.
Hopkins gets weighted grading thanks to being 49 years old. Victories over the limited Beibut Shumenov in April in a unification bout followed by another vintage performance against Kovalev could get B-Hop his second “Fighter of the Year” award, adding on to the honors he got after becoming the undisputed middleweight champion in 2001.
Carl Froch had a good win back in May with his knockout of George Groves. He needs another significant victory in 2014 to enter the discussion. Alas, there may not be an opponent available at super middleweight who could make that possible, particularly given that 168-pound champ Andre Ward remains on the shelf thanks to his legal battles with promoter Dan Goossen.
At middleweight, some may discount Miguel Cotto’s demolition of now-former champion Sergio Martinez, particularly as they felt Martinez lost thanks in large part to lingering damage from his past knee and hand injuries. I think Cotto concussed Martinez with one of the first hard left hooks that landed, contributing tremendously to how stiff and out of sorts Martinez appeared for the remainder of the bout. If Cotto gets another big win, then add him to the list of candidates.
Gennady Golovkin, the 160-pound titleholder and knockout artist, won’t make it on the list on the basis of his beat-down of Osumanu Adama and his ridiculous technical knockout of former titleholder Daniel Geale. Golovkin won’t be getting Cotto or Canelo Alvarez in the ring in 2014, nor does it seem likely that “GGG” will be going up to 168 just yet to face a top name there.
Speaking of Alvarez, his drubbing of Alfredo Angulo in March and his close points win over Erislandy Lara in July have him 2-0 for 2014 and have put him in position for another pay-per-view main event to end the year. Unless his next opponent is of a certain level, Alvarez won’t be a candidate for Fighter of the Year. He may end up earning a huge fight in 2015, though, be it a bout with Cotto or a rematch with Mayweather.
Chris Algieri will be a leading candidate if he goes on to beat Manny Pacquiao in November, adding Pacquiao’s pelt in a year that also saw Algieri take a decision over fellow prospect Emanuel Taylor and then win a world title in a very close bout with Ruslan Provodnikov.
Pacquiao had a good win in April when he won his rematch with Tim Bradley, but he may end up being judged, perhaps unfairly, on his past performances. The win over Bradley wasn’t the kind of destruction we saw Pacquiao unleash in the three years when he was the BWAA Fighter of the Year. And if he beats Algieri, it will be an expected victory.
Lamont Peterson is hoping to get 140-pound champion Danny Garcia in the ring. While Peterson’s victories this year over Dierry Jean and Edgar Santana aren’t noteworthy, a win over Garcia would be.
Down at lightweight, Terence Crawford has had a good year, though not necessarily a “Fighter of the Year” caliber run. He beat Ricky Burns earlier this year to win a world title, defended it against Yuriorkis Gamboa in a stellar fight, and will wrap up his 2014 against the gritty Ray Beltran.
One dark horse to consider is Vasyl Lomachenko, who challenged for a world title shot in just his second pro fight — his eighth, if you include the stint he had in the World Series of Boxing — losing a competitive bout to the overweight and dirty Orlando Salido back in March. Lomachenko went on to beat fellow 126-pound contender Gary Russell Jr., and now could end up facing a fellow featherweight titleholder. If he ends up meeting and beating, say, a Nonito Donaire, Evgeny Gradovich or Nicholas Walters, then Lomachenko could be a fringe candidate.
Finally, some advice to keep in mind in general — don’t forget about the little guys.
Given that so many of them fight outside of the United States, it’s likely that they won’t merit consideration from many American writers.
Giovani Segura will challenge unified flyweight titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada on Sept. 6. Segura’s only other win in 2014 was over the 19-5-1 Felipe Salguero, but a victory over Estrada would be big.
Even bigger, though, is the bout that takes place the day before between lineal 112-pound champion Akira Yaegashi and power-punching former 105- and 108-pound titleholder Roman Gonzalez. Neither has another win of significance from their action earlier in the year, though they may not need one.
So much is still to be determined, and so much will be dependent on whom these guys face — and, of course, whether they win.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]