by David P. Greisman
Boxing was dead, they said. It needed a miracle, one fight to save it all. It needed Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, boxing’s biggest draw against its best talent.
De La Hoya-Mayweather drew the biggest ever audience, an estimated 2.4 million pay-per-view buys eclipsing any of the previous lucrative extravaganzas involving Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson or the “Golden Boy” himself. The considerable hype didn’t translate into astonishing in-ring action, but then again, what did it matter? Boxing didn’t need saving anyway.
Boxing wasn’t dead. And 2007 was one of those exceptional years that, upon examination, would silence the naysayers.
There were the slugouts, from the briefer barrages to the sustained slobberknockers. Five rocking rounds with Michael Katsidis and Graham Earl. Six and seven sensational stanzas in a pair of bouts with Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez. Eight heats of power punches flying between Sakio Bika and Jaidon Codrington. A dandy distance fight with Takefumi Sakata and Roberto Vazquez.
There were the sellouts. De La Hoya-Mayweather. Miguel Cotto’s fights in his native Puerto Rico and his adopted home arena of Madison Square Garden in New York City. The British invasion in Las Vegas for Ricky Hatton’s challenge of Mayweather. The thousands of Youngstown faithful who flocked to Atlantic City in support of Kelly Pavlik.
There were the breakouts. Andre Berto progressed beyond prospect status and into welterweight contention. Victor Ortiz showed himself to be a potential player in the 140-pound division. Alexander Povetkin, just 14 fights into his career, is one step away from challenging for a heavyweight title.
And there were the outbound, the popular pugilists who appeared, willingly or otherwise, in their swan songs: Marco Antonio Barrera, Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti, Erik Morales and Fernando Vargas.
Boxing wasn’t dead. It thrived in 2007, and early indications are that the momentum will carry into next year.
But before 2008 can begin, we must bring 2007 to its proper end. Without further delay, this year’s Fighting Awards:
The “George Mitchell Award,” for positive drug tests: to Danny Batchelder, Mariano Carrera, Joey Gilbert, Will Grigsby and James Toney.
The “‘I’m not here to talk about the past’ Award,” for implication in a steroids probe: to Evander Holyfield, Jameel McCline and Shane Mosley.
The “Dwayne Johnson Award,” for best reason to say “Why, Rocky, why?”: to Sylvester Stallone, who pleaded guilty to importing at least 48 vials of Jintropin, a brand of human growth hormone, into Sydney, Australia, according to the Australian Associated Press.
The “Err Jordan Award,” for best mistake involving footwear: to Tony Thompson, who couldn’t find his high-tops prior to his February heavyweight clash against Timor Ibragimov and was luckily able to fit his size-15 feet into size-14 tennis shoes borrowed from a television producer.
The “Stars and Starbucks Award,” for best confusion of a celebrity with coffee: to Max Alexander, the third-season “Contender” contestant who watched a confrontation in which fellow super middleweight Jaidon Codrington taunted Brian Vera by repeatedly saying “You can’t beat me.” Alexander’s take on Codrington? “This guy is Al Cappuccino.”
The “‘A little more than kin and less than kind’ Award,” for Hamlet-like revenge: to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who took out Grover Wiley, the last man to defeat his legendary namesake. Chavez used his father’s patented left hook to the body to put the Midwestern journeyman on the canvas three times. Chavez Sr. had retired on his stool against Wiley in September 2005, quitting with a broken hand in what would be his final appearance.
The “Bart Gunn Award,” for best professional wrestler doing an imitation of a boxer: to Matt Hardy, who battled Evander Holyfield in a worked (scripted) boxing match. Holyfield dominated the first two-minute round, sending out extremely pulled combinations that sent Hardy to the canvas thrice and left him reeling. Hardy made it out of his corner for the next stanza but was clearly out on his feet, causing Holyfield to express concern. Hardy’s rival, “MVP” Montel Vontavious Porter, came into the ring and urged Holyfield to finish Hardy off, but Holyfield instead decked MVP.
The “Pacman Jones Award,” for best professional athlete doing an imitation of a wrestler: to Daiki Kameda, who Japan’s boxing commission suspended for one year following his conduct in his October unanimous decision loss to flyweight champion Daisuke Naito. Kameda was docked three points for intentional fouls in the final stanza, penalties for tackling Naito and then, after referee Vic Drakulich called for the initial deduction, picking Naito up and dropping him onto the canvas.
The “MM-Oy Award,” for headshaking attempts at mixed martial arts: a tie, between Ray Mercer, who lost via submission to street fighter Kimbo Slice just 70 seconds into the first round, and Tommy Morrison, who fought in a bout where ground combat, knees, elbows and kicks were not allowed.
The “Trimspa, baby! Award, ” for boxers who could’ve used some extra help making weight: to Luis Bolano, Alex DeJesus, Nelson Estupian, Jorge Marquez, Rocky Montoya, Lorenzo Parra, Robbie Peden, Ignacio Rivera and Jose Salazar.
The “Broken Hip-Hop Award,” for best combination of old age and new culture: to Larry Merchant, the septuagenarian commentator who, on an HBO doubleheader in May, made a reference to crunk music.
The “I Can’t Take You Anywhere Award,” for questionable public behavior: to Bernard Hopkins, who made two press conferences memorable for all the wrong reasons. First, the stare down that followed Hopkins and Winky Wright weighing in for their July pay-per-view fight. Trash talking is expected, but Hopkins put his hand to Wright’s face and shoved him. Then in December, at a press conference in the days before Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Ricky Hatton, Hopkins taunted prospective opponent Joe Calzaghe with “I’ll never let a white boy beat me.”
The “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo Award,” for biggest waste of two hours: to the April 13 episode of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” which consisted of less than one round of live boxing. First, a rainstorm delayed the card. Then in the main event, Zab Judah opened up a bad cut on Ruben Galvan’s scalp with an accidental elbow, causing the bout to be stopped and ruled a no contest.
The Boxer Behaving Most Badly: This year’s nominees include more than 30 fighters whose alleged transgressions disgraced this column space. They are male and female; prospects, contenders and former champions; amateurs and professionals; active and retired. But the best of the worst were Charles Mailula and Vicente Mosquera. Mailula, a junior featherweight who captured the South African title in 1999, was sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 shooting death of his girlfriend, according to South African boxing reporter Ron Jackson. Mosquera, a former junior lightweight titlist, was indicted for allegedly shooting and killing a man in a Sept. 3, 2006, incident at the Panamanian beach resort of Puerto Caimito, according a report carried by the Xinhua News Agency.
A Boxing Journalist Behaving Badly: Jim Lampley, who pleaded no contest in February to a misdemeanor charge of violating a restraining order and was then ordered to stay away from ex-girlfriend Candice Sanders. His offenses pale in comparison to those allegedly committed by last year’s winner, Dale S. Hausner, a photojournalist who was arrested in 2006 and charged as one of two men suspected of being connected with a 15-month shooting spree in Phoenix.
A Boxing Executive Behaving Badly: Chris Albrecht, the now-former HBO chief who resigned in May after pleading no contest to a charge of misdemeanor battery stemming from an incident in which he allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the throat in the hours following the De La Hoya-Mayweather bout, using enough force that he left red marks on her neck. Albrecht had at least one prior incident of domestic violence, according to the Los Angeles Times: Sixteen years ago, HBO had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a former employee and ex-girlfriend of Albrecht’s who had accused her boss-slash-boyfriend of shoving and choking her.
Overzealous Publicist of the Year: Mario Serrano, bless his heart, who is only doing everything he can for his fighters. That not only includes sending out press releases whenever there is news about his clients, but also whenever a news outlet covers his clients, too. Since June, Serrano has sent out at least 27 press releases for middleweight prospect Miguel Espino, and at least 24 press releases for featherweight titlist Robert Guerrero. Since June, Espino has fought three times, Guerrero once.
Upset of the Year: Nonito Donaire TKO5 Vic Darchinyan. Donaire’s lone loss had come in his second professional outing, but little on his ledger indicated that “The Filipino Flash” would zap “The Raging Bull.” Donaire needed just a single counter left hook to end Darchinyan’s 30-month reign as a flyweight titlist, ending all plans to match Darchinyan with either Jorge Arce or then-lineal 112-pound champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
Near-Upset of the Year: Kermit Cintron scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jesse Feliciano, but the combination of a Cintron hand injury and Feliciano’s ability to pressure unrelentingly while taking an inhuman amount of punishment, made Cintron’s voluntary welterweight title defense far more difficult than expected.
Worst Decision(s) of the Year: Not only did executives think an aging, inactive Joel Casamayor defending his lightweight championship against Jose Armando Santa Cruz would make good fodder for a pay-per-view undercard, but then the judges apparently favored Casamayor’s clinching over Santa Cruz’s punching. Frank Lombardi and Ron McNair saw the fight 114-113 for Casamayor, meaning they gave him an astonishing seven rounds (Casamayor hit the mat from a flash knockdown in the first heat). Tony Paolillo favored Santa Cruz, albeit by a narrow margin of 114-113.
Knockout of the Year: Darnell Wilson KO11 Emmanuel Nwodo. There were numerous highlight-reel-worthy knockouts in 2008, but only one was a single punch that recalled the devastating high kick that mixed-martial-artist Gabriel Gonzaga unleashed in April on Mirko Cro Cop. This punch came on a June episode of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” featuring a main event of cruiserweights Wilson and Nwodo. Wilson had put Nwodo in survival mode in the preceding round, hurting him again in the 11th and leading him to literally turn and run. Wilson eventually caught up to Nwodo, ending the bout with an explosive left hook that knocked Nwodo unconscious, down and backwards on top of his left leg.
Not-Quite-A-Knockout of the Year: A tie, between Nicolay Valuev’s win over Jameel McCline in January and the victory Julio Diaz scored over Jesus Chavez in February. In both cases, the losing fighters were unable to continue due to leg injuries. In the case of McCline, the longtime heavyweight contender missed with a right hand and collapsed onto the canvas with what was diagnosed as a tear of the patella tendon. In the case of Chavez, the then-lightweight beltholder took a step back and had his right leg give out.
Fight of the Year: Israel Vazquez TKO6 Rafael Marquez. For the second straight year the junior featherweights came through, and Vazquez and Marquez did so twice, at that. Marquez triumphed over Vazquez in their first go-around, winning when Vazquez retired in his corner due to a nose injury that was inhibiting his breathing. By calling it a night in March, Vazquez was able to return at full strength five months later, overcoming another furious Marquez onslaught to win by what many believed was an early sixth-round stoppage. Marquez rightly questioned the referee’s decision, but it may have saved him from punishment that could have postponed this March’s expected rubber match, a trilogy capper that is already an early candidate to be in this spot next year.
Prospect of the Year: Victor Ortiz. The 20-year-old junior welterweight is already being brought up as a possible challenger to 140-pound beltholder Ricardo Torres. Ortiz’s 2007 campaign began with a technical draw after a Marvin Cordova elbow tore a nasty lump of flesh out of his scalp. But by the second half of the year, Ortiz had stopped divisional measuring stick Emmanuel Clottey and made short work of former titlist Carlos Maussa.
Fighter of the Year: Kelly Pavlik. Other fighters who also had excellent years: Miguel Cotto, Juan Diaz and Floyd Mayweather. Pavlik, however, started 2007 as a prospect and ended it as the undisputed middleweight champion. All three of his wins came when the Youngstown native knocked his opponents unconscious. In the process, he dispatched of fringe contender Jose Luis Zertuche, touted challenger Edison Miranda and 160-pound king Jermain Taylor. After a stellar 12 months, Pavlik will enter 2008 readying for a February rematch against Taylor and numerous other potential matches on the horizon.
R.I.P.: Kemal Kolenovic (December 2006), Yvon Durelle, Hassan Hadi, Johnny Williams, Theo Mthembu, Rachman Kili-Kili, Nestor Jimenez, Anis Mulya, James Steward, Lito Sisnorio, Deeden Kengkaroon, Diego Corrales, Hugo Corro, Israel Crespo, Jackson Bussell, Hank Kaplan and any other boxers and boxing journalists who died in 2007.
The 10 Count will return next year.
David P. Greisman’s weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at email@example.com