By Lyle Fitzsimmons
The news that pound-for-pound elitist Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be spending three months behind bars – deservedly so, by the way – didn’t exactly get 2012 off to an ideal boxing start.
After all, when his plea deal mandated lock-up on Jan. 6, any fleeting hopes that the early May date he’d reserved in Vegas would result in a showdown with Manny Pacquiao went up in litigious smoke.
But while many are already writing off the year as another in which the sport’s most anticipated and potentially lucrative superfight didn’t happen… I’m not willing to throw in the towel just yet.
For May? Yes, indeed.
But forever? No way.
In fact, count me among those who not only believe Mayweather will be out of jail by Easter, but expect him to be in the ring – albeit against a less-ominous, non-Filipino foe – at the MGM Grand come May 5.
And once he dispatches a Peter McNeely-type springtime stand-in, sign me up for Valhalla in the fall.
The match between the world’s two best fighters will be the $75 pay-per-view cherry on what should be another solid in-ring year – replete with big performances from rising superstars, main-stage veterans and heretofore unknown quantities that’ll make the most of long-awaited opportunities.
For an advance look at who’ll cop year-end hardware 12 months from now, read on as we open the envelope for 2012’s FitzHitz and Misses.
And the winners are…
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR – Amir Khan
Though his December 2011 loss to Lamont Peterson was seen by many eyes as dubious, it nonetheless did relieve the classy Brit of his 140-pound titles and at least temporarily stunted his growth as a rapidly rising commodity on credible P4P lists.
The fall didn’t last long, however, as Khan secured the immediate rematch and regained his belts from Peterson in April, then signed off on the long-delayed unification with Timothy Bradley before taking the Californian apart over 12 intermittently violent rounds in September.
EVENT OF THE YEAR – Pacquiao-Mayweather contract signing
It’d been a sometimes imminent, sometimes impossible scenario since shortly after Pacquiao took his stratospheric leap with a stunningly one-sided stoppage of Oscar de la Hoya more than three years earlier, but once Mayweather emerged from jail unscathed – it became inevitable.
The two met face to face in the ring after Mayweather’s comeback win, did the requisite back-and-forth chirping at the post-fight presser and finally put pen to paper within two weeks for an early December get-together on the strip in Las Vegas.
UPSET OF THE YEAR – Molina W 12 Alvarez
Unbeaten for five years and unknown for most of that time, “King” Carlos burst onto the scene with a surprise whitewashing of Kermit Cintron in suburban Los Angeles in July and continued upsetting apple carts when he outfoxed James Kirkland in January.
The latter propelled him directly into a first career title fight, which he translated into a year-long stunner with a one-sided decision over the previously unscathed and largely unchallenged Saul Alvarez before a slack-jawed “Canelo” fan base.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR – V. Klitschko KO 3 Haye
He chirped for years about what he’d do with the Brothers Klitschko if ever provided the chance, then, when opportunity finally knocked, loudmouth Englishman David Haye fought as timid a 12 rounds as humanly possible in dropping a near shutout to Wladimir in July 2011.
Still, thanks to a division bereft of drama, the former short-term cruiserweight kingpin parlayed notoriety into another title shot with WBC champ Vitali – which this time ended in unconsciousness when the elder Klitschko connected with a thunderous straight right at 2:10 of the third.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR – Mayweather TKO 11 Pacquiao
For years upon years, the year’s biggest superfight invariably turned into the year’s biggest disappointment. Case in point: Mayweather’s uber-heralded showdown with de la Hoya half a decade ago in the Nevada desert.
Fortunately for the sport this time around, 2012’s contribution to Time, Newsweek and USA Today front covers was every bit the product that had been advertised, with the unbeaten five-division champion rallying from an early hole to punish the seven-division into a late-round corner submission.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR – Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Considering where he was when the year began, it’s not hard to fathom why “Money” was so emotional – breaking down into what looked like legitimate tears – upon realizing a battered Pacquaio would not be allowed to come out for the second-to-last round of their welterweight title match.
And while others like Andre Ward, Bernard Hopkins, Klitschko, Khan and Sergio Martinez earned well-warranted headlines with significant wins, none were bigger than Mayweather’s in the fight that exceeded the PPV standard set by the aforementioned Oscar showdown in 2007.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA super featherweight title – Yokohama, Japan
Takashi Uchiyama (champion) vs. Jorge Solis (interim champion)
Uchiyama (17-0, 14 KO): Fourth title defense; Seven straight wins by stoppage (47 total rounds)
Solis (40-3-2, 29 KO): Third title fight (0-2); First fight in Japan
Fitzbitz says: “Slugging incumbent continues roll on home turf.” Uchiyama by decision
WBC strawweight title – Osaka, Japan
Kazuto Ioka (champion) vs. Yodgoen Tor Chalermchai (No. 10 contender)
Ioka (8-0, 5 KO): Second title defense; Seventh fight in Osaka (6-0, 4 KO)
Chalermchai (8-0, 4 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Thailand
Fitzbitz says: “Big step in competition for Thai-based challenger.” Ioka in 10
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.
Last week's picks: 0-1
Overall picks record: 275-92 (74.9 percent)
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.