By Cliff Rold
June was a good month for men of steel.
Within the span of six days, the Last Son of Krypton set the screen and box office afire for a new generation in “Man of Steel” and Adonis Stevenson scorched Chad Dawson for the lineal and WBC World Light Heavyweight Championship.
Boxing’s “Superman” landed first.
On June 8th, the face of the Light Heavyweight division changed with a single explosive left hand. BoxingScene’s 2013 Fighter of the Year was only halfway through what would be a memorable campaign.
2013 Fighter of the Year: Adonis Stevenson (Four 1st Place Votes, One 2nd Place Vote)
When 2013 began, various independent ratings had Stevenson at the lower end of the top ten…at Super Middleweight. Already in his mid-30s, with a knockout loss to dangerous journeyman Darnell Boone and a prison stint in his younger years for violent participation in prostitution, there was plenty of reason to consider the Haitian-born bomber suspect.
He did his part to eradicate those concerns with six consecutive knockout wins after the Boone loss in April 2010. Working under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward, the athletic Stevenson was adding to his power game and laying the groundwork for a career year.
He began 2013 by moving into the Light Heavyweight division in a rematch with Boone on March 22nd. There would be no upset this time, Stevenson knocking out Boone in six. With seven straight wins, his team lured Light Heavyweight Champion Chad Dawson to Stevenson’s career home turf in Canada. Stevenson would say after the fight that Steward had always told him that, if he could get Dawson, take the fight.
Stevenson showed why in only 1:19 seconds of the first round. Dawson, attempting to rebound from a knockout loss in challenging Andre Ward for the Super Middleweight title in September 2012, was dunked to the canvas with a monster left from the southpaw challenger. Dawson beat the count but weaved about on lost legs.
Stevenson was the new Light Heavyweight king. His celebration after the fight, and tears of joy in a post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman, made for a memorable moment.
Before the year was out, Stevenson would make devastating work of two more top ten contenders. Former titlist Tavoris Cloud, one fight off a loss to Bernard Hopkins, had always shown a stout beard. He’d been outboxed but never manhandled. On September 28th, Stevenson took him apart. Cloud was befuddled and beaten down en route to a corner retirement following the seventh round.
Stevenson closed the year with a mandatory challenge from Tony Bellew on November 30th. Bellew’s lone loss prior had come in a narrow decision loss to then-titlist Nathan Cleverly in 2011. Attempting to play keep away with his chin and look for spots to counter big, Bellew could only avoid the inevitable for so long. In round six, Stevenson lowered the boom and closed what, for him, was a perfect year: four wins, four knockouts, one new king above the Light Heavyweight mountain. In a division that had grown stale, Stevenson was the central figure in making it hot again.
As Stevenson (23-1, 20 KO) enters 2014, his knockout streak stands at ten and the challengers only get better from here. Ageless IBF titlist Bernard Hopkins, if politics can somehow be set aside, would bring attention. So would a clash with the winner of a big Canadian bout between former Light Heavyweight Champion Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. And then, of course, there is the fight everyone who loves boxing really wants to see: a bombs away clash with WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KO).
Given that landscape, Stevenson may have chances to go back to back in 2014. For now, it is enough to call him the BoxingScene 2013 Fighter of the Year.
Runner-Ups (In Alphabetical Order)
Timothy Bradley (Two 1st Place Votes, One 2nd Place Vote): Bradley (31-0, 12 KO) rebounded from a controversial win over Manny Pacquiao in 2012 that became his ‘Scarlett Letter.’ Defending the WBO Welterweight belt twice, the former unified Jr. Welterweight titlist was memorable in both outings. On March 16th, Bradley survived what has been nearly everyone’s pick for Fight of the Year, coming off the floor to win a decision over Ruslan Provodnikov. Taking some time off to heal from that brutal encounter, Bradley returned sharp on October 12th, earning a split decision over Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez in a physical chess match. Had Bradley’s win over Provodnikov been more decisive (there were those who thought the challenger won or would have had a missed knockdown call in the first been ruled differently), he may have topped this list for the year. With a possible rematch against Pacquiao in the year ahead, Bradley will have fresh chances in 2014.
Juan Francisco Estrada (Two 3rd Place Votes): Estrada (25-2, 18 KO) exploded to attention in 2012 when the largely unknown Jr. Flyweight gave a tremendous account in one of that’s year’s best fights, a failed challenge of WBA titlist Roman Gonzalez. The loss, on the undercard of Brian Viloria’s unification win over Tyson Marquez, earned him a crack at Flyweight gold. Traveling to Macau on April 6th, Estrada used youth, output, and precision punching to earn a split (should have been unanimous) verdict over Viloria, halting the Hawaiian’s six-fight win streak and earning the WBA and WBO belts at 112 lbs. On July 27th, again in Macau, Estrada dropped undefeated contender Milan Melindo en route to a commanding unanimous decision. Estrada, who may have had the strongest year going through July, spent the rest of the year on the shelf. Expect more excitement from the 23-year old Mexican in one of the game’s best and deepest divisions.
Danny Garcia (One 2nd Place Vote): The perennially underrated Garcia (27-0, 16 KO) just keeps winning. The reigning lineal World Jr. Welterweight champion, Garcia went to scratch twice in 2013. On April 27th, he built a commanding lead and dropped former undisputed Welterweight Champion Zab Judah in round eight. It turned out the fight was just starting. Judah turned back the clock, rocking Garcia and coming on strong in the last third of the contest. Garcia made it to the finish and a showdown with the man many presumed to be his Waterloo. On the September 14th undercard of Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez, Garcia removed any doubts about his place atop 140 lbs., outboxing and dropping big puncher Lucas Matthysse for a unanimous decision and the biggest win of his career. Garcia is underrated no more and enters 2014 as a possible future foe for Mayweather.
Mikey Garcia (One 2nd Place Vote): The younger brother of trainer and former 130 lb. titlist Robert, Garcia (33-0, 28 KO) was 3-0 in 2013 and won WBO titles at 126 and 130 lbs. On January 19th, in a big step up bout, Garcia won his first title with four-knockdown performance against veteran Orlando Salido. An accidental headbutt broke Garcia’s nose and sent them to the cards after eight rounds for a lopsided points verdict. On June 15th, Garcia lost his Featherweight strap on the scales but walked through former titlist Juan Manuel Lopez in four anyways. Finally, on November 9th, Garcia became the first man to stop tough Puerto Rican Rocky Martinez with an eighth-round knockout. How long will Garcia reign at 130 lbs.? Bigger money could mean big moves in 2014.
Sergey Kovalev (One 1st Place Vote): Stevenson may have been the choice for Fighter of the Year but Kovalev was his equal in the ring in 2013. Also 4-0 with 4 knockouts, Kovalev never made it out of the fourth round. He opened with a January 19th 3rd round walkover of slick former titlist Gabriel Campillo to announce his arrival as a contender. A 3rd round stoppage of Cornelius White on June 14th set the stage for a title challenge. Traveling to the champion’s turf in Wales, Kovalev dropped undefeated WBO beltholder Nathan Cleverly twice in round three before drawing the stoppage in the following round. Kovalev closed the year on the undercard of Stevenson-Bellew with a highlight reel 2nd round knockout of Ismayl Sillakh. Kovalev is the premier physical threat to Stevenson in the division and no fight sounds better in 2014.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (One 1st Place Vote, Three 2nd Place Votes, One 3rd Place Vote): The biggest money draw in the sport fought twice in the same calendar year for the first time since 2007 and was masterful in both outings. On May 4th, he defended the WBC and lineal Welterweight crown successfully against contender Robert Guerrero with an easy unanimous decision. Returning to the ring on September 14th in a monster pay-per-view showdown, Mayweather unified the WBA and WBC belts at 154 lbs. with a majority decision over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Judge CJ Ross saw it a draw and isn’t judging anymore at present. Everyone else saw Mayweather win nearly every round and lay claim to the vacant lineal crown at Jr. Middleweight. With the win, Mayweather (45-0, 26 KO) became only the second man to win lineal crowns in four weight classes along with crowns at 130, 135, and 147 lbs. The only other man to accomplish the feat: archrival Manny Pacquiao.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (One 2nd Place Vote, Two 3rd Place Votes): The former Cuban amateur titan proved his professional chops in 2013 with two dominant wins. On April 13th, Rigondeaux put the WBA 122 lb. belt up against lineal and WBO World Champion Nonito Donaire. Donaire was taken to school. Objectively winning as many as eleven rounds in a too-close unanimous decision, “The Cult of Rigo” had the moment they’d wanted for over a year. Outside of a tenth-round knockdown, Rigondeaux was almost perfect, controlling the space and outpunching a man perceived by many as one of the worlds best anywhere on the scale. Television issues, and issues with marketability, kept Rigondeaux out of the ring until December 7th. When he returned, he won every round against veteran former Bantamweight titlist Joseph Agbeko. He may not have many fans, but Rigondeaux (13-0, 8 KO) has even fewer peers in terms of boxing excellence. Good luck finding a serious challenger for him at Jr. Featherweight in 2014.
Akira Yaegashi (One 3rd Place Vote): Japan’s Yaegashi (19-3, 9 KO) endeared himself to the global community of hardcore fight fans with a win in the 2011 Fight of the Year (winning the WBA 105 lb. belt from Pornsawan Porpramook) and a loss in one of 2012’s best fights, a unification clash with ingénue Kazuto Ioka. In 2013, Yaegashi showed boxing chops to go with his brawling bona fides. Jumping to Flyweight with a stay busy win in January, Yaegashi challenged reigning lineal and WBC 112 lb. king Toshiyuki Igarashi on April 8th. In an often-foul affair, Yaegashi won a commanding decision and the crown. He successfully defended against Oscar Blanquet with a unanimous decision on August 12th with one more challenge ahead. In an anticipated bout, Yaegashi used his legs and superior speed to outpoint game former Jr. Flyweight titlist Edgar Sosa for a unanimous decision victory.
Also receiving consideration if not top three votes…WBA Middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin (28-0, 25 KO) scored four knockout defenses on the year and built a television audience in the US. His finest moment came on June 29th with a destructive knockout of proven contender Matthew Macklin…48-year old Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KO) became the oldest man to win a major sanctioning body title with a wide decision win over Tavoris Cloud for IBF Light Heavyweight honors on March 9th. Hopkins would add a successful defense on October 26th with a decision over contender Karo Murat.
BoxingScene Awards 2013
Robbery of the Year: Ricky Burns D12 Raymundo Beltran/Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. UD10 Brain Vera
Event of the Year: “The One”
Network of the Year: Showtime
Comeback of the Year: Giovanni Segura
Prospect of the Year: Felix Verdejo
Round of the Year: Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov, Round 12
Knockout of the Year: Adonis Stevenson TKO1 Chad Dawson
Fight of the Year: Timothy Bradley UD12 Ruslan Provodnikov
Upset of the Year: To be Announced
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]