By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Sometimes you’re the pit bull. Other times, you’re the mailman.
As I lamented six months ago in this space, writing season-ending columns has never been a strong suit – largely because of my ineptitude when it comes to long-range predictions.
And while I have no problem copping to my own inadequacy, my mea culpas are too-often drowned out by the “look at me, I’m super smart” wise guys manning blogs and message boards near you.
Funny how, when January comes, no one ever seems to have made a bad guess a year earlier.
“Yes, I predicted a hang glider would interrupt the right in round seven,” one genius claims, barely above the din created by another mastermind, who steadfastly professes “I absolutely knew Tyson would go to the ears in the third.”
Kind of hard to compete with that sort of brilliance, no?
So as the intellectual remedy to my prolonged prognostication illness, I decided 2011 would be the year I pre-empted the fray and gave my post-annum awards 12 months in advance of judgment day.
A risky play, but one rife with possibility if you get it right.
As usual, though, that’s not really a danger when it comes to me.
Following through on trends of years past, my calendar-beginning forecasts have resulted in the same collection of silliness I’ve always known.
The only difference this year is that the evidence is accessible.
And now that we’re half way to 2012, here’s a midway status report.
Ladies and gentlemen, the envelopes please…
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR - Andre Ward
Too long painted with the "Oh, he's an overrated Olympian" brush prior to an initial breakout in late 2009, Andre Ward completed a climb to the upper echelon with the championship of the Showtime Super Six tournament and a subsequent 168-pound unifying defeat of IBF title-holder Lucian Bute.
The one-sided decision win over Bute in Montreal -- a fight Ward entered as a sizable visiting underdog -- leaves him a full menu of spotlight-seeking middleweights or accommodating light heavies on whom to dine for the next 12 months.
Ward dominated Arthur Abraham in a Showtime semifinal in May and set himself up for legitimate end-of-year consideration if he can finish the tourney with a defeat of Carl Froch on Oct. 29 in Atlantic City.
It’s not Bute in the fall… but so far, so good.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR - Pacquiao W 12 Mosley
OK, show of hands: How many thought going in that this one was nothing more than a Top Rank money grab taking advantage of a fading Shane Mosley's lingering name recognition while not risking an asset like Manny Pacquiao against a willing, motivated foe like Juan Manuel Marquez?
As it turned out, Pacquiao indeed exited Las Vegas with the same hardware with which he entered – via a close, but fair majority decision – but Mosley got a more honorable end to a Hall of Fame career than a one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and an ugly draw with Sergio Mora would have provided.
If I change my pick, I almost had this right. Turned out the charity match for Mosley I leaned away from was precisely what I got from the early May glove-touching sleepwalk. Two words: Goodbye Shane.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR - Cotto KO 4 Mayorga
Two realities about life with feisty Nicaraguan windbag Ricardo Mayorga: first, he talks violently; and second, he falls dramatically. After a pre-fight run-up with the requisite thumb across the throat and flag-stomping gestures, Mayorga charged forward and was punished for his troubles in rounds 1-3.
The highlight reel came in the fourth, however, when, after landing one of his few roundhouse swats of the night, Mayorga was greeted with a textbook left hook that sent him corkscrewing to the canvas for what could have been a count of 20 had cornermen and doctors not intervened.
It wasn’t quite the drama I’d looked or hoped for, but Cotto nonetheless walked away with the requisite title defense, knockout and confidence booster. Next year, perhaps it’s Mayorga-Alvarez.
UPSET OF THE YEAR - Abell KO 5 Arreola
Far fewer people were heralding the "He'll be a heavyweight champion" prospects of Chris Arreola after losses to Vitali Klitschko and Tomasz Adamek, but the robust Californian was nonetheless considered near the top of the division's next tier when he took on unheralded Joey Abell in January.
Instead, after dominating the initial 12 minutes, Arreola's recurring fitness issues once again hit home when he emptied his tank in an early-round flurry in the fifth and was left sagging from a counter left hand from the Minnesotan that kickstarted a dozen-punch barrage and ended the match at 2:41.
Ummm, errrr… maybe we should just skip this one. I’m still not sold on Arreola as anything special, but reports of his demise against Abell were ridiculously exaggerated here. Ouch.
EVENT OF THE YEAR - Pacquiao-Mayweather contract signing
It was talked about in 2009, dismissed in 2010 and reinvented in 2011 after Pacquiao escaped Mosley and Mayweather eluded prison. And once purse-splitting and urine sampling became common ground, the parties put ceremonial ink to paper in an ornate pre-holiday summit in early December.
As a result, expect the early portion of 2012 to become the countdown of all countdowns and an HBO programmer's ratings fantasy until the two actually hit the ring at Jerry Jones' big-top football circus tent on May 5. For those of the betting persuasion, Mayweather opened as a slight favorite.
More so than any other, I’m still feeling awfully good about this one. Assuming “Money” gets by the interim test with Victor Ortiz in September, this one’s still gonna get done by Christmas. Book it.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR - Oscar De La Hoya
He made a tearful retirement speech. Said he didn't have it anymore. And claimed more time with his wife and family was an ultimate and too-long- forgotten priority. But when jab came to hook, even a promotional guru/publishing giant was prone to the same temptation as hundreds before him.
That said, it ended a lot better for Oscar De La Hoya, who signed the big deal, hopped on a plane to London and hammered fellow returnee Ricky Hatton before a packed house at Wembley before re-retiring with the claim that, with a final victory in hand, the fighting bug was forever cured.
I’ll shy away from fun-making because of Oscar’s personal demons, but I’m still as sure as the nose on my face that he’ll be back in a pro prize ring before all is said and done. Grade: Incomplete.
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 at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .