By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I hate writing end-of-the-year columns.
Not because of the concept, mind you. After all, it makes perfect sense to wrap the calendar’s events in a neat little bow come Christmas time, giving everyone a run-through of things they’ll most want to remember and forget, with an extra nugget or two they might’ve missed along the way.
Rather, my reticence comes from the fact I never have anything to celebrate when it comes to the annual recapping. While so many of my oh-so-learned contemporaries lord how they saw this coming or knew this all along, I’m left only to say, “Jeez… what the @#%[email protected] planet was I on?!?!?”
What bugs me just as much, of course, is that an awful lot of them were in the very same dark right alongside me, but they’re a little louder while proclaiming credibility or taking shots with cute blog missives or funny message-board hits and runs.
I wish I was that witty and clever… but hey, you can’t have everything, right?
And now that it’s 2011, I’ve decided to take another tack.
Rather than prolonging juvenile firefights with people whose nonsense I’d not known until my name was included, I’ll satisfy my own prerequisite by going to the crystal ball in January’s first column so I’ll have additional fodder with which to triumphantly revel when December’s finale comes.
So without further first-person ado, here are 2011’s FitzHitz and Misses – the prequel:
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 the latter 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 the unheralded Minnesotan 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 Abell that kick-started a dozen-punch barrage and ended the match at 2:41.
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’s big-top football circus tent on May 5. For those of the betting persuasion, Mayweather opened as a slight favorite.
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.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA/WBO light heavyweight titles – Schymkent, Kazakhstan
Beibut Shumenov (WBA champion) vs. Juergen Braehmer (WBO champion)
Shumenov (10-1, 6 KO): Second title defense; Sixth fight in Kazakhstan (4-1, 3 KO)
Braehmer (36-2, 29 KO): Third title defense; Second fight outside Germany (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “New year is a new chance at legitimacy for still-newbie champion.” Shumenov by decision
2009 picks record: 65-25 (72.2 percent)
2010 picks record: 106-29 (78.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 171-54 (76.0 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 at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .