By Cliff Rold
Yesterday, BoxingScene recognized some of the best in Boxing 2008. We saved the best for last. Without further ado, staff voting for Fighter, Fight and Round of the Year is revealed.
Fighter of the Year: Manny Pacquiao
Perhaps Boxing’s most thrilling elite fighter, the current pound-for-pound king Pacquiao was the clear choice for fighter of the year in 2006 when he stopped Erik Morales twice and punished former titlist Oscar Larios in between. 2006 has been topped. A unanimous staff choice, no fighter had a bigger year in 2008 than the Filipino icon. Factor in Pacquiao’s in, and out of, ring impacts and no one else comes close.
He was already a great fighter and easy Hall of Famer before the year started. Through this last twelve months, defeating Boxing’s biggest star and one of its reigning best, pound-for-pound, he further entrenched himself with some of history’s elites in terms of accomplishment, entered conversations about the all-time greats, and changed his economic future for the better. Let’s look first at the accomplishments.
In March, he defeated then-WBC Jr. Lightweight titlist Juan Manuel Marquez, dropping him en route to a narrow decision in a classic encounter. Recognized as the two best in the world at 130 lbs., the bout also ended with Pacquiao awarded Ring Magazine’s title belt and left him with strongest claim to the lineal title left vacant in 2001 by Floyd Mayweather.
That lineal claim added Pacquiao as number nine on the list of three-division lineal champions after his previous Flyweight and Featherweight reigns. The previous eight men to notch the accomplishment are Bob Fitzsimmons, Tony Canzoneri, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong, Emile Griffith, Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. Pacquiao is the only fighter in history to capture the lineal World championship at 112, 126 and 130 lbs. No fighter has ever won lineal claims in four divisions.
In June, Pacquiao thrashed and stopped WBC Lightweight titlist David Diaz in nine one-sided rounds. Along with the lineal claims noted, and a 2001 victory over Lehlo Ledwaba for the IBF 122 lb. belt, the Diaz victory gave Pacquiao some title claim in his fifth weight class overall, an accomplishment shared only with Tommy Hearns, Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya (who claims a record six), and Floyd Mayweather. What make Pacquiao remarkable in comparison to the other four? He altogether skipped both the 115 and 118 lb. weight classes. In terms of the modern day’s seventeen weight classes, the Diaz fight meant a bridge across seven of them from first title to last, eight overall considering he turned pro at 106 lbs.
His final win of the year, an eighth-round stoppage of De La Hoya, took him across ten and granted one more accomplishment. It might take looking back as far as early career clashes in the 1920s between Fidel LaBarba and Jimmy McClarnin to find notable matches between men who would hold the World Flyweight and World Welterweight championships respectively, even if LaBarba never secured a win in the mini-rivalry. No former Flyweight champion had ever moved up and defeated a former Welterweight champion at 147 lbs.
Pacquiao entered the ring an underdog but the words of his trainer, Freddie Roach, proved prophetic. Roach had stated repeatedly that De La Hoya could no longer pull the trigger and that, while he wouldn’t have put Pacquiao in with the De La Hoya of five years ago, the calendar wouldn’t move backwards. It was this last win which took Pacquiao into new notoriety and income brackets.
All combined, Pacquiao’s three outings in 2008, all available on pay-per-view, garnered just shy of 2 million buys. The De La Hoya fight made up more than half of them and obviously Oscar must be seen as the draw. However, it takes two to sell and Pacquiao-De La Hoya featured a strong co-star. When it was over, Pacquiao had emerged as a true megastar and a key to Boxing’s best hopes in 2009 for mainstream crossover.
In the coming year, Pacquiao appears poised to take on lineal World Jr. Welterweight champion Ricky Hatton for a record fourth lineal World title. Win there and the chances of a showdown with a freshly vacationed Floyd Mayweather are less than far-fetched. Should Pacquiao defeat Hatton AND Mayweather, it would almost certainly carry him to yet another Fighter of the Year honor and even further in all-time debates, probably all the way into arguments with names like Duran and Robinson. It is hard to believe, but one day this year may be looked as at nothing but a building block to Pacquiao’s highest peaks.
The Boxing world waits in rapt attention.
Vic Darchniyan – Had Pacquiao lost to De La Hoya, it would have been hard to argue anyone had a greater year than Darchinyan. Weighing in at only 115 lbs., his out of ring impact wasn’t the highest but in the ring he was superb. Written off too quickly in 2007 after losing his IBF Flyweight belt in a knockout loss to Nonito Donaire, Darchinyan went 2-0-1 in 2008. The only blemish, a draw against contender Z Gorres, is probably a win anywhere but Gorres’ native Philippines. A five round shelling of Dimitri Kirilov in August gave him the IBF crown and he was only getting started. An underdog heading in, Darchinyan dismissed in blood the emerging pound-for-pound claims of Cristian Mijares to become the first man ever to unify the IBF, WBC and WBA belts at Jr. Bantamweight. He enters 2009 as the leader of what is no less than one Boxing’s two or three best weight classes and now boasts serious claim as a future Hall of Famer.
Antonio Margarito – An element unrecognized by many, Margarito had strong influence outside the ring along with in. His first cover appearance for Ring Magazine did such surprisingly strong sales that he was almost immediately returned to the space for newsstand display. His bout with Miguel Cotto was the year’s third-best pay-per-view draw. Then there was the business in the ring. The hype machines convinced many that then-IBF Welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron had grown since suffering a fifth-round stoppage against Margarito in 2005. The growth equaled an extra round of bludgeoning in April, Cintron stopped in six. He vacated the IBF belt and moved on to challenge undefeated WBA titlist Miguel Cotto. Entering the underdog, Margarito walked Cotto down, losing early rounds before dominating and beating Cotto down in the second half for an eleventh round stoppage. With Margarito’s only Welterweight conqueror this decade, Paul Williams, off to Jr. Middleweight the former ‘most avoided man in Boxing’ ends 2008 as the best fighter in Boxing’s best weight class.
Honorable Mention: Joe Calzaghe (SD12 Bernard Hopkins, UD12 Roy Jones Jr.); Bernard Hopkins (L12 Calzaghe, UD12 Kelly Pavlik); Tomasz Adamek (TKO8 O’Neil Bell, RTD7 Gary Gomez, SD12 Steve Cunningham); Juan Manuel Marquez (L12 Pacquiao, TKO11 Joel Casamayor)
Fight of the Year: Israel Vasquez-Rafael Marquez III
The first two bouts between these two saw the lineal and Ring Magazine World championship at Jr. Featherweight exchanged twice. The second bout was the leading choice for Fight of the Year in 2007, its third round an almost universal choice for round of the year. When they agreed to meet a third time, everyone who loves Boxing was not only ready for the opening bell but calling friends to make new fans. The simple fact they’d signed for a third consecutive war almost guaranteed the rivalry would join some of the sport’s most epic three-part tales.
An almost unanimous number one choice here, the rubber match opened under that much scrutiny and with that much anticipation and still exceeded what anyone thought they’d see. On March 1st, Vasquez-Marquez truly joined the pantheon of Boxing trilogies and did something rarely if ever seen. In most great trilogies, there is usually a lull somewhere, a disappointing contest which failed to live up to the standards of the best violence created in a given pairing. Ali-Frazier dipped in bout number two; so did Barrera-Morales. Vasquez-Marquez got better in each fight, an escalation of violence from their first encounter, classic in its own right, to their third, one of the greatest fights ever seen at 122 lbs. or anywhere else.
It was a game of ‘can you top it’ from bell to bell. Having dropped Marquez in each of the first two bouts, it was Vasquez’s turn to hit the floor in round four as Marquez looked ready to overpower the bout. Instead, Vasquez responded and hurt Marquez badly only to again be hurt himself before the round was over. Momentum swung back and forth and a tenth-round low blow deduction against Marquez left the bout all but even heading into the twelfth.
Those three minutes were the stuff of legends. Begged by his corner to go for the finish, Vasquez summoned a reserve and attacked throughout, backing Marquez up and punishing him. Reeling about the ring, Marquez fought for his footing, refusing to go down until a power shot sent him rocketing into the corner with only the ropes to hold him up in the final minute. Marquez survived for the bell but victory went to Vasquez by split decision even if neither man left defeated.
Everyone who saw it, and has seen it again since, remains a winner.
Tomasz Adamek-Steve Cunningham: Fans tuned in December 11th to see what they assumed would be an interesting fight. Few expected one of the best fights in the history of the Cruiserweight division. A favorite heading in, Cunningham’s presumed moment of coronation turned into powerful displays of survival and courage. Adamek had him down in the second only for Cunningham to have Adamek nearly out on his feet in the fourth before suffering a second knockdown. A third knockdown for Adamek scored off the right hand in the seventh and they would continue to war from there. Cunningham might have won more rounds but Adamek’s ability to send him to the floor proved decisive in a twelve round split decision. Adamek left with Cunningham’s belt and new recognition as Ring Magazine’s Cruiserweight king.
Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto: Not quite as competitive as the other choices, this outstanding Welterweight affair on July 26th was a story in two parts. Cotto’s counter punching and footwork built a solid lead through six but Margarito was shrugging off flush power shots. The fight slowly evolved in to a car chase and Margarito was in hot pursuit. Sometimes high stepping and jogging forward into Cotto’s heavy hands, he mentally as much as physically broke down the undefeated Cotto, finally forcing a relent in the eleventh. It was a fitting addition to the history of Mexican-Puerto Rican showdowns and one of Mexico’s finest victories since Salvador Sanchez undressed Wilfredo Gomez a generation ago.
Honorable Mention: Manny Pacquiao SD12 Juan Manuel Marquez II; Joel Casamayor TKO10 Michael Katsidis; Rogers Mtgawa KO10 Tomas Villa; Kendall Holt KO1 Ricardo Torres II
Round of the Year: Kendall Holt-Ricardo Torres (1)
Sited by some voters as a candidate for Fight of the Year, the first frame on July 5th would be the only one. Not since Juan Meza-Jaime Garza, or maybe Nigel Benn-Iran Barkley, had so complete a fight taken place in so little time.
The slow burning and ultimately controversial first battle between the two in 2007 was forgotten in a rush of action this time around. Less than fifteen seconds in, a powerful right from the WBO Jr. Welterweight titlist Torres sent Holt to his back. Holt rose and, after the standing eight, a wild exchange saw Holt clipped by another right, sending him lurching him to his knees. He popped right up and as referee Jay Nady attempted to step in Torres landed another right hand. Nady warned Torres but didn’t take a point, completing another standing eight. Torres charged with a left, then another, backing Holt to the ropes. Slipping shots, Holt’s head swept clean across the chin of Torres, stunning him. Backing away, Torres was chased and caught by a perfect right to the temple, folding on his knees to the floor. The ten-count could have continued to 100.
Sixty-one seconds…three knockdowns…the round of the year.
Honorable Mention: Cunningham-Adamek (4); Vasquez-Marquez III (4 & 12)
But Wait…There’s More
Still not done looking back? Check out Part I of the Year-End Awards at: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17699
Feel free as well to take a deeper look at the year that was in terms of months and scale in 2008.
2008 Reviewed by Month:
Mid-Year Review: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=14822
December: To Be Posted
2008 Reviewed by Division:
Light Heavyweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17628
Super Middleweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17595
Jr. Middleweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17653
Jr. Welterweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17647
Jr. Lightweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17637
Jr. Featherweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17610
Bantamweight: To Be Posted
Jr. Bantamweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17572
Jr. Flyweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/index.php?m=show&id=17514
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]