By Jake Donovan/Cliff Rold
Sometimes the big awards are the easiest. 2009 was such a case. The Fighter of the Year - Manny Pacquiao - and the Fight of the Year - Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz - were the sort of things one was pretty sure about the moment they became clear.
Heading into his Welterweight clash with Miguel Cotto, the consensus was that a clear winner in the bout would provide a clear Fighter of the Year.
Marquez-Diaz looked like a strong favorite for most of the year, but got a late rush of candidates to take the top slot. All fell just short.
What then of the rest of the year’s landscape? The following note some of the outstanding accomplishments, moments, and achievements of 2009.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: MANNY PACQUIAO KO2 RICKY HATTON
It was one of those “oh sh*t” moments sorely lacking in the sport’s biggest events. Boxing’s most lucrative fights rarely produce much beyond a huge money grab and perhaps a leading candidate for the Fighter of the Year.
May 2 proved to be the perfect storm – a huge smash at the box office, the start of a Fighter of the Year campaign, and a night that left sports fans thirsting for more.
And it all occurred in the span of less than six minutes.
Even greater remembered than the fact that he won a record breaking fourth divisional lineal championship, or that it was his fourth win in four separate weight classes in span of just 14 months, was the moment Manny Pacquiao landed the mother of all left hands to put Ricky Hatton down and out in their super lightweight championship in front of a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao had already scored two knockdowns in the opening round of a bout scheduled for 12 or less. It was evident that 12 rounds wouldn’t be needed, but as the second round developed, there was concern that Pacquiao was getting a little sloppy in looking for the knockout rather than allowing the opportunity to present itself.
The flaw actually strengthened the impact of the fight-ending sequence, changing an inevitable scenario into a sudden, dramatic moment that left everyone’s mouth agape. Everyone but Ricky Hatton, who wasn’t alert enough to react any other way than to collapse to the canvas the moment Pacquiao’s left hand came crashing down on his jaw.
Referee Kenny Bayless didn’t even bother to administer a count, instead immediately signaling for ringside medical assistance.
It was one of those moments where even years later, you remember exactly where you were and how you reacted when it happened. It was also one of those knockouts you knew you’d be reading about once the year came to a close.
In any other year, the August lightweight bout between Antonio Pitalua and Jose Reyes serves as the standard to which all other knockouts are measured. Pitalua was four months removed from a devastating knockout loss against Edwin Valero and falling hopelessly behind against Reyes in their Telemundo-televised main event this past August. Then out of nowhere in the sixth round, Pitalua lands a corker of a right hand that landed so hard and so flush, you literally heard the punch crack. Reyed was out – and do we mean OUT – the moment the shot landed, collapsing in cartoon fashion and lying motionless on the canvas while Pitalua ran to all four corners in celebration.
The Super Six World Boxing Classic opened with a bang thanks to the 12th round knockout produced in the October scrap between Arthur Abraham and Jermain Taylor . Abraham was on his way to victory, but sought the perfect ending. It came with less than 15 seconds to go in the bout, when he planted a right hand directly through the uprights. Taylor offered a right hand of his own – unwillingly sticking it in the air as he laid flat on his back in suffering his second straight last-round knockout loss.
Want more right hand drama? Look no further than the April junior flyweight scrap between Brian Viloria and Archie Solis . Viloria was already well on his way to a major upset win when he landed a crackling right hand shot that put Solis down and out late in the 11th round.
Discussion of devastating right hands wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Randall Bailey . The Floridian knockout artist added one more to the scrap book in April, trading knockdowns with Frankie “El Gato” Figueroa before putting him away for good with a classic 1-2 in the fourth round.
It was of little surprise that a knockout came about in the super middleweight rematch between Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade . What was shocking was that it was Bute – and not the heavy-handed, iron-chinned Andrade – on the delivering end. Bute put behind him the controversy that came of their first fight, twice dropping Andrade in the fourth round of their return go in November, the second knockdown produced by a Bute body shot for the full ten count.
ROUND OF THE YEAR: JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ-ROGERS MTAGWA, ROUND 11
It wasn’t supposed to be what it turned into. Lopez, the WBO Jr. Featherweight titlist, was the heir apparent Puerto Rican superstar, on veritable home turf in Madison Square Garden. Mtagwa was a 12-loss supposed journeyman.
Someone forgot to tell Mtagwa that as, after falling behind early, he staged a valiant October rally over the fight’s second half and nearly pulled off the colossal upset.
In a strong Fight of the Year contender, perhaps no round was better than the eleventh and it is BoxingScene’s Round of the Year. As described by BoxingScene’s Tom Gerbasi:
Lopez looked to be tiring from the pace and pressure, not to mention a few well-timed hooks, and in the 11th, the Caguas native seemed to be on the verge of a knockdown as he took a flush left and right from Mtagwa. By the final minute, Lopez looked to be on his way back, but then Mtagwa roared back with a ferocious assault that left the champion on the verge of a knockout had the round lasted a few more seconds.
The twelfth and final round was a dramatic candidate itself with Lopez doing everything in his power to stay on his feet, but it was the eleventh that provided the two-way action to set that stage.
Another strong candidate for Fight of the Year got off to a roaring start when middleweights Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez took turns sending each other to the deck in their first round, setting the tone for eleven more rounds of war.
140 lb titlist Timothy Bradley’s stellar year was finished with a thrilling win over Lamont Peterson, but he had to work for it, especially in round three. Bradley sent Peterson to the floor with a shot which landed just behind the head. Realizing he needed a monumental effort to work his way back into the fight, Peterson gave it with a swath of body shots that brought the crowd to its feet.
After a tense first round, Welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto waged a toe-to-toe war from rounds 2-4, none better than the epic third round which saw Pacquiao rocked and Cotto floored for the first of two times on the night.
The opening round of the junior welterweight battle between Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz saw each man forced to come off the floor before three minutes had passed.
After being decked in round three,
willed himself back into the fight with
. In a thrilling 12th round, Froch overwhelmed Taylor’s defenses, dropping him and then stopping him with only 14 seconds left in the contest to defend his super middleweight title.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR – BRIAN VILORIA
A three-fight stretch in a span of eight months was enough to downgrade Brian Viloria from top junior flyweight to yet another disappointment from the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing squad.
The next two years were spent in virtual anonymity, but it only took one fight to resurrect his career and have his name plastered throughout the year-end awards categories.
Last April marked the launching of Top Rank’s “Pinoy Power” pay-per-view series. Its inaugural entry included Viloria - a Filipino-American – fighting for the first time in the Philippines as he was tabbed to face long-reigning titlist Ulises “Archie” Solis in the televised co-feature.
When all was said and done, Viloria scored by far the biggest win of his career, one that would earn him several year-end honors, be it top prize or honorable mention.
Viloria jumped out to a huge lead before boxing smartly to fend off a mid-round surge by Solis, who entered the fight having made 10 successful title defenses over a three year stretch. Viloria rallied back and closed the show in a big way, landing a compact right hand flush on the Mexican’s chin, putting him on the canvas for the ten count and well beyond late in the 11th round.
The win gave Viloria his second major title in a career only eight years old but which already appeared to be on its last legs. He’s made one successful defense and is tabbed for a return to the Philippines later this month. A win puts him in line for a possible unification match, including a dream fight with divisional lineal champion Ivan Calderon.
At the time of the knockout, it was unknown what long term effects would come of Viloria’s one-punch knockout of Solis. Many have since ranked the fight among the year’s biggest knockouts and upsets.
It also served as the start of what would become the Comeback of the Year.
Paul Malignaggi managed to resurrect his career in 2009 after suffering acareer-worst beating against Ricky Hatton last year. A controversial loss at the hands of Juan Diaz resulted in an epic rant against the establishment by Malignaggi, drumming up enough interest to force a rematch four months later. He took advantage of the opportunity, scoring a well-deserved unanimous decision and putting himself in position for big money fights in 2010.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. returned after a 21-month “retirement” to dominate in the ring and at the box office, pummeling Juan Manuel Marquez to the tune of a lopsided decision win in a fight that generated more than 1 million pay-per-view buys.
Because he was already regarded as a top three welterweight, Shane Mosley didn’t have far from which to come back. Still, his beatdown of Antonio Margarito was enough to proclaim the three-division champion as the best welterweight in the world.
Little hope was held out for Eddie Chambers after a disappointing performance against Alex Povetkin in 2008. The past 12 months saw his stock skyrocket, with wins over Samuel Peter and Alex Dimitrenko earning the Philly boxer a lofty heavyweight ranking and a crack at lineal king Wladimir Klitschko in the first quarter of 2010.
Another fighter who lost his "0" in 2008 but rediscovered his groove in 2009 was lightweight contender
. The all-action Aussie bounced back from back-to-back losses a year ago to win three straight, including what should've been a wider scored win than was the case in a career-best performance against Vicente Escobedo. The win put him in line for a mandatory title shot against divisonal lineal champ Juan Manuel Marquez, about as far back as you can come after entering his first fight of '09 having not won in more than a year-and-a-half.
UPSET OF THE YEAR: JUAN CARLOS SALGADO-JORGE LINARES
On the same day as Juan Manuel Lopez-Rogers Mtagwa, a lightning bolt struck elsewhere in the world.
When hardcore boxing followers are shocked, a major upset has occurred.
Junior lightweight Jorge Linares had been touted as a future superstar by just about everyone since his 2007 lacing of Oscar Larios, but inactivity and a lack of exposure threatened his rise to stardom.
Freshly signed with Golden Boy Promotions, the virtually unknown Salgado was supposed to be a stepping stone.
The stone instead did the stepping. At around a minute into the fight, Salgado blasted Linares, sending him the floor clearly hurt. Salgado wasted no time following up, forcing Linares back to the floor and forcing the stoppage at 1:13 of the first.
Salgado left the ring with the WBA belt and a chance to be a rising star in his own right. Linares was left to pick up the pieces in what became Boxingscene’s pick for the biggest upset of 2009.
The Welterweight title fight between Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito was expected to be one hell of a fight, even if Margarito was slightly favored. Instead, following the birth of the handwrap-from-hell controversy, Mosley turned in a virtuoso performance, winning nearly every second of the bout and scoring the unfathomable knockout of the man whose chin was regarded as perhaps the sports best in round nine.
Victor Ortiz was highlighted by HBO as a star of the future and Golden Boy’s potential heir to Oscar De La Hoya. Marcos Maidana didn’t give a damn about any of that, forcing Ortiz to turn tail and quit in round six in front of Ortiz’s Southern California fans.
The highlighted match in the first round of the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament pitted 2004 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward against the favorite to win the whole thing, Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler . Instead, fighting at home in Oakland, Ward took Kessler to school before winning a unanimous decision when the fight was stopped on an accidental cut to Kessler in round eleven.
Brian Viloria’s career appeared to be on its last lap when he was fed to streaking Archie Solis in April. The 2000 US Olympian instead turned in a career-best performance, ending Solis’ three-plus year reign with a surprisingly dominant performance, capped by a highlight reel one-punch knockout late in the 11th round to begin his second tour as a junior flyweight titlist.
Speaking of last chance junior flyweights, Rodel Mayol had lost in two junior flyweight title shots at Ivan Calderon earlier in the year, as well as two more shots before that. He was expected to lose against long reigning and highly active Edgar Sosa in November. But with some controversy and some educated use of his head, Mayol wound up with a second round stoppage win.
EVENT OF THE YEAR: PACQUIAO-MAYWEATHER NEGOTIATIONS
Maybe it will turn out, in retrospect, to have all been hype. The two best fighters in the world will fight, they will get paid, and boxing will have its richest fight ever.
Let’s hope, because otherwise boxing is having its Tiger Woods moment to close 2009, a total public relations disaster. All it’s missing is someone getting nine-ironed.
The gist of it all is that Floyd Mayweather requested Olympic style blood testing for a fight with WBO Welterweight Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s side balked and attempted to negotiate the conditions. Floyd’s representatives in negotiations, Golden Boy Promotions, sent out a press release to force Pacquiao’s han - and all hell broke loose.
As of this writing, there is no fight but there is a defamation lawsuit coming from the Pacquiao side after steady accusations and insinuations from Mayweather, his family, and others about whether or not Pacquiao uses performance enhancing drugs (Pacquiao has never failed a drug test).
It’s been a panacea for those who wish to see boxing in the headlines, a dominant sports headline in a way no boxing story has been since Evander Holyfield had a piece of his ear chomped off by Mike Tyson. In other words, there are headlines but for all the wrong reasons.
These negotiations are the biggest story and event of the year. If all sides don’t allow for cooler heads to prevail, the failure to make Mayweather-Pacquiao could become the biggest event of 2010.
Just behind the negotiations catastrophe of Mayweather-Pacquiao was death in terms of headlines. Officially, the great Alexis Arguello and blue collar action hero Arturo Gatti committed suicide this year. Both deaths have had numerous suspicions raised. Former Welterweight champion and still active Jr. Middleweight Vernon Forrest , fighting off robbers, was murdered in tragic fashion. All three incidents happened in close succession, casting a pall over a long fistic summer.
Shane Mosley’s WBA title win and return to the top of the Welterweight heap some seven years after he was dethroned by Forrest was overshadowed by attempts in the camp of Antonio Margarito to load his hand wraps with a foreign substance. The fallout saw Margarito knocked out by Mosley and then by the California Commission, suspending the Mexican for at least a year.
Heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko and former Cruiserweight champ David Haye waged a war of words resulting in over 60,000 tickets sold in Germany. Then Haye pulled out of the fight, leaving Klitschko with the same audience but a less appealing challenge from Ruslan Chagaev .
Floyd Mayweather’s return from retirement, against Juan Manuel Marquez , and Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto both broke the 1-million pay-per-view buy barometer. It was the first time two fights had done that since 1999, giving boxing two mainstream ready crossover events on the year with a third, Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton, also coming close to that mark.
Koki Kameda continued to deliver mind numbing ratings on Japanese television, capturing the lineal World Flyweight championship from Daisuke Naito with estimates tallying about half of Japan’s 127 million viewers tuning in. Thousands more joined in the fun at the arena. Kameda may never be widely known in the U.S., but is a genuine superstar by any standard.
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR – DANIEL JACOBS
The past year saw growing concern in several categories, two of which are: the development of new stars falling way behind in pace to the number of top stars exiting the game, and a middleweight division that continues to regress.
While there’s no quick fix to either dilemma, a project that can turn into a solution for both can be found in the form of a budding young prospect from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York.
Prior to 2009, Daniel Jacobs (18-0, 15KO) was a former amateur standout feeling his way around the sport in his first full year as a pro. His 2008 campaign was all about activity, fighting 12 times against made-to-order opposition. The majority of his bouts came on undercards of notable headliners, but rarely did he ply his trade in front of the cameras.
That changed in 2009. Of his five fights, four were nationally televised. It was a year in which Jacobs – tabbed “The Golden Child” – seemed blessed by the Midas Touch, with key opportunities falling into place – and more importantly, Jacobs capitalizing when given the chance to shine.
His biggest break came at the expense of another rising star hovering around the middleweight division. James Kirkland was supposed to serve in the chief support to the May 2 Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton pay-per-view event, only to get popped on a parole violation and sent back to prison.
In came Jacobs, who had just fought on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights one week prior – a second round knockout of Jose Valera. He was forced to work much harder eight days later in struggling to an eight round decision win over fringe contender Michael Walker. The evening proved to be a learning experience, who sprinted out to a fast start but stuggled over the back half of their eight-rounder.
That lesson was applied in his next fight, which came just eight weeks later in his second ESPN2 appearance of the year in a span of just two months. Jacobs came to a far more deliberate start against George Walton, properly pacing himself and also fighting through a cut and a bruised knuckle in stopping the serviceable journeyman inside of eight rounds.
A far stiffer test was offered in his HBO debut this past August, one in which he once again managed to learn while he earned in his decision win over Ishe Smith. The night marked the first time Jacobs was extended the full ten-round distance, surviving a few rough patches to score a well-earned win against his best opponent to date.
It was the last time boxing fans saw Jacobs in the ring to date, as a hand injury forced him to the sidelines for the remaining four months of the year.
But it won’t be the last we see of Daniel Jacobs, who ends 2009 as the sport’s brightest prospect.
Like most second generation prizefighters who garner attention on the heels of their father’s success, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (17-0-1, 14KO) entered the sport with minimal amateur experience. That’s about all he has in common with Generation Next, as evidenced by his rapid progression on the Telemundo circuit. Only three fights came in 2009, but all against gatekeeper-level competition. Vazquez Jr. impressed in all and has already lined up the stiffest test of his young career, a vacant title fight against undefeated Marvin Sonsona early in 2010.
Having turned pro four years ago at age 15 and sans amateur experience, Saul Alvarez (30-0-1, 21KO) has grown before our very eyes in 2009. The 19-year young Mexican went 7-0 in the past 12 months, mostly against exceptional competition, including stoppage wins over Euri Gonzalez and Michel Rosales, both of whom continue to hover around the contender level.
It’s par for the course these days for highly touted Cuban amateurs to be moved at a brisk pace at the pro level. Erislandy Lara (9-0, 5KO) is not only no exception to the rule, but threatens to become the new standard to which others are judged. The Cuban southpaw is only nine fights into his pro career but is already fighting in ten-round bouts.
Unlike the other prospects on this year’s list, the progression in the career of undefeated heavyweight Denis Boytsov (26-0, 21KO) has come in the more traditional sense – moved at a deliberate pace in the early years before developing into a genuine prospect. The Russian-born, Germany-based slugger fought only three times in 2009, but all against respectable competition, and all ending in knockout.
One of the benefits of being promoted by Gary Shaw is that you stand a good chance of receiving exposure on Showtime’s Shobox circuit. But in order to survive you still need talent, and Chris Avalos (14-0, 11KO) has it in spades. The 20-year old finished year two as a pro, going 7-0 (6KO), including a televised knockout of Giovanni Caro in which he fell behind before producing the sudden ending – as well as deliver the message that a new star is en route in the bantamweight division.
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] . Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected] .