By Cliff Rold
It was a year of disappointments, cancellations, and then escalations into the sort of fights that make the first two problems evaporate, if only for a night.
It was the 2010 boxing season and, because ‘is’ has become ‘was,’ BoxingScene is ready to close the calendar with annual awards.
Staff polling gives us winners in nine categories, three of them dropped here before breaking down into six key areas of achievement for a year that overcame its obstacles to deliver quality action and compelling drama.
No drama was more compelling than what was found in the choice for Round of the Year, a grueling three minutes that saw one man redeem his worst loss and another give everything he had in midst of one of the toughest runs of competition seen in recent vintage
Round of the Year: Mikkel Kessler-Carl Froch – Round 12
Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler entered the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament as a favorite to win. The U.K.’s Carl Froch entered looking to move beyond the shadow of countryman Joe Calzaghe. Neither shined in the first round of the tournament. Froch won a fair, if razor close, decision over Andre Dirrell but looked lousy doing it. Kessler had his rear handed to him by former Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward. Of the two, Froch could at least say he won. Kessler? He went from favorite to seemingly desperate for a win to stay relevant in the tournament.
In what remains the best fight of the Super Six, Kessler ended the eleventh round looking buzzed and with no clear lead on the cards. As reported the night of the fight:
A double jab and right hand started the final round for Kessler, Froch missing his first few powerful attempts. Another double jab and right landed before a minute was gone, shortly followed with a clipping left hook. A right hand and left hook laced Froch in the middle of the round as the crowd built to a fever behind Kessler. Froch missed with two rights, then another, but then found a series of left hooks.
With a minute to go it was bedlam, Kessler striking with the right hand and firing, if mostly missing, while Froch was to the ropes. A Froch right hand caught Kessler and suddenly it was Froch coming forward, an exhausted Kessler grabbing hold of Froch after tasting a slinging left. With ten second to go, Kessler launched a final assault, landing lefts and rights thrown with what he had left in the tank, both warriors smiling at each other as the final bell rang.
It would end up more than enough for Kessler to pull out a unanimous decision, earning his second 168 lb. WBC belt. Sadly, it was also the end for Kessler in the “Super Six” as an eye injury forced him to leave the field prior to the third preliminary round. Froch moved on to easily defeat Arthur Abraham, a fight that combined with his effort versus Kessler, enhanced his standing to the point where no shadow can encompass him.
Runner-Up: Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana – Round 10
There have been, and will remain, questions about the chin of WBA Jr. Welterweight titlist Amir Khan. There can be no question about his fighting heart. With a clear lead through the first half of his December brawl with Marcos Maidana, including a devastating body shot knockdown in the opening frame, Khan had struggled to keep the Argentine toughie off of him. In round ten, that struggle ended and a struggle for survival ensued. As described by Jake Donovan:
With the fight mathematically out of reach, it was clear that Maidana needed something dramatic to happen in order to win the fight. It nearly happened in the tenth, a round that perhaps Khan will one day look back and turn to as the greatest gut check of his career. No knockdowns were scored, but it was the very definition of a 10-8 round as Maidana battered him from beginning to end. A right hand began the rally, causing Khan’s right leg to kick out from underneath him. Maidana went on the attack, unloading at will though unable to put away the Brit, who managed to regain his legs by rounds end.
Khan would keep those legs even if, after the fight, his trainer Freddie Roach conceded he thought of stopping the fight after the beating Khan took in the 10th. Should Khan go on one day to greatness, the trial by fire he experienced against Maidana will always be seen as a watershed moment.
Honorable Mention: With his Light Heavyweight title seemingly up for grabs, Jean Pascal weathered a furious start to the 12th and final round from Bernard Hopkins in December, turning the tide in the final minute to land some saving blows of his own while the Quebec crowd roared…Zab Judah pulled himself off the floor against undefeated Lucas Matthyse in November in the tenth, critical in working his way towards a career saving decision win…Juan Manuel Marquez proved again, in round three of his November title defense versus Michael Katsidis, that he can be put down but out remains uncharted land…Ivan Calderon and Giovanni Segura went to savage lengths in the fourth round of their amazing Jr. Flyweight title fight in August.
Robbery of the Year: Beibut Shumenov SD12 Gabriel Campillo
It was head scratching as an automatic rematch. Gabriel Campillo’s 2009 win over Beibut Shumenov in defense of his WBA was hardly the sort of fight that should have engendered controversy. The January rematch? By night’s end, almost all that saw it knew they’d seen highway robbery of the worst kind. As reported in tandem by Ryan Burton and Mark DeSisto:
The fight was not even close… Shumenov came out throwing bombs in the first round, testing Campillo out. In the second, it was Campillo coming out with combinations and hard punches on Shumenov, swelling up his left eye. The third round was close with both guys landing hard punches from both hands. After Shumenov got off to a fast start in the fourth, Campillo ended the round strong by landing very hard hooks during the last minute to stun Shumenov while fighting off the ropes. Shumenov was throwing bombs at the start of the fifth. Campillo's left eye was cut during an exchange. Campillo stood his ground and fought fire with fire. Campillo ended strong again in the final minute.
Campillo came out with some hard shots at the start of the sixth. Shumenov fought back in spurts but it was Campillo who was landing big punches from both hands during the exchanges to push the challenger back. Campillo had a very strong seventh round. He was putting a pounding on Shumenov who seemed to be very tired as the action played out. Campillo had another strong round in the eight. He was coming forward with punches from both hands and just outworking what seemed to be an exhausted Shumenov. During the ninth round, Campillo busted up Shumenov with so many combinations that he came close to a stoppage. By the end of the round Shumenov's face was a bloody mess.
The tenth round was a little slower. Shumenov did some better work. Campillo was still outworking and outlanding him. Shumenov was still very tired during the eleventh round. Campillo slowed down just a little. He was still outworking Shumenov badly by landing at least ten punches to one. Shumenov was once again a bloody mess by the end of the round. In the last round, Shumenov came out looking for a big blow. Campillo kept himself together. He countered with multiple combinations to the head and body of Shumenov. As the fight began to close down, Campillo closed the show by pushing the challenger back with shots that were coming from multiple angles.
Campillo’s work would ultimately go unrewarded. Shumenov moved on and showed real growth in a title defense before signing for a unification tilt with WBO titlist Juergen Braehmer to start 2011. Somewhere, sometime, a reckoning with Campillo is still owed.
Runner-Up: Ulises Solis D12 Luis Lazarte
After dominating the fight for most of the night, despite a stream of ugly fouls from the titlist Lazarte that cost Lazarte a couple of points. As reported by Jhonny Gonzalez, the pain and anger Solis felt after being denied the regaining of an IBF 108 lb. belt he once held with pride won’t go away soon.
Solis was sure of victory after the final bell hand rung and began to celebrate. The expression on his face began to change when the scores came out. Hector Afu of Panama, and Richard Green of the United States saw it 113-113, and John Madfis of the United States had Solis winning 117-109.
Many saw Solis as the clear victor in the fight and the champion lost two points for repeated fouls. Solis can't believe the referee, who was from the United States, did not issue a disqualification call against the champion. Solis said the champion used his head, threw repeated low blows, repeated punches to the back of the head and even bit him.
"I feel frustrated after watching the fight. I dominated him. I won the fight, but what can you expect when you are the vistor fighting in the other boxer's home. Even with the draw, people said it was a good fight. I can walk away with my head held high because I did well for Mexico," Solis said. "I do not know what happened to the judges and referee. Lazarte bit me and hit me with many low blows. He is nothing special and I assure you that he will lose the title if he fights overseas."
Dis-Honorable Mention: There are many still seething about what they saw as a robbery in Jean Pascal’s December draw title defense against the great Bernard Hopkins…Earlier on the same day, many fans and viewers came away feeling the same about Marco Huck surviving a WBOI Cruiserweight title defense with a split decision over Denis Lebedev…In August, Devon Alexander kept his hopes for a Jr. Welterweight unification contest with Timothy Bradley alive at the expense of an Andriy Kotelnik who did more than unanimous 8 rounds to 4 scores could ever have indicated…The ever dull Sebastian Zbik similarly was aided in staying in Middleweight contention in July with a controversial decision over Jorge Heiland. As noted by staff writer Alexey Sukachev during Awards voting, “Zbik is going straight to a record-breaking territory with 3 huge controversies in 4 of his (WBC interim) title fights. Perhaps Zbik will be back in the category in 2011…Finally, BoxingScene contributor Ernest Gabion pointed to two men not giving the sport the “fight we deserve” in 2010, leading us finally to the…
Event of the Year: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Not Fighting
As 2009 came to a close, the scent of heated negotiation was in the air. It turned out to be gas. There was a little of everything: a request for Olympic style random blood and urine drug testing, pulled 24/7 footage, flurries of press releases, and a lawsuit.
And that was only the first time the fight did not happen.
Fans and some in the press have taken their sides, but the bottom line was that that sport’s biggest story in 2010 was that its best fighters couldn’t figure out how to make what promised to be the biggest money event in boxing by leaps and bounds. The first time things fell apart, it looked like a lot of blame fell in the Pacquiao camp. When Team Mayweather began bizarrely claiming no negotiations had even taken place later in the year for a Fall fight, despite claims to the contrary by the promoter of Pacquiao and the more neutral head of HBO Sports, public opinion about Mayweather plummeted.
With legal issues plaguing Mayweather to end 2010, has the chance for THE FIGHT of this era been nuked for good? This soap opera could well stand atop the event field again in 2011.
Runner-Up: Manny Does Dallas
While Pacquiao’s failure to see Mayweather in the ring was clearly the sport’s driving story, right behind it was Pacquiao’s two mega-events at the new Cowboys Stadium. Between the two of them, Pacquiao put over 80,000 butts in seats in his two 2010 outings to go along with over 1.7 million pay-per-views sold. Lopsided wins over Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito might be forgotten but the growth of Pacquiao’s star will not be. Pacquiao is doing things in the U.S. not seen since in form a foreign fighter since the heyday of Julio Cesar Chavez.
Honorable Mention: Despite it’s expansion from a field six to a field of eight (plus one unofficial Sakio Bika), the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament delivered drama and headlines in and out of the ring all year…David Haye and Audley Harrison might have been a sorry match on paper but the locals bought tickets like it was the first all-Brit heavyweight title Fight since Lennox Lewis-Frank Bruno (it was)…Seeing the writing on the wall, and TV ratings in the toilet, American network HBO very publicly bowed out of the Klitschko business, meaning the top of the Heavyweight class went dark on the network for the first time ever. They did express interest in reviewing the decision should Klitschko-David Haye come off. Which Klitschko seems of little concern…Say what one wants about Floyd Mayweather but his outstanding pay TV numbers against Shane Mosley expressed why he still matters so much. The two of them put on the most anticipated showdown of the first half of the year…Top Rank and Golden Boy have entered what can be called Cold War II, affecting the available matches all over the scale…Shane Mosley and Sergio Mora was a terrible main event but a classic undercard classic…Antonio Margarito was a veritable road show as he traveled from Nevada, to California and finally Texas to have his boxing license restored…A Showtime Bantamweight tournament sent a big signal of the division’s rebirth, experiencing its best wave of depth and fights since the prime of Jeff Chandler…Finally, no one will ever forget the tragic news when reigning Lightweight titlist and former Jr. Lightweight beltholder Edwin Valero was arrested for the murder of his wife. Before facing justice in Venezuela, Valero committed suicide in jail. Blessings are wished on the soul of his victim, Jennifer Viera. May she rest in peace.
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Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]