By Cliff Rold
It can be one of the sport’s hardest terms to define: the comeback.
A fighter away from the game for years who returns at high form can be said to have made a comeback. Eder Jofre, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Vitali Klitschko all came out of lengthy time out of the ring to post big wins and pick up extra titles.
A fighter picking himself off the floor, dusting himself off, and coming back like nothing happened can also be celebrated. Joe Louis did it and wouldn’t lose again for over a decade. Terry Norris made a habit of it. Today, Amir Khan is already beyond his first round of comebacks.
Then there are the veterans who regroup, who slip out of what appears to be the tightening grip of Father Time to re-assert themselves on the elite of the game. It is from this pool of the comeback warrior that BoxingScene’s staff voting draws upon.
Let’s make that “Road Warrior.”
Comeback of the Year: Glen Johnson
As 2009 came to a close, it appeared one of the feel-good stories of the decade would be closing with it. Glen Johnson had bounced back from some bad losses, and some bad decisions, to win the Light Heavyweight title and post wins over Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver and Clinton Woods through the years. In 2008, many felt he’d done enough to erase the “0” on the record of Chad Dawson but their 2009 rematch was so one-sided as to suggest that 40 years of age would be a bridge too far.
2010 dispelled that notion. As staff writer Ryan Songalia put it in casting his vote, “I think you have to give it to Glen Johnson - twice. After the one-sided loss to Chad Dawson last year, he comes back and destroys a decent contender Yusaf Mack; then he loses a close decision to (undefeated IBF Light Heavyweight titlist Tavoris) Cloud in a fight some saw for (Johnson). He follows that up by reinventing himself as a super middleweight and knocking out Allen Green. Oh yeah, and he did this at 41.”
The where of the Green fight matters greatly. As contributor Luis Sandoval noted in his voting, “Just when you think the Road Warrior may have got too old he proves his still the same Glen and is right in the mix in the Super Six.” A late replacement to the tournament field, Johnson will ride the win into a semi-final clash with once-beaten WBC titlist Carl Froch in an early candidate for 2011 Fight of the Year.
Yes, Glen Johnson is still that good and plenty good enough to merit recognition for the finest comeback of 2010.
Runner-Up: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
Not too far behind Johnson, Thailand’s Pongsaklek Wonjongkam picked up a win that, some day, could be the difference in entry into the hallowed halls at Canastota. Despite a WBC and lineal Flyweight title reign from 2001-07 that saw Wonjongkam surpass the consecutive title defense record at Flyweight once held by the great Miguel Canto, too many fights against woeful challengers left some wondering if Wonjongkam was as good as his numbers. A shocking title loss to a Daisuke Naito he’d beaten twice before, followed by a 2008 draw in their fourth fight, left the questions in the air. A 2009 win over the tough Julio Cesar Miranda earned him another title shot and Wonjongkam delivered a master class with the opportunity. In March of this year, Wonjongkam dethroned Naito’s conqueror and Japan’s biggest draw, Koki Kameda, on a majority decision nowhere near as close as the cards had it and showed, at 32, he remained one of the best in the world and still the leader at 112 lbs.
Honorable Mention: Cristian Mijares, a pair of 115 lb. belts in tow, looked like a rising pound-for-pound titan is some corners until a 2008 blitzing at the hands of Vic Darchinyan left him in need of regrouping. Two more losses in a row, decisions against Nehomar Cermeno at Bantamweight (the first controversial, the second not so much) and Mijares looked ready for the scrap heap. A 3-0 2010 was capped by a title belt win back at 115 in December…Knockout losses in 2006 and 2008 suggested Jr. Lightweight Jason Litzau might peak out as an entertaining T.V. fighter just outside the scope of serious contention. 2010 upset wins over former title challenger Rocky Juarez and, more impressively, former unified Jr. Featherweight champ Celestino Caballero made Litzau a prime candidate for title opportunity at 130 lbs. in 2011…A 2009 stoppage loss to Vic Darchinyan didn’t knock Mexican favorite Jorge Arce off track, the little battler going 4-0-1 in 2010 with a first round stop of former titlist Martin Castillo and a draw versus former titlist Lorenzo Parra...An even bigger Mexican icon, Erik Morales, bounced back from almost three years out of the ring to go 3-0 in 2010. If a showdown with Juan Manuel Marquez comes off in 2011, Morales could have a chance to seize this category next year… Kassim Ouma might have gone 1-1 in 2010 on paper but he was the victim of a highly questionable decision versus undefeated Vanes Martirosyan and came off the floor to stop Joey Gilbert later in the year. There is still life in the 32-year old former Jr. Middleweight champ.
For more BoxingScene.com Year End Awards 2010:
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]