By Frank Warren
After the fistic fiesta that was 2014 finally draws to its close, it’s time to announce my highly unofficial annual gongs.
British Fighter of the Year: Amir Khan
Kell Brook had an admirable win over Shawn Porter – albeit in a drab fight – to bag the IBF welter strap over in Carson, California and Carl Froch exacted a chilling stoppage against George Groves in his sole 2014 appearance.
But for me both are eclipsed by the resurgent Khan who made an impact Stateside, debuting up at welterweight, delivered a brace of landslide points wins across The Pond against native Yanks.
In May, he dropped much avoided ex WBA welter boss Luis Collazo three times at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas then returned to the venue earlier this month to comprehensively school ex two weight world champion Devon Alexander.
Amir has always had speed and skill to burn but coach Virgil Hunter has instilled some much needed tactical discipline and there is a much sturdier look about the former wunderkind since his rise to 147lbs.
Consequently, he is now in the best form of his nine year pro career. Salivating showdowns with any of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao or Kell Brook beckon in 2015.
Overseas Fighter of the Year: Gennady Golovkin
Terence Crawford and Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev had stellar campaigns at lightweight and light-heavy respectively but both are pipped by the crunch punching Kazakh middleweight.
‘Golden Gennady’ wasted three reputable challengers in 12 rounds combined whilst defending his WBA Super title. Ghana’s teak tough Osumana Adamu and Australia’s ex IBF king Daniel Geale had both never previously been stopped prior to ‘GGG’ chopping them down. Then, in October, monster hitting Mexican Marco Antonio Rubio was put to sleep within five minutes.
The cherubic faced assassin, a former world amateur champion, has now won 31 straight as a pro, with 28 victims faltering before the finish line. Thirteen succumbed to the full ten count and his current stoppage streak stands at 18. It’s a tough job for St Helens warrior Martin Murray who is next in line, over in Monte Carlo next February!
By no means a small middleweight, the Kazakh will need to spot natural weight if he is to get anything resembling a competitive test in 2015.
British Fight of the Year: Billy Joe Saunders v Chris Eubank Jr
The bookies couldn’t split these bitter middleweight adversaries beforehand and, after a dozen rounds of both skill and savagery, the three judges struggled to split them afterwards.
After a fight of two halves, Saunders rightly eloped victorious, scorching to an early lead, then gallantly staving off a very intense late onslaught, amidst an almighty din at the ExCeL.
The Hatfield southpaw, who became the first Gypsy to take permanent custody of a Lord Lonsdale Belt, advances to challenge fellow traveller Andy Lee for the WBO world title next spring.
However, the public glamour for an encore with Eubank – potentially with a world title as the bounty – might prove irrepressible.
Overseas Fight of the Year: Terence Crawford v Yuriorkis Gamboa
Evidence here that, at least in boxing, size does matter.
Cuban exile Gamboa, a former Olympic flyweight champion who’d bagged pro world titles at both feather and super-feather, is a quality operator.
However, despite frenetic resistance he was finally forced to concede to the naturally bigger and equally gifted Yank who was making the maiden defence of the WBO lightweight title he wrenched from Ricky Burns in Glasgow in March.
Inspired by a chaotic 10,000 crowd in his home state of Nebraska, Crawford finally triumphed in round nine but the BoxNation screened brawl was both brutal and brilliant while it lasted.
Knockout of the Year: Carl Froch v George Groves
The Froch-Groves hostility required an emphatic conclusion and the champion delivered it in round eight of their May rematch at Wembley Stadium.
One nuclear right hand placed upstart Groves in slumberland and forever laid to rest all disputes as to who the superior fighting man is.
Upset of the Year: Andy Lee v Matt Korobov
Russian ogre Korobov was a two time world amateur champion, unbeaten in 24 straight as a professional and nestled in the home corner on a Top Rank promotion in Las Vegas.
London-born, Limerick raised Lee had previously been stopped twice and looked finished at elite level when he trudged past Dublin’s Anthony Fitzgerald in a turgid 10 rounder last year. Two judges had the hugely likeable Lee losing every round of this WBO middleweight spat as the fighters emerged for round six.
Nevertheless, Irish eyes were soon smiling worldwide when Lee connected with his signatory potent right hook to leave Komrade Matt counting birdies, and the fight daft travelling community with its first ever gloved world champion.
British Prospect of the Year: Jack Catterall
2012 Olympic super-heavyweight king Anthony Joshua is a serious talent but is still to face a worthwhile test in the pro field.
Such accusations can’t be levelled at 21 year old Catterall, a bison strong southpaw from Chorley, who routed a brace of unbeaten Scouse hopefuls back-to-back in the second half of 2014.
Former world junior medallist Nathan Brough was iced with a left cross in round two in July, then ex Team GB Olympic skipper Tom Stalker was done in eight in an impressively measured display in October.
Coached by the well regarded Lee Beard in Stockport, young Jack served his ring apprenticeship in the austere fight gyms on the east coast of the USA. Now unbeaten in 10, expect him to explode onto the title scene in 2015.
Overseas Prospect of the Year: Felix Verdejo
Keep your mincers peeled for this latest starlet from the fighting Mecca of Puerto Rico.
Known as ‘El Diamante’ (The Diamond), the 21 year old has raced to 16 straight wins with 12 stoppages under the Top Rank standard, since current WBO feather king Vasyl Lomachenko edged him out in the quarter-finals of the London Olympics.
A lightweight with heavyweight power, Verdejo is skilful, mobile and already possesses the poise of a thoroughbred.
He has the looks and lines to evolve into a transcendent star and the raw talent to potentially emulate compatriots such as Carlos Ortiz, Tito Trinidad and Miguel Cotto as an all-time great.
Journeyman of the Year: William Warburton
This Atherton circuit fighter has had his hand lifted in just 14 of his 89 pro gigs since debuting in 2009. A ridiculous 62 opponents were unbeaten when the 27 year old welterweight confronted them.
Yet, despite holding down a full time post as a team leader for an engineering company, young Willie always turns up in shape and gives his best effort.
And this year his dedication was rewarded when he scalped hot prospects George Kean and Lewis Rees – unbeaten in three and ten respectively –on my shows.
Always operating at short notice and from the away corner, wily Warburton and his ilk are the pulse of our sport and merit our utmost respect and admiration.
Coach of the Year: Adam Booth
Formerly the mastermind behind the rise of David Haye and George Groves, the 45 year old south Londoner deserves huge props for restoring the confidence and refining the technique that enabled Andy Lee to scale the WBO middleweight mountain.
‘The Dark Lord’ took the crestfallen Limerick man into his fold shortly after his June 2012 WBC title challenge to Julio Cesar Chavez ended in painful stoppage defeat.
Following the death of Lee’s initial mentor Emanuel Steward, Booth oversaw the adjustments needed to restore the 2004 Olympian back to contention then devised the battleplan behind his upset world title win over Matt Korobov.
Comeback of the Year: Jermain Taylor
The two-time conqueror of Bernard Hopkins reigned on the world middleweight perch between 2005-7 but looked a finished force following back-to-back 12 round stoppage defeats to Carl Froch then Arthur Abraham in 2009.
A 26 month retirement ensued but the man from Little Rock, Arkansas returned in late 2011 and four wins took him to the cusp of an IBF challenge to Sam Soliman.
Shortly before his big date, ‘Bad Intentions’, now 36, was arrested for shooting his cousin but was allowed out on bail in October to recapture his old crown with a landslide four knockdown unanimous decision over the Australian in Mississippi.
Promotion of the Year: ExCeL Arena (29th November)
A capacity crowd, four British title fights that genuinely split the trade – and all lived up to expectation – plus a quality undercard and more travellers than you’ll find at Appleby Horse Fair!
I’m entering my 35th year in this business and, in terms of VFM, atmosphere, quality and competitive action, my last ExCeL bash was right up there with the best shows I’ve ever delivered. Life in the old dog yet!
Event of the Year: Froch v Groves II (Wembley Stadium)
An 80,000 sell out at the national stadium, and a forest’s worth of coverage in the national media suggests that, with the right talent and right personalities, the Noble Art still holds a massive grip on the British sporting public.
Promoter of the Year: George Groves
‘The Saint’ just edges me and all others out! Make no mistake, Carl Froch wanted no part of any reunion with the Hammersmith man who’d dropped and almost stopped him before referee Howard Foster controversially intervened in ‘The Cobra’s’ favour, six months earlier.
But Groves, as tenacious outside the ropes as he is between, singlehandedly badgered the IBF into mandating an immediate rematch. He then drove the promotion and pay-per-view aspect through a hugely impressive media campaign to ensure both principals trousered a career high purse. And that, friends, is what this business is all about! Well done George.