Boxing started the year on the ropes, as the sport continued a slow descent into the abyss as a result of years of crooked ruling bodies, bad matchmaking and ill-advised comebacks. But boxing has waged a dramatic comeback, thanks to some exceptional performances in 2004 and, perhaps more importantly, shocking developments that made the sport interesting again, forcing the average Joe sports fan to take notice.
The 6 most shocking boxing moments of '04 so far.
1. Roy Jones Jr. lying prone on the canvas: Jones entered his May 15 rematch with Antonio Tarver a slight favorite to retain his light heavyweight titles. There was little reason to doubt that the fighter who had reigned supreme over the game's pound-for-pound rankings for the better part of 10 years would steamroll Tarver like he had previous return opponents like Montell Griffin. But Tarver, bigger, stronger and younger than Jones, showed no signs of intimidation and proceeded to stiffen Jones with the first big punch he threw – a looping left that sent Jones crashing to the deck in the second round. Jones gamely found his feet, but referee Jay Nady thought better of it and stopped it – giving Jones the first legitimate loss of his 15-year pro career.
2. Roy Jones Jr. lying prone on the canvas, Part 2: Jones needed a strong-but-limited opponent with which to stage his comeback on Sept. 25, so he selected veteran Glencoffe Johnson, who was good enough to hold an alphabet title, but not considered to be in Jones’ league. As it turned out, Johnson was even stronger than anticipated and not quite as limited as Jones thought, and the underdog took the fight right to Jones. He hurt him in the fourth round, and stayed close, refusing to let Jones unleash his still-formidable combinations. Johnson didn't let the upset escape him, and in the 9th round, unleashed an overhand right that caught Jones on the chin and sent him down on his back. This time, Jones hardly budged as the ref counted him out. With this, Johnson effectively ended the Roy Jones era.
3. Oscar De La Hoya writhing in agony: Sure, De La Hoya was a big underdog to unseat middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins when the two superstars squared off on Sept. 18. After all, he gave away height, reach and strength advantages to the future Hall-of-Fame champion, and his attempt at adding the 160-pound title to his belt collection was considered bold. But when Hopkins dropped De La Hoya to the deck with a single left hook to the liver, no one could have imagined the dramatic scene that it would produce. There was Oscar, one of the most durable fighters in boxing, writhing on the canvas – his mouth agape, his face contorted and etched with agony. He never came close to making it up, and the “Golden Boy” was counted out for the first time in his career.
4. Acelino Freitas…quitting: The Aug. 7 showdown between Freitas and fellow powerpuncher Diego Corrales was considered one of the can't miss fights of the year going in, and the two lightweights didn't disappoint. Freitas built an early lead by getting on his bicycle and utilizing his rarely-seen boxing skills against his much-taller opponent, and it worked splendidly through the early and mid rounds. But then Corrales found the mark, and put “Popo” down again and again. But, after the last knockdown in the 10th round, Freitas got up, wearing a resigned expression. And when the ref asked Freitas if he wanted to continue, he answered “no” and walked back to his corner. It was a Brazilian “no mas”, and Freitas immediately took his place among fellow quitters Roberto Duran, Genaro Hernandez and Andrew Golota in boxing's hall of shame.
5. Andrew Golota fighting for the heavyweight title, and doing it well: No way did Golota deserve his April shot at IBF heavyweight champ Chris Byrd. He had fought an F list of nobodies heading in, with his last meaningful fight being the infamous 2000 quit job against Mike Tyson. But, when not facing a big puncher, Golota suddenly becomes a capable heavyweight, and he showed his skills in earning a draw with Byrd. Golota used the jab and boxing skills that first gained him notice in 1996 against Riddick Bowe, but this time, there were hardly any bombs to the groin. It was as disciplined and determined an effort as Golota had ever produced, and some feel he should've won. Now, for better or for worse, he's back in the title picture and will face John Ruiz in December. If he rids the division of the unwatchable Ruiz, all of his previous missteps will be forgiven.
6. Kostya Tszyu…fighting!: When undisputed junior welterweight champ Tszyu stepped in the ring with Sharmba Mitchell Saturday, it marked the first time in 22 months that the “Thunder From Down Under” stepped inside a boxing ring. That he was awesome in dispatching Mitchell was a bonus for boxing, a game that is in desperate need of a superstar. Now with Tszyu and Felix Trinidad back in fine form, boxing promises to be more prosperous in 2005 than it was in '04. A list of prospective Tszyu opponents includes Arturo Gatti, Floyd Mayweather and Cory Spinks.