To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure what the ESPY Awards really mean. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Like many events that are created solely for television, the show has no cultural purpose other than to serve pop culture itself. But on the positive side, it offers some betting propositions, and one of them involves boxing. ESPN gives an award to the “Best Boxer” for the year…….well, actually that’s not too clear. I’m imagining that the period for which the nominees are judged ends when the voting ends. How else would wins in the last few months be included in the “criteria” ESPN is using on its website to justify the nominations?

There are only four nominees in this category – lightweight champion Diego Corrales, welterweight titleholder Zab Judah, middleweight king Bernard Hopkins, and former junior middleweight champ Winky Wright. A couple of odd things here – three of the nominees are “unified” world champions, while the fourth isn’t – at least at the moment – a world champion at all. Also, Glen Johnson, who unified the light heavyweight title with wins over the last two fighters to win the ESPY – Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver – failed to get a nomination (who knows if his rematch loss to Tarver counts for this particular period of recognition).

This is my line on the winner:

WINKY WRIGHT
Doesn’t Win -150
Does Win +130

— Ironic that my favorite is the guy who doesn’t hold a belt. Among this group, it appears to me as if Wright has made the greatest strides in the general landscape of his sport, not necessarily as a box-office smash, but in terms of where he stands among the best the game has to offer. Think of it this way – it was just a few years ago that Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad were considered by many (mostly those who didn’t like Roy Jones) as the top two “pound-for-pound” fighters in the world. Wright has more or less taken them out of that kind of consideration – most likely for good. In the fight with Trinidad, he was an underdog and won every round of the fight. He sits in an interesting position right now; though not someone the public demands to see, he is nonetheless an opponent that would be important for people like Hopkins (if he beats Jermain Taylor) and Oscar De La Hoya to face if they wish to add to their “legacy.”

DIEGO CORRALES
Doesn’t Win -190
Does Win +170

— With his stoppage wins over Acelino Freitas and Jose Luis Castillo, Corrales is an outstanding nominee, and arguably the most spectacular. There was nothing wrong with Corrales’ performances; it’s just that his wins had a little less cachet attached to them than those of Wright.

BERNARD HOPKINS
Doesn’t Win -380
Does Win +320

— Hopkins scored the most high-profile win of this group – the knockout of Oscar De La Hoya – and also beat Howard Eastman, but in those fights, did he do anything more than he was supposed to do? He’ll get some support from the fans, and the publicity from the upcoming fight with Taylor helps, but how much?

ZAB JUDAH
Doesn’t Win -500
Does Win +450

— One reference in boxing that is often overused by the media involves a fighter “transforming his style” from boxer to puncher or puncher to boxer (e.g., the mischaracterization of Arturo Gatti, and we saw what happened when he fought someone). Most of the time, the world-class guys are boxer-punchers who adapt to the situation. In Judah’s case, he learned that for him, speed could mean power, and he has set down on his punches more, with devastating results. After the embarrassment of the loss to Kostya Tszyu, Judah has rehabilitated himself to where he is a position to fight Floyd Mayweather, De La Hoya, or whoever.

* The ESPY’S will be televised on ESPN on Sunday, July 17, at 8 PM ET.