Other fighters looking to take a leap in popularity should take a page from Donaire, who fought every few months, old-school style. It paid off, with a Bernie. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)
It’s been a couple of years since last I made a year-end boxing list and checked it twice. But TSS editor Michael Woods has petitioned contributors to this site to do just that and so …
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
One great performance can, and has, earned this distinction in past years, so nobody could gripe too much if the choice is Juan Manuel Marquez, author of that bolt-of-lightning knockout of Manny Pacquiao in Part 4 of their riveting rivalry. But “Dinamita” fought only one other time in 2012, a relatively pedestrian unanimous decision over Serhiy Fedechenko, so I’m going with WBO super bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire, who won all four of his bouts against top- notch competition, the most recent a third-round knockout of Jorge Arce on Dec. 15.
Reserve some kudos, however, for WBA/WBC junior welterweight champ Danny Garcia, who had bookmark defeats of Mexican icon Erik Morales sandwiched around his watershed fourth-round stoppage of Amir Khan, as well as for welterweight Robert Guerrero, who capped a 2-0 year by outhustling Andre Berto en route to a highly satisfying 12-round unanimous decision.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
This is a tough one. Do you go with the matchup with the most sustained, back-and-forth action? Or with the one that pairs two future Hall of Famers in a slugfest that might be just a smidgeon behind in terms of pure entertainment?
My vote – and it’s admittedly subjective – goes to Brandon Rios’ seventh-round stoppage of Mike Alvarado, with big shots delivered and taken by both determined junior welterweight warriors. From the opening bell until the moment that referee Pat Russell stepped in, this fight was spell-binding. You just could not look away, or take time to run to the kitchen to make a sandwich or to the bathroom for, uh, whatever.
Much the same can be said of Pacquiao-Marquez IV, which admittedly was for higher stakes and had the more shocking finish. You can’t go wrong either way, when you get right down to it.
Deserving of a nod of appreciation are the rematch between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez, in which Salido reprised his eighth-round TKO of JuanMa in 2011 with a 10th-round stoppage, and Guerrero’s blood-and-guts unanimous decision over Berto.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
Really, there is no viable alternative to the crushing overhand right delivered by the 39-year-old Marquez that not only turned out the lights on Pacquiao in the sixth round, but, by extension, likely also snuffed any hope of a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. matchup in 2013, or ever. JMM’s emphatic takeout of his Filipino nemesis, who had been 2-0-1 in three closely contested previous bouts, already has landed on some experts’ top 10 lists for best knockouts, ever.
ROUND OF THE YEAR
HBO color analyst Roy Jones Jr. called it an “old-school dogfight,” and that’s exactly what it was. Rios and Alvarado waged a classic war, so classic that it stands to reason that the best round of that fight – Round 5 – emerged as the eventual choice for Round of the Year. Rios, who eventually won by seventh-round TKO, and Alvarado took turns rocking one another with heavy shots, amping up the voltage on what already was shaping up as an electric night of two-way action.
But as good as Round 5 of Rios-Alvarado was, it was no gimme in this category. The fifth round of Pacquiao-Marquez IV set the stage for the dramatic knockout for JMM in the next stanza. Pacquiao scored a knockdown with a crisp left hand that caused Marquez’s glove to brush the canvas, but Marquez fired back and the pace was torrid to the bell ending the round. And don’t forget Round 12 of Sergio Martinez’s otherwise dominant points no over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who floored Martinez and had him badly hurt in the final minute.
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR
America badly needs a young heavyweight hope, and 28-year-old Philadelphian Bryant Jennings could be that guy after going 5-0 in 2012, the highlight being a ninth-round stoppage of former WBO titlist Sergei Liakhovich. By virtue of having faced better competition, Jennings gets the nod over Deontay Wilder, whose 26-0 record – all by knockout – has been fashioned against a long line of designated victims, six more of whom were added to the list over these past 12 months.
But if your best bet for future stardom is featherweight Gary Russell Jr. or really big British heavyweight David Price, you’ll get no argument here.
TRAINER OF THE YEAR
Robert Garcia is 37 and seemingly poised for a long run at or near the top of elite trainers, if the work done by some of his fighters in 2012 is any indication. What’s not to like when your stable includes the likes of Donaire, Rios, Marcos Maidana, comebacking Kelly Pavlik and Garcia’s younger brother, Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia?
Garcia edges out everyone’s sentimental favorite here, the late, great Emanuel Steward, as well as Virgil Hunter, whose tutelage of WBC/WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward deservedly continues to draw plaudits.
INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF THE YEAR
Johnathan Banks is still an active heavyweight, but, at 30, he already was preparing for the next phase of his boxing life, as a trainer, under the direction of his tutor and friend, Emanuel Steward. When Steward passed away on Oct. 25, at 68, that left WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko without a chief second for his upcoming defense against Mariusz Wach. The multitasking Banks responded by working the corner for Klitschko’s Nov. 10 unanimous decision over Wach in Hamburg, Germany, then hustling to Atlantic City, where he stopped the touted Seth Mitchell in two rounds on Nov. 17.
Somewhere, you just knew Manny had to be smiling.
“It’s been surreal,” Banks told SI.com of his closely bunched dual duties that produced twin successes. “I believed I could beat (Mitchell), and I believe in my abilities to teach different things in boxing.”
SAD STORY OF THE YEAR
It’s a fond but regretful farewell to Steward, Angelo Dundee, Bert Sugar, Carmen Basilio, Teofilo Stevenson, Hector Camacho, Johnny Tapia and Michael Dokes. Some are true legends of boxing, some came close to attaining that status, but all of the aforementioned made a deep and lasting mark on the sweet science. Death is the one opponent no human being can slip forever, but those of us who have yet to cross over still have our memories of the dearly departed, right?
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
It’s been a long decline for U.S. amateur boxing, from the halcyon days of maybe the two most honored American Olympic teams ever, the 1976 bunch that won five gold medals in Montreal and the 1984 group that took nine golds in Los Angeles, to the disaster of 2012 in London, where, for the first time, no male fighter representing of this country came home with a medal of any kind.
Look for a radical makeover of the internal workings of USA Boxing between now and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the wake of the embarrassing pratfall across the pond, during which Americans won only four of 10 bouts, and two of those were notched by welterweight Errol Spence.
But while the guys were blanked, 17-year-old middleweight Claressa Shields saved a bit of face for the red, white and blue, winning a gold in the first Olympiad in which women’s boxing was staged as a medal sport. You go, girl.