I’m not one for year-end awards and pageantry articles and columns.
In fact I don’t think I’ve ever written a year-end piece declaring who is the fighter of the year or what was the round of the year, or anything along those lines. They’re too subjective for me and there’s usually a sound argument to be constructed for multiple candidates, especially when it comes to “Fighter Of The Year.”
However, this year it’s so overwhelmingly obvious who the fighter of the year is that it requires little thought or reflection whatsoever. Before addressing who that is, let’s get the other candidates out of the way, stating with the usual stalwarts Manny Pacquiao 57-5-2 (38) and Floyd Mayweather 47-0 (26).
In 2014 Pacquiao fought a rematch with Timothy Bradley and met Chris Algieri in his last bout. Yes, Pacquiao did hand both Bradley and Algieri their first losses as a pro. But in reality, Pacquiao beat Bradley in the ring, forget the scorecards, when they fought the first time in 2012. Sure, he dominated Algieri, knocking him down six times, but Algieri is still a beginner. Not this year, Manny.
As for his rival Floyd Mayweather, he fought twice, both times against the aggressive and crude Marcos Maidana. Mayweather struggled with Maidana the first time but clearly deserved the decision he was awarded. Maidana underperformed in the rematch and Floyd practically jogged to a decision victory. Maidana was no pushover, but Mayweather was between a 7/8-1 favorite. As is the case with Pacquiao, not this year, Floyd.
WBA/IBO middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin 31-0 (28) made his mark and certified himself as an emerging star in professional boxing. He fought three times and won all three bouts by knockout. He stopped Osumanu Adama 22-3, Daniel Geale 30-2, and Marco Antonio Rubio 59-6-1. Collectively, his three opponents in 2014 entered their bouts with him 111-11-1. That’s impressive on paper, but neither Adama, Geale nor Rubio could be thought of as outstanding. Had they arrived in an earlier era, I can’t see them cracking the top-10. Golovkin did what he should’ve done against them, and that’s get rid of them in a memorable fashion in less than 12 full rounds. Not this year Gennady, but your time is coming.
WBO lightweight title holder Terence Crawford also had a breakout year. In his first bout of the year, Crawford won the WBO lightweight title against Ricky Burns. Watching Crawford out-box Burns was a sight to behold. He had an answer for everything and anything Burns tried. And it went unmentioned in the media how Crawford’s power mostly kept Burns from fully committing to his punches because he was leery about the counters coming back at him. Crawford controlled the bout from beginning to end and was awarded an overwhelming unanimous decision verdict. In his second bout of 2014, he took on the skilled and hard-punching undefeated Yuriokis Gamboa. Gamboa really tried to bring the fight in the early rounds against Crawford. His aggression and power forced Crawford to fight, more than box and pick his spots, and Crawford answered the call. When it was over, Crawford had Gamboa on the canvas four times en-route to scoring a ninth round stoppage. Sure, Gamboa was moving up in weight, but Crawford out-boxed and out-slugged the Cuban and beat him at his own game.
Five months later in his last bout of the year, Crawford ran away with the fight, scoring a lopsided 12-round unanimous decision over the tough Raymundo Beltran. Against Beltran, Crawford switched back and forth between fighting orthodox and southpaw. And in doing such, he looked as flashy and sophisticated as Floyd Mayweather and as explosive and hard to gauge as Manny Pacquiao. No doubt Terence Crawford had a great 2014 and accomplished a lot. He’s definitely at the top of the “must see” list of boxers in 2014. Had it not been for one candidate, Crawford would have a great case for fighter of the year. Maybe next year, Terence?
In professional boxing, nothing says more about a fighter and who he is than how he fared against the best level of opposition available. Today, there are not more than three or four outstanding fighters in each division. There’s even fewer hall of famers. And if you want to shrink the field even smaller, there are only four active fighters that are certified all-time greats, and they are Bernard Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez. And only one of those four greats was defeated in the year 2014, and that was Hopkins. And the fighter who convincingly beat him was WBO light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 26-0-1 (23).
In 2014, Kovalev defeated Cedric Agnew 26-0 and Blake Caparello 19-0-1 in less than 12 complete rounds. Combined Agnew and Caparello were 45-0-1. Yes, impressive on paper, and like Golovkin’s opponents Adama, Geale and Rubio, it’s not exactly murderer’s row either. But that’s where the similarity ends, because in November, Kovalev shut out Hopkins 55-7-2 (32) over 12 rounds and even had him down and shook up twice during the bout. How many fighters can say they had Hopkins down and shut him out? That would be one, Sergey Kovalev.
Hopkins has been a champion for almost 20 years without much interruption. He has fought every elite fighter in the middleweight and light heavyweight division during his time campaigning in those classes. No, Hopkins didn’t go undefeated in every fight; however, the fights he lost were all by decision and some of them bordered on close calls and robbery. And yes, when he fought Kovalev he was two months shy of turning 50 years old. But that didn’t deter half the boxing writers polled from picking him to win, yes, even at age 49. Since he turned 40, Hopkins has controlled the pace and distance against virtually everybody he fought. He cut it close against Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson, but he never abandoned his style or veered away from trying to reduce their punch output while he won the only two or three meaningful exchanges of most of the rounds. But not against Kovalev. Sergey, 31, not only beat Hopkins conclusively, he is the only fighter I’ve seen force Hopkins out of his comfort zone and almost fight in desperation during the last third of the bout. When is the last time Hopkins was looking for a lottery punch to bail out a fight that he was so far behind on the cards that he couldn’t even convince himself that he was in it and deserved the decision?
This is one year that “FOTY” is obvious. I don’t care what your criteria is for determining who deserves the award, Sergey Kovalev clearly shined more than Pacquiao, Mayweather, Crawford and Golovkin and had the better year. Yes, when we look back at Hopkins career, Kovalev will be remembered as the fighter who basically retired him, and that alone is enough to win “FOTY.”
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com