Mariana “Barbie” Juarez and Andre Ward are my pick for this year’s Fighters of the Year.
A number of prizefighters, especially in the female professional ranks, deserve consideration but canceled each other out when they clashed. Ana Maria Torres, Jackie Nava, Kaliesha West and Ava Knight were those who fought each other to a draw.
Among the male boxers Manny Pacquiao had a stranglehold until he met Juan Manuel Marquez. Though Pacman was deemed the winner many saw it otherwise.
Other categories below were relatively easy to decide.
Fighter of the year
Mexico’s Mariana “Barbie” Juarez (32-5-3, 15 KOs) spent six years in pursuit of a world title opportunity after getting robbed of the junior bantamweight title in North Korea back in 2005. Finally, last March, Juarez was granted a shot at Italy’s Simona Galassi for the WBC flyweight world title and was triumphant. Instead of sitting around she defended the title four times including last week’s victory in Mexico. Second was France’s Anne Sophie Mathis, who is the winner of another category below.
Oakland’s Andre “S.O.G.” Ward (25-0, 13 KOs) showed the rest of the world what most Californians already knew, he’s one of the best prizefighters in the world at any weight division. Not only did he defeat Carl Froch, he steamrolled Germany’s Arthur Abraham this year to prove that he stands alone among super middleweights and has a place alongside the elite fighters of the world. In second for this category was Nonito Donaire.
Best Fight of the Year
The first of two encounters between junior bantamweight world champion Ana Maria Torres of Mexico City and junior featherweight champion Jackie Nava of Tijuana proved to match the lofty expectations held by the boxing world. In a ferocious 10 round affair both Torres and Nava showed just how good female boxing has become. In a back and forth struggle Nava and Torres battled to a draw in their first match and it was the best female fight in 2012. In second place was Ava Knight and Kaliesha Wests’ second meeting last June in Southern California. It was West’s speed versus Knight’s strength and it ended in a draw.
Last April, in Atlantic City, Victor Ortiz and welterweight champion Andre Berto put on one of the most amazing, jaw-dropping fights seen in a while. Both were knocked down in a scintillating back and forth fistic drama that had the audience standing on their feet. Ortiz eventually won the fight by unanimous decision and took the welterweight title. A rematch has been signed for this coming February in Las Vegas. In second place was Mauricio Herrera’s brutal 12-round junior welterweight slugfest against Ruslan Provodnikov in Las Vegas last January.
KO of the Year
Ava Knight’s wicked left hook knockout of IBF flyweight titleholder Arely Mucino in round two of their title match was electrifying. Knowing she had to demolish Mucino to win the title in Mexico, Knight proceeded to walk down the champion and drop her several times though only two were counted. The knockout left Mucino unconscious for more than a minute and gave San Francisco’s Knight the world title and the most impressive knockout win of the year, hands down. In second was Anne Sophie Mathis knockout of Holly Holm in New Mexico.
In the men’s side it was another Northern Californian, Nonito Donaire, who left Mexico’s Fernando Montiel momentarily paralyzed after a single left hook in their much anticipated bantamweight collision. Donaire proved his power and speed was too much for Montiel, who couldn’t have imagined such a shocking ending. In second was Adrien Broner’s knockout of Jason Litzau that took place in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Upset of the Year
When France’s Anne Sophie Mathis accepted the fight with New Mexico’s Holly Holm in Albuquerque, boxing observers expected another easy night for the hometown girl. Boy, were they wrong. Mathis battered Holm and stopped her in seven rounds. Few expected such a traumatic ending. Holm had not lost a fight in more than seven years. One added note to the referee Rocky Burke, who should have stopped the bout earlier: you almost got Holm seriously injured. In second was Australia’s Diana Prazak winning by technical knockout over Lindsay Garbatt in round nine for the world title. Not an easy feat.
Mexico’s Orlando Salido traveled to Puerto Rico to meet then world champion Juan Manuel Lopez in his native country. He thoroughly beat the Puerto Rican strongman and grabbed his title with both hands by knockout. Most experts thought it would be an easy victory for Lopez, instead it was Salido who won easily and thoroughly. In second was Mexico’s Jorge “El Travieso” Arce stopping junior bantamweight champion Wilfredo Vazquez of Puerto Rico in the final round to win the title in Las Vegas.
Round of the Year
Round nine of the Jackie Nava and Ana Maria Torres first fight showed that both women were unwilling to accept defeat. After nine rounds of intense fighting few expected the pair could push it any further but Torres and Nava increased the salvos with punishing results. Even in their rematch several months later that Torres won could they match the fury of the ninth round of their first encounter.
Round six between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto was one of those three minute action-packed frames that you couldn’t imagine. It was like watching a Rocky movie as first Ortiz was floored midway through the round and looked like he was going to be stopped. Suddenly he erupted with a punch that sent Berto to the floor with moments to go in the round. The crowd went crazy.
Comeback Fighter of the Year
A year ago Christy “The Coalminer’s Daughter” was shot and stabbed by her former husband. She not only survived the assault she was back in the ring seven months later fighting for the junior middleweight world title against Dakota Stone. Martin was winning the fight but suffered a broken right hand midway through the match. The referee stopped the fight against Martin’s pleas but she won over the fans for her gritty determination. It was quite a year for the 43-year-old Martin.
Mexico’s Jorge Arce, 32, moved up in weight class to challenge Puerto Rico’s young junior bantamweight world champion Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. Few expected much of a fight and everyone was surprised when Arce knocked out Vazquez in the last round to win the junior bantamweight title. Then he moved up a weight division and won the bantamweight world title too. It was quite a year for Arce who many thought was rapidly declining.
Trainer of the Year
Virgil Hunter did one heck of a job preparing Andre Ward for the super middleweight tournament that finally ended after more than two years. The Northern California boxing trainer always seemed on point when giving instructions. His strategies were sound and Ward evolved from a pure boxer into an all around force especially fighting inside.
Pat Russell, Big John McCarthy, Steve Smoger, Tony Weeks, Jack Reiss, Lou Moret, Kenny Bayless, and Dennis DeBon proved to be the best referees of the year. Most of them are familiar to boxing fans who recognize them as the most consistent and fair officials today. A referee is the single most powerful ring official and all of these men above never abused the privilege.
Best Ringside Judges
Max DeLuca, Jerry Roth, Pat Russell Jack Reiss, Adelaide Byrd, Patricia Jarman, Lisa Giampa, Marty Denkin, Julie Lederman, Steve Morrow, Fritz Werner, James Jen Kin, Guido Cavalleri, Steve Weisfeld, Anek Hongtongkam, and Duane Ford. When you have a mega fight it’s extremely important that one of the above is ringside judging the fight. These judges mentioned proved all year-long that they’re the best of the best. Ask Amir Khan how important referees and judges are.