BLASTS PAST - GrandpaGloves '11hobbles into the graveyard of calendars while Boxing Baby 2012 begins the crawl. New Year's blessings to all.
We must bury Boxing2011 with few wreaths of greatness, but we can also praisemany honorable and entertaining duke-outsduring that past twelve months. The game itself deserves "Fighter of the Year"consideration for once again making naysayers look like trolls, slithering around beneath the ringside seats.
Even a bad year in boxing is as goodas a normal year in most sports.
Still, with persistent negative images,perceived miscues or improprieties and, perhaps most damaging; stars' questionable efforts in "championship" events, this certainlywasn't amongst the best seasons ever.It really wasn't a bad year overall for the brand worldwide though, whileregrettable that two of the very biggest, potentially classicfights in the global spotlight, Pacquiao -Mosley and Klitschko - Haye, were complete duds.
As always, there were thousands more good scores or calls than bad, but last year it seemed there were far moreunsatisfactory callsin fights of the very highest profile, like Floyd Mayweather Jr - Victor Ortizstateside or Yoan Pablo Hernandez - USS Cunningham in Germany. Around here, the weirdest sour ending was whenVitali Klitschko stopped Odlanier Solis on a one punchleg injury.Uncommon and uncanny.
In European territory, there was sustained interest in local titles and local prospects, with limited coverage of theUS scene. In Germany, and probablyBritain, Mayweather got muchmore ink and screen time than Manny Pacquiao. Then again, in 2011 Floyd had many of what you could call more "newsworthy" days than other fighters.
Around this continent and the UK there was plenty of good action at the ground level. Boxing remains a bigger consumersport here than in the States. Pay per view is limited or non-existent in most regions. That means almost every big fight is on free TV. Makes a difference. In Germany the amount of viewers is usually quitesubstantial, a trend probablycommonin nearby domains. The businessmodel, kind of like '50s USA, is apparently good for the sport.
The K2 promotional express rolled on, setting the standard for class, like a precision luxury coup gliding down the autobahn at warp speed. Newer muggs like Alexander Povetkin, Robert Helenius, Tyson Fury, Hernandez, and Amir Kahn became more regular in the sports pages.In Germany, "Smokin'" Joe's passing was widely noted with respect of an appropriate magnitude.
There seems to be enough punch for profit going around Germany to makeeveryone happy. At least three major broadcasting companies (possible affiliations unknown) transmit fights relatively often, and stronglysupport them through a related media umbrella which includes high-def live streams.
Klitschko stadium galas, while not as red-hot or expensivea ticketas a couple years back, fill tens of thousands of seatsthree orfour times a yearwith no visible decline in the demand for premium VIP packages (maybe it should be VEP: very expensive person). Sauerland Event, the area's most active premium promotional outfit, regularlyputs onexcellent major title cards that average aroundfour to six thousand customers. The club fight typescene looks very popularat many local gyms, which sponsor bouts for a couple hundred people.
Here, boxing is mainstream enough that advertising campaigns present boxing based images as a desirable, marketable attribute. Fitness, fashion and general goods get the gloved-uptreatment.Michael Buffer has been prominently featured for many months in promos for one of the biggest retail companies in Germany.
There is probably more general boxing coverage in the UK than other parts of Europe I've seen, with regular profiles outside usual immediate or upcoming fight time frames. German media provides good coverage of many fights immediately preceding specific events. In Germany there are many celebrity-based photos of boxersamong daily paper tabloids. Unlike UK Page 3 types, Deutschland'stopless frauleins adornpage one ofsome city newspapers.
European boxing'scurrent stateof the artexists incomplete self sufficiency, stablity and withan ongoing,replenished talent pool. Top amateur prospects may be less protected than many of the future USstars I saw. Overall, through size alonethe talent pool around Germany is farmore shallow thana place likeLA or Vegas in terms of global impact. Between strong national programs at both amateur and pro levels there is a considerable migration of former Soviet Union state area prospects who head west for more optimal training conditions.
Professionally, at the novice to mid-prelim range things look muchthe same as in the US. Maybe its something in the water, wine or workoutsthat later separatesanemergence of trueworld class performers. In 2011, the ambassadors from these Europeanpartsdidn't fare so well in global arenas.German star Arthur Abraham got spanked in the Super Sixwhile respected Sebastian Zbik and Serhiy Dzinzirukalso met defeat onUS shores. Abraham gets back on lighter horse in around a week. Dzinziruk, who got stopped by worthy champion Sergio Martinez and Zbik, narrowly outpointed by improving JC Chavez Jr wentback to the drawing board with new opportunities. Sebastian Sylvester, who lost his IBF middleweight belt to Daniel Geale then got stopped by Grzegorz Proska, may digress to a spoiler role.
Perhaps the most shocking differencein theGerman scene is that here, the cruiserweight division is very strong and entertaining. No, I did not stay too long in Amsterdamfor NewYears' (just long enough, actually).
There are many solid cruisers who will never earn a title but are no easy notch, a bit like fringe heavyweightcontenders of the 70-80s.Guys who probably hit the ring fight nightwell over 200 poundslike Ola Alofabi orDenis Lebedov arethe fringes of the 2010s.Guys like Hernandezand Cunninghammight have won bouts against previous heavies like James Tillis,Joe Mesior Tyrell Biggs.
Differences in nationalapplication and results cause no major deficiencies in anyone's product.It's still two women ortwomen, generally braver andin better shape than the average citizen, getting into a ring and throwing hands.
Consistent levels of Vegas main events and featured undercard bouts apparently still dwarfthe euroscene atop the fistic food chain, but the overall spectacleis much the same. Some Klitschko VIP parties rival glitter gulch presentations. For the record, as a fight destination nothing matches Vegas in the 80s-90s,probably the modern era'sheight of boxingglamour. So far.
Thatsummit may remain unmatched, but there are many fine fights and fighters to observe in these parts nowadays. Here's the best of what I saw firsthandlast year.
Fighter(s)of the Year : The Kbros split this one by way ofboth dominant and dubious distinction. From one perspective, nobody really came close to matching the level of exemplaryprofessionalism Wlad and Vit have maintained forrelative eons now, in everything from proper preparation to charitablesidelines. On the other side of the coin,during 2011 there were few major Euros who hadvery good years. Lebedev pounding Roy Jones or James Toney in Moscowain't exactly a Renaissance.
Fight of the Year - I'm goingwith Marco Huck's (pictured) frenzied10th round KOversusHugo Garayin Munich's Olympic Ice Stadium last July. It was not the most finesse based exercise ever conducted between the strands, but it was one heck of a two-way brawlthat made the 4,404 or so fans in attendance loco. Both men were stunned multiple times during huge exchanges. Garay was a perfect foil, and made an upset look entirely possible more than a couple times. Icing on the conking cake was Huck's way over the top entrance featuring a live performance by pop-rocker Sera Lee, complete with unisex dancing boxersusing flaming gloves. A live cartoon.
There was less of the essential mauling mayhem, but in terms of top level technique the runner-up nod goes to the controversialFelix Sturm-Matthew Macklin endurance contest. Sturm's subsequent draw againstMartin Murray looked nearly as good on TV, andHernandez-Cunningham shaped up as a thriller before an accidental cut.
Round of the Year: Sturm- Macklin round 12.A great promotion with a full house of 19,000 inCologne. Excellent battle, arguablyup for grabs down the stretch. I gave the round to Sturm by a punch,but the fight to Macklin by a point. Runner up: Povetkin-Chagaev round 6. Yes it wasa bit ofa big boy slog, but well-fought overallbehind plenty of heavy thuds.Maybe it takes a strong bruiser like Chagaev to bring out the best in Povetkin.Reminiscent of '80selimination waltzes featuring guys like Dokes,Weaver or Cobb.
Event of the Year : Vitali K - Adamek in Wroclaw, Poland, where the locals showed why their economy is growing. Students of boxing loremay recall the Dempsy-Gibbons fiasco in Shelby, Montana. This was the other side of the payoffcoin, in a still under construction stadium area to be used again for the 2012 European football/soccer tournament. It looked like almost everyone in town came for the spectacle.As a heavyweight fight, it was merely an impressive performance by the much larger, more experienced Kbro, who did what he was supposed to do against a brave but overmatched foe. Nothing extraordinary. As a cultural gathering, it was a rare scene of mass humanity with boxing at the center. The last time I observedanything like it was Lewis-Tyson in Memphis.It was later sad to hear that Adamekwas parting ways with Main Events, whose quiet efficiency contributed to both an amazing event and Adamek's overall status in the ranks. Nothing in these parts came close as a runner up.
Debacle of the Year :Goes hands and happy pants downto the Klitschko-Haye fight. As a fight scene, Hamburg was the opposite of Wroclaw.Imagine. A chancefor redemption of the marketability mothballed heavyweight division ona single July evening in Hamburg. Evena near constant, chillingdownpour couldn't drown the highly-anticipated showdown. Six or seven thousand visiting Brit fans completely outcheered the rest in a soaked crowd that looked around 38,000 deep. Despite the drenching, when the last prefight fireworks went off, there was real, electrified anticipation in the air. That lasted around four more minutes, to a point in round two when most of the stadium started figuring out they were not in for a classic. The soggy Britvocalists put more heart into their effortthan Haye did into his,and sang formore frames than he fought.
Prospective International Star : There are currently a pair of potential primo punchers on the rise : '04 Olympic silver medalistandWBA"something or other"middleweighttitlist Gennady Golovkin and '08 heavyweight gold medalist Rakhim "The Machine" Chakhkiev, a southpaw cruiserweight.Hernandez could also be considered, but almost all his potential competition is based in Germany and the usual suspects are pretty muchunknowns. Right now Chakhkiev looks like a future heavyweight force, maybe a Denis Boytsov typewithout the hand issues.
KO :Afolabi'shugeblastout ofTerry Dunstanon the Klitschko-Haye undercardwas the most obvious calluntil December, when Glovovkincreamed the reportedly never dropped Lajuan Simon, who'd looked solid against Abraham and Sylvester. Whatever your preference, bothshort hooks produced splattering, crowd joltingfirst round stoppages.
Progress: Fury and Helenius moved themselves to the front of the Klitschko sweepstakes pack by staying busy. Though defeated, Zbik and Dzinziruk went from being unknowns in America to being unknowns in America who are now only another decent effort away from being well -knownenough for agood payday.
Comeback: Haye. Completely unearned, but somehow he rosefrom July mockery tocomfirmed year-end mention as most likely contender for an early summer stadium fight against Kbro Vitali.
Class Act:The Klitschko brothers again. Whenthe main knock, year after year,istheir complete lack of competition, they're doing something a lot better than everybody else.
Country to country, the Americas still seemsuperior in the manly art.All said, if everythinglooked equal on paper, I'd pick Latin American or USbased fighters over their European counterparts at least seven times out of ten.
It's a good sign that the new year starts witha return of the sport to a foundational network. NBC's Chambers-Liakhovich free cable broadcast could well be the event of next year, one way or another.
Thepositive perspective, as usual, is that there were lots of good fights all over the lumping landscape by honorable, well prepared performers who maintained boxing's best traditions and highest standards.
The fight gameremained a vibrant piece of the social equation last year,andthe planet continued to spin as old calendars and old champions were replaced.
There is a lot of middle ground between thriving and starving.
Boxing's bellymay be lean, but it isn't under-nourished.
Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?