I'm a baseball fan, so to me, the year is halfway over when the All-Star break comes. Now that it's here, let's take a look back at the first half-year and change of boxing, the front-runners for Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year, Upset of the Year, and some other, less distinguished awards, which will be finalized in December with the 1st Annual Bad Left Hook Awards.
Fighter of the Year: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Mayweather delivered in his record-setting prize fight with Oscar de la Hoya, outboxing and outworking the bigger, stronger Golden Boy en route to a split decision victory. It was a very good fight, and in many ways very close, but since the day it happened, I have thought that it was obvious that Floyd was no 154-pounder. The fact that he won a title at a weight class he's ill-suited for -- and beat a good fighter to do it -- speaks volumes about how talented he is. Nobody else in boxing has an argument for No. 1 pound-for-pound until someone can beat Floyd. And after a predictably short retirement, he's coming back to fight Ricky Hatton, who had the balls to call Floyd out. Be careful what you wish for, Hitman.
Contenders: Miguel Cotto's tremendous win over Zab Judah has turned him into boxing's fastest-rising superstar. Selling out Madison Square Garden and having a huge New York fanbase won't hurt, but the bottom line is, Cotto is an intense, exciting fighter with a lot of career ahead of him. ... Manny Pacquiao turned it on and disposed of a somewhat surprisingly tough Jorge Solis already, and is likely to obliterate Barrera for the second time in October.
Fight of the Year: Marco Antonio Barrera v. Juan Manuel Marquez, March 17
Vintage Barrera in this one, against a hungry, talented fighter in Marquez who was overdue for a glorious victory. While the scoring remains somewhat controversial, it was as even a fight as you can possibly get. Two great fighters went toe-to-toe for 12 rounds in a big-time championship fight. For Barrera, it was another great fight by which to remember the surefire Hall of Famer when he does eventually hang up the gloves. For Marquez, it was his true arrival among boxing's elite. We knew for years that he was a great fighter, but this time he got the W to go with it.
Contenders: Cotto/Judah was a gritty throwback affair pitting stars rising and falling, and turned out to be a hell of a fight, even after Cotto's two wicked low blows early on. As the fight progressed, the younger champion took over before eventually scoring a TKO late in the bout. But Judah showed up big-time for this one, and gained back a lot of respect and credibility. ... The March 3 showdown between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez was shaping up to be the fight of the year before it ended prematurely due to injury. Their August 4 rematch could be positively incredible. ... On March 2, Colombian Samuel Miller came in 17-0 with 14 knockouts, and was a heavy favorite against journeyman Darrell Woods. Woods won a majority decision in the eight-round contest, but the result isn't the most important thing about that fight. It was a superb brawl that had the Tampa crowd on their feet cheering, and is unlikely to be topped as far as ESPN2 fights go this year.
Upset of the Year: Vic Darchinyan v. Nonito Donaire, July 7
Darchinyan can be polarizing. Lots of people love him, lots of people can't stand him. But he is always entertaining, if also always arrogant and often borderline obnoxious. His post-fight display in the ring was one of those obnoxious moments, but nothing Darchinyan did or said could take away from the fact that he was outclassed on this night against little-known Nonito Donaire. Donaire controlled the action from the opening bell, and Darchinyan had no answer for his speed and surprising power -- at least, it appeared to surprise Darchinyan. Vic never got the ball rolling, and when lunging in for one of his trademark haymakers, was blown up by a counter left hook that put him down. I thought Donaire would be competitive, but nobody saw this coming. Darchinyan was the Mike Tyson of the flyweight division. On July 7 in Bridgeport, Nonito Donaire silenced him.
Contenders: Young Chad Dawson didn't just beat light heavyweight champ Tomasz Adamek, he annihilated him. Save for a flash knockdown by Adamek late in the fight, it was all Dawson, all the time for the entire 12 rounds. Adamek was beaten thoroughly, and went up to the cruiserweight division in his next fight. It was a star-making performance for Dawson. ... The aforementioned Woods/Miller fight was a pretty big upset in its own right. Even disregarding the records, Woods is a 39-year old guy years removed from the peak of his career, and Miller came in a powerhouse prospect. So much for that. ... Some considered Mijares over Arce to be an upset, but I've never seen how. Mijares came in the better fighter, and he left the better fighter. Wonder if Arce and Darchinyan wish they'd made that fight now?
Knockout of the Year: (tie) Emmanuel Nwodo v. Darnell Wilson, June 29 AND Darchinyan v. Donaire, July 7
Really, this one depends on what you're looking for. For pure devastation of the punch, Ding-a-Ling Man's monster left hook on Nwodo takes the cake. But Nwodo was nearly out on his feet well before the final blow landed. The Donaire KO of Darchinyan came suddenly and brutally. Pick your poison.
Worst Fight of the Year: Hasim Rahman v. Taurus Sykes, June 14
The Rock's return to boxing was an embarrassing spectacle. Overweight and unprepared, a guy who once knocked out Lennox Lewis could barely contain a run-of-the-mill nobody like Taurus Sykes. Sykes was winning this fight on my card before Rahman knocked Sykes down in the ninth round, a round in which Sykes was also docked a point for low blows. It was an ugly fight that didn't even look like two professionals in the ring, and it gave heavyweight boxing a bad name. The Versus commentators couldn't do anything on this night to hide their feelings, not after the disgraceful judging of the fight before this one, and what Rahman's big return actually turned out to be. When asked how he had the fight at one point, Wally Matthews simply responded, "I have it boring."
Contenders: The Dirrell/Stevens fight underneath Malignaggi's title win against N'dou was legendarily boring. The only reason I don't put this non-fight ahead of Rahman/Sykes is that in the moments where they did throw punches (few and far between, yes), it at least didn't look like a bumfight. ... It's not Jorge Arce's fault that his win over Julio Ler was so tremendously uneventful, but it was a terrible fight nonetheless. If this fight had two Julio Lers, it could have maybe been as bad as Dirrell/Stevens.
Worst Decision of the Year: Kid Diamond v. Miguel Huerta, June 14
This should have been in the running for upset of the year. Diamond's split decision victory over Huerta was a joke. Huerta came in a nobody and beat the hell out of the somewhat-regarded lightweight. I wasn't scoring the fight as it happened because I expected an uneventful Diamond victory, as everyone did. But in my head I thought I'd given one or two rounds to Diamond. After rewatching the fight, and doing my best to be open-minded about what I thought was a criminal mess on the official cards, I gave two rounds to Diamond. He won 114-113 on two cards. How? Nobody who watched this fight thinks Kid Diamond won, and if they do, I'd love to hear the case. He threw a lot of punches and held his ground, but he was beaten up badly. Huerta had his number, and he deserved the win.
Contenders: I had Steve Forbes beating Demetrius Hopkins in March, but it wasn't the fact that Hopkins won that bothered me. It was a pretty close fight, and a fairly good one. But the scores? 118-110, 118-110, 117-111, all for Hopkins. Lopsided scores that really made no sense, other than Hopkins was supposed to win and he has a pedigreed last name.
Network of the Year: HBO
Sure, they've given us some lackluster stuff like Taylor/Spinks, but on the undercard of that, they also gave us Pavlik/Miranda, which turned out to be the brawl everyone thought it would be, and a coming of age fight for Kelly Pavlik. They've had three tremendous PPVs that were worth the money: Floyd/Oscar was a true event, Barrera/Marquez lived up to the hype, and Cotto/Judah was just flat-out tremendous in all ways. Plus, even though it wound up being a non-fight, really, Hatton/Castillo on free HBO almost felt like a gift. They brought Mikkel Kessler to American TV, gave us Juan Diaz v. Acelino Freitas on Boxing After Dark, and are working hard to get Calzaghe/Kessler and Juan Diaz/Julio Diaz fights made. You can't ask for a lot more, really. And all of that doesn't even mention the tremendous dedication to promoting the Mayweather/de la Hoya fight, unrivaled in the history of boxing, and which made for the biggest money fight of all-time.
Play-by-Play Man of the Year: Jim Lampley
This is a close race, but no one can call a big fight like Lampley. Among the other notable American PBP guys, ESPN's Joe Tessitore is maybe the best as far as pure ability within the job's title -- he calls the blow-by-blow action better than anyone. Bob Papa, who went to Boxing After Dark after serving as the Versus Network's anchor, is another good one. Steve Albert is OK, but simply lacks the presence of Lampley or the knowledge of Tessitore.
Color Commentator of the Year: Teddy Atlas
Larry Merchant is the guy that will bring the raw honesty to a broadcast, and actually has the balls to ask fighters questions we want answers to, even when he's got to be sure he won't get a straight one. But during the fights, he generally lays back. It's not really a bad thing, but it does require us to deal with Former Heavyweight Champ Lennox Lewis or Trainer of the Gods Emanuel Steward. Teddy Atlas provides in-depth analysis during the fight, and does it in an entertaining fashion. His knowledge, combined with Tessitore's, makes you wish that the two were calling fights for Showtime instead of the goofy Albert/Bernstein team. Max Kellerman and Wally Matthews are both good, too, Kellerman more in the Atlas mold and Matthews a clear descendant of Larry Merchant.