Since the year is all but over and there are but a few even semi-major fights left, and no big American TV cards (I'm not counting the Valuev-Holyfield PPV circus as a big card), it's about time to get into some awards here at BLH.
We'll do a top 20 for fights sort of like we did last year, but more succint and contained in one post, since I don't have the time to do those big recaps again. With that, we'll name Fight of the Year, and if you missed it, I already declared Manny Pacquiao as the Bad Left Hook Fighter of the Year when it was clear the race was over.
For now, here are some miscellanous awards. Let's do it to it.
Fight Network of the Year
In my view, there's no arguing this. It's not even so much that Showtime had the best fights, though they did have some good ones, and at least one stone cold classic in Vazquez-Marquez III. But with a far smaller budget than their rivals at HBO, Showtime got away from the dreadful practices used in 2007 and went back to their calling card, which is getting fights that fight fans want to see.
When there was American demand to see the cruiserweight championship fight in England between David Haye and Enzo Maccarinelli, Showtime picked it up. They were home to the rematch between Ricardo Torres and Kendall Holt, a one-round thriller, and even went so far as to get the rights to their controversial first fight, which had never been seen on American TV before. Junior Witter made it to American TV for his fight with Timothy Bradley, and we saw one of the year's biggest upsets.
They made a 168-pound scrap between Mikkel Kessler and Edison Miranda, and went Kessler bailed, they replaced him with middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham, in another rematch people wanted to see. Late in the year, the network was essential in making Cristian Mijares-Vic Darchinyan happen, and they also brought us a 122-pound title unification between Steve Molitor and Celestino Caballero. Lucian Bute got American TV for his fight against Librado Andrade, which was one of the year's more memorable. A couple more interesting fights (Holt-Torres III and Froch-Inkin) fell through.
Not all of those fights turned out to be exciting. In fact, all of them turned out to be rather one-sided. But we got to see them, which is what's important. Showtime gave us fights we wanted, continued to showcase rising talent on Shobox, and treated boxing fans very well in '08.
Best Television Analyst of the Year
ESPN's Teddy Atlas can be abrasive at times, but there is truly no analyst on American television that is more willing to share the wealth of knowledge he's accrued than he is. There is also no analyst more capable of doing so.
There are Hall of Fame trainers, ex-world champions, and guys that have been around the sport for about half a century, and they all call fights, as do a lot of other guys. But Atlas actually communicates well, which not all of them can say. He doesn't really ramble, instead preferring to get to the point, even if he has to do so in a blunt manner.
He also truly cares about the sport, and about every fighter. Atlas has more than once become livid at what he perceives to be a fight that is going past the point of good judgment by either a fighter's corner, the referee, or both. He's seen the dangerous results of boxing, and he, like all of us, wants to see those results as little as possible.
There is also no one on American TV that provides the actual insight and depth that Atlas does with his commentary. He breaks down fights, explains things to the audience, and points out things that people just watching TV may not see. It seems like a routine thing, given that he's an analyst, but it happens with a rather surprising infrequency.
Honorable Mention: Al Bernstein, Showtime ... Steve Farhood, Showtime ... Jim Lampley, HBO (I know not everyone is a Lamps fan, but I still say no one calls the play-by-play of a big fight like he can)
Worst Television Analyst of the Year
I briefly considered the idea of disqualifying Lennox Lewis from the running, since it's such a total non-question with his inclusion, but I decided that would have been grossly unfair to Max Kellerman, who would have taken this one home in Lennox's absence.
Lewis' commentary is as exciting as dry toast, and to use one of my favorite sayings, his inclusion at the booth is as useless as tits on a boar. Lennox seems like a pretty nice guy, he was obviously a great fighter and probably the best heavyweight of his generation, and I get why he's there. He's a name, he's TV-ready, and his English accent gives the impression that he speaks well. I don't mean that to be insulting to the Brits we have reading, but you have to realize that an English accent, to many Americans, sounds sophisticated no matter what you're saying. Did you see Love Actually, when the guy who can't get laid in his home country decides it'll be easy in America with his "cute British accent," and then that plan actually works? That's really not far from the truth.
But I digress...
Lennox Lewis doesn't insult me, he puzzles me. Who can forget when he claimed that Zab Judah would no doubt be focused for his August fight with Joshua Clottey, with his reasoning being that Judah had trained in Vegas, where there are no night clubs? Who doesn't get a kick out of every Wladimir Klitschko fight that HBO broadcasts, where the fight inevitably becomes a bore and the commentary devolves into the other two guys complimenting Lennox for being so much better than the fighters they're watching? You'd think that Lennox Lewis was as memorable to watch fight as Ali or Tyson listening to these guys fawn.
As for the reason that Max Kellerman would have won had I eliminated Lennox from the running, it's not that I think Max is actually bad at his job, it's that I think he's absolutely trying too hard these days. The guy loves boxing and knows the sport. When he was a guy that called the fight like he loved being there, period, he was one of my favorites. Now he's getting comfortable, and there were at least two instances this year (Rocky Juarez against Jorge Barrios and an interview with Brendon Smith and Michael Katsidis after they lost to Juan Diaz) where he was just a prick. I'm hoping Max tones down the s**t-stirring aspect of his commentary, because I still think he can be a great one.
Honorable Mention: A.C. Slater
Trainer of the Year
Nazim Richardson really only worked one fight as a lead man, but it was a hell of a fight if that's going to be your one for the year. Richardson was the man who served as chief trainer for Bernard Hopkins' stunning destruction of middleweight world champion Kelly Pavlik in October. If a fighter could have looked and performed better-prepared than Hopkins did, I don't know how.
Hopkins, frankly, looked like he'd hit the big, brick wall against Joe Calzaghe in April. Still recovering from the effects of a stroke, Nazim was in a secondary role for Hopkins-Calzaghe, with Freddie Roach serving as Hop's chief second. It's easy to say that Pavlik isn't Calzaghe, and that Pavlik was definitely more suited to be beaten by Hopkins, but it's also easy to name just about any trainer whose big fighter had success Trainer of the Year, so whatever.
I also considered Javier Capetillo (Margarito) and Roach (Pacquiao, of course), but you can probably make a case for Manny Steward (Wladimir Klitschko went an easy 3-0 this year), Enzo Calzaghe if you ignore all of his fighters that aren't Joe, Floyd Mayweather (got the best out of Hatton, got the last out of Oscar), Nacho Beristain (even though he went 1-3 in big fights this year), etc.
Trainer of the Year is no easy call, so I went with the guy I favored, a guy that maybe hasn't gotten his due over the years. Simple as that.
Comeback Fighter of the Year
Samuel Peter was widely -- probably universally -- accepted as the sport's second-best heavyweight. All anyone could really talk about was Peter getting a rematch with Wladimir Klitschko, the only man to defeat him, and the man he'd knocked down three times in a losing effort.
Then he fought Vitali Klitschko, coming back from a three-year, 10-month retirement, and we found out just how wide the gap is between the Klitschko brothers and the rest of the heavyweight world. If a rusty Vitali who has battled injuries and aborted multiple comeback attempts could manhandle a heavy-fisted, powerful fighter in his prime, you're talking a supreme difference in pure ability.
I won't lie and say that Vitali's win was the greatest thing for the sport, because it locks up another heavyweight title, and also all but eliminates any hope of crowning a true heavyweight champion, since it's not like Wladimir and Vitali are going to fight one another. But you can't deny the man his props. He not only beat Peter, he so dominated and demoralized him that Peter quit on his stool after eight rounds. Vitali never even let him get the engine started.
Upset of the Year
There were a lot of upsets, but only a few on the truly major stages of the sport. The Brian Vera stoppage of Andy Lee on ESPN is one that wasn't a big fight that springs to mind, simply because Lee was so highly-touted. But I also still feel that as rocked as he was, that was a situation where a fight may well have been stopped prematurely, because he was still fighting back, swinging with Vera.
As for the upper echelon, not many saw Nate Campbell being the guy to take Juan Diaz's "0," and Timothy Bradley beating Junior Witter overseas was a bit of a shock considering how long Witter fans -- and even non-Witter fans -- had touted Junior as the only credible threat to Ricky Hatton at 140.
But I'm going with a different fight, which is Carlos Quintana over Paul Williams in their first fight this past February. We all thought Carlos could certainly be competitive. He memorably squashed then-hot prospect Joel Julio, and his only loss came to Miguel Cotto. But still, Williams was unbeaten, a titlist coming off of a huge win over Antonio Margarito, taller, stronger, probably faster.
And yet outside of taller, he didn't look like he had any of the advantages we thought he did. Quintana simply out-boxed him and out-thought him for 12 full rounds, scoring a shocker in California. Months later, they'd fight again, and P-Will wiped Quintana out in the first round. Live and learn.
Honorable Mention: Brian Vera over Andy Lee ... Timothy Bradley over Junior Witter ... Nate Campbell over Juan Diaz
Awesome Nickname of the Year
Not many in the world are familiar with this Michigan City, Ind., knockaround guy, but those that watched the Spinks-Phillips web cast in March might be if they had the gall and gumption to sit through the undercard like I did.
There are lots of good nicknames in boxing. Two that spring to mind immediately, of course, are Adam "The Swamp Donkey" Richards and Darnell "Ding-a-Ling Man" Wilson. But for my money, you just can't beat Leroy "Rootin' Tootin'" Newton. It is not just the best nickname in boxing, it might be the greatest name on the planet earth.
Best Major Pay-Per-View of the Year
You can see the photo, so you know the award goes to Pavlik-Taylor II from February. But before I get into why, I want to make something really clear.
There was not a single major PPV this year that was enjoyable for the money we spend on these shows. Not one. Boxing promoters aren't going to change it because they've done their research, and research says people don't care about the undercard. It is what it is. MMA PPV undercards are better because the sport has come up rapidly this decade, and back before it was a huge deal, the fans that were there were conditioned to shows with more than one big fight. There were some phenomenal PRIDE pay-per-views, and some great UFC pay-per-views, and this predated the Ultimate Fighter phenomenon that helped make the sport the cultural success it is today.
The reason they've kept it that way is because the UFC, frankly, is a real organization that respects its fans and tends to give them things they desire if they can help it. It's a different model, obviously. UFC controls their fighters and is a company. There's no company in boxing, just moronic sanctioning bodies and promoters that try to get away with selling the most they can while spending as little as possible, with no regard for fans enjoying the first two and a half hours of the broadcast.
I'm giving it to Pavlik-Taylor II because it featured a good main event that was worth the money both on paper and after the fact, and it had the undercard that tried the hardest to appeal to boxing fans. Ronald Hearns was featured in the opener, Cristian Mijares fought Jose Navarro, and Fernando Montiel fought Martin Castillo. The last fight turned out to be a wicked blowout, but it was an exciting one, and you had two legitimate fights beneath the main event between titlists and contenders. Not the best fights ever, but decent matchups.
As for that main event, if you were around then, you might recall that I dubbed it "disappointing" right after the fact. I'm pretty sure I recanted on that later after watching it again -- it was a good, solid fight, and both guys fought very well. I still think you can argue that Taylor eked out a decision, but that means little to me. So if I never amended that statement here on the front page, I'm doing so now. My initial reaction to Pavlik-Taylor II sucked.
Worst Major Pay-Per-View of the Year
You can make the argument that the de la Hoya-Pacquiao undercard was even worse than this one and that the main event was perhaps even less competitive. But the difference is that the Oscar-Manny fight had legitimate intrigue. This one did not.
The Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones, Jr., card was a slap in the face to the paying boxing fan. Jones' Square Ring Promotions, barely on its feet as a company, was in full force at Madison Square Garden, with Dmitriy Salita and Frankie Figueroa featured on the undercard, and Zab Judah doing a friend a favor and getting back in the ring, too. Calzaghe slapped his "promotional company's" name on the card, but according to just about anyone with inside knowledge, he really didn't do much.
HBO was in the role of weight-carrier, giving the fight a "24/7" series and doing their absolute best to promote the matchup. Roy Jones was on his best behavior all during the promotion for the second straight fight. He tried to sell it. Joe tried to sell it.
The problem was, the main event was unsellable if you weren't so utterly gullible as to think that Roy Jones had more than a freaking prayer against Calzaghe. Jones, nearing 40, hadn't beaten anyone of note in years, unless you want to count a fattened up Tito Trinidad in January. Calzaghe, meanwhile, had beaten the No. 2 man at 168 (Mikkel Kessler) before jumping to light heavyweight and dethroning Bernard Hopkins as the champion of the world in a second weight class.
The fans and writers -- and there were good and even great ones that "had a feeling" about Roy going into the fight -- that picked Jones were out of their minds. Absolute insanity.
Calzaghe, of course, demolished Jones, whose corner appeared incapable of tending to a cut. The undercard was the stinkfest we all thought it'd be -- Frankie Figueroa won an ugly decision over Emanuel Augustus, Dmitriy Salita beat Topeka club fighter Derrick Campos in the Fight of the Night (well, somethin' had to win), and Judah farted around with a clearly overmatched Ernest "Too Slick" Johnson for ten rounds.
The relative few that did pay were ripped off. The card deserved to fail, and it did.
Worst Major Fight of the Year
It was the first unification between two heavyweight titleholders in about a decade. Wladimir Klitschko (IBF/IBO titlist) and Sultan Ibragimov (WBO) went to New York City, under the bright lights, hyped as much as a heavyweight fight gets these days, and they put on an all-time crapper.
With Ibragimov steadfastly refusing to engage the taller, stronger, more powerful Klitschko, the Ukrainian giant and world-recognized No. 1 heavyweight in the game did what he's been doing for a good while now. He fought down to the level of his opponent, took what was given, and just rode out an easy decision. Klitschko still stops guys, and does so frequently, but it seems to come more at his convenience than from any great desire to excite.
You can't fault Wladimir, really. He knows what he can do, knows what he's good at, and he apparently felt this was the best course of action against Ibragimov. Trainer Emmanuel Steward all but blatantly dumped on him in the corner, though, expressing disappointing that Klitschko would ever go 12 rounds with "this guy."
The rest of us simply had to suffer through, hoping that at some point, Wladimir would amp it up. It never came. The HBO team conveniently blamed Ibragimov on future telecasts, making a show of not naming him because of his shameful performance. But it takes two to tango.
Performance of the Year
As great as he is, and as many times as we've learned to never count him out, a lot of us counted Bernard Hopkins out against Kelly Pavlik on October 18.
Shame on us. After watching the 43-year old "Executioner" dismantle the 26-year old knockout artist Pavlik, they could match Hopkins up with Wladimir Klitschko tomorrow and I wouldn't discount his chances. I'm serious, too. Bernard made me look dumb for the last time.
Pavlik at times looked helpless, totally confused, and like he didn't even belong in the same ring with Hopkins, who fought harder than he had since beating Antonio Tarver to a similar pulp in 2006. Bernard, like then, felt he had something to prove. People were saying he should retire, that enough was enough. They doubted him. They picked against him -- the gall of these people.
Seriously, never again.
Honorable Mention: Vic Darchinyan over Cristian Mijares (11/01) ... Antonio Margarito over Miguel Cotto (07/26) ... Manny Pacquiao over Oscar de la Hoya (12/06)
Knockout of the Year
There are plenty of KOs to argue for, but my absolute favorite is Monte Barrett knocking the crap out of Tye Fields, which should mean we'll never have to suffer through a Fields farce ever again, at least on TV. Bob Arum desperately wanted the newest great white hope -- this time a former basketball player from Montana -- to pan out and give him a heavyweight with marketability.
Honestly, it's not Fields' fault. He seems like a nice guy. He's just not a world champion fighter, and he's never going to get close to that level. Barrett, at 37, embarrassed him, embarrassed Arum, and exposed Fields for the fraud he'd become thanks to the Bobfather's obscene promotion of him. How many Versus Fight Nights were ruined by this schlub?
So thank you, Monte.
(Also, if you think regular American TV has too many commercials, Jesus...)
Honorable Mention: Breidis Prescott over Amir Khan ... Jason Cintron over Pascali Adorno ... Edison Miranda over David Banks ... Manny Pacquiao over David Diaz ... Shane Mosley over Ricardo Mayorga
Most Disappointing Fight of the Year
When HBO signed a Boxing After Dark main event between Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis, it was action guaranteed. They promoted it properly, focusing on the fact that the two young fighters were coming off of their first career losses, Diaz having been upset by Nate Campbell and Katsidis the loser in a knock-down, drag-out brawl with Joel Casamayor.
Instead, the fight was a one-sided, rather routine win for Juan Diaz, who only officially scored a split decision because somehow, Glen Hamada scored the fight 115-113 for Katsidis. The CompuBox numbers showed what everyone but Hamada and Katsidis' trainer (Brendon Smith) saw, which was a clear Diaz victory, and a runaway victory at that. What was a Fight of the Year candidate on paper turned out to be far less memorable than either of their previous bouts, and a huge letdown.
Controversy of the Year
It was tough to go against Marlon B. Wright's horrendous officiating in the Bute-Andrade fight, but I think it falls pretty well short of the awful and totally unfair debacle that was Joe Cortez's DQ ruling in the Humberto Soto-Francisco Lorenzo fight.
Cortez ruling the DQ was absurd, and for once, the WBC actually got something right by refusing to recognize Cortez's awful call and give the vacant 130-pound title to Lorenzo for his "victory." He was clearly being destroyed by a better fighter, and Cortez's refereeing was so bad that it had HBO's Emmanuel Steward trembling with anger as he described his thoughts on the situation. I have yet to see someone agree with the call. Yes, we all know that the rules state you can't hit a fighter when he's down, and there have been DQs for just that that were justified. But guys get hit when they're going down and just after they've hit the deck, because the other guy is still fighting, and that's what this was. It's a judgment call for a referee, and no competent third man would have made that call.
Honorable Mention: Marlon B. Wright's strange tantrum during Bute-Andrade, possibly robbing Andrade of a KO win
Prospect of the Year
In December 2007, Daniel Jacobs turned pro. This year, the middleweight Golden Boy prospect fought every month except for June and August, and he made up for that by fighting twice in July and September. He's progressing so quickly and has been featured on so many big cards that it feels like it's time for him to step up to the next level of opponent already. He's not going to learn anything more smashing overmatched foes like Tyrone Watson and Victor Lares. But for all his hard work (12-0, 11 KO this year), he is a very deserving Prospect of the Year.
Best Referee of the Year: Steve Smoger
Worst Referee of the Year: Marlon B. Wright
Best Fight City: Montreal
Best Trainer Switch: Ricky Hatton (Billy Graham to Floyd Mayweather)
Worst Scorecard of the Year: Doug Tucker (120-108 Navarro over Mijares)
Best Sanctioning Body: Title Vacant
Fights of the Month
January: Andrew Golota v. Mike Mollo
February: John Duddy v. Walid Smichet
March: Israel Vazquez v. Rafael Marquez III
April: Chad Dawson v. Glen Johnson
May: Ruslan Provodnikov v. Brian Gordon
June: Amir Khan v. Michael Gomez
July: Miguel Cotto v. Antonio Margarito
August: Zab Judah v. Joshua Clottey
September: Rafael Concepcion v. Jorge Arce
October: Marco Antonio Rubio v. Enrique Ornelas
November: Tomas Villa v. Rogers Mtagwa
December: Steve Cunningham v. Tomasz Adamek