Another year has passed us in the boxing game, and it was one of the most inconsistent and frustrating years in recent memory. At times -- like the November/December bonanza of big fights and great fights -- it was great fun to be a boxing fan. At others, like the empty January/February, the largely dead summer, and the barren fall, it was, uh, I hesitate to say "torture," but it sure did suck.
We saw a lot of good and bad this year, so let's talk about the good. There'll be some on the bad coming as the year proper winds down, and I've been toying with the idea of getting drunk and compiling a Bad Left Hook 100 as a year-end feature, but don't hold me to that one. And don't forget that we still have the 2010 Brickies coming sometime by the end of the year, which will include such great awards as Worst Haircut. Or they better include Worst Haircut, anyway.
2010 Bad Left Hook Fighter of the Year: Sergio Martinez
Manny Pacquiao was, in my view, the 2008 and 2009 Fighter of the Year, and with two good wins this year (Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito), he has his case.
But Martinez beat and dethroned Kelly Pavlik as middleweight champion in April, and then in a highly-anticipated rematch with Paul Williams in November, scored a brutal second round knockout that made the rounds online where boxing is usually only mentioned when its alleged death comes back into play.
For me personally, Martinez has made quite the run. I've said before that when he was only a BoxRec contender but not a legit contender, I thought little of his fluffed-up record. I still think little of that record. But now he's proven his elite status in boxing, and then some. He's at the very least established himself as one of the four best pound-for-pound in the entire sport (with Pacquiao, Mayweather and Marquez), and seems to make more fans every time he fights, at least in the diehard circles, and as much as a lot of us diehards might cringe at the thought of such a scary knockout becoming "oh shit!" material to the masses, it must be said that it almost never hurts to delight the morbidly curious with a vicious KO.
Bad Left Hook Fight of the Year: Humberto Soto UD-12 Urbano Antillon
This was a great fight all the way through. These two guys went toe-to-toe, with Antillon constantly pursuing the more highly-skilled Soto, whose mettle was finally tested after a few years of easy fights. I criticized Soto a lot over that time, and I still feel rightly so. All I was asking was that Soto take a good opponent. He did, and he proved to have the skills we all thought he had, and that Top Rank promoted him as having.
Honorable Mentions: Abner Mares SD-12 Vic Darchinyan, Daniel Estrada TKO-12 Angel Alirio Rivero, Giovani Segura KO-8 Ivan Calderon, Amir Khan UD-12 Marcos Maidana, Mikkel Kessler UD-12 Carl Froch, Antonio Escalante UD-12 Mickey Roman, Carlos Tamara TKO-12 Brian Viloria, Juan Manuel Marquez TKO-9 Michael Katsidis, Juan Manuel Lopez RTD-8 Rafael Marquez, Juan Alberto Rosas TKO-6 Simphiwe Nongqayi
2010 Bad Left Hook Knockout of the Year: Sergio Martinez KO-2 Paul Williams
I know HBO's Max Kellerman often takes some guff, but he had a wonderful call that I think sums it up best: "A sensational, shocking, one-punch knockout of a normally iron-chinned, top-notch fighter."
2010 Bad Left Hook Boxing Network of the Year: Showtime
Showtime pretty much did it all right this year, I think. They had great fights, great matchups, and innovative ideas. The Super Six World Boxing Classic started in 2009, but even with its seemingly constant problems, with fighters pulling out (three dropped out this year), the tournament just keeps delivering. We're now approaching an incredibly intriguing pair of semifinal fights in 2011, with Carl Froch taking on the seemingly ageless Glen Johnson (who replaced Mikkel Kessler), and tourney originals Andre Ward and Arthur Abraham squaring off in what is kind of a make-or-break career fight for Abraham.
They also sparked things with two great fights in December in a four-man bantamweight tournament that promised sensational action and delivered. These are ideas that no other network has tried, and to me, they have been to the betterment of boxing, period. Showtime is making guys take good fights to be on Showtime, which is excellent. They even managed to "take back" Lucian Bute from an ill-fated stint with HBO, and Bute returns to the network in March on a big-money deal that will hopefully result in more great fights.
And not just the fights, but Showtime's overall presentation was the best of the lot, too. Antonio Tarver was, to put it mildly, never one of my favorite fighters, and he started a little rocky in the commentary booth, but he proved to be a quick study and has become one of the best parts of their broadcasts. Paired with the Al Bernstein, the best color commentator in the business, Tarver has added actual insight and color to the broadcasts, something that a lot of ex-fighters (or ex-athletes in any sport) fail to do, as they have a habit of cruising on their former careers being the only thing they need to dismiss their critics. And when Steve Albert is in the booth instead of Gus Johnson, it's pure greatness.
2010 Bad Left Hook Boxing Commentator of the Year: Al Bernstein
I guess I kind of gave this one away, and I've had the same damn opinion for a while now, but I think Bernstein deserves more credit than he often gets for his excellence in boxing broadcasting. Bernstein is the sort of great commentator who never needs to browbeat you with his greatness, or perceived greatness. He just does his job, every time he's there to do it. There's nobody close to his level, in my view, though there are many fine commentators in boxing. I wish Max Kellerman would take some notes from the Bernstein playbook instead of the Merchant guide, because I still think Max is the right man to be HBO's color commentator of the future despite the earned criticism he receives. And for the record: Bernstein is better than Merchant has ever been.
DeGale (9-0, 7 KO) is not popular, nor do I expect he ever will be. His ultra-cocky persona, however, is equaled by his in-ring ability. At 24, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist at middleweight had a terrific professional year in 2010, going 4-0 overall and at the end, capturing the British super middleweight title in a dominant performance against the always-game Paul Smith.
I'm certainly not saying that Smith, Carl Dilks, Sam Horton or Matthew Barr are the type of win that you hang your hat on. But DeGale's pure ability is evident to anyone who watches him fight. And it seemed as though in his last two fights, against Dilks (TKO-1) and Smith (TKO-9) that he "got it" more than he had in the past against lesser competition. He wasn't showboating, wasn't there to clown around. He came to fight and destroy his opponents, and he did just that.
There are many fine prospects in boxing, some who have been notable prospects for a couple of years now, some who came on the scene hot this year. I'm going to guess that in 2011, my Prospect of the Year will be Jose Benavidez, who is currently 18 and a phenomenal young talent. A 5'11" junior welterweight, Benavidez turned pro in January and is 9-0 with 9 KOs in so far. He has flat-out torn his opponents up to this point. The competition will get better, but I think he will, too.
2010 Bad Left Hook Breakthrough Performance of the Year: Dmitry Pirog TKO-5 Daniel Jacobs
In one terrific fight that featured a great, authoritative ending, Dmitry Pirog went from "Who's that?" with no Facebook fan page to a guy a lot of people want to see fight Sergio Martinez. Jacobs was the hyped prospect there to do business on the Golden Boy/HBO pay-per-view. Pirog was just the better fighter.
2010 Bad Left Hook Upset of the Year / 2010 Bad Left Hook Comeback Fighter of the Year: Jason Litzau SD-10 Celestino Caballero
Though I pointed out some potential bugaboos for Caballero before the fight -- namely that he wouldn't have his usual freakish height advantage over Litzau, and that tall fighters had troubled Caballero in the past -- I still expected Caballero to win this fight. Even if he was fighting seemingly at 85% as he was in this one, I would have expected him to beat Litzau. Litzau simply out-fought Caballero in this inspired and inspiring upset.
But Jason Litzau made a great little comeback in 2010. He was a rising action prospect when he was knocked out in 2006 by Jose Andres Hernandez, and Robert Guerrero toyed with Litzau in 2008 before stopping him. After a fairly tough road back to the HBO spotlight, he came through in 2010, beating Rocky Juarez by technical decision in April, and then taking down Caballero in November. Hats off to the "All-American Boy" -- if nothing else, he proved his mettle this year, and has clawed his way back into contention.
2010 Bad Left Hook U.S. Pay-Per-View of the Year: Top Rank's In Harm's Way, December 4
I often find I enjoy pay-per-views more when I don't have very high expectations, but this was not that sort of deal. With my Fight of the Year pick as a makeshift main event after two Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fights collapsed, this one had a great final fight. But it entertained all the way through. Nonito Donaire ravaged the very capable Wladimir Sidorenko in Donaire's bantamweight debut, which was definitely the Bad Left Hook Slaughter of the Year, because it was a full-scale beatdown and involved a good fighter taking the beating. Featherweight prospect Mikey Garcia stopped the crafty if unspectacular Olivier Lontchi. And even the last-minute fight between Pawel Wolak and a very raw Jose Pinzon had some dramatics, as Pinzon decked Wolak in the second round before the inevitable set in.
I will give an honorable mention to Pacquiao-Margarito on November 13. The main event was enjoyably uncompetitive, but my distaste for that fight ever happening still left a bad taste in my mouth. And the undercard was better than usual for mega-fights, even if that only means that Mike Jones gassed himself into a life-and-death battle with Jesus Soto Karass in a good fight.
2010 Bad Left Hook Trainer of the Year: Freddie Roach
There just wasn't a competition for this award this year. In 2009, Naazim Richardson made a good case for himself, and I still feel that Naazim is a tremendous trainer. But results speak here, and Roach's fighters were excellent this year. He already has the sport's ambassador (Manny Pacquiao), and he may well be helping to build its next great international star (Amir Khan), plus he's in charge of the previously mentioned young Jose Benavidez.
2010 Bad Left Hook Arturo Gatti Memorial Award: Hugo Cazares
This is basically the "Reliable Action Star" award, for a fighter who always has an entertaining fight, no matter what happens. Cazares has gone about that differently than Gatti did. While Gatti often faced vastly superior competition he had no hope of defeating, a true underdog with a real heart that Sylvester Stallone wrote for make believe Rocky Balboa, Cazares seems intent on going to war with anyone he faces, even if they're basically chump challengers.