James Foley is back at Bad Left Hook this morning to take another look back at 2011, this time discussing some of the "losers" whose reputations went up after courageous performances, robberies on the scorecards, or just a great fight.
There's one thing that disqualifies anyone from the fighter-of-the-year discussion: losing. I'd like to look back at some of the gentlemen who came up empty in their quest for victory last season, but nonetheless offered some kind of compelling acquittal of themselves. All of these fellows have blemishes on their 2011 marks and many are in better position now than they were before the year began.
Some were victims of outlandish judging. Others lost narrowly in epic bloodbaths. And some were utterly whipped but displayed tremendous courage and bravado.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao, November 12
Marquez was written off by most as nothing more than unfinished business for Pacquiao. This time around, at a higher weight class with Pacquiao in his prime and Marquez seemingly in the twilight of his, there was a good chance Pac-man could stop and possibly even seriously hurt his 38 year-old nemesis. Giving up size, age and punch output, Marquez defied the expectations with a masterpiece of clean counter-punching and crafty defense. But it wasn't enough. The low volume of punches ultimately cost him in the eyes of the judges and Marquez was left to mourn his fate naked at his locker, a sombrero playing the role of fig leaf. But the performance didn't go unnoticed. Marquez proved for the umpteenth time he is one of the best fighters of the era and a perfect foil for Pacquiao's frenetic style.
Erik Morales vs. Marcos Maidana, April 9
If people thought Marquez had grim prospects, most believed his countryman Morales was on a suicide mission when he challenged the hard-hitting Maidana at a weight-class several higher than the one he competed at in his prime. The first four rounds went according to script...Morales took a big right in the first and his eye swelled into a slit. The next three rounds were painful to watch. The proud Morales looked like he was in survival mode. Maidana battered him around the ring and a knockout appeared imminent. In the fifth, following a fiery speech from the corner, Morales, in old Morales fashion, began to fight back. He was beating up the bully using quicker hands, rattling Maidana with unexpected counters. Morales gassed late and he never did seem to know how to turn a war back into a boxing match. The younger, stronger Maidana rang up the last two rounds and eked the decision, but the performance of Morales remains one of the most inspirational moments in boxing last year.
Erislandy Lara vs. Paul Williams, July 9
It's funny how quickly fates can change in this sport. Entering 2011, Lara was an undefeated prospect boasting a stellar amateur background in Cuba. He seemed destined to one day contend for a world title. Then in March on ESPN, Lara looked sloppy and disinterested and many people, myself included, felt like he was given a gift draw against scrappy Carlos Molina. After this, the thinking was perhaps Lara had been overrated. Of course, he was then somehow awarded this high profile fight against Williams on HBO and he completely undressed, out-boxed, and basically beat the crap out of P-Will. The only category he lost was work-rate, but sure enough, that was all it took for two of the three judges to award Williams the fight. The decision was widely condemned and Lara's stock skyrocketed...well, in the eyes of people like me, the people who matter least. Look mediocre, get on HBO. Look spectacular, good luck getting another big fight. After a seven month layoff largely because of no willing or credible opposition, Lara returns in February on a Showtime undercard to face Ronald Hearns.
Dereck Chisora vs. Robert Helenius, December 3
Chisora is a British heavyweight prospect who at one time was slated to take on Wladimir Klitshcko in a fight that ultimately got cancelled and no one cared because we all assumed Klitschko would've destroyed him anyway. Chisora ended up fighting fellow undefeated Brit Tyson Fury and showed up unfocused and overweight. He had a few moments of success, wobbling the 6'7 Fury a couple times, but he was generally outhustled and beaten to the punch in a fairly routine unanimous-decision loss.
Enter Helenius, who had already racked up impressive stoppage victories over division gatekeepers Samuel Peter and Sergei Liakhovich earlier in the year. Many considered Helenius the up-and-coming heavyweight with the most chance of being competitive against one of the Klitschkos any time in the near future. He just had to get past Chisora, who had laid an egg in the Fury fight. Twenty pounds lighter and fiercely determined, Chisora was a different creature this time, out-landing Helenius in total punches and power punches EVERY round of the fight. He lost an outrageous split-decision, but clearly emerged the better man, and it's Chisora, not Helenius, who will be getting a big payday and high profile shot against Vitali Klitschko in February. Helenius, claiming injury, is still scrambling to justify the ludicrous decision.
Lucas Matthysse vs. Devon Alexander, June 25
Matthysse is the latest hard-luck fighter who just can't seem to catch a break from those fickle boxing judges. Last year it was against Zab Judah. This year, it was Alexander who bested Matthysse by split-decision in his hometown of St. Louis. Personally, I didn't have a major objection to this one but I was certainly in the minority. Regardless, it's clear that Matthysse is among the handful of best fighters in the 140 lb. division and it'd be nice to see him get an honest shot against one of the elite. Matthysse showed decent boxing skill and a flash of his potent power, putting the able-chinned Alexander on the canvas for the first time in his career. It was another competent performance in a high-profile HBO fight that, for the time being, has led nowhere.
Matthew Macklin vs. Felix Sturm, June 25
I must have had a hometown streak in me on June 25. Not only did I think Alexander eked things out 6-4 in the Lou, I also had Sturm winning 7 of 12 rounds against Macklin on the same day. The judges agreed. A good majority of viewers and writers did not. Macklin applied a ton of pressure and really stood out for his punch output and aggressiveness. But Sturm wasn't exactly taking a beating in there. He defended very well and landed plenty of head-snapping counters, especially over the second half of the fight. You've got to respect Macklin for having a strategy and sticking to it, and obviously putting in the work to sustain the attack for as long as he did. The problem for me was, Sturm eventually adjusted and found a rhythm counterpunching and Macklin was largely stifled from there on out. Nonetheless, it was a valiant effort that made for an excellent fight that really could have gone either way. The showing earned Macklin a shot against middleweight champ Sergio Martinez, which will take place in March.
Andre Berto vs. Victor Ortiz, April 16
There's a myth going around that Berto had a horrible off-night against Ortiz. Now that he's hooked up with the esteemed Victor Conte and dealt with his stamina issues, you'll see a new man, a powerful super-force that will never tire or fade. In boxing, it can never just be ‘the better guy won'. Berto had to denigrate his own performance to explain why he lost the fight. But the truth is, Andre had plenty of epic moments, and probably the most impressive thing of all, despite going down twice, is the chin he displayed in taking so many shots from Ortiz and hanging in there, often on even terms, until the bitter end. Against a truly equal opponent for the first time, it was probably one of the best performances of his career. In terms of the result, no, but in terms of giving any of us a reason to want to watch the guy again, I'd say this was Berto's finest advertisement to date. The rematch takes place February 11 on Showtime.
Luis Concepcion vs. Hernan Marquez 1, April 2
Concepcion and Marquez staged a bloody affair in Panama City, each man staggered and down at various times in the fight to rally back and turn the tables. By the eleventh round, Concepcion's face was a swollen mess and the fight was stopped. Both men deserved standing ovations at the end of this scorcher.
Pornsawan Porpramook vs. Akira Yaegashi, October 24
Basically everything I wrote about Marquez-Concepcion applies here, minus the knockdowns. While Marquez-Concepcion had more thrilling peaks in the form of those knockdowns, the Yaegashi-Porpramook 105 lb. brawl featured more sustained two-way action that really heated up in the second half. "Porn" lost the fight, but both guys won our hearts.
Glen Johnson vs. Carl Froch, June 4
Johnson is a tough character and an ultimate sentimental favorite. Froch discovered early on he would be in for a very rough fight, with an immovable object hitting him flush with regularity. It was another gutsy performance from Johnson against a younger, physically more gifted fighter that really forced Froch to rise to the occasion and brought out his best. The sympathetic Japanese judge even found a way to score Johnson a draw. He was correctly overruled to give Froch the majority-decision win that he had clearly earned in a great fight. Even Johnson, for perhaps the first time in his career, acknowledged that he probably deserved the loss. Then he was shut-out by Lucian Bute in November and inconceivably claimed that he won. Go figure.
Jorge Linares vs. Antonio DeMarco, October 15
Linares looked every bit the prodigious talent for a good ten rounds against DeMarco, picking him apart with speed, precision and vastly superior boxing skill. But DeMarco gobbled up the hits and was quietly dishing out a few of his own, opening a nasty gash on Linares' nose in the sixth. Linares fought through it and won every round until the eleventh, when DeMarco erupted for a furious assault that sent blood splattering from the cut and a dazed Linares reeling to a stoppage. The ending doesn't bode well, but nonetheless Linares showed a lot of the reasons why people considered him special in the first place. When you're in a great fight, there's no shame in second place, something I wish boxing would consider more often.
John Murray vs. Brandon Rios, December 3
Murray went to places a lot of fighters wouldn't, taking ridiculous punishment in an ultimately futile effort to go toe-to-toe with Rios. He lost the fight but proved himself a real warrior with a crowd-pleasing style.
Urbano Antillon vs. Brandon Rios, July 9
Antillon only knows one way to fight and he stepped right up and went to war with one of the most powerful punchers and toughest guys in the division, Rios. He came up short, but the fight delivered three thrilling rounds of trench warfare.
Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Orlando Salido, April 16
Lopez seemed slow in the ring against Salido, as there appeared to be some fitness and conditioning issues at play. The fight really turned in the fifth round; JuanMa was floored by a Salido right and came up hardly able to keep his balance. Lopez showed, whatever else his flaws, there's nothing lacking in the courage department. He had no choice but to fight and wicked exchanges ensued. The punishment piled up as Lopez stumbled around the ring, but he was always punching back, even as the referee leapt in to save him in the eighth round. The stoppage likely spared JuanMa from an even worse beating, but his warrior's heart was on full display as he vigorously protested. A highly anticipated rematch is scheduled for March 10.
Sebastian Zbik vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., June 4
The odds were stacked against Zbik on this night; he was facing a budding superstar (aka protected fighter, if you believe in that sort of thing). He was also facing significant disadvantages in height and weight, not to mention one thing we do know about Jr., he can take a punch, and if there's anything Zbik's not, it's a power puncher. So Zbik came out firing, throwing everything he had, swarming the bigger man at every turn, beating him early in quantity and quality. Late in the fight, Chavez was catching Zbik more often with solid blows and turned the tide enough to predictably earn a majority-decision in an entertaining fight that really could have gone either way. HBO never wanted Zbik on its' airwaves, but given the shot, he really came to fight.
[ Related: Chavez Facing Rubio in February ]
Pablo Cesar Cano vs. Erik Morales, September 17
Cano, a late replacement with less than two weeks to prepare, was more than willing to stand in the fire and put on an action fight with the heavily favored Morales. By the end of the tenth, Cano's face was falling apart at the seams and his corner wisely threw in the towel. Morales-Cano turned out to be Star Power's finest offering, stealing the show on the night of the ill-fated "sucker punch". I'd welcome getting this kid another shot at one of the fringe contenders at 140, hopefully with a full camp to prepare this time.
Craig McEwan vs. Andy Lee, March 12
McEwan put up a strong fight in the early rounds against Lee, out-boxing the taller, more accomplished man with crisp combinations and nimble footwork. Lee rallied to get back in the fight and scored a knockdown late in the ninth. In the tenth and final round, with two scorecards even and McEwan ahead on the third, Lee ended the upset bid with a devastating one-two knockout. McEwan parlayed this into a very unsatisfying losing effort against Peter Quillin which basically took whatever goodwill he had earned from this fight and threw it out the window.
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. vs. Jorge Arce, May 7
Vazquez was matched tough with the venerable Arce and ultimately paid the price, but the youngster showed plenty of grit and a willingness to engage that many suspected wasn't there. This fight was the lone redeemer from the ill-fated Pacquiao-Mosley pay-per-view, when all was said and done clearly the worst pay-per-view show of the year, believe it or not. Yes, I would even rank the dreadful Hopkins-Dawson affair ahead of this, which also featured an epic undercard fight (DeMarco-Linares) and didn't waste a full twelve rounds of our time in the main event (just two).
Michael Katsidis vs. Robert Guerrero, April 9
Guerrero turned in one of the best performances of his career against Katsidis. The mangled face of Katsidis was a testament to that. It also spoke of a man who knows no surrender, a man willing to go to absurd lengths for any chance at retaliation. Katsidis was still there in the twelfth and even managed to catch Guerrero with a couple nice punches for some minor revenge on his way to a near shutout loss on the cards.
Some other acknowledgements of guys in fights I haven't seen in their entirety who I heard should probably get some props:
Tony Bellew vs. Nathan Cleverly
John Murray vs. Kevin Mitchell
Kompayak Porpramook vs. Adrian Hernandez
Paul Appleby vs. Liam Walsh
Sergei Liakhovich vs. Robert Helenius