We're getting near the end of the year, with only one truly major fight left on the horizon, which is Mayweather-Hatton. By now, we know the players. Who do you like for Fighter of the Year? In my opinion, there are only four candidates, and one of them will be out on December 9.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Floyd will have been in the two biggest money fights -- by far -- of 2007 after the bout with Hatton is done. That PPV stands a very good shot at breaking 1,000,000. A lot of people didn't like the first episode of the "24/7" series dedicated to the fight, but I did. It worked wonders in further humanizing Floyd -- which is great, in my view -- and listening to Billy Graham's enthusiasm for Ricky Hatton made me think that he really does have a shot.
Anyway, Mayweather outpointed Oscar de la Hoya in May, and stands a heavy favorite to do the same to Hatton. Oscar has never been an easy fight for anyone, and Hatton has never lost. Should he win, Mayweather is beyond all possible doubt the pound-for-pound best. Most of us have felt that way for a long time, but if it needed cementing, that would do it. The only downside? He's so good, and has been so good for so long, that wins over de la Hoya and Hatton -- where he's rather heavily favored in both cases -- aren't terribly newsworthy past the event itself.
Let's say Hatton pulls the upset. He kind of has to win, right?
A win over Juan Urango in January to return to 140, a win over Jose Luis Castillo (shot or not, Castillo was the other big name in the division) in June, and a win at 147 over Floyd in what is by far the biggest fight of Hatton's career? He'd have to win. Have to.
His March win over Oktay Urkal wasn't much to write home about, but Urkal was a mandatory and rather than just give up titles, Cotto fought and beat him. Beating Zab Judah in June was a better win, though Judah isn't who he once was. Beating Shane Mosley was an affirmative -- Cotto is one of the best fighters in the sport, tough as nails, determined, and, most notably to me, able to adjust his usual gameplan for a fighter like Mosley that could have theoretically eaten Cotto alive.
Miguel Cotto has also become a bona fide boxing star. No longer is he just a favorite of the diehards. Cotto is a phenomenon at Madison Square Garden, breaking attendance records for his fight with Brooklyn-born Judah and doing 17,000-plus for the bout with Shane Mosley, a West Coast guy who had never before fought in the main building at MSG.
He wailed on Jose Luis Zertuche in a prelim Boxing After Dark card in January, then followed that up by waxing dangerous Edison Miranda on the Taylor-Spinks undercard in May. Prior to Miranda, Pavlik was a somewhat well-regarded rising star who had beaten up on fringe contenders and guys anyone truly on the rise should beat. But he didn't just outpoint Miranda, and he didn't just win a slugfest. He beat the hell out of Edison Miranda and sent him packing to 168 pounds. While Kelly Pavlik trained for Jermain Taylor, Miranda went down to the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida.
Some still felt Kelly would finally get exposed as a plodding puncher that couldn't handle a slicker boxer-puncher like Taylor, a guy who had drawn Winky Wright and twice beaten Bernard Hopkins. Surely if Hopkins and Wright -- world-class fighters -- couldn't take Taylor down, Pavlik wouldn't be able to. Though many wanted Pavlik to win due to being tired of Taylor's lackluster performances and the disappointment that he is not, in fact, quite as great as HBO made him out to be, Taylor was still a favorite.
And Jermain Taylor almost made that come true. He came out roaring against Pavlik, throwing bombs, and floored "The Ghost" in the second round. But Pavlik recovered and came out for the third like nothing had happened. It is still remarkable to watch just how ice cold he is between rounds, and how he looks like he hadn't just been taken to the woodshed in the second. A few rounds later, Pavlik blew Taylor up and became middleweight champion of the world.
He didn't fight on pay-per-view a single time this year, and only main evented one of the three cards he was on. But he's a very viable candidate. This kid proved he wasn't another rising guy that would be found out as a pretender once he got to that top level. And not only that, but every fight he was in was very entertaining. He's a complete package for boxing fans -- young, exciting, humble, amiable, and very easy to root for.
There are lots of guys that won multiple fights this year -- Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Joe Calzaghe -- but they just didn't make the total impact that the Mayweather-Hatton winner, Cotto and Pavlik have. Calzaghe's win over Manfredo was easy to see coming, a ludicrous matchup between champion and non-challenger. Beating Mikkel Kessler couldn't make up for that, as impressive as it was. Juan Manuel Marquez finally got his star-making victory, but he didn't follow it up with a big fight. Pacquiao-Barrera II was forgettable had Barrera not retired afterward, and his win over Jorge Solis was on par with Calzaghe-Manfredo.
Juan Diaz is another name I considered, and maybe you can make a case for him. He made two champions quit, say, "That's enough of me getting hit for tonight, thanks."
Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez probably deserve some sort of dual honorable mention. They could've fought anyone else in the division, but they fought each other twice in two of the most punishing, thrilling fights I've seen. Luckily, I don't see any way their August rematch can be topped. That's a shoo-in Fight of the Year.