What really defines a loser in this case?
Losses in the ring matter, losses out of the ring matter just about as much. Perception, where you stand in the boxing world, and the relevance of that standing.
Some of these guys are still world-class fighters, top contenders, or even champions. But 2007 was just not their year at the end of it all. Cheer up, all 15 (well, 16) of you -- maybe 2008 will be better.
15. Jermain Taylor
Taylor went 1-1 this year, and any loss as memorable as his to Kelly Pavlik's shouldn't be taken too hard. Plus, as we all know, Taylor could and probably should have finished the challenger off in the second round.
But there's no questioning that 2007 was the worst year of Jermain's professional career, at least in terms of results and standing. He was ridiculed for a tremendously bad performance against Cory Spinks in May, particularly because their set-up fight between Pavlik and Edison Miranda was a pure slugfest that took the audience by its throat and refused to let go. With those two middleweights hammering it out beforehand, Taylor against the crafty, unappealing Spinks never had a chance. Lampley and Merchant were merciless toward the fight on the HBO telecast, and most fans felt the same way. It was Taylor's second straight disappointing performance against a bulked up junior middleweight -- really, bulked up welterweights.
And then came the fight with Pavlik. Taylor had been hearing it all, how he'd lost his way, wasn't the fighter that beat Bernard Hopkins twice and went to a draw with Winky Wright, and didn't have the same fire as before. Meanwhile, both Taylor and trainer Manny Steward publicly took Pavlik lightly, saying he was a flat-footed slugger who offered nothing special in the ring.
Pavlik knocked Taylor out in the seventh round, and the rest is history. Taylor plummeted down pound-for-pound rankings, and his professional relationship with Steward came to an end. With Pavlik-Taylor II scheduled for February 2008, and Jermain looking to fight Joe Calzaghe after that, next year could be a much better campaign for Taylor -- or not.
14. Kermit Cintron
For most intents and purposes, Kermit Cintron actually had a pretty nice year. It just ended really, really badly for him. And he didn't even have to lose a fight, or even do less than clearly win one.
Cintron, in many ways, is a fan's dream. An all-action, powerhouse welterweight with a charismatic style about him, really recovering well from a brutal loss to Antonio Margarito in 2005, training at the Kronk Gym with Manny Steward. He opened HBO's welterweight triple-header with a stunning destruction of fellow KO artist Walter Matthysse, flooring the Argentinian three times in two rounds, including a crushing final KO. Cintron has 29 wins, with 27 knockouts. His lone loss was a knockout. He's gone the distance twice -- once in 2003, once in 2001.
And he was on the cusp of getting truly back into the upper echelon of the division, with a February 2008 fight scheduled against fellow titleholder Paul Williams. But let's backtrack a bit first.
Following that July thrashing of Matthysse, Steward wanted to rush Cintron back into the ring to keep him fresh, so they scheduled a title bout against Jesse Feliciano, a third-tier tough guy with no punching power that would be foolishly willing to stand and trade with Cintron, leading to a likely early KO. It was meant to be on the undercard of Vargas-Mayorga in September. Then Vargas came down with anemia, and the fight was re-scheduled for November.
Now we're talking about a three-month window before Williams, making a fight with Feliciano doubly risky. Should Cintron lose in an upset, fight's off. Not likely, though. Should Cintron get hurt, fight could be off. Not likely, though.
Oh, but likelihood is not certainty. Cintron won, throwing bomb after bomb at Feliciano, punishing the upstart until the referee mercifully called it off in the 10th round, and then Kermit fell to the canvas in pain. The diagnosis? Severe ligament damage to his right hand. Can't even train until March.
Fight with Williams is off, and with it, the money and the chance to headline an HBO card. In victory, Cintron lost pretty damn badly.
13. Nikolai Valuev
The Russian giant kicked off his year with a win over fellow big guy Jameel McCline, after McCline went down with a knee injury in the third round. In April, he met up with Ruslan Chagaev, and his career effectively went the way of most freakshow-type attractions.
I don't really have a bad word to say about Valuev. For a guy who's seven feet tall and as lumbering as he naturally has to be, he's a fairly entertaining heavyweight. He's certainly unique. And he's never come off like a guy who boxes just because his size made it easy for him to at least get a foot in the door. He's always come across more like a guy who happens to be massive, and wanted to be a boxer, someone who honestly works at what he does.
But the loss to Chagaev takes Valuev off the map in most respects. He's never been an American attraction at all, fighting just twice in the States (once early in his career in 1997, and against Monte Barrett last year in the Chicago suburbs). And it's not like the top-tier heavyweights want to fight this guy. Chagaev fought him because he had a title.
He beat Jean-Francois Bergeron in September to close out his year, and now is supposedly going to fight Sergei Liakhovich in a WBA eliminator early in 2008. Given the other guy, we'll see.
The somewhat unfortunate truth is that without the unbeaten record, without a title belt that people want, Valuev is a novelty, and nothing more.
12. Samuel Miller
A middleweight knockout prospect from Colombia (now residing in California), the 28-year old Miller was 17-0 with 14 KOs against marginal opposition. On the March 2nd edition of Friday Night Fights, Miller was to be featured in a showcase against 39-year old Darrell Woods, who came to Tampa with a 25-10 record to meet his certain doom. The main event that night was a 12-round eliminator between lightweights Nate Campbell and Ricky Quiles.
It wasn't supposed to be anything more than a proper introduction to Samuel Miller, who would no doubt be featured on future FNF cards, and perhaps even become a star of the ESPN2 program, as so many eventual stars have.
Change of plans, courtesy Darrell Woods. The veteran refused to go down, slugging it out with Miller in a wonderful fight that had the small, rollicking crowd on its feet. The eight-rounder, on that day, was my Fight of the Year. That changed the next night, and then again a couple weeks later, and then again five months later, but all that aside, there was a moment this year where Samuel Miller and Darrell Woods were in my Fight of the Year.
Sadly for Miller, he lost a majority decision. He returned to the ring in May against unbeaten super middleweight prospect Brian Vera, who would later in the year be part of the third season of "The Contender." Miller lost another majority decision, though I truly felt he won, and many agreed. But that doesn't much matter, since it was a close fight -- Miller lost two in a row in 2007, and that was the story of his year. He went from having rising potential to now needing badly to start a rebuilding of his career. He's not done -- no one at 17-2 is really done. There's always a way back. But it's not easy, and situations like this have broken good fighters before. I love watching Miller fight, so I wish him all the best.
11. Zab Judah
Following his suspension after the infamous riot fight in his loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in 2006, Judah returned somewhat low-key, against Hammond, IN, veteran Ruben Galvan in Tunica, MS, a tune-up fight for a scheduled welterweight title showdown with Miguel Cotto in June. On that April night, in a fight that was meant to be outside but was moved to a tiny ballroom inside of Fitzgerald's Casino, Judah fought part of a round with Galvan before it was ended on a cut, ruled the result of a headbutt and, thus, a no-contest.
Then he stepped back up a notch with a hard-fought loss to Miguel Cotto in one of the year's best fights. Judah showed that he still had something left, ripping Cotto several times early on with hard shots, but when all was said and done, Judah was knocked out in the 11th round, the referee stepping in to keep him from taking more punishment from the younger, stronger Cotto, who had by that point taken the fight into firm control.
Zab then went on a career rehabbing effort. He faced gatekeeper Edwin Vazquez on the season finale of Friday Night Fights, and they went out there and stunk it up. Judah -- weighing in at 148 3/4 (Vazquez weighed the same) -- looked nothing like the guy that had managed to hang in there with Cotto, instead looking a lot like the guy who was upset by Carlos Baldomir. They went the full ten, with Judah winning a landslide decision, but this was a fight in which Zab should have scored a KO. The same can be said for a 12-round decision over Ryan Davis on the Turks and Caicos Islands in November.
Zab came in on a downslide, got himself back in the game in defeat, and ended with questions swirling around his place in the welterweight division from here on out.
10. Travis Simms
Simms has spent way too much of his career screwing it all up. After being inactive since 2004, Simms finally got back into action in January, knocking out Jose Antonio Rivera to win a title he'd never actually lost, choosing to get stripped over a court battle with the WBA that started in November 2004 and ended in 2006.
Then in July, he lost a dreadfully boring decision in a clinch-fest against Joachim Alcine, headlining another of Showtime's yawn-inducing 2007 cards. He wasn't at all the same fighter he had been just months earlier, when he dismantled Rivera. He never pressed the action, held whenever he could, and attempted to do anything but actually fight Alcine, a guy he had referred to in the hype for the fight as a glorified sparring partner. It was really a bizarre performance, even if he did hurt his hand early on, as was part of his explanation.
At 36, Simms is going to find it tough to get back into title fights, even in a weak weight class and with a nice record. There is just an aura around Simms that makes him hard to like, and I think that extends throughout boxing. Maybe it's not fair, as Simms maintains. Or maybe it's that he largely backed himself into this corner.
9. Sergei Liakhovich
The absent heavyweight. It will be a recurring theme.
Liakhovich was my favorite heavyweight in the world no more than 15 months ago or so. He was a titleholder, and I thought he was the best fighter in the division. I thought he could beat them all, Klitschko, Peter, Rahman (he was a titleholder in 2006!), anyone. He had beaten Lamon Brewster in a pretty damn good fight, and was lining up to dump annoying Shannon Briggs.
That was November 2006, and we all know that Briggs rallied very late in the 12th round of a horrible fight to unseat Sergei. Liakhovich had an awful gameplan that night, if he truly had one at all.
And this year, he did nothing save for ducking out of a fight with John Ruiz. He ducked out of a fight in Chicago with John Ruiz. He DUCKED John Ruiz.
What was your name again?
8. Carlos Baldomir
Outside of Zab Judah, I think everyone likes Carlos Baldomir. Jesus, Floyd Mayweather likes Carlos Baldomir. He was the Cinderella Man of 2006, stunning the world with an upset of welterweight champion Judah, beating the holy hell out of Arturo Gatti, and then putting in a valiant if totally outclassed performance against Mayweather in November. It wasn't the best ending, but 2006 still must have been the greatest year of Carlos Baldomir's life. And we were all fans of him from the moment it was clear that Zab Judah was in for a fight that night in January.
2007 was not Carlos Baldomir's year. The fight with Mayweather was just step one. He returned to the ring in July against Vernon Forrest, with the two of them fighting for the vacant WBC 154-pound strap that Mayweather had vacated after his win over Oscar de la Hoya. Forrest manhandled Baldomir in what was an entertaining but totally one-sided affair, and then Carlos really struggled in a majority decision win over Luciano Perez.
There has been buzz that Baldomir may just retire, but nothing definite, and I wouldn't expect it before at least one more fight. But the clock has struck 12 on his fairytale. He doesn't have the power to beat top-level fighters. The win over Judah was a once-in-a-blue moon upset.
7. Oleg Maskaev / Vitali Klitschko
It's about perception. And Oleg Maskaev, fairly or not, is now perceived as something of a coward following a year where he did all he could to duck away from a fight with Samuel Peter.
Peter won two eliminators over James Toney, the second of which was more than convincing. Maskaev, the WBC champ, was obligated to fight Peter. Instead, Vitali Klitschko decided now would be a good time to come back, and the WBC thought, "Hey, let's give this guy an immediate title shot!"
That's why I'm including Vitali in the ranking here. It's not all Maskaev's fault. And if I was Maskaev, I think I'd try to make a bigger payday with the returning Klitschko instead of fighting the thunder-fisted Peter, too.
But Klitschko stuck his nose in on a situation that just didn't involve him. If he had any class, he would've announced his intended return, and his hope to perhaps fight the winner of Maskaev-Peter sometime later. Instead, Klitschko, Maskaev and the WBC fought and fought and fought to get Maskaev-Klitschko signed and sidestep Peter's title shot. They offered him a bribe, basically. Peter stuck to his guns.
So, it got scheduled for October, and Klitschko decided he'd fight in late September, against Jameel McCline. It was kind of exactly like it should have been, only Maskaev-Peter should've happened months earlier. Then Klitschko pulled out of his fight with an injury, so Maskaev did, too. Frick and Frack over here.
Some people have acted like the WBC decided that, gosh golly, enough is enough, Oleg! We must award Mr. Peter with the interim championship! And that just makes me laugh. The WBC knew the whole situation stank, and to take some heat off of it, they gave Peter a piece of tin.
Peter wound up fighting McCline, and nearly losing to the big veteran. But at least Sam Peter fought. The other two did nothing but masquerade.
6. Evander Holyfield
Thanks to an injury to WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev, Holyfield was given another crack at a recognized world heavyweight title when he met WBO titleholder Sultan Ibragimov in Moscow, on October 13. "The Real Deal" came in six days before his 45th birthday on his insane quest to re-unify the four major belts and retire as the true, undisputed heavyweight champ -- a plan, for the record, that would have done very little for boxing long-term, as all four belts would've been Foreman-ized and spread out all over the place again, even if the delirious Holyfield had accomplished his goal, which would then have been almost certainly followed by the Atlantic Ocean parting straight down the middle.
Holyfield came in shape -- a cut 211 1/2 pounds, the lowest he's weighed on the scales since 1996, when he was fighting the likes of Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, and Bobb Czyz. He had obviously trained as hard as humanly possible for his big, fortuitous shot against Ibragimov. Some people even kind of cared, though it wasn't the big deal Holyfield and his camp thought it was going to be. All in all, the whole thing just came off flat. Not because Holyfield was unsurprisingly dominated in a lopsided unanimous decision loss, but because it wasn't even much of an event.
When the chips truly fell and Holyfield's dreaming added up to a real chance, it turned out no one cared. They were more interested in the quest than its logical conclusion. Fights with Lou Savarese and Vinny Madalone had prompted a portion of the boxing media to declare Holyfield "back," vicious again with a killer instinct, willing to fight hard and come forward. They somehow seemed to have missed that Holyfield was wrecking bums -- Sultan Ibragimov should be the end of Holyfield's line. The interest is gone, and no one wants to see Evander Holyfield battling his way into total obscurity.
5. Vic Darchinyan
One left hook from Nonito Donaire (well, and a thorough beating before it landed), and Mr. Invincible's stock as a Showtime undercard star plummets. Maybe he came in overconfident, maybe he just didn't prepare, and maybe he actually bought his own hype, that he was indestructible at 112 pounds. But the completely unknown, 25-year old Donaire schooled Vic Darchinyan in Bridgeport, CT, and scored both the KO of the Year and the Upset of the Year in one fell swoop.
Darchinyan would move up to 115 pounds after the fight, but not before initially expressing disbelief that he was knocked out and demanding a rematch in the ring. Instead of seeking the rematch -- which Showtime would gladly have aired, I would guess -- he fled to a higher weight class and fought an absolute nobody for an alleged championship. Plans involving a Darchinyan-Jorge Arce fight have long been rumored, but after both were destroyed in a short period of time in the spring/summer months, it never came about, and it doesn't look like it will any time soon. Darchinyan was one of just a few guys considered the no doubt ruler of a weight class, and it all got blown up on him.
4. Antonio Tarver
There was a time, not long ago, when Tarver was one of boxing's biggest stars. After conquering Roy Jones, Jr., in two of their three fights -- including one brutal KO -- Tarver was the man at 175. He was such a big star that Sylvester Stallone pegged him for the role of disliked heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon in Rocky Balboa. Tarver got up to about 215 pounds in order to play the role, then he returned to real boxing.
And he returned to Bernard Hopkins in 2006. Hopkins slaughtered him, to such a degree that even Tarver said that if B-Hop had really pressed, he would've been knocked out. It was something of a nice thing for Tarver to say, blunt honesty and an admission that he was simply beaten by the better man that night. In 2007, Tarver looked to rebound.
He started by headlining a weak Showtime card in the summer against glorified club fighter Elvir Muriqi. Tarver had a hell of a time against Muriqi, but turned it on enough to win a majority decision, with scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 114-114. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly Tarver's best night, but at the end of it, most just figured ring rust had played a major role in the bout.
Come November, we got more Tarver camp BS. Showtime made a fight between Tarver and tough Australian Danny Green for their year-ending, December 1 triple-header, perhaps the worst major card of the year. Co-headlining with 154-pound titlist Vernon Forrest (who fought Italian mandatory veteran Michele Piccirillo, a guy Bob Arum thought was retired), Tarver-Green had some intrigue given Tarver's most recent performance. But then, Green took a December 16 title fight with Stipe Drews instead, claiming that after repeated attempts to contact Tarver and his team, a contract was never actually signed. Instead, Tarver fought late replacement Danny Santiago, which was a joke. The smaller, powerless Santiago posed no threat to Tarver, who looked slow before winning via fourth round TKO. The fight was booed quickly in Connecticut, and now we await Tarver's next step. Or, at least, someone does. Nearing 40, Tarver's 2007 did him no favors in terms of fan appreciation or marketability. His day is over. If he fights anyone that has a chance to beat him, I would bet my foot that they will.
3. Jose Luis Castillo
Age catches up to the best of them, and at one time, Castillo was certainly among the best of them. After he failed to make weight -- again -- for the canceled third fight with his great rival, the late Diego Corrales, Castillo made his debut at junior welterweight in January, splitting the HBO billing with Ricky Hatton, who was returning to the division after an iffy experiment at 147 in 2006.
Castillo and Hatton were matched up with rugged young fighters that had either a title (Juan Urango, against Hatton) or, at the least, an unblemished record -- that would be Herman Ngoudjo, Castillo's supposed foil.
It wasn't that it was a bad fight, or even a bad performance. I thought Ngoudjo fought his ass off, and after realizing that this wasn't going to be a walk in the park, Castillo came back hard and did, in my mind, just enough to win. And I mean just enough. After Hatton gave Urango a surprisingly contained boxing lesson in the main event, HBO went ahead with the obvious plan, to match Hatton and Castillo in the summer.
The big night in Vegas rolled around, and it's been rare that we've seen a fight with as much oomph as far as name value goes as Hatton-Castillo -- arguably considered the two best 140-pounders in boxing, and definitely the two biggest 140-pound names -- be hyped so poorly. Some of us foolishly hung on to the notion that Castillo was just rusty in January, he'd be back and give Hatton a serious run for his money. It was sure to be a savage inside fight, with the two gutsy punchers trading wicked body blows.
There was a lot of clinching from both sides, the Mancurian in "Hook n' Hold" Hatton mode, and Castillo looking, honest to God, like he had negative interest in being there past collecting his paycheck. Hatton blew him out with a fourth round knockout on a well-placed shot to the breadbasket. Castillo turned, took a knee, and never tried to get up. He returned later in the year with a win over a journeyman in Mexico, but chances are we've seen the end of the notable portion of Castillo's career. It wasn't embarrassing, it's just that time and the wars caught up to him.
2. Joel Casamayor
For years, the outspoken, trash-talking Cuban Casamayor made it tough for anyone to really like him all that much. Despite his tremendous skills in the ring, he too often lacked sizzle anywhere but in interviews, which is where he spent most of the year anyway after a bizarre title situation with the WBC. He then signed with Golden Boy, and wound up back in the ring on the undercard of Cotto-Mosley, defending his legitimate, linear lightweight crown against lightly-regarded contender Jose Armando Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was seen as a credible comeback opponent, nothing more. Sure, Joel might be rusty, but in the end, he'd outbox the challenger and win decisively. Right?
Wrong. So very, very wrong. Casamayor turned in probably the most absolutely terrible performance of what has been a hell of a career, barely fighting Santa Cruz at all, allowing the relative unknown to push him around and dictate all the action. Any sane judge in the world would've had Santa Cruz winning in a landslide. Everyone at ringside had it 11-1 or 10-2 in rounds for the underdog. I have yet to see anyone that had Casamayor as the victor, or even close to it.
Then the scores came. Two for Casamayor, one for Santa Cruz, at an absurd 114-113. The worst decision we'll likely ever see meant that Casamayor kept what is now, in effect, nothing at all more than a paper crown. He has lost the vast majority of his status and credibility.
1. Sergio Mora
Do you think this guy is ready to throw one of his deadly pussywillow swipes of death at any of his handlers at this point? Mora, the first season victor on "The Contender," back when it was a truly hideous embarrassment to the sport (blaming the producers, not the hard-working fighters), should've at least had a moment of true boxing stardom before it all fell apart. One fight on the grand stage, for a world title. This man was a reality TV star, for God's sake!
Unfortunately (well, for him), "The Latin Snake" bungled everything in 2007. Offered a fight he didn't deserve with middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, Mora decided to pass on it because he didn't want to fight in Memphis, claiming the hometown advantage for Taylor was just too much -- Taylor, of course, is from Arkansas, but sure, all southern states are the same. He would be inactive until October 16, when he fought on the undercard of fellow first season alum Alfonso Gomez's main event against Ben Tackie. Just before the fight actually happened, Mora was discussing plans to face new middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, and how he was willing to do it in Cleveland, near Pavlik's home in Youngstown, Ohio.
Now, first of all, knowing what he passed up must've been stinging enough by then. Fighting below the popular, gritty Gomez must've added insult to injury. And then what did he do? He came out flat against Elvin Ayala, and fought to a draw. He then stormed out of the ring -- we've never cleared up whether it was because he thought the decision was bullshit, or because he knew that his career, which was sitting on the toilet rim due to bad management, had now officially fallen in.