Fighter of the Year: Ava Knight
In 2012 Ava Knight progressed from world champion to pound for pound star. She began the year by defending her IBF flyweight title against Vacharaporn Prachumchai (currently fighting under the alias Hongfah Tor Buamas). Tor Buamas isn't one of the most skilled female fighters in boxing, but she was never previously knocked out and was riding an 11 fight win streak. Knight stopped her in the 10th round after a brutal beating. Next, Knight defended her IBF crown once more against former WBC bantamweight champion Susana Vazquez. She bested the veteran by clear cut unanimous decision.
And then there was Mariana "La Barbie" Juarez. Juarez was a long reigning WBC female flyweight champion and had won her last 21 fights. Knight was the underdog going in but dethroned the division's queen regardless. I previously wrote a detailed description of that fight here. Following this sensational year, Ava Knight is now rated #3 p4p by Bad Left Hook.
Comeback Fighter of the Year: Holly Holm
Holm, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest female fighters of all time, looked all but finished in December of 2011 after being brutally stopped by Anne Sophie Mathis inside 7 rounds. It was one of the most vicious female knockouts I've ever seen and could have ended tragically thanks the disgraceful refereeing of Rocky Burke. The end really began in the 6th round and it's all been captured in slow motion on YouTube. The linked video is not for the faint of heart.
Holm, after being world champion more times than I can be bothered to count, in 3 different weight divisions, was worthy of the hall of fame whether she made a comeback or not. She went unbeaten from June 2004 to December 2011 and dusted off legends Christy Martin and Mia St. John as early as 2005 (back when both were still considered among the best). Three years later Holm bested Mary Jo Sanders, widely regarded as the best female fighter in the world aside from Holm. Then three years after that Mathis seized Holm's crown. Was it Holly's time or was Mathis just that good?
Lucia Rijker, previously the baddest female light welterweight on the planet, had her last fight in 2004. Her crown was never passed on in the ring but Holm basically assumed the status by default. Meanwhile Mathis (unbeaten since 1995) was nipping at Holm's heels every step of the way. Mathis first broke onto the scene when she defeated previously unbeaten Nathalie Toro for the EBU female light welterweight title in 2005. The very next year Mathis dethroned undefeated WBA female light welterweight champion Myriam Lamare in the 2006 "Female Fight of the Year." But by the time Mathis and Holm eventually met in 2011, the 5'11" towering Mathis had outgrown the light welterweight division and established herself as best welterweight in the world not named Holm or Braekhus (more on her later). Holm can still make 140 easily today but was good enough to fight the best all the way up to 154.
Ultimately, Holm's supreme confidence in her abilities was her undoing. Mathis hadn't beaten anyone Holm couldn't beat (they actually shared a few opponents) and despite Anne's height she was only a natural welterweight. Holm had already beaten arguably the greatest female junior middleweight of all time in Sanders. What was there to fear? And that's exactly how she fought Mathis the first time, fearless. Holm, much like Sugar Ray Leonard against Roberto Duran the first time around, wanted to beat Mathis at her own game. It was a mistake. Holm was too small and has never been a big puncher. Mathis, one of the greatest female punchers of all time, just walked right through Holm and broke her down.
Needless to say, the rematch was a different story. Holly got on her bicycle from the very beginning and gave Anne a boxing lesson. A lot of people say "Holly ran" and consider the result a "hometown decision", but forget that. Fights are primarily scored on clean punching. Ring generalship, defense, and effective aggression are all secondary factors into scoring a fight (by a large margin). The fact of the matter is Holm clearly did the vast majority of the clean punching in the rematch. It doesn't matter how she accomplished that as long as she wasn't cheating to do it. People have every right in the world to not like the way Holm fought Mathis in the rematch. They however have no right to claim their entertainment has any bearing whatsoever on how a round should be scored. If people would prefer a sport similar to boxing with different rules, I suggest they go invent it. There's always MMA, too. But hey, I'm just the messenger. Don't shoot me...
Credit must be given where it's due. Holly Holm conquered her demons and immediately came back from a truly devastating defeat after an extensively accomplished career. In a loose analogy, this was like Mike Tyson coming back to defeat Evander Holyfield (as opposed to biting his ear off and getting disqualified instead). It was enough to vote Holm the "Comeback Fighter of the Year" based on the Mathis rematch alone. But I might as well mention that she followed it up with a shut out of Diana Prazak.
Prazak, the reigning WIBA super featherweight champion, was riding a solid winning streak and met Holm at light welterweight for a couple vacant world titles. Sure, it was a 2 weight division jump, be we all saw what Juan Manuel Marquez did to Manny Pacquiao... Furthermore, Prazak was a former Australia light welterweight champion anyways. But this was all just icing on the cake for Holm anyways. She's my definitive choice for 2012's "Comeback Fighter of the Year" and I wish her the best in 2013. This year she'll hopefully, and finally, fight the unbeaten welterweight triple world champion Cecilia Braekhus. The WBC has recently ordered the fight.
Fight of the Year: Arely Mucino SD10 Melissa McMorrow
No one was seriously hurt, dropped, or stopped, yet somehow through 10 rounds of blistering, non-stop action, Mucino-McMorrow became my "Fight of the Year." Ironically the primary competition was another Mucino fight (against Mariana Juarez). The first time I scored this fight I had McMorrow the winner by 2 points and saw most of the rounds as swing rounds. Upon watching it again months later, I switched my score in round 10 (resulting in a draw) and thought all of the rounds could have gone either way. It's an added bonus when a fight is as competitive as it is thrilling. One of the rounds was good enough to make my "Round of the Year" front runner list, too.
Rather poetically both women went on to big opportunities and wins after this slugfest. McMorrow, after upsetting Susi Kentikian, became the WBO and WIBF flyweight champion while Mucino came up a little short in a WBC flyweight title fight with Mariana Juarez but won the interim WBA flyweight title in her next fight. With Susi Kentikian scheduled to fight Anastasia Toktaulova for the interim WBA title next, it would be nice to see Mucino get a shot at WBA full champion Carina Moreno. Mucino has already previously fought Kentikian and Ava Knight as well. A "Super Six" tournament with the lot of them (Knight, Juarez, McMorrow, Mucino, Kentikian, and Moreno) would be pretty sweet...
Round of the Year?
I took the time to put together my 6 favorite female rounds of the year in 1 video. The true round of the year should be among them. Have a look and let me know which you liked the best. They appear in the following chronological order:
2012-02-25 Arely Mucino vs Melissa McMorrow - Round 1
2012-04-07 Fernanda Soledad Alegre vs Chris Namus II - Round 5
2012-05-12 Mariana Juarez vs Arely Mucino - Round 2
2012-06-23 Chris Namus vs Adriana Salles II - Round 2
2012-07-14 Janeth Perez vs Riyo Togo - Round 3
2012-08-02 Heather Hardy vs Mikayla Nebel - Round 1
Rounds worthy of honorable mention (not in the video) include:
2012-02-24 Susie Ramadan vs Alesia Graf - Round 7
2012-03-16 Ana Julaton vs Yesica Patricia Marcos - Round 2
2012-04-21 Ibeth Zamora Silva vs Jessica Nery Plata - Round 6, 8, or 10
2012-04-27 Frida Wallberg vs Amanda Serrano - Round 7
2012-07-14 Mariana Juarez vs Shindo Go - Round 3
2012-10-05 Claudia Andrea Lopez vs Maria Elena Maderna - Round 5
For whatever reason, even though I worked with 1/4th the amount of rounds used in my male round of the year selection, picking the female round of the year took just as long. Fortunately making the video did not... In any event, I suppose it's time to name my choice.
Round of the Year: Heather Hardy vs Mikayla Nebel - Round 1
As none of our 2012 Olympic medalists have turned pro, Heather Hardy has consequently become the most talked about American prospect in women's boxing today. Although a 2011 National Golden Gloves champion at 125 pounds, I would not say the primary interest in Hardy is talent. From what I've seen of her so far I estimate Hardy is the new, female version of John Duddy. Like Duddy, she's going to excite fans and sell tickets. Her pro debut against Mikayla Nebel was anything but a disappointment.
Both fighters came out guns blazing but it was Nebel who got Hardy backing up. Forty seconds into the round this lead to Hardy being dropped by a hard right hand as she poorly covered up against the ropes. She got back up pretty quickly but she was clearly dazed. However, rather than play defense, hold, or do anything else that might help her recover, Hardy just went to war. Non-stop, 2-way, head snapping bombs ensued for the remainder of the round. The shoulder rolling and sharp countering skills of Nebel impressed me just as much as Hardy's tenacity. It was, simply put, the female "Round of the Year."
Then again, as how "important" a fight is doesn't really matter to me, who cares what my opinion is... I clearly lack appreciation for "context." As always, you should make up your own mind about this sort of stuff. I'm just here to help offer selections to choose from.