Juan Manuel Marquez and Robert Guerrero made Fighter of the Year-worthy statements in 2012. For Marquez, it was a vicious knockout of Manny Pacquiao in the 2012 BLH Fight of the Year. For Guerrero, it was a two-division jump in weight that led to gritty wins over Selcuk Aydin and Robert Guerrero.
But in the end, it was Nonito Donaire's busy schedule and consistently solid opposition that swayed the voters, and made him the 2012 BLH Fighter of the Year. Past winners of the award have been Manny Pacquiao (2008, 2009), Sergio Martinez (2010), and Andre Ward (2011).
Donaire's wins over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka, and Jorge Arce all headlined on HBO, a rare feat for a 122-pound fighter. He's become one of the world's most well-known and popular fighters over the last few years, as well as a top pound-for-pound rated pugilist.
39-year-old Marquez came in second, with Guerrero in at third place. Also receiving votes were junior welterweight standout Danny Garcia, top flyweight Brian Viloria, and middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.
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It's easy enough to argue that Nonito Donaire's four wins in 2012 had nothing that matched Juan Manuel Marquez knocking out Manny Pacquiao, but going four-for-four against top 10 competition just can't be ignored, especially when the next-best choice (Marquez) had really just one fight this year against a threat. As competent as Serhiy Fedchenko is, that fight meant little for Marquez other than holding an event in Mexico. I actually voted Marquez third, with all due respect to the legend.
Robert Guerrero came in second for me, with two very strong wins over Selcuk Aydin and Andre Berto. This new welterweight version of Guerrero who roughs everyone up like he's the king bully of the playground is fascinating to me; I thought Guerrero would struggle as a welterweight, and I don't believe he dominated either of those foes (other than mentally dominating Berto), but the way he's attacked this weight class has been shocking. I expected Guerrero to try and box and outquick opponents at 147, but instead he's turned himself into a bulldozer. It was the best year of his career.
This wasn't an easy choice, but I went with Juan Manuel Marquez over Nonito Donaire. Marquez took on one of the very best in the world in Manny Pacquiao, and walked through fire to knock him out. I'll take that one great win over four good ones.
Donaire seems to be the consensus choice across the other, lesser, end-of-year type awards I've seen so far, and it's hard to really argue against him. While it doesn't feel like the automatic, jump-out-at-you type of pick we've seen in years past, four fights - and, more importantly, four clear, decisive wins - against legit top ten fare is impressive by today's standards.
It's not a nomination without faults. Only Nishioka was really a fight that was called for, and it's worth noting that he was no bigger than a -450 favourite (vs. Nishioka - as short as -1500 for Vazquez Jr) for any of those contests, which somewhat indicates the level of threat he was really perceived to be up against. Nonetheless, Donaire is - and by some way - the 2012 fighter of the year.
Donaire: Respect has to be given to this man for taking four good fights in 2012, three of which were against legitimate world champions in his weight class (super bantamweight). Jeffrey Mathebula was officially the reigning IBF champ, Toshiaki Nishioka was a stripped WBC champ (and most proven world title holder in the division), and Jorge Arce was the last WBO champion before Donaire picked up the vacant title against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. All of those fights happened in 2012. All of the opponents were legitimate top 10 rated fighters. Donaire didn't particularly impress me against Vazquez or Mathebula, but he deserved to win both fights and was impressive in his wins over Nishioka and Arce. My other top choices for Fighter of the Year only had two fights in 2012 anyways, so I think it's only fair to give Donaire a pass for not shining in every fight. Tomasz Adamek had a comparable four-win 2012, and look how awful he performed...
Juan Manuel Marquez: When you beat arguably the best fighter in the world in arguably the best fight of the year with arguably the best knockout of the year, you can't help but be in the running for Fighter of the Year. Unfortunately Marquez's only other win in 2012 came against Serhiy Fedchenko. I actually find Fedchenko respectable, but his career best win is still over an aged DeMarcus Corley. Corley gave him a lot of trouble, too. Then again Corley had also just given Marcos Maidana a lot of trouble. In any event Marquez still holds rights to having the best win of the year, by far. This award is all about balancing quantity and quality. Do you like Donaire's four good wins more than Marquez's one great win and one decent win? I could flip a coin.
Robert Guerrero: Nobody had Selcuk Aydin and Andre Berto on any P4P lists in 2012, but nobody expected Guerrero to jump up from lightweight to welterweight and beat both of them in toe-to-toe wars either. As a smaller fighter we were accustomed to watching Guerrero out box his opponents. For him to jump two weight classes then proceed to out fight two skilled bangers was truly impressive. I predicted he'd win both fights but many thought he would lose both, especially the Berto fight. Oddly enough his win against Berto was the most clear. In any event both fights were very entertaining, Guerrero is now a four-division world champion, and he deserves to be rated among the best fighters in the world. I think that strongly merits Fighter of the Year consideration.