The nominations are set for the 2015 Boxing Writers Association of America's annual awards, and you can read about the full list of nominees for all the awards here. Personally, I only much care about two of them: Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year.
There is an interesting race for Fighter of the Year, with it pretty easy to take the position that nobody really grabbed the award by the horns as we've seen in some other years. Recent winners have been Sergio Martinez (2010), Andre Ward (2011), Nonito Donaire (2012), Floyd Mayweather (2013), and Terence Crawford (2014). This year reminds me a bit of 2013, when Mayweather won largely because, well, he was Floyd Mayweather, and nobody really made the year theirs, as we've seen from the other recent winners. And if you were to award it to the guy who fought that year and was the best fighter, Mayweather would have won every year he wasn't retired for the last, oh, eight or nine years, maybe more.
But the spirit of the award, as it were, is to pick the fighter who stood out the most in that given year. Martinez did so in 2010, Ward in 2011, Donaire in 2012, Crawford last year. The RING awards have differed just slightly, giving 2012 to Juan Manuel Marquez, 2013 to Adonis Stevenson (the better choice, I think), and 2014 to Sergey Kovalev, who certainly had an argument last year against Crawford.
Anyway, let's talk this year's awards.
Sugar Ray Robinson Fighter of the Year
- Canelo Alvarez
- Gennady Golovkin
- Roman Gonzalez
- Tyson Fury
- Floyd Mayweather
Alvarez, 25, defeated James Kirkland (TKO-3) on May 9 and Miguel Cotto (UD-12) on November 21. The fight with Cotto was the second-biggest money fight of 2015, short only of Mayweather-Pacquiao (and dramatically so, of course), and he is positioned to be boxing's next reliable pay-per-view star. The win over Kirkland was a gimme with only mild danger attached, due to the fact that Kirkland can punch and is crazy aggressive, but that also means that Kirkland is easily picked off, and Canelo easily picked him off and punished him for his countless mistakes. The win over Cotto is legit, even if you really care about catchweights. I don't, but even if you do, OK, he beat an in-shape, pretty sharp version of Cotto. It doesn't have to mean he's the top middleweight to you, but he still beat a good fighter.
Golovkin, 33, trounced Martin Murray (TKO-11) on February 21, Willie Monroe Jr (TKO-6) on May 16, and David Lemieux (TKO-8) on October 17. The best win of the lot is probably Lemieux, who was considered the highest-ranked contender at the time of their fight, but Murray was top 10-ish when they fought, too. Monroe wasn't, but that may also have been the most entertaining fight of the three, in large part due to the rabid crowd at The Forum in Inglewood. Golovkin had a great year in the ring, about on par with what he did in 2013 and 2014. He's now able, with HBO backing and bigger stardom, to get better fighters to face him than he was in 2010-12, for instance.
Gonzalez, 28, fought three times in 2015. His first bout on February 28 against Valentin Leon was a tune-up, a TKO-3 victory over a journeyman where Gonzalez tested the waters at 115 pounds. He came back to defend his flyweight championship successfully on May 16, beating Edgar Sosa (TKO-2) in his HBO debut, and then dominated Brian Viloria (TKO-9) on October 17. In the latter two fights, he paired with Golovkin on HBO and HBO PPV broadcasts as a sort of violent appetizer to the carnage expected in the main event. With the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing today.
Fury, 27, scored arguably the biggest win of 2015 when he knocked off Wladimir Klitschko (UD-12) on November 28 in Germany, ending Klitschko's nine-year run of dominance in the heavyweight division and beginning what appears to be a new era for the faded glory division. His only other fight this year was an easy stay-busy win over Christian Hammer (RTD-8) on February 28, but the Klitschko win speaks for itself.
Mayweather, 38, finally fought and convincingly beat Manny Pacquiao (UD-12) on May 2 in the biggest money fight of all time, but also a fight that received terrible reviews after the fact. That's not really his fault, though. Mayweather just did what he always does. On September 12, he fought his advertised retirement bout against Andre Berto (UD-12), winning handily again. For any other boxer, 400,000 PPV buys would be pretty good, but it's hard to read the buy figure as anything other than the audience responding to Floyd's lousy choice of opponent by not buying the fight. For now, he's retired, and while the Berto win didn't mean a whole lot, the Pacquiao win definitely did.
The winner should be...
This may not be a popular pick, but Fury (25-0, 18 KO) going on the road and knocking off Wladimir Klitschko, the unquestioned ruler of the heavyweight division, trumps anything anyone else did. Mayweather's win over Pacquiao was for bigger money and in front of more eyes, but Mayweather was the favored fighter and did as he was expected by most to do. Fury was not expected to win, but he backed up his years of talk that he could beat anyone, including Klitschko.
I understand the desire to say that Golovkin or Gonzalez should be Fighter of the Year, because they are both fan favorites. You can also argue that, hey, it's FIGHTER of the year, and they are better fighters. But I just don't think that added up, either of them did in three victories what Fury did in one. Tyson Fury would get my vote.
- Ranking the nominees: (1) Fury, (2) Golovkin, (3) Mayweather, (4) Canelo, (5) Gonzalez
Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier Fight of the Year
- Lucas Matthysse vs Ruslan Provodnikov (April 18)
- Marco Huck vs Krzysztof Glowacki (August 14)
- Leo Santa Cruz vs Abner Mares (August 29)
- Andrzej Fonfara vs Nathan Cleverly (October 16)
- Takashi Miura vs Francisco Vargas (November 21)
This was not a good year for great fights. I'll say right now that two of these -- Matthysse-Provodnikov and Santa Cruz-Mares -- were not great fights at all. Good fights, yes, but had a settled rhythm and little real drama.
I also think that the two fights between Rocky Martinez and Orlando Salido on April 11 and September 12 kind of got the shaft here. Both of those fights were, in my view, better than Matthysse-Provodnikov or Santa Cruz-Mares. I would also argue for Jorge Linares vs Kevin Mitchell (May 30) and David Lemieux vs Hassan N'dam (June 20) over either of those bouts.
So for the official ballot, it comes down to Huck-Glowacki, Fonfara-Cleverly, and Miura-Vargas for me. Fonfara-Cleverly is out first because it was sort of like the Matthysse-Provodnikov and Santa Cruz-Mares fights -- highly entertaining, but lacking real drama. It was better than those fights because it had record-setting punch output and some serious physical punishment. So that one comes in third for me.
That leaves two fights.
The winner should be...
Takashi Miura vs Francisco Vargas!
A clear winner, in my estimation. Miura vs Vargas had massive shifts in momentum, wall-to-wall action, two fighters both getting badly hurt and surviving, and then a conclusive, vicious finish in round nine.
This fight was brutal. Miura got hurt early in the first round, drilled with a straight right handled that buckled his knees. That he stood up to that shot, somehow, signaled that this might be a special fight, and it was. Miura got going in the next couple of rounds, and dropped Vargas hard in round four. He took over the fight for a few rounds, smashing Vargas' right eye until it was closed entirely, working on a cut that opened under the eye in the first round, and then opening another on the eyelid.
Vargas battled back into the fight and stood his ground, but was hurt badly again late in round eight, surviving the round but clearly wobbly going back to his corner. That set up the dramatic ninth round finish, with Vargas, perhaps sensing that he needed to back Miura down quickly, going on the attack, smashing him with a hard right hand that hurt Miura, followed by a pair of clean power shots that put Miura on the canvas and pretty much out of the fight, which continued with Vargas assaulting Miura relentlessly, landing hard shots with both hands until referee Tony Weeks had no choice but to step in and save Miura from himself. Vargas was trailing on two of three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. There's just no argument about the Fight of the Year. Even if the ballot is questionable to me, leaving off a couple of fights that probably deserved to be nominated, the winner is the winner, and this is the winner.
- Ranking the nominees: (1) Miura-Vargas, (2) Huck-Glowacki, (3) Fonfara-Cleverly, (4) Matthysse-Provodnikov, (5) Santa Cruz-Mares