Boxing 2011: Tough fights draw awe, controversy
By Bob Velin, USA TODAY
The year began with what was expected to be a bang —Devon Alexander vs. Timothy Bradley, two tough, undefeated fighters vying for the unified junior welterweight title on Jan. 29 in the aged Pontiac Silverdome. The Showdown in Motown.
Instead, it became the Motor City Breakdown when the fight was stopped at the end of the 10th round after Alexander was cut for the first time in his career. He said he couldn't fight on and Bradley won by technical decision. Not even the presence of legendary promoter Don King or the ghost of legendary Detroit Lion Barry Sanders could save that one.
In many ways, that fight set the tone for a strange if not bizarre year of ups and downs in the sport. If boxing 2011 was made into a movie, it would have to be titled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
There were plenty of terrific fights wrapped around some of the ugliest refereeing and judging the sport has seen.
Who could forget the debacle in Las Vegas in September when Floyd Mayweather legally sucker-punched Victor Ortiz after Ortiz had intentionally head-butted Mayweather, then tried to hug and kiss him in apology?
When referee Joe Cortez brought their gloves together and said "fight", Mayweather did and dropped Ortiz, who was still trying to apologize as he went down in a heap from a left hook and a straight right.
The wild scene ended with 80-year-old HBO broadcaster Larry Merchant uttering the most famous words of the year after an interview Mayweather cut short after cussing out Merchant: "I wish I was 50 years younger, I'd kick your ass!"
The year ended with the undefeated Mayweather not signing to fight Manny Pacquiao in the showdown the world wants to see, but instead losing a fight with the law, being sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to a lesser charge in a battery domestic violence case.
In between, the sport produced the fight and fighter of the year, and a little bit of, well, everything. USA TODAY's Bob Velin takes you through the year with his best and worst of boxing 2011:
Fighter of the year: Even if he hadn't broken his left hand a few days before the fight, super middleweight champion Andre Ward would still have taken this award. He culminated his run through Showtime's Super Six World Classic boxing tournament on Dec. 17 with his convincing unanimous decision against tough-as-nails Brit Carl Froch in Atlantic City in the tournament final.
Ward (25-0, 13 KOs), who was later discovered to have fought with two broken bones in his hand, punished Froch for most of the fight using his left hooks brilliantly. The pain with every punch had to be excruciating, but 27-year-old Ward never winced. That kind of stuff makes legends.
Ward dominated former middleweight champ Arthur Abraham in the tournament semifinals last May in his only other fight this year.
Asked about the possibility of winning Fighter of the Year, as voted by the boxing writers, the last U.S. Olympic boxing gold medalist and one of the sport's most humble champions, said: "If that comes true, that's unbelievable. You don't set out to do that when the year starts. You just put your head down and do the work, and then you look up and hopefully you win an award like that. So if we could just win that award on top of everything else we've won tonight, it would be an unbelievable year."
•Honorable mention: Light welterweight champion Lamont Peterson (30-1), who followed a 12th-round TKO of Victor Cayo in July with a massive, gutsy and controversial upset of Amir Khan in Peterson's hometown of Washington D.C. a few weeks ago.
Fight of the year: If Victor Ortiz was involved in the year's most bizarre fight against Mayweather, he was also part of the best fight of the year. On April 16 at Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut, Ortiz, moving up to welterweight, and Andre Berto, 27-0 at the time, slugged it out for 12 pulsating rounds. Both fighters went down twice. Ortiz, who had struggled at times at 140, proved that 147 was his best weight and won a unanimous decision despite being docked a point for hitting behind the head late in the fight. Ortiz and Berto will lace 'em up for a rematch on Feb. 11 in Las Vegas.
•Honorable mention: There were many to pick from. Delvin Rodriguez-Pawel Wolak I might have been the most entertaining fight of the year, and ended in a draw and a welt around Wolek's eye the size of Rhode Island; also, Miguel Acosta-Brandon Rios (February), as Rios ended it on a dramatic 10-round TKO for the WBA lightweight title; Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales (April) — Morales proved he's not finished by trading with the power-punching Maidana for 12 brutal rounds. Alfredo Angulo-James Kirkland was a must-see punchfest. And of course, Khan-Peterson, as Peterson showed tremendous heart by walking through Khan's lightning combinations throughout the fight. The refereeing, however, will be discussed later.
Trainer of the year: Usually this award is an automatic for Freddie Roach, but not this year. As Roach went through a disappointing performance by Manny Pacquiao and a loss by Amir Khan, Robert Garcia was cruising along in the corners of Rios and Nonito Donaire, two of the most exciting and talented fighters today, along with his younger brother Mikey Garcia, one of the sport's top undefeated prospects. Robert Garcia, a former champion himself, knows boxing as well as anyone and is a master motivator. He also handles Antonio Margarito. He's my pick for trainer of the year.
Best round: Round 1 of Angulo-Kirkland in early November. Kirkland (30-1, 27 KOs), was coming off a shocking first-round TKO loss to light-hitting Nobuhiro Ishida of Japan in April for the first loss of his career. Early in the first in Mexico, it looked like deja vu all over again. Often fighters use the first round to feel each other out. Not here. Angulo came out swinging wildly from the opening bell (think young Mike Tyson) and caught Kirkland with a hard right hand, putting him on the canvas early. Kirkland, the ex-con Texan, got up, withstood Angulo's vicious nonstop barrage, and by the final minute, had turned it completely around, dropping Angulo in the final seconds. The fight went on like this for five more rounds, though Angulo had punched himself out early, and Kirkland, showing boxing skills heretofore unseen, had himself a sixth-round TKO victory and a comeback for the ages.
Top prospect: Again, lots of great young fighters to pick from, but it would be hard not to go with 23-year-old former Olympian Gary Russell Jr. HBO loves this kid, and for good reason. He's highly entertaining, and one of the most technically proficient, lightning-quick youngsters out there. Russell, a super featherweight, is 19-0 with 11 KOs after going 6-0 with 3 KOs in 2011, including a first-round KO of veteran Heriberto Ruiz on HBO in November. See him next on the undercard of Ortiz-Berto II on Feb. 11 in Las Vegas.
Best knockout: There were few lights-out punches such as Sergio Martinez's second-round KO of Paul Williams in November 2010. But for pure unleashing of power, my favorite was Nonito Donaire's vicious left hook that dropped skilled veteran Fernando Montiel in February. Montiel went down, seemingly out cold with his limbs shaking. Amazingly, the Mexican got up and beat the 10-count, but referee Russell Mora stopped it seconds later when it was apparent Montiel was finished. … Brandon Rios' 10th-round multi-punch TKO of Miguel Acosta in February was a thing of beauty, too.
Worst job by a referee: It would have to be Mora's calling of Abner Mares' low-blow fest against Joseph Agbeko in August. Mora warned Mares 11 times but never took a point. Late in the fight, Agbeko dropped to his knees in obvious pain after a low shot, and Mora called it a knockdown. The IBF rightly ordered an immediate rematch, and this time Mares won fair and square to remain unbeaten. … Close behind is Joe Cooper's taking two points from Amir Khan in his title fight against Lamont Peterson for pushing off, with no hard warnings. the points proved to be the differeence in the fight. Khan trainer Freddie Roach called it "the worst refereeing job I have seen in a long time." The difference in the two? Mora explained to HBO after the fight why he did what he did. Cooper skedaddled and hasn't been heard from since.
Worst job by judges: After Cuban defector Erislandy Lara appeared to win every round against Paul Williams in July in Atlantic City, judges Donald Givens, Hilton Whitaker III and Al Bennett awarded Williams a majority decision. So bad was that decision that the referees were suspended indefinitely by The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. No rematch was mandated. The Khan-Peterson fight also had one scorecard changed after the fact. Khan's promoter, Golden Boys, has appealed to have the decision overturned.
Biggest robbery: See Lara-Williams, above. Lara will be next seen, like Russell, on the Ortiz-Berto undercard. Another Brinks job was the U.K.'s Matthew Macklin's split decision loss to champion Felix Sturm in Germany in June. Home cookin' at its worst.
Best measure of revenge:Miguel Cotto's dismantling of Antonio Margarito at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 3. Their first fight, in 2008, was the fight before Margarito was discovered to have a plaster-like substance in his handwraps. Many, including Cotto, felt Margarito had used the illegal wraps on him, and beat Cotto's face to a pulp in handing the Puerto Rican his first career loss. This time, it was Margarito whose face was left battered and swollen, which caused the fight to be stopped in the 10th round, much to the delight of the pro-Cotto crowd.
Best AARP moment:Bernard Hopkins taking Jean Pascal's light heavyweight title in May in Montreal to become the oldest major champion in boxing history at age 46. B-Hop even did five pushups before the seventh round to prove age was overrated.
Biggest upset: There were many, none bigger than Peterson's upset of Khan. Or maybe Marco Antonio Rubio's shocking TKO of Canadian knockout artist David Lemieux. Or maybe Jorge Arce's upset of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. Or was it Ortiz's beating of Berto? What about Kirkland's shocker to Ishida? Perhaps Orlando Salido's stunning upset of Juan Manuel Lopez. Bottom line is that the year was filled with major upsets. That's what keeps the fans coming back for more.
R.I.P.: "Smokin' Joe Frazier (November); Ron Lyle (November); Henry Cooper (May); "The Professor," George Benton (September); Genaro Hernandez (June); Scott LeDoux (August); Tom McNeeley (October).
Wish list for 2012:Pacquiao-Mayweather tops everybody's list, but with Mayweather going to jail beginning Jan. 6, it won't happen during the first half of the year for sure. A close second is Andre Ward vs. Lucian Bute, the class (both undefeated) of the 168-pound division. Ward says Bute will have to prove himself first, so it could be unlikely in 2012. If not that, then Froch-Bute. …Peterson-Khan II is must-see boxing, and will likely happen during the next 12 months. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is the fight every Mexican fan, and most American fans, would love to see. Both are unbeaten. Pacquiao-Marquez IV, especially since many in the media felt Marquez defeated Pacquiao during their fight in November. Marquez might want to have the fight in Mexico to get what he feels would be a fair shake. And finally, Sergio Martinez against anybody decent. Seems like "Maravilla" can't get the best in the sport to fight him. And to his credit, maybe the best don't think they can beat him. Macklin will try on St. Patrick's Day at the Garden.
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