This wrap-up will wrap up our 2009 boxing awards. It includes real categories like the Upset of the Year and random stuff like the Best Evidence Karma Exists Award. You might say it’s a regular pu pu platter of awards. I’ll sprinkle in photos and videos for seasoning.
Do me a favor: Tell me where I’m wrong, and throw in your own categories and winners. That will make it a super-sized, community pu pu platter. Which I don’t think I’d eat in real life.
Trainer of the Year. On the surface, it’s an easy call — Freddie Roach. He had the best fighter, Manny Pacquiao, and made him better than ever, and he worked wonders in the Amir Khan rebuild job. So he’s my winner. But I think Nick Durandt is a sneakily strong second place. Look at the year some of his charges had winning alphabet title belts: Moruti Mthalane at flyweight; Siphiwe Nongqayi at junior bantamweight; Malcolm Klassen at junior lightweight; and Isaac Hlatshwayo at welterweight. Kind of a weird case with two of them, though. Hlatshwayo won his title with Durandt in 2009, then switched trainers and lost it; to win his title, Klassen fought a fellow Durandt-trained boxer, Cassius Baloyi, with Durandt picking sides with Baloyi and Klassen then losing his title with Durandt back in his corner. Roach’s year has two bigger home rns, but Durandt has four solid doubles.
Prospect of the Year. This was something of a weak field in 2009. I think there are two strong candidates. One is middleweight Daniel Jacobs. He fought five times, stepping up his competition once with Jose Varela, another time with Michael Walker and George Walton and another time with Ishe Smith. He showed signs of vulnerability against Walker and Smith, but I also think he grew in those fights. He’s got speed and boxing ability and when he puts his punches together, power. I’m not saying he ends up being a pound-for-pound king per se, but I can see him being a belt-holder and a solid top-10 guy in his division for a lot of years. The other major contender is welterweight Antwone Smith, who kind of came out of nowhere by scoring two upsets on Friday Night Fights, first against the prospect meant to be highlighted, Norberto Gonzalez and then against a bouncing-back fringe contender, Richard Gutierrez. He finished the year toppling yet another prospect, Henry Crawford. He’s a tough dude, like a mini-Glen Johnson. In any other division, I might like Smith’s chances of really excelling, but he’s in there with Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather and I think Jacobs’ ceiling is higher talent-wise anyway. With the middleweight division stacked with quality youths, we’ll get a chance soon enough to see him in against peers in a growing division, so we’ll find out if I’m wrong about him.
Upset of the Year. There are lots of contenders here, actually. Shane Mosley-Antonio Margarito (welterweight); Danny Green-Roy Jones, Jr. (cruiserweight); Brian Viloria-Ulises Solis (junior flyweight); Joseph Agbeko-Vic Darchinyan (bantamweight); Marcos Maidana-Victor Ortiz (junior welterweight); Rolando Reyes-Julio Diaz (lightweight); Ryan Rhodes-Jamie Moore (junior middleweight); Ola Afolabi-Enzo Maccarinelli (cruiserweight); and Kermit Cintron-Alfredo Angulo (junior middleweight) among them. To me, and I’m guessing to most people, none were more shocking than Juan Carlos Salgado’s one-round knockout of junior lightweight super-talent Jorge Linares. Linares had the talent to be a pound-for-pound player and had done well against proven opposition, but on the eve of setting up shop in America, he either A. got caught cold; B. ran into a better-than-expected opponent; C. was struggling with weight; or D. all of the above. Linares may get back on track and Salgado may prove answer B. is nothing to laugh at, but it was one of those “No, really?” moments of 2009.
Comeback of the Year. A number of fighters recovered from a rough stretch — junior welterweight Paulie Malignaggi, Viloria, heavyweight Eddie Chambers, lightweight Michael Katsidis, Cintron and most especially, junior welterweight Amir Khan. In 2008, the Olympic silver medalist and super-prospect was being called “A Mere Con” following a 1st round knockout loss to the utterly unknown Bredis Prescott. Now, he’s got a junior welterweight strap and is ranked #2 in the division by Ring magazine. Khan is the winner here. (Some of you suggested “comeback within a fight” as a category; that’s got to be super middleweight Carl Froch, who was down on the cards before mounting a furious rally and scoring a 12th round knockout over Jermain Taylor.)
Performance of the Year. This is my category for the fight where one boxer exhibited such mastery of the sport and his opponent that you were left with the feeling you get after witnessing a great, virtuoso musician. Here, too, there were several: Mosley-Margarito; Paul Williams-Winky Wright (middleweight); Juan Manuel Lopez-Gerry Penalosa (junior featherweight); Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton (junior welterweight); Nonito Donaire-Raul Martinez (flyweight); Timothy Bradley-Lamont Peterson (junior welterweight) Andre Ward-Edison Miranda (super middleweight); and Ward-Mikkel Kessler (super middleweight). Yes, Ward was nominated twice, and his second nomination takes the cake. Kessler barely had a moment where he was in that fight. Hell, he didn’t have one. Ward fought as complete a fight as you’ll see these days.
Event of the Year. If you were writing a hard news lede for 2009, what event would you start with? Oscar De La Hoya’s retirement? Mayweather’s unretirement? The Super Six tournament? Pacquiao’s rise to transcendent stardom? Antonio Margarito’s glove-loading scandal? With one exception there (thanks Margacheato), they all add up with a few other elements to one story: In 2009, boxing returned to the spotlight. It’s been a decade or more since the sport has gotten the kind of mainstream attention and visibility it has now, something I’ll elaborate on in my “2009 in review” piece.
Robbery of the Year. Oh, this one’s tricky. There’s been a lot of debate about this one. I thought Froch defeating Andre Dirrell sucked really hard. Some people thought Froch deserved to win, and I only gave him a couple rounds. A lot of people hated Juan Diaz defeating Malignaggi in their first fight. I thought Diaz won narrowly. For me, it comes down to three. There’s the draw between lightweights Ali Funeka and Joan Guzman that Funeka won by a wide margin according to everyone but the judges. There’s the draw between Sergio Martinez and Cintron that Martinez won by a wide margin, where he also was robbed of a knockout win (Cintron didn’t beat the 10-count after a knockdown) and complained inaccurately of a head butt) and a disqualification win (when Cintron’s corner entered the ring inappropriately). And then there’s the technical draw between Alejandro Valdez and Fernando Montiel where Valdez cut Montiel with a punch in the 1st round and the fight was stopped after the 3rd because of the cut in what was initially ruled correctly as a knockout win for Valdez only to be switched later. It’s really hard to decide here. The worst decision, to me, was Funeka-Guzman, and Martinez-Cintron was like a combination of Funeka-Guzman and Valdez-Montiel. But Valdez’ win was just flat taken away from him, so I’m going with that as the Robbery of the Year. (Word is junior welterweight DeMarcus Corley got robbed badly in his last fight, a loss on Russian soil to Russian Fariz Kazimov, but the full fight isn’t yet on the Internets that I’ve seen. Large swaths, but not enough for me to judge.)
Worst Single Scorecard of the Year. Unfortunately, 2009 gave us two completely egregious scorecards, scorecards so bad you wondered if the judges were blindfolded men who flunked math. Gale Van Hoy rendered a 118-110 scorecard on behalf of Diaz in his home state of Texas in a first fight with Malignaggi that was very close. Pierre Benoist, meanwhile, scored Williams-Martinez 119-110. It’s hard to utter a phrase like this given how ludicrous Van Hoy’s card was, but it was more understandable (it’s not like it sounds!) in the sense that there were few rounds anybody won all that clearly in Diaz-Malignaggi I. In Williams-Martinez, there were more rounds than one — all Benoist gave Martinez — where Martinez was freaking teeing off on Williams’ head. Close fight, but some of the rounds weren’t so close. Benoist’ card gets the nod.
Worst Fight. There were lots of terrible fights this year — hey, no sport’s perfect; try enjoying every football game on Sunday, I dare you — and some of them I’ll touch on in a minute for other reasons. I hated Steve Luevano-Bernabe Concepcion (featherweight), for instance. But the worst fight I saw came on the Vitali Klistchko-Kevin Johnson undercard, as much as everybody hated Klitschko-Johnson. That fight was Alexander Ustinov-Monte Barrett, a heavyweight bout that started off fairly interesting with a 1st round knockdown by Ustinov and immediately degenerated into the fight they probably make boxing fans watch over and over again in hell. Barrett proceeded to miss wild haymakers the rest of the fight then fall into clinches, where the taller Ustinov was doing an even more awful impression of Wladimir Klitschko by tying up relentlessly and wrestling his man around, so fearful of being hit was he. Barrett is shot; Ustinov was being groomed as a potential heavyweight contender and clearly is far too awful for something like that. I have no idea how I sat through 12 rounds of this. I felt like I aged one year for every round. Holy shit, I just checked my birth certificate and I’m not exaggerating. I thought I was 34 but I’m 46 now.
Best Undercard. At least two HBO events ended up being terrific double-headers because of the undercard — Juan Manuel Marquez-Diaz (lightweight) gave us Chris John-Rocky Juarez (featherweight) a borderline Fight of the Year bout, and Williams-Martinez gave us Chris Arreola-Brian Minto, maybe the best heavyweight fight of the year. Lightweight Lightning was stacked from top to bottom; there wasn’t an undercard so much as a series of fights. The best undercard on paper was the stacked Mayweather-Marquez undercard, with John-Juarez II, Katsidis-Vicente Escobedo and Cornelius Lock-Orlando Cruz. It wasn’t as good as hoped for, but Lock-Cruz turned out to be the best of the bunch, Katsidis-Escobedo was a terse battle and John-Juarez II was a wipeout with a crazy finish. Anyway, it was a trend that didn’t live long, with the Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto undercard a couple months later terrible on paper. Mayweather-Marquez still gets the nod for good intentions.
Best Ring Walk. Agbeko came out as King Kong with a woman holding his chain. Lightweight Sharif Bogere came out as a lion in a cage, carried by some body-builders. I’m not sure any of it’s weirder than Corley coming out as Predator. Corley wins this one. (You can catch Bogere and Corley toward the beginning of the video below.)
Best Impossible Corner Advice Between Rounds. Nazim Richardson did a wonderful job at Mosley’s trainer for the Margarito fight, but he offered some physics-defying instruction between rounds at one point: “Swim without getting wet.” We actually got his meaning — jump in there, do your job but don’t get hit — but it was like a Zen koan. Confusing. Awesome.
Longest Round. Two rounds went a good deal longer than they should have to allow a boxer to score a knockout: the 4th round of Giovanni Segura-Cesar Canchila II (junior flyweight), which went well beyond the bell, enough time for Segura to KO Canchila, who’d obeyed the bell unlike Segura or the referee; and the 5th round of Green-Julio Cesar Dominguez, which was just a timekeeper error, apparently. The longest of the extra-long rounds? The 10th round of Juan Urango-Herman Ngoudjo (junior welterweight) which lasted a whopping five minutes and 10 seconds. This was a massive failure of, well, everyone. And the round would have kept going longer if some local Canadian official hadn’t told the timekeeper to end the round. Yay, somebody was less incompetent than everyone else!
Most Interesting Post Fight-Interview. Three fighters at the end of shocking results had some pretty interesting things to say. Well, maybe Funeka did; we couldn’t understand him because of his heavy accent and justifiably angry, emotional state. I thought he sounded like an Ewok. Malignaggi’s “Boxing is bullshit” rant was wildly entertaining and at times profound. But Ortiz’ interview where, after he quit, he said things like “I don’t deserve to be getting hit like that,” certainly was the most jaw-dropping post-fight interview of the year. Honorable mention: Hopkins referring to Australia as “Europe” after beating Enrique Ornelas.
Iron Chin King. When Mosley knocked out Margarito, the reigning iron-jawed champion of the world was dethroned. His #1 contender, super middleweight Librado Andrade, was knocked out later in 2009. There are any number of viable contenders to replace those men — Angulo, Pacquiao, Mosley, Vitali Klitschko, cruiserweight Tomasz Adamek, light heavyweight Glen Johnson, super middleweight Sakio Bika, welterweight Joshua Clottey, junior welterweight Juan Urango, Juarez — but I’ve got to go with super middleweight Arthur Abraham, who fights through broken ribs and jaws broken in multiple places. He gets the edge in part because he has a titanium plate in his face from the aforementioned broken jaw.
Hungriest Fighter. This could go to Arroela, the heavyweight who gets fatter every fight out. But I’m going to go with Humberto Toledo, who got disqualified for biting Prescott on the neck. (Watch at around the four-minute mark.)
Most Vampiric Fighter. Toledo is sweeping the eating-related categories.
Worst Training Snack. Ah, no, Toledo’s going two for three this year. Marquez’ urine-drinking habit didn’t help him beat Mayweather, plus I’m guessing it doesn’t taste all that good.
Worst Refereeing. We’re lucky Crawford and Harry Joe Yorgey are alive right now, because both of them took beatings that, respectively, referees Gerald Ritter and Johnny Callas let go on far, far too long. At least they weren’t beatings on the back of the head or via head butt, though, the way Al Seeger got from junior featherweight Victor Fonseca. Referee Ruben Carrion barely issued a warning to Fonseca for his dirty tactics. Seeger ended up in the hospital with a brain bleed and his career may be over. (Seeger gets the 2009 Most Tragic Award, too, with one of his opponents having died as a result of injuries he suffered in that fight). Next year, referees need desperately to look out for fighters’ safety better than they did this year.
Best Refereeing. Lightweight Anges Adjaho rolled around on the ground trying to win an Oscar, apparently thinking that referee Telis Assimenios would penalize Antonio DeMarco for what he claimed after being counted out — suddenly quite coherent and no longer seemingly in pain — was a punch while he was down. Replays showed quite clearly that Assimenios got it right — Adjaho wasn’t down when the punch connected, if only by a hair. Nice work, Telis Guywhoselastnameishardtospell. (And I just noticed: He’s the guy who DQ’d Toledo for biting. Great year for Telis.)
Time to Quit. I’d love Lennox Lewis, a retired boxer, to re-retire as an HBO commentator. And as great as it would be if Evander Holyfield would finally get the message and stop boxing, he’s probably not doing as much harm to himself fighting the likes of Francois Botha next year as Taylor is doing now coming off two savage knockout losses in 2009. When your promoter washes his hands of making money off you any more, it’s time to hang ’em up.
Least Successful Offense. The Washington Redskins. But these are boxing awards. Junior middleweights Anthony Small and Thomas McDonagh each landed 39 punches total in their fight against each other. Malignaggi wobbled Diaz in their rematch and just stood there with his tongue out rather than going for the knockout. But Johnson wins the award here for only landing five power punches against Vitali Klitschko. Five! You can count to that number on one hand, you know.
Best Non-Knockout Punch. I’m a big fan of the Paul Williams Super Punch! just below. Only Williams could land a shot like that. However, I think there are two contenders: The shot Randall Bailey landed on Juan Urango that Urango somehow survived, and the after-the-bell KO of Luevano by Concepcion. I’m going with Bailey on this one, because what he did was legal. Watch for a replay of it in slo-mo at the beginning of the video below. Urango is going forward right into Bailey’s punch, and all you need to know about how nasty that shot was is that Urango was a contender for our new Iron Chin King.
Bravest Losing Effort. Minto stormed back from a knockdown to bravely try to go for the knockout himself, but got KO’d in the process. Carlos Hernandez put forward a final stretch of a fight in which he was taking a real beating from the younger Escobedo, which would be a fitting ending to the career of the gutty Hernandez. Really, though, I still don’t understand how Penalosa never went down against Lopez, who set multiple records for power punch connects. And Lopez has power in his punches. Penalosa fired back, too, enough to make Lopez wonder if he was winning. It was the bravest stand by a losing fighter of 2009.
Best Evidence Karma Exists. Margarito tried to load his gloves before the Mosley fight, and he may very well have loaded them before. Mosley proceeded to give him the ass-beating of a lifetime and knocked him out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not into boxing because of the bloodlust, and I never want to see anyone get hurt. But Margarito may have shortened the career of other boxers with his illegal antics, and seeing him get knocked out was extremely satisfying.
Worst Evidence Karma Exists. In 2009. Funeka and Martinez each lost a close decision and got draws in fights they deserved to win. It’s a tie for the award here. Which they should be used to by now.
Best Excuse for a Poor Performance. Man, I love boxers’ funny excuses for not winning. Historically, we have welterweight Andrew Lewis saying he quit because he had to go the bathroom; middleweight Allan Green losing his fight to Miranda with a bad colon then getting a segment of said colon removed (this one’s legit, it’s just funny because it’s a colon); and Bika complaining that he lost to Lucian Bute because he almost drowned the day before, among others. This year, we had several good ones. David Tua’s team revealed this year that he lost to Lewis because his dad told him he loved him. Junior bantamweight Hugo Cazares this year said he wasn’t able to eat enough Big Macs, and that’s why he got a draw. Heavyweight Travis Kauffman complained that he hit the back of his head on a television cameraman’s camera, which contributed to his knockout defeat. I gotta go with Tua on this one. “My dad told me he loved me” is a really fantastic reason to lose a fight.
Best Animal Vs. Human Match-up. Pacquiao fighting a crab, of course. In part because of its symbolic value in the Philippines, where “the crab mentality” is often lamented. (As you can probably tell by the kangaroo vs. human imagery on this site and my Twitter page, I love animal vs. human match-ups.)
Worst Haircut. Anybody else go into the barber shop and say “Make me look like Larry from the Three Stooges,” or is it just middleweight Paul Samuels? No one picture can capture it. You have to watch it flop around in this video. Bonus points for the double knockdown and the useless little nubbin of hair right in the front.