Sick of the drip-drip-drip of year end boxing awards yet? Hard to blame you, hard to blame you. So we’ll bring out two enormous platters to conclude our 2014 awards.
In the first installment, that flavor is heavy and serious. In the second one, that flavor is light and fluffy. Just add “of the year” to every category below and devour ’em all. Feel free to send them back to the waiter, your blog host Tim Starks, if you’d prefer something else.
And don’t forget to consume all the major category nominees and winners from the past weeks’ awards blog entries, if you haven’t yet.
Trainer. It feels cheap to give this award to Freddie Roach almost every year, because some years he really seems to deserve it and other years he seems to win it by default. This year, he was more on the “default” tip. Roach got Manny Pacquiao back with a big win over Timothy Bradley, and rebuilt Miguel Cotto into the vintage version of himself and won him the middleweight championship of the world. Robert Garcia (no real big successes in 2014) and Virgil Hunter (Amir Khan) are always in the mix, too, but in the same way as Roach, and less so than him in 2014. John David Jackson and Abel Sanchez are getting into the mix with what they’ve done with Sergey Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin, respectively, but that’s about all they had going in ’14, too.
Prospect. Now this? This is a legitimately crowded field. Artur Beterbiev, Anthony Joshua, Felix Verdejo, Oscar Valdez and Julian Williams are all viable. My personal tendency is to lean toward the kind of prospect who’s right on the verge of contenderhood, so that leaves out green super-prospects Verdejo and Valdez. Beterbiev had a brief struggle to close the year, although he bounced back well from it. Williams looks the most “ready,” but it’s hard to ignore the tantalizing potential of Joshua. It’s rare that you can say something like this with conviction, given how many flameouts we’ve had, but: He really could be the long-term future of the heavyweight division. He’s the pick.
Manager. Egis Klimas, who handles Kovalev, Vasyl Lomachenko and Evgeny Gradovich, among others had a great year with the first two in particular, matching them boldly, trusting them. It paid off. He’s the manager of the year. In recent years, Al Haymon has won this because even when he’s hurt the sport of boxing (and he’s had years, like the 2013, where he matched his fighters well), he’s gotten his fighters paid, he’s got a ton of them and he’s often two steps ahead of the field in terms of his maneuvering. This year, he both kept his best away from competition AND kept them away from more money. All his apparent steering toward NBC and/or a mysterious online initiative meant he didn’t want to risk anyone losing before the switch; his loss of a surefire subservient Golden Boy allegiance via Richard Schaefer; and he had his fighters turn down bigger purses (most notably Peter Quillin) based on vague promises he might not be able to keep. In short, there’s always a chance he’s hurting the overall sport with what he’s doing. This year, he hurt both the sport and his fighters.
Upset. Tons of good candidates here: Rey Loreto-Nkosinathi Joyi, Chris Algieri-Ruslan Provodnikov, Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez, Rogelio Medina-J’Leon Love, Sadam Ali-Luis Carlos Abregu. Algieri’s win was controversial, and some saw Cotto-Martinez coming; Love always looked vulnerable, and Joyi had lost a couple times prior, while Abregu never had beaten anyone better than a prospect. On the other hand, Joyi had lost to top fighters, and Loreto wasn’t that. And with that backhanded insult, congrats on scoring the Upset of the Year, Loreto! [UPDATE: Also worth mentions, but not winner-worthy: Tommy Karpency-Chad Dawson, James De La Rosa-Alfredo Angulo.]
Event. This is a category we punted last year, because what the hell does it mean? Let’s define it: The biggest, best, or otherwise most notable fight/card of the year. That makes this one easy: Carl Froch-George Groves II drew a crowd of 80,000 in England, and delivered a memorable fight, as well as a memorable conclusion to their humorously nasty rivalry. For a while, this would have been the biggest Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao fight of the year, automatically. No longer.
Comeback Fighter. At the highest level, both Cotto and Khan again looked like elite fighters after periods of doldrums. Cotto, at least, never fell very far — you could argue that he was always still a top 20 pound-for-pound fighter. The call is Khan, who went from looking special through mid-2011 to mediocre-ish until 2014. Despite a little struggle with Luis Collazo, what he did to Devon Alexander bordered on excellence.
Comeback Within A Fight. Nobody had a weirder year than Andy Lee, and few had one as fun to watch. He came from behind TWICE to score knockouts. The first time was the most dramatic: One big right hand dug him out of his hole against John Jackson.
Robbery. For sheer “WTF,” Tyson Cave getting beaten by Oscar Escandon was as mystifying as it got. Most everyone scored every round, or all but one or two, for Cave. On a larger platform, Mauricio Herrera got screwed twice — first against Danny Garcia, then against Jose Benavidez. Then, somehow, there’s the Diego Chaves draw he didn’t earn against Timothy Bradley. For my money, I’m going with Mickey Bey over Miguel Vazquez.
Worst Scorecard. There were a few people who thought Benavidez-Herrera was at least reasonably close, myself among them. I would’ve been upset by, but could’ve lived with, a draw. There’s no possible way Benavidez won nine of 12 rounds, the way judge Dave Moretti had it. 117-111. Get out of here with that bullshit. Somehow possibly worse bullshit: 118-111, 118-111 and 117-111 for Jessie Vargas over Anton Novikov, when everyone had it close for Novikov or Vargas. But that’s three scorecards that suck, not one that stands out for the sucking, and in a closer fight than Benavidez-Herrera.
Worst Refereeing. Pick your poison. There were early stoppages in a couple fights — Juan Manuel Lopez-Daniel Ponce De Leon II, Curtis Stevens-Tureano Johnson. It’s hard for me to pick on those much. There was one that came way too late — Jhonny Gonzalez-Jorge Arce. And yes, Steve Smoger, who is getting work purely on reputation these days, gave a very long count to Steve Cunningham in the Amir Mansour fight, although he returned the courtesy later to Mansour, too. Some of the worst refereeing happened early in the year, when Rances Barthelemy knocked out Argenis Mendez clearly after the bell and was still awarded the victory. The absolute worst? That’s Simpiwe Vetyeka getting screwed over by the worst referee in the business, Luis Pabon, who stopped the fight in Nonito Donaire’s favor at the exact moment it would go to the scorecards for Donaire’s benefit.
Best Refereeing. For as much criticism as he got for it from the Mayweather camp and his crew, Tony Weeks let Marcos Maidana work inside against Floyd Mayweather, something no referee has done for years, and while Maidana fouled some, Weeks handled it appropriately. Overall, Jack Reiss had a pretty good year, mostly handling the difficult Andre Dirrell/Sakio Bika II bout correctly, and stopping Denis Shafikov-Rustam Nugaev at the right time.
Worst Fight. For gross mismatches, nothing tops Danny Garcia-Rod Salka. That’s not what this category is about: It’s about boring. For that, Tyson Fury-Dereck Chisora II wins. Chisora wasn’t exactly eager, and Fury was more than happy to poke away at Chisora the minimum amount it took to win.
Best Top-To-Bottom Card. Only one card had two bouts that wracked up year-end awards galore — the NBC Sports card that featured Stevens-Johnson and Cunningham-Mansour. It gets the nod, even with some botched refereeing.
Best Performance. Kovalev’s domination of Hopkins was a pretty complete showing — it wasn’t just about outmuscling the veteran master, because Kovalev outsmarted him, too. It does lose some points, alas, in comparison to Lomachenko’s domination of Gary Russell, Jr. Sure, Russell was unproven. But Lomachenko took apart a very talented fighter in his physical prime, and did it with a diversity of attack that surpassed what Kovalev showed. Lomachenko also probably, admittedly, gets a boost from his one-handed follow-up win over Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo.
Losing Effort. Hisashi Amagasa gave a decent challenge on the day before New Year’s Eve. to junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, considered by many the best pure boxer in the sport. (Wrong. It’s Floyd Mayweather, who, unlike Rigo, rarely gets dropped or hurt.) Sam Soliman soldiered on against Jermain Taylor, despite an injury. As often is the case, Gabriel Rosado finds himself the winner here, still competing against David Lemieux despite being outgunned, outboxed and bedeviled by the same delicate flesh that has left him losing by technical knockout on cuts.
Promoter. Oh God. Was any promoter any good at all in 2014? Main Events did good work with Kovalev, and, part of the time, with NBC Sports. But the quality of the NBC Sports cards began to decline, and Main Events’ Kathy Duva openly admitted she wasn’t trying that hard anymore. Top Rank did good things with Terence Crawford, and moving some prospects, a traditional strength of that outfit; Golden Boy, under Oscar De La Hoya, took steps to end the “Cold War” with Top Rank. K2 got Golovkin work, and still has Wladimir Klitschko, but that’s not much to go on. One hesitates to give the award to anyone at all, but I tend to give this award even when the candidates stink. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Top Rank gave us Pacquiao-Chris Algieri on pay-per-view, which was total garbage, and I’m leaning their direction. Ugh. Nah, let’s go Main Events. They sucked the least, I guess you can say, because at least they didn’t do anything actively horrendous, and their lawsuit helped end the Cold War. [UPDATE: Reconsidering this one based on feedback. Matchroom, with the good it did via Joshua, with Froch-Groves II, with what they did for Kell Brook — it had its sore spots, sure, like everyone else, but that’s better than the rest of the gang.]
Network. This was the year NBC Sports began its decline, even with a few nice cards here and there, more or less ending its stretch of perennial candidacy. Showtime and HBO continued to hurt one another more than they helped boxing. By default, HBO wins. It had the biggest fights, more “X of the year” candidates. Showtime was just awful — most of its good fights were accidents, and almost every single card featured an A-side against someone expected to lose. Example: When Garcia got an unexpected challenge from Herrera, they doubled down on giving him a better chance to win, against Salka. HBO, by not casting its lot with Golden Boy and Haymon, didn’t put themselves “all-in” on one strategy the way Showtime did. Last year, it worked for Showtime, but it was always a gamble. This year it failed miserably. Let’s not mistake this for overpraising HBO, however. It did good things with building up Golovkin, Kovalev and Crawford and luring back the likes of Hopkins and Klitschko, real ratings bosses. It abandoned its strategy of dealing with just Golden Boy. Yet a significant number of fighters remain, apparently, unavailable to HBO, thanks to the divisiveness over Haymon. Just because it “won” 2014 doesn’t mean it’s won the war. In many ways, it was a very bad year for HBO, too. [UPDATE: Let’s reconsider again, based on feedback. We’d be remiss to leave out ESPN, and beIN Sports. ESPN boasted a ratings increase for Friday Night Fights, and ESPN bought some more meaningful bouts than it had in the past. BeIN Sports, though, aired two Fight of the Year candidates and scooped up a lot of good product. Let’s change the award to beIN Sports.]
Best Trend. You need a microscope to find the good in boxing in 2014, but if there was anything, it was the degree to which the lighter weight classes distinguished themselves. Both Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada staked claims to pound-for-pound top 10 status, the Fight of the Year was between two strawweights and there was plenty of good besides. Now, to build on that positive trend, Gonzalez and Estrada must rematch. Must. Otherwise, the little weight classes will just be imitating the flaws of the big weight classes by putting off the most obvious fan-friendly fights in the whole sport (Mayweather-Pacquiao, Adonis Stevenson-Kovalev).
Worst Trend. On a whole, boxing resembled a thin layer of ice over a lake in 2014 — every step forward brought a new crack splintering the ice in multiple directions, and it looked like it would fall apart at any minute, and all in all one would just be wise to stay away from it. That fracturing and fragmentation reached an absurd high in 2014. The Cold War between Golden Boy and Top Rank — and therefore, Showtime and HBO — governed much of the year. A third party lawsuit from Main Events complicated matters further. Just when there began to be a thaw, Golden Boy itself split in two, with Schaefer departing and Haymon apparently evaluating his own operation, bringing in NBC.