Sean hit you with his delicious 2008 Pu Pu Platter science here, following up on our Round of the Year, Knockout of the Year, Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year awards entries. I agree with a great deal of his picks, but we conclude our awards week today with my own, second helping of awards on a platter.
Above is my award for Best Punch Of The Year Outside A Ring. I’m not a fan of violence outside the ring, but the perfect right hand shot, the failure of the prank, what the victim was wearing and the comical lid-closing KO is just comedy gold (h/t, as is increasingly the case, to Schraub). But my list starts with the serious stuff and moves on to the less serious stuff.
Upset of the Year Award: What a better place to start? We may remember 2008 as the year of the upset. Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins pulled off upsets of Oscar De La Hoya and Kelly Pavik, respectively, that were historic. Carlos Quintana and Sergio Mora defied extremely long odds to beat Paul Williams and Vernon Forrest, respectively, although those losses were promptly avenged. Two heavily-hyped prospects, Amir Khan and Andy Lee, had their apple carts toppled by Breidis Prescott and Brian Vera, respectively. Antonio Margarito came in very underrated, but Miguel Cotto was a heavy betting favorite, and that makes it an upset. And Vic Darchinyan overthrew Cristian Mijares in the fight among all of them I was most wrong about. It’s hard to pick between them; I actually think there’s a good argument for every single one. But I’m going to go, like Sean, with Prescott. We should have seen it coming, but don’t forget: Khan was most people’s pick for 2007 Prospect of the Year, and he got viciously knocked out in the 1st round by a completely unheralded opponent. Prescott was the one coming from the furthest down to do away with a sensation the most swiftly. I’ve read that the odds of a 1st round Prescott KO were 100/1.
Trainer of the Year Award: This one’s a little easier — Freddie Roach. Again, I’m with Sean that he’s going to go down as one of the best trainers ever. The work he’s done with an extremely raw talent named Pacquiao is unbelievable.
Prospect of the Year Award: Soon, I’m going to start disagreeing with Sean, I promise. For all his flaws, I still look at Yuriorkis Gamboa and see an unbelievable talent. I think you can make a case for Victor Ortiz, Alfredo Angulo or Danny Jacobs. I’m just happy I didn’t pick Khan last year.
Performance of the Year Award: Lots of contenders for this one, too — I’m thinking performances where one man thoroughly outboxed another high-level opponent. You’ve got Darchinyan’s near-shutout of Mijares. Two Pacquiao blowouts, one over David Diaz and the other over De La Hoya. There’s Ricky Hatton’s incredibly sharp number on Paulie Malignaggi. Vitali Klitschko put Sam Peter to shame. And Chad Dawson made Antonio Tarver look like easy pickings. But of them all, Hopkins’ was the most complete. Pavlik looked like a child against a master. And at 43, that’s what Hopkins remains.
Comeback of the Year Award: Vitali Klitschko, all the way. Gone from boxing for years, the last man to top the heavyweight ranks without a heavy majority of sneers came back to throttle the #2 ranked heavyweight in the world, Peter. I can’t think of anyone who even comes close.
Worst Decision of the Year Award: I’m relieved to report that, after searching my memory banks and The Queensberry Rules archives, I am having trouble thinking of very many outright robberies, an improvement over last year’s smorgasbord, which featured the worst I’ve ever seen, Joel Casamayor’s decision win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz. There were some bad scorecards, like the ones that had Michael Katsidis beating Juan Diaz or the even more shocking and historically bad scorecard that had Jose Navarro shutting out Mijares. But in those two cases, the right man got the nod from the majority of the judges. If anyone can come up with a decision worse than James Toney’s “win” over Fres Oquendo, I’m listening, because even that, while a very bad decision, wasn’t a hideous one. Word is that Evander Holyfield deserved the decision against Nicolay Valuev today that Valuev won on the scorecards, so once I see that fight somehow, I’ll reconsider whether to change my award.
Promoter of the Year Award: Lou DiBella deserves some kudos for showing that good undercards can enhance shows and for relatively little cash, and there are a few other promoters who have done good things in spots, like Don King putting on some Internet broadcasts. But really, it’s just Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions these days. In head to head match-ups featuring GBP partners versus Top Rank stars, Hopkins destroyed Pavlik and De La Hoya was destroyed by Pacquiao. One of Top Rank’s most precious assets, Cotto, lost, but he lost to another Top Rank product, Margarito, and both Pavlik and Cotto are very likely to rebound from their losses. The race to sign and develop top prospects has narrowed, with Top Rank’s once clear edge closing a bit thanks to some GBP signings (although we’ll see if they learn to develop them as well as Top Rank). I’m giving the edge to Top Rank — they have more stars of “now” than GBP. See, I told you I’d disagree with Sean.
Network of the Year Award: I can dig Sean giving Versus the award here, but I look at Versus more like the Prospect of the Year for Network of the Year. They had a couple good-to-excellent events, Tomasz Adamek-Steve Cunningham tops among them, and they snatched up The Contender reality show. But they’re still figuring out their way. No, the award here goes to Showtime. Almost every event that a hardcore boxing fan could want, Showtime picked it up — Lucian Bute-Librado Andrade, Celestino Caballero-Steve Molitor, you name it. And they had a couple very nice bigger shows, too, like what had the potential to be the best double-header of 2008: Klitschko-Peter and Dawson-Tarver. Just because not all the fights played out as expected doesn’t mean Showtime shouldn’t have picked them up. They did, and fight fans should thank them for it. HBO may get the biggest of the big fights, but they air most of them on pay-per-view, and they still broadcast too many strange fights that aren’t on pay-per-view, like Wladimir Klitschko-Hasim Rahman.
Event of the Year Award: When I think of “Event of the Year,” I think of the biggest or most important happening in the sport that year; last year, it was a toss-up between the Golden Boy/Top Rank truce and Floyd Mayweather-De La Hoya. Naturally, that would point this year to Pacquiao-De La Hoya; but I’m going to go with Margarito-Cotto. Why? Because while Margarito had a cult following and Cotto was a burgeoning star, not many outside the boxing world in the United States had heard of either man. But sheerly on the strength of word of mouth and intense buzz about a fight that was perfectly matched, Margarito-Cotto ended up ge
tting fairly significant mainstream attention, on SportsCenter, in the Wall Street Journal and more, and it did very impressive pay-per-view numbers. When the fight actually happened, it delivered on its promise, producing a Fight of the Year candidate in a battle that was extremely warmly received by the audience. Would that great fights between great fighters be enough every time out.
Best Referee of the Year Award: People worry that Steve Smoger waits too long to stop fights, and that he doesn’t interfere enough at times. But I can’t think of one fighter whose career has been jeopardized as a result of him letting a guy take a beating too long, and I can think of several instances where his decision to let a fight go on longer than some was the right call. What’s more, he does interfere when he has to. When Cornelius Bundrage was holding Kassim Ouma too much, Smoger penalized him. More refs should follow his lead on that, because excessive holding is one of the most common complaints of regular fans and irregular fans alike, and besides, it is illegal. Smoger just wants to stay out of the way as much as possible and exercises near-perfect judgment on when to step in.
Worst Referee of the Year Award (aka the Marlon B. Wright Award for Worst Refereeing): I do think an argument can be made for Joe Cortez winning the award that I once thought Laurence Cole would win every year, since Cortez inappropriately disqualified Humberto Soto when the correct decision was a KO victory of Soto over Francisco Lorenzo, and he had been doing a poor job of refereeing the fight to that point. But as in disputes over ethics, I’m giving extra weight to intent. Cortez’ refereeing was just awful and stupid, while Marlon B. Wright seemed very clearly to me to be trying to favor the hometown fighter when he delivered a very, very long count to a very unconscious Bute at the close of the 12th round.
Best Commentator of the Year Award: Teddy Atlas. You can make a case for Wally Matthews (sharp wit, observant about what’s happening in the ring), Jim Lampley (one of the best play-by-play men in not just boxing, but sports as a whole) or Larry Merchant (may be on the decline, but did dream up Pacquiao-De La Hoya and his good moments are very good). There are other good guys, too, like your Al Bernsteins and Emmanuel Steward what not. But Atlas brings a professor’s knowledge of the sport to the ring, and he does not hold back for a second when something offensive is happening, like a mismatch or late stoppage. He communicates it all clearly, and with passion.
Worst Commentator of the Year Award: If Jim Lampley is perhaps the best play-by-play man in all of sports, then Lennox Lewis may be the worst commentator in all of sports. He’s so terrible that I roll my eyes dozens of times per fight he calls. We’ve got a running joke at my boxing parties about Lewis. My friend Kevin does an especially good imitation, complete with British accent and utterly inane remarks. Like: “I think he needs to hit his man, but, at the same time, not get hit.” Or: “Boxing gloves, you know, they are very important to boxing.”
Worst Fight of the Year Award: Sean’s right that the Grady Brewer-Bundrage bout was terrible. But Wladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov was nearly as bad, and it came at a far more inopportune moment, so it gets my award. Here, the eyes of the world were finally on the heavyweight division again thanks to the unifying of two belts, and what do Klitschko and Ibragimov do? Ibragimov played an elaborate game of keep-away. Klitschko slapped at Ibragimov’s gloves like a kitty kat, and even though he could have knocked out Ibragimov if he’d put his foot on the gas just a little, he was content to throw his jab and his jab only. Bad fight, and a bad time to have it.
Please Go Away Award: Even if he deserved to beat Valuev tonight, I still want Evander Holyfield to go away. Joe Calzaghe’s a strong contender with his alienating “boxing is dead” remarks, and Sergio Manuel Medina would be a good candidate but he’s probably already written the ticket for his own exile by alleging he’d taken a dive and then retracting the claim. But Holyfield’s situation is sadder; he’s really rolling the dice with his health, and there’s nothing more depressing than seeing a one-time great degenerate into a journeyman en route to brain damage later if not sooner.
Award for Grossest Facial Rearrangement: Lorenzo got his nose bent into the shape of a sideways banana and was bleeding from every orifice courtesy Soto’s fists, but short of the years-ago ear injury Margarito gave Sebastian Lujan, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything nastier than the meat hanging off Jorge Barrios’ face after the knockdown he suffered courtesy Rocky Juarez. Thank me for sparing you the picture, but if you’re really curious or want to refresh your memory, here’s one.
Award for Strangest Single Thing That Happened in a Boxing Ring: You have to admit that kissing another man’s ear mid-boxing match is kinda strange. You don’t have to be a homophobe to think that, either.
Best Trash-Talker of the Year Award: Edison Miranda may have annoyed people with his trash-talking this year because he’s shown he’s increasingly unable to back it up against elite opposition, but I dunno, man, good trash talking is good trash talking. This score on Mikkel Kessler takes the cake: “Viking Warrior?” asked Miranda, referring to Kessler nickname. “Kessler should turn his horned helmet in after disgracing such a tribe of true fighters. He talks like a fighter, has tattoos like he’s a tough guy, but when it comes down to being a real fighter, he’s not even worthy of carrying my gloves.” And: “I’m not surprised Kessler the Kitten disappeared when the big cat came around,” said Miranda, whose own nickname translates to “The Panther.” “I wish him luck in his future endeavors as a model, actor, race car driver or video game player, because it’s obvious that he’s no longer a fighter.”
Best Ring Entrance of the Year Award: I feel like there weren’t that many ambitious ring entrances in 2008, but the return of Vitali Klitschko sure delivered. Holograms of some of the greatest living heavyweights hyped him and chatted with each other before he arrived, and while the Pussycat Dolls have approximately zero talent, getting one of the biggest pop acts today in on the act has to give Klitschko marks for trying. And it was better than Monte Barrett’s.
Award for Hottest Boxing Wife: I’m sorry, my repeated love notes to Denise Tarver must be getting old, but she wins my year-end award.
Award for Lamest Promotional Gimmick: De La Hoya snuck some gloves into Pacquiao’s bin of boxing gloves he was autographing with the words, “I’m going to knock you out!” and a smiley face. So lame. And lamer, in retrospect, huh?
Biggest Loser of the Year Award: Bad Left Hook has a great list, but the biggest boxing loser of all time called it quits in 2008: Peter Buckley. And after a streak of nearly 90 bouts without a win, he pulled out the “W” in his final bout. As I’ve said before, there’s something vaguely inspirational about Buckley, and he did end on a winning note, but I feel like if I didn’t celebrate him as the biggest loser of the year, I’d be diminishing his legacy.
Best Picture of the Year Award: Andrew Golota with a creepy look in his eye, holding a panda. It’s just… maybe I’d rather watch The Exorcist than look at this:
Award for Worst First Aid: You wonder if the corners of Diaz and Roy Jones, Jr., even had a cutman, so incompetently were their wounds tended to mid-bout. But then, Vitali Klitschko employed his kid’s used diapers to bring down the swelling in his hands.
Award for Stupidest Reason to Cancel a Fight: Zab Judah said he slipped in a shower and badly injured his arm, forcing him to pull out of a fight with Shane Mosley. That’s pretty goofy. According to some news reports, the real story was that Judah got into a shouting match with his dad and decided to take it out on a hapless glass shower door by punching a hole through it. That’s even goofier. Judah denies the second version of the story, but either way, he edges out Joan Guzman’s extreme weight gain between his two most recent bouts.
Worst Fashion Decision of the Year Award: Malignaggi had to get a haircut mid-fight because his vision was obscured by his braided hair extensions, which didn’t look good, anyway. Malignaggi has a career he can be proud of, given his injury history and power limitations, but this isn’t one of the things we’ll celebrate about him, unless it’s just for laughs, as in, “Do you remember the time Malignaggi…?”