With the boxing year effectively completed, every day this week at The Queensberry Rules we’ll be presenting nominees for 2008 year-end awards, followed the next day by our actual award recipients. The categories are: Round of the Year; Knockout of the Year; Fight of the
Year; and Fighter of the Year. Sean and I will provide our individual roundups of additional awards Friday and Saturday. (We reserve the right to alter our picks if something crazy happens in the rather thin remaining weeks of 2008.)
We already did Round of the Year, Knockout of the Year and Fight of the Year. Up now is the final category: Fighter of the Year. We have five nominees in each category, and a number of honorable mentions. I hope you’ll do us the favor of sharing your own nominees and winners because there’s a chance we missed something, and you’d be helping us out tremendously. I’ll even happily revise the nominee list if you send us a good one we didn’t include. Unlike for the other categories, videos don’t tell the picture here, so each finalist gets his own photo and a brief rundown of his 2008 resume.
The top five contenders (in alphabetical order by last name):
Joe Calzaghe — Won a close and somewhat disputed decision over Bernard Hopkins, one of the biggest victories of his Hall of Fame career… In so doing, took Hopkins’ Ring magazine lineal light heavyweight (175 lbs.) championship belt, which he held simultaneously with his lineal super middleweight (168 lbs.) belt for a time, a rare dual-belt feat… Upon the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., briefly held the #1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet spot on some experts’ lists and remains in the top three on most lists… Finished the year with one of his most complete performances, a dominant decision victory over Roy Jones, Jr., who had reestablished himself as a top-10 light heavyweight.
Bernard Hopkins — Dropped a decision to Calzaghe, but some believed he deserved to have his arm raised… The 43-year-old returned with a vengeance, looking better than ever in a 170-pound catchweight decision defeat of fellow top-10 pound-for-pounder and rising star Kelly Pavlik where incredibly he appeared on the verge of scoring a knockout — “Pavlik by KO” sounded far more likely beforehand — in what was a major upset… Earned plaudits as perhaps the best over-40 boxer of all time, and maybe even the best over-40 athlete who ever lived… Some suggested he deserved the #1 pound-for-pound slot after the Pavlik win, but he settled in the top five on most lists.
Antonio Margarito — Broke through as an elite fighter in 2008, not just an elite welterweight (147 lbs)… Began by taking Kermit Cintron’s alphabet title belt with one of the most crushing knockouts of the year… Unseated Miguel Cotto as the world’s #1-ranked welterweight by forcing his corner to throw in the towel in a very strong Fight of the Year candidate… Went from being thought of as on the borderline of the world’s top 20 boxers to in or around the top five, and a major attraction to boot, especially for rabid Mexican fans searching for a new hero.
Juan Manuel Marquez — Opinions varied, but most believe he defeated Manny Pacquiao in a rematch of their 2004 classic… The rematch was great, too, earning Fight of the Year nominations… Moved up from junior lightweight (130 lbs.) to lightweight (135 lbs.) and became the first to knock out Joel Casamayor, taking his Ring magazine lineal lightweight championship belt… Probably sealed a Hall of Fame nod… Completed the year just behind Pacquiao on most pound-for-pound lists.
Manny Pacquiao — Hopped between three divisions spanning 17 pounds, beating, at minimum, well-regarded opposition at each stop… Defeated long-time rival Marquez on the scorecards to become the Ring magazine lineal junior lightweight champ, and in the eyes of a great many, deserved the decision… Moved up to lightweight and delivered the best performance of his career in knocking out David Diaz — one of the year’s top KOs — and taking Diaz’ alphabet title belt… Looked even better in his welterweight debut, upsetting and stopping Oscar De La Hoya, arguably taking over as the figurehead of the sport… Became the virtually undisputed top fighter on the planet.
Honorable mentions (sans photos, in approximate order of how we think they should finish):
Paul Williams — Mimicked Pacquiao’s weight-hopping adventures, beating legit opposition at welterweight, middleweight (160 lbs.) and then junior middleweight (154 lbs)… Started the year with an upset loss to Carlos Quintana, but avenged it with a 1st round knockout to reclaim his alphabet title belt… Followed it up with another, even more vicious knockout of a credible middleweight, Andy Kolle… Forced a stoppage of the exceptionally sturdy vet and top-5 junior middleweight Verno Phillips… Climbed into some top-10 pound-for-pound lists.
Chad Dawson — Tackled two of the top light heavyweights of the past five years or more, Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver… Couldn’t have won more differently in either fight: got into a slugfest with Johnson that he won by decision but that some think he deserved to lose, then completely outclassed Tarver in an easy win… Cracked some top-10 pound-for-pound lists.
Vic Darchinyan — Best performance was his last, a knockout of Cristian Mijares, whom some had placed in the top five of their pound-for-pound rankings… Unified three 115-pound alphabet title belts in a division he just debuted in late last year, taking Mijares’ two straps and combining it with the one he got by knocking out Dimitri Kirikov… Started the year with a draw against Z Gorres, but many think Darchinyan deserved the win on Gorres’ home soil… Arguably now a top-15 fighter of any weight.
Ricky Hatton — Rebounded from his only loss, a knockout via Mayweather, in a shaky but clear win over Juan Lazcano… Took on the #1 challenger for his Ring magazine junior welterweight (140 lbs.) lineal championship belt, Paulie Malignaggi, and looked rejuvenated en route to scoring a dominant technical knockout win… Restored himself to the top 10 on some pound-for-pound lists.
Wladimir Klitschko — Became the first man to unify two heavyweight alphabelt title belts since 1999 in a blowout on the scorecards of Sultan Ibragimov… Knocked out another top-10 heavyweight in Tony Thompson… Then knocked out Hasim Rahman to close the year… Arguably one of the 20 best boxers in the world, regardless of weight.