2011 Boxing Awards Pu Pu Platter, Part I

Your Pu Pu Platter of boxing awards has arrived. So sorry it’s late to your table. It’s still 2011, so it remains warm to the touch. Please savor its many flavors.

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 week’s blog entries, if you haven’t yet.)

Trainer. In that rare kind of year where Freddie Roach absolutely doesn’t qualify for at least an honorable mention (the horribleness of his stable’s 2011 has probably been understated), I’m going with Robert Garcia for Trainer of the Year. He got several fighters — Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios and Mikey Garcia — big wins in 2011. You certainly can knock him for Donaire’s lackluster performance against Omar Narvaez, or for Rios’ struggles making weight, or for Antonio Margarito not beating Miguel Cotto. But when TWO fighters in your stable are Fighter of the Year finalists, that’s a damn good year for a trainer. There are few other candidates to speak of. Ann Wolfe has gotten the nod in some other spots and she has a case — James Kirkland looked like dogshit without her, like a mad dog with her — but she really just had one fighter. Same deal with Virgil Hunter, who got Andre Ward Fighter of the Year nods but didn’t do anything else notable with anyone. Both are respectable choices, nonetheless.

Prospect. The lines between “prospect” and “young contender” are often blurred, so in this category I tend to go with a fighter who’s just on the cusp of becoming a contender — the most contender-ready prospect. That, unfortunately, is Gary Russell, Jr. I say “unfortunately” because I have nothing but scorn for how he’s being moved, with those eight-rounders and “TBA” opponent selections. But the talent is undeniable.

Upset. This was in many ways the “Year of the Upset,” dating back to the very first Friday Night Fights card of 2011. Those upsets tailed off a bit as the year went on, although bad judging can be blamed in part. The highest-profile upset between top-notch fighters probably was Lamont Peterson over Amir Khan. But it was a disputed win, and there was another upset that left jaws even more agape: Nobuhiro Ishida’s 1st round stoppage of James Kirkland. Kirkland has always been vulnerable to knockdowns, and he was fresh out of jail and with a new trainer, so he was at his MOST vulnerable. Ishida was thought to be a patsy, and he didn’t have a record that suggested punching power, either. That a nobody upset a guy projected as a major star was simply unbelievable, so it’s the Upset of the Year.

Comeback. But Kirkland wouldn’t stay upset for very long, because he had a comeback or two in him. He wasn’t alone. Erik Morales and Brian Viloria both had real nice bounce back years; Morales was left for dead long ago and was thought to be dead-er meat against Marcos Maidana, but he nearly pulled off his own huge upset, while Viloria went from “crappy, mercurial talent” to a Fighter of the Year-style campaign. During his fight with Craig McEwan, Andy Lee scored a huge comeback in a fight where he was down on the scorecards to score a late knockout. But only Kirkland came back from the scrap heap of his career left by the Ishida loss AND nearly getting knocked out again in the 1st round against Alfredo Angulo to get a huge come-from-behind upset win that put his career back on track. Kirkland is 2011’s comeback man.

Robbery. Too many fans and writers throw the word “robbery” around lightly, such that it sounds like hysterics when a legitimately close fight (say, Peterson-Khan) goes the opposite direction the majority think it ought to go. But occasionally there are fights where hardly anyone scores a fight the way the judges do — where everyone has one fighter winning a bout handily, only for the scorecards to read another way. This year, that honor belongs to Erislandy Lara getting robbed by the judges against Paul Williams. It might’ve been the worst decision since Joel Casamayor got the nod over Jose Armando Santa Cruz. Judges got suspended over this one, rightfully, even if one judge to this day stands by the decision. Runner-up: Dereck Chisora walking away with a loss that should’ve been a win over Robert Helenius on Helenius’ home soil.

Worst Scorecard. Setting aside the bad scorecards in those two bouts, there were others that raised eyebrows. I don’t mean the Showtime press row scoring by Elie Seckbach for Brandon Rios-Miguel Acosta or the BBC journalist who had Andre Ward-Carl Froch 116-116, although there was one egregiously bad official scorecard for Ward-Froch: John Stewart had Froch WINNING four of the first five rounds in what was to that point a one-sided fight for Ward, and ended up giving it to Ward by a single round. Even worse, though, and the worst of them all, was Patricia Morse Jarman’s scorecard for Casey Ramos vs. Georgi Kevlishvili. I thought Ramos won every round. She had Georgi winning it. Jarman, by the way, was last year’s winner of this award, too. Way to defend your trophy, Trish!

Best Decision. At Ward-Froch, there was an undercard fight where I was certain the wrong fighter’s hand would be raised, only to be proven wrong. Kudos to Luis Rivera, John Poturaj and Barbara Perez for giving unheralded Cornelius White the much-deserved decision over the more acclaimed Yordanis Despaigne.

Worst Fight. We’ve already talked about the best fight. The worst? Hmmm, Gabriel Campillo-Karo Murat was an eyesore of a split draw, but it didn’t matter quite like Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson, which also was an eyesore but had a sucky ending, too. After one and a half low-contact rounds, Dawson-Hopkins ended in a bizarre TKO prompted by Dawson dumping Hopkins on the ground, leading to a shoulder injury, conspiracy theories and, eventually, an overturning of the ruling to a no-contest.

Best Top-To-Bottom Card. I took some small issue with Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II, but if you strip it of any questions about whether Margarito should be licensed to fight (admittedly a hard thing to do), it figured as a potentially exciting main event. The undercard had two fights that could’ve upstaged that main event: Brandon Rios-John Murray and Delvin Rodriguez-Pawel Wolak II. A third pitted a top contender, Mike Jones, against a rugged fringe contender, Sebastian Lujan. Cotto-Margarito II was riveting; Rios-Murray featured some heroism and high contact; Rodriguez-Wolak II was mainly just high contact; and only Jones-Lujan wasn’t terribly noteworthy. And this came in a year where we had a lot of stacked pay-per-view undercards, more than any year in recent memory.

Event. When I think of “Event of the Year,” I think of the dominant thing that happened in boxing. Was there any such thing this year? Leadership changes at HBO and Showtime, perhaps? I still think THE story of boxing is the event that isn’t happening: Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. For all the good fights we had in 2011, the fight we aren’t getting sucks up a lot of oxygen and remains a damning stain on the ability of the sport to deliver the fight fans want more than any other. (And maybe some of them have moved on, tired of the constant he said/she said and endless politics, but every single boxing fan would be watching that night anyway if the fight ever happened.) [UPDATED: Below, some pointed out some valid event suggestions. There was the big to-do over Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye; I’ve heard Cotto-Margarito II discussed in the recent past as another Event of the Year-worthy thing; and then the big “story” of the year according to Yahoo! involved Oscar De La Hoya checking into rehab and admitting to all kinds of problems. All big events, to be sure. If ANY suggestion overshadows the non-Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, it would be Bernard Hopkins becoming the light heavyweight champion, and the oldest champion ever. Historically, that’s what 2011 will most likely be remembered for in boxing.]

Worst Refereeing. Russell Mora had a terrible, terrible year. He nearly got Fernando Montiel killed by Donaire, according to Mora’s own subsequent admission that he should’ve stopped the fight sooner, and he didn’t see any reason to penalize Abner Mares for his many, many low blows against Joseph Agbeko in the pair’s first fight. Maybe Mora can recover, but this was a troubling two-fight sequence.

Best Refereeing. Kenny Bayless had two rare blips on his record when he scored a non-knockdown as a knockdown of Pacquiao against Shane Mosley and when he ruled that Jesus Soto Karass’ cut that he suffered against Jones was the result of a punch. But here’s how good a referee he is: He’s still better than all the rest. You rarely notice him and his fights are rarely marred by any consequential controversy. [UPDATED: Individually, Tony Weeks might have had the best showing in the ring, handling Pacquiao-Marquez III, as has been suggested to me. Duly noted.]

Best Performance. How’m I gonna have an award season without giving something to YURIORKIS GAMBOA! (?) This is the award for the fighter who turns in one of those “WOW” performances where you realize how truly excellent said fighter is. I liked how Robert Guerrero looked against Michael Katsidis, but I liked how Gamboa looked against Jorge Solis even more. Gamboa made easier and shorter work of Solis than Pacquiao ever did.

Best Losing Effort. Morales sure does come up here a lot, doesn’t he? I was among those who expected Morales to, quite possibly, get killed by Maidana. Instead, he fought through a terribly swollen eye to nearly get the big upset. Inspiring stuff. Other contenders: Siarhei Liakhovich fighting through a nose broken in two places before eventually succumbing to Helenius, and Marquez moving up two weight classes to get a disputed loss against his old rival Pacquiao.

Promoter. None. None of the promoters were any good this year. Oh, sure, Golden Boy took a fight to Washington, D.C. and Top Rank got a bad Saturday afternoon time slot to air a marketing program for Pacquiao-Mosley on CBS. Whoopee! But after a brief thaw, both of them went back to fighting each other like cats and dogs, and since they’re the two biggest promoters in America, they both did plenty of harm for boxing with their childish antics. What else is there to like? Main Events, for convincing everyone that Zab Judah had something left when he didn’t? The European promoters, maybe? Maybe them. Maybe Eddie Hearn. I don’t think a lack of good promoters is THE major problem in boxing, per this piece; it’s just one of the problems. There is some goodness in the product, but the product also often sucks — how viable is a sport that can’t get its two biggest and best fighters, Pacquiao and Mayweather, to fight? There’s plenty good outside of that, still, obviously, but arguments that “it’s not the fights, it’s the promoters” only go so far. And you can only market a crappy product so well before the audience wises up to some degree. Boxing needs better promoters. But it needs a lot of other things, too.

Manager/Adviser. Cameron Dunkin’s fighters are a constant source of drama — Donaire’s promoter switcheroo and reversal, Timothy Bradley’s lawsuits and fight rejections, Kelly Pavlik’s ongoing problems with his personal life and career — but they undeniably had a nice year by several standards, and they can blame/thank Dunkin for both the goodness and the drama. Donaire arrived as an HBO attraction; Bradley got paid a whole mess of cash for one ugly fight with Devon Alexander and one total mismatch against Joel Casamayor; Rios emerged as THE next-generation action star, appeared on both HBO and Showtime and had a Fighter of the Year-worthy campaign like Donaire; Dunkin snagged Wolak for a brief time when he was at the peak of his marketability and got him into a big payday rematch with Rodriguez; helped move Mikey Garcia into contender status; revived Kirkland’s career; etc. etc. With the way some in the media hyperventilate about shadowy boxing adviser Al Haymon, you’d never know that Dunkin was involved in a lot more of what happened in boxing in 2011 than Haymon was, some of it good and some bad. If you tally up fighter appearances on HBO and HBO pay-per-view, Dunkin got his guys on 10 times and Haymon got his guys on eight (nine if you count the Russell highlights clip turned full fight because it was short). And Dunkin got some of them paid too much (Bradley-Casamayor), and got some of them in mismatches (Garcia-Rafael Guzman), same as Haymon, and that doesn’t even include the fighters he got on Showtime or elsewhere. Dunkin is a big player in boxing, bigger than commonly acknowledged. This year was one where his clients did particularly well.

Network. No boxing network did more with fewer resources in 2011 than ESPN2. Weekend after weekend, the network delivered big action, like Rodriguez-Wolak I, or featured good fights between contenders and semi-contenders, like Kendall Holt-Julio Diaz, and put prospects in so tough that many of them suffered upsets, like David Lemieux getting stopped by Marco Antonio Rubio. Showtime’s excellence has been overstated and HBO’s awfulness overstated, but both of them could stand to learn from what ESPN2 did with Friday Night Fights this year, a year in which the network boasted bigger ratings overall and from coveted demographics in particular.

Best Trend. You could like the upsets, or the career revivals by a number of old men (Jorge Arce, Morales, etc.) here, or you could like the increasing tendency toward good undercards. Me, I like the increasing legal availability of boxing on television and the Internet. The trend picked up last year and really flourished this year: WealthTV and Epix got into boxing, NBC Sports announced its return to the sport, Top Rank streamed several pay-per-views for a fee, promoters and networks put more of their fights online after the fact, and more. It is less and less common that boxing fans can’t find the fights they’re searching for, thanks to what happened in 2011.

Worst Trend. Everywhere you looked, from the biggest fights of the year — like Pacquiao-Mosley — to lower-end bouts like Donaire-Narvaez, boxers were turning in shitty, “just here to collect my paycheck and duck out” performances in droves in 2011. You could also give this award to the rising popularity of nutritionists with pasts in dealing steroids, or the refusal of the top promoters to work together, or lots of other things. But nothing accounted for more unentertaining boxing in 2011 than all the non-efforts.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.