January 7, 2016

The Fifth Annual KO Digest Year End Boxing Awards & 2015 Year-in-Review

The Next Big Thing
By Jeffrey Freeman — For the Sweet Science, the calendar year 2015 was one of finality and transition. Last May, Floyd Mayweather Jr. finally faced Manny Pacquiao (and Andre Berto) before transitioning into retirement with a perfect record of 49-0. The #MayPac money grab was like the Super Bowl without the thrills, one big commercial for the future commercialization of boxing. Mayweather might well have been saying "goodbye" but the sport he left behind is now saying "hello" to a new generation of fighters and fans. As a combat sport in recovery from self-inflicted wounds, boxing spent 2015 getting back to its mainstream roots. Beginning last March and continuing through the past year and into the foreseeable future, boxing is back in the hands of the masses. NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, ESPN, SpikeTV, and even the "BOUNCE" channel all got in on the action. In 2015, boxing was everywhere you looked.

Al Haymon's revolutionary Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) platform took the sport's old guard by storm and the results have been encouraging for the restoration of boxing as something that Regular Joe sports fans still care about. Then in November, Wladimir Klitschko lost the unified World Heavyweight Championship to a verbose British Traveller named Tyson Fury. Their title bout in Düsseldorf was awfully boring but the decade long Klitschko stranglehold on the heavyweight division is finally over.

King Klitschko was ultimately checkmated by little feints and long jabs. Long live the furious new Gypsy King. 

Let the young get onto the old... 

The KO Digest rings a final 10-count for those lost in 2015. May they rest in peace. Promoter Cedric Kushner. Hall of Famers Harold Johnson, Gene Fullmer, and Bob Foster. Referee Frank Cappuccino. Welterweight Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis. Heavyweight Carmine Vingo. 1976 Gold Medalist Howard Davis Jr. Undisputed cruiserweight champ O'Neil Bell. BWAA member Matthew Hurley.

Congratulations to La Familia de Camacho for the Boxing Hall of Fame election of their late, great Hector "Macho" Camacho.  

With fallen greatness in mind, let's now turn our attention to the best & biggest things in boxing last year.

KO Digest 2015 Upset of the Year: Tyson Fury UD12 Wladimir Klitschko

Who's upset now Wlad?
The truth is that most people in boxing thought of challenger Tyson Fury as a clown and champion Wladimir Klitschko as a boring but consistent winner. The "unbeatable" Klitschko represented professionalism and dignity. Fury represented recklessness and outspokenness. "I'm going to lick this Klit," promised Fury in a Batman cape & cowl left over from a bad Halloween party. The unexpected result of their November 28 mashup in Germany turned all that stinkin' thinking on its ear and provided our world with the heavyweight champion it needs, though not necessarily the one it wants. Fury is a talker, and a singer too as it turns out. For too long now, the heavyweight champion of the world has been a quiet, misunderstood (and under appreciated) figure from the Ukraine. Today, the world heavyweight champion is an undefeated 6'9 Brit named after Mike Tyson. No other upset in 2015 comes close to the kind of impact that Fury's upset victory had, not just on Klitschko, but on boxing itself. For the record, the former champion has exercised his immediate rematch clause and "Dr. Steelhammer" promises that defeat is "not an option" in the inevitable 2016 sequel with Fury.

Best of the Rest: Danny Jacobs TKO1 Peter Quillin, Badou Jack SD12 George Groves

Hey man, some miracles are happening in American boxing, so good it's a bad union Jack.
2014 Winner: Rogelio Medina KO3 J'Leon Love
2013 Winner: Jhonny Gonzalez TKO1 Abner Mares
2012 Winner: Josesito Lopez TKO9 Victor Ortiz 
2011 Winner: Orlando Salido TKO8 Juan Manuel Lopez 

2015 Knockout of the Year: Gabe "Tito" Bracero KO1 Danny O'Connor

Blackout Boulevard in Lowell Mass
On October 10, in Lowell, Mass on NBC network TV, in front of Bobby Orr, Sugar Ray Leonard, Irish Micky Ward (and the world) "hometown favorite" Danny O'Connor (Framingham) got put to sleep from the first good punch of the main event by "light-hitting" New Yorker Gabriel Bracero. A rematch of a 2011 distance encounter won by Bracero, this thing was over in less than a minute. When a counter right hand from Bracero impacted his head like a bullet, O'Connor's body hit the mat with a sickening thud. There was pure shock in the small Mill City auditorium as Bracero calmly celebrated like a man in the midst of his own redemption. While Danny lay stricken on his back with arms outstretched, referee Arthur Mercante Jr. waved a halt and called for help. O'Connor was sent to nearby Lowell General Hospital. What ultimately happened was the least likely result expected from this PBC pairing of Bracero and O'Connor. 

It was the 2015 KO Digest Knockout of the Year, and I covered all 41 seconds of it live from press row for The Sweet Science. 

Best of the Rest: Canelo Alvarez KO3 James Kirkland, Krzysztof Glowacki KO11 Marco Huck

Predictable but still a very Hagler-Hearns-esque KO, late round TV heroics for the Pole on PBC.  

2014 Winner: Andy Lee KO5 John Jackson
2013 Winner: Deontay Wilder KO1 Sergei Liakhovich
2012 Winner: Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao
2011 Winner: Floyd Mayweather KO4 Victor Ortiz   

The Round of the Year: Edwin Rodriguez vs. Michael Seals (Round 1)

Wild opening Round of the Year in Mississippi
Since his disappointing 2013 decision loss to world super middleweight champion Andre Ward, Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriquez has been in comeback mode in the larger light heavyweight division. Rodriguez hopes to land a title shot against champion Adonis "Superman" Stevenson. Both power punchers are connected to Al Haymon's PBC so the match-up seems like a natural for all involved. On November 13 in Biloxi, Mississippi, the unheralded Michael Seals (19-1, 14 KOs) nearly upset the best laid plans of mice and men. When the opening bell rang on SpikeTV, "La Bomba" came out bombing. Rodriquez's wide punches were finding their mark but they were also leaving the "Pride of Worcester" wide open for the improvised explosive devices that Seals was more than happy to detonate on Edwin's (thought to be solid) chin. Rodriguez scored the first knockdown early in the first round with a looping right hand. Seals went down on his face and it looked like Rodriguez (28-1, 19 KOs) would roll on to yet another knockout victory.

This is when things got very interesting.

Seals got up and with Rodriguez getting careless in an effort to finish the fight, the 33 year-old underdog from Atlanta became the first fighter to conclusively knock Rodriguez down, courtesy of a left hook. Rodriguez got up and kept right on trying to finish off Seals with right hand bombs. Trapped in a corner late in the round, Seals bounced a right off the head of Rodriguez and "La Bomba" was down again, and in serious trouble. Again, Rodriguez beat the count (more slowly than before) but what in the hell was happening here? Fortunately for Rodriguez, the round ended before Seals could do any more damage. A great opening round gave way to a hell of a good fight and Rodriguez scored two more knockdowns (in the second and third rounds) before the fight was stopped in his favor.

For three dramatic minutes on free TV, Rodriguez and Seals gave boxing the best single round of 2015. 

Best of the Rest: James DeGale UD12 Lucian Bute (Round 12) 

Outstanding title fight in Canada capped off by a frenzied final round of pure punching action.

2014 Winner: Juan Manuel Lopez vs Daniel Ponce De Leon II Round 2
2013 Winner: Mickey Bey vs John Molina Round 10
2012 Winner: Sergio Martinez vs Julio Cesar Chavez Jr Round 12 
2011 Winner: James Kirkland vs Alfredo Angulo Round 1

The KO Digest 2015 Fighter of the Year: Gennady "GGG" Golovkin

Golovkin made a real mess of Lemieux's face
The "Triple G" knockout streak continued in 2015. It's up to 21 in a row now and that includes 15 successful defenses of the WBA middleweight title. Boxing sensation Gennady Golovkin went 3-0 with 3 KOs in the past twelve months, solidifying himself as the best middleweight in the world and as one of the elite pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Golovkin also made his pay-per-view debut at a sold out Madison Square Garden in October when he beat up David Lemieux to add the IBF 160 pound title belt to his growing collection of middleweight hardware. Ever the busy champion, Golovkin started the "year that was" in Monaco against Martin Murray. In 2013, Murray gave then-champion Sergio Martinez a good run for his money in Argentina, losing a controversial (hometown) decision in the rain. The brave Brit was no match for Golovkin however, falling in eleven one-sided rounds. Then in May, in Inglewood, California at the famed Forum, Golovkin took on 29 year-old Willie Monroe Jr., daring the young gun to hit him with his best shots before finishing off the great nephew of Willie Monroe (1976 conqueror of Marvin Hagler) in the sixth.

When Canelo Alvarez beat Miguel Cotto in November for the now catchweight compromised "linear" title, Golovkin's 2016 mandate became clear. Golovkin vs. Canelo is the biggest fight in boxing and it looks like we'll see it in the fall.

The 2015 Fighter of the Year is now 34-0, with 31 KOs.

Is there anyone on this planet to even challenge him? Maybe Saúl.

Best of the Rest: Canelo Alvarez, Floyd Mayweather, Tyson Fury  

Alvarez beat Kirkland and Cotto, Floyd Jr. finally beat Manny Pacquiao, and Tyson Fury upset Klitschko.  

The 2015 Fight of the Year: Lucas Matthysse MD12 Ruslan Provodnikov

Matthysse wins the Fight of the Year in Verona, NY
Instead of boring you with a long winded recap of this incredible prizefight which you've obviously seen several times already on HBO, I'm going to leave you with my KO Digest prediction for the fight which ran on RingTV Fight Picks:

How do you pick a winner when Godzilla fights Mechagodzilla? Expectations are understandably high for this creature feature and it’s not hard to see why. Both fighters pack power and seem to enjoy wreaking havoc. My gut tells me that Lucas Matthysse is a little bit better technically but that Ruslan Provodnikov can take more abuse before folding or falling. “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” this will be from the opening bell. If both guys have to get up from knockdowns, don’t be too surprised. When the dust settles, boxing will have its first proper “Fight of the Year” candidate for 2015 and Matthysse will have a close split decision win after staggering to the finish line under assault from a late Provodnikov rally.

Now don't get me wrong, I know there were no knockdowns and that the decision in favor of Mattysse was of the majority variety rather than the split type, but that pre-fight prediction is more or less exactly how the 2015 Fight of the Year went down, including the crowd electrifying late rally from Provodnikov. From my seat in press row, I was privileged to witness the best pure fistfight of the year, an absolute slobberknocker won by Matthysse. At the post-fight press conference, the evidence of such a brutal display was visible on the grotesquely mangled face of the brawler known as "Siberian Rocky." Six months later, in October, Matthysse paid the price for his physically taxing victory when he was surprisingly stopped in eleven rounds by relative unknown Viktor "Iceman" Postol.       

The upset loss to Postol cooled off Mattysse's 2015 buzz but the "Machine" won its unforgettable Fight of the Year.  

Best of the Rest: Canelo KO3 James Kirkland, Francisco Vargas TKO9 Takashi Miura, Krzysztof Glowacki KO11 Marco Huck

Houston we had a great fight, featherweights Vargas and Miura went to war, Glowacki ended Huck's long cruiserweight reign.

2014 Winner: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa
2013 Winner: Tim Bradley W12 Ruslan Provodnikov
2012 WinnerJuan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao IV
2011 Winner: 
Victor Ortiz W12 Andre Berto

The KO Digest 2015 Comeback of the Year: The Sport of Boxing Itself

The Money Fight of the Century
Ordinarily this award would go to an individual fighter who enjoyed comeback success after a long layoff or one who overcame personal adversity to achieve his goals in the ring. This year is a little different. OK, it's a lot different. This was the year of boxing's comeback as a mainstream sport, a position it once held for years along with baseball and others. Inappropriately labelled by critics as a "dead" or "dying" sport for the past decade or even longer, boxing made its long overdue return to free network television in 2015. Under the careful guidance of Al Haymon and his revolutionary Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) concept, boxing was all over the airwaves for the first time in a very long time. When was the last time you read about boxing in a newspaper? In 2015, it wasn't hard to do. The growing momentum that our sport was building up began in 2011 and blossomed like a flower in 2015 with PBC, MayPac, a resurgent heavyweight division, and the continued emergence of Gennady Golovkin as the "next big thing" in combat sports. Stay tuned fight fans, 2016 promises to be even better.  

2015 Event of the Year: The Mayweather versus Pacquiao Superfight 

Left us wanting less
Much has been written and much has been said about the "biggest fight in the history of boxing." That it certainly was. From an economic perspective, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao on May 2 in Las Vegas broke all the records. It was the highest grossing PPV in boxing history and the multi-million dollar purses realized by both boxers may never be duplicated again. For one night anyway, the eyes of the world were back on boxing. A shame it didn't live up to the hype. From a pugilistic perspective, #MayPac was the Farce of the Century. There is no nicer way of saying it. Mayweather took no chances, he hugged a lot, and "Money" won a very boring decision. The always quiet Pacquiao came into the ring with a secret. His shoulder was injured, requiring no less than rotator cuff surgery. Instead of postponing the fight and risking a loss of the payday, Pacquiao answered the opening bell with a compromised shoulder. Did Floyd know about it and carry Manny for the rematch? Was it all just an excuse by Pacquiao for the embarrassing loss? We might never know. Let's just be grateful it's over and that Mayweather's threats of a rematch have been silenced (for now) by his recent retirement from boxing.   

The 2015 Prospect of the Year: Anthony Joshua

Joshua is a look back into the future
Hailing out of Watford, Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, 2012 Olympic Gold Medal winner Anthony Joshua is the future of the heavyweight division. Just 26 years-old and now 15-0 with 15 knockouts, Joshua is already a huge star in the British boxing scene despite being a novice pro barely out of 8 round bouts. The undefeated prospect-contender fought five times in 2015, each against gradually increasing competition. Becoming British heavyweight champion in 2015, Joshua defeated punching bag Jason Gavern, the experienced Raphael Zumbano Love, American trialhorse Kevin Johnson, and undefeated countrymen Gary Cornish & Dillian Whyte. Against Whyte, Joshua answered some very important questions about his chin and about his resiliency. 

Reminiscent of a young Lennox Lewis before LL left the domestic level for the world stage, Joshua possesses the kind of classical boxing skills that fans hope to see again someday soon in the upper echelon of the heavyweight division. With fellow Brit Tyson Fury reigning as new world heavyweight champion, the future looks bright not just for British boxing but for Joshua as well.

2014 Winner: Sadam Ali
2013 Winner: Vasyl Lomachenko
2012 Winner: Keith Thurman 
2011 Winner: Gary Russell Jr 

The Robbery of the Year: Danny Garcia MD12 Lamont Peterson

Look, Danny Garcia didn't beat Lamont Peterson last April in Brooklyn on PBC. It was an awful decision in favor of a rapidly declining "Swift" Garcia. For twelve rounds, Peterson put into play a patient plan to defeat Garcia and by all reasonable accounts, he succeeded. Then the judges got involved and got it all wrong. Let's take a look back, round by round at the 2015 Robbery of the Year: 

Peterson was two points behind before the fight started
Round 1: Peterson starts off jabbing and moving while Garcia is prone to missing with his initial swings. Both fighters landed a single decent right hand to the head in an opening round that was controlled by the tempo being set by Peterson's boxing. A trickle of blood from the nose of Garcia is evident. (10-9 Peterson) -- Round 2: Peterson is on his boxing bicycle, jabbing and making Garcia miss, sometimes embarrassingly. Garcia could barely lay a glove on Peterson this round and Peterson wins the stanza by jabbing and again controlling the pace by carefully boxing his man in circles. (10-9 Peterson) -- Round 3: Peterson continued his jabbing strategy, mixing it to the head and body while Garcia continued to fail in his efforts to cut off the the ring. Defensively, Peterson was avoiding the incoming while doling out just enough punch output to win the round. Sugar Ray Leonard called it "good boxing" and "ring generalship" which quite naturally, it was. (10-9 Peterson)

Round 4: Garcia shows his first sign of frustration, waving his arms at the fleet footed Peterson and inviting him inside for his kind of fight. Peterson responds by landing a clean right hand to the jaw. Garcia wins his first round by forcing himself close enough to land a few good punches to the body as Peterson begins to showboat a little, winding up his right hand bolo style. (10-9 Garcia) -- Round 5: Garcia's efforts to track Peterson down results in a couple good right hands to the head but Peterson's defensive tendencies take most of the sting off the punches. Peterson answers with a nice left-right combo to the head of Garcia, whose nicked up face is beginning to show the effects of being peppered repeatedly. Garcia steals the round with an eye-catching right hand to the head with less than 30 seconds left in the fifth. (10-9 Garcia)  -- Round 6: Peterson begins to stand his ground more than move and this is to Garcia's advantage. When Peterson stands in front of Garcia, he gets hit more than he lands his own punches. Despite getting hit in close, Peterson is now testing the waters and pushing Garcia back by coming straight ahead towards him. (10-9 Garcia) -- Round 7: More of a fight starts to break out but the skirmishes are still very limited and too close to call one way or another. Peterson edges a tight round by power punching with Garcia on even terms and keeping him on the end of a pesky jab when outboxing him. (10-9 Peterson) 

Peterson deserved better from the judges
Round 8: Peterson starts off aggressively and backs Garcia into a corner with a hard shot to the body. Peterson is still making Garcia miss but now he's doing it right in front of him by moving his body, not his feet. This allows Garcia to land his own body punches with the left hand. When there is clinching, it's initiated by Garcia in response to Peterson's body attack. Late in the round, Peterson backs Garcia up with power punches to the head, including his own left hook. (10-9 Peterson) -- Round 9: Blood is flowing from the right eye of Garcia to start the ninth. Peterson is again controlling the pace with a jab that sets up his follow-up shots in close. Growing confident, Peterson showboats with a bolo punch but then starts to pay for it by getting hit with right hands. Garcia's accuracy in the second half of the round wins it for him. (10-9 Garcia)

Round 10: Peterson is doing an Ali-shuffle. Garcia is again being outboxed from the outside and responds not with an attack but with an Ali-shuffle of his own. Another close round but the busier and more effective boxer won it. (10-9 Peterson) -- Round 11: The state of Garcia's marked up face is proof that if Peterson is "running" he's running right over it. Good inside exchanges and it's Garcia who backs away from them in more visible distress. Garcia shows his frustration, flagrantly pushing Peterson down. Another close round so you have to watch how the boxers react to being hit and it's Garcia who backs up and accepts the clinches when they happen. Peterson is gaining ground. Garcia is giving it up. (10-9 Peterson) -- Round 12: Peterson lands a flush right to the head off the jab, a left hook, and some body punches that Garcia can't clinch his way out of. It's almost all shoe-shine shots from a very tired Garcia in the final round. They finally went toe-to-toe in the last 60 seconds and Peterson clearly got the better of it to close the show. (10-9 Peterson) 

KO Digest Score: 116-112 for Lamont Peterson. 

Official Scores: 114-114, 115-113, 115-113. Danny Garcia "wins" the Robbery of the Year.

Worst of the Rest: Czar Glazkov UD12 Steve Cunningham, Robert Guerrero SD10 Aaron Martinez 

USS Cunningham gets screwed again against a foreign heavyweight, "Ghost" lucky to win after getting dropped early.  

Worst Victim of 2014: Mauricio Herrera 
(robbed vs. Jessie Benavidez & Danny Garcia) 
Worst of 2013: Ricky Burns D12 Ray Beltran
Worst of 2012: Brandon Rios W12 Richard Abril
Worst of 2011: Paul Williams W12 Erislandy Lara   

The Top 10 KO Digest Boxing Media Highlights For 2015:

#11: Got a selfie with Lennox Lewis in the MSG media room
1. Hired & Published by The Sweet Science.
2. Third year on RingTV as an insider/expert.
3. Live covered the "Fight of the Year" in NY.
4. Live covered the "KO of the Year" in Lowell.
5. Live covered ‪GGG at Madison Square Garden.
6. Live covered the PBC in Boston, Mass for TSS.
7. Written about by name by Lee Groves on RingTV.
8. Won #MayPac bet and Scoop Malinowski's money.
9. Grilled George Foreman on a media conference call.
10. In-depth KO interview with "Boom Boom" Mancini. 

Written by Jeffrey Freeman — for the KO Digest ©