December 29, 2011

The KO Digest 2011 Boxing Awards!

Ortiz kicks off a great 2011 with Berto
Simply put, 2011 was a great year for the sport of boxing. 

There were great fights, great upsets, great rounds, and one totally unforgettable knockout. It was a year that saw the return of Floyd Mayweather to boxing, the third fight in the epic Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez trilogy, and not one but two defenses of the World Middleweight Championship by Sergio Martinez. Stars like Nonito Donaire, Miguel Cotto, and Andre Ward shined bright. Future stars like James Kirkland and Gary Russell Jr made impressive statements. The year was not without it's share of controversies and bad decisions but this is boxing we're talking about. It comes with the territory and keeps things interesting. As boxing years go, 2011 was truly stellar. So as the year draws to a close, we look back at the very best the sport had to offer and present the KO Digest 2011 Boxing Year End Awards. 

KO of the Year: Floyd Mayweather KO4 Victor Ortiz
2011 KO of the Year: Hands Down!

Say what you will about the strange circumstances surrounding this infamous knockout, but the fact of the matter is that no other knockout in 2011 resonated with the general public and with boxing fans the way that Floyd Mayweather's fourth round demolition of Victor Ortiz did.

After surviving a flagrant headbutt from a frustrated Victor Ortiz in the fourth round, Floyd Mayweather waited for just the right moment when Victor Ortiz was done hugging and kissing to KO Ortiz with a truly vicious left hook, right hand combination.

Mayweather's KO got the entire sporting world talking about boxing and on top of that, it sent Victor Ortiz sprawling to the canvas where he stayed for the ten count, knocked out! The knockout of Ortiz also represented the return of Floyd Mayweather to boxing and whetted the appetites of boxing fans who still hunger for a Mayweather-Pacquiao dream fight. And sure, Nonito Donaire landed arguably the best single punch of 2011 when he leveled Fernando Montiel with a devastating left hand last February but the fact of the matter is that Montiel beat the count and resumed the fight, albeit briefly until the referee stopped it with Montiel very much on his feet. At best, call that the TKO of the Year. The KO Digest 2011 KO of the Year belongs to Mayweather KO4 Ortiz. Mayweather's knockout of Ortiz created a huge buzz and it reminded boxers all over the world to protect yourself at all times!

The KO was legal, it was brutal, and it was just what Ortiz was asking for, the 2011 KO of the Year! 

Honorable mention: Nonito Donaire TKO2 Fernando Montiel

Fight of the Year: Victor Ortiz W12 Andre Berto
Fight of the Year

If Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns taught us anything back in 1985, it's that boxing fans like fights that forgo the feeling out process and feature the kind of early fireworks that really grab your attention and then keep it. Victor Ortiz vs Andre Berto was just such a fight. The first round set the stage for what was to come as Ortiz dropped Berto with a vicious uppercut in the corner to kickstart the early fistic festivities. Berto survived the first round assault and then came back with a knockdown of his own in the second round by dropping Ortiz with a big right hand as Ortiz was coming forward punching.

With only two rounds in the bank, both fighters had already been down and the crowd at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut was on their feet to stay! The third, fourth, and fifth rounds were a slugfest with Ortiz owning the advantage on the ropes. In the unforgettable sixth, the fight truly earned it's Fight of the Year credentials. Andre Berto looked determined to follow the instructions of his corner to stay off the ropes and hit Ortiz in the middle of the ring, and he did just that - landing a booming right hand that sent Ortiz slamming to the canvas! Ortiz was up at "three" - but he was definitely dazed and at a critical crossroads. Would he quit like he did against Marcos Maidana or grit it out and find a way to win? Berto swarmed all over his hurt young challenger and landed another huge right hand. With only seconds left in the round and the referee apparently getting in a position to stop the fight, a sneaky right-left-left combo to the head from Ortiz sent Berto tumbling backwards and down!

Both fighters somehow survived the sixth round and despite the fact that the second half of the fight was fought at a markedly slower pace than the first half, it still featured enough great toe-to-toe action to keep the attention of boxing fans as the best overall fight in 2011. At the post fight press conference following the fight, Ortiz's manager Rolando Arellano joked, "If anyone wants to know why Victor Ortiz performed the way he did tonight, it's because Charlie Sheen is here and he gave Victor some of his tiger blood!" Performance enhancing blood? Winning! For going to war early and often in their unforgettable fight last April, Victor Ortiz W12 Andre Berto earns recognition as the KO Digest 2011 Fight of the Year.

Honorable mention: Pawel Wolak D10 Delvin Rodriguez

Round of the Year: James Kirkland-Alfredo Angulo Round 1 

1st round fireworks!
Were it not for the thrilling first round fought between James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo, Ortiz and Berto might have taken the honors in this category for their outstanding sixth round. Instead, it was Kirkland and Angulo who put on the Round of the Year in 2011 with arguably one of the best opening rounds in boxing history. Coming into this highly anticipated junior middleweight fight, James Kirkland was thought by many to be at best overrated and at worst damaged goods after suffering an embarrassing 1st round TKO loss to Nobuhiro Ishida in April. As the fight favorite, Alfredo Angulo was seen as a just the kind of durable fighter who could further expose Kirkland as a powerful but chinny puncher.

When the opening bell rang, these two warriors wasted no time going to war and they immediately grabbed the attention of everyone lucky enough to be watching the fight live in Mexico or at home on HBO. Thirty seconds into the round and only moments after HBO's Max Kellerman warned viewers not to blink, Angulo delighted his Mexican fans by dropping Kirkland with a straight right hand to the face that sent the Mandingo Warrior tumbling backwards onto the seat of his pants. It looked like it was going to be Kirkland-Ishida all over again and you could almost feel the air being sucked out of the sails of Kirkland's supporters.
Kirkland crashes in the Round of the Year
Kirkland beat the count though and with Angulo swarming all over him - and with his career in dire jeopardy - James Kirkland somehow survived the onslaught and he found the resolve to come back and drop the now punched out Perro Angulo with a powerful combination on the ropes with less than fifteen seconds left in the first round! Angulo somehow beat the count and the fight continued until the sixth round with Kirkland scoring a huge TKO win. But boxing fans will not soon forget this epic first round. It had it all. Action? Check. Drama? Check. Multiple knockdowns? Check. For three minutes during the epic opening round of Kirkland-Angulo, the boxing world held it's collective breath and enjoyed the KO Digest 2011 Round of the Year!

Honorable Mention: Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto Round 6

Upset of the Year: Orlando Salido TKO8 Juan Manuel Lopez

Salido stuns JuanMa in Puerto Rico
In 2011, the year of the upset, there was no surprise bigger than Orlando Salido's stunning 8th round TKO of Puerto Rican Pound-for-Pound star Juan Manuel Lopez. It wasn't supposed to be like this for the undefeated Lopez in 2011. Orlando Salido was supposed to be just another stepping stone for JuanMa on the road towards a fight against Yuriorkis Gamboa in a featherweight unification dream fight reminiscent of Sugar Ray Leonard against Thomas Hearns in 1981.

Instead what he got was an April shocker in Puerto Rico as the unheralded underdog Salido defeated the P4P favorite Lopez in front of his shocked hometown fans. Salido's upset win over Lopez was a competitive fight through the first four rounds, but then Salido turned the tables in his favor late in the fifth round with a brutal knockdown, courtesy of a sweet right hand shot to the chin. Lopez beat the count but he was badly hurt and he spent the sixth round on the defensive as Salido tried for the finish. In the seventh, Lopez came back and had a good round but in the eighth Salido closed the show by battering Lopez into a corner where referee Robert Ramirez waved the fight off with JuanMa badly hurt but still instinctively punching back.
Upset of the Year
It was seen as a controversial stoppage by Ramirez and some critics called it premature and some even called it unjust. But it was clear to most that Orlando Salido had done enough to earn the TKO win over JuanMa and his stunning upset win is the obvious choice as the KO Digest 2011 Upset of the Year. 

Honorable Mention: Brian Viloria TKO8 Giovani Segura 

Fighter of the Year: Andre Ward

2011 Fighter of the Year: Andre Ward
The self-proclaimed Son of God did everything in 2011 that a boxing messiah should do except for walk on water and then turn that water into wine. So instead, the supernatural super middleweight from San Francisco did the next best thing. He forgave his harshest critics and then proved them wrong with pious punching performances sure to inspire faith among even the most hardened of boxing's disbelievers.

Ward defeated the Biblically named King Arthur Abraham last May in the semifinals of the ungodly long Super 6 tournament and then wrapped up the prestigious Showtime World Boxing Classic by defeating Carl "The Cobra" Froch in December.

With the victory over Froch, Andre Ward unified the WBC and WBA versions of the super middleweight title and earned recognition as the Ring Magazine Super Middleweight Champion of the World. Ward also established himself as a rising Pound-for-Pound star in the sport of boxing and now occupies the #4 spot on the KO Digest P4P rating after having began the year at #7.

No boxer climbed higher in stature in 2011 than Andre the Giant. More than any other fighter, 2011 belonged to the Son of God and Andre Ward is the righteous choice as the KO Digest 2011 Fighter of the Year. "I've always set that out to be one of my goals to be the Fighter of the Year. Over fifteen years of grinding and toiling when nobody's around, when nobody's patting you on the back, and when are there are no light-camera-action. It's been a time long coming."

Amen Andre!

Honorable Mention: Sergio Martinez

Controversy of the Year: The Hopkins-Dawson "TKO" Debacle

What the heck just happened?
When challenger Chad Dawson tossed champion Bernard Hopkins to the canvas with a flagrant foul in the second round of their light heavyweight title "fight" last October, the controversy was only just starting. It would take months to sort itself out into something resembling a fair conclusion. While Dawson waved his glove in disgust, Hopkins grimaced on the canvas in apparent agony and never got back up. The referee ruled the fight a TKO win for Dawson and Bad Chad was declared the new WBC & RING Magazine Light Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Boxing fans screamed BS! Hopkins cried foul and Dawson acted like he had just emphatically beaten Hopkins fair & square. The WBC quickly overruled the referee's decision and declared Hopkins to still be "their" light heavyweight champion. RING Magazine waffled at a time when they should have led the way, declaring they would wait for the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) to rule on their review of the fight before deciding what to do with their belt. In December, the CSAC declared the fight to be a No Decision. This meant that Dawson had not won by TKO over Hopkins and was not the Light Heavyweight Champion according to anyone, anymore. For involving so many different parties with such varied agendas, the Hopkins-Dawson TKO Debacle is the KO Digest 2011 Controversy of the Year. 

Honorable Mention: Referee Russell Mora's performance in the Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko lowblow fiasco.   

Robbery of the Year: Paul Williams W12 Erislandy Lara

In a year that featured some pretty bad judge's scorecards, the Williams-Lara robbery rises above all the rest and is the gold standard for robberies in 2011. Erislandy Lara beat the hell out of Paul Williams for twelve rounds on HBO and even a blind man could see that he won the fight with little more than an overhand left which seemed to never miss Paul Williams' face.
Judges Bennett, Whitaker, and Givens ROB Erislandy Lara!
When the judge's scores were announced, a majority decision for Paul Williams, everybody knew that the Cuban born Lara had been robbed and jobbed. It was a shameful disgrace even by boxing standards and its the obvious choice for KO Digest 2011 Robbery of the Year.  

Honorable mention: Robert Helenius W12 Dereck Chisora

Prospect of the Year: Gary Russell Jr
Prospect of the Year
Six fights, six wins.

That's how southpaw super featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr spent 2011. The highly decorated American Olympian is off to a great start as a pro and now stands undefeated at 19-0 w/ 11 KOs.

His first round KO of Heriberto Ruiz on HBO in November was impressive and eye-opening. Russell is widely regarded as one of the best prospects in boxing and he is the 2011 KO Digest Prospect of the Year. 
Honorable Mention: Edwin La Bomba Rodriguez

Comeback of the Year: Floyd Mayweather

When 2011 began, Floyd Mayweather had not fought in eight months. He was beginning to drop low or disappear all together from Pound-for-Pound lists, his rating at welterweight was in jeopardy due to inactivity, and the lasting memory of Shane Mosley rocking him in 2010 was still fresh on the minds of many. Floyd changed all that with one single fight in September 2011, a 4th round demolition of Victor Ortiz to win the WBC welterweight title. With the win, Floyd returned to the spotlight with a water-cooler KO, and he re-staked his claim to being the best Pound-for-Pound fighter in the world. At the beginning of the year, few gave Mayweather a chance against Manny Pacquiao. By year's end, few gave Pacquiao a chance against Floyd Mayweather. There was no more impressive a comeback in all of boxing in 2011.  

Honorable Mention: Erik Morales

Quote of the Year: Larry Merchant

"I wish I was 50 years younger and I'd kick your ass!" ~ Larry Merchant to Floyd Mayweather in response to Mayweather's disgraceful verbal assault against Merchant on HBO - immediately after beating Victor Ortiz. The 80 year old Merchant returned fire with fire, good for him. Mayweather wins the very unofficial Ugliest Moment of 2011.

Hit play to hear the exchange and the KO Digest 2011 Quote of the Year!