January 11, 2013

The KO Digest 2012 Boxing Year End Review & Awards

By Jeffrey Freeman -- 2012 was a tragic (yet still terrific) year for the sport of boxing - twelve rounds of ups and downs inside and outside the ring. Great wins and terrible losses struck with an unpredictable accuracy. Boxing's biggest money star Floyd Mayweather served 60 days in jail for domestic abuse, but not before he abused Miguel Cotto in his one and only ring appearance. Adrien "The Problem" Broner punched his way to stardom on HBO while Paul "The Punisher" Williams was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Across the pond, Carl "The Cobra" Froch bounced back against Lucian Bute while Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton got bounced back out in tears. It was a year of good and bad, both happy and sad.

Unfortunately, not everyone heard the final bell. More than any other year in recent memory, boxing said too many goodbyes and tolled too many final 10-counts among its pantheon of legends. Angelo Dundee, Bert Randolph Sugar, Goody Petronelli, Johnny Tapia, Don Fullmer, Corrie Sanders, Andy Ganigan, Eddie Perkins, Michael Dokes, TeĆ³filo Stevenson, Carmen Basilio, and Hector Camacho were all lost in 2012 but perhaps no loss was felt as deeply by the boxing community as was the death of Emanuel Steward on October the 25th of a bittersweet year for KRONK boxing history.

As a metaphor for the year, consider that the legendary Thomas "Hitman" Hearns was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in Canastota, NY on a beautiful weekend in June - the same weekend that Manny Pacquiao was screwed by the judges against Tim "Desert Storm" Bradley in Vegas. Sadly, Steward was too ill to attend the induction ceremony of his greatest, most beloved fighter. That's the kind of year it was. Mercifully, the boxing Gods answered in December when Arturo "Thunder" Gatti was posthumously elected to the IBHOF on the first ballot. Another sign fom above came when heavyweight KRONK protege Johnathon Banks upset the undefeated Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell on HBO in a fitting tribute to his deceased mentor Emanuel Steward.

2012 Controversy of the Year - Judges Beat Pacquiao in Vegas
In the ring, things started out slowly in 2012. Big fights fell apart and didn't happen. Such was the case with Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto's rematch not once but twice. Yuriorkis Gamboa vs Brandon Rios anyone? Still a mystery how we lost that one. Canelo Alvarez vs Victor Ortiz? Josesito Lopez broke that up - literally.

Then there was the Lamont Peterson and Amir Khan rematch, scrapped when Peterson apparently failed to disclose "medical" use of testosterone. Well known fighters were testing positive for performance enhancing drugs at an alarming rate and scoring controversies had fans furious. The Sweet Science saw some serious stumbles along the way in 2012 and things were looking pretty bleak - particularly after the judges robbed Pacquiao against Bradley in June to set off the controversy of the year.

Thankfully, the reports of boxing's demise were as ever - greatly exaggerated.

Somehow,  the second half of 2012 more than made up for all that sadness and disappointment. World Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez and brash young challenger Julio Cesar Chavez Jr gave fans an excellent fight and a classic final round to remember. Andre Ward crucified light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson and made him surrender on his feet after Bad Chad challenged the Son of God for Ward's world super middleweight title. Adrien Broner turned in a masterful performance, rendering Antonio DeMarco defenseless to win the WBC lightweight championship. Wisely, Broner left the hairbrush at home in Cincinnati and let his fists do the talking in the ring. Abner Mares proved that he's the most serious threat to Nonito Donaire at super bantamweight with a hard charging rout of Anselmo Moreno. Austin Trout impressively defeated Miguel Cotto and "No Doubt" took a giant step away from the anonymity which had plagued his career and haunted his dreams. Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero proved that he's a real welterweight to be reckoned with by brutally beating down Andre Berto.

And of course, Manny Pacquiao caught the shot heard 'round the world courtesy of Juan Manuel Marquez.

4th time is a charm - JMM KO's the Pacman
2012 was a year where the choice for Fighter of the Year wasn't quite so obvious and the same could be said about the Fight of the Year. It's nice to have choices though, isn't it? Were you most impressed last year by the accomplishments of Danny Garcia, Nonito Donaire, or Juan Manuel Marquez? Was Andre Ward's one sensational win over Chad Dawson enough to earn him back to back Fighter of the Year honors?

For fights, did you like the March rematch between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez best or was your favorite fight of 2012 the pound for pound war between Marquez and Pacquiao? Was the real "war" the October firefight fought by Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado or did Robert Guerrero and Andre Berto redefine gloved combat with their 12-round battle of attrition in the trenches last November? Yes indeed, it's nice to have choices.

Enjoy now as we take a look back at the best (and worst) boxing had to offer last year and proudly present the Second Annual KO Digest Year End Boxing Awards.

Round of the Year: Sergio Martinez vs Julio Cesar Chavez Jr - Round 12

For eleven and a half rounds, the Champion was having his way with the challenger. It looked for all the world to see like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr would lose a decision to Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez without being able duplicate his father's last round heroics against Meldrick Taylor back in 1990. Then suddenly, it was 1990 all over again! Almost.

Chavez Jr drops Martinez in the 12th
As if animated by performance enhancing DNA in the 12th, Chavez Jr came alive and came of age. The subtle pressure he was applying finally payed off. A wide right hand stunned Martinez and maniacal left hand follow ups from Chavez Jr deposited Maravilla on the canvas with less than ninety second left in the fight. Bravely, a bloody Martinez beat the count and refused to hold, instead electing to trade with Chavez Jr. "Shades of Meldrick Taylor and his father!" screamed HBO announcer Max Kellerman as Chavez Jr tried in vain to knock out a tired and badly hurt Martinez late in the last round. The bell for the end of the fight finally came but not before both fighters traded bombs like Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward!

The historically symbolic drama which unfolded in the 12th round earned Chavez Jr new found respect and to be perfectly honest - the right to his own name. In doing so, the kid with the pink underwear officially became a fighter - graduating to the big time by winning the championship rounds against the real middleweight champion in Chavez Jr's first true championship fight. For pure drama and excitement, nothing in the past year tops that three minutes of boxing. The nerve-racking 12th round of Martinez W12 Chavez Jr is the clear and obvious choice for KO Digest 2012 Round of the Year.

The Best of the Rest: Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez (9), Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao (5), and Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado (5).   

Upset of the Year: Josesito Lopez TKO9 Victor Ortiz    

Vicious Victor Ortiz was supposed to fight Andre Berto again in 2012. Twice the fight was called off.

First Berto hurt his shoulder last January and then he tested positive for steroids in May.

Light hitting junior welterweight Josesito Lopez was brought in to replace Berto under the foolproof promotional proposition that after Ortiz slaughtered the sacrificial lamb, the Vicious One would face Canelo Alvarez in a big money blockbuster fight in September. None of that happened. Lopez promised to beat the heavily favored (naturally bigger) Ortiz and the lively underdog took offense to the notion that his defeat was a foregone conclusion.

Vicious Upset - Ortiz gets his jaw busted by Josesito
"I find it disrespectful to announce the Canelo-Ortiz fight ahead of time. It just gives me more motivation. It’s no secret that Victor Ortiz has a weak chin and I plan to exploit it. I’ll be looking for the knockout. The result is going to surprise everyone."

So what did Lopez do in the fight of his life? He took the best punches Ortiz had to offer. He absorbed the most flagrant rabbit punch Ortiz could commit. He channeled his inner Rocky. Then he broke Ortiz's jaw and pulled off the 2012 KO Digest Upset of the Year when to the surprise of everyone - and no one - Victor Ortiz surrendered in the corner, ahead on the scorecards. 

Lopez went on to take Ortiz's place against Alvarez in September, falling courageously in five rounds but not before scoring the most satisfying win of his career in June. "I told everybody I was going to shock the world against Ortiz. Was I ever ready to quit? Hell no! I don't quit. I'm the Mexican Paul Williams."

In 2012, Josesito Lopez was also the Mexican Rocky Balboa and his win over Ortiz was the Upset of the Year! 

Best of the Rest: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO6 Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Danny Garcia TKO4 Amir Khan, Tim  Bradley W12 Manny Pacquiao, and Johnathon Banks KO2 Seth Mitchell.

Knockout of the Year: Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat
An unexpectedly great fight through five rounds and fifty nine seconds, Marquez lowered the boom on Pacquiao in the 6th with a right hand shot for the ages. With just one second left in the round, Marquez did the unthinkable, catching the onrushing Pacman flush with a perfect right hand punch. The effect of the impact was instantaneous and Pacquiao stumbled to the canvas face first as if tripped.

At the sight of his prone opponent motionless on the canvas, Marquez quickly realized what he'd just done and he raised his right fist in celebration.

As the KO Digest 2012 Knockout of the Year, this was an easy choice. The well timed right hand from Marquez that landed on the face of Pacquiao in the 6th round of their fourth fight altered boxing history and forever changed the dynamic between these two familiar rivals. After three previous fights and thirty six rounds of boxing, fight fans can be forgiven if they were getting a little tired of this matchup.

Their apology came in the form of a knockout that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

The Best of the Rest: Mikkel Kessler KO4 Allan Green, Randall Bailey KO11 Mike Jones, Nonito Donaire KO3 Jorge Arce, Danny Garcia KO4 Erik Morales, and  Adonis Stevenson KO1 Jesus Gonzales.

Fight of the Year: Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao 

"We'll wait to see what happens on December 8th. We might go forward. We might stop." 

A True Superfight
With these words to the media before his fourth (and final?) fight against Manny Pacquiao, the 39 year old Mexican warrior Juan Manuel Marquez was being clear about one thing - leaving his future options wide open. After what transpired in the ring, those options now seem unlimited. For the record, what happened on December 8th was pure vindication for Marquez, instant karma for Pacquiao, and the KO Digest 2012 Fight of the Year. Strange days indeed.

In a year full of great fights, what set this one apart?

In a word - significance. This was the biggest fight of the year, featuring two pound-for-pound rated warriors. The action was as brutal as it was brisk and both fighters were knocked down before the finish came in the 6th round. In almost all the ways we keep score in boxing, Marquez's fight against (and definitive knockout of) Pacquiao was as close to Marvelous Marvin Hagler's third round destruction of Thomas Hearns as any fight we've seen since their 1985 war. This was high stakes on boxing's biggest stage. It was a violent back and fourth slugfest featuring two of boxing's finest pugilists.

When it ended, it did so conclusively - by brutal knockout.

The result immediately redefined the winner and forever sealed his place in boxing history.

Down goes Pacquiao in the 3rd
After controlling the first two rounds with his trademark frenetic style, Pacquiao got a rude awakening in the 3rd round when an overhand right to the chin knocked him off his feet. It was the first time in four fights that Marquez was able to knock Pacquiao down and it was a harbinger of things to come.

The 4th round featured excellent action and in the 5th, Pacquiao added ebb and flow to the equation by scoring a knockdown of his own off a straight left hand, the effect of which caused Marquez's glove to touch the canvas. In what would turn out to be his last hurrah, Pacquiao then shattered Marquez's nose with a nasty right hook intended to end the fight.

In the 6th, Marquez punched his way into the history books, leaving Pacquiao out cold, flat on his face, victim of a perfectly timed right hand with just one second left in the round. There was no need to count. With a single shot - Marquez exorcised all his Pacquiao demons, scored the Knockout of the Year, won the Fight of the Year, and he made a very strong case for Fighter of the Year despite only fighting twice in 2012.

Knocking out Manny Pacquiao in December makes up for even the slowest of years.

JMM celebrates the KO of the Year in the Fight of the Year
As classy in defeat as he ever was in victory, Pacquiao said after the fight, "First and foremost I would like to thank God for keeping Marquez and me safe during our fight. I want to congratulate Juan Manuel. I have no excuses. It was a good fight. He deserved the victory. I think boxing fans who watched us were winners too."

All that we admire about boxers and boxing was on display in the now historic fourth fight between Marquez and Pacquiao - the KO Digest 2012 Fight of the Year.

The Best of the Rest: Brandon Rios TKO7 Mike Alvarado, Robert Guerrero W12 Andre Berto, Orlando Salido TKO10 Juan Manuel Lopez, and Sergio Martinez W12 Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Co-Fighters of the Year: Nonito Donaire and Juan Manuel Marquez

Donaire caps off a great 2012 with KO of Jorge Arce
If Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao took fans back to 1985 with their Hagler-Hearns like war, then Marquez and Nonito Donaire also took fans back to 1985 with their respective cases for Fighter of the Year honors. Longtime fans will remember that back in 1985, Marvin Hagler only fought once, scoring a 3rd round knockout of Thomas Hearns to defend the world middleweight championship in one of the most memorable fights of all time.

That same year, unbeaten pound-for-pound star Donald Curry won four fights by knockout and made two successful defenses of the welterweight championship including a sensational 2nd round win over Milton McCrory to unify the title. For only the fourth time in their long history, Ring Magazine split their Fighter of the Year award between two fighters - Hagler and Curry.

In 2012, history appears to have repeated itself.  

Marquez played the role of Hagler, competing twice in the year but only once in a fight that actually mattered. Coming off a disputed decision loss to Pacquiao in their third fight at the end of 2011, Marquez began 2012 with an April win over somebody named Serhiy Fedchenko for something called the interim WBO junior welterweight title.

The Pacman walks into the perfect punch
In December, Marquez made history and he also made a good case for Fighter of the Year with his dramatic 6th round knockout of Pacquiao. Was it enough?

Does winning the Fight of the Year and scoring the Knockout of the Year guarantee Marquez Fighter of the Year? In any other year, maybe. But not in 2012. Marquez will have to split that honor with the other Filipino superstar in boxing - Nonito Donaire.

The Filipino Flash had an outstanding 2012 reminiscent of Cobra Curry in 1985, winning four super bantamweight title fights on HBO against quality opponents Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka, and Jorge Arce. Two of those wins came by stoppage and immediately retired the victims (TKO6 Nishioka & KO3 Arce) while the other two wins came in dominating fashion but went the distance. All four fighters were knocked down at least once (and Mathebula's jaw was broken) by the hard hitting but bloody handed Donaire. As a busy frontline soldier in the battle against performance enhancing drugs in boxing, Donaire was also the only fighter in 2012 to undergo rigorous and random Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) style drug testing.

By submitting to such invasive testing, Donaire demonstrated a willingness to prove that he's a clean fighter in the tainted era of steroid abuse. Perhaps more than anything, boxing needs a fighter like Donaire to lead others by example.

By facing (and flattening) Pacquiao, Marquez showed his willingness to prove that he's a great fighter in the frustrating modern era where the best are all too often unwilling to face the best. Marquez, like Donaire - leads by example. It's exactly what boxing needs. 

Best of the Rest: Danny Garcia, Andre Ward, Sergio Martinez, and Adrien Broner.

Robbery of the Year: Brandon Rios W12 Richard Abril 

Believe it or not, the worst robbery of the year wasn't the job the judges pulled on Manny Pacquiao against Tim Bradley in Vegas. That should tell you how bad the scoring was when Brandon Rios "beat" Richard Abril by split decision last April in the aptly named City of Sin. The fight was supposed to be for the vacant WBA lightweight title belt that Rios lost on the scale in his previous fight for failing to make weight. He failed to make weight for this fight as well and the title was only at stake for Abril, if he won.

2012 Robbery of the Year - Rios "W12" Abril  
This one wasn't even close. For twelve rounds, all Abril did was hit Rios and make him miss. That's the point of boxing, to hit and not be hit. Somebody tell that to the judges. Rios appeared to win no more than two rounds and as fans waited for the decision to be read, it was inconceivable to think that Rios could somehow pull this fight out on the cards. Then came the announcement.

Adalaide Byrd scored the fight 117-111 for Abril.

OK, that's reasonable.

Glenn Trowbridge saw it 115-113 for Rios. Whoa, what's that stench?

Jerry Roth then completed the robbery with his ridiculous 116-112 score in favor of Rios.

Not only was Abril robbed of the win and the WBA lightweight title, he was also robbed of the fifty thousand dollar incentive bonus that was being offered by Top Rank to the winner of the fight. The badly victimized Abril summed it after the crime by saying, "I won this fight. The decision was a disgrace."

Yes, and yes.

Bam Bam (thank you Bob) Rios was very lucky to escape with the "win" and he partially redeemed himself by scoring a sensational 7th round TKO win over Mike Alvarado in October. Still, nobody who saw it will ever forget how badly Rios needed the judges (and Uncle Bob) to bail him out against Abril.

Worst of the Rest: Tim Bradley W12 Manny Pacquiao (Top Rank) & Tavoris Cloud W12 Gabriel Campillo (Don King).

Prospect of the Year: Keith Thurman

Thurman trains with dreams of Paulie on his mind
Prospects in boxing sometimes fly under the radar. Such was the case in 2012 with hard punching junior middleweight Keith "One Time" Thurman. Sidelined for all of 2011 with a hand injury, the undefeated (19-0, 18 KOs) twenty four year old fighter from Clearwater, Florida began his fifth year as a pro by defeating two nondescript opponents inside the distance. Neither comeback win resonated particularly well with the boxing public at large and that small blip on the radar screen continued to fly unnoticed.  

Things began to change dramatically for the Al Haymon managed Thurman in the second half of the year as he was scheduled to face Marcos Maidana in July. Unfortunately for Thurman, Maidana pulled out the fight leaving "One Time" to face the relatively unknown Orlando Lora in Thurman's first appearance on HBO. Thurman beat Lora by 6th round TKO and still continued to fly under the radar.

Finally - in July - the world took notice when Thurman destroyed the usually durable Carlos Quintana on HBO, scoring a 4th round TKO so overwhelming that Quintana immediately announced his retirement from boxing after the fight. That's how you get out from under the radar and get noticed.

One Time shows his power against Quintana
The win had boxing fans buzzing about a "new" prospect with crippling power. Here at KO Digest, we featured Thurman in a new column focusing on boxing's brightest up and comers. Thurman certainly fits the bill. In just one fight, One Time made quite an impression. He is the 2012 KO Digest Prospect of the Year.       

"2012 was a really fantastic year. We were able to pull off four fights, four KO victories and the two appearances on HBO. I think it's been perfect. Where I'm at in my career I'm ready to make moves, ready to get my foot in the door, whether that be at 147 or 154 lbs."

And how would Thurman like to follow up his coming out party in 2012?

"I wanna slap Paulie Malignaggi up. I definitely want that fight right there!"

Best of the Rest: David Price, Deontay Wilder, and Bryant Jennings.

Comeback of the Year: Devon Alexander

Alexander the Not So Great in 2011
Even though he officially lost only once in 2011, it was still a rough year for Alexander The Great. First there was the junior welterweight unification fight against Tim Bradley that Alexander lost when a clash of heads caused him to decide he couldn't continue during the 10th round. It was a disappointing finish to a disappointing fight.

The loss left Alexander an ex-champion with a lot on his mind.

"I definitely have regrets on not continuing against Bradley but we have to take those risks. It's a learning lesson for me. This is boxing and you're going to have circumstances that you've got to get through when you're inside them four corners. I'm getting older and I'm still learning. I just turned 25. What are you going to do?"

Come back of course, and that's exactly what Alexander did in his next fight of 2011 against the tough Argentinian Lucas Matthysse. Though he pulled out a split decision win against Matthysse, many ringsiders considered the fight to be a questionable (bad) decision and unfortunately, Alexander never really got credit for the win. To many observers, it was as though Alexander lost twice in 2011. As a boxer with a less than scintillating style, Alexander was in danger of being forgotten by fight fans.

In 2012, Alexander moved up to welterweight and won twice. Nobody disputed the decisions. In February, there was a unanimous points win over another tough Argentinian, Marcos Maidana. It was a very impressive performance by Alexander as he not only outboxed Maidana, he outfought him as well, hurting him more than once.

Alexander beats the Knock-Out King for the IBF title
The Maidana win earned Alexander the Great a shot at IBF welterweight champion Randall "The Knock-Out King" Bailey in October. Twelve rounds and forty five landed punches later, Alexander was the new champ after a nifty display of boxing against one of the hardest hitter in the sport. The win set Alexander up for a big fight title defense against British sensation Kell Brook in 2013.

By reestablishing himself as one of the best young fighters in boxing, Devon Alexander is the KO Digest 2012 Comeback Fighter of the Year. "I lived to see another day. I'm back on top at 147 and here it comes back full circle."

Best of the Rest: Danny Jacobs, Alfredo Angulo, and Arthur Abraham.

Bam Bam Rios met his own expectations in 2012

Quote of the Year: "I'm expecting a bloody massacre. I love hitting people in the face and I love getting hit!"Sadomasochistic slugger Brandon Rios describing to the media before the fight what he expected against Mike Alvarado.