Your Pu Pu Platter of boxing awards has arrived. So sorry it's late to your table. It's still 2012, 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. Also, please add in some of your own dishes. For lack of strong options or ignorance thereof, we left out the usual categories "worst refereeing," "best refereeing" and "best decision," the last a category where the judges might have gotten it wrong but got it very right.
(And don't forget to consume all the major category nominees and winners from the past weeks' awards blog entries, if you haven't yet.)
Trainer. The knock on Robert Garcia as a trainer is that he doesn’t so much train fighters to be better, so much as he gets better fighters to let him train them. And, to be sure, Nonito Donaire under Garcia looks like Nonito Donaire before Garcia, and Brandon Rios hasn’t improved in any significant way since bursting on to the scene, although Rios credits Garcia for turning him into what he is. But having a good stable says something good about a trainer, plus there were signs of Garcia improving fighters joining said stable: Marcos Maidana was a fighter transformed in his first bout with Garcia in his corner, showing a grasp of (gasp) defense, while Kelly Pavlik went from a fighter left for dead to a real super middleweight contender. Honorable mentions: Virgil Hunter (Andre Ward/Amir Khan/etc.), Nacho Beristain (Juan Manuel Marquez), Rob McCracken (Carl Froch, the successful British boxing team). NOT Freddie Roach, who had a miserable year with his three biggest names, Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., all losing.
Prospect. This one was a tight call between British heavyweight David Price and welterweight Keith Thurman. I’m more sold on Thurman than some, but Price beat the better competition – not that either beat any killers – so he gets the award. With his size and power, he could start a fuss in the post-Klitschko era of the heavyweight division one of these days. “Prospect of the Year” is always a bit of subjective category, but I tend to go with the “prospect on the verge of becoming a contender with the brightest future.” That counts out guys like Javier Fortuna, for instance, as Fortuna is already a top 10 featherweight.
Manager. The numbers don’t tell the entirety of Al Haymon’s power surge in 2012, but they tell a lot of it: In 2011, Haymon fighters appeared on HBO and Showtime a combined 14 times, more than any other manager (or “adviser,” as Haymon troops refer to him) but not by much. In 2012, that figure more than TRIPLED to 44 appearances, 32 on Showtime and 12 on HBO. Showtime accounted for a whopping 32 of those appearances, and only partially benefited from all the extra bouts on Showtime Extreme – 23 were on Showtime proper, by my count. Cameron Dunkin’s Brandon Rios, Timothy Bradley, Nonito Donaire and others had good, profitable years thanks to his stewardship, but it’s hard to compare with Haymon’s guys having so many appearances AND getting big fights at high pay – Adrien Broner, Austin Trout, Devon Alexander, Josesito Lopez and others all benefited from Haymon’s abilities. Haymon signed about a million fighters in 2012, too, accounting for a different dimension of the expansion of his powers.
Upset. Few expected Josesito Lopez to beat Victor Ortiz, or for Mario Rodriguez to beat Nkosinathi Joyi. But Pongsaklek Wonjongkam was the flyweight champion and a possible future Hall of Famer, while Sonny Boy Jaro was a guy named Sonny Boy Jaro. That Jaro not only beat him but stopped him still shocks above the rest.
Comeback Fighter. Ricky Hatton probably would’ve won this one if he’d beaten Vyacheslav Senchenko, not that it was a bad comeback even in a loss. But look at what Danny Jacobs had to deal with: “It took Dr. Robert Hargel six hours to remove the massive tumor that had wrapped around my spinal column like a snake.” Holy shit. He had a tumor that had wrapped around his spinal column like a snake. Jacobs hasn’t beaten anyone all that impressive since his return to boxing. But it’s amazing that’s he’s returned at all.
Comeback Within A Fight. Randall Bailey did absolutely nothing for nine rounds against Mike Jones, then dropped his hammer in the 10th and 11th rounds to score a knockdown in one stanza and then a knockout in the next. Nobody is more frustrating to watch during a fight; nobody is more exhilarating to watch finish one.
Robbery. Boxing in 2012 didn’t turn in the kind of Robbery of the Year candidates it does sometimes, like when everyone scores a fight 118-110 for one guy and the judges all have it 118-110 for the other guy. But Gabriel Campillo deserved to beat Tavoris Cloud, Richard Abril deserved to beat Brandon Rios, Steve Cunningham deserved to beat Tomasz Adamek. None of them did. In each of those bouts, the “house fighter” got the call, so that makes the winner of this dubious award – Timothy Bradley’s decision over Manny Pacquiao – all the more confusing.
Worst Scorecard. Pick a Debra Barnes scorecard from Adamek-Cunningham II – 115-115 as originally read, 115-113 as was her actual score – and neither makes a lick of sense. Somehow yet more unfathomable, though, was Abner Mares’ 120-106 win over Anselmo Moreno according to James Jen-Kin. He must’ve been distant KIN to Mares, har har get it?
Worst Fight. Which was worse: A. Watching Devon Alexander skittishly play keep away from Randall Bailey, who couldn’t be bothered to throw a punch; or B. watching Miguel Vazquez skittishly play keep away from Marvin Quintero, then holding him after each punch? I’m taking “B.” Vazquez gets extra credit for turning in another stinker against Mercito Gesta in his next fight. It’s not fair, but that’s boxing scoring for you.
Best Top-To-Bottom Card. This was a hard one. The dueling September cards headlined by Saul Alvarez-Josesito Lopez and Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. both delivered big action, but only one card produced multiple Fight of the Year candidates: the card hosted by Wealth TV that was headlined by Brian Viloria-Hernan Marquez and Roman Gonzalez-Juan Francisco Estrada.
Event. This category serves as the “news story of the year,” in effect. And this year it was the performance enhancing drug scourge. We’d always known it was lurking; luminaries like James Toney and Roy Jones had previously been caught with the stuff in their system, but more high-profile boxers got busted this year with banned substances than in previous years, thanks in part to the work of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. Antonio Tarver and Erik Morales anchored the old man crew, while Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson held it down for the whippersnappers. (Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. getting busted with pot in his system doesn’t really count.) Many more have suspicious clouds hanging over them, with ex-BALCO figures like Memo Heredia and Victor Conte helping cast those clouds. Will boxing do anything to dispel the clouds? Based on the thumbs-up for Berto’s license and Morales being allowed to fight on, there are reasons for pessimism. Honorable mentions in this category to the Pacquiao knockout loss and boxing’s return to network television, but we found an award for the first and will soon find an award or two for the latter.
Best Performance. This award goes to the guy who puts on a magnificently dominant display, either with pure boxing or destructive punching. Andre Ward definitely delivered the first bit against Chad Dawson, and tossed in a helping of the second for good measure. (UPDATE: Per the comments section, Carl Froch's seek-and-destroy performance against Lucian Bute is worthy of an honorable mention here.)
Best Losing Effort. Donovan George took a thrashing from Adonis Stevenson, but never gave up. At one point he threatened to never speak to his corner again if he stopped the fight. I disapprove of that kind of thing; corners need to have discretion to stop fights for when boxers are too brave for their own good. Thankfully, referee Marlon B. Wright stopped it for him in the 12th, but George turned in a heroic effort until then.
Promoter. Main Events. Although Golden Boy beat them to network TV with the actual date on CBS, it was Main Events that first secured a deal to get boxing back on NBC proper. Its Fight Night program on NBC Sports played a role in that, with good competitive fights and solid action. Golden Boy and Top Rank rule the sport, and both had good years in their own ways – Golden Boy’s ratings bonanza, Top Rank’s insinuation with HBO, etc. – but both have been hurting the sport with their feud, and what Main Events has done is purely positive.
Network. Showtime has been gaining ground on HBO, but I’m going to go with the big guy here. They got good bang for their buck, they provided a number of Fight of the Year contenders, delivered solid pay-per-view main events and at least one good PPV undercard, and introduced a few new programs/features like The Fight Game. It was a narrow victory, though, because Showtime really made some ratings in-roads and delivered a lot of its own great action.
Best Trend. Boxing moved back into the mainstream a good deal more in 2012. The year closed with CBS and NBC both airing live boxing, the first time one of the big four had aired live boxing since 2005. ESPN and HBO signed a deal to get more boxing coverage on “The Worldwide Leader.” There were hitches – Adamek-Cunningham II offered up some of boxing’s worst traits, Sportscenter couldn’t figure out that the KO of Manny Pacquiao was a “top play” – but the end result points to boxing getting yet more mainstream play, with CBS and NBC on course to air more live shows, and Juan Manuel Marquez-Pacquiao IV becoming a genuine pop culture moment.
Worst Trend. Top Rank and Golden Boy keep stiffing fans out of the best fights with their never-ending feud. This was the year, for instance, that Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao finally died, and the Top Rank-GBP feud was one reason for that. Right now, I blame Top Rank more than Golden Boy for the status of the feud, as GBP is at least expressing a willingness to work with Top Rank and not vice versa, but the blame shifts back and forth throughout the years in a ceaseless cycle.