10 indelible images from 2008
Take this for what it’s worth, coming from the keyboard of a boxing writer and a passionate boxing advocate, but no sport provides imagery that burns itself into your brain quite like this one.
The proverbial thrill of victory is packed with more raw, personal emotion in boxing, the agony of defeat more literal and more palpable.
That’s not to say other sports don’t give us everlasting mental snapshots; in 2008, some of the most unforgettable included the David Tyree helmet catch, Ryan Howard joyously launching his 245 pounds onto a pile of Phillies just in front of the mound, Jason Lezak saving Michael Phelps’ bid for eight gold medals by closing an un-closeable gap and Usain Bolt slowing down to celebrate and breaking the 100-meter world record anyway.
But boxing, even if watched by fewer people than the Super Bowl, World Series, or Olympics, blessed those who were watching with more indelible images than any other sport possibly could. Here are the 10 visuals that left the strongest impression in 2008:
1. Oscar De La Hoya helpless in round seven against Manny Pacquiao
Nearly all of the legends of the ring have that moment where they’re turned into feeble punching bags, stripped by time and punishment of all that once made them great. And when it happens, it’s always a sad sight that lingers in your mind. But seeing Oscar looking that way against Pacquiao was particularly affecting because (a) the previous signs of aging were subtle enough that we weren’t quite prepared for this outcome on this night, and (b) the “Golden Boy” image tricked us into thinking he was in total control of his career and would never allow something like this to happen. Boxing’s biggest star of the past decade using every ounce of will just stay on his feet as the punches rained down has to go down as the image from 2008 that will be hardest to shake.
2. Bernard Hopkins staring into press row after beating Kelly Pavlik
Hopkins is the modern master of boxing technique. He’s the modern master of stretching out an answer to a question. And he is without a doubt the modern master of freezing a journalist with his locked-in stare. Some have called it his “prison stare.” Whatever it is, it’s paralyzing. And for a man who’s never at a loss for words, his wordless “I told you so” to all of us in press row at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., spoke much more loudly than anything he could have verbalized. If this should prove to be Hopkins’ final victorious moment in a boxing ring, he found a compelling way to celebrate and punctuate it.
3. Rafael Marquez tumbling into the ropes with seconds left against Israel Vazquez
For pure in-ring drama, how can you beat a knockdown in the waning moments of the year’s best fight to decide the outcome? Boxing is often about desperation, and in this case, Vazquez’s desperation to drop Marquez combined with Marquez’s desperation to stay on his feet in a moment made perfect by referee Pat Russell having the poise to make the right call when the ropes held the challenger up. Marquez may not agree with this statement, but this was a beautiful moment for boxing. It showcased why this sport, at its best, provides inspiration and excitement that no mere game can.
4. Miguel Cotto taking a knee against Antonio Margarito without being hit
There’s something about a talented, confident, unbeaten fighter taking his first loss that stays with you. Cotto’s first taste of defeat was particularly powerful because of both the way it ended and the 11 rounds of gripping battle that led there. This was an outstanding fight by any measure, the probable Fight of the Year if not for Vazquez-Marquez III. But when Margarito’s will proved unbreakable, Cotto’s will began to show cracks, and he ended up a sorry sight, bleeding and swollen. He took a knee, got up, but soon realized that was a mistake. This brave warrior then conceded, backing away and taking a second knee without taking a punch. Technically, Cotto quit. But we know better than to call him a quitter.
5. Ricardo Torres collapsing along the ropes from Kendall Holt’s unique one-two
Maybe this one is a tad higher on this list than it should be because I happened to be ringside that night at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, and Torres’ body reached a state of suspended animation about eight feet from me. So forgive my bias in terms of the impact of the image. No matter where you were watching, Holt and Torres produced the most thrilling 60 seconds of the year, and the ending was shocking: Holt, already down twice, connected with an accidental head butt that happened too fast for the naked eye to see, then followed with a right hand for the ages that turned out Torres’ lights. It was a Knockout of the Year contender, a Round of the Year contender, and the slumped over, petrified pose Torres struck was among the most dramatic images of ’08.
6. Paulie Malignaggi receiving a haircut as Versus came back from a commercial
For generations, fans have been talking about boxing at the barber shop. But the worlds of the pugilistic arts and the tonsorial arts were never meant to collide like this. In by far 2008’s most bizarre visual, the Versus network returned from a commercial break during June’s Malignaggi-Lovemore Ndou rematch to find Paulie’s trainers giving him a between-rounds haircut, thanks to a knuckleheaded experiment with fake hair extensions. Rocky Balboa remains the most famous fighter to tell his trainer, “Cut me!” but Malignaggi is now a close second.
7. Francisco Lorenzo left to lie in a pool of his own blood
This was boxing’s lowest moment of the year, the one that left us unable to defend the sport in any capacity (except to argue that the sport is still great, but the people running it are a disgrace). Never mind that ref Joe Cortez completely blew an easy call and awarded Lorenzo a disqualification win over Humberto Soto instead of a knockout loss. The more significant oversight here was the way Cortez and the Nevada State Athletic Commission members huddled to arrive at their incorrect decision while letting Lorenzo’s head spew blood without the slightest hint of concern or compassion. It was a disturbing, depressing scene all the way around.
8. Floyd Mayweather breaking The Big Show’s nose
Equal parts comedy, gory violence and surrealism, this not-quite-as-scripted moment from WWE’s “No Way Out” pay-per-view ignited probably the most compelling boxer-in-pro-wrestling storyline ever (yes, even better than the Butterbean-Marc Mero feud) and became one of 2008’s must-see YouTube clips. Mayweather will probably be back in the prize ring in ’09, but for now, this remains the last memorable punch he threw, and it was one that was worthy of repeated viewings.
9. Wladimir Klitschko swatting at Sultan Ibragimov’s arm in the opening round
Mere seconds into the most significant heavyweight fight of the year, a two-belt unification match at Madison Square Garden, the tone was set, and not in a good way: Klitschko’s game plan included taking away southpaw Ibragimov’s jab by striking it down in a Mr. Miyagi paint-the-fence motion. It was such an unusual move, even longtime fight fans wondered if it was legal. Unfortunately, it was, and 12 rounds of defensive tedium were underway in a miserableÔÇöbut memorableÔÇömanner.
10. David Banks deposited in the limbo position courtesy of Edison Miranda
Ending on a more spectacular note, no knockout victim in ’08 was stretched out in a more eye-catching pose than former Contender contestant Banks, whose body balanced perfectly across the second rope. His head was on the ring apron, his lower back on the strand, and his heels on the canvas, almost like a human bow-and-arrow. Part of the perverse pleasure in watching boxing is seeing a man knocked senseless and gasping over the lifeless way he lands, and on that front, Miranda’s right hand delivered.
New highlight of the fourth season of The Contender: “gorilla warfare.” Yikes. By the way, whatever you do, don’t look up this dry-erase-board malapropism on urbandictionary.com, because you will be thoroughly appalled and offended. ÔÇª
Freddie Roach is going to be voted Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America. Based on the high-profile nature of Pacquiao’s win over De La Hoya, his utter dominance and the key role Roach played in it, he’s a sure thing to win. But, much as I admire Freddie, I don’t think he deserves the award. His next two best fighters, Dimitri Kirilov and Roman Karmazin, both had bad years and suffered knockout losses. By comparison, Javier Capetillo guided both Antonio Margarito and Jesus Soto Karass to breakthrough years. Capetillo has my vote, even if I’m resigned to the fact that it won’t make a difference in the BWAA’s final result. ÔÇª
How spectacular was that highlight video of eight years of Solo Boxeo on Friday? That warranted immediate “Keep Until I Delete” status on my TiVo. Thanks to everyone at Univision and Telefutura for a great ride, even if I never knew what anybody was saying.