Four months to go … will a Fighter of the Year emerge?
Fernando Montiel is among those who could win Fight of the Year honors in a year with no obvious candidates. Photo / Chris Cozzone-FightWireImages
As far back as the middle of May, I used this column space to lament the lack of a Fight of the Year candidate in 2010. Three months later, nothing has changed on that front. And an additional year-end awards conundrum has emerged: We don’t have a single worthy Fighter of the Year contender either.
Generally, by the end of summer, the Fighter of the Year race has taken shape. In years past, the superstars would have all engaged in a couple of significant fights by now and had one or two more planned before the end of the year. Whoever was in position to win a major bout between September and December would have an excellent shot at the award.
But 2010 has been a down year for the sport, as everyone in the boxing world has acknowledged. And a major reason for that is that boxing’s elite aren’t interested in fighting more than twice a year. If anything, they’re interested in fighting fewer than two times a year. You can blame HBO for overpaying unproven fighters or you can blame the boxers for being unrealistic about their worth, but the bottom line is that almost all of the game’s biggest names have been frustratingly inactive this year.
Remember when Oscar De La Hoya fought five times in 1997 to secure Fighter of the Year honors from THE RING’s sister magazine, KO? Those days are long gone. Now, two appearances is plenty to capture the award, as long as they’re both major fights.
Unfortunately, it’s a struggle to name many boxers who are positioned to end 2010 with two meaningful victories.
Over the past four years, two fighters have monopolized the Fighter of the Year award: Manny Pacquiao (’06, ’08, and ’09) and Floyd Mayweather (’07). Neither is a candidate this year. Pacquiao’s opposition – Joshua Clottey and probably Antonio Margarito – simply isn’t up to snuff. Mayweather’s competition – Shane Mosley – was just fine, but there wasn’t enough of it; the Mosley victory was, and will remain, his only fight this year.
Traditionally, if all else fails, you can look to the top heavyweights for Fighter of the Year consideration. A heavyweight has won THE RING’s award 32 times in 81 years. Not this year. Through no fault of his own, Vitali Klitschko’s competition (Albert Sosnowski and soon Shannon Briggs) will have been abysmal. Brother Wladimir’s opponents will have been more respectable, but still, it’s impossible to claim FOTY honors beating Eddie Chambers and Sam Peter. The busiest of the top heavyweights has been Tomasz Adamek, who might end up fighting four times by year’s end, but he didn’t exactly dazzle against Jason Estrada or Michael Grant.
Sometimes you can get a sense of who the Fighter of the Year might be by looking at who’s been named Fighter of the Month in THE RING. Here’s the list so far: Takashi Uchiyama, Edwin Valero, Devon Alexander, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, and Juan Manuel Lopez.
Don’t count on Valero winning any posthumous awards. Alexander took himself out of the running with his lackluster performance against Andreas Kotelnik last time out. Mayweather went one and done. Cotto might have an outside shot at Comeback of the Year, but fights against Yuri Foreman and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (assuming it gets signed) don’t make you the Fighter of the Year. Uchiyama and Pongsaklek each scored one meaningful victory but have followed up with marking-time fights against non-contenders.
The only one on the list worth considering is Lopez, who destroyed Steven Luevano, bombed out Bernabe Concepcion and will take on Rafael Marquez on a rescheduled date sometime this fall. Unfortunately, Lopez was supposed to destroy Luevano, he was supposed to bomb out Concepcion and he’ll be a solid favorite to beat Marquez. “JuanMa” is having a fine year, but ultimately, he’s just doing what’s expected of him. If he beats Marquez, he’s a default pick for FOTY if absolutely nobody else turns out to be worthy. More likely, he’s in the “Honorable Mention” category.
To find our Fighter of the Year for 2010, we might have to dig a little deeper than usual and take an extra close look at some of the smaller fighters to whom even the hardcore fans don’t always pay much attention. There’s the aforementioned Pongsaklek, who could have an outside shot if he signed for and impressively won a major fight at the tail end of the year. Whoever wins the Ivan Calderon-Giovanni Segura fight this Saturday in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, would instantly earn consideration, although it would represent the only significant victory of the year for either boxer.
But the little guy with the best chance is probably bantamweight beltholder Fernando Montiel, who is having a legitimately excellent year and is in discussions for one more major outing. Montiel has been busy, with three fights in the first seven months of the year. He’s been spectacular, with knockouts in the first, third and fourth rounds. Opponents Ciso Morales and Rafael Concepcion (a late sub for Eric Morel) weren’t much, but Hozumi Hasegawa, the longest reigning titlist in the sport at the time, certainly qualifies as a meaningful victim. There’s currently talk of a Montiel-Nonito Donaire fight in the fall. If it happens and Montiel wins, he’d become the FOTY frontrunner.
But Montiel isn’t the only fighter out there who can take the pole position by signing for and winning one important fight this fall. If there’s one man who controls his own destiny in the Fighter of the Year competition, it’s middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. The one thing that’s beyond Martinez’s control is getting Paul Williams to sign on the dotted line. After all, he couldn’t get Alfredo Angulo to accept a career-high payday to face him (which would have given Angulo three HBO appearances in 2010 and a shot at Fighter of the Year himself). But assuming Martinez-Williams does happen (HBO is reportedly eying a Nov. 20 date), the FOTY competition could become very straight forward.
If Martinez defeats Williams, that gives him two highly meaningful victories in 2010, over Kelly Pavlik to claim the legitimate 160-pound title and over Williams, whom many regard as a top five pound-for-pounder. That’s a classic modern Fighter of the Year campaign, not unlike Pacquiao beating Ricky Hatton and Cotto in ’09 or Mayweather defeating Hatton and De La Hoya in ’07. Should it play out in that manner, it will truly feel as if 2010 belonged to Sergio Martinez, which is how we want it to be when it comes time to select the Fighter of the Year.
What if that fight doesn’t happen, or if Williams wins? Then it’s wide open. It could be Montiel. It could be Andre Dirrell if he upsets Andre Ward. It could be Peter if he shocks Wladimir Klitschko. It could be JuanMa Lopez if nobody else does anything of note.
As of this moment, nobody stands out, which is symptomatic of a year in which the biggest fights aren’t being made and the best fighters can’t be bothered with fighting more frequently than once every six months. It’s been a disappointing year for boxing. Let’s hope somebody takes advantage of that and reaches out and grabs the Fighter of the Year award, so we don’t have to give it to anyone by default.
ÔÇó Something tells me Antonio Margarito won’t face any questions about his sparring license from the Texas Commission. Dickie Cole’s line of questioning will probably go more like this: “Is it OK if my son referees your big fight against Manny Pacquiao? Yes? OK, then here’s your license.”
ÔÇó Is it time to start putting Jackie Nava on the list of boxing’s best body punchers, pound-for-pound and gender-for-gender?
ÔÇó Circle Wed., Sept. 8 on your calendars. That’s the date when either the RingTV.com editors cop out and skip the letter “X,” or late-’80s/early-’90s journeyman junior flyweight Alfredo Xeque gets the lead spot on the front page of the web site. I’m hoping for the latter; it’ll be worth it just for the line: “Sugar’s ranking: No. 1,457,312.”
ÔÇó In case you missed it last week, don’t forget to check out the latest episode of Ring Theory, featuring the wit and wisdom of special guest Nigel Collins. Where else can you hear mediocre Harold Lederman impressions, updates on the state of breast augmentation in Montreal, and speculation about Bob Arum’s wife having sex with the pool boy?