2006 wasn’t that bad | NevadaAppeal.com

2006 wasn’t that bad

Appeal Sports Writer

Call this The Year That Could Have Been. In putting together the annual year-end boxing awards it’s become obvious that 2006 wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t a banner year.

Although the emphasis will be more on what actually happened in the world of boxing this year, it’s hard not to look back on what it could have been.

In June we were promised Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo III, the rubber match of 2005’s Fight of the Year, the young century and probably the most exciting bout since Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns battled in 1985.

But what we got instead was the beginning of a disturbing trend when Castillo couldn’t make weight and the fight was scrapped maybe for eternity.

However, before fitting this non-event into its proper place, it’s time to highlight the year’s most deserving fighters and salient moments.

Fighter of the year: Manny Pacquiao. The “PacMan” sandwiched a convincing win over former 122-pound titlist Oscar Larios with a pair of knockout defeats of Mexican icon Erik Morales.

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With the devastating victories over Morales, the Fighting Filpino not only twice avenged his 2005 defeat at the hands of “El Terrible,” but he may have well ended the career of one of the most exciting fighters in the history of the game.

Adding to his already potent left cross, southpaw Pacquiao – under the expert guidance of trainer Freddie Roach – added a potent right hook to his damaging repertoire, which consists of relentless aggression and two-fisted mayhem.

Although Morales blamed his own nutritional habits and difficulty in making weight for the first loss, there was nobody to blame but Pacquiao, 43-3-2 with 34 knockouts, for putting him on the canvas in the rubber match.

Perhaps the most proud and macho fighter in the game, Morales, in the words of veteran trainer and HBO commentator Emanuel Steward, resembled a crumbled and beaten Alexis Arguello when he knew it was time to stay down during his second fight with Aaron Pryor in 1983.

Morales may or may not retire, but rather than pay our respects to his exciting career now, let’s instead praise the future of Pacquiao, the most exciting fighter in the game today.

With any luck in 2007, we’ll see Pacquiao in a rematch with two other Mexican greats – Marco Antonio Barrera (whom Pacquiao stopped in 2003) and Juan Manuel Marquez (with whom he drew in 2004 after dropping him three times in the first round).

Runner-up: Joe Calzaghe. With his comprehensive dismantling of IBF titlist Jeff Lacy in March, world super middleweight champion Calzaghe proved he is the man to beat at 168 pounds.

Showing great hand speed, combination punching and all-around boxing skills, Calzaghe, 42-0 (31), made a mess out of what looked to be the division’s most frightening and promising fighter.

Only his failure to follow this fight up with another meaningful bout (Sakio Bika notwithstanding) cost Calzaghe the Fighter of the Year award.

Fight of the Year: Serguei Lyakovich W 12 Lamon Brewster. There is nothing like a toe-to-toe war with a lot of ebb and flow, but when that kind of fight happens with the big boys – the heavyweights – it’s something to celebrate.

Brewster, 33-3 (29), lived up to his nickname “Relentless” by wading into his opponent with both fists. Fortunately for fight fans, so did Lyakovich, 23-2 (14), who wouldn’t listen to his corner’s advice to box and stay out of harm’s way.

Although he tasted the canvas once, Lyakovich gave better than he received and became the first heavyweight from Belarus to claim a heavyweight title when he lifted Brewster’s WBO belt.

Knockout of the year: Shannon Briggs TKO 12 Serguei Lyakovich. This was one fight where Lyakovich should’ve listened to his corner. Huffing and puffing like a steam engine on its last rail, musclebound Shannon “The Cannon” finally connected late in the last round and knocked Lyakovich down.

Ever the warrior, Lyakovich got back up, only to be knocked out of the ring and onto the timekeeper’s table and was stopped with only 1 second left on the clock.

Legs shaking and gasping for wind, Briggs was unable to celebrate his newly won title as he sat on his stool while Lyakovich, too wiped out to crawl back into the ring, stood ringside, his backside supported by the timekeeper’s table that broke his fall, without his WBO heavyweight belt.

While it would be sacrilegious to compare it to Mike Weaver’s 15th-round knockout over “Big” John Tate in 1980 or Jake LaMotta’s 15th-round rally to stop Laurent Dauthuille in 1950, it doesn’t get any closer than 1 second in the final round of any title fight.

Runner-up: Wladimir Klitschko KO 7 Calvin Brock: How do you make a 6-foot-2, 225-pound man’s ears wiggle, his lips spin like Hula-Hoops and his cheeks look like he’s in a centrifuge? If you’re 6-6, 245-pound Klitschko, 47-3 (42), you just land a huge overhand right to the jaw of that man, in this case, Brock.

It may not have made as good a photograph as Rocky Marciano’s famous right hand to Jersey Joe Walcott’s jaw in 1952, but it was awe-inspiring nonetheless.

Trainer of the Year: Emanuel Steward. All one has to do is look at the job Steward has done with IBF heavyweight beltholder Klitschko. Steward has transformed “Dr. Steelhammer” from Frankenstein into a worthy boxer-puncher.

And while there are those who believe Winky Wright actually deserved to beat Steward’s fighter Jermain Taylor (the bout for Taylor’s middleweight championship was declared a draw), that’s just not fair.

Steward prepared a perfect fight plan to beat Wright -movement, hand speed and combination punching – which Taylor executed and should’ve earned the decision.

Maybe his marquee Kronk fighters like Thomas Hearns and Milton McCrory have come and gone, but the master teacher still remains and under Steward’s capable tutelage, there’s no saying how much further Klitschko and Taylor can go.

Boxing Book of the Year: “Atlas.” The sub-title to this book says it all – “From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle to Become a Man.” Narrated with the same articulate, no B.S. style that trainer and ESPN2 Friday Night Fights analyst Teddy Atlas brings to his viewers, this book is a must-have for all boxing fans.

Filled with his inimitable philosophy and psychology, Atlas fills his memoir with history, behind-the-scenes anecdotes and touching self-disclosure. From living life on the wrong side of the tracks to becoming a pillar of society, Atlas’ story is so compelling that you won’t put the book down until you’ve turned the final page.

Disappointment of the Year: Weight-Gate I. It was to be this generation’s version of the Rocky Graziano-Tony Zale trilogy. Corrales-Castillo III was etched in for June 3, but what was every fight fan’s fantasy turned into a headache, upset stomach and diarrhea all rolled up into one.

Short of giving blood – and that was one of the options he considered – Castillo dropped all the weight he could and still came in overweight. Corrales, who had killed himself to make 135 and had been stopped in the pair’s second meeting when Castillo had come in heavy, decided against further handicapping himself and turned down the fight.

But just when it couldn’t get any worse…

Disappointment of the Year II: Joel Casamayor-Corrales III. Just when it couldn’t get any worse, it did. It was Corrales who couldn’t make weight against Casamayor and what followed was a lethargic performance, won by Casamayor.

The powers that be are currently thinking of re-inventing the wheel by going back to same-day weigh-ins, which were dropped because boxers were too dehydrated to make weight and fight the same day.

Now, with boxers re-hydrating and gaining 15-20 pounds, it’s become an unfair advantage for some. But what will promoters do now if they wait until the last day and a fighter can’t make weight?

The WBC now has several weigh-ins leading up to the final weigh-in. What will they think of next.

Disappointment of the Year III: Where did you go, Ricky Hatton? After steamrolling Kostya Tszyu in 2005, Hatton, last year’s Fighter of the Year, moved up to welterweight and won a lackluster affair over WBA titlist Luis Collazo in May.

Then Hatton, 41-0 (30), fell off the radar and was inactive the rest of the year – not exactly the way to add one’s newly won superstar status.

Saying he was fighting too heavy at 147, Hatton will fight Juan Urango for “The Hitman’s” old IBF 140-pound strap on Jan. 20. The upshot is that Hatton and Castillo will most likely meet this summer – if Hatton gets by Urango and Castillo can defeat Herman Ngoudjo (also on Jan. 20).

That fight, along with Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya on May 5, should make up for a tepid 2006.