The good, bad and the ugly in boxing
It’s the last Tuesday of the year, so that means it’s time for the third annual Good, Bad and Ugly awards. This is where I get to confer honors on the best, worst and downright terrible moments in boxing in 2004:
Fighter of the Year: This year the award goes out to Bernard Hopkins, whose eccentric, enigmatic self-managing techniques brought him to the top of the boxing world. His ninth-round knockout of Oscar De La Hoya (which was also his division-record 19th title defense) not only further solidified his spot as the middleweight division’s top dog, but also assured him of a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, N.Y., when he hangs up his gloves.
Hopkins, a former convict, showed a leopard can change its spots. He also showed an uncanny ability to draw an intelligent “Golden Boy” into trying to force the fight, a move Oscar regretted the second Hopkins expertly lured him into a fight-ending left hook to the body.
Runner-up: Glen Johnson. After knocking Roy Jones Jr. as cold as a Frosty-Freeze, Johnson followed up with a decision over Antonio Tarver for the world light heavyweight championship. Turning pro as a middleweight nearly 12 years ago, the 35-year-old Johnson has kept his nose to the grindstone and in spite of suffering nine losses along the way, the transplanted Jamaican man has become The Man in the 175-pound division.
Fight of the Year: Even though it wasn’t all that competitive, Felix “Tito” Trinidad’s successful return to the ring in October against smokin’ Ricardo Mayorga was outstanding. Tito punished the orange-haired Mayorga for eight rounds, but the trash-talking Nicaraguan kept coming back for more, resulting in a Don King-promoted card that was actually worth the money.
Mayorga came out firing away and he had Tito on unsteady pins before and after he scored a third-round knockdown. But there’s a reason Trinidad has 35 knockouts in his 42 victories and after rearranging his disrespectful opponent’s features, he lowered the boom with a Hopkinsesque left to the body. The knockdown was the first of three in the eighth and final round, which capped off Tito’s return to boxing after two years out of the ring.
Comeback of the Year: After spending 22 months injured and rehabilitating himself, world junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu spent less than three rounds annihilating talented Sharmba Mitchell and setting the table for big-money fights in the near future.
Tszyu carved through the slick Mitchell as easily as an electric knife through a Thanksgiving turkey, flooring him four times in three rounds along the way to opening the door for a possible fight with world welterweight champion Cory Spinks, a rematch with Zab Judah or a meeting with De La Hoya at welterweight.
Tszyu was so impressive that he may even be regarded by some as the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing, along with Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr., and his best days appear to be in front of him.
Knockout of the Year: This goes to Johnson, who iced Jones in nine rounds in September. Johnson, never known as a big bomber, nevertheless knocked out Jones so emphatically that the unconscious Jones was flat on his back with his left leg involuntarily raising off the mat. It was frightening, with Jones looking at times like he might not wake up.
Runner-up: This belongs to Tarver, who stopped Jones with a single left hand in two rounds in May. Roy got up, but was left stumbling around like a drunk on a merry-go-round before the fight was mercifully stopped.
Most Frightening Knockout of the Year: Johnson has already received his reward, so this one goes to heavyweight prospect Samuel Peter, who lowered the boom on Jeremy Williams on Dec. 4. Peter’s single left hook in the second round had Williams completely unconscious for several minutes before Williams came to.
Most Dramatic Knockout: This belongs to lightweight Ebo Elder. After he played pinball with opponent Courtney Burton’s privates, Elder paid the price. Burton carved up Elder’s face like a Halloween pumpkin.
There are broken piñatas that have looked better than Elder’s face. The “Extreme Machine’s” right eye was cut, both eyes were swollen like purple light bulbs, his nose was bleeding and the whole right side of his head and face were swelling like a blow-up doll. Nevertheless, he struck hard and fast and stopped Burton with just over 30 seconds left in their bout.
Best Local Story: “Koncrete” Kelvin Davis fought his way off the streets of Reno and Sparks all the way to an IBF cruiserweight championship. With his May 1 stoppage of Ezra Sellers, Davis became the first Northern Nevadan to win a world title in the 120-plus years that gloved combat has existed. We’ll save the unappreciative media and local population for the Ugly section.
Runner-up: Here’s a nod to former University of Nevada champion Joey Gilbert. Not only has Gilbert remained undefeated as a professional, he passed his bar exam, has taken on a partner and opened a law firm and will be on your TV screen beginning in February, when NBC’s new reality show “The Contender” debuts. Keep your eyes peeled.
Best boxing medium: THE RING magazine continues to pave the way for other media to follow. Its ratings system, integrity and championship policy is the best thing going in the sport. If you don’t have one already, get a subscription.
And boxing as a whole was a winner and the fans were as lucky as hell in 2004, as the game was full of solid matchups and great fights. We had Hopkins-De La Hoya, Trinidad-Hopkins, Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales III, two meetings between Winky Wright and Shane Mosley, Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez, Diego Corrales-Acelino Freitas, Corrales-Joel Casamayor II, Jose Luis Castillo-Casamayor, Danny Williams-Mike Tyson and – to hell with what HBO’s commentating crew says – the emergence of Vitali Klitschko as the real heavyweight champion of the world.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
No use beating a dead horse, since I’ve been doing it all year, but in no particular order the Bad and the Ugly awards will be condensed into one and the same.
First, let’s give the local media and local boxing fans a hard kick in the pants for not getting behind Davis. Hey, the Nevada Wolf Pack basketball team taking it to the Sweet 16 was great, but how about a guy who actually won the CHAMPIONSHIP?
Davis is boxing’s Invisible Man. There’s nothing more to say than this: There is no local high school or college story that comes close to the local importance of what Davis has done with the help and support of his older brother, trainer and manager, Kelly Davis. Don’t even talk about the Reno-Tahoe Open to me. And don’t get me started on the media’s lack of coverage. Put simply, Davis deserves better.
The other part of the Bad and Ugly goes out to all sanctioning bodies, crooked promoters and other lowlifes that continue to rape boxing and boxers. With the WBA, WBO, IBF, WBC and other BS titles out there, the sport makes college football’s BCS rankings smell like roses by comparison.
And one more time: HBO stinks for not backing THE RING magazine’s attempt to organize and clean up the sport when it had the chance during the Johnson-Tarver fight. HBO can do a lot of good, but it chose instead to recognize yet another sanctioning body – the IBO – instead of THE RING. Enough said. For now.