Monday, December 31, 2012

The 2012 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

It's time to hand out the hardware. As an eventful 2012 comes to a close, one crucial piece of business remains before we can comfortably enter the new year: the Saturday Night Boxing Awards! Without further ado, here are your 2012 winners:

Fighter of the Year: Nonito Donaire

Moving up to the junior featherweight division, Donaire defeated a former titlist (Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.), a current beltholder (Jeffrey Mathebula), the number-one guy in the division (Toshiaki Nishioka) and another former 122-lb. champion (Jorge Arce). Of Donaire's 36 rounds this year, I had him winning 32 of them. He scored seven knockdowns and dominated top competition. At the age of 30, Donaire continues to improve and makes a strong case for being considered among the top fighters in the sport (I have him ranked at #3). His finishing left hook of Arce should make any year-end highlights package.

Fight of the Year: Pacquiao-Marquez IV

After a fascinating but rather tactical third installment of their series in 2011, both boxers made some key adjustments going into their fourth fight. Pacquiao decided to return to the more aggressive form that he exhibited in the first two fights while Marquez focused on gaining strength and power; he was going for the knockout. What followed was a scintillating battle fought on an incredibly high level with striking changes in momentum. The fight featured three knockdowns (Pacquiao down twice and Marquez once). The final Marquez right hand was literally a shot hurt around the sporting world. It was an unforgettable conclusion to a wildly entertaining fight.

Knockout of the Year: Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao

After being knocked down in the fifth round and bloodied and badgered through most of the sixth, Marquez unloaded one of the most pulverizing punches in boxing history. At the end of the round, Pacquiao feinted with the jab and then rushed in with another jab. Marquez didn't go for the feint and timed Pacquiao perfectly with a devastating overhand right. Immediately, Pacquiao hit the canvas. Lying on his back, he was out cold. For Marquez, who hadn't been able to beat Pacquiao despite three close fights, his final right hand was career-defining, and one that will be talked about for generations.

Round of the Year: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Sergio Martinez 12

The first ten-and-a-half rounds of this fight were completely dominated by Martinez, who put forth a masterful performance, mixing in boxing, ring generalship, pot-shotting and beautiful power punch combinations. Chavez was a bloody mess as the fight progressed. In truth, if he would have called it a night earlier in the match, it would have been completely understandable; he just wasn't competitive.

Finally, towards the end of the 11th round, Chavez connected with a few right hands. In the 12th, Chavez landed a right hand that drove back Martinez to the ropes. Chavez then connected with left and right hooks on the ropes and Martinez went down. With over two minutes left in the round, Martinez was in bad shape. His legs, which had helped him all night, now betrayed him.

Chavez moved in for the kill and unloaded with power punches. Calling to mind his father's first fight against Meldrick Taylor, Chavez tried to erase a sure defeat with a final-round knockout. The crowd was in a frenzy; boxing fans around the world were on the edge of their seats, if they could sit at all. But Martinez found his bearings by the end of the round and fired back. When the final bell sounded, Martinez remained on his feet, if just barely. He had escaped.

This round featured an essential element to secure the award: I was jumping around my living room screaming like a lunatic. What more can be said? It was boxing at its finest.

Upset of the Year: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO6 Pongsaklek Wongjongkam

To call Sonny Boy Jaro a journeyman might be an overstatement. He entered his March fight against longtime flyweight titlist and future Hall of Famer Pongsaklek Wongjongkam with a record of 33-10-5. Prior to the fight, you would have been hard-pressed to find a distinguished win on Jaro's ledger. Anytime the Filipino had faced a good fighter (e.g. Giovani Segura, Edgar Sosa, Pornsawan Porpramook), he lost. In 2011, he had even been defeated by a 4-0 fighter. Conversely, Wongjongkam came into the fight with a sterling record of 83-3-2. The Thai boxing master hadn't lost since 2007 and was in the midst of a twenty-fight unbeaten streak.

Nevertheless, Jaro attacked Wongjongkam from the opening bell with a relentless body assault. He scored repeatedly with hard right hands and left hooks to the body – more than a few of them were low blows – and he earned knockdowns in the first and third rounds. Even though Wongjongkam worked his way back into the fight, Jaro's body shots took a huge toll on his legs. By the sixth round, Wongjongkam couldn't hold up to Jaro's body attack. With Jaro scoring two more knockdowns in the round, the fight was stopped. Instantly, Jaro became the year's most improbable champion. He would go on to lose later in the year in a hard-fought battle against Toshiyuki Igarashi, but for one night, he was a legend killer.

Trainer of the Year: Rob McCracken

The single best corner job of the year was Rob McCracken's work with Carl Froch in his destruction of Lucian Bute. Coming off of a loss to Andre Ward in the finals of the Super Six, Froch was an underdog against super middleweight titlist Bute, who had finished up 2011 beating Glen Johnson far more convincingly than Froch did earlier in the year.

McCracken was a wise study of Bute. He observed that Bute was most successful as a pocket fighter. His shots worked best from medium range and he realized that Froch would probably be safe either completely in tight or on the outside. Secondly, Bute did not have quick counter shots. Instead, all of his counters – left uppercut, right hook and straight left hand – were long. Bute also needed his opponent right in front of him to score. McCracken, in sizing Bute up, determined that Froch shouldn't fight in the pocket whatsoever, a bold decision and it turned out to be a winning one.

Froch's performance in the ring was perfect. On the outside, he patiently waited to initiate offense and used lateral movement to keep Bute at bay. Froch would then rush in with a series of power shots, most often his slinging right hand and left hook. He would batter Bute with heavy punches and would then quickly get out of the pocket. As the fight progressed, he would continue this pattern of rushing in with power shots, eventually deciding to stay in close range, driving a retreating Bute back to the ropes, where Froch would continue to land with hard shots.

Bute couldn't defend himself from Froch's odd-angled punches and wasn't able to counter consistently enough to stop the onslaught. By the fifth round, he went down from an accumulation of power shots and the fight was over. Froch was masterful and McCracken's game plan was a big reason for his success.

In addition, McCracken's work with the British Olympic boxing team yielded five medals for the host country, a wonderfully impressive haul. McCracken wasn't just a mere advisor to the team; he was responsible for nurturing the squad, working with the coaching staff and preparing the fighters, mentally and physically, for the intricacies and pressures of Olympic boxing. The team's performance was a resounding success.

I know that many boxing observers have selected Robert Garcia as Trainer of the Year, and he certainly had a very good year. Ultimately, what convinced me regarding McCracken is that he took and underdog (Froch) and guided him to a truly dominant performance. Garcia's top fighters, from Donaire to Rios to Mikey Garcia, had very successful years, but I do have to take some points off for Rios' listless performance against Richard Abril and Hernan Marquez's knockout loss to Brian Viloria. All of Garcia's boxers did win the fights that they were supposed to win, but Brandon Rios' victory over Mike Alvarado was the only true 50/50 win for Garcia's stable of top fighters. Still, he had a very fine year, as did Nacho Beristain, who came up with some winning adjustments for Juan Manuel Marquez over Manny Pacquiao.

Promoter of the Year: Golden Boy Promotions

I certainly don't think that everything Golden Boy did this year was perfect. There were far too many events that featured embarrassingly tepid ticket sales. The company also has this bad habit of announcing future fights prematurely (Alvarez-Ortiz!). However, Golden Boy has bested all its rivals in expanding the possible for boxing in 2012. From creating an exciting new market in Brooklyn with its series at the Barclays Center to bringing boxing back to U.S. network television, Golden Boy has helped grow the sport in 2012 better than any other entity. Golden Boy also convinced Showtime to broadcast more undercard fights live. In addition, the company has announced a new series to start in South Florida for 2013. Although Golden Boy didn't have the biggest fights of the year, the company made many wonderful advances for the sport in 2012.

Network of the Year: BoxNation

Promoter Frank Warren undertook a big gamble in creating an all-boxing pay network in 2011. By the end of 2012, BoxNation has developed into one of the premier international destinations for boxing fans. Hardly a week goes by without a meaningful fight on the network, from Warren's own stable of British fighters to the station's numerous broadcasts of Sauerland's European fight cards as well as many of the premier American boxing contests. In addition, BoxNation's studio team of Steve Bunce and Steve Lillis should be a model for other networks. Both Bunce and Lillis are excellent conversationalists, well versed in the sport and pithy. They also remember that boxing can be fun. I hope that the network's good run continues in 2013. (Note: a number of the Sauerland cards from 2012 featured only one broadcaster calling the fight. Surely, a decent color analyst can be found.)

Referee of the Year: Eddie Claudio

Claudio played a vital role in one of the most intriguing fights of the year, Peter Quillin's unanimous decision over Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (henceforth, N'Dam). Quillin scored six knockdowns (6!) but still the fight was competitive, with all three judges giving Quillin only seven rounds in the contest. Quillin notched two knockdowns in each of the 4th, 6th and 12th rounds. After each knockdown, Claudio studied N'Dam and correctly determined that the fighter could continue. Too often, referees reflexively stop a fight after a third knockdown, but Claudio observed that N'Dam still had his legs and remained competitive throughout the match. Claudio ignored the pro-Quillin crowd and didn't succumb to giving an early stoppage to the hometown fighter. It was a wonderful performance from a relatively obscure referee. Here's hoping for more big-time assignments for Claudio in 2013.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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