Sunday, January 6, 2013

Grading the Top Fighters -- 2012

It's time for Saturday Night Boxing's annual evaluation of the best fighters in the sport. For this year, the fighters in the Saturday Night Boxing Top-20 will be reviewed. The boxers will appear in their Top-20 order, from 1 to 20. Each fighter will be assigned a letter grade with a brief synopsis of his year. Let's get to it.

1. Floyd Mayweather A- Mayweather only fought once in 2012 and won a comfortable decision against Miguel Cotto. I only had Mayweather losing two rounds but he certainly got hit some in the fight. It was not a truly dominant performance but he acquitted himself well.

2. Andre Ward A+ Because of injuries, Ward only fought once in 2012 as well. Nevertheless, his one performance was stunning. He defended his super middleweight crown against light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson and dropped him three times. Ward's lead left hook continually found its mark and the fight was stopped in the 10th. He has now strung together four consecutive truly dominant years.

3. Nonito Donaire A+ Fighting four times in 2012, Donaire staked his claim as the best in the junior featherweight division by defeating two former champions (Wifredo Vazquez Jr. and Jorge Arce), a current titleholder (Jeffrey Mathebula) and the number-one guy in the division (Toshiaki Nishioka). Better yet, Donaire showed improved discipline and focus throughout the year. He was the 2012 Saturday Night Boxing Fighter of the Year.
4. Juan Manuel Marquez A+ Marquez finally bested his archrival in 2012 with an electrifying sixth-round KO of Manny Pacquiao. Landing the best right hand of his career, Marquez raised his hands at the end of the fight having achieved his ultimate professional triumph. Earlier in the year, he had an easy marking-time victory against Serhiy Fedchenko in front of an adoring Mexico City crowd.

5. Sergio Martinez B+ Martinez had rough moments in both of his 2012 fights. Against Matthew Macklin, Martinez gave up a number of rounds as he waited to land with big counter shots. He was knocked down in the 7th (more of a balance issue) but finally landed his big left hands in the 11th to earn a stoppage. Against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Martinez boxed beautifully through 11 rounds before getting caught in the 12th. In the Round of the Year, Martinez had to use all of his heart, determination and guile to survive the round and win the fight. He made it to the final bell and secured the victory, but as a top fighter he had never before looked so vulnerable.

6. Manny Pacquiao C+ In his first fight of the year, Pacquiao was robbed of a comfortable decision against Timothy Bradley. To my eyes, Pacquiao won a minimum of eight rounds. Somehow, two incompetent judges saw the fight differently. In his next fight, Pacquiao had a number of sublime moments against Marquez. He knocked him down in the fifth round with a blazing left hand. His hand speed and combinations looked excellent throughout the fight. However, Pacquiao was knocked down with a looping right hand in the third round and was finished by a counter right in the sixth. He ended the year lying face up on the MGM Grand canvas. He no longer has a claim to the best fighter in the sport.

7. Wladimir Klitschko A He made three more defenses this year – all against rather pedestrian competition. He dominated Jean Marc Mormeck and Tony Thompson (a rematch) and perhaps put forth one of the most spirited efforts of his career against Mariusz Wach. Klitschko took some very big right hands from Wach, and instead of retreating from Wach's power, Wlad went on the offensive, showing a level of aggression that had often been lacking in his career.

8. Vitali Klitschko A- Vitali had to overcome an injured left hand to defeat Dereck Chisora. With just one hand, he won nine or ten rounds. He ended the year against an overmatched Manuel Charr, scoring an easy fourth-round knockout.

9. Timothy Bradley B Winning four rounds against Manny Pacquiao is no small feat. Although Bradley was awarded a bogus split decision over Pacquiao, he demonstrated that he had the talent to stay competitive with one of the top fighters in the sport. Unfortunately, Bradley remained on the shelf for the rest of the year. There were fights for him to take, but nothing that motivated him enough to step in the ring.

10. Brian Viloria A+ Viloria ascended the pound-for-pound rankings in 2012 with a 9th-round stoppage of his nemesis, Omar Nino Romero, and a thrilling 10th-round TKO of fellow flyweight titleholder Hernan Marquez. Viloria dropped Marquez three times in the fight and put together the defining performance of his professional career. He might be the best fighter of the smaller weight classes.

11. Abner Mares A- Mares moved up to the junior featherweight division and easily dispatched faded former junior bantamweight champion Eric Morel. Later in the year, Mares won a controversial match over top bantamweight fighter Anselmo Moreno. In that fight, Mares continued a pattern in his career of committing serious fouls – hitting low, behind the head and in the back. Nevertheless, he took the fight to the skilled counterpuncher and executed a brilliant game plan. In addition, when hurt later in the fight, Mares showed his versatility by countering well off of the ropes.

12. Roman Gonzalez A In 2012, Gonzalez continued his reign of terror in the lighter weights, notching four more victories, three of them by early knockout. Two of his fights (Manuel Jimenez – KO 1 and Stiven Moterrosa – TKO 3) were marking-time bouts, but against more sterling opposition, he bested former light flyweight champion Ramon Hirales (KO 4) and Juan Estrada (comfortable decision). The fight against Estrada was a thrilling action fight.

13. Carl Froch A+ Rebounding wonderfully from his 2011 loss to Andre Ward in the Super Six finals, Froch scored a shocking upset win over Lucian Bute, scoring a fifth-round TKO in a fight that he dominated from the opening bell. Froch ended the year by dismantling the overmatched Yusaf Mack in three rounds.

14. Robert Guerrero A- Stepping up two weight classes, Guerrero established himself as one of the top welterweights in the sport by soundly defeating Selcuk Aydin, winning a wide decision, and besting Andre Berto in a brutal slugfest. Guerrero displayed a solid chin at the new weight and an aggressive attitude. He put Berto down on the canvas twice. His two wins were impressive although both opponents had their moments, even in defeat.

15. Anselmo Moreno B Moreno cruised to a dominant ninth-round TKO earlier in the year against David de la Mora and then moved up to junior featherweight to face Abner Mares. Moreno spent most of the early rounds against Mares in retreat, unable to consistently thwart Mares' aggression. In addition, Moreno tasted the canvas in the fifth round. Moreno did come on in the second half of the fight and the wide scores in Mares' favor failed to reflect how competitive Moreno was in the match. Nevertheless, Mares dictated the action and pace of the fight. Moreno admitted disappointment after the match at failing to execute his game plan.

16. Chris John B John continued his run of decisioning unheralded fighters in 2012. He beat Japan's Shoji Kimura and Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo. John demonstrated his boxing prowess against these lesser foes but his overall slate of opponents was disappointing. Again.

17. Marco Huck B Huck had a truly odd 2012. Starting off on a high note, he fought top heavyweight Alexander Povetkin to fairly even terms although he lost a majority decision. Next, he dropped back down to cruiserweight and engaged in a thrilling rematch with Ola Afolabi (Huck won a tight decision over him in 2009). Featuring a 12th round that was a candidate for Round of the Year, both fighters went toe-to-toe with Huck getting the better of the action. The bout was correctly scored a draw, with Huck not starting early enough in the fight to earn the decision. In his final match of 2012, Huck struggled against 42-year-old, former cruiserweight titlist Firat Arslan. Arslan came forward with tons of pressure while Huck tried to pick Arslan off with hard counter shots. Huck wound up winning a disputed decision.

18. Yuriorkis Gamboa D+ Gamboa backed out of a potential Fight of the Year against Brandon Rios early in 2012. He then entered into a contract dispute with Top Rank. After many months on the sidelines, Gamboa settled with Top Rank and signed a contract with Curtis Jackson (50 Cent). In his only action inside of the ring in 2012, Gamboa wound up on a Top Rank card and defeated tough junior lightweight Michael Farenas. Gamboa sent Farenas to the canvas twice but in classic Gamboa fashion, he was also knocked down. He showed flashes of brilliance in the fight, as well as considerable sluggishness and ring rust. 2012 was pretty much a wasted year for him.

19. Chad Dawson C Dawson was able to solve the riddle of Bernard Hopkins early in 2012. He did a wonderful job of staying disciplined and winning rounds despite Hopkins' legendary gamesmanship and illegal ring tactics. Dawson won a majority decision but it was tough to see how he lost more than three rounds. After the fight, he challenged Andre Ward, and while the impulse to fight the best should be commended, he was out of his league in that match. He had no answer for Ward's left hook and was sent to the canvas three times before the fight was stopped.

20. Daniel Geale A Geale did the unthinkable in 2012 by somehow winning a second middleweight title on German soil. The Australian boxed wonderfully to win a split decision over favorite Felix Sturm. Earlier in the year, he was victorious in a marking-time defense against Osumanu Adama in Tasmania. 

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