Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Facebook Boxing Group

I have created a new boxing group on Facebook – SN Boxing (here's the link). For those of you who were on the old Saturday Night Boxing Facebook forum, the new group will have some similarities as well as a few different features. SN Boxing will of course be a place to discuss boxing and have some fun conversation. The group setting (as opposed to a page) will make it easier to facilitate discussions and have your posts read. I'm not sure if I will post as frequently as I did on the old page but we'll see how it goes.
 
As far as goals for the new group, I'm less interested in the overall number of people who join than the quality of conversation. There won't be any advertising for the group; I just want it to be active and enjoyable. And frankly, with the changes in how people interact with Facebook, I'm not sure that I could ever hope to attain the previous level of participation that I did with the old forum. In 2015, people use Facebook differently than they did in 2011. Most of you now read Facebook content primarily on your mobile device; in 2011, it was just a fraction of users who did that. Anecdotally, it also seems that people use Facebook far less or at least in a more dispersed manner than they did a few years ago. Nevertheless, Facebook still provides a great forum for voicing opinions, attaching links, posting pictures, starting discussions and interacting.
 
For those who are interested, it appears that Facebook removed the old Saturday Night Boxing page. I'm not sure why. I contacted the company dozens of times and only received a form letter back. Obviously, it was a huge blow to me personally in that I had spent a considerable amount of time and financial resources to grow the page. I think at 78,000 strong, it was the largest boxing forum on Facebook. After it was taken down, I wasn't sure if I wanted to press on in that format.
 
In the interim, I was touched by how many of you contacted me. Wanting to know what happened to the page and giving me encouragement, you definitely helped lift my spirits. As the weeks dragged on, I really missed the banter and shooting the shit with some knowledgeable and passionate boxing fans – thus it was time to get back to it.
 
So I hope you will give the new group a chance and definitely feel free to invite your boxing friends to join in the fun. You are a big part of the reason why this is so enjoyable for me. As always, you can also find me on Twitter at @snboxing and my writing at www.saturdaynightboxing.com. Finally, thanks for the continued support over the years.
 
Now, let's talk about the fights.
 
Adam

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On Mike Alvarado

I have declined to write a straight preview article for Saturday's third matchup between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado. Although their first two meetings were unforgettable wars and their third bout certainly qualifies as a notable event on the boxing calendar, I don’t believe that Saturday will deliver a particularly memorable fight. I'm not knocking HBO for purchasing Saturday's matchup or Top Rank for arranging it. And I will definitely be watching. However, I don't feel very confident about what Alvarado has left in his career.

Consider Alvarado's last bout against Juan Manuel Marquez in April, where he was shockingly tentative throughout large portions of the match. Think about his repeated mentions in the police blotter. I'm not really sure if he’s "all there" as a fighter or an individual at this point.

Alvarado, like Rios, has been in a number of brutal slugfests in the ring. However, he no longer seems to possess the same zest for fighting that Rios does. Over the last few years, he has been knocked out twice, changed his style repeatedly, introduced and swapped out new members of his training staff and had run-ins with the law. The last time that Alvarado fought in Colorado, where Saturday’s fight will take place, he had an awful camp, during which his training staff fought one another and he spent more time being a local Denver celebrity than preparing for a tough opponent. As Alvarado approaches Saturday's fight, almost every single trend line is negative. 

Being a discerning reader, I’m sure that you can tell that I'm not particularly rosy about Alvarado’s prospects this weekend. He needed to be at his best to defeat Rios in their rematch and I believe that Mike Alvarado in January of 2015 is far from that fighter. To be fair, Rios has taken quite a beating as well over the years. And although his reflexes might have slowed down some, he still attacks unmercifully and applies relentless pressure, as long as that fighter isn't an elite guy – a status that has never been bestowed upon Alvarado. 

Let me leave you with a few paragraphs that I wrote about Alvarado after his fight with Marquez:  
"[S]ince his knockout loss to Brandon Rios, he has not demonstrated confidence in his ring performances. Each fight has seen a massive change of his style and various points of indecisiveness. He went from being a straight banger to a boxer-puncher, to a southpaw boxer to...whatever he was on Saturday. He has brought in new assistant trainers, dismissed them and hired new ones...
"On Saturday, Alvarado was a fighter who doubted his own abilities and talents. He didn't revel in combat; he often shied away from it. And unfortunately, Alvarado lacks the technical skills and athleticism to win important fights without engaging in big exchanges...
"Alvarado is in need of some serious recuperation. I'm not sure if he has the fortitude to stay on the straight-and-narrow but the ring is not the place for him right now; he is close to a broken fighter. The old Alvarado would have jumped on a wounded enemy with reckless abandon; this one hoped that his shots were enough for the bully to stay away for a while. Alvarado was spooked. And the ghosts aren't going away any time soon."  
I'd like to be wrong about Alvarado. I hope that I am. I'd like nothing more than to see this third fight live up to the high standards of the first two. I want boxing fans to see something truly memorable. But I just don't see it happening. Ultimately, I think Rios makes him fold. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter

Monday, January 19, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Stiverne-Wilder

Let's start with Deontay Wilder's poise. From the opening bell, Wilder exhibited none of the nervous energy that manifested in many of his previous performances. He moved fluidly around the ring and didn't load up on power shots. When he started to land right hands in the second round, Bermane Stiverne took them relatively well. Wilder, used to seeing opponents sprawled along the canvas from his bombs, didn't panic in this situation and stuck to his game plan.
 
Facing pressure from Stiverne, Wilder maintained his composure throughout the fight. Few opponents had dared to come forward during his developmental fights yet, on Saturday, Wilder shook off Stiverne's advances with relative ease, relying on his footwork, jab and punch arsenal to minimize Stiverne’s effectiveness.
 
Wilder's ability to relax in the ring helped answer questions about his chin. In his 13th professional fight, Wilder had been dropped by Harold Sconiers, a 17-20-2 fighter. Because of that event, many boxing observers continued to hold significant reservations (and deservedly so) about Wilder's whiskers. Throughout his development, he had faced nary a puncher and the thought was that his team had deliberately avoided matching him with anyone who could really bang. Of course, to win a championship belt, Wilder had to fight a puncher (either Wladimir Klitschko or Stiverne). And if Wilder was really glass-chinned, it was certainly possible that he could struggle against a fighter who possessed real firepower.
 
Instead, Wilder took Stiverne's shots without much of a problem. It wasn't that his defense was particularly sharp; Stiverne found him enough. No, Wilder's ring composure allowed him to stay focused and maintain his energy as the rounds progressed. He was expecting to be hit and didn't fall apart the first time that Stiverne connected with something of substance. Wilder's sparring and gym work really came into play during Saturday's fight. He had rarely been hit hard in his pro fights but yet he behaved like a seasoned pro after absorbing Stiverne's power shots.
 
Wilder took some big punches in the fourth, sixth and eighth – rounds that conceivably could have be awarded to Stiverne. To Wilder's credit, each time that Stiverne had success, he responded emphatically and won the ensuing round. This resiliency was another sign of Wilder's maturity and progression in the ring. He had rarely lost rounds as a professional but on Saturday he shrugged that off as just part of boxing. He quashed any notion of a sustained Stiverne rally and came back determined after facing duress.
 
Even though Wilder had never gone past four rounds as a pro, he maintained his conditioning and comportment throughout the 12 rounds. Of course, he was aiming for the quick knockout but that was only part of the plan. The attempt at the early KO didn't supersede winning rounds. It wasn't so much "Plan A" or "Plan B"; the two were actually interwoven. The goal was to dominate the fight. If the knockout came, that would've been ideal but Wilder and his team were certainly prepared, both physically and mentally, to go the distance.
 
Wilder had Stiverne hurt during several occasions in the fight. Wilder's actions in these instances highlighted his poise in the ring. He refused to rush in. Aware that Stiverne's counter left hook was his biggest weapon, Wilder avoided getting too close and continued to respect his opponent's power; he didn't run into too many hard counter shots. After hurting Stiverne, Wilder kept in punching range for follow up shots, not smothering himself or allowing Stiverne to tie him up and stop action. Furthermore, there were a number of times where Wilder stepped back from pressing at all, believing that Stiverne was trying to lure him into traps (he was right). Perhaps most importantly, unlike many young knockout artists, Wilder didn't gas himself going for the stoppage. Wilder may not have "finished" Stiverne but he was able to finish the fight with a new belt. His ability to pace himself for 12 rounds was a big reason why the title changed hands.
 
In the 12th round, when a desperate Stiverne had success in the first minute, Wilder acted like a seasoned pro by using his body to lay on Stiverne against the ropes, neutralizing his power and smothering his work rate. Wilder clearly understood the task at hand. He wasn't worried about giving up the round; he was concerned with minimizing big shots and staying on his feet. Again, this was Wilder's first time in the championship rounds and he performed like a savvy veteran.
 
In short, Wilder's performance was terrific. He won by a wide unanimous decision (120-107, 119-108 and 118-109). Going into the fight, he was a giant question mark. No one knew if his stamina, chin or composure could hold up for a distance fight and he passed these tests with flying colors. Sure, there are still things that he needs to work on – he jumps at too many feints, he lowers his hands too much when an opponent goes to his body, he's doesn't effectively counterpunch and his defensive technique slips when facing combinations – but these are not tragic problems for a relatively inexperienced and young heavyweight (29) to have. There's a lot of good stuff here.
 
Having poise, power and the desire to improve, Wilder has the foundation to be a significant player in the heavyweight division for a long time. What he needs now are more rounds and some fine tuning. I have no doubt that Wilder's trainer, Mark Breland, can further refine the fighter's glove positioning on defense and other related issues; the core skills are there.
 
As for Stiverne, although he couldn't get off enough during the fight, he still had his moments. I'm sure that his power punches and hard combos in rounds four, six and eight would have bested a number of top heavyweights, but Wilder took everything far better than anticipated.
 
Stiverne had trouble establishing his counter left hook and he only attempted a couple of overhand rights (that punch seemed to be there for him). Throwing mostly one punch at a time throughout the fight, he had some limited success with body shots and right crosses. Stiverne, a natural counterpuncher, looked uncomfortable pressuring Wilder and he lacked the footwork or punch activity to trouble him consistently. As I write this, Stiverne is still in the hospital suffering the effects of dehydration; that condition could help explain some aspects of his lowered activity level on Saturday, but only some. Wilder's skills played a much larger part in Stiverne's loss.
 
Far more than a mere knockout artist, Wilder showed that he has a number of dimensions in the ring. He won several rounds on Saturday with just his jab. In addition, he used his left hook expertly to thwart an advancing Stiverne. His movement was also fantastic. He maneuvered the ring beautifully, using quick lateral movement and refusing to stay in the pocket too long. This limited Stiverne's opportunities for success.
 
Although Wilder answered a number of questions with his performance on Saturday, several additional concerns will now come into play. Just as one never knows how a fighter will react to getting hit, one can't be certain how a boxer will respond to being a champion. Will Wilder continue to work hard in the gym? Does he understand that he still needs to get better? Will he remain disciplined?
 
As an American heavyweight titlist (Wlad Klitschko is obviously the champion in the division) and an Olympian, Wilder will have umpteen opportunities and distractions coming his way. If he keeps his head on straight, he could earn some serious money in his career as well as help to grow the sport in America. Numerous special interests have a lot riding on Wilder. There will be significant pressure for him to perform, both in and out of the ring. How Wilder handles his elevated status in the sport will be fascinating. Whether he acknowledges it or not, he is now a star. And with that status comes all of the glory and trappings. For the good of the sport, let's hope that Wilder stays focused in the ring and in his personal life. There is a lot to like here and boxing in America gets only so many opportunities to make an impact in today's competitive sports landscape. Let's hope that Wilder opens up new doors.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catching up with Thomas Williams, Jr.

Light heavyweight Thomas Williams, Jr. (18-1, 12 KOs) had a very eventful 2014. Winning a shootout against Cornelius White in the Saturday Night Boxing Round of the Year, Williams scored a sensational opening-round knockout but also tasted the canvas for the first time in his career. He followed up that performance with a third-round stoppage over the usually durable Enrique Ornelas.

His biggest test of the year occurred in August against former titleholder Gabriel Campillo. The fight was an IBF eliminator. Williams had success in the early rounds but gut cut in the fourth, which significantly affected his performance. After the fifth round, the doctor stopped the contest, resulting in Williams' only loss of his professional career. Williams rebounded later in the year with a wide decision victory over Michael Gbenga.

In 2015, the 27-year-old Maryland native hopes to land a title shot. Advised by powerful boxing broker Al Haymon, Williams looks forward to getting the big fights that could put him at the top echelon of the 175-lb. division.

In the following interview, Williams, discusses the aftermath of his first defeat, his relationship with Al Haymon, his surprise at the death of Dan Goossen (who was the promoter for a number of his fights) and two potential futures opponents. Please note, a portion of my interview with Williams appeared in the 2014 Saturday Night Boxing Awards article, where he talked extensively about his fight with White – that content won't be repeated here but it's certainly worth checking out.

Interview edited and condensed by Adam Abramowitz

Thomas, thank you for your time today. I know that you were recently in a car accident. Is everything OK?

Yeah, I’m OK. It was a very bad collision. I was coming home from my stepdad’s birthday celebration and a drunk driver ran a red light and hit us. I went to the hospital and got checked out – me and my two daughters and my fiancé – but everything’s cool though. We were lucky to walk away with no injuries. 

Well I’m glad to hear that. That's very good news.

I wanted to talk about the Gabriel Campillo fight. It was an IBF eliminator and a step-up fight as he was a former champion. You were doing really well in the first couple of rounds. What was the game plan for Campillo? 

The game plan for Campillo was to stay inside of his chest. I thought that I was controlling the fight beautifully. I thought I controlled every round [early]. In the second or third round, before the cut, he threw a jab. If you were watching the fight, you could tell that something had happened. I went into a different mode. What happened was when he threw a jab – I don’t know if it was intentional or unintentional – the jab caught me with the thumb in the eye and I went blurry. It’s like you're in a pool and you get out of the pool and you have that cloudiness in your eye. That’s what happened in the third round. It was so cloudy I couldn’t even see out of my left eye.

And then, maybe the fourth round, he cut me. Of course, people would say, “Oh he went into a different fight mode.” Of course you’re going to go into a different fight mode. Same thing with the Cornelius White fight when I got dropped. It went from boxing this guy to a fight now, a brawl. When I got cut, of course it’s a different fight now. Now I'm trying to get away from punches. Hopefully this thing would clear up in a couple of rounds so that I could get back to work. But it never cleared up.
  
What was going on in the corner between rounds? Between the fourth and the fifth, there was a lot of work being done on the cut. What was the communication between you and your trainer? What advice were you getting?  

My cutman was on the inside. My trainer was on the outside. He still wanted me to stay on his chest and Mike [Rodriguez] was working on the cut and Rob [Paterson], my trainer, asked me if I could see. I was like, no, I can’t see but just clean my eye and I should be good. And if you look back at the fight I kept saying, “Wipe my eye. Wipe my eye. Wipe my eye.” I was hoping that when my eye was wiped up, it would clear up and I could go back to work but it only got worse after that.

After the round, I came back. He [my trainer] asked if I could see. I said "no." I think he then might have grabbed the doctor. And the doctor came to me and said can you see. On instinct, the first thing I said is that I want to fight. And he said, you can’t see. I’m going to stop the fight. And then he told the referee and the referee stopped the fight.  

You’re a big prospect. You’re coming up in the sport. How tough was that first loss for you? What was that first week like when you returned home? 

Oh man. I’m not even going to lie. It’s not even the first week, the first month maybe. I just kind of moped around the house a little bit. With me, I like to represent my family, my mom, my dad. I felt like I let them down. They kept telling me I didn’t let them down but I felt that's what they're supposed to tell me. I actually didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of my fiancé. I didn’t even want to talk to my mom and my dad or my trainer because I felt like I let them down.

I was real tough on myself. When I got home, I saw my daughters. I kind of got away from boxing. I didn’t really think about it as much. My daughters were in the house and that’s all I could really think about. 

I was just joking with fiancé in the room about an hour ago. I said, this past year, 2014, I was a prospect. Next year, I got to get fights. I’m past a prospect now. 

Have you seen the Campillo fight again? If so, what are your thoughts looking back on it? 

Honestly, I never watched it. I don’t want to watch it. I have it right now on my DVR. I have all my fights saved. When I go out of town, I set up a recorder and record it when I’m gone but that’s the one fight that I haven’t watched.  

You returned to the ring at the end of 2014 with a decision victory against Michael Gbenga. How did that fight go in your opinion? 

It went really good. I had seen him fight Badou Jack. I heard about him fighting Phil Jackson [Benson]. Every time this guy got hit with a body shot, he complained that it’s low and this and that. When Badou Jack hit him with a body shot, he just stayed on the ground and they stopped the fight in the third round I think. Badou Jack got the win. 

So when the referee came to me before the fight, I said when I go to the body he’s going to act like it’s low. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a big body puncher. So, the first round I punish him to the body. He goes to the referee and the referee says, “Tommy, you got to keep them up.” And I said, I told you before the fight this guy was going to cry. 

Other than that, I think I dropped him twice [it was once]. I hurt him. He hit me with a nice shot, a right hand in the ninth round, but it didn’t put me down or anything. I followed the plan. I went out there, got my rounds in. I boxed him good. I hurt him. The only thing I didn’t get was the knockout victory.  

What are you working on right now in the gym? I know that every fighter wants to add something to his arsenal or work on improving. What are you focusing on right now?

I was actually in the gym right after the fight. I haven’t been in since the accident but I’ll be back in the gym on Monday. What we’re working on now is just staying sharp because my fights are spread apart – three or four months apart. When we take the time off, it’s hard to get back to that mode. Now we’re going right back to the gym after the fight, just trying to stay sharp. So when we come back, we won't feel like we're starting at 50% or 40%. We’re now at 90% or 100%. 

I know that a lot of people in boxing are interested in Al Haymon and that he’s your advisor. What’s the process like in terms of getting a new fight? How does a new fight get set up? 

I don’t know about everybody else but with me personally…after the fight, Al would call me and say this and that – when are you looking to get back in there. After this last fight, one of the people who work for him called me and asked me when I’m looking to get back in and I said I wanted to take Christmas off and I wanted to get back in in February. Usually, they just call me after the fight.  

Dan Goossen was the promoter for some of your fights. What was your relationship like with him and what did his passing mean to you?  

Ah man. I had a big relationship with Dan Goossen. He wasn’t my [contracted] promoter or anything but he promoted my last five fights. We had a real good relationship. He wanted to take me all the way to the light heavyweight championship. It was sad that we couldn’t do it together.
  
When I heard about it, I had just seen him in August, when I fought Campillo, and we had a good conversation. We were talking in the lobby for about 30 minutes. And there wasn’t a sign or anything. So when I heard about it, it was pretty much a shock to me. It hurt me. I tried to go back and think, “Did he show me anything?” No, he seemed good. He seemed healthy. He seemed like the same Dan. It definitely hurt me.  

Another thing I wanted to ask you about it the D.C./Maryland boxing scene. I know that there are a number of young, emerging fighters from the area – Gary Russell Jr., Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, the Peterson brothers. Are you guys close with each other? 

I’m pretty much cool with most all of them, probably 80% of the D.C. fighters. I'm real close with the Petersons. I talk with Lamont [Peterson] pretty frequently. I’m cool with Dusty and Gary. But of course there are those who don’t see eye-to-eye with some people. And that‘s just life. That’s not even boxing. That’s life, period. But for the most part, I’m basically cool with everybody. Some people might have problems with me but that’s because they see me on the tube every time they turn it on.
  
For 2015, what are you hoping to accomplish? If 2015 is a good year, this will happen. What is “this” for you?  

If 2015 is a good year, Thomas Williams will be fighting for a world championship. All it is now is fights. It’s no more building now. When you get to over 15, 16 fights, it’s time to go now. Some guys get a world title before that. I think Rigondeaux fought for a title at 8-0. Lomachenko fought for a title at 1-0. So it’s time to go. There’s no more building me up. 

I know that you’re a big fight fan. Would you like to share any thoughts about the Hopkins-Kovalev fight, two big guns in your division? What did you see in that fight?

Honestly, I was very impressed with Sergey Kovalev. He paced himself because he probably knew that Bernard would be in for the long haul. We didn’t know about Kovalev’s wind because he never went past seven or eight rounds before. He was smart. He dished a little bit here, coasted a little there. I think he saved it all…he closed the show beautifully. He did a number on Bernard in the 12th round.  

If you had a choice about realistic opponents, who are a couple of guys who you would like to fight next? 

Anybody. Anybody in front of me. I’ve always said that. Because if you’re in front of me, I have to beat you so you can get behind me.  

It doesn’t matter. There have been a couple of guys calling me out on the Internet. Blake Caparello. I don’t know much about him. 

Kovalev knocked him out in two rounds last year. 

Yeah, he can get it. I want to fight him. There’s another guy who fought Eleider Alvarez. He's from South Africa, Ryno Liebenberg. I don’t even know these guys but for them to be hitting me up on my twitter page trying to fight me, I must be doing something right. I don’t even know Blake Caparello and he hit me up trying to make a fight. It was between the Ornelas and the Campillo fight. He said why don't you push this other guy to the side. If I don't get the Kovalev fight, let's rock it, me and you.  

They both hit me up. I didn't know them. But after they hit me up, I looked them up. I know that South African guy could take a butt whooping, the one Alvarez beat up. He was beaten to a pulp. His face was all messed up. 

I know that I could give Caparello a boxing lesson. So you can put Blake Caparello and this punching bag [Liebenberg]…you know in all the interviews I do, I never call anybody out, but these two guys have been talking a lot of trash. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pound-for-Pound Update 1-5-15

The new year has just started but there has already been a significant addition to the Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list. Japan's Naoya Inoue debuts in the Rankings after knocking out Omar Narvaez, who entered their fight as the top junior bantamweight in the world. Earlier in the year, Inoue also stopped the number-one boxer at junior flyweight, Adrian Hernandez. 2014 was a fantastic year for Inoue. He enters the Rankings at #11.
 
2014 has turned into 2015 and yet no new fight has been announced for Andre Ward. I have been patient with the ranking of Ward, who hasn't fought in over a year, but enough is enough. He exits the pound-for-pound list and when he finally returns to the ring, his status will be reconsidered.
 
Going forward, I will use the following policy: After a year of inactivity, I will remove a boxer unless he has a fight scheduled. So for Ward, he goes. And later this month, Mikey Garcia, who hasn't fought since last January, will exit as well if there is no announcement of an upcoming bout.
 
On another note, Tim Bradley was not penalized in the Rankings for his draw with Diego Chaves. Almost all observers had Bradley winning and the official verdict does not reflect a decline in Bradley's skill level or his recent accomplishments in the ring. 
 
Here is the updated Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list:
  1. Floyd Mayweather
  2. Roman Gonzalez
  3. Wladimir Klitschko
  4. Manny Pacquiao
  5. Juan Manuel Marquez
  6. Tim Bradley
  7. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  8. Carl Froch
  9. Sergey Kovalev
  10. Juan Estrada
  11. Naoya Inoue
  12. Adonis Stevenson
  13. Miguel Cotto
  14. Danny Garcia
  15. Gennady Golovkin
  16. Saul Alvarez
  17. Takashi Uchiyama
  18. Shinsuke Yamanaka
  19. Mikey Garcia
  20. Terence Crawford
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter

Friday, January 2, 2015

The 2014 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

Although boxing in 2014 may have lacked the firepower of previous years, there were certainly many worthy performances. My awards for this year lean internationally (2014 was a relatively weak campaign on the American boxing scene). This year, I've handed out hardware to fighters and entities from Japan, Argentina, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. So let's commence with the celebratory aspects of the year that just passed. Without further ado, here are the 2014 Saturday Night Boxing Awards: 

Fighter of the Year: Naoya Inoue

One of the most rewarding aspects of following boxing is how the sport never fails to introduce new stars, often ones whose rapid ascension is unanticipated. A year ago, Naoya Inoue was a 20-year-old hotshot junior flyweight prospect from Japan who had only participated in five professional fights. Yes, much was expected from him but very few could have predicted the success or impact that he had on boxing this year.

Inoue started off his 2014 campaign by defeating the top junior flyweight in the division, Mexico's Adrian Hernandez, stopping him in the sixth round. After a marking-time defense against Thailand's Samartlek Kokietgym (scoring two knockdowns before getting an 11th-round stoppage), Inoue stunned the boxing community by moving up two divisions to take on the number-one junior bantamweight in the world, Argentina's Omar Narvaez. Inoue made quick work of Narvaez, dropping him four times in two rounds, earning a second-round KO victory. It was a marvelous display of virtuosity.

Although there were a number of other fighters who had impressive years in 2014, Inoue wins Fighter of the Year based on the quality of his opponents and his dominance in those outings. 

Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:
2013: Adonis Stevenson 
2012: Nonito Donaire
2011: Andre Ward  
______________________________________________________

Fight of the Year: Coyle-Brizuela

Before I wax on about this crazy affair, maybe it's best that you refamiliarize yourself with it. The link is below:

http://youtu.be/cWe1-Ktr8rI
 
Tommy Coyle entered 2014 as a middling British lightweight prospect who had lost to gatekeepers Derry Matthews and Gary Sykes (that fight was part of the Prizefighter series and only consisted of three rounds). Argentina's Daniel Brizuela had amassed a number of wins in his home country but had lost his only prior fight abroad. His record indicated a lack of power (only 8 knockouts in 27 fights). The bout took place in Coyle's hometown of Hull.
 
This fight was riveting: eight knockdowns, three point deductions and a half-dozen or so serious swings in momentum. Prior to the 11th round, Sky Sports' Nick Halling said, "Is there one more big twist in this one?" Of course, there were still four more knockdowns to follow.

The early rounds, while engrossing, were nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Brizuela landed a right hand after a double jab in the second that dropped Coyle, who wasn't necessarily hurt by the shot. In the early portions of the fight, Brizuela used upper body movement and shoulder feints to land a variety of shots to the head and body. He was very cagey. Coyle struggled to put punches together but he did land some hard single right hands. Overall, the opening frames were close.

In the sixth round, Brizuela connected with a pulverizing left hook to the body that sent Coyle to the canvas. Coyle was in obvious pain but he somehow made it to his feet. Still reeling from the shot, he parked himself on the ropes and ate tons of leather, throwing the random left hook so that ref Steve Gray wouldn't feel inclined to stop the fight. Seconds later, Brizuela returned to the body with a left hook and Coyle met the canvas for the second time in the round. Again, Coyle beat the count, which seemed to demoralize Brizuela, who may have temporarily punched himself out going for the KO. Despite being knocked down twice in the round, Coyle seized momentum. He rallied to close out the round and had a solid seventh.

In the eighth, Coyle landed a huge right hand that staggered Brizuela and was able to score his first knockdown with some follow up shots. Aggressively going after Brizuela after the knockdown, Coyle strayed low and was deducted a point (he had been warned previously), which gave Brizuela time to survive. In the ninth, Brizuela fought with more energy. Gray took a B.S. point from him for a low blow but he followed up after the point deduction with a savage attack to Coyle's body.

Entering the 11th, the fight was still on the table. As riveting as the match had been, the fight was about to enter truly special territory. Brizuela landed yet another hard body shot that sent Coyle down. However, after rising, Coyle immediately returned the favor, dropping Brizuela with the first shot that he threw, a bracing right hand. Brizuela was hurt badly by the punch and was soon sent down again from another right hand. As Brizuela attempted to survive, Gray deducted a second point from Coyle for hitting on the break (another B.S. point deduction) and the bell sounded. It was absolutely wild action.

As the fighters made their way out for the 12th, the crowd stood and cheered; they knew that they were witnessing an absolutely epic battle. Shortly into the final round, Coyle landed yet another huge right hand and Brizuela hit the canvas. He pounded the ground and rose by the count of six. Gray took a long look at Brizuela's eyes and stopped the contest, giving Coyle a TKO win.

Having rewatched the ending of the fight, I'll give Gray the benefit of the doubt on the stoppage. Although Brizuela was aware of his surroundings, he seemed to have a blank look in his eyes; the referee was well within his right to end the contest at that point. Even though the fight's conclusion had some mild controversy, very few will remember the details of the stoppage. But what won't be forgotten will be their brutal, relentless war, where both fighters exhibited the guts and courage that exemplify the best aspects of the sport.

Previous SNB Fights of the Year:
2013: Bradley-Provodnikov
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
2011: Rios-Acosta    
__________________________________________________________________

Knockout of the Year: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

After suffering a knockout loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in 2012, Andy Lee, with new trainer Adam Booth, patiently worked his way back to more significant fights. His next four opponents were pedestrian. He beat them all but his performances weren't particularly sharp. However, given a chance to appear on an HBO pay per view undercard, Lee made the curious decision to drop down to 154 lbs. to face John Jackson, a hard puncher from the U.S. Virgin Islands who was also the son of legendary heavy-hitter Julian Jackson.

Jackson got off to a great start in the fight by scoring a knockdown in the first round. He caught Lee with a huge right hook from the southpaw stance – Jackson switched up throughout the fight but is naturally an orthodox fighter. The early rounds of the match mostly favored Jackson, who landed the cleaner, harder punches. However, Lee used the fight's early frames to measure his opponent and set traps. He noticed that Jackson liked to lunge in with his right hand, which made him vulnerable to counter shots. Lee saw that opportunity and looked to counter Jackson's tendency with his right hook. Throughout the first rounds of the fight, he tried to draw the right hand from Jackson so that he could counter with the hook.

In the fifth, Lee's strategy hit pay dirt. Forward the clip below to 19:15 to start the final exchange.

http://youtu.be/QsT_Qh-TaoY
 

After landing a right hand, Jackson trapped Lee along the ropes. Lee was able to neutralize the follow up shots and punched his way out. However, Jackson was in hot pursuit. Jackson loaded up with a big right hand but Lee got there first with a right hook. Down Jackson went. And he stayed down. And he stayed down. And he stayed down.
 
Although Jackson may have gotten the better of Lee on the scorecards prior to the fifth, the fight played out exactly how Lee had hoped. His final right hook was set up throughout the earlier portions of the fight and it was a sensational knockout. He would go on to use that punch to win a middleweight title later on in the year. 
 
Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:
2013: Stephen Smith KO 5 Gary Buckland 
2012: Juan Manuel Marquez KO 6 Manny Pacquiao
2011: Takashi Uchiyama TKO 11 Jorge Solis 
________________________________________________________________
 
Round of the Year: Thomas Williams Jr. - Cornelius White Round 1

Now this one was a shootout. Take a look:
 

The action went as follows: knockdown by Williams, knockdown by White, knockdown by Williams and then Williams jumping on White, forcing the ref to stop the fight. Instead of going on and on about this scintillating round, I'd rather have you hear it from Williams directly. I interviewed him for this article and his words about the fight are below:

"I was expecting for it to be a tough fight. All the people who had stopped him, like Donovan George and Sergey Kovalev, were big punchers. He had beaten the guy who Adonis Stevenson just fought, Dmitry Sukhotsky, for an IBF international belt. So I was expecting a tough fight. We worked hard for that fight.

"I hit him with the [first] left hand and he went down. I said to myself, 'Man, I can step to this guy.' But I went in overanxiously...and he used his veteran experience, stepped back, let me walk to him and he threw a punch; actually, he caught me between punches. The punch wasn't really something that hurt me. It caught me more off guard than anything. When he hit me I said, 'Aw man, I'm down,' and that changed my whole outlook on the fight. Now I'm walking to this guy and getting him out of here.

"We have this technique in the gym where we fight three-minute rounds and then for 30 seconds I will stand up and do windmills. And when the 30 seconds are over, I get back to fighting. When you're doing windmills things are going to be off. Things are shifting. My balance isn't good. And I really think that played a part [in the White fight] because when I got up, it was nothing like the windmill, which was way worse than that [the knockdown]. When I got up, I was still pretty good; but the windmill was tough.

"If you look [after getting up from the knockdown], I threw a short hook before the left hand. I actually got that from Rico Ramos. Ramos fought the night before. I saw the fight and Ramos, who is a southpaw like me, caught him with a right hook. And my trainer told me all you have to do is catch him with the left hand and it clicked in my mind – throw the left hand behind the hook. I actually was just going to throw the hook. And he walked right in to it. It bothered him. He got the stinky-leg.

"When I hit him with that, he was still coming forward. I had just gotten dropped before that, so I didn't know how hurt my legs were. I was just stepping back, stepping back, stepping back. I threw the hook like he did it to me when he put me down."

"It's so crazy. People won't believe this. My trainer kept saying hit him on the side of the head or on his temple. He said if you hit him on the temple, it's going to throw everything off... And when I threw it, and after the fight ended, I told my coach, 'You were right.'

"I was trying to end it. It was kill or be killed. Once he put me down for the first time, in front of my mom and my fiancé...it was kill or be killed. I know that they were hysterical. They told me after the fight that they were jumping up and down. I think my mom was jumping up in the stands after I went down and fell. That was the first time they had seen something like that.

"I didn't think it would be over so fast. When we got back to the dressing room after the fight, I had my team in there. They were jumping up and down and so happy. I was sitting down on the chair saying, like, 'Man, it's over so quick.' It seemed like an out-of body experience. I walked out for the fight and by the time I could really think about it I was back in the dressing room.

"After the fight, we went to Longhorn. And they had ESPN's top-10 plays on and I made number-six. That's the night that Carmelo [Anthony] had 51 points for New York. Carmelo was number-one. And I'm in the restaurant and people are seeing me and they're coming up to me asking for autographs. That was something I had never felt before. I was walking through the airport and people were recognizing me. That was just a different type of feeling for me."  

Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:
2013: Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov Round 12
2012: Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Round 12
2011: Hernan Marquez-Luis Concepcion I Round 1
__________________________________________________________

Upset of the Year: (tie) James De la Rosa UD Alfredo Angulo and Tommy Karpency SD Chad Dawson

The winners of these bouts were "opponents" and certainly weren't supposed to be victorious. Alfredo Angulo had looked utterly lifeless in his previous fight against Saul Alvarez and Chad Dawson was working his way back from his knockout loss to Adonis Stevenson. They both were trying to get back to the upper reaches of the sport. De la Rosa had two losses to fringe prospects (Marcus Willis and Allen Conyers) and Karpency had a recent knockout loss to Andrzej Fonfara and a shutout defeat against Nathan Cleverly.

Nevertheless, both underdogs took it to their opponents in the early rounds, besting them with punch volume and perhaps most importantly, effort. De La Rosa even scored a knockdown in the second round. Dawson didn't open the fight with enough urgency and Angulo appeared as if he was stuck in quicksand. Eventually, Dawson forged a late rally in the second half while Angulo had his own moments towards the end of the fight; however, both fell short.

Shockingly, but more importantly, justly, Karpency won a decision in Dawson's backyard of Connecticut. And although Angulo-De La Rosa was never really that close, boxing fans certainly have seen worse robberies than Angulo getting the decision. However, on these two evenings, boxing judges reminded those in the sport that some practitioners are more than capable of rendering fair verdicts, even against heavily-favored fighters.

Previous SNB Upset of the Year:
2013: Jhonny Gonzalez KO 1 Abner Mares
2012: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO 6 Pongsaklek Wonjongkam 
_________________________________________________________

Trainer of the Year: Freddie Roach

After a down year in 2012 and a middling campaign in 2013, Freddie Roach came roaring back in 2014. Manny Pacquiao reestablished his dominance by defeating Tim Bradley in a rematch of a prior dubious loss and dropping Chris Algieri six times to win a wide decision. On another pivotal front, Miguel Cotto scored three first-round knockouts and battered Sergio Martinez throughout their fight to earn a stoppage victory. Roach's only significant blemish of the season was a disputed split decision loss by Ruslan Provodnikov against Algieri. For the record, I had Provodnikov winning that fight comfortably.

And it wasn't just that Roach was victorious in his biggest matches of the year; he was instrumental in his fighters' success. His plan for Cotto was immediately to attack Martinez, who was coming off of knee and hand surgery in addition to a lengthy period of inactivity. Roach didn't want Martinez to gradually warm up and get comfortable in the fight. The idea was for Cotto to force Martinez into duress from the opening bell, testing Martinez's recovery from his injuries. By the end of the first round, Martinez was limping around on one leg; Cotto executed Roach's plan flawlessly.

In the Bradley rematch, Roach impressed upon Pacquiao to stay aggressive. Noticing that Bradley was loading up on big shots, he wanted Pacquiao to outwork Bradley in the second half. Pacquiao's high activity level in the final rounds of the fight was the key to his victory. Altogether, 2014 was a fantastic campaign for Roach as he helped two fighters regain their elite statuses in the ring.

Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:
2013: Kenny Porter
2012: Robert McCracken
2011: Robert Garcia 
_______________________________________________________

Promoter of the Year: Matchroom Sport

Well, someone had to win this award. As Golden Boy spent most of the year in self-immolation mode and none of Top Rank's big fights really caught fire, the promoter of the year surely didn't belong in the U.S. Eddie Hearn and his folks at Matchroom put on easily the grandest boxing event of the year, with 80,000 filling up Wembley Stadium in London for the Froch-Groves rematch. It was a spectacular main event and featured an unforgettable Froch knockout. Hearn dreamed big with the venue for the fight and delivered in every conceivable way.

Matchroom also had a lot of success earlier in the year with some smaller fights. Hearn was the promoter for Coyle-Brizuela, the 2014 Saturday Night Boxing Fight of the Year mentioned earlier in the article, and put on two great fights between Gavin Rees and Gary Buckland. The Anthony Crolla-John Murray scrap was also memorable. In addition, Matchroom triumphed in 2014 with Kell Brook, who went to the U.S. and relieved Shawn Porter of his welterweight title. 

Hearn also has been building prospect and Olympic hero Anthony Joshua into a true heavyweight spectacle. By keeping Joshua active and gradually increasing his competition, Hearn is helping to create a bona fide superstar if Joshua can do his part.

Not all was perfect for Hearn and Matchroom. The last half of the year featured too many mismatches. Scott Quigg has yet to step up and the Cleverly-Bellew II undercard, which was a pay per view in the U.K., was completely rancid. Hearn has talked about increasing the number of pay per views in Britain. If he follows through on this, he's going to have to provide more value for fight fans than he did in his last attempt.

Although there were some blemishes in 2014, Matchroom did a fantastic job in continuing to stoke the formidable fire that is the British fight scene. Hearn plans to start promoting in the U.S. and his ambition and impressive stable of fighters could mean big things for the sport in the next few years. 

Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:
2013: (tie) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions
2012: Golden Boy Promotions
2011: Top Rank Promotions 
_________________________________________________________
 
Network of the Year: ESPN

Similar to Promoter of the Year award, there was no slam dunk candidate in 2014 for the boxing network of the year. Sky Sports started off with an excellent boxing program in the first half of the year but the quality of its offerings showed a significant decline as the year progressed. HBO and Showtime didn't do much to distinguish themselves during the campaign. As something of a default, I will give ESPN the award.

2014 was Brian Kweder's first full year at the helm as ESPN's head of boxing programming. He showed a willingness to innovate and an opportunistic streak that helped expand the network's offerings. He greenlit the successful Boxcino tournaments that created a significant amount of buzz in the first part of the year (the tournament will return in 2015). The slate for Friday Night Fights in 2014 was also relatively strong.

Stepping outside of ESPN's traditional Friday night window, Kweder was successful in bringing several higher-profile fights to the network, including the heavyweight title bout between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola and a middleweight clash that featured Curtis Stevens against Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. On the negative side of the ledger, a fighter like Jermain Taylor, who had suffered a brain bleed in the past and had recently been accused of shooting his cousin, was not the sort of fighter that ESPN should have gotten into bed with. It was unfortunate that ESPN reached into its pockets to show his fight against Sam Soliman. 

ESPN's boxing coverage also distinguished itself in a number of other ways in 2014. The network streamed several international fights via its ESPN3 platform. In addition, the espn.com boxing website has continued to expand its offerings. Boxing editor Brian Campbell has made a nice addition to the site with the Making the Rounds feature and the website has beefed up its presence for the larger American fights. Boxing on espn.com is no longer just the Dan Rafael show. The additional voices on the site have helped to enrich the network's coverage of the sport. 

Although I still wish that Teddy Atlas would spend more time calling the action of the fights instead of fixating on an arcane topic or preparing his next rant, the quality of the Friday Night Fights broadcast has continued to improve. Todd Grisham has made a solid transition to blow-by-blow announcer and his enthusiasm is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Joe Tessitore, who in recent years often seemed uninterested in the fights in front of him (perhaps he had been burned out by one-too-many nights at the Chumash Casino). Adding the fans' scoring of the rounds via Facebook has also been a nice touch. It works as a natural corrective to Atlas' sometimes myopic focus during fights. 

ESPN had a very successful foundational year in 2014. Hopefully, its desire to expand its boxing programming and its urge to  connect with boxing fans in new ways lead to even bigger things in 2015.   

Previous SNB Networks of the Year:
2013: Showtime
2012: BoxNation
 ________________________________________________________________

Referee of the Year: Steve Smoger

Steve Smoger has built his legacy in the sport by letting the boxers themselves determine the outcome of a fight. Throughout his career, he has repeatedly demonstrated his acute talent of knowing when to stop a fight and when to let the action continue. 

In 2014, two fights in particular highlighted Smoger's skill in this area. April's heavyweight clash between Steve Cunningham and Amir Mansour was Smoger at his best. Cunningham went down twice from big shots in the fifth round. Smoger, who prides himself on studying fighters' tendencies and patterns, knew that Cunningham had demonstrated significant recuperative powers throughout his career. Although Cunningham was in pretty bad shape after the second knockdown, Smoger gave him a long look (perhaps a little too long) and let the fight continue. Cunningham went on to score a knockdown of his own in the 10th round and wound up winning a highly entertaining fight. With many refs, Cunningham never would have seen the sixth round.  

In July, undefeated prospect Mark Davis was taking on Michael Farenas. As the fight progressed, Farenas nailed Davis repeatedly with big left hands. Davis never went down but he was taking real punishment. His body language was also bad. Smoger wound up stopping the fight in the eighth round. Davis remained on his feet the whole night but it was the right call. 

Smoger demonstrated in these two bouts that he has a very strong understanding of the fighters in the ring. His decisions of when and when not to halt action were spot-on. In one case, Smoger's judgment enabled a fighter to rally for a big win. In the second, he helped a boxer see another day, saving him from a weak corner. This is what a referee should be doing – make it about the fighters whenever possible and protect them when no one else will.  

Previous SNB Referees of the Year:
2013: Tony Weeks
2012: Eddie Claudio

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter