Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The 2016 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

After an eventful year of boxing in 2016, it's time to hand out some hardware. The 2016 Saturday Night Boxing Awards recognizes fighter, fight, knockout, round, upset, trainer, promoter, network and referee of the year. I've also listed the previous award winners. There's lots of good stuff to commemorate from the year that passed, so let's get to it!

Fighter of the Year: Carl Frampton

Carl Frampton won two 50/50-type fights in 2016 to clinch the SNB Fighter of the Year. In February, the Belfast, Ireland native won a deserved split decision over rival Scott Quigg at junior featherweight. In July, Frampton moved up to 126 lbs. to defeat Leo Santa Cruz by majority decision and win a title in a second weight class.  

Frampton didn't earn many style points for his performance against Quigg. Boxing very tentatively on the outside throughout the first half of the fight, Frampton successfully neutralized Quigg's offensive output. Although Quigg worked his way into the bout during the second half of the contest, Frampton had his best round in the fight in the 12th, which put a definitive stamp on the victory. Against Santa Cruz, Frampton won the fight in the trenches. His sharper combinations, superior accuracy and purposeful lateral movement were the deciding factors in a riveting bout. The two are scheduled to fight a rematch later in January. 

Frampton beat two world-class opponents in 2016 and although neither fight was a blow-out victory, he did more than enough to earn the two wins. Ultimately, it was a fantastic campaign for The Jackal. 

Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:
2015: Floyd Mayweather
2014: Naoya Inoue
2013: Adonis Stevenson
2012: Nonito Donaire
2011: Andre Ward


Fight of the Year: Francisco Vargas-Orlando Salido:

Sometimes a fight lives up to the hype. When the 130-lb. showdown was announced between Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido was announced, fight fans were licking their lips in anticipation of thrilling combat. Vargas, who had participated in the 2015 SNB Fight of the Year against titlist Takashi Miura, had quickly emerged as one of the supreme action fighters in boxing, and Salido had been involved in several of the best bouts in the sport in recent years. June 4th couldn't come fast enough!

In the ring, Vargas-Salido somehow exceeded expectations, featuring 12 rounds of brutal power shots and wild swings of momentum. Both fighters fired vicious body punches throughout the match, often in five-, six- and seven-punch combinations. With harrowing levels of ferocious punching and expert displays of inside fighting, Vargas-Salido was the type of combat rarely seen at boxing's top level. 

Although the fight delivered on the anticipated blood-and-guts, the match featured several unexpected twists and turns. Both fighters tried to beat their opponent with their strengths, as well as those of their foe. Vargas possessed the superior range and boxing skills but delivered fierce inside combinations throughout the match. Salido won many battles in the trenches but also consistently scored with right hooks, overhand rights and left hooks from distance. Both employed a variety of styles in attempts to assert themselves throughout the match. And somehow, neither fighter, despite absorbing scores of hellacious blows, hit the canvas (Salido in particular had been dropped with regularity in recent years). 

In the end, the bout was declared a majority draw and it was a fitting conclusion. Both fighters bent but neither broke. HBO commentator Jim Lampley had perhaps the most apt observation of the fight: "There are many, many professional prizefighters who never want to be in a fight like this, even once in their career." Truer words might not have been spoken all year. What a thrilling fight! 

Previous SNB Fights of the Year:
2015: Miura-Vargas
2014: Coyle-Brizuela
2013: Bradley-Provodnikov
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
2011: Rios-Acosta


Knockout of the Year: Hassan N'Dam KO 1 Alfonso Blanco

Of the six fighters that I've selected as Knockout of the Year winners, Hassan N'Dam is certainly the most surprising. N'Dam, a Cameroon-born, French-based middleweight has been a world-level fighter for a number of years but his power failed to manifest in title efforts against Peter Quillin and David Lemieux. In fact, N'Dam was often regarded as feather-fisted, beating opponents with his volume, footwork and tricky angles instead of brute strength or power. And although N'Dam does have a respectable 57% KO rate, you'd be hard-pressed to find a notable name on his knockout ledger.  

In time, perhaps Alfonso Blanco will be another one of N'Dam's anonymous knockout victims. Previous to this fight, Blanco was a lightly-regarded boxer (originally from Venezuela but now living in California) with a 12-0 record. Somehow, he was elevated by the WBA into fighting for an interim belt. 

N'Dam quickly took care of business. In the fight's opening moments, N'Dam threw a blinding jab and then followed up with a quick overhand right; that's all that was needed as his right hand detonated on Blanco's unprotected chin. Blanco fell face-forward to the canvas and started to convulse. The fight was immediately waved off. N'Dam's right hand was brutal and unexpected. It was the type of shot that builds a fighter's legacy and enthralls boxing fans.

Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:
2015: Yenifel Vincente KO 3 Juan Dominguez
2014: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson
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: Edwin Rodriguez-Thomas Williams, Jr. Round 2

Check out the scintillating round on the link below:

Similar to Vargas-Salido, when the spring fight between Edwin Rodriguez and Thomas Williams, Jr. was announced, hardcore fight fans salivated with thoughts of ferocious combat. Although Rodriguez and Williams may not have been as well known as the likes of Vargas or certainly Salido, both had established their bona fides as fantastic television fighters. Each had been in Fight of the Year-caliber matchups before; Rodriguez won the SNB Round of the Year in 2015 with his war with Michael Seals and Williams earned the same award in 2014 for his shootout against Cornelius White. Both light heavyweights possessed the artillery and vulnerability to make for a spectacular match. 

In the first round, both fighters looked to end it, with Rodriguez throwing huge right hands and Williams countering with right hooks and straight lefts. But the second frame is where the action really started to heat up. Rodriguez started the round with several right hands to the body. Seventy-five seconds into the round, he landed two right hands the hurt Williams and pushed him back to the ropes. After a brief clinch, the fighters separated and Williams landed his own right hook-left hand combination that temporarily turned the tables (more on that combo later). In short order, Rodriguez rebounded and landed several hard right hands to the body and head. By this point, Williams was on shaky legs, pushing out his punches with little authority. The onslaught continued with Rodriguez continuing to press the action with hard right hands.

But after the 10-second clap occurred, Williams uncorked a truly menacing right hook-straight left hand combination that sent Rodriguez to the canvas. Although Rodriguez beat the count, ref Wayne Hedgpeth inspected the fighter and determined that he was in no position to continue. Williams, who might have been just seconds away from being knocked out, was able to reverse his fortunes with two punches. 

Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:
2015: Edwin Rodriguez-Michael Seals Round 1
2014: Thomas Williams Jr.-Cornelius White Round 1
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: Joe Smith, Jr. TKO 1 Andrzej Fonfara

After acquitting himself well in a loss to Adonis Stevenson in 2014, Andrzej Fonfara's career was on an upward trajectory. He scored impressive victories over Doudou Ngumbu and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and won a Fight of the Year-candidate over Nathan Cleverly. Needing a fight in 2016, little-known Joe Smith, Jr. was brought in to be an opponent. Smith, a construction worker by day, was fighting out of the Long Island club circuit. Although he possessed heavy hands, nothing in his resume suggested that he was ready to face a fighter of Fonfara's caliber – well, that's why they fight the fights!

During the first two minutes of the opening round, Fonfara had a lot of success shooting one-twos behind his high guard. Smith was using his physicality to come forward but most of his work, with the exception of a few left hooks, wasn't landing cleanly. However, as the round progressed, Fonfara made a huge mistake and paid the ultimate price. After landing a combination, Fonfara stood in front of Smith with his hands down. Smith, sensing the opening, uncorked a looping right hand that sent Fonfara to the canvas. Fonfara beat the count but Smith closed the show like a seasoned professional, ripping right hands and left hooks to Fonfara's body and head. The onslaught was too much for Fonfara, who wilted from Smith's power punches. He dropped to the canvas for a second time and referee Hector Afu waved the fight off. 

Smith continued to impress in 2016. Later in the year, he was handpicked to be Bernard Hopkins' farewell opponent. Instead of flowers or an acknowledgment of the legend's greatness, Smith sent the grizzled veteran through the ropes in the eighth round, another stunning knockout display. It was quite a 2016 campaign for Joe Smith Jr., who will no longer be an anonymous club circuit toiler.

Previous SNB Upsets of the Year:
2015: Tyson Fury UD Wladimir Klitschko
2014: (tie) James de la Rosa UD Alfredo Angulo and Tommy Karpency SD Chad Dawson
2013: Jhonny Gonzalez KO 1 Abner Mares
2012: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO 6 Pongsaklek Wongjongkam


Trainer of the Year: Shane McGuigan

Shane McGuigan helped orchestrate two of the best game plans in 2016 to earn the SNB Trainer of the Year. With his lead fighter, Carl Frampton, taking on the two most challenging assignments of his career (Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz), McGuigan provided the direction, guidance and strategy to help secure the victories. 

Facing Quigg, who can be a pulverizing body puncher, McGuigan stressed winning the fight at distance. Frampton constantly circled Quigg throughout the first half of the bout, using his jab, legs and superior boxing skill to frustrate and flummox his opponent. As Quigg started to come on later in the match, McGuigan rallied his charge and emphasized the importance of closing the fight in a definitive fashion. Frampton responded with his best round of the fight, beating Quigg to the punch on the inside and at distance and flashing the multiplicity of skills befitting a top fighter. Frampton's performance in the 12th helped to cement his lead and his victory was well earned. 

Santa Cruz presented a whole host of different challenges for Team Frampton. Santa Cruz was noted for his punishing work rate and constant pressure. For this fight, McGuigan emphasized Frampton's precision and hand speed. The bout featured several thrilling exchanges and more often than not Frampton's surgical strikes were the telling blows. 

McGuigan also had Frampton use his legs and intelligence to win the fight. Wanting quick flurries instead of prolonged exchanges, Frampton struck with fast single shots or two-punch combinations before leaving the pocket. The fighter also stayed away from the ropes for most of the bout, a geography where Santa Cruz liked to trap opponents and unload a succession of punches. Certainly, Frampton got touched up in the fight but his efforts, and those of McGuigan's, were enough to notch the victory.  

In a final note, it should be stated that McGuigan has done some great work in resurrecting George Groves' career. Groves had a decisive victory in 2016 over Martin Murray, a fight that seemed to many as a 50/50 bout on paper. However, Groves looked rejuvenated and used his work rate, physicality, punch variety and athleticism to earn a solid win, putting him back in title contention in the super middleweight division. 

Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:
2015: Peter Fury
2014: Freddie Roach
2013: Kenny Porter
2012: Robert McCracken
2011: Robert Garcia


Promoter of the Year: Matchroom Sport

Perhaps no one deserves as much credit for England's boxing renaissance as Matchroom Sport's Managing Director Eddie Hearn. With a youthful enthusiasm, a sense of showmanship and a desire to expand Britain's boxing's audience beyond the hardcore faithful, Hearn has become the face of the biggest boxing events in the U.K.

2016 saw the continued rise of heavyweight Anthony Joshua, who has now graduated to become one of the top-five attractions in all of the sport. Matchroom's financial muscle lured Gennady Golovkin to England for a massive fight against Kell Brook. Although Brook, Matchroom's fighter, suffered a defeat, the event was an overwhelming success. Hearn was also instrumental in finalizing Frampton-Quigg, perhaps the most important British fight of 2016. 

In addition to the big events of the year, Matchroom also provided several top fights. Dillian Whyte-Dereck Chisora might have been the best heayvweight fight in a decade. Anthony Crolla-Jorge Linares was a fantastic lightweight battle. Even domestic fights like Buglioni-Burton and Gavin-Eggington produced memorable fireworks. All-in-all, 2016 was a fantastic year for Matchroom Sport. No other promotional entity consistently provided the combination of high-quality events and thrilling action. 

Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:
2015: Golden Boy Promotions
2014: Matchroom Sport
2013: (tie) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions
2012: Golden Boy Promotions
2011: Top Rank Promotions


Network of the Year: Sky Sports

With its exclusive output deal with Matchroom Sports, Sky Sports televised several of the most notable events and high-quality fights of 2016. See the Matchroom Sport section above for those fights but I'd like to add a couple of points about the overall presentation of boxing on Sky Sports, which has made a number of significant improvements over the last few years. 

Perhaps Sky's most notable change with its telecast in 2016 was the replacement of its on-air talent. Gone is the two-man booth of Nick Halling and Jim Watt. Sky has replaced that crew with its own Adam Smith on play-by play, and several notable figures in the boxing world, including Carl Froch, Tony Bellew, David Haye, Paulie Malignaggi, retired middleweight Matthew Macklin and trainer David Coldwell. All have been a vast improvement over the previous announce team. Halling was often unsure of what he was seeing in the ring and although Watt had many fine observations, he resorted to clich├ęs too easily and he certainly could play favorites. 

Unlike the PBC, where seemingly any notable fighter has received an opportunity to commentate, Sky's announcers have all performed exceptionally. Whether it's Froch's understanding of fighter psychology, Bellew's passion, Malignaggi's wit or Macklin's more cerebral observations, Sky's new team provides a more rewarding viewing experience. The team feels more conversant with the fighters and key players in modern boxing, resulting in a more assured broadcast.  

Another positive aspect of Sky's fight presentation is its insistence on showing entire fight cards. The tradition in America is to focus on the top two or three bouts on the card. For pay per views, it usually is four. However, Sky routinely televises its entire cards. Although watching six or seven hours of boxing might not be everyone's cup of tea, that the option is there enhances the experience for hardcore fight fans. In addition, Sky's philosophy provides exposure to emerging prospects and domestic-level fighters. The upshot is that its featured boxers (and often, their opponents) are well known before they emerge at the top of a fight card. 

And yes, it looks as though Sky might be following its American counterparts by expanding its reliance on the pay per view platform. However, this transition is also a further demonstration of its success. Unlike HBO, which designated several fights to pay per view in 2016 because of a lack of resources, Sky has migrated to that forum because the size of its events have grown exponentially; Sky has helped expand the U.K. boxing market to the point where several events necessitate the pay per view platform, and these events have been successful for all parties. 

Still, let's hope that Sky stays judicious with its number of pay per views. It's easy to become greedy in this sport and milk the fans with lesser quality product.  On a final note, the less we see of Johnny Nelson on TV, the better. 

Previous SNB Networks of the Year:
2015: No award given
2014: ESPN
2013: Showtime
2012: BoxNation


Referee of the Year: Raul Caiz, Sr. 

Sometimes the toughest part of a referee's job is to stay out of the way. Many officials in the sport find anonymity to be very difficult. Instead, they break up opponents needlessly, offer unnecessary warnings and take away questionable points. To be fair, it's not an easy job to successfully police ring action. 

Consider Vargas-Salido. Most of the fight was contested on the inside, where there was a lot of grappling, clinching, and a number of head butts and low blows – some accidental and some...not. Now, many refs would've lost control of the fight's flow, finding reasons to take away points, failing to warn when infractions occurred or obtrusively breaking up the action on the inside.

Raul Caiz Sr., a ref whose work I've not always enjoyed, performed exceptionally during Vargas-Salido. The fight was fierce but it didn't spiral into a dirty free-for-all. When Salido became a little too casual with head butts, a warning was issued. Caiz gave both fighters free reign to work on the inside but the fight didn't devolve into a clinch-fest. When the fighters needed to be separated, he was there. And in a little-noticed decision in the fight, Salido slipped in the 10th round during an exchange. Caiz correctly called it as such. Had he ruled it a knockdown, Vargas would've wound up winning a unanimous decision. Perhaps most importantly, Caiz recognized when the fighters had a free hand to work on the inside and let them ply their trade (very few refs know when to back off during inside fighting). 

Caiz's judgment was a pivotal reason why Vargas-Salido was 2016's Fight of the Year. Despite the grappling and inside fighting, the bout had an incredible flow to it. Caiz's decisions to act assertively when the (in)action dictated and to back off when both fighters were working contributed a large part to why Vargas-Salido became an instant classic.  

Previous SNB Referees of the Year:
2015: David Fields
2014: Steve Smoger
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. 
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