Manny Pacquiao is completely absent from my year-end boxing awards for the second year in a row.
Unlike last year, when he didn't fight any great opponents, he doesn't get the nod this year because of a lackluster performance against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Again, that opens the door for other, more deserving fighters, to get some recognition, and honestly, this was one of the toughest years, especially for choosing the Fighter of the Year.
2011 started off for most boxing fans with a disappointing bout between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander, but quickly heated up when Nonito Donaire destroyed Fernando Montiel, leading to one of the most interesting spring seasons in recent memory.
There were two weeks that saw four high-profile upsets, a summer that saw a crowning of the oldest world champion in history, and four fighters in the Pound-for-Pound Top 10 were beaten, compared to just two last year.
This slideshow goes through my picks for 2011's year-end boxing awards. Unlike last year, when a slow December allowed me to post my picks a week early, 2011 had exciting action right up until the last weekend, so without further ado, my picks for the best (and worst) of boxing in 2011.
Last year, I chose Robert Helenius as my top prospect, and he had an impressive 2011 that was somewhat marred by a weak, controversial performance against Dereck Chisora in Helenius' last fight of the year. Still, the Finn rose to No. 6 on Ring's Heavyweight rankings.
This year, I'm choosing a fighter who performed far better against Dereck Chisora, comfortably out-pointing the talented fighter by at least five points on each scorecard.
Couple that dominant performance with two KOs of undefeated fighters and a KO of former contender Nicolai Firtha, all within one calendar year, and you have one of the sport's rising stars.
Tyson Fury is a 6'9", 23-year-old prospect that you can expect to hear a lot about in the coming years.
Bob Arum, Top Rank Boxing
I'm not a huge fan of Arum's promotional practices, but there was no greater promoter in boxing this year.
Arum was effective and consistent, signing two big-name opponents (and former Golden Boy fighters) for Manny Pacquiao and signing another top pound-for-pound fighter in Timothy Bradley.
Arum landed big guys, booked big fights, and was his usual, consistent (if sometimes frustrating) self.
Arum's main competitors did not fare so well: Oscar De La Hoya had a weak year aside from his significant success with Victor Ortiz. Kathy Duva's main fighters (Zab Judah and Tomasz Adamek) both lost major matchups.
Lou DiBella's main fighters (Sergio Martinez and Andre Berto) had off years, and Joe Goossen's crown jewel (Andre Ward) thrived, but mostly due to the Super Six tournament.
Russell Mora's refereeing in Abner Mares vs. Joseph Agbeko
Paul Williams vs. Erislandy Lara was a clearly incorrect decision, but can be partly understood by Williams' greater name recognition and punching volume, and the large number of close rounds.
I have to admit that I scored Williams-Lara a draw, because it was hard to tell whether Lara's punches were really hurting Williams early.
Russell Mora's officiating in the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament final, on the other hand, can't be understood at all. He was staring right at a low blow, and scored it as a knockdown instead of a point deduction.
This changed the course of what would otherwise be considered a Fight of the Year candidate.
Coming back to boxing after a three-year absence, Morales was thought to be washed up after too many tough in-ring battles. That assessment was premature.
In 2011, Morales fought to a tough majority-decision loss against Marcos Maidana, and then came back in his next fight to win a world title against Pablo Cesar Cano.
Nine months into the year, I was ready to give it to Freddie Roach again. Then came losses from Amir Khan and Jorge Linares, and a very shaky performance from Manny Pacquiao in a fight he was widely expected to dominate.
That doesn't seem like how a trainer of the year would close out the last months of 2011.
Yes, Robert Garcia saw Antonio Margarito lose, but his success in making Nonito Donaire and Brandon Rios two of the Fighter of the Year candidates earns him my selection for the second year in a row.
Amir Khan KO5 Zab Judah
Judah was thought to be a reborn fighter under Kathy Duva, winning five fights in a row and picking up a title along the way.
Against Khan, he looked like an old fighter. Khan was faster, stronger, gutsier and more technically proficient en route to a fifth-round KO that was mercifully stopped after Judah pretended a body shot was a low blow.
With this as the only fight on HBO's card that evening, it was a frustrating night for fans, but the booking of Judah against Khan was the most frustrating part of all.
Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson
In an exciting fight with a ton of potential (on what would have otherwise been the fight card of the year - due to some amazing undercard bouts), a bizarre happening in the second round caused this big-deal title fight to be stopped prematurely amid controversy.
Whatever you believe about the extent of Hopkins' injuries, they don't bode well for the future of his career. I'm inclined to believe they're legitimate, because he has fought through injury in the past.
At 46 (and turning 47 in two weeks), it may be approaching time for him to hang up the gloves. Then again, how many times have we said that about B-Hop before?
Nobuhiro Ishida TKO1 James Kirkland
There were many significant upsets this year, including a two-week stretch that saw high-profile upsets of Kirkland, Andre Berto, Juan Manuel Lopez and David Lemieux. Antonio Tarver's win over Danny Green also comes to mind.
Of all the upsets listed, however, only one came from a true "unknown" fighter and only one happened in the first few rounds of a fight.
James Kirkland, who had just been anointed by Max Kellerman as the rising middleweight star to challenge Sergio Martinez for divisional supremacy, entered the fight 27-0 against a 22-6 Japanese fighter with only 7 KOs.
Two minutes later, Kirkland was stopped after being knocked down three times. The fact that James Kirkland was able to survive a first-round knockdown to the vastly superior Alfredo Angulo a few months later underlines just how significant Nobuhiro Ishida's upset was.
The win was so unexpected that HBO didn't even have a Japanese translator on hand to interview the winner of their top undercard fight on the Morales-Maidana PPV card.
Nonito Donaire KO2 Fernando Montiel
This is why it's good to wait until the end of the year before making these lists. The last week of 2011 gave us a fight of the year candidate as well as a candidate for knockout of the year.
However, the best knockout of 2011, in my opinion, happened to be one of the earliest.
In a showdown of two top 10 pound-for-pound fighters, the match ended almost as soon as it began. In just the second round, Nonito Donaire landed a textbook left hook counterpunch against a lunging Montiel.
Montiel fell straight on his back, and you knew right then the fight was over. It was classic, it was stunning, and from a boxing standpoint, it was perfect.
Kirkland-Angulo, Round 1
In 2010, there were no rounds truly deserving this award. This year, there were two: Round 1 of Kirkland-Angulo, and Round 6 of Berto-Ortiz.
Both featured competitive back-and-forth action, and knockdowns landed by both fighters.
However, Ortiz's knockdown of Berto seemed like a bit of a fluke in a round mostly dominated by Berto.
On the other hand, Round 1 of Kirkland-Angulo involved tremendous drama. Kirkland was knocked down early, invoking memories of his collapse a few months earlier against weak-fisted Nobuhiro Ishida.
However, Kirkland rallied strongly, and the attention shifted to whether Alfredo Angulo could survive the round after punching himself out. He did, but suffered a knockdown, and the all-out action made this the most exciting round in years.
I'll repeat: Round 1 of Kirkland-Angulo was the most exciting round of boxing we've seen in years, probably stretching back to the Vazquez-Marquez trilogy of 2007-08.
Andre Berto vs. Victor Ortiz
But one round does not a fight make. Once Alfredo Angulo seemed to punch himself out in his fight against James Kirkland, he fought admirably, but it didn't seem like there was much drama. The next round or two were interesting to see if Angulo could rebound, but after that, it was a war against the clock, and Angulo was stopped in Round 6.
Berto vs. Ortiz, on the other hand, was action-packed from beginning to end, as you can tell from my live-blog for Kissing the Canvas. (I also live blogged another hugely important fight that night for Bleacher Report).
Berto went down in Round 1, helping Ortiz prove that he wasn't the shot fighter some of us thought he was. But the next round, Berto's skill and power were enough to knock down Ortiz.
Still, Berto seemed hurt, and the next few rounds were going Ortiz's way, until Berto knocked down Ortiz again in the sixth round.
But that sixth round was a round of the year candidate because Ortiz rallied and landed a stunning knockdown in the last 10 seconds of the round.
The rest of the fight belonged mostly to Ortiz, but Berto fought admirably and in the end, it was a narrow, but unanimous, decision victory for Ortiz that set up his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The best part of all: we get to relive Berto vs. Ortiz in their rematch on Feb. 11.
Unlike last year, when Sergio Martinez was a runaway favorite, there was no clear-cut winner this year. Andre Ward, Abner Mares, Nonito Donaire, Brian Viloria and Vitali Klitschko all deserve serious consideration.
However, Orlando Salido provided the most thrilling action all year, upsetting a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter with a TKO of 30-0 Juan Manuel Lopez, dominating a thrilling fight against 17-1 Kenichi Yamaguchi, and getting up from two knockdowns to knock out Weng Haya in December.
Three fights in a year is rare for top-flight boxers today, and three knockout wins over quality fighters, including someone the caliber of Lopez, is a year that earns Salido a legitimate claim for Fighter of the Year.
I'm a huge fan of Andre Ward, but I think two non-KO wins (however dominant) over quality but not pound-for-pound class opposition aren't enough to earn him the win.
Four guys this year (Salido, Pacquiao, Donaire and Brian Viloria) beat top-10 pound-for-pound fighters, and Ward wasn't one of them. In fact, Ward didn't even beat the next-best guy in his division, Lucian Bute. If Ward beats Bute in 2012, then he is a frontrunner for Fighter of the Year, no question.
So my first thought was to give it to Salido, who provided three thrilling bouts. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that there was one fighter who had two dominant wins over world class opposition - my normal criteria for a Fighter of the Year.
Both of Nonito Donaire's bouts in 2012 were somewhat disappointing for boxing fans. His win over seventh-ranked Pound-for-Pound fighter Fernando Montiel was disappointing because it ended midway through the second round with a crushing KO.
His win over 35-0 world champion Omar Narvaez (the best fighter one division below Donaire's) was disappointing because of Donaire's dominance and Narvaez's unwillingness to engage.
Call it the Pacquiao Problem: a fighter is so dominant over the opposition that his fights are sometimes boring to watch. However, Pacquiao nonetheless won three Fighter of the Year awards, and I think Donaire deserves the nod this year. Donaire and Ward deserve to be the new faces of boxing.