Merry Christmas everyone! It's that time of year again, when boxing writers and fans start speculating on who should win boxing's year-end awards.
Some years, there are quite a few obvious answers set in stone, but this year, there is a lot up in the air, and it will be a great surprise to hear out who comes out on top in Ring Magazine's rankings and our own Bleacher Report columnists' picks.
In this article, I review some of my picks for boxing's year-end awards, and go through my reasoning for these picks. Some are predictable, others may be less expected, but all are based on what I saw in the nearly 100 boxing matches I've watched in 2010.
A 26-year-old, 6'7" heavyweight from Finland, "The Nordic Nightmare" is a rangy, hard-hitting puncher with impressive boxing skill for a fighter of his size.
In 2010, Helenius improved his record to 14-0 by going 4-0 with knockouts of Lamon Brewster, undefeated Gregory Tony, and tough Attila Levin. Now ranked among the top 15 heavyweights by most boxing organizations, he's putting himself in good position for a future title shot in the next year or two.
Right now, he probably wouldn't be favored in a matchup with any of the reigning heavyweight champions - Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali Klitschko, and David Haye - but with a bit more seasoning and some aging champions, it's possible he could become a solid contender in the next few years.
Kathy Duva, Main Events Promotions
Slowly but surely, Kathy Duva has become the best promoter in boxing. The daughter of legendary trainer Lou Duva, she is blazing new trails as the only top promoter who isn't desperately tied to the TV networks and isn't afraid to book her fighters in frequent matches against tough opponents.
Much like UFC's top dog Dana White, Duva believes that the best returns come from booking the best boxing matches. So rather than waiting for a big TV subsidy and having her fighters step into the ring once or twice a year, she brings in money through ticket sales and small-scale pay per view cards.
The result: Duva's athletes have been among the most surprising performers in boxing this year. Tomasz Adamek, a former light heavyweight and cruiserweight, has become one of the top heavyweights in the world despite being undersized for the division. The reason for that is his high activity level - Adamek fought four times in 2010.
Even Zab Judah, previously discounted by boxing fans for his many high-profile losses to top fighters, has seen his career experience a resurgence as well recently.
The common thread is that both of these fighters are with Main Events under the helm of Kathy Duva.
She wins my vote for promoter of the year by a landslide by being the most courageous promoter in the sport of boxing today.
Shane Mosley vs. Sergio Mora, Split Decision Draw
After a big loss to Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley was looking to rejuvenate his career when he stepped into the ring at middleweight against Sergio Mora, champion of NBC's inaugural "The Contender" series.
Mora, for his part, was looking to jump-start his career after it started lagging following his introduction to the professional ranks.
There was a lot at stake for both boxers, but you wouldn't have guessed that from Mora's behavior in the first half of the fight. He was ducking, backing up, and clinching, and the impetus was solely on Mosley to push the action.
Being the consummate professional he is, Mosley did just that, and easily won 8 or 9 rounds with his superior activity level. Mora finally came on later in the fight, but even then, he was just trading with Mosley, not really doing anything to advance his cause.
When the HBO team announced the judges - two of whom had a combined one title fight - I had a feeling something awful might happen, but it takes two judges to make a bad decision. Shockingly, veteran judge Lou Moret scored the fight a draw, to go with rookie judge Kermit Bayless' ruling of the fight in favor of Mosley.
Jim Lampley put it best: "Kermit Bayless just needs more seasoning, Lou Moret should know better, and we should commend David Denkin for making the right decision." In the end, it was a split decision draw and a disappointing result for Mosley and boxing fans.
Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel "Dinamita" Marquez has long been one of the most widely-respected and capable boxers in the sport, but entering 2010, he was just coming off of a shellacking against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who shut out the 36-year-old in September of 2009.
Against an opponent like Mayweather, it's very possible that a fighter could grow old in one night, and there's no question that fighting Mayweather changed Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton for the worse. It wouldn't have been surprising if the now-37-year-old Marquez had lost a step too.
However, that was far from the case. JMM stepped into the ring with Juan Diaz in a rematch of 2009's Fight of the Year, and was far more dominant this time around. He then faced off with rugged Australian Michael Katsidis in November, and won a 9th-round TKO in what is one of the frontrunners for this year's Fight of the Year.
Though he unfortunately wasn't the chosen opponent for Manny Pacquiao's next fight, he probably deserved to be. He'll probably face off with another top level opponent and then be ready to heed the call when Manny Pacquiao destroys Shane Mosley in May.
All in all, this was a make or break year for the grizzled Mexican veteran, and he clearly made the most of it.
This was a close one, as Freddie Roach put together another exceptional year guiding Pacqiuao and Amir Khan to undefeated campaigns, but you don't win trainer of the year just because you have the best talent.
As far as making the best with what he had, Robert Garcia probably had the best year. He helped get Antonio Margarito back on track, and Margarito was impressive enough in his comeback fight to land a huge payday against Manny Pacquiao.
Garcia's other fighters were the ones that really looked impressive, though. Brandon Rios saw his profile rise more than just about every other fighter this year.
But most importantly, Nonito Donaire looked flat-out dominant against Ukrainian tough guy Volodymyr Sydorenko. That was one of the most impressive performances in boxing this year, and Garcia was in Nonito's corner for that bout.
Nonito Donaire TKO 4 vs. Volodymyr Sydorenko
Ever since he stunned the boxing world by knocking out feared Vic Darchinyan in 2007, Nonito has been one of the most well-regarded ring technicians in boxing, but it has been a somewhat frustrating path for both him and us as he hasn't been able to book many big-time bouts against challenging opponents.
However, there is a lot of good news for Nonito these days. For one thing, it seems he has finally landed the much-anticipated showdown with Fernando Montiel, which will be taking place in February.
Secondly, he had one of the most impressive performances of the year against vaunted Ukrainian Volodymyr Sydorenko. For four straight rounds, Nonito showed just why he is one of the top five pound for pound fighters in boxing right now. He used speed, power, and superior technique to dismantle the game and gritty Sydorenko, in a fight that easily could have been called off in the second or third round.
Not only that, but Nonito showed remarkable constraint in not rushing in for a knockdown against a clearly staggered opponent. Instead, he just continued to dismantle Sydorenko and impressed us all with his talent and strategy. A huge accomplishment for Robert Garcia.
David Haye TKO 3 vs. Audley Harrison
In a match that nobody really wanted to see, Haye and Harrison still managed to underperform expectations. Haye looked acceptable, but a bit "negative" in his fighting style, holding back and sizing up his opponent for most of the first round.
Harrison, on the other hand, was atrocious, and nowhere near the quality opponent Haye had been trying to bill him as. I nicknamed Harrison "The One Hit Wonder" after he landed just one punch in the three-round fight.
Then, after taking a "devastating" flurry in the third round, Harrison went down and didn't get back up, even though he clearly could have.
The match was so bad that the British boxing authorities had to review it to make sure Harrison deserved his $1 million-plus purse, and even the Sky Sports announcers openly questioned whether the match would do anything to quell the criticisms of Haye.
It didn't. Let's hope he steps into the ring with a real opponent in 2011.
Jason Litzau UD vs. Celestino Caballero
34-year-old Panamanian Celestino Caballero was one of the most feared and avoided fighters in the sport when he stepped into the ring with Jason Litzau. By the end of the fight, we were wondering if he had anything left.
Just weeks after famously calling out Juan Manuel Lopez for a big-time fight, Caballero looked like he let the hype go to his head, and simply didn't show up to face the gritty journeyman Litzau.
It was an extremely disappointing performance for Caballero, and his trainer Jeff Mayweather immediately started making apologies and backtracking.
All in all, though, it was too little too late, and Caballero may never get the chance to face rising star Lopez. It looks like we're primed for a Juan Manuel Lopez vs.Yuriorkis Gamboa fight in 2011. Caballero will be watching from the sidelines.
Sergio Martinez KO2 vs. Paul Williams
There was almost no competition for this one. Martinez lost a somewhat tight decision to Williams last year in a fight of the year candidate in December 2009, and their rematch this past November was one of the most anticipated of the year.
People were expecting a tough-fought battle between the slick Argentinian southpaw and the awkward, lengthy American Williams.
It ended before it really even began. In round 2, Martinez landed a perfectly-placed left hand against a charging Williams, and felled the strong-chinned South Carolinian in impressive fashion. The ref didn't even complete his 10-count. It was that devastating, and had shades of Pacquiao's 2009 Knockout of the Year of Ricky Hatton.
As seen by the comments on the above-linked article, it was a shocking and extraordinary moment, perhaps the most striking moment I saw in boxing this year.
Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana, Round 10
Normally, round of the year candidates have multiple knockdowns, but the most notable round meeting that criteria this year was round 1 of Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Bernabe Concepcion, which featured knockouts of both fighters, and was followed by a second round when Lopez knocked down Concepcion twice en route to a TKO victory.
However, Lopez-Concepcion round 1 didn't feature much drama, so this year's round of the year selection goes to a round that did.
Amir Khan was a star talent who still had some questions to resolve about his chin and heart when he stepped into the ring against rough and ready Argentinean Marcos Maidana this past December. Maidana had won 27 of his 29 fights by knockout.
The fight's momentum had been shifting rapidly toward Khan before Maidana connected with his huge overhand right in round 10.
Flashes of Khan's wobbly-legged disaster against Breidis Prescott flashed through many observers' minds when they saw Khan take Maidana's punch with about a minute left in round 10. From then on, it was a race against the clock, but Khan managed to recover and even come back with a flurry of his own near the end of the round.
The sheer drama of that round lands it my vote for round of the year, despite not fitting the traditional formula.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Michael Katsidis
This was the hardest pick out of the whole list. 2010 featured five really solid fight of the year candidates, but there was no clear-cut favorite that echoed the top fights of previous years like the famous Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez and Gatti-Ward trilogies.
At the end of the day, I decided there were justifiable reasons to eliminate Humberto Soto vs. Urbano Antillon, Giovani Segura vs. Ivan Calderon, and Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Rafael Marquez, which was an early favorite of mine for the award.
So it was down to two bouts: Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana, and Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Michael Katsidis. In the end, it was a tight decision, but Marquez-Katsidis featured slightly more back-and-forth action, including an early knockdown of Marquez, before its final stoppage when the referee decided Katsidis had taken enough damage.
Juan Manuel Marquez, who was the winner of 2009's Fight of the Year against Juan Diaz, has a way of crafting extraordinary matches with his incredible ability to adjust mid-fight, but the shocking thing was how Katsidis came out boxing rather than brawling.
The fight was a constant back-and-forth battle, rife with tremendous drama in and outside of the ring, and was the finest display of boxing by any two fighters in 2010.
As with most years, there were a number of contenders for fighter of the year, and in the end, it came down to three names.
Fernando Montiel had the year's first huge win when he knocked out feared bantamweight Hozumi Hasegawa early on in one of the bigger upsets of the year. He followed that up with two more wins, bringing him to 4-0 this year. Unfortunately, a late-year dirt bike accident prevented him from facing a bigger-name opponent in his December fight date, and removed him from serious contention.
Juan Manuel Lopez had another great year in 2010, winning over solid champion Steven Luevano, game Bernabe Concepcion, and a grizzled veteran in the form of Mexican Rafael Marquez, who is one of the toughest opponents in boxing and a two-time fight of the year winner.
But in the end, it was Sergio Martinez who had the biggest wins in 2010. First, he won a tough contest against a surprisingly resilient Kelly Pavlik, which won Martinez the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. After that matchup, Martinez was Ring Magazine's top fighter in both the junior middleweight and middleweight divisions.
He then followed that with the year's biggest knockout in a fight he wasn't even expected to win, when he felled Paul "The Punisher" Williams (Ring Magazine's number 5 pound for pound fighter at the time) with a devastating left and won a thrilling knockout. Two huge wins against top-tier opposition in impressive fashion earn Sergio Martinez the 2010 Fighter of the Year in my opinion.