10 Fighter of the Year Candidates after Six Months of Boxing
With six months nearly gone, let's take a look at some of the guys whose names might be floated around when it comes to the annual "Fighter of the Year" conversations come December. There is one caveat: I have not included anyone who has not yet fought this year, so I will quickly run through a few names that could definitely be included once they do see some action in the ring.
David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko are fighting July 2nd in a fight with major implications in the heavyweight division, pound-for-pound and in this year's award race. Should Wladmir win and not take another fight this year, that lone victory probably isn't enough to put him in the conversation for FOY. But if Haye were to pull the upset and beat Wladimir, that win alone would earn Haye a mention.
A mythical follow-up fight with the other Klitschko brother, Vitali (who is already scheduled to fight Adamek in September but presumably could cancel that to avenge his brother's loss if that occurs), is what Haye has claimed he wants if he can best Wladimir. Now, I wouldn't in a million years bet on any of this happening. I strongly believe Wladmir will put away the brash champ from England with relative ease. But if Haye were to pull off the unthinkable and knock off both Klitschko brothers in a single annum, that would undoubtedly place him into one of the top two spots...who could beat that? Read on and find out.
And a quick shoutout to Juan Manuel Marquez because, if he shocks the world and beats Manny Pacquiao, he's in the discussion for sure. Again, I don't anticipate that happening. And as for Manny, I sadly did not include him, because I don't think the Mosley-Marquez combo is enough to get it done this time around. Best fighter in the world? Yes. Fighter of the year? Not this time.
10) Sergio Martinez
The reigning FOY is simply on another level right now, world-class terrain normally reserved for legends like Mayweather and Pacquiao. He has clearly proven himself as one of the best fighters in the sport. His eight-round destruction of previously undefeated, defensive specialist Sergei Dzinziruk was one of the most skillful displays of the year. Martinez was too fast, too strong and too determined for the tricky Dzinzurik to stand any chance. The problem here is we already know how Martinez' year plays out. At best, he walks away with two dominant wins over Dzinzurik and Darren Barker. Decent, but nowhere near enough to garner repeat honors for the best middleweight in the world.
At this point, people may respond "What?! You ridicule Mosley and Marquez, but this guy's on here with Dzinziruk and Barker?" To which I state, I do believe Dzinzurik was a tougher opponent for Sergio than Mosley was for Manny, and I also thought Sergio's win was more impressive. Moving on...
9) Orlando Salido
Salido is an interesting story, a fighter who suffered a series of stoppage losses early in his career but became a granite-chimmed warrior over the second half of his run. While probably falling a bit short in terms of talent to any other fighter on the list, he was on the winning side of one of the most compelling, exciting fights of the year against an undefeated, extremely talented fighter, Juan Manuel Lopez, almost unanimously regarded as one of the 10 best fighter's in the sport.
The reason I have him here is because he's probably headed for a rematch with JuanMa in the fall, and should he somehow win that fight, he has to deserve a mention. The first result was not without its justification from JuanMa's supporters—he had trouble making the weight, he was distracted by his recent divorce, the stoppage was premature, etc. The second time around, there can be no excuses.
Lopez has a long time to get ready for this, and he must reclaim his crown to right the ship and move toward a megafight with Yuriorkis Gamboa. If Salido can duplicate his success and again overpower Lopez into submission, his 2011 season will be one of the most notable in the game.
8) Saul "Canelo" Alvarez
Ryan Rhodes and Matthew Hatton aren't exactly on the level of then-middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik or multi-division threat Paul Williams, the victims of last year's winner. But Rhodes, however, who may have had the look, was a legit top five guy at junior middleweight. And these two wins were one-sided clinics. With another potentially juicy match looming in September (there are a slew of candidates), Canelo can finish the year with at least three solid wins over decent foes.
A lot depends on the caliber of his next challenge and Canelo continuing to develop and thrive. But if he were to add a Kermit Cintron, Vanes Martirosyan or the Powell-Bundrage winner to his trophy case, the 2011 campaign of Saul Alvarez would be very impressive when all is said and done. Not enough to win, but a strong showing from a rising star.
7) Robert Guerrero
It wasn't shocking that Guerrero beat Michael Katsidis, but I'm not sure anyone expected the dominant, methodical, cold-blooded beat-down that took place the evening of April 9.
Katsidis, as game a warrior as exists in boxing, never backed down and kept charging, battered and bloodied, grinning wildly with each lunge forward. Guerrero was utterly unfazed and ruthlessly doled out punishment as Katsidis took the most savage beating of his life.
With a fall slugfest lined up against Marcos Maidana, Guerrero can further enhance his name and stake a claim as one of the best fighters in another weight class with a victory. It won't add up to FOY status, but it has to be noted—the "Ghost" could end up having a very good year.
6) Brandon Rios
Bam-Bam Rios began the year with a terrific come-from-behind win over the slick Miguel Acosta to put himself even closer to the top of the heap at lightweight, now the No. 1 ranked contender by the esteemed Ring Magazine. With champion Juan Manuel Marquez fighting a tune-up at 140 then Pacquiao at 144, does this mean Rios becomes the man to beat at 135?
He faces Urbano Antillon next in what will likely be an all-action bloodbath. With one more good win late in the year, particularly a Miguel Vazquez or Humberto Soto, he will have beaten three top 10 lightweights in a year that saw him rise to the top of the division. And with a brutal stoppage win versus Acosta and what should probably be a similarly violent ending against Antillon, you have to think Rios ends up with a pretty memorable 2011.
5) Carl Froch
Froch's destiny is in his own hands. Beat Andre Ward to win the Super 6, and he will vault near the top of the list for Fighter of the Year. A win over the impenetrable, unbeaten and uber-talented Ward would make Froch a clear top 10 pound-for-pound guy and a solid candidate for this award.
Beating Andre Ward decisively would be one of the strongest statements any fighter this year can make. Couple that with his earlier win over the always tough Glen Johnson in a very good scrap, Froch would have the credentials to make a strong case for a top three candidate for FOY regardless of how other events shake out.
4) Yuriorkis Gamboa
Gamboa owns one of the best victories of the year, an utter undressing of the tough, tested Jorge Solis. Gamboa showed a dazzling array of speed and power, bulldozing right over the completely outgunned veteran Solis. He also has a potential opponent that could strengthen his cause—the undefeated Mikey Garcia—but that fight has only been vaguely hinted at.
More likely, Gamboa settles for a weaker option in the fall and hopes to catch a bigger fight next year. If somehow Gamboa-Garcia does happen this year and Gamboa barrels through him like he did Solis, he unquestionably earns pound-for-pound status and an honorable mention as a FOY candidate.
3) Nonito Donaire
If the ballots went out today, Donaire would find himself high on a lot of lists. His spine-tingling KO of then top-10 pound-for-pounder Fernando Montiel set the boxing world ablaze. He is the only pound-for-pound ranked fighter this year to beat another pound-for-pound ranked fighter. And he did it in sizzling, dominant fashion, affirming his lofty ranking while obliterating Montiel's.
Unfortunately, Donaire is mired in a contract dispute between Top Rank and Golden Boy, and there aren't any great opponents out there for him to improve his stock this year. Inactivity and a lack of an elite late-year opponent will allow several guys to jump Donaire by year's end. But to this date, there's a valid argument that Donaire's win over Montiel was the single-best victory of the year. I would disagree with that, but I wouldn't think you were crazy for making that claim.
2) Bernard Hopkins
In general, voters are sentimental, and Bernard's history-making win over Jean Pascal to become the undisputed champ at Light Heavyweight was one of the sweetest moments of the year. If the awards were issued today, Hopkins would have a strong claim at top honors. He is the only fighter this year to claim a Ring championship, viewed my many as the most prestigious and most legitimate title in the sport.
Lost in all the hooplah surrounding the win was the fact that this was a very close fight and the judges certainly gave B-Hop every benefit of the doubt the second time around. I had him edging out JP 7-5 in rounds. Regardless, a win is a win, and in this case, it was well-deserved, another late-career hallmark for the always-improving-on-his-resume Hopkins.
With young and talented Chad Dawson on his slate for the fall, Hopkins could claim two top-notch wins over divisional rivals by year's end and make a great case for FOY if all the pieces fall into place. Others won big fights and won championships. No one else made history.
1) Victor Ortiz
I place Victor Ortiz here for two reasons. I think there's a good case to be made that his win over Andre Berto, undefeated and regarded by all as the best welterweight behind Manny and Floyd, was the best win any fighter has had this year. More importantly, Victor Ortiz is the only fighter on this list I can say with absolute confidence will win this award if he wins out the year. But aye, there's the rub. For while, he has the cleanest path to FOY; he also has the most treacherous.
As Floyd likes to say, "41 have tried, 41 have failed," which is slightly inaccurate as it counts Jose Luis Castillo twice and many people would say it was Floyd who failed in their first fight. But it's been that long since there has been any doubt over Mayweather's wins. He has decisively beaten every opponent since (I had May-DLH easily 8-4 for Floyd if you're curious about that). This will be a colossally difficult task for Victor Ortiz.
Simply put, if he gets it done, the FOY trophy is his. Victor Ortiz beating Andre Berto and Floyd Mayweather Jr. might even trump David Haye beating both Klitschko brothers, ludicrous as that sounds. To be the first man to sully Floyd's treasured perfect record is an achievement that would put anyone in contention for the award. To combine that with a thrilling win over an undefeated fighter in a fight-of-the-year caliber contest, and it's a no-brainer that Ortiz should take home the goods.
But beating Floyd Mayweather is a big IF....and 40 have tried and 40 have failed, including one guy who failed twice even though a lot of people thought he won the first time.