This rematch has serious potential, but some major question marks too.
As we wind down to the last two months of the boxing season, several front-runners have emerged for the Fight of the Year. We all knew Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson was not going to be in the running and it certainly lived up to its' feeble expectations. The best recent fight was Antonio DeMarco's thrilling stoppage win over Jorge Linares and that sits somewhere outside the top five on the year, for me anyway. So before I list my five picks for the leading candidates to date, here's a quick run-down of the five worst fights of the year:
5) Wladimir Klitschko UD David Haye
4) Nonito Donaire UD Omar Narvaez
3) Amir Khan TD Paul McCloskey
2) Tim Bradley TD Devon Alexander
1) Bernard Hopkins ?? Chad Dawson (I refuse to call that a Dawson win)
Five upcoming fights with the most potential to join those stinkers:
5) Vanes Martirosyan vs. Richard Guttierez 10/29
4) Sergio Mora vs. Jose Flores 11/4
3) Gary Russell Jr. vs. To Be Announced 11/26
2) Roy Jones vs. Max Alexander 12/10
1) Timothy Bradley vs. Joel Cassamayor 11/12
Five upcoming fights with potential to join the Fight of the Year discussion
5) Delvin Rodriguez vs. Pawel Wolak 12/3
4) Lucian Bute vs. Glen Johnson 11/5
3) Tyson Marquez vs. Luis Concepcion 10/29
2) Alfredo Angulo vs. James Kirkland 11/5
1) Michael Katsidis vs. Ricky Burns 11/5
And on to the five best fights of the year so far:
Brandon Rios vs. anyone has Fight-of-the-Year potential
Here's some honorable mentions off the top of my head that didn't make the cut...If I've forgotten any crucial ones, feel free to set me straight in the comment section.
2/26 Brandon Rios TKO Miguel Acosta
3/12 Andy Lee TKO Craig McEwan
4/9 Robert Guerrero UD Michael Katsidis
4/16 Orlando Salido TKO Juan Manuel Lopez
6/4 Carl Froch MD Glen Johnson
7/9 Brandon Rios TKO Urbano Antillon
9/17 Erik Morales TKO Pablo Cesar Cano
10/15 Nathan Cleverly MD Tony Bellew
10/15 Antonio DeMarco TKO Jorge Linares
On June 25th, Sturm and Macklin engaged in a classic cat-and-mouse game; Macklin the aggressive swarmer and Sturm the defensive counter-puncher. Macklin pressed inside and fired away while Sturm stayed behind his guard and sent back sharp, effective counters. Macklin gave the longtime belt-holder Sturm his roughest fight in years and in the eyes of many should have been declared the winner. Unfortunately for Macklin, that "many" did not include two of the three judges who awarded Sturm a split decision victory. I can't debate the verdict as I too thought Sturm was the better man in seven of the twelve rounds. This was an extremely close, bloody fight that could have been scored a multitude of ways. The tension and drama was palpable and the heart of both fighters on full display in the late rounds.
Despite the official loss, Macklin's stock rose tremendously as a result of his performance and he might get a shot at the middleweight champion Sergio Martinez sometime next year. The guy who won the fight, Sturm, probably won't be stepping in the ring with Martinez anytime soon, unless Martinez magically becomes a huge money-draw sensation over night. Sturm makes solid dough in Germany and has no reason to take that risk for what would amount to a marginally bigger payday.
For bloodthirsty fight fans, there's no better omen than Steve Smoger stepping into the ring to referee. Smoger's presence assures there won't be any premature stoppages, at times sadistically defiant in refusing to halt the action. Smoger has been known to let things go, basically until a man lies unconscious at his feet. Much as I love Smoges, sometimes that can be a detriment. See Roy Jones-Dennis Lebedev. However, most of the time Smoger's laid back approach is exactly what's needed for two great fighters to really show what they're made of. In this case, Pawel Wolak's eye was so grotesquely swollen, it looked like a second head. Most sane referees would have strongly considered stopping the fight. Smoger would have none of it: "It's not pretty, but it's okay with me." Without Smoger's proclamation, Wolak never would have had the chance to demonstrate the courage and guts that make the sport so inspiring at its' best and made this one of the best fights of the year.
On April 2 in Panama City, what looked like a juicy matchup between two tough little men going in turned into a classic, blood-soaked brawl. Multiple knockdowns on both sides, tremendous punishment dished out and taken by both warriors, and in the end an enormous bounce-back for Marquez, coming back to 112 lbs after getting knocked out by Nonito Donaire at 115 last year. This fight probably contained the most bell-to-bell action of any fight this year, but the lower profile of the fighters and the fact that most people caught in on youtube days after the fact, knowing the result, ultimately has me placing it a hair behind the two fights I rank above it.
The rematch is this weekend, Saturday, October 29. Of course, you won't be able to watch in the United States, at least not on your television set. Instead, Fox Sports and Top Rank are gracing us with the Vanes Martirosyan-Richard Guttierez mismatch. In a very blunt way that tells you exactly what the promoters and network think of these ultra-light weight classes, which is a shame because wars like Marquez-Concepcion are a lot more common down here than amongst the big boys.
Of any fight this year, I think this one got me the most excited at the time that I watched it. The action was riveting, the momentum swinging back and forth. The sixth round is still the clear round-of-the-year in my book. Berto finally broke through and caught Ortiz flush, staggering him badly. It looked like one punch would finish the job for Berto as Ortiz flailed around the ring, barely able to protect himself. Then with mere seconds left in the round, somehow Ortiz caught Berto right on the button with two left hands and Berto went crashing down himself. As he rose and the bell sounded, the atmosphere was electric and you knew this was something special. However, after an exciting seventh and eighth round, the drama subsided a bit as Ortiz was in the driver's seat and there weren't a lot of clean connects either way. While the sixth round may have been boxing's finest moment in 2011, overall as a fight, there's one that stands out just a touch more for me.
For me, Maidana-Morales is the most rewatchable fight of the year. Maybe it's because I was one of the probably two-hundred people who actually bought the "Action Heroes" pay-per-view card and I'm still trying to get my money's worth. Going in, the expectation was that the powerful Maidana would bulldoze the faded Morales and the old champion from Tijuana was putting his health in serious jeopardy even stepping into the ring with the maniac from Argentina. Through a few rounds, even those predictions seemed rosy. Then in the fifth round, as though a switch had clicked, glimpses of the old, great Morales began to shine through. The quick hands, superb counter-punching, and gigantic heart were in classic form.
It was Maidana getting rattled, his head snapping back at Morales' crisp blows throughout the middle rounds. Maidana rallied late; at one point in the eleventh round he might have hit Morales with twenty unanswered shots in a row. Morales has always had a solid, solid chin...(well except for the two times he got eviscerated by Pacquiao). Never has that been more profoundly displayed than against Maidana, one of the biggest punchers in a weight class well above where Morales fought in his prime. He took big punch after big punch flush, and was hardly staggered. In the end, it was a razor-close fight and having given away a few rounds early, Morales found himself on the losing end.
This fight had everything I would argue as to what makes a fight great, except knockdowns. There were wild momentum swings. Crazy displays of chin and heart from both men. Massive beatings issued both ways. The subplot of the old wizard conjuring one last, great, unexpected performance was nothing short of inspiring. This was craft vs. brutality. Experience vs. strength. Guy with a baby tattoo on his chest vs. guy who doesn't have that. And I believe it makes as strong a case as any for fight of the year.