2011's Fighter of the Year: 5 Candidates
As 2011 comes to a close, we end one of the best years of boxing in recent memory. Many young fighters broke out of the pack this year and seemed to grab hold of their inevitable stardom. Others were not so lucky, and many highly-touted fighters suffered shocking losses that injected the sport with much-needed excitement and unpredictability.
While 2011 was a surprising and exciting year due to the high number of upsets we witnessed, the year left us without one unquestionable pick for Fighter of the Year.
Sergio Martinez’s incredible run last year and Manny Pacquiao’s accomplishments in 2009 made them the clear choice. 2011 had breakout stars, comebacks and victorious underdogs, but it was hardly driven by a single force.
Below are some of the stronger candidates for the Boxing Writers' Association of America’s Fighter of the Year award for 2011, but don’t be surprised if the victor is chosen from left field, it would be on par with the course of this bizarre and shocking year.
1. Miguel Cotto
Miguel Cotto (37-2-0 30 KOs)
Caguas, Puerto Rico
This was the year that Miguel Cotto’s comeback trail was completed in an emphatic and emotional fashion, so he might become a sentimental pick for the BWAA Fighter of the Year Award.
He started the year with a 12th-round knockout of the tough but limited Ricardo Mayorga in March to defend his freshly-won WBA Super Welterweight title. Cotto looked workman-like in the fight, but closed the show and handed Mayorga only his second knockout loss.
In Cotto’s second performance this year, he faced his archrival, Antonio Margarito, in what was seen as a crossroads fight between two faded fighters past their prime. Cotto defied expectations and turned in a career-best performance that showed a more refined technique and greater ring generalship than he had displayed in previous bouts.
While Margarito’s eye injury featured heavily in the fight’s abbreviated outcome, Cotto showed he was a different class from his nemesis while scoring a near shutout en route to a 10th-round TKO.
Cotto’s competition was far from elite, but two strong performances and the boxing media’s long-standing affection for him could make him a dark horse for the award this year.
2. Nonito Donaire
Nonito Donaire (27-1-0 18 KOs)
San Leandro, California, United States
Nonito Donaire has been widely regarded as one of boxing’s brightest young stars since he flattened Vic Darchinyan in 2007.
2011 was the year that Donaire began to deliver on the promise he had showed before, with a stunning knockout that vaulted him into the pound-for-pound top five this year.
This February, Donaire squared off against then-pound-for-pound-rated Bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel in what was billed as a clash between two of the world’s best. The two talented bantams were expected to deliver a back and forth battle to crown that division’s king, but Donaire had other plans.
From the opening bell he timed Montiel with efficient short counters, and in the second he knocked the product of Los Monchis, Mexico into what appeared to be a seizure with a perfectly-placed counter hook, ending his night shortly thereafter with another vicious flurry.
“The Filipino Flash” captured his third title in as many weight divisions with the win, defending his crown once in 2011 against the defensive Omar Narvaez in New York City in October.
The world appears to be at Donaire’s feet as the rangy, powerful boxer-puncher seems to have the talent, style and physique to win titles up to 135 pounds if matched correctly.
Donaire has infinite potential and 2011 gave him a breakout victory, but he failed to end the year with a bang, yet his concussive victory of Montiel is enough to make him a worthy contender for Fighter of the Year.
3. Brandon Rios
Brandon Rios (29-0-1 22 KOs)
Oxnard, California, United States
Continuing a great year for Robert Garcia’s growing stable of fighters, the gregarious and charismatic puncher from Oxnard, California had an incredible year highlighted by three knockouts in three exciting fights against impressive competition.
“Bam Bam” opened the year by capturing his first world title when he knocked down Venezuelan slickster Miguel Acosta three times on the way to a 10th-round TKO. Behind in the fight, Rios showed his incredible determination when he turned the fight around in the sixth, pounding the technically brilliant Acosta into submission.
Rios’ toughness would also carry him to victory when he faced Urbano Antillon. The two fighters seemed perfectly matched, and their intense and relentless styles made the fight a battle of wills between two tenacious, old-school combatants.
Rios showed not only incredible tenacity, but also understated finesse on the inside, using defensive movement and sharp uppercuts to break Antillon down, stopping him in the third.
In his final showing of the year, a gaunt Rios was stripped of his titles for failing to make weight against British contender John Murray. Despite doing his best Skeletor impression on the scales the day before, a visibly-weakened Rios was still able to grind Murray down for 10 rounds before closing the show 2:06 into the 11th round.
Few fighters provided as much violence and excitement as Brandon Rios did this year, and as he inevitably moves up to Junior Welterweight, he will surely continue to provide us with great fights. For now, he deserves to be rewarded for his performances this year, and he is a strong candidate for Fighter of the Year.
4. Jorge Arce
Jorge Arce (59-6-2 45 KOs)
Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico
“El Travieso” had an incredible year as well, turning in three victories and winning titles in two divisions.
He opened up this year by winning a blazing fight against WBO super bantamweight titlist Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. This victory would have a two-pronged effect: Not only would it give him a title in his third weight class, making him among a rarified class that includes Mexican legends like Julio Caesar Chavez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez, but he also succeeded in making the dismal Pacquiao-Mosley card watchable.
Arce would defend the belt once against Simphiwe Nongqayi before dropping down to Bantamweight to take on tough Indonesian Angky Angkota in Mexico for the vacant WBO Bantamweight title.
Winning their duel by unanimous decision, Arce became only the second Mexican fighter in the history of a boxing-rich nation to win belts in four different divisions. He barely missed the distinction of being the first by two months when he was beaten to the summit by Erik Morales.
Arce has had the best year in a long career where he has gained the respect of both fans and the media. He stands as one of the two legitimate favourites for the award this year.
5. Andre Ward
Andre Ward (25-0 13 KOs)
Andre Ward, the other favourite for the BWAA Fighter of the Year award, is coming off of a dominant victory over tough Englishman Carl Froch.
Ward’s victory over Froch not only added Froch’s WBC Supermiddleweight title to his WBA “Super” bet but scored him the Showtime Super Six Cup and The Ring’s vacant Super Middleweight Championship.
In one night, Ward secured his place as the best fighter in his division, and he made a tough, talented and versatile fighter look lost for 12 rounds as he out-boxed and out-muscled him consistently.
Earlier in the year, Ward had more than likely ended Arthur Abraham’s run at 168 when he again dominated the power-punching German before collecting a lopsided decision.
Ward’s scary combination of slickness and physicality was so baffling to opponents this year that he seemed to be playing on a completely different level from Abraham and Froch. You could argue that “The Oakland Raider” didn’t give up a single round in his two outings this year.
Undeniably the breakout star of the year, Ward is listed in the top five of most respectable Pound-for-Pound lists and is now one of six legitimate, lineal champions in the sport.
For those accomplishments alone, Ward would appear to be the overall favourite for 2011’s Fighter of the Year.