Bleacher Report's Boxing Awards for 2014
2013 was a year to celebrate. Showtime, after years as a second fiddle, emerged as a serious contender. HBO, as usual, was hitting all cylinders, meeting the challenge head on.
The true winners of this promotional battle were boxing fans, who enjoyed a renaissance that seemed likely to carry the sport into the modern era re-energized and revitalized.
2014? Well, that's a different story.
If 2013 was the year of the broadcaster, 2014 saw promoters and their matchmakers take a firmer hand—to no one's benefit. It was a year polluted with behind-the-scenes squabbles, pointless and potentially dangerous mismatches, and the usual institutional anarchy that makes boxing the sport fans love to hate.
Despite it all, there were pockets of incredible brilliance throughout the year—displays of courage and skill that can only be found in the squared circle. Briggs Seekins, Kevin McCrae, Lyle Fitzsimmons, Kelsey McCarson and I endeavored to find them for you.
What follows are our choices for the best of 2014. Have some thoughts of your own? Feel free to share them as a holiday gift in the comments.
Card of the Year: Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez
In 2014, it takes more than a big dollar sign next to a name to recognize a real superstar. Boxers who truly move the needle don't just fight for the biggest prizes—they are able to bring their boys with them.
Oscar De La Hoya invented the strategy, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto continue it today. On June 7, fans reaped all the benefits, as Cotto's stablemates Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Jorge Melendez helped fill in an incredibly deep card.
"They are two very talented fighters from my stable, and I wanted to open opportunities of massive exposure and good fights to further their careers," Cotto told the press. "The fans will love it."
While his teammates certainly delivered, it was another undercard bout that stole the show.
Andy Lee was in bad shape in the fifth round of his fight with John Jackson. Down once already and in deep trouble against the ropes, Lee landed a right hand out of nowhere to finish a fight he looked seconds away from losing.
It was the kind of fight that turns a good card into a great one—in this case into the fight card of the year.
Also Receiving Consideration: Mayweather vs. Maidana 1, Hopkins vs. Kovalev, Hopkins vs. Shumenov
Knockout of the Year: Carl Froch vs. George Groves II
In most years Andy Lee would have walked away with Knockout of the Year honors for his one-hitter quitter against John Jackson. It almost did this year as well.
But in boxing, bigger is always better—and fights didn't get much bigger in 2014 than Carl Froch's rematch with George Groves.
The two British stars packed Wembley Stadium, with 80,000 fans screaming their heads off for a feud that demanded a decisive finish. In the first fight, controversy reigned—Groves dropped Froch in the first round and looked competitive throughout, only to have referee Howard Foster step in to stop the fight in the ninth.
Groves and all of England demanded a clear winner—and boy did they get one. One the grandest stage, with the world watching on HBO, Froch clocked Groves with a corker of a right hand, crumpling him like an accordion and leaving no question about who was truly the better man.
Also Considered: Andy Lee vs. John Jackson, Andy Lee vs. Matt Korobov, Nicholas Walters vs. Vic Darchinyan
Upset of the Year: Chris Algieri vs. Ruslan Provodnikov
Right now Chris Algieri is probably best known as "that tall guy who lost every round to Manny Pacquiao."
How quickly people forget.
Just a few short months ago, Algieri was even more obscure, coming in as merely raw meat for the fearsome Ruslan Provodnikov. It was nearly over before it started. A left dropped Algieri in the first round, and he later took a knee, struggling just to survive.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the ritual sacrifice—it turns out Algieri is actually a fairly sophisticated boxer. He made good use of his reach, jab and smarts to rally for a split-decision win.
"It was a great fight," Algieri told ESPN. "The big thing was getting out of the first round to start with."
The win catapulted Algieri right to the top of the sport and a matchup with Pacquiao. He was overmatched—and few wouldn't be, even in 2014. But that loss shouldn't erase what he accomplished when he had the chance to shine.
Provodnikov was the first high-profile victim. He likely won't be the last.
Also Considered: Miguel Cotto (TKO 10) Sergio Martinez, Diego Chavez (draw) Timothy Bradley
Promoter of the Year: Main Events
It's easy to collapse a complex universe of boxing promoters into two bright and shining stars—Bob Arum's Top Rank and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy. And, based on talent alone, that makes a certain amount of sense. The two mega-promoters have dozens of star fighters each—a wealth of riches that make matchmaking a pleasure and not a struggle.
Main Events, the New Jersey-based promotion founded by the late Dan Duva in the 1970s, has none of those advantages. Now headed by Dan's wife Kathy, the promotion has just a single star—Russian slugger Sergey Kovalev.
But what Main Events lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. With just a single superstar to match carefully and promote well, Duva can do her fighter justice. The results, if you look at our voting for Card of the Year, speak for themselves.
Also Considered: Top Rank, Golden Boy, K2 Promotions
Biggest Bust of the Year: Andre Ward
It's tempting to leave this slide blank. After all, that's what Andre Ward gave boxing fans in 2014—exactly nothing.
It's really a shame that we've only seen Ward in the ring twice since 2011. One of the most gifted stylists of his generation, the 30-year-old fighter is in the midst of what should be his fighting prime. His name should be spoken only in awe...in a quiet whisper reserved for the best-of-the-best.
Instead, he's wasted his best years squabbling with his late promoter Dan Goossen over control of his career. Here's hoping 2015 brings Ward back to the ring—preferably against rising star Gennady Golovkin.
Also Considered: Adonis Stevenson, Mikey Garcia, Nonito Donaire, Peter Quillin
Breakout Fighter of the Year: Terence Crawford
Omaha, Nebraska, has become one of America's top boxing hot spots.
I repeat for those just skimming—Omaha, Nebraska, has become one of America's top boxing hot spots.
That, if nothing else, is an awfully compelling case for hometown boy Terence Crawford as 2014's Breakout Star of the Year. In a sport constantly worried about retraction, Crawford came along like a supernova and actually expanded the sweet science's reach, drawing huge crowds and plenty of excitement to the CenturyLink Center for fights with Yuriorkis Gamboa and Raymundo Beltran.
That's pretty impressive.
Add in the fact that he's an exciting fighter on the rise, and the result was so clear that even a roomful of boxing fighters could agree—in fact, the only writers who didn't choose him as their winner picked him as Fighter of the Year instead.
Also Considered: Vasyl Lomachenko, Sergey Kovalev, Nicholas Walters
Fight of the Year: Orlando Salido vs. Terdsak Kokietgym
2014 was nearly a bittersweet year for veteran junior lightweight Orlando Salido. Though he had beaten highly touted amateur star Vasyl Lomachenko in March on HBO, it was a win that truly deserved ironic quote marks around it.
First, Salido came in overweight, an almost unforgivable failing for a veteran fighter, especially one clearly considered the B-side of the matchup. Then Salido fouled the slick defensive fighter throughout the fight. Those low blows made everyone watching recoil over and over again—everyone with the notable exception of referee Laurence Cole.
It was a fight that felt like such an aberration that people have seemingly chosen to forget it ever happened. Lomachenko continued his march toward the top of the professional ranks after a lifetime dominating the amateur scene.
He only moved on to win the very best fight of the year, wowing the boxing world (or at least the hardcores watching on beIN Sports Espanol) with a thrilling all-action fight against Terdsak Kokietgym on September 22 in Tijuana, Mexico.
Salido was down three times in the bout, returning to the fray after each setback to deliver punishment of his own. He put Kokietgym on the mat four times, ending things decisively with a four-punch combination in the 11th round so fierce that referee Eddie Claudio simply waved the fight off in lieu of a count.
It was the kind of fight that rewarded the most fiercely loyal boxing fans for their time and devotion. It was a hidden gem that most missed—but one that those who had the pleasure of watching wouldn't soon forget.
Also Considered: Lucas Matthysse vs. John Molina, Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa, Robert Guerrero vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai, Francisco Rodriguez Jr. vs. Katsunari Takayama
Fighter of the Year: Sergey Kovalev
Sergey Kovalev missed out on the most important fight possible, one that would have made a solid case for his claim as the best light heavyweight in the world. And, despite that fan-deflating misstep, the Russian slugger still managed to decision Terence Crawford to become Fighter of the Year.
Such is the current sordid state of professional boxing.
Kovalev earned top honors despite the loss of an eagerly anticipated matchup with Adonis Stevenson, who allegedly backed out of a potential bout when he signed with secretive uber-adviser Al Haymon in February. While Stevenson made a case for himself as Biggest Bust, Kovalev did what Kovalev does best—put the hurt on people.
Though knockouts over Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello impressed, it was a unanimous-decision win over a 49-year-old man that won Kovalev this award. That doesn't sound impressive without context. But Bernard Hopkins is no ordinary old man.
Kovalev did what few have managed during Hopkins' 26-year career—he made beating a legendarily difficult defensive fighter look easy. He swept the judges' scorecards (120-107, 120-107, 120-106) to earn three new pieces of hardware—the WBA and IBF World Light Heavyweight Championships and Bleacher Report's Fighter of the Year honors.
Also Considered: Terence Crawford, Roman Gonzalez, Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir Klitschko, Gennady Golovkin