Sergey Kovalev took the boxing world by storm. | Photo: HBO
While it may seem laughable to see these words in print,
professional boxing is not dead or even on life support. Though the
Sweet Science may only have two legitimate mainstream superstars in
Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao at the moment, the sport
annually produces dozens of superb matchups, spectacular knockouts
and, in some cases, unfathomable upsets.
The year that was 2014 was no different. Granted, it might not have
been the greatest 12 months boxing has ever witnessed, but one
would be hard pressed to find a fan of the sport that could not
look back on the last year with fond recollections.
Sherdog.com’s resident boxing experts have voted on the most
important year-end awards in the sport. Some may disagree with our
panel’s final verdicts, but that is what boxing is all about:
violent entertainment surrounded by non-violent debate.
* * *
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Sergey
Entering 2014, Kovalev was a somewhat unknown figure among casual
boxing fans. By the time the bedazzled ball dropped in Times Square
to ring in 2015, he was the “Fighter of Year.” “Krusher” had been
feasting on decent opposition ever since he turned pro, and last
year was expected to be his coming-out party. After torching
undefeated contenders Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello before
summer concluded, the time was ripe for him to finally tackle one
of the men lurking in the upper echelon of the light heavyweight
division. Kovalev locked horns with one of the greatest fighters of
the past 50 years in Bernard Hopkins, and though “The Alien” was
only a few months shy of turning 50, some insiders predicted the
future hall of famer would still be as fresh as ever and able to
teach the Russian-American a lesson. Kovalev wound up beating
Hopkins worse than anybody ever had previously; he dropped him,
rocked him several times and won every single round of their fight.
Considering the sheer number of all-time greats Hopkins has faced,
and beaten, Kovalev was brilliant in doing what no other mortal has
ever done. A March date with Jean Pascal should solidify Kovalev’s
position among the world’s top 10 pound-for-pound boxers.
Terence Crawford, Nicholas
* * *
FIGHT OF THE YEAR: Francisco Rodriguez Jr.
vs. Katsunari Takayama
On a sweltering August night in Monterrey, Mexico, the oft-ignored
strawweight division electrified the boxing world with the best
fight of the year. In a rare 105-pound unification bout, local
fighter Rodriguez Jr. made the first defense of his WBO title.
Across from him was Japan’s Takayama, who was making the third
defense of his IBF belt. What transpired were 12 rounds of absolute
savagery inside the ring. The two tiny warriors literally stood
toe-to-toe, forehead-to-forehead for virtually every minute of
every round. They left everything in the ring that night and
delivered what was easily the year’s most riveting battle.
Rodriguez scored a knockdown in the third frame with a sizzling
left hook to the body. Takayama, who was already cut above his left
eye, sprang back to his feet and tore into his Mexican counterpart.
They each gave as good as they got, never stopped punching and
never quit trying to knock off the other guy’s head. There were no
further knockdowns in the epic skirmish, but they rocked each other
repeatedly. It was unbelievable to watch them endure endless
barrages of punches, only to continue to fire away round after
round; and it was amazing to watch them leave it all on the table
in the championship frames, a testament to how much grit and
determination they had inside. In the end, Rodriguez was awarded
the unanimous decision, one he deserved and certainly had earned.
Since that mesmerizing night, Rodriguez bolted the strawweight
division for the flyweight class; Takayama stopped fellow
countryman Go Odaira on New Year’s Eve, when he captured the two
titles for which he had fought Rodriguez. Hopefully at some point
these two tiny giants can get it on again. HONORABLE
Orlando Salido vs. Terdsak Kokietgym, Lucas
Matthysse vs. John Molina
* * *
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: Nicholas Walters vs.
Former world champion Darchinyan has been knocked out before, both
times at the hands of Nonito Donaire. “The Raging Bull” had also
seen better days entering his WBA featherweight title fight against
Walters, a Jamaican with murderous punching power in his hands.
Walters had been putting his opposition to sleep almost every time
out, and he was making the first defense of the title he captured
via fourth-round stoppage against Alberto Garza. Darchinyan was
expected to give the young champion problems, but he did no such
thing. Darchinyan was knocked down in the second round from a right
uppercut and again in the fifth from left hooks to the face and
body. Darchinyan probably should have stayed down when he was first
felled in the fifth. Allowed to continue, he stumbled around and
tried to clear his head while fighting back. Within moments, he was
immortalized in the year’s most spectacular knockout: A
picture-perfect left hook did the damage, and it would have brought
a tear to the eye of the late, great Joe Frazier. Darchinyan looked
like he had been shot when he collapsed, his head balancing on the
bottom rope as referee Raul Caiz Jr. rushed in to call it off. In a
year filled with highlight-reel knockouts, Walters’ crushing KO
stood head and shoulders above them all. HONORABLE
Marvin Sonsona vs. Akifume Shimoda, Amir Mansour
vs. Fred Kassi
* * *
UPSET OF THE YEAR: Chris Algieri vs.
Though most will not admit it, many a boxing insider mocked the
matchup pitting powerhouse Provodnikov against the unknown Algieri.
The Russian had survived the 2013 “Fight of the Year” with Timothy
Bradley and beat up perennial brawler Mike Alvarado in previous
outings. He was supposed to walk right through Algieri, who was
fresh off of wins against Emmanuel Taylor, Wilfredo Acuna and Mike
Arnaoutis. Acuna had lost five straight and Arnaoutis had dropped
five of seven. Algieri was expected to be cannon fodder. Early in
the bout, it looked as though everybody was going to be correct, as
the New Yorker was dropped twice in the opening round. He looked
exactly like the chump he was supposed to look like. However,
Algieri is as tough as they come and fought his way back into the
fight. He not only survived the early onslaught, but he began
picking apart the Russian. Towards the end of the battle, it
appeared as though the American just might pull off the upset. He
continued to box off Provodnikov’s ears and shocked the boxing
world by nabbing a split decision in a fight he clearly won.
Virtually no one expected him to be competitive, let alone win the
fight. In the end, Algieri captured hands down the year’s biggest
upset and was awarded quite the gift: a 12-round butt whipping at
the hands of Pacquiao later in the year. HONORABLE
Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez
* * *
ROBBERY OF THE YEAR: Oscar Escandon vs.
Boxing unfortunately is a sport littered with corruption and
suspicion. Mostly due to the horrendous decisions too many ringside
judges have submitted over the years, the Sweet Science is scoffed
at by the majority of the mainstream sports media because so many
fights are perceived to be fixed. There have been far too many
absurd decisions/robberies in boxing over the years, and, sadly,
2014 was not immune to the disease. On a special ESPN Thursday
Night Fights telecast, Cave fought his tail off for 12 rounds on
national TV. Cave figured he would have his hand raised when the
victor was announced, as did virtually everybody who watched the
fight. In one of the most unusual and baffling decisions in the
history of the sport, his opponent, Escandon, was awarded the split
decision. Ringside color commentator Teddy Atlas erupted in a fit
of rage over the verdict -- and rightfully so. He scored it in
favor of Cave, 118-110, as did Sherdog.com, which compiled a live
report of the bout. Demands for widespread changes to the sport
rampaged throughout the boxing world, but as we all know, the more
things change, the more they stay the same. HONORABLE
Mickey Bey vs. Miguel Vasquez, Danny Garcia vs.