SAN DIEGO, January 1, 2015 – The past 12 months in boxing will be remembered just as much for the fights that didn’t happen as the ones that did.
The action outside the ring continues to be dominated by the “will they or won’t they?” discussion about a superfight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Nevertheless, there are always impressive performances worth calling out.
Setting the stage for our list, we start by defining the variables in play which determine what qualifies as a “top” fight. The most action? Killer knockouts? Underdogs who prevail, or champions who show their dominance? Does the story outside the ring matter? What about the element of surprise?
My top choice on the Fights of the Year list always contains these elements:
- I appreciate tactical contests, but they don’t launch me out of my seat and make me cheer. Show me willingness to engage. Great boxing must be entertaining.
- Proficiency within the action. Smart, not foolhardy aggression. Well-placed, effective punches. Speed and endurance. Skilled defense with the ability to take a shot.
- Great fighters have heart. Boxers can’t help but bring relationships and emotion into the ring.
- Finally, never discount the element of surprise, the knockout from nowhere, the boxer who rises to the occasion when it really counts.
These are the bouts that made my 2014 Fights of the Year list.
This bout wasn’t available live on English-language television, but it was well worth practicing your Spanish, especially while watching the TV Azteca call by Julio Caesar Chavez Sr. Mexico’s Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama gave their all in this strawweight unification bout at the famed Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. These 105-pound warriors fought an action-packed battle with the sort of drama reserved for telenovelas. Takayama (27-7, 10 KOs) was getting the upper hand in the first half of the fight, but 21-year-old Rodriguez (15-2, 10 KOs) found inspiration from the hometown crowd and came back to win a decision. Fans watching were left breathless, including the elated Chavez Sr. cheering the furious action from the broadcast perch ringside. Do yourself a favor and watch this high octane contest, especially the wild eighth round.
All the elements came together for Crawford’s first title defense in the lightweight division: first appearance as a professional in his home town of Omaha, Nebraska in front of a sold-out arena; high stakes against a dangerous, undefeated opponent; the potential for the outcome to go either way. The good people of Omaha (including the Oracle of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett) were treated to an exciting bout by their Nebraska native son. Cuban featherweight champion Gamboa was in command the first part of the fight thanks to his speed and accuracy. But Crawford (25-0, 17 KOs) didn’t panic, used his wits to figure out how to get to Gamboa (24-1, 17 KOs), and went to work. He put Gamboa on the canvas in the fifth round, again in the eighth round, and twice in the ninth to end the fight. Most people in the arena were at their first professional fight, and it was the first title fight in Omaha in 42 years. It won’t be the last. This is exactly the type of bout boxing needs. Crawford became a legitimate star and thousands of people are now new fans of the Sweet Science.
This bout signified a major comeback for Cotto after losses to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout. He was trained to perfection by Freddie Roach, and executed the perfect fight plan against Martinez. He didn’t just win, he dominated a once powerful Martinez. It was effectively over after a three-knockdown first round. You don’t see a 10-6 round score too often. While some observers would give equal credit for the victory to Martinez’s aging knees, Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs) would have prevailed even if Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KOs) was more mobile and steadier on his feet. Watching the fight was witnessing a changing of the guard in an exciting weight division, one likely to give us Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez and a bout between the winner and middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin. We can’t wait.
Froch (33-2, 24 KOs) made last year’s list in his rematch against Mikael Kessler, and his rematch against countryman George Groves (21-2, 16 KOs) gets a spot this year. It’s nearly impossible to live up to the sort of hype given to this bout in London at Wembley Stadium. But once in a while, fighters put on a show worthy of the hype. Experience got the better of youth as Froch knocked out Groves at 2:53 of the eighth round with a stunning straight right hand blow. Groves was winning the fight in the early rounds, but a loss of focus allowed Froch to connect and put doubts about his victory in their first bout to rest. Froch not only won the fight in the decisive manner he wanted, he gave his entire career and British boxing in general a major shot of adrenaline.
Returning to California’s StubHub Center, 2012 Fighter of the Year Donaire hoped to get his stalled career back on track. Not so fast. Jamaican Nicholas “Axe Man” Walters (25-0, 21 KOs) ended the night early with a thundering sixth round knockout of Donaire (33-3, 21 KOs), landing a perfect right across the top of Donaire’s head that put him face down on the canvas. Walters is an engaging guy who speaks excellent Spanish after living and training in Panama for many years. He couldn’t be more fan friendly. Fight freaks can look forward to an inevitable date with two time Olympic gold medalist and titleholder Vasyl Lomanchenko.
Matthysse (36-3, 34 KOs) also makes a return appearance. The Argentinean tough guy was on the losing end of a close fight to American Danny Garcia on last year’s list. This time, he’s the one who prevailed against big puncher John Molina (27-5, 22 KOs). The pair brought the fans to their feet at the StubHub Center (yes, there again) with an action-packed brawl. Both boxers were down on the canvas before Matthysse put an end to things at 22 seconds of the 11th round with the fifth and final knockdown of the bout. If you don’t like the sight of blood, this fight wasn’t for you. It was all about courage in the face of brutality. Matthysse and Molina put on an incredible show, and it was exactly the sort of career revival Matthysse needed.
Golovkin (31-0, 28 KOs) remains the most feared man in boxing after a string of knockout wins in 2014. “Triple G’s” bout in July against the Australian Geale (30-3, 16 KOs) finally posed a real challenge for the knockout artist. Golovkin mowed him down with shocking ease. After eating a decent punch to the face, Golovkin stopped Geale in the third round with a knockout counterpunch. Following the fight, Geale said Golovkin was the hardest puncher he had ever faced. Golovkin notched another quick KO win against Mexican veteran Marco Antonio Rubio three months later in October in front of a standing-room only crowd at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Golovkin never disappoints. As he said himself after the Geale bout, “Hey you guys, you need an amazing show. I’m here, just call me.”
Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev returns to the list for his second appearance. Kovalev made his name impressing boxing fans with his powerhouse punching, winning 23 of his 25 career fights by knockout. In November he scored the most important victory of his career without a knockout, defeating veteran Bernard Hopkins in a lopsided unanimous decision. Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs) ran the show, throwing and landing far more punches while showing skilled ring generalship, not thought to be his strength. Kovalev moved Hopkins around the ring, working “B-Hop’s” legs to tire him out. Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) looked for openings and opportunities but he couldn’t find them. He had to respect the potential of Kovalev’s knockout power. Kovalev showed two skills in this bout not in evidence in his previous fights: his stamina through 12 rounds, and his patience. This was a smart fight by Kovalev against type.
In a wild, crowd-pleasing fight consisting of nonstop power punches, Robert Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KOs) of Gilroy, California won a unanimous decision over Yoshihiro Kamegai (24-2-1, 21 KOs) of Japan. Guerrero got busy right away, and it was a slugfest. Kamegai proved the equal of Guerrero’s shots in the early rounds and didn’t fade early as expected for a boxer who’s never gone the 12 round distance. Guerrero and Kamegai came into the fight in phenomenal condition. Guerrero has taken up Crossfit training and gave the discipline credit for getting him ready for this type of punishing fight. Whatever he did, it allowed him to land 411 power punches in 12 rounds, versus Kamegai’s 278 power punches; the pair combined for a total 1,913 punches. Guerrero wrapped up the fight with a blistering series of punches in the final round. Credit to Kamegai for standing up to those punches, but he had little left to offer. It was a tremendous return to the ring for Guerrero after a 13-month break following his loss to Floyd Mayweather.
This fight sealed my Fight Freak 2015 New Year’s Resolution: Never ever pass up a road trip to see boxing at the StubHub Center again.
This bout made my list for the sheer drama of it, and for the way it transformed the future of Irish boxer Andy Lee. Fighting on the Cotto/Martinez undercard, the veteran Lee (33-2, 23 KOs) was in trouble against John Jackson of the Virgin Islands (18-2, 15 KOs). Jackson appeared on the brink of forcing the referee to stop the fight as he pounded Lee. Lee threw boxing’s equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass, rocking Jackson and sending him to the canvas face first. No one was more surprised than Lee. Later, he said, “With that Irish blood in me, when I get hit, I lose my temper and I want to hit him back.” The punch that saved the fight and his career. Lee went on to defeat Russian Matt Korobov in December with a similar knockout punch, setting himself up for an exciting 2015.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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