Tis the season of giving and we aim to pass on some holiday cheer to a group of fighters that we believe deserve top honors. In some categories, we also offer honorable mention. Without further ado, here are our front-runners for 2014’s major boxing superlatives:
Knockout of the Year
“Paparazzi” Jones — Amir Mansour KO7 Fred Kassi. Amir “Hardcore” Mansour’s (21-1, 16 KOs) clock-cleaning 7th round KTFO of Fred Kassi (18-3, 10 KOs) was my top choice. This highlight-reel KO deserved an R rating for Strong Violence and it was SI.com’s Knockout of the Year (KOTY).
Honorable Mention — Wladimir Klitschko‘s (63-3, 53 KOs) 5th round starching of Kubrat Pulev (20-1, 11 KOs) — ESPN.com‘s KOTY — also warrants prominence. Though most fight fans probably missed this jaw-dropping knockout, which occurred on the undercard of Glen Tapia vs. Keenan Collins at Bally’s in Atlantic City, Jesse Hart’s (16-0, 13 KOs) one-hitter quitter on Shujaa El Amin (12-6, 6 KOs) merits a shout out. Be sure to check it out at the 17-second mark (round 6) of this link.
Justin Jones — Danny Garcia KO2 Rod Salka. Danny “Swift“ Garcia’s (29-0, 17 KOs) devastating 2nd round knockout of Rod Salka (20-4, 3 KOs) receives my vote for the 2014 KOTY. Garcia setup the KO perfectly by doubling up on a right hand to the body and left hook to the chin combination. It was Garcia’s second left hook that ended the night, leaving Salka’s arms flailing about on his way to the canvas. Salka had no hope of beating the count.
Honorable Mention — Nicholas “Axe Man“ Walters’ (25-0, 21 KOs) 5th round knockout of Vic “Raging Bull“ Darchinyan was a beauty. Walters caught Darchinyan with a brutal, short left hook to the jaw that caused the Raging Bull’s left leg to buckle underneath his butt as he fell backward into the ropes. Another “must-see” KO was Felix Verdejo’s (16-0, 12 KOs) ridiculous 3rd round knockout of Sergio Villaneuva (26-5-2, 13 KOs). Verdejo hit Villaneuva with a sweat-popping (and neck-twisting) short right hook to the chin, which caused Villanueva’s body to contort about on his way (face down) into the ropes.
Sugar Ray Robinson Fighter of the Year
“Paparazzi” Jones — Román González. The Boxing Writers Association of America’s (BWAA) nominees for this award included Terence Crawford (25-0, 17 KOs), Miguel Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs), Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (31-0, 28 KOs), Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs), and Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs). GGG and Kovalev are Boxingnews24.com’s and SI.com’s Fighter of the Year (FOTY), respectively. Due to a lack of consensus surrounding the 2014 FOTY, I have no problem with writers and fans who selected any of these worthy applicants. I have a dark horse candidate, however: Román “El Chocolatito” González (41-0, 35 KOs).
The undefeated RING/WBC flyweight champion often flies under the radar, but that needs to change. Chocolatito, who is ranked 5th on The Ring’s Pound for Pound list, was 4-0 in 2014 with all of his wins coming by way of technical knockout. In fact, all of but one González’s opponents during this stretch — i.e., former WBC Champ Akira Yaegashi (20-4, 10 KOs) — made it past the midpoint of their tilt.
Despite coming from humble beginnings, the Nicaraguan flamethrower has developed into a complete fighter and virtual doomsday machine. Although boxing is in his blood, González also appears to have Félix Trinidad-like power in him. At 27 years old, it is frightening to think of how good he could become. González could very well develop into a transcendent fighter in the next two to four years.
In short, Chocolatito is card-carrying badass. If you don’t know about him, you’d better ask somebody.
Justin Jones — Terence Crawford. You can make strong case for González or Kovalev, but I believe that Terence “Bud” Crawford is the best candidate for this award. Crawford had two solid wins against Ricky Burns (37-4-1, 11 KOs) and Raymundo Beltran (29-7-1, 17 KOs), and one certified victory in his stoppage of Yuriorkis Gamboa (24-1, 17 KOs) — who was previously unbeaten and on the fringe of most pound-for-pound lists. Going into the Crawford-Gamboa fight, the consensus was that the bout was pretty much an even fight. Not one person that I spoke with thought that Crawford would win by knockout, so major props go out to Crawford on a helluva 2014.
Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier Fight of the Year
“Paparazzi” Jones — Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa. I give my top billing to this championship bout based on the high drama created by WBO/Ring lightweight titlist Terence Crawford and previously unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa over nine rounds. The skill and competitiveness on display in this fight was outstanding and the fans at the CenturyLink Center definitely got their money’s worth.
Crawford’s virtuoso performance not only sent ripples throughout the lightweight division, but it also signaled that Omaha, Nebraska should not be overlooked as destination for major boxing cards.
Honorable Mention — Lucas “The Machine“ Matthysse vs. John Molina, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai, Tommy Coyle vs. Daniel Brizuela, Francisco Rodriguez Jr. vs. Katsunari Takayama, Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Gary Russell Jr., and Froch vs. Groves-II.*
Justin Jones — Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa. For me, it came down to Crawford vs. Gamboa and Matthysse vs. Molina. Both fights provided knockdowns, high-level back-and-forth action, and a clear-cut ending — a knockout. With all things being equal, I had to consider what was at stake in each bout. When you do that, it’s clear that Crawford vs. Gamboa was more significant because there was a major title at stake (WBO/lineal lightweight title). In the Matthysse vs. Molina fight, there was no major belt on the line. In my book, a title fight holds more weight than a non-title fight, so Crawford vs. Gamboa is my 2014 Fight of the Year.
Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year
“Paparazzi” Jones — Freddie Roach. The Boxing Hall of Famer had a banner year in 2014. The successes of WBO champ Manny Pacquiao, newly minted WBC/RING middleweight champ Miguel Cotto, and undefeated flyweight and former Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming made Roach the easy choice for this superlative. Though some members of Roach’s stable were less successful (e.g., Ruslan Provodnikov) than others (e.g., Pacquiao), the lack of proficiency among the former boxers must be counterbalanced by the work the six-time Trainer of the Year has done to revitalize the careers of fighters like Glen “Jersey Boy” Tapia.
Justin Jones — John David Jackson. I am probably going against the grain here, but I believe that John David Jackson is most deserving of the 2014 Trainer of the Year award. I know that Roach wins the “strength in numbers” argument with his extensive stable of fighters, but Jackson helped turn Kovalev into a flat-out star and viable pound-for-pound fighter. Under Jackson’s tutelage, Kovalev destroyed all of his opponents up to this point and, even in his bout against Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs), Kovalev out-classed Hopkins in all facets. I also believe it is fair to say that Jackson out-trained Naazim Richardson, who is among the most highly regarded trainers in the business. Jackson is essentially doing the same thing that Virgil Hunter did with Andre “S.O.G.” Ward (27-0, 14 KOs), which earned Hunter 2011 BWAA Trainer of the Year honors.
Upset of the Year
“Paparazzi” Jones — Chris Algeri SD12 Ruslan Provodnikov. After losing to Timothy Bradley (31-1-1, 1NC 12 KOs) by a razor-thin margin in 2013, Ruslan “Siberian Rocky” Provodnikov (24-3, 17 KOs) regrouped and thumped Mike Alvarado (34-3, 23 KOs) to claim the WBO junior welterweight title. Indeed, things were looking up for Provodnikov going into 2014, with the Russian brawler often mentioned as a potential opponent for Manny Pacquiao. Talk about the fast track to stardom.
Enter former kickboxer turned pugilist Chris Algeri (20-1, 8 KOs) to upset the applecart. The undefeated, yet unheralded Algeri would overcome two early knockdowns to outfox Provodnikov over the remainder of their scrap. Not only did Algeri take Provodnikov’s WBO strap via split decision, but he also nixed a future payday for the Siberian Rocky against Pacquiao in the process.
Algeri would go on to face the Pac Man in November 2014 and earn a reported $1.67 million (minimum) purse. When taken together, these circumstances gave the Algeri-Provodnikov bout the nod over the other contenders in my book.
Honorable Mention — Resilient IBF flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng, of Thailand, upsets Kazuto Ioka by SD12 on Ioka’s home turf (Osaka, Japan).
Justin Jones — Miguel Cotto RTD10 Sergio Martínez. I know we are accustomed to thinking about an upset as a no-name fighter who beats a heavy favorite or superstar, but why should we be limited by these standards? My pick for Upset of the Year is Cotto’s dominating victory over then lineal Middleweight champion Sergio “Marvilla” Martínez (51-3-2, 28 KOs). Martínez was the heavy favorite going into the bout and almost no one gave Cotto a shot to win the fight, let alone knock Marvilla down four times en route to a stoppage. The writers in the building that night were in shock and the HBO telecast was damn near speechless. Even the Cotto fans in attendance were amazed at how good Cotto looked and how bad he made Martínez look.
Prospect of the Year
“Paparazzi” Jones — Artur Beterbiev. Without a doubt, the sky is the limit for the former Olympian. At 29 years old, the Russian light heavyweight has all the tools to be a major force in the division. For instance, Beterbiev (7-0, 7 KOs) is a dangerous puncher who manhandled former IBF titlist Tavoris Cloud in a more impressive fashion than did Bernard Hopkins or Adonis Stevenson. Beterbiev also beat Sergey Kovalev in the amateurs and he has demonstrated that a knockout is never out of reach — even if he has to get off the deck to register one.
Honorable Mention — Lightweight Felix Verdejo (16-0, 12 KOs) — ESPN.com’s 2014 Prospect of the Year, heavyweights Joseph Parker (12-0, 10 KOs) and Anthony Joshua (10-0, 10 KOs), light heavyweight Marcus Browne (13-0, 10 KOs), super middleweight Jesse Hart, junior middleweight Tony Harrison (19-0, 16 KOs), junior welterweights Frankie “Pitbull” Gomez (18-0, 13 KOs) and Mike “Yes Indeed” Reed (12-0, 6 KOs), and welterweight Errol Spence Jr. (15-0, 12 KOs).*
Justin Jones — Anthony Joshua. There are many boxers working their way up the ranks that I have my eyes on. Some of these fighters are mentioned above, while others are not. Nonetheless, I give the nod to Anthony Joshua as my 2014 Prospect of the Year. Joshua, who fought an incredible seven times this year, is making a name for himself in the heavyweight division and his team is doing a good job of increasing his level of competition with each fight. At 6’6” and 240 pounds, Joshua exhibits good speed, power, and the ability to put accurate combinations together on a consistent basis. While it’s too early to call him the future of the division, the 25-year-old Olympic Gold Medalist (2012) is definitely someone that you should be paying close attention to as his career evolves.
*Note. These lists are not exhaustive.
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