21.12.04 – By Wray Edwards: What kind of boxing achievements qualify one for fighter of the year? Is it just high-profile wins like Tarver over Jones, Barrera over Morales, Marquez-Pacquiao, Trinidad’s comeback over Mayorga, or might we honor more obscure contests where world-class courage against all odds determined the winner. Eddie Sanchez’ win over Juan Candelo, Eric Mitchell’s great showing versus Mayorga and Ebo Elder over Courtney Burton were, among others, great displays.
Does fight of the year always have to go to big names? We have incredible comebacks within a fight. We have revenge victories in re-matches. We have super-hype fights. Danny William’s fate was decided by those who confused name recognition with ability. Just because he KO’d a big name, big things were expected of him. Just like the politician who puts out the most signs may be elected to office, but can he do the job?
Likewise, Fighter of the Year is based on what? Should fighter of the year necessarily have been in the FOTY or ROTY? What works? Frequency of title defenses against credible foes? Could it be a guy who, though winning against all odds, was so beat up it adversely affected, possibly shortened his career? Remember it’s fighter of the year, not fighter of the decade. So what if he fought for a couple of pyrrhic victories and won out in a decimating blaze of glory. That year he contributed the most excitement and prevailed under the most dire circumstances, sacrificing all for the moment of victory.
Let’s review some possible criteria we might use to make a pick: How many fights that year? Were they title defenses against credible foes? Was he nearly beaten in bloody, back-and-forth slugfests but managed, through surer-human courage to win in the end? Was he on the comeback trail after a long time out of the ring? Did he show great sportsmanship and professional as well as personal respect for his opponents?
Truly, Marquez got up off the cloth three times to give good account of himself fighting Manny. Yes Kostya returned after a long time out (as did Trinidad) to claim victory. Lovemore Ndou stood in against the onslaughts of Cotto with courage and resignation showing in his eyes. Gatti dropped Dorin, Bernard dropped Oscar, Williams sat Tyson down, Peter STRETCHED Jeremy Williams and many other contests had impressive action and outcomes.
But by the criteria listed above, only one name stands out in every way. He fought a whopping six fights this year. He contested for, and twice earned the WBO/NABO lightweight crowns. In the two title defenses he was opposed by men who outweighed him and boasted 17-3-0 and 21-2-0 records. He was also returning from over two years out of the ring. This guy also went twelve grueling rounds in a back-and-forth contest which left him a bloody, swollen wreck on the verge of collapsing to the canvass.
Somehow, some way he managed to glean just one more minute of maximum, desperate effort from deep within to completely vanquish his worthy opponent. The aftermath of the fight revealed the frightening price he had paid for victory. One’s TV screen was filled with the most replete example of agony and ecstasy which could possiblyregister on the face of a human who was still alive. All over the nation, those lucky enough to have tuned in to this miracle ending, were jumping out of their chairs and cheering and pumping their own fists. Not only had they just seen the Fight of the Year with all of its drama and touching courage, but they had just witnessed a desperate victory by a somewhat unknown, second tier fighter on a low fee public medium. Only one PPV fight this year came anywhere near to equal this performance, and that was the rubber match between Barrera and Morales which gets this writer’s vote for FOTY runner-up.
If you haven’t guessed by now, you are reading about the WBO/NABO Lightweight Champion of the world EBO ELDER. It is not unreasonable to state that his benchmark fight against Courtney Burton on the evening of 12/17/04 cemented his claim to the honor of Fighter of the Year. Fittingly, he did this while participating in what was arguably the Fight of the Year.
No, it was not a big PPV extravaganza held at one of the world-class venues like MSG, Staples or Mandalay Bay. This great fight was held at the Chumash Indian facility in Santa Ynez, California on simple, cable or satellite TV. The outcome of this ShowBox presentation had everyone searching, in vain, for appropriate adjectives to adequately describe what a thrilling spectacle they had just witnessed.
The next day, as many told others who were unlucky enough to have missed the fight, all about it, some were in the enviable position of having a recording of the event to share with their less fortunate friends and family. We tried an experiment. Without telling of the outcome, and sure they had not already found out, we put on the tape a watched their reactions as the story unfolded. It was not only an additional pleasure to be able to share this with others, but to know what was about to happen and watch their reactions. You may, if you wish, read about the details of the fight in the article entitled “As Good As It Gets” below. At times one must have the discipline to watch line play and not the quarterback with the ball. It is also somewhat difficult to watch footwork for a bit and ignore the glove strikes, but these exercises are sometimes the only way to truly understand the inner workings of a sport. A true fan of Boxing will give a fair chance to any match no matter who’s fighting or where, because on any night a diamond in the rough might appear.
EBO who? If you watch or watched that fight you will know who, and remember it for the rest of your life. Let the big, fancy hob-knob writers and so-called fans scoff and smirk as they cling to their pet celebrity sports heroes. The secret joy of the true boxing fan is to know that sometimes, in a quiet corner of the sporting world, a little known or promoted contest can outshine the most heavily touted tinsel-town extravaganza.
Respect for the accomplishments of others and a good sense of humor are the hallmarks of successful humans. While it is true that “All glory is fleeting”, no example of it shall pass away if we are open to the lessons it brings. The world’s problems will not be solved by Boxing, but many of those problems might yield to the kind of courage shown by boxers. The sport is not meant as an object lesson, but it sometimes, inadvertently instructs its watchers.
This has been a signal year for boxing fans. Even though the tyrants of the sport (and you know who you are) have meddled with its workings, individual efforts have still provided thrills and chills. There are things in the works which will broaden its base and add new talent and responsible management. What floated my boat, made my dog bark and blew my skirt up was the great ending to it all provided by Ebo and Courtney.
I will never forget how, on a seemingly average Friday night, I unexpectedly saw Ebo Elder teach me a thing or two about life.