The year 2011 was a mixed bag for fight fans. Marred by poor officiating, awful judging and stifling promotional politics, boxing could easily have drifted into a dark era of malaise. Instead, the sport proved, once again, that there’s nothing wrong with boxing that can’t be fixed by what’s right with boxing.
The rise of quality stars in their 20s is slowly but surely forcing the sport’s old-timers out of the spotlight while TV execs and promoters finally seem to be getting the concept of building fan-favorite cards. The year produced numerous thrilling, compelling, and memorable moments and gave fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic for 2012.
Here’s a look at boxing’s best, worst, and strangest moments of 2011:
Fighter of the Year: Andre Ward
Ward scored relatively one-sided unanimous decisions over Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham this year en route to winning Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament. As a matter of fact, the 27-year-old WBC/WBA super middleweight champion strolled through the entire tournament with little problem. In a year with several possible Fighter of the Year candidates, only Ward could claim absolute dominance over his opposition.
ESPN’s Friday Night Fights had an especially good year in 2011, and sitting at the top of their best fights was a blue-collar junior middleweight scrap between these tough, but unheralded battlers. Fought at close range with a constant ebb and flow in action, Wolak-Rodriguez produced the kind of drama that only boxing at its best can produce. Wolak, who keeps a full-time construction job and Rodriguez, who was a former world-title challenger making his 154-pound debut, put on a classic that had fans marveling at Rodriguez’s unexpected toughness and Wolak’s ability to battle on with a softball-sized knot over his right eye. This July classic ended up as it should have — in a draw.
Runners-up: Hernan Marquez TKO 11 Luis Concepcion, Victor Ortiz UD 12 Andre Berto
Event of the Year: The Cotto-Margarito rematch
To say that this bout had bad blood would be an understatement. Cotto was finally coming right out and accusing Margarito of using illegally altered hand wraps in their 2008 bout. Margarito, of course, was denying the cheat and relishing the role of bad guy as he taunted Cotto’s toughness, his chin, and the fans who wanted to see him get his comeuppance. Added to the mix was Margarito’s injured right eye and the intrigue of whether the New York State Athletic Commission would even allow the fight to take place.
And when Cotto finally got his redemption by stopping Margarito after the ninth, fans and media alike were energized like seldom before. All in all, Cotto-Margarito II produced more drama and intrigue than any other event this year.
Runners-up: Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye, The Super Six tournament
Knockout of the Year: Nonito Donaire TKO 2 Fernando Montiel
“Filipino Flash” Nonito Donaire announced his arrival on the world scene with a bang as he nearly decapitated veteran multi-division and defending WBC/WBO bantamweight champ, Fernando Montiel, with a perfectly-timed left hand that dropped the Mexican hard. To Montiel’s credit, he somehow beat the count, but was stopped seconds later. Not technically a knockout, but this one was so big and so perfect that it just had to get top honors.
Runners-up: Kendall Holt TKO 4 Julio Diaz, Robert Helenius KO 9 Samuel Peter
Round of the Year of the Year: James Kirkland vs. Alfredo Angulo (first round)
Everybody expected a war when this bout was signed – and they weren’t disappointed. Angulo dropped and hurt Kirkland in the first 30 seconds of the bout and then pounced on his injured opponent. Kirkland would survive the early heat and battle back, eventually turning the tide, then hurting and dropping Angulo in the last 30 seconds of the round. It was a perfect opening for a brutal comeback win for Kirkland.
Runners-up: Victor Ortiz vs. Andre Berto (6th), Lamont Peterson vs. Amir Khan (9th)
The Pernell Whitaker Virtuoso Award: Bernard Hopkins (vs. Jean Pascal)
Denied his chance to make history in his controversial December 2010 majority draw with then-WBC light heavyweight champ Pascal, Hopkins took another run at the title in May 2011. This time, the 46-year-old future hall of famer put on even more of a boxing clinic, taking the title via unanimous decision and leaving absolutely no doubt as to who really was the better fighter.
Runners-up: Vitali Klitschko (vs. Tomasz Adamek), Andre Ward (vs. Carl Froch)
The Oliver McCall Puzzling Non-Performance in a Prime Time Drama Award: David Haye
This was everything that David Haye had claimed to want — a mega-bout with Wladimir Klitschko and a chance to prove his heavyweight dominance. However, when the bell rang, Haye did little to actually win the fight and passively handed over his WBA title to WBO/IBF champ Klitschko. After the bout, Haye made things even worse by blaming an injured pinky toe on the poor performance.
Runner-up: Shane Mosley (vs. Manny Pacquiao)
Breakthrough Fighter of the Year: Lamont Peterson
Before his shocking upset win over Amir Khan in December, Peterson seemed the type of blue-collar fighter destined to populate the top of the rankings, but never quite get into the category of “elite.” The Khan bout changed that and has opened the door for many more career opportunities for the old-school battler from Washington, DC.
Runners-up: Hernan Marquez, George Groves
Upset of the Year: Nobuhiro Ishida (vs. James Kirkland)
The light-hitting Ishida was just supposed to be a light snack for the “Mandingo Warrior,” but the relatively unknown Japanese fringe contender would drop Kirkland three times en route to a TKO 1 victory.
Runners-up: Lamont Peterson SD 12 Amir Khan, Orlando Salido TKO 8 Juan Manuel Lopez
Trainer of the Year: Robert Garcia
Garcia, who works out of Oxnard, Calif., has quickly become one of boxing’s most accomplished trainers. With fighters such as Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios, and Miguel Angel Garcia under his guidance, Garcia has made his mark on the sport and is in position to be a top figure for many years to come.
Runners-up: Emanuel Steward, Barry Hunter
Robbery of the Year: Paul Williams MD12 Erislandy Lara
Even in a year bursting with bad calls and odd decisions, this travesty sits at the top of the list. For a full 12 rounds, the Cuban southpaw Lara, seemed to dominate the lanky former world titlist, outworking and out-hustling his opponent with relative ease. However, when the scores were announced, Williams somehow pulled off the majority decision victory. The outcry following this putrid decision would lead to the New Jersey State Athletic Commission launching an inquiry into the matter, but the decision remains on the record books.
Runners-up: Robert Helenius SD12 Dereck Chisora, Devon Alexander SD10 Lucas Matthysse
The George A. Romero Gore Award: Pawel Wolak (vs. Delvin Rodriguez)
Looking like a character from “The Hills Have Eyes,” Wolak battled on against Delvin Rodriguez in 2011′s Fight of the Year, making more than a few fans along the way. To referee Steve Smoger’s credit, he let the fight go on despite Wolak’s obvious (and increasingly ugly) injury. “The Raging Bull” would battle on, get the draw against Rodriguez, and give the sport one of 2011′s most memorable images.
Runners-up: Robert Frankel (vs. John Molina), Giovani Segura (vs. Brian Viloria), Jorge Linares (vs. Antonio DeMarco)
Gutsiest Effort of 2011: Mike Alvarado (vs. Breidis Prescott)
Heavy-handed Colombian Prescott seemed on his way to a relatively easy win and Alvarado, who has been a ranked junior welterweight for ages, looked to be yet another fighter who had somehow achieved a lofty ranking despite a moderate level of ability. However, Denver’s Alvarado battled back from a slow start and eventually broke Prescott down, dropping him twice in the 10th round to take the TKO victory.
Not only did James Kirkland battle back from an upset TKO 1 loss to Nobuhiro Ishida in April, but he started 2011 with a comeback after a two-year prison sentence for parole violation. Back with former trainer, Ann Wolfe, Kirkland has battled his way back into the boxing mainstream and is nearly back to where he was before his prison stint in 2009.
Runner-up: Jhonny Gonzalez
The One-Sided Beatdown Award: Vitali Klitschko vs. Tomasz Adamek
Tomasz Adamek was ranked in everyone’s top fice at heavyweight, yet WBC champ, Vitali Klitschko, walked right through the Polish challenger en route to a one-sided TKO 10 victory. From the opening bell to the merciful decision to stop the beating, this title bout was never in doubt as Klitschko completely picked apart the game Adamek.
Runners-up: Ulises Solis vs. Saul Alvarez (street fight), John Molina vs. Robert Frankel
The Jason Voorhees “He just won’t die” Award: “Yori Boy” Campas
No, that’s not your Tio Chucho from Pasadena, it’s former junior middleweight world titlist Luis Ramon “Yori Boy” Campas. The 40-year-old contemporary of Oscar De la Hoya and Felix Trinidad is still active and actually fought five times in 2011, winning four of those contests. Campas is far removed from his best days, but actually won a minor WBA middleweight belt in August and has been mentioned in title bout talks against WBA 160-pound champ Felix Sturm.
Runner-up: Bernard Hopkins, Evander Holyfield
Comeback Nobody Asked For: Antonio Tarver
Forty-three-year-old former light heavyweight world titlist Antonio Tarver made a successful comeback this year by stopping pedestrian cruiserweight Danny Green for a bogus title in July. Congratulations to Tarver for the victory, but we don’t quite recall the world clamoring for his return.
Runner-up: Jermain Taylor
The Avatar All-Style, No-Substance Award: Antonio Margarito
Since being busted with loaded hand-wraps before his 2009 bout with Shane Mosley, the smug Mexican brawler has gone 1-3 and has, maybe, won two of 30 rounds against elite level opposition. The fighter who, at one point, was hyped to be the most feared man in the sport has been proven to be nothing but world class hype.
Runner-up: Devon Alexander
The Totally Exposed Award: David Lemieux
The popular Canadian middleweight had captured headlines and somehow even managed to work his way to the top of the WBC rankings. Then, he would completely fall apart and suffer a TKO 7 loss to Marco Antonio Rubio in his first bout against a real, live opponent. Then, in his next contest, Lemieux would drop a decision to faded former champ Joachim Alcine.
Runner-up: Arthur Abraham
Jekyll and Hyde Inconsistent Performance Award: Victor Ortiz
In April, Victor Ortiz looked as though he had finally earned his way to stardom with a dominant, thrilling win over Andre Berto. Then, he got his shot at the big time with Floyd Mayweather Jr. He proceeded to fall apart, attempting to headbutt Mayweather and then letting his guard down long enough to be countered with a Mayweather retaliatory follow-up shot.
Runners-up: James Kirkland, Zab Judah
WWE Moment of the Year: Dawson takes down Hopkins
After a dull first round, Chad Dawson’s bout with Bernard Hopkins at the Staples Center came to an abrupt end when the former world champ lifted Hopkins off his feet and tossed him to the canvas. Hopkins rolled around in apparent pain while Dawson grew increasingly angry at the thought of the fight ending in a probable no contest. Despite initially being ruled a TKO victory for Dawson, the decision was overturned by the California State Athletic Commission and ruled a no contest.
Runner-up: Cotto-Margarito II high drama, Floyd Mayweather KO 4 Victor Ortiz
The Lindsay Lohan Desperate Attempt to Grab the Spotlight Award: Oscar De la Hoya and his Twitter account
While Richard Schaefer has reduced Oscar De La Hoya’s role in Golden Boy Promotions to little more than a figurehead who gives bilingual fighter introductions at press conferences, De La Hoya has occupied his free time on Twitter. Whether it is tweeting inspirational quotes from rehab, bashing rival promoter Bob Arum, hinting at a comeback against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., or implicating Antonio Margarito’s guilt in a show of support for soon-to-be-free-agent, Miguel Cotto, De La Hoya’s Twitter feed keeps him in the conversation like Lindsay Lohan’s December centerfold.
Fights That Should’ve Happened:
Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao
Amir Khan-Timothy Bradley
Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
UK Fighter of the Year: Ricky Burns
The year 2011 was not a great one for UK fighters. With Amir Khan, David Haye and Carl Froch all suffering high-profile losses, the blue-collar Scottish fighter Burns earned his way to top honors. The year saw Burns make two successful defenses of his WBO super featherweight title and then move up to capture the interim WBO lightweight title with a win over Michael Katsidis.
Runner-up: George Groves
Mexican Fighter of the Year: Juan Manuel Marquez
After a relatively meaningless KO over journeyman Likar Ramos, the 38-year-old Marquez went on to once again give Manny Pacquiao fits in a bout that most saw Marquez winning. Despite absorbing the majority decision loss on his official record, “Dinamita” walked away from his third bout against Pacquiao with a moral victory.
Runner-up: Saul Alvarez
Stick a Fork in ‘em, They’re Done:
Roy Jones Jr., Shane Mosley, James Toney, Joel Casamayor, Danny Green, Samuel Peter, Emanuel Augustus
2012 Should Be Their Year:
Ismayl Sillakh, Gary Russell Jr., Adren Broner, Mike Jones, Kell Brook, Danny Garcia