All my pals in the boxo-sphere are doing it, so why not me? It was no 2007, but 2008 was -- all in all -- an excellent year for the sport of boxing. We saw the emergence of a new super-star in Manny Pacquiao, the end of an era of Oscar de la Hoya, and some great fights and upsets (along with the usual atrocities that still plague the sport) along the way.
Okay, enough introductions. Awards time!
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
It's cute watching people pretend that there is a competition in this category. There isn't one. Manny Pacquiao, the pride of the Philippines, is the easy choice in this category. Cliched though it might be, he had a Henry Armstrong-like year, starting with a brutal dismantling of titlist David Diaz, followed by a hard-fought (if disputed) win over P4P #2 Juan Manual Marquez, and then a huge upset victory over the legendary Oscar de la Hoya -- only the Golden Boy's second KO defeat, and likely the end of his career. It was a year where everything went right for the Pac-Man, and he's got a bunch more big fights on the horizon.
Runners-up: Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams, Juan Manuel Marquez
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
It would churlish not to give this award to Israel Vasquez/Raphael Marquez III -- arguably the best fight in one of the best boxing trilogies in history. It was a fight that nobody said could go the distance -- and it did. It was a fight that saw two fighters with both technical savvy and bombing punches, a rarity in the sport. After two lackluster gate performances in the first two bouts, it was a fight that finally got the attention it deserved from the broader public. And through it all, both men showered themselves in glory.
Runners-up: Joel Casamayor/Michael Katsidis, Antonio Margarito/Miguel Cotto
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
Sometimes, it's impossible to top the early leader. That's the case with Edison Miranda's devastating right-hand which ended the night for David Banks. There is so much lovely in this KO. Of all the contenders for top KO bid, it was the only one that did not land on the chin. It also featured the sublime sight of Banks suspended between the ropes -- looking like he was nearly floating. And the howitzer-esque sound effect Miranda's punch makes when it lands is in its own league.
Runners-up: Juan Urango/Carlos Vilches, Antonio Margarito/Kermit Cintron II
UPSET OF THE YEAR
Everyone and their brother keeps picking Breidis Prescott's first round bombing of Amir Khan. And yeah, that was pretty big -- but we knew Khan had a shaky chin already and that's not the sort of thing you test against Columbian sluggers. Another popular pick is Brian Vera over Andy Lee -- but while that was pretty big, it was also a premature stoppage in my view. No, my pick goes a bit higher up the boxing ladder: Bernard Hopkins' 12 round decision over Kelly Pavlik. For some reason, everyone wrote Hopkins off after his loss to Joe Calzaghe -- a fight he easily could have come away the victor of. And my head was telling me that Hopkins presented a nightmare style match-up. Still, Hopkins was 43, and Pavlik was the white-hot star of the sport who seemed to be entering his prime.
Well, young horse might be fast, but the old horse knows the way. Hopkins spent 12 round making Pavlik look like an amateur to sweep the cards and complete the shocking upset. KO upsets are nice, but over too quick: a bolt of lightening that doesn't give enough time for the viewer to really coalesce what just happened. The Hopkins fight was different. It progressed at a nice slow boil, as it slowly dawned upon the crowd that they were in the midst of something truly special. And that was something to see.
Runners-up: Breidis Prescott/Amir Khan, Brian Vera/Andy Lee
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
See above. No question.
Runners-up Antonio Margarito in his fight against Cotto, Manny Pacquiao in his fight against Oscar de la Hoya
MOST EMOTIONAL MOMENT
Once again, Hopkins gets it -- for the immediate aftermath of his fight against Pavlik. Staring down press row -- which had virtually universally picked him to lose, the only debate being whether it'd be by KO or not -- and saying "I'm tired of proving myself". It was unbelievable. And boy, did we ever deserve it.
Runner-up: Rau'shee Warren finding out he lost his first round Olympic match.
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR
It's hard to think of him as a "prospect" given the quality of competition he's fought, but beyond that it's impossible not to give this to Yuriorkis Gamboa. There is so much to love about this guy. The way he refuses to clinch. His unbelievable hand-speed. The way he views getting hit as a virtual insult (coupled with a defense that consists of him basically daring his opponent's to hit him). Oh, and pretty explosive power. It's a nice combination.
Runners-up: Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland.
CARD OF THE YEAR: Given the names in the above category, this wasn't that difficult: HBO's May 17th BAD card, featuring three spectacular match-ups. No "showcases" here -- all three of the undefeated prospects were up against live dogs. The one I thought might be the toughest -- Kirkland against Eromosele Albert -- turned out to be a one-round decimation. The one that was looking to be the easiest -- Gamboa against former Golden Gloves winner Darling Jiminez -- turned out to be a dogfight with Gamboa tasting canvas. And the middle fight -- Alfredo Angulo against Richar(d) Gutierrez -- was a great back and forth slugfest before Angulo just overwhelmed his man in round 4. Fabulous action.
Runner-up: Versus' December 12th card, featuring Steve Cunningham/Tomasz Adamek and Joseph Abeko/William Gonzalez.
COURAGE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY AWARD
Folks who tuned into ESPN2 on June 20th saw something special. For 23 minutes and 59 seconds of boxing, they watched Kevin Burnett dominate a Maryland residing Brit by the name of Horace Ray Grant. And then -- as the bell rang at the end of the 8th and final round -- Grant landed his punch: a thunderous right-hand at the last possible instant. Burnett was floored and looked out of it. But slowly, he willed himself to his feet, just barely beating the count as the ref transitioned from 9 to 10. It was an amazing sight to see, and for getting back up and getting the decision victory, this award goes to Kevin Burnett.
Runners-up: Steve Cunningham getting up after three knockdowns against Tomasz Adamek, Monte Barrett's energizer bunny like effort against David Haye.
WORST FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Tough call. Is it worse for a fight to be awful and its very creation an insult to boxing? Or for a fight to be awful when it actually meant a lot to the sport and thus let everybody down? If you (dis)prefer the former, the winner is Evander Holyfield/Nikolai Valuev. But personally, I'm more outraged by the latter, so the champion is Wladimir Klitschko/Sultan Ibragimov. The first heavyweight title unification in recent memory, and it went like that? Ugh ugh ugh.
Runners-up: Holyfield/Valuev, Fres Oquendo/James Toney (fascinating the heavyweight slant in this category).