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Fighter of the Year: Bernard Hopkins
By JD Vena
2001 had an abundance of many surprises. In some respects, 2001 was appropriately termed "the year of the upset," as a result of some of the unlikely winners who triumphed during the calendar year. But in most respects, it was a defining year for a select few who attained greatness from their brilliant performances, some of which were upsets.
"Pretty Boy" Floyd Mayweather, Jr. began the year with a surprisingly easy win over heated rival, the gigantic Diego "Chico" Corrales. In what was thought to be a pick-em fight, Mayweather dominated his taller foe and showed why he's one of the best when it comes to big fights. Mayweather finished the year with 2 solid wins over top contemporaries (Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez) of his respected weight class, one of them he had to labor with two broken mitts!
The remarkable career of Kostya Tszyu has long gone unnoticed. The Russian "Thundah from Down Undah" made some serious rumblings this year and may have matched Mayweather in terms of accomplishments. Tszyu, the complete package when it comes to boxing, went 3-0 and unified the jr. welterweight title for the first time in over 30 years. After defeating Sharmba Mitchell for his WBA title and winning a decision over the European champion, Oktay Urkal, Tszyu starched (no matter what anyone says) IBF counterpart Zab "Supah" Judah, a potential superstar under two rounds.
Denied a big win over Mexican rival Erik Morales in 2000's fight of the year, Marco Antonio Barrera redeemed himself and unleashed a full-sized keg of whup-ass when he defeated brash Brit, Naseem Hamed this past April. Barrera took the clown prince to school in upsetting the dominant featherweight of our time. In his next outing, Barrera showed consistency when he stopped Enrique Sanchez in nine one sided rounds.
All things considered, when you look back at the aforementioned fighters and wonder why they didn't win the win acclaim as fighter of the year, it was because of Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins. Although he may have recently tarnished his old-school image by ruining his relationship with Lou DiBella, Hopkins showed why he is one of the more polished fighters in the world.
Like Tszyu, Hopkins unified a division that had not been for a number of years. Like Mayweather had against Corrales, Hopkins dominated a highly regarded fighting machine in Felix "Tito" Trinidad (last year's winner of this award) before stopping him inside the distance this past September. Like Barrera's win over the Prince, Hopkins' win over Trinidad was a significant upset to many. In one night of fist-fighting Hopkins, who had lurked in the shadows of more popular fighters like de la Hoya, Mosley, Trinidad and Roy Jones suddenly became a high roller in the sport. Earlier on this year, that would not have been considered the fate of the Philadelphian even though he had been a reigning middleweight champion since 1995.
In March, Hopkins snatched the WBC title by mauling Keith Holmes over 12 rounds but wasn't entirely impressive in doing so. He required dirty tactics to frustrate the taller southpaw Holmes and didn't make any new fans from the showing. That is why many sided with the Puerto Rican powerpuncher, who mopped the floor with 2-time champion, William Joppy in May. Most felt that Trinidad would go on to meet Roy Jones in another lucrative big-fight showdown, immediately after he got through with the then 36-year old. But as some felt, including Jones, the last man to defeat Hopkins, the Executioner executed the perfect fight plan, a strategy that foiled Trinidad's future endeavors and nearly everyone's expectations. Hopkins' win over Trinidad tied the great Carlos Monzon in record title defenses with 14 and is now talked about as one of the greatest middleweights of all time. And if he never has another year like the last one, folks will always remember that 2001 belonged to Bernard Hopkins.
Runner Up: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Fight of the Year: Micky Ward W10 Emanuel Augustus
By JD Vena
A battered fighter sat in a metal chair stooped over with his face caked into a damp towel. "I feel like I'm hung ovah," moaned the fighter. Those close to him scurry around the 8' x 10' room searching for ice as if it were the most valuable resource on the planet. To Micky Ward it was the only commodity that could cool him down. For after what he had been through about an hour beforehand Ward became hotter than ever (literally and figuratively) after swapping some 2,100 punches with Emanuel Augustus for 10 solid rounds.
The strength of Ward was completely sapped from his body, which had spent 40 minutes trying to wear down Augustus, a wily foe who simply would not wilt under the extreme pressure. In fact, at certain moments of their fight it was Augustus who was doing the bang-up job to the proud journeyman-turned-contender. Their heroic effort was nearly too much to endure, but in the end, Ward had put forth enough to overcome Augustus' challenge and whatever doubts that may have passed his mind.
"I've fought a lot of tough guys," said Ward. "But no one has been tougher than him."
Ironically, the scene described in Ward's compact dressing room did not resemble the curtained dwellings where Augustus had been before and after the fight. Shortly after waging the fight of his life, Augustus changed, packed his bags and left the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, as if he had just finished a workout. Where did he summon the might to get up and go? Had he substituted any of the remaining energy he had left for his fight with Ward, maybe things could have been different, but that would be far too difficult to imagine. Ward and Augustus put their bodies through a human version of an Indianapolis 500. What a workout: What a fight!
Runner-Up: Julio Gonzalez W12 Julian Letterlough
Knockout of the Year: Hasim Rahman KO5 Lennox Lewis
By JD Vena
Knockout (nok' out') n 1. The act of knocking out or the state of being knocked out. 2. Slang. Something that is exceptionally attractive. - Webster's Dictionary
When you envision the perfect knockout, particularly a classic one, you think of the one-punch knockouts, the one's that can leave you speechless with your mouth agape. You think about the knockouts that lead a crowd into a chorus of "Ohhhh!" You think about Sugar Ray Robinson knocking out Gene Fullmer in '55, Mike McCallum's knockout over Donald Curry in '87, Vencent Pettway's knockout of Simon Brown in '95 or more recently, Anthony Mundine's knockout over Timo Masua (if you happened to have seen it). A knockout is what separates boxing from other sports just as a fighter can be momentarily separated from his senses from absorbing one or more blows. At any given moment, a boxing match can end before its scheduled distance and in South Africa, the end came shockingly for Lennox Lewis who was stretched out on his back by a powerful right hand thrown by Hasim Rahman
For all intents and purposes, Hasim Rahman's knockout over Lennox Lewis was truly something to behold. The right hand not only separated Lewis from his senses, it separated him from his title of world heavyweight champion, albeit the separation seemed as long as it took for Lewis to be counted out. Lewis repaid Rahman later in the year with a devastating one-punch kayo. The difference between the two knockouts had to do with the startling fashion in which Rahman knocked Lewis flat. Lewis' knockout of Rahman might have been just as devastating but it was for the most part expected. Rahman turned Lewis into the one of the horizontal British heavyweights that had been previously knocked stiff. The punch had a numbing effect on those that witnessed the spectacle and if you're a fan of the one-punch knockout then this one was certainly exceptionally attractive.
Runner-Up: Lennox Lewis KO4 Hasim Rahman
Comeback of the Year: Manuel Medina
By JD Vena
Marco Antonio Barrera, one of the more popular and recent stars to emerge from Mexico, seems to have been around for a while. Well before Barrera took the Prince to school, Barrera was thought have seen his best days years ago, a time when he was beating up the likes of Kennedy McKinney and Jesse Benavides. Going into his match-up with Hamed, Barrera was thought to have been a name that the Hamed could add to his resume. As fate would have it, Barrera turned back the clock this year with a complete 12-round shellacking of the Naseem Hamed. What does Marco Antonio Barrera have to do with Manuel Medina you ask? Not only did Medina add his name to the lists of great featherweights and Mexican boxers, he reminded us that you should never write him off. In November, Manuel "Mantecas" Medina won a version of the featherweight title for the 4th time when he stopped Frankie Toledo in 6 rounds.
The 31-year old Medina just won't go away even when you forget all about him. You may have thought that his career was winding down when he was stopped by Hamed in '96. You may have thought that Medina was finished as a top echelon fighter in '97 when Derrick "Smoke" Gainer burned him over 8 painful rounds. Less than a year from that defeat, Medina is somehow wearing the IBF title. You thought he was finished when he lost the title the following year to Paul Ingle. You may have even forgot that he was still fighting but the ever-resilient Medina reminded us once more that he belongs in the same category of great featherweights and Mexican fighters. You don't think so? Consider that his latest recapture is second most recorded for a single weight class. Only Sugar Ray Robinson had more recaptures with five. Consider that the first time Medina won a world title was over a decade ago when he lifted the title from Troy Dorsey (August 12, 1991). Also consider that no other featherweight has remained among the divisions' elite as long as Medina. If you end up forgetting that Medina is still hanging around the sport (let's hope it's not too much longer), then at the very least you not forget to realize that Medina has been a great fighter.
Runner-up: Oliver McCall
Round of the Year: Round 10 of Micky Ward-Emanuel Augustus
By Chris Strait
While watching Emmanuel Burton (Augustus) and Mickey Ward pound away at each other in the final seconds of the 10th and final round, I was immediately struck by the significance of what I was watching. It is hard enough to keep up that relentless punching pace in the first round against a non-descript, light-hitting opponent, much less against a quality fighter/decent puncher, much less in the final round, much less after nine rounds of the exact same level of action!
If you are still not convinced of this tremendous achievement, then remember that Augustus was down the round before, from a left hook to the body from ward. I have been hit with crippling body punches, ladies and gentlemen. You don't even want to jump rope after that, much less keep fighting at an even higher pace. And don't forget that Mickey Ward's left hook to the body is one of the most devastating punches in the game right now. Speaking of devastating punches... how about the chins on both of these guys?!
This fight was right there with Letterlough-Gonzalez for fight of the year in 2001. Julio Gonzalez and Julian Letterlough were correctly awarded title shots for their anticipation (although those shots were against fighters far more talented than they were). Sadly the same justice was not done for Ward and Augustus ... at least, not yet. If Ward should beat another top contender (even though as it stands, he has a technical decision loss to Leija), there will be no one more deserving... and a fighter like Augustus should never be more than one impressive victory away from a title shot.
Runner-Up: Round 2 of Ezra Sellers-Carl Thompson
Upset of the Year: Hasim Rahman KO5 Lennox Lewis
By JD Vena
You'd think that the negotiations for this years' heavyweight superfight between Lewis and Tyson would have been going fairly quick. After all, their fight was all but made before Hasim Rahman delayed their dealings with a rocket of a right hand. Years ago, I can remember HBO analyst Larry Merchant poignantly describing boxing as "the theater of the unexpected." Just when you think you've seen it all, something out of the ordinary happens. You'd think that in a sport about two people fighting each other with gloves on for money, boxing couldn't have too many surprises. From a paraglider flying into a boxing ring during a nationally televised heavyweight championship fight to Tyson both ears of Evander Holyfield, boxing is full of surprises, sometimes good ones. Going into Lewis' optional defense against Rahman, you may have thought that "Fan Man" would have a better shot gliding across the Atlantic Ocean to crash into the ring that Hasim "The Rock" Rahman stretched Lennox Lewis in than the latter happening. Either way, this year's unlikely upset was certainly something that reminded us of a Holyfield or a Douglas beating Tyson.
Like Tyson before him, Lewis appeared to have been establishing his legacy in the sport. In the previous two years, Lewis had won two fights over the great but well-traveled Holyfield, destroyed contenders Michael Grant and Francois Botha and whipped David Tua over the 12 round distance. With the lack of competition, Lewis needed to remain consistent in order to attain the greatness that others got a taste of this year. Lewis was expected to be just as dominant against Rahman, a man who had been knocked clear out of the ring a year and a half ago. But Rahman wouldn't have his turn until he knocked Lewis cold first.
What Rahman did with his right hand not only changed the course of the negotiations of Lewis-Tyson; it halted Lewis' march toward greatness. And though Tyson may be a decided underdog should he and Lewis finally meet for a big payday, you should expect the unexpected.
Runner-up: Marco Antonio Barrera W12 Naseem Hamed
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