An array of the finest '05 fisticuff's offerings
By Chuck Johnson, USA TODAY
USA TODAY's Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year recognizes two game lightweights who waged an all-time great bout and a rising middleweight star who dethroned an all-time great champion. Boxing writer Chuck Johnson looks back at the year in the ring:
Fight of the Year
The May 7 title unification fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo drew an abundance of media attention. It was contested on the same weekend the Boxing Writers' Association of America held its annual awards banquet in Las Vegas for the first time, and the non-stop action left a lasting impression. The suspense kept building, and the dramatic ending exceeded all expectations even though the fight didn't go the 12-round distance. In the climactic 10th, Corrales twice got up from knockdowns to stop Castillo on a TKO, culminating a toe-to-toe, ebb-and-flow rumble that stands atop boxing's memorable moments from 2005.
Fighter of the Year
Jermain "Bad Intentions" Taylor, 27, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist from Little Rock, is no longer the heir apparent but the middleweight champion after ending Bernard Hopkins' streak of 20 successful title defenses July 16. Taylor followed up his controversial split-decision victory by winning a unanimous decision in the Dec. 3 rematch. Though both fights were close, and Taylor admittedly has flaws he hopes to correct with experience, the pride of Arkansas took a big leap to stardom with his two big wins against a Hall of Fame-bound Philadelphia fighter who hadn't tasted defeat in 12 years.
The middleweight division also was the domain of a rare flawless fight. Ronald "Winky" Wright was the easy winner May 14 with his dominating 12-round shutout against Felix "Tito" Trinidad. The former junior middleweight champion used a stiff right jab to set up combinations and surprisingly was able to score at will. The St. Petersburg, Fla., southpaw compounded Trinidad's frustration with masterful defense, using his long arms and elbows to completely shield his head and torso. Trinidad slipped back into retirement after the fight, and Wright's plight is that top opponents still don't want any part of him. But he's now the No. 1 middleweight contender, and a mandatory date with Taylor is one of the anticipated highlights in 2006.
The best, pound-for-pound
Floyd Mayweather Jr. solidified his status as the mythical No. 1 pound-for-pound champ with his June 25 demolishing of Arturo Gatti for the WBC super lightweight title. Unleashing lightning-quick shots from every angle and leaving the ring unscathed, "Pretty Boy" Floyd gave the best demonstration yet that he's one of the most skillful fighters to ever lace up gloves. Gatti, who built his reputation on toughness and never backing down, was reduced to mincemeat and couldn't get off his stool to answer the bell for the seventh round. Mayweather (35-0, 24 KOs) has since made his welterweight debut, scoring a sixth-round TKO on Nov. 19 against former 140-pound champ Sharmba Mitchell. The question facing Mayweather is will he stay at 147 pounds or move back to 140, where there's potential lucrative fights with IBF champion Ricky Hatton and/or WBO champion Miguel Cotto, who, like Mayweather, are unbeaten.
Biggest hometown win
On June 4, native son Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton (40-0, 30 KOs) rode the emotion of 22,000 fans crammed inside the MEN Arena in Manchester, England, to upset Kostya Tszyu for the IBF light welterweight title. Hatton, 26, dominated the fight on the inside. Tszyu (31-2), the Russian-born Australian, didn't answer the bell for the 12th round. Hatton has since added another belt with a TKO of WBA champ Vivian Harris in a 140-pound unification bout and is in line for bigger bouts on this side of the Atlantic.
Biggest hometown bust
By Charlie Neibergall, AP
Cory Spinks was embarassed in front his hometown fans in St. Louis when he was knocked out by Zab "Super" Judah.
To the dismay of more than 20,000 supporters at St. Louis' Savvis Center, hometown hero Cory Spinks was knocked down twice and stopped at 2:49 of the ninth round Feb. 5 as New York native Zab "Super" Judah walked off with the undisputed welterweight title. The rapper Nelly accompanied Spinks into the ring and indulged the crowd in a singalong, but it quickly became Too Hot in Herre for the son of former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks. Judah (34-2) was the aggressor from the start after losing a unanimous decision in 2004 in their first fight. If Kostya Tszyu decides to fight again, Judah would love a chance to avenge his only other loss after getting KO'd in the second round by Tszyu.
You better recognize
On Oct. 1, No. 1 light heavyweight in the world Antonio Tarver declared it's time to give credit where credit is due after he closed the book on his trilogy with Roy Jones Jr. with a victory by unanimous decision. Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs) finally escaped the sizable shadow of Jones when he won the rubber match between the longtime Florida rivals in front of a sellout crowd in Tampa. Tarver scored a stunning second-round knockout of Jones in their second fight after losing a split decision many thought he won in their first meeting. The "Magic Man" these days is a movie man. Tarver will co-star as heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon in the film Rocky Balboa, aka Rocky 6. The film is in production and again stars Sylvester Stallone in the title role.
The lower weight classes continue to provide the excitement and intriguing matchups that have been absent for too long in the heavyweight division. The March 19 superfeatherweight fight between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao was courage personified by both warriors before Morales pulled out a unanimous decision. The highly anticipated rematch is Jan. 21 and finds Morales looking to rebound. He was upset Sept. 10 by former U.S. Olympian Zahir Raheem, who dominated what was supposed to be a Morales tuneup and won a unanimous decision. Likewise, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo are set for a third fight Feb. 4. Their second fight ended in controversy when Castillo won by a fourth-round KO. Because Castillo failed to make weight, the Oct. 8 fight was reduced to a non-title bout, and Corrales was awarded part of Castillo's purse.
Four beltholders still lay claim to the heavyweight title. Two belts changed waists as a knee injury forced Vitali Klitschko to retire and relinquish his WBC belt to former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman. John Ruiz lost his WBA belt for the second time this year on a controversial split decision Dec. 17 against Nikolay Valuev, the first Russian to win a heavyweight title. Ruiz dropped a unanimous decision April 30 to James Toney, who was later stripped of the title after testing positive for steroids, handing the belt back to Ruiz. IBF champion Chris Byrd defended his title Oct. 1 with a unanimous decision against DaVarryl Williamson. WBO champion Lamon Brewster defended his title twice, a ninth-round TKO of Luan Krasniqi on Sept. 28 and a first-round TKO of Andrew Golota on May 21. The year also brought an end to the career of Mike Tyson at age 38. The former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, who dominated the division from 1986-90, didn't answer the bell for the seventh round June 11 in losing to journeyman Kevin McBride.
The year's most compelling heavyweight bout was Sept. 24 in Atlantic City and was won by Wladimir Klitschko. Vitali's younger brother survived three knockdowns to gain a unanimous decision against Samuel "The Nigerian Nightmare" Peter in a slugfest that gave fans a taste of big-man punching they've been missing.