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More of 2003 in Hindsight and the Top Ten Pound-For-Pound as!

Jan 9, 2004: By Alex Pierpaoli

Boxing is a sport with no seasons, no set period where all heads turn in its direction and watch the best out of seven games or an entire Sunday evening in January. Boxing can be seen a couple times a month on the premium networks and quite often at least once a week on regular cable. Throw in a pay-per-view card a month and that’s the closest to a “set schedule” boxing fans can expect.

For the most part, boxing, like the way we toll time on ourselves, is measured in years. This isn’t a rule or any sanctioning body’s mandate from on high. It’s just something that’s always done. The Ring magazine, the widely accepted conscience of the sport, has always given annual awards and so has most everyone else. The web page where you found this story was lit up with 2003 retrospectives and awards over the last two weeks. So a year seems to be the accepted time period.

We’re past the first week of 2004 already. Time flies. Most of us are still catching ourselves accidentally writing 0 3 when we write the date and we’ve already seen Acelino Freitas move up to 135 and Kassim Ouma become the best of the 154 pounders in line for a title shot. With Jermain Taylor and Nate Campbell set to fight tonight we’re leaping forward into January with both feet and 2004 is looking good.

So, at the risk of repeating a lot of the same awards and selections for the Best This and That, what follows is this writer’s opinion of the BEST AND WORST OF 2003.
It’s more a list than an article, but there are numerous ramblings about my own selections and there’s the airing of some of my grievances with what went down in `03.

Best wishes to all for 2004.

Fighter of the Year: James “Lights Out” Toney-he fought twice this year and was, for a while at least, the betting underdog for both match-ups. In the spring he took Gold medal winner and the second best cruiserweight on earth into deep water and sank him with a final round knockdown that was bone-crushingly dramatic. Then in October Toney thrashed heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield. Not only did Toney make his first fight at heavyweight look easy, he made it look like fun. Next month Toney takes on the biggest possible opponent out there in Jameel McCline and if he man-handles him, the way this writer thinks he will, more people will realize that the next great heavyweight champ is from Dee-troit and 2004 may be his year.

Honorable Mention:

Manny Pacquiao—anytime a living legend gets beat in an upset it’s impressive, when the legend is Marco Antonio Barrera and he gets dominated the way Pacquiao absolutely devastated the pride of Mexico, it’s an effort eligible for fighter of the year. Pacquiao’s two-fisted assault and Tyson-esque bobbing aggressive style should keep the little Filipino in the spotlight for 2004 at least. With a talent rich division at his feet Pacquiao is one half of at least 5 exciting match-ups that can be and hopefully will be made at 126.

Roy Jones Jr.—let’s be honest, if Jones spanked Antonio Tarver and won back his light heavyweight title with an emphatic kayo or decision he’d be in the number one spot in this category. Ok, Ruiz is no Jerry Quarry or Gerry Cooney, he’s maybe a Gerry Coetzee, but beating him was impressive as hell and historically significant. Add regaining the light heavyweight title and Jones had a great year. But the performance against Tarver was by far his closest ever to an actual defeat and you can’t be fighter of the year with credentials like that.

Vitali Klitschko, Antonio Tarver and both Marquez brothers also deserve recognition for having a great 2003.

Upset of the Year
Manny Pacquiao KO11 Marco Antonio Barrera
Corrie Sanders KO2 Wladimir Klitschko
Ricardo Mayorga TKO 3 Vernon Forrest tied with Cory Spinks W12 Ricardo Mayorga

Knockout of the Year: Corrie Sanders KO2 Wladimir Klitschko – anytime a 240+ pounder gets put down four times in 6 minutes it’s impressive. Add the upset factor and the older Klitschko, Vitali, threatening to win the belt back from Sanders in the ring right after Wlad got clobbered and you’ve got a helluva dramatic kayo. How Sanders didn’t make anything happen for himself after this fight is a testament to how having the right promoter and knowing how to pull the strings on the right sanctioning body is everything in the heavyweight division.

Rocky Juarez KO10 Antonio Chelo Diaz –with the minutes waning in a fight that may have been close, Rocky Juarez uncorked one of the best left hooks thrown this year and put Chelo Diaz to sleep in a crumpled heap over his corner.

Fight of the Year: James Toney vs Vassily Jirov—this one had in-close action and hard, volume punching throughout. Toney lured Jirov into hammering away with a constantly pressuring offense, meanwhile the defensive master was slipping and dodging with his back to the ropes. As the rounds ticked past and Jirov kept right on punching, Toney picked up his offense and landed with combinations and merciless body-punches.

The final round knockdown was about as spectacular as it gets. The bout joined Dwight Muhammad Qawi versus Evander Holyfield as one of the very best cruiserweight title fights of all time.

Honorable Mention: Scott Pemberton vs Omar Sheika—ok, so neither of these guys is the best fighter in their division, they’re still solid contenders who fought a scorcher at Foxwoods, in the same ring where Jirov and Toney brawled. With Pemberton down twice and nearly out on his feet in the eleventh, only his busy jab and perhaps the New England location of the fight helped him win a close split decision. In two weeks they’ll fight again and you can expect more fireworks, but don’t be surprised if Sheika stops this one from getting to the hands of the judges.

Diego Corrales vs Joel Casamayor—this fight was one that looked great on paper and lived up to expectations. It was a match-up of two of the very best in their weight-class and a compliment of styles in the southpaw boxer Casamayor versus the mind-numbing puncher in Corrales. The result was a pitched battle that showcased the amazing boxing and unexpectedly hard punching from the Cuban against the winging attempts at a Grand Slam by a wounded Corrales. Both men visited the canvas but it was Corrales who was eventually stopped when his mouthpiece was split and jammed up into his jaw by Casamayor’s fistic bombardment. Furious he wasn’t allowed to continue, Corrales has a chance to redeem himself in a March rematch.

Mickey Ward vs Arturo Gatti 3--despite the rubber match being a bit too gratuitous for this fan, these two showed once again that they were probably brothers in another life. It’s rare to find two men who match up so well and know each other’s competitive strengths and weaknesses like these guys. For the good of both men’s gray matter their series is finished and will always be considered in a class by itself. Mickey, we’ll miss you.

Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko—a really sloppy version of Lyle-Foreman without the knockdowns would be a good way to describe this instant classic rumble of 21st century giant heavies. The only thing that tainted the evening was Lennox’ refusal to acknowledge how lucky he was to get the W and the fact that he barely gave the Ukrainian any credit for his toughness after denigrating him considerably in the pre-fight build-up.

Luis Perez-Felix Machado 1 and 2—why the exciting rematch was on the un-aired portion of Don King’s marathon card I don’t understand…oh wait, it was probably to make room for Ruiz-Rahman!

Letdown of the Year: DeMarcus Corley versus Zab Judah—after all the trash talk, the street fights and the exchange of lingerie, you would have thought these two were going to clobber each other. Twelve rounds later we get a weird decision and are left having to bolt down some coffee in order to shake off the fight’s after effects and get ready for the Forrest-Mayorga rematch in the main-event.

HBO’s Legendary Nights—when first announced this series sounded like a mouth-watering look back at some amazing fights. It turned out to be more of a teaser that just made you search for videotapes of the fights they featured. There was painfully little actual fight footage in these docudramas and only the Chavez-Taylor show really impressed this fan. But hell, as far as I’m concerned HBO scored really big later in the year with Carnivale.

HBO’s World Championship Boxing—the best boxing coverage on TV fell short this year and with the addition of Al Bernstein to Showtime, HBO’s stranglehold at the top of the business is slipping. There were just too many nights where you were better off turning the sound all the way down in order to get a less clouded view of what was actually happening. The gang treated too many close fights like blowouts (i.e. Mosley-DeLaHoya, Campbell-Casamayor and Forrest-Mayorga 2) and they have got to stop their fascination with Compubox statistics. Punch stats are intriguing but they are simply a quantitative look at a fight and there should be a margin of error included with the display of these stats. I refuse to believe that Compubox operators are always one hundred percent accurate. Adding a graphic that states the numbers listed may be off by plus or minus a few punches will only help the statistics’ credibility not undermine it.

Black Eye of the Year: Bob Arum and Oscar DeLaHoya’s pleas for judging investigations after the Mosley fight

Dishonorable mention:
Laila Ali versus Christy Martin

Talk of Mike Tyson versus K1 Fighter Bob Sapp

Fighters to watch in 2004: O’Neil Bell—he’s a cruiserweight but don’t hold that against him, this guy is exciting. His fight with Mike Tyson look-a-like Kelvin Davis was one of the 10 best this year and his destruction of Derrick Harmon last month was equally impressive. If he fights Wayne Braithwaite soon we might end up with another great cruiserweight bout in 2004 that rivals this past year’s Jirov-Toney.

Dominick Guinn—Guinn is far more skilled than the much ballyhooed Joe Mesi and much more likely to propel himself into the title picture than Buffalo’s favorite son. Guinn has some lapses in focus and motivation during fights but since when has there been a decent heavyweight prospect without a few psychological wrinkles?

2004 Wish-List:

Mike Tyson versus Don King-if Mike doesn’t have the self-discipline to work through a full camp to fight Clifford Etienne forget about Roy Jones. Mike needs money, that we know, but wouldn’t it be a lot less risky for him and the sport if he goes through with the lawsuit versus King and enjoys his retirement?

Roy Jones Jr. versus James Toney 2, Antonio Tarver 2 or Bernard Hopkins 2—If Roy doesn’t fight one of these three former foes this year he needs to retire. Leave Tyson alone, beating him now would mean next to nothing. Don’t waste our time, Roy.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Juan Lazcano or Ricky Hatton—Ok, so Pretty Boy wants to move up in weight, fine but don’t leave without fighting Lazcano first! That match-up is the only one that would settle who the best at 135 really is. But if Floyd must move up I can’t imagine a more exciting match-up than Mayweather-Hatton at 140.

Sugar Shane Mosley versus Kassim Ouma
–assuming Mosley emerges the victor against Wright, this match-up should be an exciting one that would be a MUST for the big room at MSG.

Manny Pacquiao versus Erik Morales—let’s hope Pac-Man fights Marquez too but I think he’ll match-up better with El Terrible and there’s no way the folks at Compubox will be able to keep track of the leather thrown in this one.

And a few more while we’re at it
Jeff Lacy versus the winner (or even the loser) of Pemberton-Sheika 2
Juan Diaz versus Courtney Burton
Luis Perez versus Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson


Alex Pierpaoli has been obsessed with the Sweet Science for the past 18 years and is both a fan and a writer. He has a degree in English from the University of Maine. Send comments or questions to:

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