Doghouse Boxing’s 2007 Australian Awards
By Anthony Cocks & Zelky Vlahovich (Jan 1, 2008) Doghouse Boxing  
2007 was a bumper year for Australian boxing. Sure, we almost finished the year without a fully fledged world champion until Danny Green did a number of Stipe Drews, but the domestic fight scene finally got interesting again with some terrific local matchups between hot prospects and world title contenders.

So who was the best of the best in the past twelve month? Read on to find out…

Fighter of the Year: Danny Green

No fighter likes accepting a loss. For some, it’s something they never get over. But a loss to a bona fide arch rival is something that sticks in a fighter’s craw like nothing else and takes genuine determination and self belief to overcome.

Danny Green, one fight removed from the touch-up he received at the hands of Anthony Mundine, entered 2007 with a number of question marks hanging over his head. His flat performance against his domestic rival made many people question his future in the sport, with some high profile boxing personalities calling on him to hang up the gloves. But Green, a man full of ambition and self belief, refused to heed their calls and by the end of the year was the proud owner of the WBA’s light heavyweight strap.

So what changed for Green in the course of a year? Well to start with he made the long overdue decision to move up in weight. The 2000 Olympian, who
fought at 81kg as an amateur, shifted up to a more natural weight class and the result paid dividends. In February Green faced WBA #16 Paul Murdoch at the State Netball & Hockey Centre in Melbourne, summarily dispatching Geelong’s favourite son in two one-sided rounds that saw Murdoch taste the canvas twice before his corner threw in the towel. Next up was American Otis Griffin, who lasted only marginally longer. Griffin found the canvas thrice in the third round and with the three knockdown rule in effect, the stoppage at 1:21 was a mere formality.

December saw Green face his biggest challenge since the Mundine fight when he stepped into the ring against towering WBA light heavyweight champion Stipe Drews in the Australian’s hometown of Perth. The lanky Croatian southpaw had a taste of Green’s power early and went into defensive mode, making any real exchanges a rarity as the visiting champion sought to survive rather than fight. Despite the fight being marred by Drews’ non-performance, nothing can be taken away from Green who became Australia’s first full title holder since Vic Darchinyan was starched by a single Nonito Donaire left hook in July.

For sticking to his guns, overcoming the bitter loss to Mundine, plotting his own course to a world title and achieving his lifelong dream, Danny Green gets Doghouse Boxing’s Australian Fighter of the Year.

Honourable Mentions: Michael Katsidis, Daniel Geale, Sakio Bika

Michael Katsidis had a breakthrough year in 2007, not only winning the WBO interim lightweight title, but also engaging in two of the most memorable brawls of the calendar year. In February Katsidis travelled to England to battle once-beaten Graham Earl for the vacant WBO interim lightweight title. In a seesaw war that saw both boxers visit the canvas in the second round, Katsidis’s utilised his superior strength and firepower to overcome the local fighter, with Earl’s corner stopping the fight between the 5th and 6th rounds. Katsidis backed up that victory with a terrific twelve round war against unheralded Filipino Czar Amonsot in another contender for Fight of the Year. After being knocked down in the second Amonsot rallied in the middle rounds, winning some of the stanzas on the strength of his jab and cutting Katsidis around both eyes in the process. The blood only spurred the Toowoomba brawler on and Katsidis fought every round as if it was his last. Katsidis sealed the deal in the 10th when he dropped Amonsot again, running away the winner by unanimous decision. 2008 should prove a watershed year for Katsidis, who is looking to capitalize on his recent fame with big money fights in the States against the best boxers the 135 pound division has to offer.

Daniel Geale finally lived up to his gym reputation with a dominant twelve round win over domestic rival Daniel Dawson in December. Criticism has been levelled at Geale in the past about his supposedly suspect chin after being sent to the canvas on three separate occasions by Gary Comer, Nonoy Gonzales and Lee Oti, and many wondered how he would handle the vaunted power of former world kickboxing champion Dawson. The answer, as we would find out, was easily; Geale boxed a composed fight and overcame a cut eye in the fifth to control the action with effective in-fighting, accurate combinations and an educated jab. Sydney gym rats have long been aware of the 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist’s potential, but this is the first time his true form has been on display to the general public. It was a masterful performance by Geale and if he can continue to maintain his focus, there is no telling how far he will go.

Sakio Bika may have been one of the more seasoned pros to be involved in the third series of The Contender, but few gave him a chance of becoming the eventual victor. But not only did Bika walk away with the $US750,000 first prize, he also etched himself into the minds of the American boxing public with his spirited 8th round stoppage of highly-touted New Yorker Jaidon Codrington. After Bika dropped Codrington in the first round, Codrington rallied to return the favour before the first three minutes were up. From there the fight became a free-for-all, with both boxers willingly trading bombs that threatened to end the fight at any second. In the end it was two-time world title challenger Bika who prevailed, trapping Codrington on the ropes and unleashing an unanswered salvo that left referee Dick Flaherty with little choice but to stop the contest at the 2:18 mark. A tremendous win for Bika that has not only made him a household name, but also put him in the box seat for big money fights at super middleweight in 2008.

Fight of the Year: Lovemore Ndou TKO 11 Naoufel Ben Rabah

In a year that boasted many competitive domestic match-ups, Ndou’s eleventh round win over a very game Naoufel Ben Rabah shines above all else. Boxing pundits were split right down the middle in the lead up to the fight, with some prepared to back Rabah’s boxing skills, while others favoured Ndou’s experience and pressure.

The fight delivered on all expectations with Rabah using his footwork and a long jab to control the action from the outside for the first three rounds before Ndou started finding his range in the fourth. In the fifth Rabah rocked Ndou, but the favour was returned in the following round. The fight opened up with some furious exchanges in the seventh and trench warfare became the name of the game for the rest of the fight. As the fight wore on the rounds took on a familiar pattern; Rabah would box Ndou early, but the Australian-based South African would continue to press the action and finish off each round strong. Rabah made his last stand in the tenth, throwing everything he had at Ndou in a last ditch attempt to salvage the fight. Ndou however had more left in the tank and looked the fresher fighter when the bell rang to finish the exchange.

In the eleventh a clearly exhausted Rabah was at the mercy of Ndou’s crisp, hard punches, with the 35-year-old veteran punishing the 29-year-old slickster against the ropes. Rabah barely made it back to his corner at the bell, which convinced his cornermen to call off the fight before the final round. Ndou was leading by one point on two scorecards and two points on the third, testament to just how close this fight was.

In a fight that had it all, Ndou vs. Rabah pitches a shutout for Doghouse Boxing’s 2007 Australian Fight of the Year.

Honourable Mentions: Nader Hamdan MD 12 Daniel ‘Porky’ Lovett; Leonardo Zappavigna KO 3 Ryan Langham
 
Battling temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius in centre ring, Hamdan and Lovett put on a ball-tearer of a contest over twelve rounds, reminiscent of now promoter Barry Michael’s signature win over Frank Ropis on “Ash Wednesday” twenty-four years earlier. Lovett started fast, catching his more experienced foe with some terrific bombs in the opening four stanzas, but Hamdan’s experience came to the fore as he methodically broke down the bull-strong Lovett with a well-timed jab and counter right hands. The fight was fought at an alarming pace despite the difficult conditions and although Lovett’s vocal hometown crowd left disappointed with the result, they certainly weren’t disappointed by the action-packed fight they witnessed.

In one of the better fights of the year, Leonardo Zappavigna out-toughed fellow unbeaten Ryan Lagnham in a wild three round brawl in defence of his Australian lightweight title. Southpaw Langham dropped the forward charging Zappavigna with a short left hand early in round one, but the 2006 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist retaliated by sending Langham to the canvas twice in round two and another couple of times in round three, prompting his corner to throw in the towel.

KO of the Year: Daniel Dawson KO 1 Anton Solopov 

With his extensive amateur background and silky smooth boxing skills, highly-touted Kostya Tszyu protégé Anton Solopov was considered the toughest test of Dawson’s boxing career. Solopov, who owns a win over current WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto in the singlets, started aggressively until a big looping right hand from Dawson stopped him in his tracks, rendering the former world amateur champion unconscious before he hit the canvas. Referee Charlie Lucas immediately stepped in and waved off the fight at 1:46 of the first round, giving the Perth brawler the biggest win of his career and setting him up for a tasty local matchup with the talented Daniel Geale.

Dawson’s trainer Craig Christian later likened his charge’s right hand to a “meat cleaver” and while he was comfortably outpointed by Geale in his very next fight, he was only ever one accurate punch away from victory.

Honourable Mention: Kali Meehan TKO 6 DaVarryl Williamson 

Comebacking heavyweight Kali Meehan’s near-decapitation of DaVarryl Williamson in the closing second of the sixth round of their scheduled twelve round stoush was highlight reel material. A lead right hand caught Williamson on the temple, snapping his head back, arching his back and buckling his knees before he sunk face first to the canvas. A still groggy Williamson survived the count and reeled back to his corner, where his handlers wisely retired their man from the contest. With the win Meehan got himself back into the heavyweight mix, while Williamson is relegated to the back of the queue.

Biggest Upset: Ranee Ganoy TKO 8 Robbie Peden

How could a former world titleholder who has shared a ring with some of the world’s best lose to a 21-10-2 (19) journeyman? Peden, who had not fought in eighteen months since losing his IBF lightweight strap to future Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera, turned up to fight, but so too did the heavy handed and vastly improved Ganoy who was just one fight removed from his Fight of the Year against Fatai ‘Kid Dynamite’ Onikeke. In a rock ‘em sock ‘em type of battle both men got in their licks, but it was the one tonne punches of Ganoy that did the most damage, dropping Peden in round seven of a close fight. The Australian-based Filipino, who goes by the apt moniker ‘The KO Kid’, went on with the job in the eighth, stopping a gallant Peden at the 0:21 mark and announcing his arrival on the world scene. With his explosive one punch KO power, Ganoy represents a very real threat to anyone campaigning in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions. Anyone who takes the likeable Filipino lightly does so at their own peril.

Honourable Mentions: Guillermo Mosquera KO 12 Lance Gostelow; Dominic Vea TKO 8 Ryosuke Takahashi 

Headlining his first pro card at the now defunct Palace in St Kilda in front of a parochial crowd family and friends from around Australia, unbeaten junior welterweight Gostelow overcame an early cut from an accidental head clash to control the bout through the middle rounds against the 42-year-old Mosquera. Looking to close the show in emphatic fashion, Gostelow opened up on Mosquera in the twelfth only to be stung by a number of heavy punches that left him defenceless on the ropes. Referee Dave Hedgcock wisely called a halt to the bout at 1:18 to save a reeling Gostelow from falling face first to the canvas.

Unheralded cruiserweight Dominic Vea travelled to Japan in June to challenge Ryosuke Takahashi for the OPBF title he won from another Australian, Nermin Sabanovic, in his previous fight. Vea, 5-1 (4), started fast and kept the pressure on throughout the fight, winning every round with his high workrate before pummelling the vastly more experienced Takahashi into submission at 0:46 of the eighth round. To beat a 17-4-1 fighter on the road in such a one-sided fashion makes this one of the upset of the year.

Rising Star: William Kickett

‘The Yamatji Warrior’ has been a revelation in 2007 since winning his professional debut in March. Since then Kickett has been on a tear, winning seven bouts on the trot before closing out the year with a one-sided win over two-time world title challenger Tommy Browne on the Danny Green vs. Stipe Drews undercard.

Although still a novice in the pay-for-punch ranks, Kickett has already hinted at the depth of his talent and displayed a boxing brain that belies his age. Slick footwork, ring generalship and tight defence are complimented by quick hands, flashy combination and solid power. For a 20-year-old with an 8-0 (4) record, the kid looks the total package.

If the trend of matching top quality Australian fighters continues in 2008, look for Kickett to square off against current Australian lightweight champion Leonardo Zappavigna next year in what would be a barnburner battle of the unbeatens. If not, expect Kickett to be moved quickly up the world rankings and into line for a title shot against one of the beltholders at 135 pounds.

Honourable Mention: Leonardo Zappavigna
 
Leonardo Zappavigna built on his winning form in 2007, going undefeated in six fights and scoring the biggest win of his career with a 3rd round stoppage over previous undefeated Ryan Langham, 9-0 (5) at the time, in October.

In one of the better fights of the year, southpaw Langham dropped the forward charging Zappavigna with a short left hand early in round one, but the Australian lightweight champion retaliated by sending the 2004 Olympian to the canvas twice in round two and another couple of times in round three, prompting the corner to throw in the towel.

Zappavigna, whose aggressive, power punching style is reminiscent of Jeff Fenech, ended the year with an overall record of 12-0 (9). Expectations are high for the 2006 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, whose crowd-pleasing style will enamour him to fans with the growing exposure he receives. With trainer Tommy Mercuri and trainer/manager Billy Hussein overlooking his career Zappavigna seems more than destined for greater things.

Most Overlooked: Jamie Pittman

Living up to his nickname ‘Mr Business’, Pittman has been quietly getting the job done in relative obscurity in 2007. Going the distance in all four of his fights in this year including three twelve rounders, the lanky 26-year-old southpaw has upped his ledger to 16-0 (7) and at 6’1” the skilful boxer-puncher will prove a handful to any middleweight.

Despite his opponents’ limited credentials, Pittman has been doing what he’s supposed to do: win in emphatic fashion. And while he is yet to be genuinely challenged in the ring, the 2004 Olympic Games boxing captain has been sparring some of the best talent Australia has to offer, including Danny Green, Sam Soliman and Sakio Bika. Ask any of these three about his potential and they will tell you in no uncertain terms.

Don’t be surprised to see Pittman up his level of competition and break into the world ratings in 2008.

Trainer of the Year: Craig Christian

Sure, Daniel Dawson lost a virtual shutout to Daniel Geale, Naoufel Ben Rabah faded late against Lovemore Ndou and Ryan Langham tasted the canvas four times en route to a 3rd round TKO loss to Leonardo Zappavigna, but Christian has repeatedly shown that he’s not afraid to match his boys up in 50-50 fights.

Chris John retained his WBA featherweight title and kept his unbeaten record intact by comfortably defeating Jose Rojas and Zaiki Takemoto.

Dawson scored the most emphatic win of his career in July with a one round demolition of former world amateur champion Anton Solopov.

Talented ‘Action’ Jackson Asiku fought twice in 2007, successfully defending his Commonwealth featherweight title by 4th round TKO against roughhousing Matt Powell in December.

William ‘The Yamatji Warrior’ Kickett progressed from a talented amateur to one of the hottest commodities in Australian boxing in ten short months under Christian’s tutelage. A dominant eight round decision win over lanky Sydneysider and two-time world title challenger Tommy Browne in December sealed the deal, making Kickett one of the most exciting prospects Australia has produced in years.

A reigning world champion, a current Commonwealth champion, prospect of the year and three of the best domestic matchups seen on Australian soil in recent years is more than enough for Christian to be awarded the Doghouse Boxing 2007 Australian Trainer of the Year.

Honourable Mentions: Billy Hussein, Tommy Mercuri

2007 was a busy year for both trainers, who also work together. Mercuri’s charge Leonardo Zappavigna, also managed and co-trained by Hussein, had an enormous year with six fights culminating in a spectacular defence of his national lightweight title.

The year also saw the team in Japan three times (Nedal Hussein, Hussein Hussein and Adam Vella) and also to Melbourne for Hamdan’s win over Lovett. Even more amazing was that Hussein was in Queensland for fights the night before the Hamdan-Lovett fight.

Add several successful, well received promotions by Hussein in Western/South Western Sydney during 2007 on top of it all and we are getting close to pinpointing the workload of the extremely popular Hussein. It was an extremely busy, if not completely fruitful year for the teams from Bodypunch Boxing and Westside Boxing gyms.

Fighter of the Year: Danny Green
Honourable Mentions: Michael Katsidis, Daniel Geale, Sakio Bika
Fight of the Year: Lovemore Ndou TKO 11 Naoufel Ben Rabah
Honourable Mentions: Nader Hamdan MD 12 Daniel ‘Porky’ Lovett; Leonardo Zappavigna TKO 3 Ryan Langham
KO of the Year: Daniel Dawson KO 1 Anton Solopov 
Honourable Mention: Kali Meehan TKO 6 DaVarryl Williamson 
Biggest Upset: Ranee Ganoy TKO 8 Robbie Peden
Honourable Mentions: Guillermo Mosquera KO 12 Lance Gostelow; Dominic Vea TKO 8 Ryosuke Takahashi 
Rising Star: William Kickett
Honourable Mention: Leonardo Zappavigna
Most Overlooked: Jamie Pittman
Trainer of the Year: Craig Christian
Honourable Mentions: Billy Hussein, Tommy Mercuri.







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