Sharkie's Machine: Sharkie’s Top Fighters of 2008
By Frank Gonzalez Jr., exclusive to Doghouse Boxing (Dec 30, 2008)  
As 2008 comes to an end, its time to look at some of the year’s best fighters and grade them in our own minds. Surely everyone who follows boxing has an opinion on who’s got the goods and who is just a paper tiger. Evaluating what makes a fighter great these days depends on your own criteria. My criterion is simple; quality of opposition and how successful their fighting style is in the face of adversity. An example would be Israel Vazquez getting knocked down in the fourth round against top notch Rafael Marquez and then getting up, retaking control of the action and winning the fight.

There were some great fights in 08, like Taylor vs. Pavlik, the Williams vs. Quintana rematch, J.M. Marquez vs. Manny Pacquaio II, Tim Bradley vs. Junior Witter, Alfredo Angulo vs. anyone, Arthur Abraham’s destruction of Edison Miranda, the rise of Cristobal Arreola, Holt vs. Torres II, Cotto vs. Margarito, Hopkins beat down of Kelly Pavlik at 170, Hatton making easy work of Paul Malignaggi, Darchinyan unifying the titles at Super Fly weight by knocking out Christian Mijares, the return of Vitali Klitschko and his easy victory over Sam Peter and many memorable fights.

Number one on my list is WBC Super Bantam Weight Champion, Israel Vazquez (43-4, 31 KO’s) who in March, fought a third battle against his ultimate rival, Rafael Marquez (37-5, 33 KO’s) and won a Split Decision in a fight that started out with non stop action that carried throughout the match. Both are big punchers that possess good technical skills, endurance and resumes that reflect the benefits of quality opposition. These two have started one of the most exciting rivalries in boxing today, where rivalries are rare.

In their third fight, Marquez appeared to be winning most of the early rounds, particularly after Vazquez was downed in the fourth round by a Marquez straight right. But as the battle progressed, Vazquez forced the momentum into his favor and won most of the later rounds, capping things off with a relentless rally in the final round that staggered Marquez and saw him fall into the ropes for a knock down. Marquez protested the knockdown call and two of the Official Judges scored it 113-111 and 113-112 for Vazquez, the other Judge had it for Marquez 114-111. Both Marquez and Vazquez deserve first place honors in Sharkie’s Top Ten. It should be noted that Referee Pat Russell did an admirable job refereeing that fight.

The Number Two spot goes to WBA Welterweight titlist, Antonio “Tijuana Tornado” Margarito (37-5, 27 KO’s), who in April, fought a rematch against Kermit Cintron (30-2, 27 KO’s). He knocked Cintron out in the sixth round. Last time, in 2007, he had knocked Cintron out in the fifth round. Cintron was brave to try and beat the man who accounts for the only losses on his record. Margarito’s style is simple and effective; keep the pressure on, attack the body and never run out of gas.

But obviously, what really made Margarito a big star in 2008 was his July 26th victory over formerly unbeaten WBA titlist, Miguel Cotto, (32-1, 26 KO’s). Cotto put on a great performance, did everything right, worked his jab, moved in and out of Margarito’s range, slipping and avoiding most of Margarito’s punches, while managing to consistently land the cleaner shots.

Cotto proved the superior boxer. Margarito showed a great chin, will and stamina, as he kept the pressure on Cotto and always focused the bulk of his attacks to the body. That body work paid nice dividends late in the fight. Cotto’s clean punches weren’t hurting Margarito but the accumulation of body shots from the bigger man were taking their toll on the smaller Cotto, who in the tenth round, after being blasted to the face with a left hook and combo, was bloodied and battered. Cotto barely made it out of round 10. In the 11th, Margarito pressed Cotto into the ropes and let the leather fly. Cotto was taking a pummeling and fell to a knee. After the count, Cotto was still in a fog and as Margarito pursued him towards the corner, Cotto dropped down to a knee again, in surrender. Cotto’s trainer threw in the towel and the rest is history. Cotto is a great fighter, regardless of his loss to Margarito.

It looks like the fight I’ve wanted to see for years…is never going to happen. That would be Miguel Cotto vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. I do hear noises that Floyd may be making a comeback. He retired right when the going got too scary in the Welterweight division and impossible to hide in… but supposedly, he’s considering coming back—to fight 135 pound titlist, Manny Pacquaio. I can see that. Floyd showed zero interest in fighting Williams, Cotto or Margarito—even though Floyd was ranked at the top of the 147 pound division. What a great champion, huh?

The Number Three spot goes to the former WBA/WBC/WBO Super Middleweight titlist Joe Calzaghe (46-0, 32 KO’s), who only at this late stage of his career has put a string of big name fighters together and beat them all. I always thought Joe’s fast voluminous style would be a problem for a lot of the over hyped fighters this side of the pond but Joe proved it in the ring, as he made legitimate star Bernard Hopkins (49-4-1, 32 KO’s) eat his words after winning a Unanimous Decision over “the Executioner” in April. Hopkins started the fight on a good note, putting Joe on his ass in the first round with a flush right hand. Hopkins ‘hit and hold’ style saw him land the cleaner punches through the third round. By the fourth, Calzaghe used his speed and aggression to keep Hopkins off rhythm. Hopkins held continuously but Calzaghe managed to land more and control the action all the way through to the 12th. Hopkins complained that he really won the fight, and maybe some fans agreed but I can’t see how. You can’t hold constantly and win rounds. Calzaghe was too quick and too busy to be denied.

Then in November, Calzaghe traveled to the USA to face former “legend” Roy Jones Jr. (52-5, 38 KO’s). This is a fight I wanted to see for over a decade. Somewhere around 2002, this would have been one of the biggest fights of the decade but in 2008—it was like eating a bowl of almost fresh Cheerios with expired milk. By the time this fight was scheduled, Jones was already a shadow of the fighter he had once been. Jones relied on his incredible reflexes, which was what made him so effective in his prime. But once his reflexes were gone, at 39 years old, Roy didn’t have enough technical boxing skills to be competitive against a fast handed fighter that throws nearly 80 punches a round. At 33, Calzaghe still has his speedy reflexes and to Jones, a severe beating was administered. To Jones credit, he never gave up, even when it was obvious that he couldn’t win. We’ll never know how prime Jones would’ve fared against prime Calazghe and for that, we can thank the lack of legitimate administrative structure in boxing.

Number Four Spot goes to IBF/WBA/WBO Lightweight Champion, Nate “The Galaxxy Warrior” Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KO’s). Campbell is a blue collar fighter who got his big break when he fought Juan “the Baby Bull” Diaz (33-1, 17 KO’s) back in March. Campbell ’s career had a few ups and downs, particularly losing twice to Robbie Peden (24-2) in 04 and again in 05. Nate’s lost to Joel Casamayor (28-1), Francisco Lorenzo (21-3) and Isaac Hlatshwayo (23-0) Diaz was carefully managed and situated to win a title facilitated by Latka Sim (19-3) in 2004. Diaz held the WBA title hostage for three years as he was fed a steady diet of old guys and prospects until facing fellow titlist, Julio Diaz (34-3 at the time), who had been calling out Juan for at least a year. Juan Diaz finally fought Julio Diaz and beat the hell out of him in a one sided blowout. He had earned my respect. At that point, Juan Diaz had accumulated three titles. His next fight would be against aging contender Nate Campbell. Diaz’ handlers must’ve misjudged Campbell, who proceeded to pick Diaz apart and beat him at his own game on the inside. Battered and bloody, Diaz stood in his corner as the scores were announced and lo and behold, justice was served— Campbell had won a Split Decision. How one Judge had Diaz winning was no surprise in a sport that has zero accountability in its officiating. But the right man won and the blue collar Campbell was suddenly at the pinnacle of his career after a fantastic performance against a young, strong fighter with limited experience. There was a lot of nonsense talk trying to justify the loss to Campbell citing Diaz having a rift with promoter Don King. But what has that got to do with the fact that Campbell was the better man that night?

The Number Five spot goes to Super Middleweight contender, Librado Andrade (27-2, 21 KO’s), who may not own a title but is a force for good in the sport of boxing since he keeps fighters honest, since he cannot be bullied, he hits fairly hard and does not run out of gas. He recently lost a controversial title fight against Lucian Bute of Canada where Bute was dictating the action for most of the rounds but ran out of gas in the last couple of rounds. In the last round, Bute was knocked down by Andrade with less than five seconds to go in the round.

The referee, Marlon White, proved to be one of the most corrupt referees of the year, as he did all he could to protect his fellow Canadian, Lucian Bute, from losing by knockout or TKO, which would have been the right call when Bute was knocked down and got up at about the count of nine, not looking capable of continuing. Marlon White waited more than five seconds to give Bute the count and then stopped counting after five—to chastise Andrade for not being in his corner (Andrade WAS in a neutral corner and not doing anything to interfere with White’s count). In the end, what should have been a heroic TKO 12 victory for Andrade turned into a Unanimous Decision win for Bute .

The Number Six spot goes to WBC Lightweight titlist, Manny Pacquaio (48-3-2, 36 KO’s) for years of great fights against quality opponents and for insuring that we won’t have to pay for anymore Oscar De La Hoya PPV’s! Though Oscar has masqueraded as a legit contender for a few years now… with just about all of his fights on PPV (with lousy under-card fights!!), Pacman finally exposed DLH’s lack of qualifications for being a Pay-Per-View caliber fighter. Thank God for that. Manny is now being called the best p4p fighter and as such, he now is no longer accountable to fight the top guys in his own division. Actually, after DLH, there’s been talk that Manny has no plans to go back to 135, where he has some unfinished business with J.M. Marquez and three belt titlist Nate Campbell.

So, next up for Manny is a fight with Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton in Las Vegas in May 2009. Unless they fought in Manila , wherever Hatton goes IS his hometown, as evidenced by his last few fights in the USA , where his fans travel great lengths to support him and make it feel like Ricky’s house wherever he fights. Hatton is unlike anyone Pacquaio’s ever faced before in that he’s a pure pressure fighter that has uncanny stamina. I won’t make any predictions save to say it should be a very entertaining contest!

The Number Seven Spot goes to WBC Heavyweight titlist, Vitali Klitschko (36-2, 35 KO’s) who came back after a four year hiatus and was granted enduring emeritus status for FOUR years! That’s not cool but hey, the HW division is so damn boring, I have to give Vitali a pass, since he’s about the only guy in the division worth watching these days. Younger brother and fellow champion, Wladimir is a good boxer but he fights in a somewhat timid style that is not very entertaining to watch. Vitali doesn’t come to box, he comes to kick your ass and THAT…is what we need to see more of in the HW division.

In spite of losing three of his last six fights, the Number Eight Spot goes to Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins (49-5-1, 32 KO’s), who after losing to Calzaghe in April, went on to fight unbeaten Middleweight Star Kelly Pavlik (now 34-1, 30 KO’s) at a catch weight of 170. Hopkins beat Pavlik in every single round and was busier than I’ve ever seen him for all of 12 rounds. Hopkins is 43 years old and an inspiration to all aging athletes that, yes, you can…if you work hard enough. Where has the Bernard Hopkins of October 2008 been hiding all these years?

The Number Nine and Ten spots go to a couple of Prospects in HW Cristobal Arreola (26-0, 23 KO’s) and Jr. Middleweight Alfredo Angulo (14-0, 11 KO’s), who is rock solid and gives the impression of a seasoned veteran and not a young prospect. After watching how Angulo beat the very game Andrey Tsurkan (26-3), I’m convinced that Angulo is a guy to watch out for in 09. He fights with the maturity of a champion, has good defense, good power in both hands and a ruggedness reminiscent of ye olden days.

Cristobal Arreola is still just a puppy but he’s got some big paws and after watching him deal with adversity in his last fight against little known Travis Walker (28-1), Arreola never panicked, he took a knee after absorbing a barrage of big punches from Walker in the second round. Just when it looked like the Arreola hype was just that…Arreola traded leather with Walker later in the same round and knocked him down twice with heavy handed shots. In the third, Arreola went to work and landed a left hook that dropped Walker to the canvas. The referee, Jack Reiss, got down on the canvas and prevented Walker from getting up. Walker looked banged up but capable of continuing. The ref waved it off and Arreola won a fight he probably didn’t need help from Reiss to win. But why Arreola? Because outside of Vitali Klitschko, Arreola’s the ONLY other exciting fighter in that division. With some improvements on defense and overall abilities, Arreola will be ready to challenge for a title very soon.

Happy New Year Fellow Fight Fans!

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