The 2014 UCNLive Billy Awards
As we near the end of 2014, it is time for the year-end “Billys,” the much-coveted, ridiculously-named, lauded or laughed-at awards recognizing the good, the bad and everything in between in boxing.
The “Mexican Hot Sauce” Award: Gilberto Ramirez – If this guy keeps doing all the right things as he goes up in competition, he could be Mexico’s next big star. Ramirez’s rise in level of competition at super middleweight will reveal itself all very soon. But so far, so good – very good! Look for him on HBO in support of the Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios III undercard in early 2015.
The “Stop! This is getting very awkward to watch!” Award: Shannon Briggs – Maybe earn a world title shot by beating a top-10 fighter but stop parading around after Wladimir Klitschko, acting the clown. It’s getting old and clearly not working.
The “Freddie Pendleton/Emanuel Augustus/Records Don’t Tell the Story” Award: Orlando Salido – Currently the WBO super featherweight champion, “Siri” started at 11-7-2 in his first 20. But the 57-fight veteran is a four-time world champion and is never in a bad fight. Look for him in a couple more barnburners in 2015.
The “Rarely Seen on the Scene” Award: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – The guy had a limited amateur career and the pressure of his surname. Chavez is tough and a better fighter than (at times) he’s given credit for when he’s focused. Unfortunately, he rarely appears focused. He said recently, “You’ll be seeing a lot of me in 2015.” Turning down that very generous two-fight (like 15 million dollars-generous) offer from Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum was ludicrous! Alienated every working-class fan he ever had with that move. Only been in the ring twice in the last two years against the same guy and has nothing booked for 2015 yet. Here’s hoping Chavez rededicates himself.
The “Terrific Transition to Punching for Pay” Award: Oscar Valdez – Two years, 14 fights, 13 KOs, starting to dispatch some experienced pros. Valdez will be getting his waist measured for a world title belt before he’s done. His pace will slow as his competition rises but with this much activity over the last two years, it is nice to see a guy who enjoys going to work.
The “One-Sided Walloping” Award: Sergey Kovalev – Everybody knew Sergey was a banger and Bernard Hopkins got mucho props for challenging a monster like him. But Sergey showed patience, better-than-expected movement and fast hands in one-sided drubbing of legend Hopkins.
The “Classy in Receiving a One-Sided Walloping” Award: Bernard Hopkins – After losing to Kovalev, no excuses and lots of props heaped on Kovalev from “The Alien.” Results aside, amazing performance by “B-Hop” at age 49.
The “Top Marks for Trying (to get Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the Ring)” Award: Manny Pacquiao – I suppose there are other options for some big fights for the “Pac-Man” but he still hasn’t been in the fight everyone wants to see. He’s going to spend his retirement answering the question, “Why wouldn’t Floyd fight you?” And Floyd will spend his retirement answering the question, “Why didn’t you fight Manny?” Floyd has called out Manny as of late but still wants Bob Arum out of the equation – and that won’t happen.
The “Primero Mexican Heavyweight Champion” Award: Andy Ruiz Jr. – He isn’t a one-punch KO banger but Ruiz has fast hands and puts his punches together with the speed of a middleweight and it usually gets guys outta there. Tough and very deceptively fit. He’s going to be fun to watch as he progresses if he stays focused and he’s just about there. The one question mark is conditioning. While it doesn’t appear to affect Ruiz’s stamina at this stage, one would assume his weight might pose difficulties at the championship level.
The “James Brown/Hardest Working Man in Show Business” Award: Sean Gibbons – If there is a fight card happening in the free world, there is a good chance “Green Day” is working it, the weigh-in, the pre- and post-fight presser – and everything in between. Boxing’s Energizer Bunny is one of the game’s truly positive guys! The glass is always half-full and the energy in a room heads north when he arrives. Viva Green Day!
The “Like a Fine Wine” Award: Bob Arum – 83 years young and still plying the boards like a man half his age. Has broken new markets in Asia for Top Rank over the last few years and works 24/7. One of the last of his era and a Hall of Fame boxing legend through and through.
The “Perfect Span-glish Introductions” Award: Ring Announcer Lupe Contreras – He has the look for TV and the voice for radio…and boxing rings. Contreras brings a lot of sizzle to the steak! His classy and seamless English-to-Spanish pre-fight introductions and exciting fighter intros are pre-fight treats for fight fans. The Houston-based ring announcer is also as nice a person as you can hope to meet. A great score for Top Rank; he brings a lot to the show (Michael Buffer, the classy Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Lupe – three of the best voices in any sport!).
The “Midwest Franchise” Award: Terence Crawford – Packing ‘em in when he fights in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. This might be Mavericks and Cornhuskers’ country but boxing is getting the attention these days thanks to an exciting and talented lightweight.
The “Buried Hatchet” Award: Oscar De La Hoya and Bob Arum – The end of the Top Rank Promotions-Golden Boy Promotions “Cold War” should bode for more great match-ups for boxing. The fans and the industry both win here.
The “Late ‘80s Cher/If I Could Turn Back Time” Award: Bernard Hopkins, Glen Johnson and Roy Jones – There is always a spot for them in the game on name recognition alone. “The Executioner”/ “B-Hop”/“Alien” understandably only wants marquee fights and perhaps that window is closing as he edges in on age 50.
Roy and Glen can find work in Europe but nobody wants to see them take one fight too many. Perhaps it’s that time? The only thing left for Roy and Glen to do in the game is get hurt and nobody wants to see that. Hall of Fame fighters both, time to work in the game on the safer side of the ropes.
The “M.I.A.” Award: Andre Ward – In reality, Ward doesn’t deserve this award, as he isn’t missing in action. He‘s just…missing. Undefeated at 27-0 (14) and nowhere near a ring in over a year. A great talent like this shouldn’t be sitting idle. Here’s hoping the vastly talented “S.O.G.” re-emerges in 2015.
The “Credit Check” Award: Guillermo Rigondeaux – This guy is so talented but flies under the mainstream radar and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Tough sell as Rigondeaux boxes safe and doesn’t speak English but his skill set is second to none. Averaging two fights a year, I’d get him out three to four times a year. He’s also 34, so age isn’t on his side. Glad he squeaked one more in this year but hope he gets busier next year. Styles sell and Rigondeaux’s a tough style to sell but he is oh-so-talented!
The “Comeback Kids” Award: Andy Lee, Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan – Lee resurrected his career with a great stoppage of Matt Korobov to capture the vacant WBO middleweight belt. It looked like curtains on his career as a marquee player if Lee lost this one. Lee vs. Gennady Golovkin in Ireland would have Irish eyes smiling!
Cotto went 3-3 between 2009 and 2012 and got thrashed in that span by Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. He came back with a predictable win over Delvin Rodriguez in 2013. Then eight months later, Cotto shocked everyone by stopping Sergio Martinez in June of this year. Sergio got old that night and Miguel took advantage, making a return dip into the Fountain of Youth. Now, more popular than ever, he’ll get some huge offers in 2015. I’m guessing Cotto-Canelo Alvarez will happen. Cotto doesn’t duck anyone and wants to fight the best. Respect.
Khan showed the talent we knew was there despite the fact that he’s had some bumps in the road in his career. Put in one of his best showings against Devon Alexander in December. Made the short list for a shot at Mayweather.
The “Nuts ‘N’ Guts” Award: Gabriel Rosado (vs. David Lemieux) – Wow, Rosado showed heart and toughness (again) as long as he lasted against power-punching Lemieux but he doesn’t need too many more of those nights.
The “Inspirational Back-to-Back Victories” Award: Daniel Jacobs – KO’ed osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in 2011 and stopped Jarrod Fletcher in five to win the WBA world middleweight title in 2014.
The “Making His Case” Award: Amir Khan – He looked awfully good against Devon Alexander and made a case that he deserves a shot at Floyd. “Money” says Khan’s unknown outside of boxing circles but was Marcos Maidana a household, crossover name? And “El Chino” got two shots! You could fill two “footie pitches” in England with this one. Amir brings the European audience to this dance. If not Manny, then who, Floyd? Khan deserves a shot. If not Mayweather-Pacquiao, then Pacquiao-Khan. Based on his last showing, Khan’s a tough out for either.
Fighter of the Year: Terence Crawford – The guy is becoming his own franchise in Omaha. Good boxer, good chin and Crawford has some pop. The whole package (also, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Amir Khan and Sergey Kovalev all had a great year).
Fight of the Year: Lucas Matthysse TKO 11 John Molina Jr. – Neither fighter will be confused with Fred Astaire but if it’s action you want, this war did the trick!
Knockout(s) of the Year: Marvin Sonsona KO 3 Akifumi Shimoda – A beautiful counter uppercut that put Shimoda to sleep. Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson – Andy earned his WBO middleweight title shot with this come-from-behind win. Losing on the cards and reeling into the ropes, Lee caught Jackson with a fight-ending counter that stretched out the son of former world champion and power-puncher Julian Jackson. Emanuel Steward was smiling from above!
Fighter of the Year: Orlando Salido – What? Yes, Orlando Salido. Takes an inch and makes a mile out of it. Maybe a bit “heart-over-head” here as I’m a big fan of this throwback. There isn’t a lot of his ilk left who came up the old-school way. He turned back the challenge of former amateur sensation Vasyl Lomachenko in March. Vasyl’s promoter, Top Rank assumed Lomachenko would outbox “Siri” and then challenge another amateur star in Guillermo Rigondeaux in an all “former amateur star” showdown. But Orlando didn’t get that memo and had other plans. Salido followed up that showing with a thrill-a-minute war with Terdsak Kokietgym in which both fighters were up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, seven total knockdowns in the fight. A teacher-student upset welcome to the pro’s boxing lesson and a thrill-a-minute war gets my vote! Lotta miles on Salido so he won’t be around forever, so enjoy this veteran pro while you can.
Reporter of the Year: Steve “K9” Kim – Am I biased? Yes, I suppose so. I have the pleasure of working with this guy and he delivers the goods every day. Committed and focused on the game and its top stories, Steve brings a great sense of humour to the proceedings. A network should snap this guy up.
Insight All Night: Paulie Malignaggi – The former world champion is outside the ropes more than inside these days and is making a name for himself as a ringside analyst and commentator. Malignaggi brings a firsthand fighter’s perspective to match-ups and has a great eye for breaking down fights and the strengths and weaknesses of fighters, usually with consistent accuracy. He calls it as he sees it and doesn’t hold back. His no-nonsense approach to his perspective is fun but insightful. Malignaggi’s been in the trenches, so his credibility factor is very strong.
Straight from the Art: Coyote Duran – (Am I biased? See aformentioned “K9” comment). While the UCNLive.com editor spends more time at his computer editing the musings of his crew, Coyote’s art from the heart is his ability to sketch and illustrate. His colour and black-and-white portraits are just him and a paper and pencil(s) and the results are really quite something. He’s done some amazing images of boxing’s best that never fail to impress fans of the Sweet Science. Coyote posted a piece he rendered of Floyd Mayweather Jr. earlier this year that was really phenomenal! Check him out; he is the goods (at the “Creation Nation,” www.coyoteduran.com)!
“Write On” Award: Kevin Iole from Yahoo! Sports – Brings in-depth insights into his columns and isn’t afraid to tackle issues that can plague the game. Always shows a great respect for the fighters he writes about, Iole understands and respects the fact that their jobs are not easy. This guy is a great read for fight fans.
“Book ‘em Brian” Award: Brian Viloria – Gotta love the fact that Brian Viloria, still one of the game’s elite flyweight little big men 14 years into his career, enters the ring to the theme from “Hawaii Five-0.” I’ve been a big Viloria fan since the 2000 Olympian turned pro back in 2001. Walking into the ring to that classic cut only enhances his profile with me!
“Take the R Train” Award: Ronnie Shields – One of the game’s best trainers, Ronnie Shields brings a calm and professional but passionate demeanour to the ring. Knows how to motivate his charge and devise a fight plan that fits the assignment and the style of his fighter. A former contender as a professional who knows the game as well as anyone. Freddie Roach and Robert Garcia get a lot of ink – and deservedly so, both phenomenal – but Ronnie is on par with the best in the game.
The “Height Fight” Award: Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury – Most bouts are all about hype but this one may be all about height. Undefeated Tyson Fury stands 6’9” and longtime heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko stands 6’6” tall. That’s 13’3” of fighter! The two towering bangers are supposed to meet in 2015 and it will finally be “Put up or shut up” time for Fury. I can’t even imagine Tyson at the pressers; they will be much better than the actual fight. I’m also assuming that Shannon Briggs (at only 6’4”) will show up yelling, “Let’s Go Champ!” to add more height and ham to the proceedings. It will all be nothing if not entertaining.
“Gone but not Forgotten” Award: Sadly, some that we lost from the boxing fraternity this past year. Rest in Peace.
Matthew Saad Muhammad
Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all. Health and Happiness in 2015!