Boxing: The Best Of The Year
17.12.03 - By Janne Romppainen: The boxing year 2003 is two weeks away from being over and while the field is quieting down for the Christmas holidays, it is a good moment to take a look back at what we have witnessed this year. It certainly has been a colourful and exciting twelve months again. One nice thing about boxing is that almost every year includes something good. If there is quiet in some division like it was in the heavyweights this year, there are other divisions to fill in what has lacked. Cruiserweight, which has usually been one of the least inspiring categories, went through a great season as did welterweight and super-welterweight, not forgetting the lightweights nor feathers either.
Article posted on 17.12.2003
There has been tradition that at the end of the year the best nominees in certain categories have been elected, and I for my part want to continue that genre. I have ranked some fighters and fights in different categories which I think have been the best and most memorable of the year. Check them out and agree or disagree freely with my choices.
The Fight Of The Year
James Toney W12 Vasily Jirov
Perhaps the biggest cruiserweight fight of the division’s history was eagerly anticipated. Everybody waited for a good fight, but the match exceeded all the expectations nevertheless. The defending IBF-champion, Kazakhstan Vasily Jirov and the challenger James Toney went through twelve brutal, fast-paced and exciting rounds. It was a perfect clash of styles, with Jirov coming forwards and firing away and Toney blocking and countering him. It was a slugfest at the highest level of skills and it all culminated in a splendid final round, where Toney finally knocked his foe down and sealed an earned unanimous decision.
Manny Pacquiao TKO11 Marco Antonio Barrera
A clash for the unofficial “best featherweight in the world” –title continued the great tradition of the division that the Mexican warriors Barrera and Erik Morales had started in their two bouts. This time Barrera stepped in the ring against a colourful super bantamweight titlist Manny Pacquiao. A good bout was almost guaranteed as both fighters were known for their ability and will to slug out. The bigger and more experienced Barrera was the favourite, but instead he had to go through the beating of his lifetime at the hands of his young challenger who absolutely shone in the ring that night. It was a hard-fought contest throughout but Pacquiao was always in the control with his superior accuracy and speed. “The Pacman” knocked Barrera down in the third and eleventh rounds and stopped him seconds before the ending bell of the 11th round, walking away as a new superstar of the boxing field.
Lennox Lewis TKO6 Vitaly Klitschko
This was a bout that was not supposed to be great, but it turned out to be one of the best clashes in the heavyweights in many years. Klitschko’s little brother Wladimir was stunningly stretched by Corrie Sanders a couple of months earlier and most experts picked Lewis to do the same against Vitaly who back then was considered as “the weaker Klitschko”. But the fight was far from being one-sided. Klitschko started quickly by winning the first round and wobbling Lewis badly in the second. The champion rallied in the third, creating a horrendous cut over Klitschko’s left eye. It was a brutal war where both fighters were throwing and receiving bombs. Lewis finally came through when Klitschko was stopped by the ring doctor before the beginning of the seventh round. We saw great six rounds, but what kind of a six rounds did we miss because of the stoppage?
Other fights worth mentioning: Shane Mosley W12 Oscar De La Hoya, Ricardo Mayorga KO3 Vernon Forrest, Arturo Gatti W10 Micky Ward
My choice: Toney W12 Jirov
The Fighter Of The Year
The long-reigning pound-for-pound king of the world, light-heavyweight Roy Jones finally did what had been awaited for at least five years and took the biggest challenge of his career, challenging John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title. It was Jones’ first fight since his bout against James Toney nearly a decade earlier where the betting scales were about even beforehand. Jones came through his stiffest test with flying colours, winning nearly every round and never being in danger on his way in becoming a heavyweight champion. In the November Jones was back in the ring, again as a light-heavyweight, and faced Antonio Tarver, the new titlist of the division. The big weight loss seemed to hurt Jones who appeared to be weaker than usually, but he overcame Tarver’s determined challenge and escaped with a majority decision victory. Jones ended the year with a record of 49-1.
Perhaps the brightest comet of the boxing world continued his steady rise to the stardom. The lightweight WBC champion Mayweather opened his year with a hard-fought but lopsided decision win over dangerous Victoriano Sosa in April. In November he gave a showing that made some experts to rank him as the best fighter in the world by dethroning Philippe N’dou in style during seven rounds. Mayweather ended the year at 31-0 and cemented his place in the top-3 of pound for pound rankings.
The former three-division world champion made an impressive comeback after many quiet years by collecting the IBF cruiserweight title from Vasily Jirov in a splendid war. Toney however wasn’t satisfied with winning over the fourth weight class in his career, he went on and followed Roy Jones’ steps to tackle the big boys. In a masterful performance, Toney out-smarted, out-slugged, even out-classed and finally, out-knocked the heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield. Toney ended his year at 67-4-2 and as one of the best heavyweights in the world
Others worth mentioning: Manny Pacquiao, Cory Spinks.
My choice: James Toney
Side-note: had Ricardo Mayorga defeated Cory Spinks in their welterweight unification bout last weekend, he would have been my choice
The Round Of The Year
Ricardo Mayorga – Vernon Forrest Rd 3
After a furious second round, the challenger Mayorga and champion Forrest continue from where they had stopped. Forrest throws out his left jab and looks to land his noted right cross. Mayorga answers by rushing him to the ropes and landing good hooks on his own and the pace goes up. Forrest shoots his uppercut and Mayorga responds in kind in a wild action that at times gets unclean. They trade big shots throughout until with a minute left Mayorga lands three right hands that make Forrest totter to the ropes. Another big right puts the welterweight champion on the floor. Forrest gets up on wobbly legs, but the referee Marty Denkin stops the fight in front of the astounded crowd. In two minutes, the boxing world had gotten a new star on scene.
James Toney – Vasily Jirov Rd 12
The great battle was about to get its climax which was actually the whole bout in a miniature. After touching the gloves at the start of the round, there was no more quiet moments. Both fighters obviously felt they needed the round. Toney opened up with some solid shots before Jirov again forced him to the ropes. The Kazakhstan tiger ripped Toney with both hands. Toney waited for his chances and returned well-placed, fully delivered bombs. Exhausted Jirov still kept coming even though Toney, badly tired himself, caught him time and time again with flush shots. It was like scene from the Rocky-movies where two battered guys tried to outlast each other with their last energy reserves. Finally, twenty seconds before the finish, Toney managed to floor his foe with a combination. Jirov, showing mighty courage, rose from the canvas to finish the round.
Joes Casamayor – Diego Corrales Rd 4
Casamayor continued with what he had been doing all night so far. He dances in front of Corrales, moving side to side. After merely twenty seconds, he shoots a perfect left hand from his southpaw stance right at Corrales’ chin and Corrales goes down for the second time in the fight. He gets up quickly, but Casamayor is all over him, swarming with both hands. A war suits Corrales fine though. After one minute of action, he bangs Casamayor with a splendid left hook and Casamayor in turn hits the deck. After getting up, Casamayor gets on his bike and Corrales chases him, trying to draw him to exchanges. Casamaoyr fights back with fast combos and they both land well at the rest of the round
Other rounds worth mention: Arturo Gatti – Micky Ward Rd 7, Floyd Mayweather – Philippe N’dou Rd 5, Acelino Freitas – Jorge Barrios Rd 11
My choice: Toney – Jirov Rd 12
The Upset Of The Year
Manny Pacquiao TKO11 Marco Antonio Barrera
Pacquiao is seen as a colourful and exciting contender but few actually pick him over the modern-day great Barrera. It is expected that Barrera would still be too big and tough for the younger Pacman, but the Philippine bomber astounds the onlookers and especially Barrera by having it his way, controlling the action throughout and stopping Barrera only the second time during his long career.
Corrie Sanders KO2 Wladimir Klitschko
Wladimir Klitschko is supposed to be the “next big thing“. He is seen as the obvious pick for Lennox Lewis’ successor. In his sixth defence of the WBO heavyweight title he faces the 37-year-old South African Corrie Sanders who has fought just twice during the last three years. An early blowout is expected. That is what happens too, but unlike most had thought. Sanders hasn’t come all the way to Germany to lose. He downs Klitschko twice in the very first round. Two more knockdowns in the second round and it’s all over with heavily pro-Klitschko crowd looking on in stunning disbelief.
Ricardo Mayorga KO3 Vernon Forrest
The year 2003 was supposed to be Vernon Forrest’s big year. He had just scored two victories over the pound-for-pound top ranked Sugar Shane Mosley and solidified his own place among the best fighters in the world. In his first fight of the year in January he took on Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga who was seen as a tough brawler but Forrest was expected to outbox him rather easily. However Forrest was drawn out of his fight plan in the second round and decided to slug it out, which suited Mayorga perfectly. In a short but exciting give-and-take shootout Mayorga proved to be the tougher by stopping the champion astoundingly in three rounds.
Others worth mentioning: Cory Spinks W12 Ricardo Mayorga, Rafael Marquez TKO8 Tim Austin
Post scriptum: The Year Of The Writer
Because it was a great boxing year, it also was a great year for a writer. I had the honour to write about many great match-ups and I enjoyed it a great deal. However, in one sense it was a horrible twelve months for me: my fight picks were off so badly that I almost could challenge the infamous “Max Kellerman Curse” of the ESPN channel. This year I picked wrong at least the following major bouts: Mayorga-Forrest I, Jones-Ruiz, Sanders-Klitschko, Toney-Jirov, Mayorga-Forrest II, Guinn-Grant Mosley-De La Hoya, Mesi-Williamson, McCline-Boswell, Toney-Holyfield, Pacquiao-Barrera, Ruiz-Rahman and Spinks-Mayorga! So if there is a Christmas present that I could hope for, it would be more luck with predicting fights!
Hopefully you have enjoyed this year as much as I have. Now it is time for me to go to my Christmas holidays. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all readers and writers of the East Side Boxing site! Thank you for this year and see you again in 2004!
previous article: Klitschko vs Nicholson Preview
next article: Joe Calzaghe: "Chicken Ottke"