- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Yes, 2012 is in the books, but beyond last week’s daily annual awards for fighter, knockout, round, prospect and fight of the year, here is part 1 of some additional awards:
Trainer of the year: This was a slam dunk: Robert Garcia had a huge year as head trainer for fighter of the year Nonito Donaire, who moved up in weight, won two junior featherweight belts and went 4-0 against four quality opponents. But Garcia had more going for him than just Donaire. He also trains Brandon Rios, who was in tremendous shape for his ultra-exciting knockout win against Mike Alvarado in the fight of the year runner-up (after being massively weight drained for a gift decision against Richard Abril in April), and younger brother Mikey Garcia, who stayed undefeated and will challenge for a featherweight world title against Orlando Salido on HBO on Jan. 19. Garcia also took over as trainer for former junior welterweight titlist Marcos Maidana, who is 2-0 with Garcia after a switching to him after a loss, and continues to work with former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, who won his three 2012 fights, albeit against lesser opposition.
Manager of the year: I’m calling a tie between Cameron Dunkin and Frank Espinoza, who compete for talent and even used to work closely with each other. Both did extremely well in 2012, moving their fighters and generating career paydays for them without the benefits the networks give Al Haymon because of his relationship with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Dunkin is a candidate year in and year out, but had a particularly strong 2012. He was a major factor in getting fighter of the year Donaire on HBO four times for the biggest purses of his career. Although Timothy Bradley Jr. fought only once, Dunkin was a big part of getting him a fight with Manny Pacquiao for a career-high payday of $5 million. Dunkin also guides the careers of Rios, Garcia and Pavlik, among others. One thing about Dunkin: He’ll fight for his clients with the same passion that they do in the ring.
Espinoza guided Abner Mares to a junior featherweight world title (after he moved up from bantamweight) and Daniel Ponce De Leon to a featherweight title. He also got Carlos Molina, a decent lightweight prospect, a career payday against Amir Khan and signed talented two-time Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez to a stable that also includes other prospects.
Upset of the year: There were several surprising results but I thought Sonny Boy Jaro’s sixth-round destruction of future Hall of Famer Pongsaklek Wonjongkam on the road in Thailand to win a flyweight title was as shocking as any outcome in recent years. Wonjongkam was not what he was at his best during his first reign (2001 to 2007, with a division-record 17 defenses) but he had reclaimed the title and had made four defenses before meeting Jaro, a journeyman from the Philippines. Jaro dropped him in the first and fourth rounds and twice more in the sixth to take the title and hand Wonjongkam only his second loss since 1996.
There were a slew of other upsets too, including: Josesito Lopez, in his “Rocky moment,” breaking Victor Ortiz’s jaw and stopping him after nine rounds; Mario Rodriguez’s knockout of Nkosinathi Joyi in the seventh round to claim a strawweight title; Austin Trout outpointing Miguel Cotto in his house at Madison Square Garden to retain a junior middleweight belt; heavyweight Johnathon Banks drilling Seth Mitchell in the second round; journeyman Gamaliel Diaz outpointing Takahiro Ao in Japan to win a junior lightweight belt; Danny Garcia rallying for a fourth-round knockout of Amir Khan to unify junior welterweight belts; Carl Froch’s fifth-round knockout of then undefeated Lucian Bute to win a super middleweight title; Paulie Malignaggi going to Ukraine and not only handing Vyacheslav Senchenko his first loss, but doing so by TKO to win a welterweight belt; light heavyweight Denis Grachev’s stunning eighth-round rally to knock out heavily touted Ismayl Sillakh.
Worst stoppage of the year: If you follow boxing you know that former cruiserweight titlist Enzo Maccarinelli has a glass chin. But his second-round stoppage loss to Ovill McKenzie in a Commonwealth light heavyweight title bout in November had nothing to do with his chin and everything to do with incompetent referee Ian John-Lewis, who stopped the fight because of, well, absolutely nothing.
Robbery of the year: Hands down, Pacquiao-Bradley. Judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross were on another planet with their scores that gave Bradley a spit decision. Then Ford made himself look even more foolish when he told HBO’s Jim Lampley that Bradley had given Pacquiao a “boxing lesson.” Somebody should give him a judging lesson.
Worst fights of the year: 1. As I fully expected, lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez’s defense against Mercito Gesta was putrid and stunk up the Marquez-Pacquiao undercard. 2. Devon Alexander’s welterweight title win against Randall Bailey also stunk out loud. How bad? CompuBox has tracked punch statistics for 27 years covering thousands of fights. Bailey landed just 45 of 198 punches, the fewest ever landed in a 12-round fight that CompuBox has tracked. 3. The fight between Sergiy Dzinziruk and Jonathan Gonzalez (who showed up nine pounds overweight for what was supposed to be a junior middleweight fight) was agony. It was ruled a draw. Nobody won, not either fighter and certainly not the HBO viewers.
Comeback of the year I: Middleweight Daniel Jacobs, the 2009 ESPN.com prospect of the year, made a triumphant return in October after being idle for 19 months because of a battle with cancer that nearly killed him. Forget about boxing, Jacobs was lucky to be alive, so when he fought in his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., and knocked out Josh Luteran in the first round it was quite emotional.
Comeback of the year II: Yeah, Ricky Hatton got knocked out by Senchenko but how can you not be impressed by what Hatton did? The former junior welterweight champ came back 3½ years after being severely knocked out by Pacquiao and a descent into depression, drug and alcohol abuse, significant weight gain and multiple suicide attempts. But he got his life together, got in great shape mentally and physically and was winning before getting caught by a ninth-round body shot. Hatton retired again, but fought well and looked like he could still contend if he wanted to fight on.