- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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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, I handed out some additional hardware on Wednesday. And now, here is Part 2:
Most important business development: The return of boxing to network television. Boxing was essentially banished from network TV in the late 1990s, with a few exceptions. But in back-to-back weeks in December, it returned to Saturday afternoons on CBS (Leo Santa Cruz versus Alberto Guevara in a bantamweight title fight) and NBC (Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham in a heavyweight rematch) thanks to the hard work of promoters Golden Boy and Main Events, respectively. Both cards performed very well in the ratings, meaning you can probably count on seeing more network action in 2013 and, hopefully, beyond. Boxing on free TV can be a game-changer for the sport.
Event of the year: Begrudgingly, I'm going with the night of Sept. 15 in Las Vegas. I was very clear from the outset that I despised the idea of two major cards competing in the same city on the same night when Top Rank/HBO PPV and Showtime/Golden Boy went head-to-head with Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at the Thomas & Mack Center and Canelo Alvarez-Josesito Lopez down the street at the MGM Grand on Mexican Independence Day weekend. It caused a lot of unnecessary issues and a lot of hurt feelings for a lot of people in the business. But ultimately the fans turned out for both events. The HBO PPV was a huge success, Showtime's ratings were robust, and both cards produced quality entertainment. That said, I hope we don't see another conflict like that this year. (But I won't hold my breath.)
Non-event of the year: Same as the past few years -- a Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight. And now the whole thing is down the drain after Pacquiao's knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez last month. Only in boxing could the ego, greed and stupidity of some of those involved blow up one of the biggest potential events in history. Even if the fight does happen someday, it will never be what it should have been -- easily the biggest money fight ever and the ultimate summit meeting of the two best fighters on the planet. But that ship has sailed for what will instead go down as one of the most disappointing situations in sports history. No matter what happens from here on out, there will always be a gaping hole in the legacies of both fighters.
OMG moment of the year: Has to be Marquez's stunning one-punch KO against Pacquiao with one second left in the sixth round. I thought at that point in the fight that Pacquiao was closing in on his own stoppage win, and then all of a sudden ... boom! Runner-up: Chavez dropping Martinez in the final 90 seconds of what had been a one-sided Martinez domination. Both moments were electrifying.
Best experience of the year: Thanks to my side gig as an analyst for Epix boxing telecasts, I traveled to Nottingham, England, Carl Froch's hometown, to call his upset knockout win against Lucian Bute in May. It was my first trip to England and one of the best experiences of my career covering boxing. Working with fellow announcers Bruce Beck, Sugar Ray Leonard, Chris Mannix and our whole crew on the show was a pleasure, and riding around Nottingham (on the other side of the road for the first time) as executive producer/driver Travis Pomposello navigated more roundabouts than any road system should have was quite an experience. I still regret that I was unable to convince Travis to stop at the Porsche dealership we kept passing, but at least the atmosphere on fight night was incredible. I rate it No. 2 on my all-time list behind the atmosphere at the MGM Grand for Mayweather-Ricky Hatton.
R.I.P.: 2012 was a particularly tough year in terms of losses in the boxing community, including the great Angelo Dundee, good pal Bert Sugar, Johnny Tapia, Hector Camacho Sr., Goody Petronelli, Carmen Basilio, Julio Gonzalez and Corrie Sanders. They will all be missed. But the passing of Emanuel Steward, a dear friend and a wonderful ambassador for the sport, was particularly hard to take.
Misery award: The 2012 U.S. Olympic men's boxing team, which didn't win a single medal for the first time ever. This is rock-bottom status for a U.S. amateur system that has been driven into the ground for years. Runners-up (tie): HBO buying Keith Thurman-Orlando Lora and Showtime buying Jayson Velez-Salvador Sanchez II. Neither had any business airing on premium cable.
Quickest rise of the year: Leo Santa Cruz went from a prospect known only among hard-core fans (he was on my 2011 year-end top prospects list) to one of the sport's most notable young talents. He went 5-0, won a bantamweight world title, became a Showtime regular, headlined the return of boxing to CBS and, most important, made one action-packed fight after another.
Shame on you award: We have four winners, Lamont Peterson, Andre Berto, Antonio Tarver and Erik Morales, all of whom were busted for using banned substances. Performance-enhancing drugs are a major problem in boxing, and commissions badly need to beef up testing. Three of these fighters were caught by either VADA or USADA, which were contracted for specific fights outside of commission oversight. Only Tarver's test came from a postfight California commission test. Amazingly, after Morales failed multiple tests, New York still allowed him to fight.
Welcome award I: The beautiful new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., which opened for boxing in October, is a welcome addition to the fight circuit. Golden Boy will promote there regularly and already has cards slated for February, March and April.
Welcome award II: WealthTV, the upstart cable network, is in very few homes, but every boxing fan should be calling their cable or satellite provider to ask for it. WealthTV showed a number of notable fights, including those involving Bute, 2012 ESPN.com prospect of the year David Price, Tyson Fury and Adonis Stevenson. And in the programming move of the year, when the premium networks wrongly ignored it, WealthTV smartly bought a fabulous November card featuring two fights that wound up rating as fight of the year candidates: the Brian Viloria-Hernan Marquez flyweight unification match (which we all knew would be a barn burner) and the Roman Gonzalez-Juan Francisco Estrada junior flyweight title fight, which was a pleasant surprise.
Bad luck runs in threes award: Three of the most important fighters in recent boxing history suffered clear-cut losses on consecutive Saturdays: Hatton got knocked out Nov. 24, Miguel Cotto lost a decision to Austin Trout on Dec. 1, and Pacquiao got drilled on Dec. 8.
Winky Wright School of Boxing Business valedictorian: Congratulations, junior middleweight contender James Kirkland. Forget about the fact that he nearly ruined his life and career a couple of years ago when he was sent back to prison for getting caught with a gun as a convicted felon on parole. Forget that he got waxed in one round in a comeback fight by an opponent who usually can't break an egg. In March, Kirkland was given the gift of a 10th-round disqualification win against Carlos Molina, who was winning easily before the highly suspect DQ. So when Golden Boy then offered him nearly $1 million to challenge titlist Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 15, Kirkland should have kissed CEO Richard Schaefer's feet in thanks. Instead, he accepted the fight but dropped out the next day, citing a shoulder injury that he said still hadn't healed after surgery. But Kirkland also tried to shake down Golden Boy for a larger purse to go through with the fight with a bad shoulder. Needless to say, the promoter didn't offer him another dime, instead making a new fight for Alvarez. Kirkland hasn't fought since March and is suing Golden Boy and his managers, who have done nothing but bend over backward to give him opportunities.
Yes, 2012 is in the books, but beyond last week's daily annual awards for fighter, knockout, round, prospect and fight of the year, I handed out some additional hardware on Wednesday.