Commentary

The golden year for boxing

Years from now, fight fans will look back at 2007 as a golden year for boxing.

Originally Published: January 1, 2008
By Kieran Mulvaney | Special to ESPN.com

Years from now, in a town far, far away …

"Grandpa?"

"Hello Timmy."

"I was just watching the 24-hour strawweight boxing marathon on ESPN50 …"

"Good for you."

"Max Kellerman III was commentating, and he kept talking about the year 2007. Something about it being the rebirth of boxing."

"Ah yes, 2007. A great year. Especially the second half. They said it was the year that saved the sport."

"What was so great about it?"

"Everything just came together. The best fighters all fought one another, and a lot of the fights were exciting and action-packed."

"That sounds more like common sense than anything special."

"Well yes, you would think so, wouldn't you? And to be fair, there had been a lot of very good fighters and a lot of very good fights in the years before 2007, too. But some of the best boxers had fallen into the habit of defending their titles against policemen and other unworthy challengers, which was turning off a lot of fans."

"How did they justify that?"

"They pointed out that those fighters were their mandatory challengers, according to the various sanctioning bodies."

"Sanctioning bodies? What were they?"

"They were different organizations that took part of a fighter's purse in return for a belt to place around his waist."

"Doesn't sound like a very good deal. What happened to them?"

"They were outlawed under the McCain Administration."

"So how did things turn around in 2007?"

"By 2007, a lot of people were fed up with the way the best fighters were having titles stripped from them for not fighting the anointed policemen or choosing to avoid the best fights in order to keep their titles. People started ignoring the belts and focused on making the best possible matchups."

"So it was a good year for good fights?"

"Absolutely. One of the best came from the final of 'The Contender.'"

"Oh yeah, I know that show. I think it's Contender LXXVII this year. It's on Lifetime now."

"That year it was on ESPN, and the finalists were Jaidon Codrington and Sakio Bika. Nobody was really expecting that much from their fight, but man, they just tore into each other. Both men went down in the first round, and then they kept hammering away at each other, one man in trouble and then the other, until Codrington finally succumbed in the eighth."

"Sounds exciting. Was it the Fight of the Year?"

"A lot of years, the Bika-Codrington fight might have had a pretty good chance. But Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez put on a pair of bouts for the ages. Marquez was the bantamweight champion, and in March he stepped up to challenge for Vazquez' junior featherweight title. Vazquez knocked down Marquez in the third, but Marquez had broken the champion's nose in the first round, and although the two kept trading blows all the way through the contest, eventually Vazquez just had to quit because he couldn't breathe any more."

"So then that was the Fight of the Year?"

"Nope. As good as the first fight was, the rematch in August was even better. Both guys were rocked early, both guys' eyes were cut and swollen, both guys were throwing punches with bad intentions. In the sixth, Vazquez broke through and dropped Marquez, and the referee stepped in to stop it."

"Sounds like a pretty good year already, just based on what you've told me so far."

"It was. What really made it special, though, was the way in which the guys at the top made the best fights, and the ones just below them fought the toughest opposition, too, and broke through to the uppermost level."

"Like who?"

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cotto
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesMiguel Cotto, left, proved to be the consummate fighter in 2007.
"Kelly Pavlik, for example. When the year began, he was a middleweight contender with a lot of promise. By the time it ended, he had stopped two solid contenders in Jose Luis Zertuche and Edison Miranda -- who a lot of folks thought would beat him -- and knocked out Jermain Taylor to become middleweight champion of the world."

"Did he go on to be a great champion?"

"I don't quite recall."

"Really? That's funny because you seem to remember pretty much everything that happened in 2007."

"I know. It's weird. What I do remember, though, is that his promoters thought the sky was the limit for him, just as they did for another one of their star fighters, Miguel Cotto. Cotto was a real throwback fighter; he would have been at home in any era. He was meaner than a junkyard dog in the ring: He'd hit you anywhere and everywhere and just break you down. He had some great wins in 2007, including against Zab Judah and Shane Mosley. Cotto was from Puerto Rico, and his fight against Judah was in Madison Square Garden the day before New York's Puerto Rican Day parade, so the arena was filled with 20,000 partisans, cheering him on."

"Wow. Sounds like it must have been a great atmosphere."

"It was. But it must have been even more amazing to be in Wales when Joe Calzaghe fought Mikkel Kessler. Over 50,000 people packed a soccer stadium to watch that fight."

"Really? That's amazing. What was so special about the fight that so many people paid to watch it?"

"For one thing, Calzaghe was tremendously popular in the United Kingdom. And for another, a lot of people thought Kessler was the biggest challenge by far of his career. Calzaghe put on the best performance of his life to completely outbox Kessler and establish once and for all that he was the best super middleweight in the world."

"You're right. It sounds like it was a great year."

"I haven't even told you about the two biggest bouts of 2007 yet, the ones that really made the year stand out. They were the fights that catapulted Floyd Mayweather into the mainstream."

"You mean Money Mayweather? The guy who owns all those record labels now?"

"Yup, that's the one. In May of 2007, he fought Oscar De La Hoya …"

"The magazine publisher?"

"Yes, him. And there was so much hype surrounding the meeting between the most popular boxer in the world and the best boxer in the world, that it became the highest-grossing non-heavyweight fight of all time."

"Who won?"

"Mayweather won a split decision, but to be honest, it was the one big fight of the year that fell a little short of expectations. De La Hoya put on a good showing for the first third or so of the bout, but then for some reason he stopped throwing his jab and Mayweather was able to take over fairly easily by the end. But Mayweather looked much more dominant and impressive in his next fight, which was the last big boxing event of the year. That one had everything: Hype, atmosphere, and excitement."

"Who did he fight?"

[+] EnlargeRicky Hatton
AP Photo/Jae C. HongRicky Hatton brought half of Manchester with him to Las Vegas.
"Ricky Hatton."

"The dude from the Jenny Craig commercials?"

"That's him. Lord Hatton of Manchester as he is known these days. Hatton brought 25,000 of his fans to Las Vegas with him. It seemed every other person in Sin City had an English accent. And they were all constantly singing the same song."

"How did it go?"

"There's only one Ricky Hatton. One Ricky Hatton. Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Hatton Wonderland."

"Oh, you mean the British national anthem."

"Right, well it wasn't at the time. Anyway, Ricky's fans flooded the arena, but they couldn't help their man win. Floyd was sensational that night, and he knocked out Ricky in the 10th round."

"So basically, the lesson of 2007 was: Put the best fighters in the best fights, and good things will happen."

"Pretty much."

"Even for the losers?"

"Even for the losers. Mosley, Kessler, and De La Hoya all saw their stock rise, even in defeat, and although Ricky Hatton lost his unbeaten record, his fans all still adored him, and he made a boatload of money."

"Makes sense. So did everyone stick to what they'd learned? Was 2008 just as big a success?"

"You know, I think it was. I think it was. But my memory isn't so clear on that one. Let me think about it a little. Ask me again next year, and maybe I'll be able to give you a better answer."

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com, HBO.com and Reuters, and also blogs for Discovery Channel News.