DENVER (December 31, 2017) That Christmas dinner maybe added a few pounds, and inches, but all was returning to normal when low and behold, tomorrow, New Year’s Day, we’ll again put the feed bag on. Those New Year resolutions of fitness proclamations must now wait until Tuesday, or maybe later.
Those issues aside, it’s time for the 2017 JOHNSON’S CORNER BOXING AWARDS that are unique in there is nothing in my selections remotely affiliated with loyalty to any promoter, boxer, manager or television advertiser. These choices were mine alone, with you having every right to vehemently disagree. Your disagreement may, or should I say will, fall on deaf ears but so be it.
Let’s get started with my categories for 2017: FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, FIGHT/KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR, UPSET OF THE YEAR, PROMOTER OF THE YEAR, HEAD SCRATCHER OF THE YEAR, FEMALE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR and SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR. Many other categories could be included but who wants to read a book, right?
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: There were many deserving candidates for this category with Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford, Andre ‘SOG’ Ward and Vasyl ‘Hi Tech’ Lomachenko, heading the list. Crawford became the first to become an undisputed World Champion since 2005 (Jermaine Taylor) and is a solid choice after cleaning out the 140 lbs. division. Ward destroyed Sergey Kovalev in their June 2017 rematch and has since retired. Lomachenko had former champions quit on their stools, in 2016 (Nicholas Walters) and 2017 (Guillermo Rigondeaux) proving he is a force to be reckoned with. These were all dynamic performances but one boxer in particular did something unique in 2017. Errol Spence, Jr. (22-0, 19KO’s), the undefeated, exciting and talented welterweight from DeSoto, Texas, is now the IBF welterweight Champion after throwing caution to the wind and traveling to the United Kingdom in May, where he manhandled Kell Brook in Brook’s own backyard. You might ask ‘what else did Spence do in 2017’? This was indeed the only fight in 2017 for Spence who is considered by many the next superstar in the sport. Unfortunately or fortunately for Spence, Jr. when you have the likes of Oscar de le Hoya and Bob Arum belittling the move saying traveling to the UK was not a ‘smart one’, that gives the win that much more credibility. American boxers have long refused to fight in the UK fearing robbery, that fear fostered by the likes of Roy Jones, Jr. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Bernard Hopkins. Al Haymon (Premier Boxing Champions) and Spence salivated at the opportunity most other welterweights declined to even consider. Errol Spence stopped Kell Brook in round 11 of a brutal battle that officially announced his arrival. It takes a special breed to ignore real or imagined obstacles and for that, ERROL SPENCE, JR. is the JOHNSON’ CORNER 2017 FIGHTER OF THE YEAR.
FIGHT/KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: The previously thought invincible Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (46-2, 38KO’s), was allegedly chomping at the bit for his rematch with Srisiket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40KO’s) in September after suffering that shocking March upset by Rungvisai in New York, that went to the scorecards, Gonzalez a bit salty after losing by middle decision. Rungvisai left no doubt as to who the WBC Super flyweight champion was in the rematch, giving Gonzalez a brutal beating and the fight stopped in just 4 rounds. Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko engaged in a war of heavyweights. David Lemieux put Curtis Stevens’ lights out and Jermell Charlo showed Ericson Lubin what the phrase ‘overmatched’ means. Those were all worthy but Gonzalez being destroyed cannot be overlooked. SRISIKET SOR RUNGVISAI (or WISAKSIL WANGEK?) is the JOHNSON’S CORNER FIGHT/KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR.
UPSET OF THE YEAR: Caleb ‘Golden’ Truax (29-3-2, 18KO’s) is now the IBF Super middleweight champ after doing the impossible. Truax, who is a native of Osseo, Minnesota, traveled to London, England, on December 9th, taking on former champ James DeGale. Truax was a 16-1 underdog but surprised everyone with a dominating performance, the scorecards reading 116-112, 115-112 and 114-114, in his favor. DeGale made derogatory comments leading up to the fight saying among other things, “If you look at my last four fights I’ve fought Badou Jack, Rogelio Medina, Lucian Bute and Andre Dirrell, all in North America. I deserve someone who’s not a world beater.” Famous last words indeed. DeGale had bragged of his plan to take on both David Benavidez and old foe George Groves to unify the division. Those plans now ruined by Caleb Truax. “All week all I heard was, who he’s going to fight next”, said Truax. “Well, it looks like those fights are mine now.” The 34 years old Truax had previously been unable to cross the threshold in championship fights, losing to Jermain Taylor in 2012, Daniel Jacobs in 2015 and Anthony Dirrell in 2016. No one ever considered Truax ‘easy work’ and James DeGale underestimated his determination 2017. For that performance, CALEB TRUAX is the JOHNSON’S CORNER UPSET OF THE YEAR.
PROMOTER OF THE YEAR: Until the day he’s no longer with us, Top Rank’s Bob Arum rules the roost. At 86 years-old, Arum maintains the ability to skillfully navigate his boxers through that jungle of deceit and corruption while successfully guiding them to becoming World Champions. The Top Rank stable includes Crawford, Lomachenko, Olympians Michael Conlan and Shakur Stevenson along with Jose Ramirez. After negotiating the 5 years ESPN deal last summer, Top Rank has not only guaranteed their boxers get television exposure, but for quite some time. This selection was as easy as it gets. BOB ARUM/TOP RANK is the JOHNSON’S CORNER PROMOTER OF THE YEAR.
HEAD SCRATCHER OF THE YEAR: In September, Genady ‘GGG’ Golovkin (37-0-1, 33KO’s) and Saul ‘Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34KO’s) finally stepped into the ring after 18 months of sluggish contract negotiations. Both fighters proclaimed this long-awaited IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight title fight would be a war but Alvarez instead chose the wiser route and boxed GGG. In what was maybe a tough fight to judge, scores of 115-113 (GGG), 114-114 (Draw) and poor Adalaide Byrd’s 118-110 card in favor of Alvarez, rejuvenated calls for stricter judging guidelines with Teddy Atlas leading the charge. ADALAIDE BYRD is unfortunately the JOHNSON’S CORNER HEAD SCRATCHER OF THE YEAR.
FEMALE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Here we clearly have a ‘no-brainer’. 2X’s Olympic Gold Medalist Claressa ‘T-Rex’ Shields (4-0, 2KO’s) from Flint, Michigan, was absolutely the talk of women’s boxing in 2017. With just the 4 fights, SHOWTIME sees her star qualities Shields headlining 3 of their shows. Claressa Shields has captured the WBC and IBF female Super middleweight crowns, displaying power, speed, athletic ability and flat out meanness in the ring. The 22 years-old Shields has more than a betters’ chance of dominating the female Super middleweight division for a long, long time. The competition has already seen the damage she can inflict and not many will be eager to aggravate her. Lightweight Mikaela Mayer is the closest threat to dethroning ‘T-Rex’ as my Female Fighter of the Year, and that’s down the road. Mayer has displayed all of the necessary tools but will soon face serious challenges in the division. CLARESSA ‘T-REX’ SHIELDS is the 2017 JOHNSON’S CORNER FEMALE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR.
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR: Last but not least we have my personal category indicating who personifies what the sport of boxing should project to the world. Who can kids look up to both inside and outside of the ring? Who is admired by all in the world of boxing? The pride of Puerto Rico, Miguel Angel Cotto (41-6, 33KO’s) recently announced his retirement before losing a 12 rounds unanimous decision to Sadam Ali (26-1, 14KO’s) at Madison Square Garden, New York, on December 2nd. Many had suggested the 37 years-old Cotto choose a lesser opponent than the tough 29 years-old Ali, a Brooklyn, New York, native. That’s simply not the style of Miguel Cotto, who never shied away from a fight, gave his all each and every time out and was never part of any controversy inside or outside the ring. The only controversy involving Cotto was the fight back in 2008, when Antonio Margarito was determined to have used illegal hand wraps and administered Cotto a severe beating. Cotto was stopped in round 11. In the long-awaited rematch held in December 2011, Miguel Cotto, with all eyes on the hand wraps of Antonio Margarito, destroyed Antonio Margarito. The fight was stopped in round 9 after the eye of Margarito looked horrendous, with Cotto having his revenge. Miguel lost to some of the best (Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez, 3 future Hall-Of-Famers) but beat some of the best (Sergio Martinez, Joshua Clottey and Yuri Foreman) as well. Floyd nor Canelo could stop Cotto, only Pacquiao. We may never see another ambassador who displays the character, ability and longevity in the ring as the pride of Puerto Rico, Miguel Cotto. For all of the reason’s above, MIGUEL ANGEL COTTO is the JOHNSON’S CORNER SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR.
There you have it folks. I’m sure some will disagree with my 2017 boxing awards but none can completely dismiss my selections. There are many deserving but you can only choose one.
Here’s wishing everyone a Happy 2018 New Year, filled with Love, Peace and Chicken Grease! And don’t forget, KEEP THEM HANDS UP BABY!