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Thursday, December 08, 2005
Sports Illustrated Names Patriots' Brady 2005 Sportsman of the Year; Who Should Be Boxer of the Year?
This may seem like an odd choice at this particular time because the Patriots, after winning the Super Bowl in February for the second straight and third of four years, are struggling this season. Their record is now just 7-5, although that is enough to stand atop a weak AFC East ahead of three teams with losing records: Miami (5-7), Buffalo (4-8), and the New York/New Jersey Jets (2-10).
SI editor Terry McDonell, however, explained that this choice of the Patriots' QB is "because Tom Brady is leading them with both his arm and his heart." This article, "Quality of Effort," was not, by the way, posted on their web site, again showing how the mainstream sports print media has little clue how to proceed now that the Internet has handed them a death sentence.
Since its inception in 1954, the winner of this award has always reflected the prejudices of the SI and Time Inc./AOL Time Warner/Time Warner suits. Remember, as explained in the invaluable book "The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine" by Michael MacCambridge, this was an outfit which used to count the number of African-American faces in its pages so they didn't exceed their informal quota. Thus, legendary Black athletes like Jim Brown, Henry Aaron, and Willie Mays never won this award, and there appears to be many more white sports figures winning each year than there are who are outstanding in their respective disciplines.
Also, regional prejudice abounds. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox, with their first World Series victory in 86 years, won. Yet in the 52 awards given out, no member of the most successful team franchise in pro sports history, the New York Yankees, has ever won -- not Mantle, Maris, Reggie, or the team as a whole.
My choice this year was actually named by SI writer Kostya Kennedy: Jose Canseco .
Canseco may have been the only honest current or former baseball player who testified before the US Congress about widespread steroid usage in a sport which, along with boxing, used to have a mythical presence in America. That alone should have earned him this honor. SI also could have used this to make up for giving the 1998 award to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, now seen as almost on the same level as Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, and really worse since they are not in show biz but in what bills itself as a legitimate sport and the national pastime.
Three boxers have won this award: Ingemar Johansson in 1959 (hard for SI to pass up a white heavyweight champion), Muhammad Ali in 1974 (even SI couldn't ignore Ali), and Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981. Boxing's decline and marginalization is reflected in the absence of many boxers as being serious candidates for the subsequent 25 awards.
So Who Should Win Boxer of the Year?
All this brings up the question of who deserves to be Fighter of the Year for 2005. At least a boxer can win that one.
Antonio Tarver is a candidate, with unanimous decisions over 2004 Fighter of the Year Glen Johnson and Roy Jones, although not in spectacular fashion and after knocking out Jones with one punch in their previous fight. Jeff Lacy had three stoppages this year, although not against the highest level opponents: Scott Pemberton, Robin Reid, and Rubin Williams. Jermain Taylor's two wins over Bernard Hopkins were too close, controversial, and otherwise boring, at least as entertainment in their own right. Winky Wright beat a faded and immobile Felix Trinidad decisively and faces Sam Soliman this Saturday, a decent and awkward foe but not exactly of Hall of Fame caliber.
Zab Judah looked impressive in unifying the three top welterweight belts in February with a ninth-round TKO over Cory Spinks in St. Louis, Spinks's hometown. Judah also won by third-round TKO over a lesser opponent, Cosme Rivera, in May, and faces Carlos Baldomir at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 7 and then possibly Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the spring.
Another welterweight, WBO champ Antonio Margarito, is a long shot. He had two impressive TKO's on his ledger in 2005, over previously-unbeaten Kermit Cintron and once-beaten Sebastian Lujan.
Unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. had three TKO's to his credit this year, but over lesser-ranked Henry Bruseles in January, popular but overrated Arturo Gatti in June, and another fading foe, Sharmba Mitchell, now at welterweight in November.
Ricky Hatton is a serious candidate, dethroning 140-pound king Kostya Tszyu by 11th-round TKO when a battered Tszyu quit, and also scoring a ninth-round KO over Carlos Maussa two weeks ago to unify two of the alphabet titles.
The lighter weights rarely get the respect they deserve, but they are chock full of potential candidates this year.
Zahir Raheem stands out with his upset decision win over Erik Morales in September in what was really a one-sided fight. Raheem also had a sixth-round TKO win over little-known Jose Quintana in February.
Although not a favorite to win, Jesus Chavez cannot be overlooked. His 11th-round TKO victory on Sept. 17 over Leavander Johnson to capture Johnson's IBF lightweight belt led to his battered foe passing away from brain injuries five days after the fight. Chavez attended Johnson's funeral, met with members of his family, and has since fought for tougher health and safety measures for fighters. Chavez also won a split decision in May over Carlos "Famoso" Hernandez which many felt should have been a unanimous decision.
How about new super bantamweight (or is it junior featherweight?) king Israel Vazquez? His third-round TKO over Oscar Larios last Saturday to unify two of the 122-pound belts was impressive. He also got a unanimous decision over the decent Armando Guerrero in May.
Rafael Marquez had a good year in the ring, earning a fourth-round TKO over previously-unbeaten Silence Mabuza in November and getting a unanimous decision over veteran Ricardo Vargas in May. And Jorge Arce successfully moved up to flyweight, where WBC titlist Pongsaklek Wonjongkam avoided him, allowing Arce to get two TKO wins over Hussein Hussein and one over Angel Priolo this year. Wonjongkam, by the way, fought after his fight with Arce fell through but has somehow not rescheduled that bout.
But I am leaning, perhaps sentimentally, to a real darkhorse: WBC light flyweight champ Brian Viloria. The 2000 Olympian, 18-0 with 12 KOs as a pro, actually moved down in weight this year, from 112 to 108. He captured this title from champ Eric Ortiz with a first-round knockout on Sept. 10 in Los Angeles. (The HBO geniuses, by the way, passed on televising this fight, but did show the knockout since it was so quick.)
But my case for Viloria also rests in what he did in, and after, his previous fight. That was a sixth-round TKO on May 28 over club fighter Ruben Contreras, also in Los Angeles. Afterwards, Contreras had a seizure and had to be rushed to a hospital for brain surgery. The victorious Viloria tried to visit him in the hospital, although Contreras's condition did not allow for that. Contreras survived, but stayed in a coma and remained hospitalized.
Fortunately, Contreras later emerged from that coma and was well enough to attend Viloria's fight with Ortiz. Brian acknowledged him from the ring, and afterwards presented Contreras with a check.
Debate the Tom Brady award by Sports Illustrated if you will, but if the concepts of quality of effort and using both one's body and heart in competition are fair yardsticks for annual awards, then Brian Viloria deserves serious consideration as boxer of the year this year.
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I like Margarito a lot. He's willing to fight anyone and is still improving. Although Ricky Hatton is very limited, his accomplishments in 2005 have to be recognized. Joan Guzman should probably be considered. He won't factor in, but Miguel Angel Cotto provided three memorable outings. It hasn't been a year where the premiere fighters stayed busy. Ultimately, I think I'll go with a fighter who was only 2-1 during the year. Jose Luis Castillo was involved in the fight of the decade (or more.) Even though he lost that bout, he came back within the calendar year to both avenge his defeat and to snooker the guy who beat him. Good boxing and good business. With his win over Julio Diaz added in, he's my choice.
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