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More hits than misses for boxing in eventful 2011


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It's the fight that never was and, perhaps, never will be. For the past three years now, the specter of a Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. mega-bout has hung over boxing like a bad dream.


by John Whisler


Nevertheless, 2011 was a good year for the sport. Well, memorable anyway.


As usual, there was no shortage of controversy. At the top of the list was the fall fiasco in Las Vegas when Mayweather legally sucker-punched Victor Ortiz after Ortiz had intentionally head-butted him, then literally tried to kiss and make up.


The wild scene ended with a stunned Ortiz on the seat of his pants, referee Joe Cortez facing criticism over his handling of the fight and 80-year-old HBO commentator Larry Merchant challenging Mayweather during a postfight interview.


“I wish I was 50 years younger. I'd kick your ass!” Merchant bellowed after Mayweather cut him off and cussed him out.


Inglorious, to be sure, but what fun. Only in boxing.


There were plenty of terrific fights during the year and no shortage of storylines.


At 46, Bernard Hopkins became the oldest man to win a world title, former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier died of liver cancer and Pacquiao's crown seemed to slip a little after his disputed victory in his third match with Juan Manuel Marquez.


Then there was the shocking revelation by Oscar De La Hoya that he had contemplated suicide in the wake of drug and alcohol abuse.


An eventful year, indeed.


Locally, the top story was the sad passing of Joe Souza, one of the fight game's most colorful figures.


Following are my year-end awards:


Fight of the year


From the most bizarre fight to the best. It was quite a year for Ortiz.


Before taking on Mayweather, the southpaw from Oxnard, Calif., slugged it out with Andre Berto for 12 exciting rounds on April 16. Both fighters went down twice. Ortiz claimed a unanimous decision and Berto's title. Their rematch is Feb. 11.


Barely edged out was Delvin Rodriguez vs. Pawel Wolak, July 15 in New York.


This was an unbelievable bout, with more sustained action than Ortiz-Berto. But it was 10 rounds, not 12, with no title on the line. It ended up a draw.


Fighter of the year


Andre Ward gets the nod here. The last American fighter to win Olympic gold (2004 Athens Games) had a breakthrough year, beating Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch to win Showtime's Super Six super middleweight tournament.


Knockout of the year


The clear choice is Nonito Donaire, who stunned Fernando Montiel with a sensational KO in February in Las Vegas.


Donaire, a native of the Philippines whose nickname is the “Filipino Flash,” was making his first appearance at bantamweight in a much-anticipated HBO showdown with Montiel, a respected former three-division champion from Mexico.


Donaire didn't just win, but blew Montiel away with a devastating counter left hook that put his foe on the canvas in the second round. Montiel got up, fell down, and the fight was stopped shortly thereafter.


Round of the year


Austin's James Kirkland took on Alfredo Angulo on Nov. 5 in Cancun, Mexico, on HBO and a street fight broke out. That's what happens when you put two brawlers in the same ring.


Both fighters came swinging wildly. Kirkland was dropped and in trouble 30 seconds into the bout. Angulo continued to land at will until a minute was left in the round when Kirkland rallied. He landed a hard straight left and unleashed a dizzying assault that landed Angulo on the canvas.


The fight continued for five more punishing rounds until it was stopped in the sixth and Kirkland had a stunning comeback win.


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