Sergio Martinez's one-punch knockout of Paul Williams was one of the most-memorable moments of 2010. Photo / Naoki Fukuda
If a picture truly is worth a thousand words … and my column is supposed to be approximately a thousand words each week … and that column usually takes five hours or so to craft … then I could have saved a lot of time and energy by becoming a sports photographer instead.
Questionable career choices aside, there undoubtedly is something to be said for the power of the visual medium (regardless of whether the 1,000:1 ratio is entirely accurate). More than any spoken commentary or written analysis ever could, it’s the images that have the power to imprint themselves in the minds of fight fans, whether in the form of single still frames or sequences of stills that, laid end to end, make up a few seconds’ worth of emotion in motion.
So in that spirit, here is my annual analysis of 10 visuals from the world of boxing that proved to be the most indelible of 2010:
1. Sergi-Oh my god! Martinez wipes out Paul Williams with one punch
This is the time of year when everyone rolls out their year-end awards, and if there’s a boxing writer out there who doesn’t consider middleweight champ Martinez’s second-round evisceration of Williams to be the Knockout of the Year, then he ought to hand in his Boxing Writers Association of America membership card immediately and throw his laptop in the trash. Maybe it’s partially because I was ringside at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., to witness this one, but the conclusion of Martinez-Williams II was my most memorable moment of the year in boxing, period. The suddenness of the punch. The sound of 5,502 gasps and the sight of 11,004 legs straightening as Williams’ body froze, corkscrewed ever so slightly and crashed violently to the canvas. Martinez celebrating before the count was over because he knew with more certainty than anyone what his left fist had just done. In 2009, a second-round left hand from Manny Pacquiao accounted for my No. 1 indelible image. In 2010, the top spot belongs to a different puncher and a different victim but the same jaw-dropping, brain-rattling outcome.
2. Shane Mosley makes Floyd Mayweather look human, if only for one round
Whether you root for or against “Money” Mayweather, it’s damned near impossible at this point not to have a rooting interest in his fights. So whichever way it made you feel – on the verge of ecstasy or on the verge of a nervous breakdown – every hair on your body had to be standing on end in the second round of Mayweather-Mosley, when Sugar Shane hurt the undefeated four-division titlist not once but twice. For almost a full two minutes, the possibility of Mayweather losing by a second-round knockout hung in the air. All credit to Mayweather for his crisis management and boldness in taking over the fight with increased aggression from the third round on, but as dominant as Floyd was for 11 rounds of the fight, it was the one round in which Mosley was dominant that continues to flash through my mind months later.
3. Bernabe Concepcion reminds us that sometimes the heavy bag hits back
Somewhat like the Mayweather-Mosley indelible image, the is-this-really-happening? moment from Juan Manuel Lopez’s comprehensive annihilation of Concepcion came when the eventual loser briefly enjoyed success. In this case, Lopez was strolling right along. He had knocked Concepcion down and was clearly on his way to an easy victory when suddenly there he was on the canvas with 15 seconds to go in the opening round, legitimately rocked, cementing his status as one of the fight game’s strongest magnets for drama. Lopez shook off the cobwebs quickly and got back to butchering his overmatched opponent, but other than Martinez-Williams, Concepcion dropping JuanMa was the most shocking, attention-grabbing knockdown of 2010.
4. Kenny Bayless rescues Michael Katsidis at the perfect time
It’s not always the most-violent moments that stick with us; sometimes, it can be the moments that bring the violence to an end. Katsidis’ third-round knockdown of Juan Manuel Marquez had a shock factor similar to what we saw in the opening round of Lopez-Concepcion. For me, though, the image from this outstanding fight that resonates most is of Katsidis, on his heels, bravely staying upright while the masterful Marquez gradually saps his last vestiges of resistance until ref Bayless swoops in with a perfectly tuned-in stoppage. Katsidis fought as willfully and as skillfully as he could with his brother’s recent untimely death fueling him, but motivation alone isn’t always enough. This was a fight he never had a realistic chance of winning. So there was a certain grace and beauty to seeing Bayless allow Katsidis to take only the necessary punishment and not one bit of the unnecessary punishment.
5. Amir Khan offers a reel for the highlight reel
The 10th round of Khan’s battle with Marcos Maidana was voted Round of the Year last week by RingTV.com readers, but for me, the enduring image came when the bell sounded to end the round. After getting severely rocked by a right from the heavy-handed Argentine, Khan moved and covered up as best he could but he still ate a lot of leather over the final two minutes of the round yet somehow stayed on his feet. When the bell came to his rescue, there was a massive exhale from the Khan contingent – except he was hardly in the clear. His legs were about as steady as Charlie Bucket’s Grandpa Joe when the old man got out of bed for the first time in 20 years. Making the long walk back to his corner, Khan weebled and wobbled but he didn’t fall down. That image told us that after two minutes of edge-of-your-seat drama, the drama was still far from over.
6. Antonio Margarito and Brandon Rios display a poor sense of humor
Tastelessness was shamefully in vogue in 2010, from Margarito placing a giant block of cement on his hand on HBO’s 24/7 to Mayweather offering a UStream rant that reminded us how much trouble small children can get into when unsupervised by adults. But the most-tasteless moment of all came courtesy of Margarito and his partner in obliviousness, Rios. A random Web interview that would otherwise have gone unseen by most in the fight game devolved into two fighters – with surprising encouragement from their otherwise-respectable trainer, Robert Garcia – busting out Freddie Roach impressions, complete with Parkinson’s tremors. At times on 24/7, it seemed Margarito was attempting to gain sympathy and play the good guy. Moments like this one reminded us that the one-time (at least) glove loader is incapable of assuming that role.
7. Ivan Calderon transfers junior fly supremacy on one knee
Maybe it’s not fair to the eight rounds of gutsy effort put forth by “Iron Boy” Calderon to remember his war with Giovanni Segura for the way he ended it. But fair or not, that’s the image that implanted itself in my mind: Calderon on his knee, conceding defeat. The slick little lefty couldn’t ruin a game of Jenga with his Sunday punch, so with four rounds left to survive and the beating from probably the division’s hardest hitter becoming severe, he stayed down when he obviously was capable of getting up. Technically, he quit in the fight. But if you watched all eight rounds, you knew better than to criticize him for doing so.
8. Saul Alvarez Opies up a can of whoop-ass on Carlos Baldomir
There was little doubt that 20-year-old Alvarez was going to defeat 39-year-old Baldomir when they met at Staples Center in September. But there was also little doubt, or so it seemed, that Baldomir would last the distance in his losing effort. You know how when a caricature artist sketches people the head is gigantic relative to the body? That’s more or less how Baldomir’s actual physical proportions shape up. The man’s noggin is unusually large and he’s always had a freakishly sturdy jaw, having gone 16 years and 56 fights without a KO loss heading into the Alvarez bout. But one sixth-round left hook ended that streak, as Baldomir found himself face down on the floor. It was an expectation-shifting moment for Alvarez. If he could punch a hole in the oversized head of Baldomir, then maybe this kid was on his way to being known as more than just the most Irish-looking Mexican in sports.
9. Jason Litzau tears it up against Celestino Caballero
Only in a handful of very specific circumstances is it acceptable for a grown man to cry. When he loses a close family member. When he watches Brian’s Song. When he spots a double rainbow. That’s about it. But we’ll add to the list when he’s a 13-1 underdog and he wins a fight on HBO to save his career. That’s what Litzau did against Caballero in November, and though the bout was compelling throughout, the most powerful image came after the scores were read, when Litzau shed tears of joy as he thrust his fists in the air. It was as real a display of emotion as we saw in 2010. It was a rare case of a grown man crying and nobody suggesting he was any less of a man for it.
10. The Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez series hemorrhages to a conclusion
A fighter can reach the “shot” stage in a number of ways. His reflexes fade away. His chin becomes hopelessly fragile. His desire to win vanishes. But there are those rare boxers who haven’t really lost their desire, chin or reflexes and instead are done in by their skin. Maybe Vazquez’s chin and reflexes have regressed somewhat, but what really makes him a shot fighter is the simple fact that his scar tissue can’t take a punch anymore. And we got definitive proof of that when he tangled with Marquez one last time in May. The sight of Vazquez’s face bursting at the seams every time Marquez landed was just plain sad. Vazquez’s insides wanted to keep going; his outsides wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t the way anyone wanted this classic rivalry to end. But the image of a resigned and blood-soaked Vazquez meeting his pugilistic demise is one that will stick with fight fans just the same.
• I had three indelible memories that didn’t make the cut for this year’s list because there weren’t great images to go with them, but they’re worth noting anyway: reading the headlines about Edwin Valero killing his wife and then himself (I’m glad I don’t have an actual photographic image to go along with any of that); Jim Lampley’s famous “Bang! Bang! Bang!” call from the Manny Pacquiao-Josh Clottey fight; and Pacquiao entering the ring for the Antonio Margarito fight to the strains of “You’re the Best Around.”
• Since I was on vacation last week, here’s my delayed take on the Bernard Hopkins-Jean Pascal fight: I scored it 114-112 for Hopkins, but I have absolutely no problem with the draw result. Two of the rounds I gave to Hopkins were close enough to swing the other way. So while you’d have to give Pascal every benefit of every doubt in order to award him the victory, you wouldn’t have to do that to see the fight a draw. Maybe Hopkins deserved to make history, but the fact that he didn’t is no robbery. And while Hopkins had a chance to become the oldest ever to win a title (a fact that, interestingly, Hopkins and his people were unaware of until I informed Bernard of it while interviewing him a few months ago), if he gets a rematch he’ll have a chance to set a record that will be even harder for future fighters to break.
• Huge congratulations to one of boxing finest writers and broadcasters and just an all-around good guy, Steve Farhood, on winning the Nat Fleischer Award for 2010. Although it remains incomprehensible to me that the journalism award named after the original editor of THE RING has never been given to an active RING editor, it’s nice to see it at least go to a former RING editor, and there certainly is no former RING staffer more deserving than Steve.
• Speaking of THE RING, call me a company shill if you like, but I’m thoroughly blown away by (and, for the record, had nothing to do with) the redesigned look of the magazine and its digital reinvention. Huge thumbs up to Editor-in-Chief Nigel Collins for spearheading the progressive move. As a former managing editor who was always proud of the product he put out, I can honestly say THE RING has never looked better.
• Lots of interesting food for thought in Bill Simmons’ article on The Fighter, in which he covered some of the same ground I did regarding Hollywood’s ongoing interest in boxing movies, then took it in a very different direction, in part because he had the benefit of seeing the movie before writing. Now that I’ve seen The Fighter also, my basic review is that it was an excellent movie with a few frustrating flaws. For my expanded take, tune in to the next episode of Ring Theory, which will be available the first week of the new year.
• Staying in the entertainment realm, I recently received rough-cut DVDs of the entire first season of the FX boxing drama Lights Out, which is set to premiere on January 11. So far I’ve only watched the pilot and I’ll save in-depth discussion for after I’ve seen all 13 episodes, but through one episode, the show certainly seems to have the potential to live up to FX’s high standards.
• Now that Manny Pacquiao has officially signed to fight Shane Mosley, it’s open season on criticism of the previously unassailable Pacquiao. So I’ll join in. There was nothing wrong with Pacquiao challenging Oscar De La Hoya. There was hardly anything wrong with him fighting Ricky Hatton. But now that he’s fighting Mosley, I have to ask: Do Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s leftovers really taste that good?