2013 was a year of comebacks.
Kiko Martinez and Felix Sturm began the year with losses, but ended it with major world titles.
Sturm, who lost his WBA middleweight title to Daniel Geale last September, suffered an unexpected loss to veteran trialhorse Sam Soliman in February. The unanimous decision was changed to a No Contest after Soliman tested positive for a banned substance but the change in official verdict didn’t convince fans that former three-time beltholder would ever regain his status as a top middleweight.
However, Sturm finished the year with two uncharacteristically aggressive performances – stopping unbeaten upstart Predrag Radosevic in four rounds in July and then blitzing respected Darren Barker with a second-round TKO this month. The Barker victory did more than earn Sturm his fourth major middleweight title; it regained his respect within the boxing world.
Martinez, who suffered a ninth-round stoppage to undefeated up-and-comer Carl Frampton in February, also earned respect with his follow-up fights. Most figured the rugged Spaniard, who lost his European junior featherweight title to Frampton, would never rise above the European level, but he instantly gained world-class status by upsetting undefeated odds favorite Jhonatan Romero for the IBF title in August.
Martinez followed up his sixth-round TKO of Romero with a ninth-round KO of former beltholder and top-10 contender Jeffrey Mathebula this month.
Miguel Cotto staged a major comeback without regaining a major title. Most fans and media considered the Puerto Rican star to be past his world-class days after suffering back-to-back unanimous decisions to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout last year, losing his WBA 154-pound title in the process.
But the three-division beltholder returned to the ring with a new trainer (Freddie Roach) this year, and looked sharper than he has in many years dispatching junior middleweight fringe contender Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds in October. Now he’s in position to earn an eight-figure payday by challenging middleweight champ Sergio Martinez or taking on Canelo Alvarez in 2014. Not too shabby.
However, the two fighters who improved their standing in the sport the most, according to fans who took part in RingTV.com’s year-end award poll for Combeback of the Year, are Marcos Maidana and Manny Pacquiao, who garnered close to three-fourths of 1,500 votes.
Maidana edged out Pacquiao, 38.2 percent to 35.1 percent. Jhonny Gonzalez, who regained his WBC featherweight title by scoring a shocking first-round KO of undefeated Abner Mares in August, was the third-highest vote getter with 12.1 percent.
Gonzalez’s comeback was particularly inspirational given that he destroyed Mares, who had annihilated the man, Daniel Ponce DeLeon, who had taken his WBC belt last September. Gonzalez was all but counted out by boxing world, something that Maidana and Pacquiao are familiar with.
Pacquiao was practically left for dead after suffering his now infamous one-punch KO to rival Juan Manuel Marquez last December. The Filipino icon had to endure the indignity of hundreds of memes mocking his face-down position on the canvas in the days after absorbing Marquez’s monster right hand, and then over the next few months he had listen to countless media members and fellow fighters question whether he could recover – physically and psychologically – from the brutal nature of the knockout.
The future hall of famer answered his haters and his doubters by putting on a masterful boxing clinic against Brandon Rios last month in Macau. And Pacquiao did more than revive his career, he also provided inspiration to the thousands typhoon victims in the Philippines.
Pacquiao will always be a hero in his native country, but Maidana captured the hearts of hardcore fans everywhere by upsetting Adrien Broner this month. Many fans hoped that Maidana’s heavy hands could humble the brash budding star but few believed he could actually do it.
Last February Maidana did not look like he belonged in the 147-pound division after being thoroughly shutdown over 10 rounds by Devon Alexander, who was making his welterweight debut along with the Argentine slugger.
After the loss, Maidana joined up with Robert Garcia and improved enough to outbrawl rugged Jesus Soto Karass last September. The eighth-round TKO let fans know that he could bang at 147 as well as he did at 140 pounds, but he was still little more than a gatekeeper in his new division.
Maidana’s sixth-round stoppage of gutsy spoiler Josesito Lopez in June earned him lower top-10 contender status, but he was still considered a huge underdog when he challenged Broner, the undefeated WBA titleholder. However, once again, Maidana upped his game and exceeded the general perceptions of his ability by not only outworking Broner in every round, but out-jabbing the talented American en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision, dropping the polarizing braggart in rounds two and eight.
The victory gave Maidana his first full world title (he had held interim belts at 140 pounds), made him a bona-fide contender and fan favorite, and earned him the Comeback of the Year award, according to RingTV.com voters.
Next year-end award poll: Upset of the Year
Photos / Naoki Fukuda, Chris Farina-Top Rank, Simon Hoffman-Bongarts