Note: BeatsBoxingMayhem continues its 10 Award/Distinction lists on the Sweet Science in 2013. You can read the #10 award list, The “Sink or Swim Fighters,” HERE.
When the end of the year rolls around, the first lists fans look for are the Knockout and Fight of the Year. Let’s be honest — we boxing observers by nature are a bloodthirsty bunch and nothing is more fun than reliving the brutal wars and conscious-separating blows from the last 12 months.
But what about the masterclass? What about those fights of technical wizardry that show the science behind the violence? Watching a fighter use his legs and upper body to evade punches and set counter-punching traps might not be as exciting as watching two men slug it out in close, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any boxing fan that doesn’t at least respect the skill that goes into being an elite technician.
The “Masterclass” Award List is recognition of the elite fighters who study their opponents with meticulous attention to detail and make good to great fighters look like utter novices. Too often, these craftsmen find their exceptional work lost among armchair discussions about ratings and drawing money. There will be no such spinning here — today, the boxing technicians get their due.
6. OMAR NARVAEZ TKO10 HIROYUKI HISTAKA (8/24/13)
For most fans, Omar Narvaez is only known for his losing effort to Nonito Donaire in 2011. The fight was tough to watch as Donaire was befuddled about how to attack the much smaller Narvaez, who showed a tight defense and still managed to keep Donaire honest with his counter-punching abilities. Unsurprisingly, Narvaez was not invited back to HBO airwaves, but his work since then and before tells the story of his true ability.
This past August, the 38-year-old Narvaez made the eighth defense of his WBO super flyweight, a belt he’s held since 2011. The challenger, the 28-year-old Hiroyuki Histaka, is a solid fighter from Japan who’s much better than his 22-10 record indicated. Unfortunately for him, the old master Narvaez needed only the first round to figure out that Histaka would be easy prey after neutralizing his straight right hand.
Narvaez is not particularly fast, but his punch accuracy and timing gave Histaka fits throughout the early rounds. By the middle stanzas, the punches became more punishing as Histaka was now taking flush shots to the body and head. Histaka tried to make it a brawl in the seventh, but Narvaez remained calm and continued evading all of Histaka’s power shots.
The old man went about his business in the late rounds with cool, assassin-like efficiency, delivering a methodical beatdown without malice or urgency. Histaka was saved in the 10th, leaving Narvaez with another dominant title defense and supremacy at super flyweight. He might not be Bernard Hopkins’ age in reality, but in “flyweight years” Narvaez is as old as B-Hop, making his continued dominance one of the more remarkable and underappreciated feats this year in boxing.
5. ERISLANDY LARA UD12 AUSTIN TROUT (12/7/13)
Austin Trout, the man who gave Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez all they could handle, was reduced to a plodding and clueless mess when he tangled with Erislandy Lara earlier this month in Brooklyn. Trout had vowed to overwhelm and “retire” Lara from the 154 division during a conference call last month. Instead, Lara gave him was what he deemed “The Cuban Method,” an exhibition of nifty footwork/lateral movement and lethal counter-punching. The normally active Trout was reduced to single-digit connects in many rounds. When he tried to get brave, a laser-sharp Lara straight left slumped Trout on the seat of his pants (with legs and arms splayed in all directions). Lara has had his flat performances (Molina and Martirosyan come to mind), but when he’s on like we saw a few weeks back, he’s head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the junior middleweight class.
4. ANDRE WARD UD12 EDWIN RODRIGUEZ (11/16/13)
Andre Ward rightfully got a lot of flack for looking at guys like Caleb Truax for his 2013 comeback fight. All that talk ceased when he selected Edwin Rodriguez, recent winner of the Super Four 168-pound tournament. In Rodriguez, Ward would be facing a larger man with a significant punch. If Rodriguez could make it a tough fight, there was a slim chance he might get lucky.
Slim left the building quite early that night in Ontario, California.
Ward looked like he never left, smacking Rodriguez at will with left jabs and using his better form to land first with hooks in exchanges. And when Rodriguez made it dirty in the fourth, Ward responded with his own fouls, leading to deductions on both sides. Ward adjusted and continued to make it rough inside, but never stopped connecting with clean shots. On the other hand, Rodriguez was prone to spells of complaining to the res, no doubt frustrated by his inability to show any of his talents outside of a strong chin.
“I don’t think he came to win. I think he came to make it ugly and try to land something big,” said Ward after the bout. “I was in here with a bigger man. It is what it is.”
What it is for boxing is that Ward remains the undisputed kingpin of the super-middleweight division and the clear #2 Pound 4 Pound fighter in the world.
3. TIMOTHY BRADLEY SD12 JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ (10/12/13)
A split decision in name only, Timothy Bradley followed up his blood and guts battle with Ruslan Provodnikov by outboxing future Hall of Famer Juan Manuel Marquez. Bradley made the counter-puncher the pursuer, and this tactic made the Mexican great’s deficiencies in hand and foot speed highly exploitable. Marquez found himself running into jabs and right hands before he could respond in kind, as Bradley would already be reset just outside of range. Marquez went for the KO in the last round and found himself flailing to desperation to avoid the canvas’ embrace courtesy of a well-timed Bradley left hook.
This was one fight where Marquez’s cries of robbery appropriately fell on deaf ears.
2. GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX UD12 NONITO DONAIRE (4/13/13)
You know you’ve completely dominated a fight when people forget that you suffered a late knockdown in it. Sans that moment in the 10th round, class was in session for Nonito Donaire. You knew this fight was different when Rigondeaux set the tone in the first with a pinpoint straight left counter that knocked Donaire back on his heels.
From there, Rigondeaux went to work in all facets of pugilism. Here’s what I wrote the morning after in recapping the bout:
Clean punching? Rigondeaux repeatedly caught Donaire with lead southpaw right hooks and counter lefts to the body. Ring generalship? Rigo’s superb footwork kept Donaire’s offense ineffective while he peppered him off the backfoot. Defense? Again, the footwork aided by smooth upper body movement had Nonito’s famed left hook hitting nothing but air and gloves. And with effective aggression, Rigondeaux was the one usually getting the better of the exchanges.
The crowd didn’t always love it — as we all know, Rigondeaux will coast on his leads and he didn’t break that bad habit tonight. He was content to throw a few jabs to keep Donaire honest and Walcott shuffle his way out of any danger. The crowd boos didn’t faze him. As I said last night, be mad at Donaire for not being able to adjust.
While you can’t say a “star was born” after this bout considering the way HBO and some fans have treated him, you can say Rigondeaux has proven he’s just as good as advertised.
1. FLOYD MAYWEATHER MD12 CANELO ALVAREZ (9/14/13)
We all knew Canelo was in over his head, but few expected the complete whitewash Mayweather delivered to him last September in Las Vegas. Canelo, no doubt trying to conserve stamina, came out trying to box and got a mouth-full of counter left hooks and right hands for his trouble. Mayweather stayed in the pocket starting in the fifth and dared Canelo to throw his right hand. When Alvarez obliged, Mayweather’s flawless upper body movement behind the shoulder roll had Canelo’s normally dangerous shots floating harmlessly off Floyd’s arms, shoulders and gloves.
The seventh was probably the most embarrassing for Canelo. He layed on the ropes in a vain attempt to get Mayweather to make a mistake. The strategy got him hit at will by combinations. The late rounds didn’t change the pattern, and at times Mayweather seemed to be winning the fight on his feints alone.
Aside from the blind and/or corrupt judging from CJ Ross, who’s since been put out to pasture, Mayweather notched another landslide victory and addition to his sizable list of flawless performances.