SI.com's 2008 Boxing Awards
Filipino Manny Pacquiao is SI.com's choice for boxer of the year
He beat Juan Manuel Marquez, David Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya
Fight of the Year award goes to Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito
In boxing, greatness is measured in moments. And in 2008, Manny Pacquiao had a whole lot of them. There was the brutal, 36-minute war Pacquiao waged with Juan Manuel Marquez last March -- a fight that ended with a bloodied and battered Pacquiao raising his hands and an even bloodier and more battered Marquez sulking in his corner.
There were the nine rounds of torture Pacquiao inflicted on David Diaz in June, which came to a merciful conclusion only when a broken Diaz could not rise after a whirlwind Pacquiao attack in the ninth round.
And, of course, there was the bell-to-bell, post-to-post beating of Oscar De La Hoya, boxing's franchise player whose career may have ended at Pacquiao's furious fists. For these reasons and more, Manny Pacquiao is SI.com's Fighter of the Year.
To be certain, there were other qualified candidates. Paul Williams won fights in three different weight classes and claimed world titles in two. In breaking Miguel Cotto's spirit on his way to breaking his body, the rugged Antonio Margarito established himself as the most fearsome fighter in the sport. But while the aforementioned candidates' '08 accomplishments are laudable, they pale in comparison to Pacquiao, who, simply put, had arguably the greatest year of anyone in sports.
His duel with Marquez, a rematch that was four years in the making, was worth every day that passed between the two fights. In a clash of styles between the fiery pugilist (Pacquiao) and the technically proficient boxer (Marquez) it was the adaptability of Pacquiao that ruled the day. Though unable to finish Marquez with one of the emphatic knockouts that have become his trademark, Pacquiao grinded out a win, absorbing a vicious beating while dishing out one of his own on his way to stripping the super featherweight champion of his alphabet title.
Another title was at stake against Diaz, a 135-pound lightweight champion who, quite frankly, never stood a chance. From the opening bell it was clear Pacquiao's speed would negate any size advantage Diaz brought to the table. Pacquiao's stinging jabs and slashing right hands carved up Diaz's face until, finally, he could go no further. "It was his speed, it was all his speed" muttered Diaz after the fight. "I could see the punches perfectly but he was just too fast."
Finally, the punctuation, the triple exclamation point on Pacquiao's year that came at the expense of De La Hoya. A heavy underdog coming in, Pacquiao's relentless style befuddled De La Hoya, who couldn't get one punch off before Pacquiao lit him up with five. Once again, size did not matter. Pacquiao packed on 12 pounds to approach the 147-pound welterweight limit. The extra padding was supposed to make him slower, more susceptible to the big shot. Instead, it made him faster and more powerful when delivered shots of his own.
He accomplished so much and he did it with the style and grace that befits a true champion. Whether he was passing out turkeys to the underprivileged in Los Angeles or cold cash to his adoring fans in the Philippines, Pacquiao became the best ambassador boxing could ever hope for in 2008, as dangerous in the ring as he is benevolent out of it.
And this could only be just the beginning. A potentially electrifying 2009 schedule -- which could feature Pacquiao taking on the equally entertaining Ricky Hatton before a showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. to determine, once and for all, who is this generation's pound-for-pound king.
We could be handing Pacquiao this same award next year. And if we do, like this year, I have no doubt it will be well deserved.
GALLERY: SI.com's 2008 Boxing Award Winners
Cotto's blueprint for victory was simple: wear the opponent down with stinging jabs that connect with pinpoint accuracy and wait for their body to inevitably fail them before delivering the knock-out blow. Cotto did all those things against Margarito. He peppered Margarito's head with jabs. And Margarito kept coming. He thudded his skull with power shots. And Margarito kept coming. He beat him in such a way that a lesser man -- nay, any other man -- would have been at risk of hospitalization. Yet, Margarito kept coming. He kept coming until the life drained from Cotto's eyes and his body could no longer continue. It was then, in the 11th round, that Margarito rained devastating blows down on the previously unbeaten Cotto until the champion could no longer continue.
Boxing had several electrifying knockouts in 2008 -- Breidis Prescott's KO of Amir Khan and Shane Mosley's last-second knockout of Ricardo Mayorga, to name a couple -- but none had the caché of Marquez's stunning win over Joel Joel Casamayor. The crafty Casamayor had gone 12 years and survived 40 bouts without being on the wrong side of a fight that ended early. And Marquez hardly seemed like the candidate to snap that streak. But a punishing body attack softened up Casamayor, and a 17-punch exchange in the 11th round, punctuated by a savage right to Casamayor's chin, dropped the lightweight champion, who, for the first time, could not get up.
A questionable stoppage in their first fight heightened the anticipation for this junior welterweight rematch. But no one could have anticipated the result. Kendall Holt looked like human chum early, as the powerful Ricardo Torres dropped him twice in the first 60 seconds of the fight. But a furious rally by Holt was capped by a picture-perfect right hand that not only knocked out Torres, but knocked him out cold. "It was one of those punches that when it connects, you know it's perfect," said Holt. "I couldn't have thrown one any better."
Here's some inside information for those wondering how De La Hoya got a black eye during his recent training camp: Ortiz did it. A sensational blend of power and speed, the 21-year-old (23-1-1) is the pride of Golden Boy Promotions' young stable of fighters. Ortiz has won his last seven fights by knockout, some in brutal fashion. A natural right-hander who fights in a southpaw stance, Ortiz has quickly risen up the ranks in the junior welterweight division and looks to be a serious factor in 2009.
Bernard Hopkins was done. Finished. No way could a 43-year-old, whose skills had shown a considerable decline in recent years, defeat a 26-year-old with seemingly unlimited potential. But the aged star did just that, and emphatically so. Proving that age merely a number, Hopkins battered middleweight king Kelly Pavlik for 12 rounds, showcasing the speed everyone thought was lost and the power some weren't sure he ever had. In the end, the emotion of the moment swept over Hopkins as he stood at the edge of the apron, tears welling up in his eyes as he stared down at the rows of reporters. "I'm tired," Hopkins shouted. "I'm tired of proving myself."
Fighter, philanthropist, politician -- Vitali Klitschko has been all of those things. But boxing has always been in his blood, which is why, after a four-year hiatus that was brought on by a string of debilitating injuries, Klitschko returned to the ring. And he did it in grand fashion, upsetting WBC heavyweight champion Samuel Peter by making the "Nigerian Nightmare" quit on his stool. The victory made boxing history as Vitali and his brother, IBF and WBO champion Wladimir, became the first brothers to hold world titles simultaneously.