Bradley, Roach among SI's award winners for 2013 performances
With 2013 heading to a close, SI.com hands out its superlatives from an unforgettable year in boxing.
Expectations were low coming into this fight. Bradley was a decorated welterweight titleholder coming off a questionable decision win over Manny Pacquiao, while Provodnikov was an unheralded opponent best known as Pacquiao's sparring partner. But with Bradley determined to prove he could win a slugfest and Provodnikov knowing no other style, this fight turned into a brawl, quickly.
Both fighters winged heavy shots, with Bradley connecting more often (218-186 in power punches landed, per CompuBox) and Provodnikov landing harder. The action picked up early, with Provodnikov wobbling Bradley in the first round, and almost never stopped. They stood toe-to-toe, in the middle of the ring, launching and landing concussive, face-shredding blows. Provodnikov appeared on the verge of stopping Bradley in the closing seconds of the 12th round, but Bradley, wisely, took a knee, recovered and preserved a narrow decision win.
In a field loaded with worthy candidates, Adonis Stevenson stands out. In March, he avenged the only blemish on his résumé, knocking out Darnell Boone -- who had handed Stevenson his only loss, in 2010 -- in the sixth round. In June, Stevenson demolished light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, landing the left hand heard 'round the world in the first round to knock Dawson out. In September, Stevenson wiped the canvas with Tavoris Cloud, finishing the former 175-pound titleholder in seven rounds. And in November Stevenson capped off a stellar year with a knockout of Tony Bellew, the mandatory challenger for Stevenson's WBC belt.
Every Fighter of the Year voter has different criteria, so here are mine: Win, win often, win against good competition and win spectacularly. Stevenson did that, rising from the depths of prison to the top of the sport.
Roach is no stranger to this award, and this year he is as deserving as ever. In addition to rebuilding Manny Pacquiao after a brutal knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez last year, Roach reenergized Miguel Cotto -- who knocked out Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds in October -- and developed Ruslan Provodnikov into a junior welterweight titleholder.
The Hall of Fame trainer is a gifted motivator and tactician, and his aggressive coaching style routinely leads to crowd-pleasing fights. Fighters are quick to credit Roach's influence, even, as was the case with Provodnikov after his scintillating win over Mike Alvarado, when Roach is not able to formally work the corner.
Roach's work with Pacquiao -- advising an extended break after the loss to Marquez, tinkering with his style to help Pacquiao avoid the brutal exchanges that he has become known for -- is further proof of his deep understanding of his fighters.
Even Schaefer's harshest critics will admit: It's been a good year for Golden Boy Promotions. Banished by HBO -- a decision based on Golden Boy's steering of many of its high profile fighters to Showtime -- Schaefer has been a driving force behind Showtime's transformation into a legitimate competitor to HBO. With a deep stable at his disposal, Schaefer has put together big fight after big fight, from Saul Alvarez-Austin Trout to Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse to Adrien Broner-Marcos Maidana. As Floyd Mayweather's co-promoter, Schaefer was instrumental in the biggest promotion of the year, Mayweather-Alvarez, a fight that generated 2.2 million pay per view buys and became the highest grossing ($150 million) pay-per-view fight of all time. With a young roster -- excluding 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins, who will try to become a unified titleholder next year -- Golden Boy has a bright future.
A big puncher is always dangerous, a fact featherweight titleholder Abner Mares learned the hard way in August. Mares was one of boxing's brightest young stars. In 2011, he won Showtime's bantamweight tournament. He moved up to super bantamweight and claimed a title there in 2012 before heading to featherweight, where he stopped rugged veteran Daniel Ponce De Leon to win a 126-pound belt.
Mares was a favorite coming in against Gonzalez, a former featherweight champion who had lost his belt to Ponce De Leon a year earlier. In the final minute of the opening round, Gonzalez landed a clean left hand to the chin, dropping Mares to the canvas. He got up, only to take a flurry of punches that put him down again. Mares attempted to get back to his feet but before he could the referee waved off the fight. These two will tangle again in a rematch in February.
SI.com's Fighter of the Year stunned the boxing world when he delivered a crushing left hand that knocked out Dawson, the lineal light heavyweight champion and widely regarded 175-pound kingpin. Coming into the fight, expectations for Stevenson were modest. Once trained by the late Emanuel Steward -- who handed off the duties to his nephew, Sugar Hill -- Stevenson was a 35-year-old veteran attempting to punch his way into the mix of top fighters after getting a late start to his career. He was a big puncher coming up from 168 pounds, a dangerous opponent but one the slick Dawson, coming off a tough knockout loss to Andre Ward, was expected to handle. But Dawson was walloped with that left hand early, and his wobbly legs and glazed look in his eyes were enough to force the referee to stop the fight. It was a star-making performance from a fighter who would go on to become one of boxing's brightest lights in 2013.
Few fighters are as feared for their punching power as is Matthysse, who kicked off 2013 with a savage knockout of former prospect Mike Dallas Jr. in January. With Matthysse known to be a slow starter, Dallas came into the fight vowing to be aggressive early, to try to bank a few rounds on the scorecards while Matthysse warmed up. It was a fairly competitive first round, with Dallas showcasing good speed and movement -- right up until he caught a short right hand that sent him toppling face first to the canvas.
Matthysse is not a traditional knockout artist; he doesn't load up for big punches. Rather, his power comes from his speed, accuracy and ability to land punches from any angle. And whatever angle they are thrown from, they have tremendous power behind them, as Dallas learned in January and junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson would discover later in the year.
Crawford, 26, isn't new to the scene -- he turned pro in 2008 and has been slowly rising in the rankings ever since -- but the lightweight prospect enjoyed a big year in '13. It began last March, when Crawford (22-0) moved up to 140 pounds on short notice to take on junior welterweight contender Breidis Prescott. Crawford was masterful, outboxing Prescott to win a lopsided decision. The strong year continued in June, when Crawford, back at 135 pounds, stopped Alejandro Sanabria. And in October, Crawford blew out Andrey Klimov on the undercard of Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez.
With HBO's backing -- all three of Crawford's fights this year were televised by the network -- Crawford's profile has risen significantly. His talent is undeniable. What he lacks in power he makes up for with solid technique and a chin that's hard to get to. In February, Crawford's work will be rewarded when he challenges Ricky Burns for the WBO lightweight title.
In July 2012, Thompson was knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko, his second straight loss to Klitschko in his second world title shot. At 41, Thompson appeared to be at the end of his career. But later that year heavyweight prospect David Price, looking for a step-up opponent, offered Thompson a fight. Last February, Thompson traveled to the UK and stunned Price in a second-round knockout. In a rematch in July, Thompson stopped Price again, this time in the fifth.
The two wins revived Thompson's career and positioned him to face Kubrat Pulev in August. Thompson lost a decision but, at 42, he is once again a viable contender in the heavyweight division, in position to fight any of the contenders in the U.S. or Europe. And with a good chin and an awkward style, Thompson can still beat many of them.
This round only went two of the scheduled three minutes, but it was good while it lasted. Down big on the scorecards going into the final stanza of the scheduled 10-rounder, Molina appeared headed for a lopsided decision defeat. In the first minute, Bey peppered him with power punches, prompting Showtime commentator Steve Farhood to remark that "Molina needs a nine-run home run, and it doesn't look like he is going to get it."
But with 90 seconds to go in the round, the tide turned. A left hook to the chin by Molina rocked Bey. Sensing the opportunity, Molina swung wildly, relentlessly, connecting with bombs to Bey's head. Unable to hold and recover, Bey, with his promoter, Floyd Mayweather, sitting ringside, ate shot after shot until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. It was as dramatic and as unexpected an ending as any seen this year.