Boxing: 2014, the Year of Suck

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Ask anyone who follows boxing: 2014 was a terrible year for the sport. Challenge one of the seen-it-all ringside scribes who has observed the sport for decades to come up with a year so chock-full of disgraceful mismatches, outrageous scorecards, and business moves that threaten to drive boxing further than ever from the American mainstream, and chances are he’ll come up empty. But even when boxing is awful, it can still be entertaining. To help survive the fight game’s dreary, self-inflicted doldrums, fans have developed a defense mechanism — a fine eye and deep appreciation for the absurd. They can laugh at almost anything, and often times, the more bizarre and inappropriate the humor, the more boxing fans will delight in it.

Since excellent in-ring boxing was so scarce this past year, let’s revisit the goofy images that cracked us up, the ridiculous behavior that made us smack our foreheads in disbelief, the behind-the-scenes squabbles that seemed to ruin almost everything, and a few of those unscripted moments of raw humanity that somehow managed to touch us, no matter how jaded we have become. This timeline is by no means comprehensive, but it sure is long.

♦♦♦

January

January 3: The new year began with a ferocious rant by ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas, who insisted that Rances Barthelemy’s knockout of junior lightweight titlist Argenis Mendez, which clearly came after the bell, was legal because the referee didn’t separate the fighters. Atlas was wrong, and the knockout was later ruled a no-contest, but this night planted the seeds for an Internet movement that would come to be known as “Teddy Atlas Rabies Watch.”

January 17: Middleweight prospect Marquis Davis lost a tooth in the sixth round of a ShoBox bout against Antoine Douglas, so the referee called timeout, Davis kicked the tooth out of the ring, and the fight resumed with Davis launching double left hooks.

January 25: Polish heavyweight contender Artur Szpilka wore his trademark tuxedo briefs to the weigh-in for his fight with Bryant Jennings, much to the delight of New York State Athletic Commission chairwoman Melvina Lathan (far left).

jennings-bryant-szpilka-artur-boxingChris Farina/Top Rank

January 30: “Vicious” Victor Ortiz, boxing’s top pound-for-pound unintentional comedian, returned to the ring for the first time since June 2012, and somehow, the man whose delusional interviews and FaceLube moisturizer commercials had brought us so much joy did nothing funny. He lost by second-round knockout to veteran welterweight Luis Collazo. That’s it. Fans may not have recognized it at the time, but the Ortiz letdown was an omen for the rest of the year.

February

February 18: Lineal light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson signed with powerful and nefarious manager Al Haymon, effectively scuttling a planned showdown with fellow 175-pound destroyer Sergey Kovalev, which had been one of the most anticipated fights of the year. Stevenson’s move highlighted the business-side machinations that repeatedly harmed boxing in 2014, as network and promotional rivalries made it nearly impossible to make many of the most attractive matchups in the sport happen. Stevenson and Kovalev both won title belts and rose to stardom in 2013 while fighting on HBO, but Haymon fighters fought almost exclusively on Showtime, so Stevenson-Kovalev couldn’t happen for the foreseeable future.

February 28: On Friday Night Fights, Atlas tried to illustrate the tasty mix of fighters in ESPN’s Boxcino tournaments by singing Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.”

March

March 1: Somehow, the rematch between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Brian Vera, a super middleweight fight of no great consequence but featuring the pot-smoking, pink underwear–loving descendant of El Gran Campeón Mexicano, drew an HBO audience of 1.39 million viewers. Neither fighter looked spectacular, and Chavez Jr.’s performance was notable mostly for him making the 168-pound weight limit1 and not looking sluggish and winded. Yet thanks to Chavez Jr.’s iconic name, the fight’s rating has held up as the most-watched bout on American television this year.

March 15: What a wondrous night of suck. After Danny Garcia established himself as the top 140-pound fighter in the world with an upset over Lucas Matthysse in September 2013, he squandered that momentum by taking what many called a showcase bout against Mauricio Herrera. Except Garcia could never figure out Herrera’s tricky, awkward style, and he wound up winning a debatable majority decision although many observers believed Herrera deserved to win. On the Garcia-Herrera undercard, Juan Manuel Lopez, one of the most alarmingly punchy fighters in the sport, scored a surprising KO over Daniel Ponce de Leon, ensuring himself further opportunities to absorb stomach-turning punishment against younger, fresher opponents. Then Malik Scott lasted only a minute and a half with heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder before going down in one of the weakest knockouts of 2014.

March 20: Enter Shannon Briggs. The then-42-year-old former heavyweight beltholder caused quite a commotion while Wladimir Klitschko was having his hands wrapped before training at a South Florida gym. When it happened, Briggs’s intrusion seemed like a blip on the radar, a desperate rant from a fighter whose prime ended roughly a decade ago. When Briggs took off his shoe and chucked it at Klitschko, the reigning heavyweight champion barely reacted. All he said was: “Listen to me  I will make you eat that shoe.” As time would reveal, though, Briggs’s provocations had only just begun.

March 28: At the weigh-in for their fight on the Kovalev–Cedric Agnew undercard, junior welterweights Thomas Dulorme and Karim Mayfield began strangling one another after it appeared that Mayfield leaned in and licked Dulorme’s chest. After video of the altercation spread across the Internet, Mayfield issued one of the greatest clarifications of all time:

I was all in his grill and I was talking to him and what I said was, “I smell pussy!” And I gave the impression like I was sniffing him. I said, “You scared! I smell pussy!” But to say I licked him, that shit made me mad.

March 29: Kovalev-Agnew, with no promise of a Kovalev-Stevenson fight in the future, felt more like a dull mismatch than the buildup to a major event it was intended to be. Kovalev did, however, manage to give fans a jolt of pleasure with some choice words for Stevenson, whom many believed had signed with Haymon partially to avoid an imminent clash with Kovalev.

April

April 5: British light heavyweight Enzo Maccarinelli’s eye turned into a pair of butt cheeks during his loss to German titlist Juergen Braehmer.

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April 9: BRAD PITT GOT KNOCKED OUT!!! (Brad Pitt is an Australian cruiserweight.)

April 12: Manny Pacquiao earned a unanimous decision victory over Timothy Bradley in a rematch of their June 2012 fight, which Bradley won via controversial split decision. Although the bout was significant for Pacquiao, who set the record straight by beating Bradley and re-cemented his status among the sport’s pound-for-pound elite, the only thing many fans would remember about the event was Dionisia Pacquiao. Between rounds, “Mommy D,” as she’s known throughout the Philippines, was shown clutching rosaries and prayer cards while rocking back and forth, whispering fervent little prayers, and stabbing her gnarled fingers at the ring (presumably at Bradley). “She put the Filipino hex on Bradley!” said Mario Lopez (yes, that Mario Lopez), who called the fight for Top Rank’s international broadcast.

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April 13: Mommy Dionisia appeared on the Philippine Sunday talk show Gandang Gabi Vice, where her rendition of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” showed the world where Manny got his dulcet tones.

April 22: Ukrainian featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the best amateur fighters in history, began to establish himself as one of the best boxers on Instagram with a difficult-to-decipher allegorical self-portrait. It shows his torso rising genie-like from a boxing ring, with several headgear-clad amateur fighters (who resemble the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz) hovering behind him, and a miniature cyborg head (probably Lomachenko’s father, who is also his trainer) growing out of Lomachenko’s forehead, with a camera mounted atop the smaller noggin. Consider this Lomachenko’s official entry to the cabal of Russian-speaking fighters like Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, Kovalev, and Ruslan Provodnikov, who at times in 2014 felt like the only appealing figures in boxing.

СО СМЫСЛОМ!

A photo posted by VasiliyLomachenko (@vasiliylomachenko) on

April 25: What’s that? Briggs showed up in Oberhausen, Germany, to hound Klitschko at the weigh-in for his heavyweight championship defense against Australian no-hoper Alex Leapai? And he was shirtless and ranting about pie, since that’s the last syllable of Leapai’s name? And after Briggs was kicked out of the weigh-in, he ate a handful of cherry pie and told the reporters who followed him to give the rest to Klitschko? You don’t say …

April 30: Kovalev’s promoter, Main Events, filed a lawsuit against Haymon, Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime, and Canadian promoter Yvon Michel over their interference in the Kovalev-Stevenson fight, which Main Events charged had already been agreed upon. The lawsuit itself was viewed as a welcome development by many boxing fans, who seemed pleased to see someone in boxing stand up to Haymon, the powerful manager whose business practices are seen as the primary cause behind the frequent mismatches and promotional cold wars that plague the sport. But even though it may have been edifying to see the lawsuit expose some of Haymon’s secrets, the legal document also made clear the severity of a looming business-side shakeup that would contribute to the dismal mismatches and talent-starved fight cards that stained the second half of 2014.

May

May 3: Adrien Broner, fighting for the first time since he lost his undefeated record to Marcos Maidana, looked mediocre in a decision win over junior welterweight Carlos Molina. After the fight, Broner launched into his well-worn “Can Man” routine and said he “just beat the fuck out of a Mexi-can.” This would have been unremarkable if not for Jim Gray’s overreaction, in which he chided Broner, a boxer who built his brand through online videos of himself misbehaving in strip clubs and pretending to crap money, to “show some class and dignity.” Good luck, Jim. It would have been nicer to see Gray express his namby-pamby outrage over the bout’s matchmaking, since Molina — a career lightweight who faced an obvious size disadvantage against Broner  rarely fights anymore, except to provide soft touches for Golden Boy fighters who are rebounding from losses.

May 9: Deontay Wilder is a 6-foot-7 heavyweight contender and former U.S. Olympian who has knocked out all 32 of the opponents he’s faced in his professional career. Charlie Zelenoff is an unstable, 6-foot-0 beanpole who makes amateur videos of himself punching things and calls out boxers on the Internet. It takes about 45 seconds of a Zelenoff clip to see that this man ain’t all there. Yet he once wound up sparring Floyd Mayweather Sr., a session that ended with Zelenoff sucker punching the nearly 60-year-old Mayweather Sr. and then getting jumped by every living soul in the gym. And in May, Charlie Z once again found himself in a ring with a real boxer, this time the far larger and more dangerous Wilder, who decided to punish Zelenoff for the racist threats and taunts he’d been sending. Fortunately for Zelenoff’s well-being and Wilder’s career, Zelenoff wasn’t badly hurt and he ran away almost as soon as the fight began.

Here’s a question: Would Steph Curry invite an Internet troll to the Warriors practice facility to shut him up in a game of one-on-one? Is J.J. Watt going to accept a tire-flipping challenge from some tweaker with a YouTube account? Fans and writers love the sport’s openness, but the Wilder-Zelenoff encounter felt like one of those occasions when boxing would have been better off if the pros behaved a little more like athletes in other sports.

May 17: Mexican great Juan Manuel Marquez put an impressive whooping on Mike Alvarado, full of the virtuoso combination punching he’s known for. But it was difficult to look at acne carpeting the 40-year-old’s chest and not crack wise about the PED suspicions that have followed Marquez since his fourth fight with (and brutal knockout of) Pacquiao.

Victory for #Dinamita

A photo posted by HBO Boxing (@hboboxing) on

May 23: Broner gave $1,000 to a homeless man on the street and posted video of their interaction on the Internet.

May 24: The same homeless man, now with facial bruises and a badly swollen left eye, was interviewed the next day. After Broner’s video went online, he explained, he was beaten and robbed.

(In fairness to Broner, he has performed a number of genuine good deeds, like a recent holiday toy drive in his hometown of Cincinnati. But the May video felt slimy and self-congratulatory, and if Broner hadn’t publicized his gift, the homeless man may have had a better chance to put the money to good use.)

May 31: Robert Garcia is one of the most successful trainers in boxing, but one of the biggest knocks against him is that he seems to encourage his fighters to take the easy way out when the opportunity presents itself and it’s in their favor to do so. In this case, Nonito Donaire received a deep gash over his eye from an accidental headbutt (although there’s some doubt over whether the cut came from a butt or a punch) in the first round against featherweight beltholder Simpiwe Vetyeka. Donaire fought four rounds — just long enough to make the fight a technical decision, rather than a no-contest — before referee Luis Pabon and ringside officials determined (with Garcia’s approval) that Donaire couldn’t continue. The fight went to the cards, and Donaire was declared the winner. When Donaire was interviewed after the decision, at least he apologized for the less-than-clear result.

May 31: Nude selfies of Roy Jones Jr. were released, and they provided months of fodder for the boxing Internet’s clown prince, @JamesBaggJr.

June

June 2: Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, resigned after weeks of rumors that he had been feuding with the company’s cofounder, Oscar De La Hoya. In the wake of Schaefer’s departure, we learned that he had allowed several boxers managed by Haymon to fight on Golden Boy cards without being signed to long-term promotional contracts with the company. This meant the promoter was assuming the risk and burden of building the fighters’ value with no guarantee that Golden Boy would promote them if and when they hit the big time. It suggested that Schaefer may not have been operating with Golden Boy’s best interests in mind, and that Haymon might have been planning to take his fighters elsewhere. Golden Boy would eventually seek to recoup $50 million in damages from Schaefer’s tenure with the company, and speculation would continue throughout the year over what Haymon might be planning. Meanwhile, the quality of televised boxing events (particularly on Showtime, which had aligned itself closely with Golden Boy and Haymon) would only get worse.

June 7: For the fourth consecutive month, boxing dropped a major pay-per-view on its fans, with Miguel Cotto challenging Sergio Martinez for the middleweight championship. This came on the heels of Canelo Alvarez–Alfredo Angulo in March, Pacquiao-Bradley 2 in April, and Floyd Mayweather Jr.Maidana in May. With AlvarezErislandy Lara looming in July, that would be five straight months of asking boxing fans to pay $50 to $75, not including their HBO and Showtime subscriptions, to follow the sport. It’s little wonder that many of these events generated fewer PPV buys than expected. While the main events of these five cards were of mixed quality (Cotto-Martinez ended up being a drag, since Martinez’s recovery from knee injuries appeared to have been exaggerated and Cotto beat him easily), the undercards were almost universally terrible. The Cotto-Martinez undercard might have been the worst of the lot, if not for middleweight Andy Lee’s come-from-behind knockout of John Jackson, which was a thing of stunning, savage beauty.

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(GIF by ZombieProphet)

June 14: We had reached the apex of Provomania, the boxing public’s love affair with Provodnikov. First came his gory, relentless performance against Bradley in the 2013 fight of the year. Then Provodnikov beat Alvarado into submission for a 140-pound title, and we were introduced to Mama Provodnikov. By the time June rolled around, fans had been treated to a fascinating installment of HBO’s 2 Days series dedicated to Provodnikov and endless reportage concerning his taste for raw moose liver. With each new glimpse, our affection deepened. And then Chris Algieri happened. Some believe Algieri outboxed Provodnikov with his movement and jab after surviving two knockdowns in the first round; others believe Algieri did little more than survive until the final bell, and that he didn’t do enough damage to earn the victory. The real shame was that Provodnikov’s loss effectively banished him from U.S. television for the remainder of 2014, instead leaving us with Algieri’s avocados and pink short shorts.

June 21: Former light-heavyweight champion “Bad” Chad Dawson looked darn good at the weigh-in for his comeback fight with George Blades.

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June 28: There hadn’t been a championship bout in Omaha, Nebraska, since 1972, when local heavyweight Ron Stander challenged Joe Frazier and lost by fifth-round TKO. That changed on this night, when Terence Crawford defended his lightweight belt against Yuriorkis Gamboa before a raucous crowd at CenturyLink Center. And good ol’ Stander, a few months shy of his 70th birthday, joined the party. And boy was he ready for his close-up.

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June 28: Lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez, one of boxing’s most unpopular champions, signed with Haymon. In a McDonald’s. As the setting suggests, the signing of Vazquez marked a new stage in Haymon’s rumored takeover of the sport. Aside from signing star-caliber fighters like Stevenson, Amir Khan, and others, Haymon was now also signing opponents — both elite-level guys like Vazquez along with lesser fighters  to fill out a stable. This shift seemed to support conspiracy theories that had Haymon forming his own promotional company to rival Top Rank and Golden Boy in 2015. As for the rumor that Vazquez received a signing bonus of two baked apple pies and a McRib, well, you be the judge:

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July

July 19: It seemed like a minor injustice that Guillermo Rigondeaux, the 122-pound champion and perhaps the best pure boxer in the world, had been shunted to a tape-delayed broadcast on UniMás, while the widely derided Chinese hype job Zou Shiming headlined on HBO2. (Not that HBO2 is some great prize, but it beats Univision’s second banana.) Rigondeaux turned the slight into a self-fulfilling prophecy, however, when he knocked out Sod Kokietgym with a borderline cheap shot.

rigondeaux-guillermo-kokietgym-sod-boxing

July 26: Another Golovkin knockout (in this case, a particularly crunchy one against Daniel Geale), another gem of a postfight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman. During a year when boxing consistently disappointed its fans, GGG’s cheerful conqueror act and kooky English-in-progress were a welcome balm. This interview became famous for Golovkin’s usage of “Mexican style,” but it also contained one of GGG’s best three-line salvos to date: “This is fight. This is not game; this is fight. I love fight.”

July 26: Y’all must have forgot! Roy Jones Jr. is still fighting at 45, mostly at novelty events in Eastern Europe and much to the chagrin of fans who fear for his health and legacy. This event, culminating in Jones’s win over hopeless cruiserweight Courtney Fry in Riga, Latvia, stood out for the funk-synth stylings of Latvian jam band Zodiac, as well as a vintage rap performance from Jones Jr.

August

August 1: The return of Briggs: “EVERYWHERE YOU GO I GO, CHAMP! WHAT YOU EAT I EAT!” (This one made TMZ.)

August 1: Light heavyweight prospect Thomas Williams suffered a startling breakdown after Gabriel Campillo opened a cut over Williams’s left eye in a Friday Night Fights main event. The ringside doctor stopped the fight soon thereafter, although it seemed clear that Williams had given up. As soon as the referee waved it off, Williams ducked through the ropes and personally apologized to Atlas. “I’m sorry I let you down,” Williams said. Atlas’s response showed that for all of his ringside histrionics, he still has the heart of a great trainer. “You didn’t let me down,” Atlas said. “But listen, you gotta worry about yourself, you gotta worry about your family, you gotta worry about who you are. … Pull yourself back up. Because that is the testing of a man, that is the testing of a champion.”

Boxing will always surprise us. And often, the best surprises are like this moment between Williams and Atlas — glimpses of true tenderness, which many people would never expect to emerge from a sport whose goal is to render an opponent unconscious. 

August 2: Argentine welterweight Diego Chaves lost by disqualification to Brandon Rios. The bout was marred by the fouls of Rios, who repeatedly threw Chaves to the canvas, and Chaves, who was eventually disqualified for trying to scrape Rios’s eyes with the laces of his glove. Even more than its foul-prone protagonists, though, this event was ruined by referee Vic Drakulich. The third man in the ring never managed to get the fighters under control, he deducted points at seemingly arbitrary moments, and then he appeared to disqualify Chaves not because he saw the boxer commit an egregious foul, but because Rios’s corner was yelling about it. It was a mess, and one Chaves fan shared his opinion with an obscene gesture that might as well have represented this entire godforsaken year of boxing:

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(GIF by ZombieProphet)

August 9: Junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia, who nearly lost his March “stay busy” fight against Herrera, queued up an outrageously overmatched opponent for August — Pittsburgh’s “Lightning” Rod Salka. Garcia is the top 140-pounder in the world; for this fight, Salka would be moving up from 135, where none of the major sanctioning bodies had even bothered to rank him. The fight resembled the boxing equivalent of a game of one-on-one between Kevin Durant and the sixth man at Caltech. Salka was blown away in gruesome and disgusting fashion after Garcia had the gall to don a Purge mask during his ring walk. Garcia probably thought he looked like a badass, when in fact he was cluelessly acknowledging his role in a real-life state-sanctioned slaughter.

August 23: It wasn’t all bad! We got Lomachenko wakeboarding into your girl’s DMs.

И СНОВО В ДЕЛЕ)

A photo posted by VasiliyLomachenko (@vasiliylomachenko) on

August 25: After the Emmys, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage met his true champion, Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin. I’m guessing Vegas would make GGG a -400 favorite against GoT’s The Mountain.

gggdinklage

September

September 4: Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin chose to vacate his middleweight title and turn down a career-best $1.4 million purse to fight Matt Korobov on the advice of manager … wait for it … Al Haymon! It’s suspected that Haymon had his client turn down the generous payday because the event would be promoted by Jay Z’s sports management firm, Roc Nation, which won a purse bid to put on Quillin-Korobov. Why did Haymon decide it was not in his client’s best interest to be overpaid for the defense against Korobov (a boxer who was knocked out by Lee in his next fight, which was for the belt Quillin dropped)? We can’t know for sure, because Haymon rarely appears in public and doesn’t give interviews. Some suspected he wanted to squash Roc Nation’s attempt to enter boxing, since it would mean defeating a potential rival and Haymon reportedly had quarreled with Jay Z and Beyoncé during his previous career as an R&B concert promoter.2 Others wondered if Haymon might be promising Quillin more money and better fights in 2015, when it has been reported that Haymon will seek his own TV deal for boxing. In the short run, this meant a top-five middleweight would stay on the shelf for the rest of the year because Haymon said so.

September 10: Mike Tyson appeared on Canadian television to promote his one-man show, and he gave a fine verbal shellacking to the morning-show anchor who asked if Tyson’s criminal past could harm Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s reputation (that’s right, crack-smoking Rob Ford!) after Tyson and Ford had a courtesy meet-and-greet.

September 12: On the eve of his rematch with Maidana, and less than a week after the leaked Ray Rice tape thrust domestic violence to the forefront of the national conversation, convicted domestic abuser Floyd Mayweather Jr. appeared on CNN and defended his past. His argument boiled down to “pics or it didn’t happen.”

Look, boxing fans can decide how much outrage to feel over Mayweather’s (and other fighters’) crimes and objectionable behavior. Personally, I can’t help but admire his work in the ring. But Mayweather’s interview highlighted how difficult it was to enjoy boxing in 2014: Here was the best fighter in the world  someone who, on his athletic merits, should be admired by everyone who loves the sport — and he also happened to be an unapologetic beater of women.

September 13: Tyson and Lennox Lewis did something that probably all sports fans, at some point in time, have wished they could do.

September 13: Moments before Mayweather and Maidana entered the ring for their rematch, two men stood in the center of the arena to perform the Argentine national anthem, and the world saw a 90-second recorder introduction that put Ron Burgundy’s jazz-flute stylings to shame. Talk about baby-making music.

September 20: At least we had Terdsak! Once in a blue moon, a boxer with a great name, like Thai junior lightweight Terdsak Kokietgym, will also be in a great fight, such as his back-and-forth TKO loss to Orlando Salido, which featured seven knockdowns.

September 25: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would like to remind you that more people tuned in to HBO to watch one of his fights than any other boxing event in 2014.

 

October

October 1: Sly and Frank Stallone got together to lounge on some tacky white couches and watch mediocre boxing in Santa Monica, and Frank’s polka dots were magnificent.

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October 4: Boxing fans are used to seeing the biggest stars in the most meaningful matches on Saturday night and on premium cable (sometimes pay-per-view). The weeknights belong to prospects and journeymen, UniMás and ESPN2. So what the hell was this? Junior lightweight titlist Rances Barthelemy headlining a Showtime card against Fernando Saucedo? A lot of boxing diehards would probably have trouble picking these fighters out of a lineup. And then an undercard that featured the bloated remains of Chad Dawson? The evening’s middle contest, between fringe 153-pound contenders Willie Nelson and Vanes Martirosyan, delivered a mild surprise in that most viewers found it watchable, but that lone decent fight felt like a condemnation of the rest of the card. What happened? Once again, boxing’s conspiracy theorists sensed the influence of Haymon, who manages both Barthelemy and Martirosyan. The sudden plummet in the quality of fights on Showtime suggested that Haymon might be attempting to play out the string on his fighters’ contractual obligations to the network and to promoters before branching out with his own product. That meant putting Haymon’s A-listers like Danny Garcia (remember Salka?), Lucas Matthysse, and Lamont Peterson in severe mismatches, or thrusting second-tier clients like Barthelemy into the main event.

October 8: I’m not sure how to begin peeling apart the layers of the puff pastry of boxing trash that was October’s middleweight title fight between Sam Soliman and Jermain Taylor. Start with this: Taylor retired in 2009, when he suffered a brain bleed after being knocked out by Arthur Abraham. He returned two years later, and pretty much every time he’s entered the ring since, Taylor has made boxing fans cringe with concern. Then, a little more than a month before the Soliman fight, Taylor was arrested for shooting his cousin after an altercation in Taylor’s Arkansas home. (The cousin survived and Taylor has been charged with battery and terroristic threatening.) Still, Taylor-Soliman went on as scheduled, and Taylor won, thanks in large part to a leg injury that limited Soliman’s effectiveness. That makes no fewer than five boxers who hold various forms of championship hardware at middleweight. Taylor’s belt is almost meaningless as a competitive achievement. But it still feels awfully strange to have Taylor calling himself a champion in 2014, nine years after he beat Bernard Hopkins for the real middleweight crown.

Slap it all together, and Taylor-Soliman might have been the cronut of boxing suck. The funny thing, though, is that boxing heads have such flexible, twisted senses of humor, that many of us were willing to brush all of that aside to giggle at the photo Taylor took at the weigh-in, where he looks as if he might be auditioning for Hollywood’s next big demonic possession film.

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October 8: Briggs, heavyweight irritant of the world, finally crossed the line. He did speedboat doughnuts around Wlad while the champ was paddleboarding, and now Briggs must pay.

October 18: “This is my style, like Mexican style.” These were the words that inspired a hashtag, a rap song, and an entire event predicated on exposing Kazakh middleweight icon Gennady Golovkin to Southern California’s Latino fan base. (To say nothing of the brilliant “Mexicans for Golovkin” T-shirts that showed up around this time.) GGG’s knockout win over Marco Antonio Rubio was perfunctory, but his postfight interview, as usual, was perfection.

October 29: Tyson appeared on The Howard Stern Show and told the story about how one of the journalists who covered his fights years ago turned out to be a serial killer. Tyson was referring to Dale Hausner, an occasional boxing photographer who shot and killed six people in random attacks in and around Phoenix in the mid-2000s. (Hausner died in prison last year.) Problem was, Tyson didn’t say “Dale Hausner” when he was talking to Stern. He said, “Thomas Hauser,” who is a prominent boxing writer and well-known biographer of Muhammad Ali.

November

November 1: Just when it began to feel as if boxing’s powers that be decided to crap all over the sport’s fans for the rest of 2014, a main event like Showtime’s fight between Andrzej Fonfara and Doudou Ngumbu came along and helped us see that … the boxing gods were almost literally giving us doo-doo. But the Doudou main wasn’t even the highlight of this Saturday catastrophe. That honor had to go to the undercard bout between Javier Fortuna and Abner Cotto, which brought us referee Lou Hall’s ear-splitting shouts for the fighters to “PUNCH OUT!” of clinches, along with Hall’s rare ruling of a knockdown against one fighter while deducting a point from his opponent for the low blow that caused the knockdown (which is rare because, according to the rules of boxing, it’s impossible). But the real cherry on top was Cotto, taking the most ridiculous dive of the year on an illegal punch from Fortuna that didn’t even land.

November 5: Do you like ripping up money and then flushing it down the toilet? Well then maybe you would like to hire Broner to host your party.

November 8: Only in 2014 could a bout featuring 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins, one of the sport’s most difficult-to-appreciate fighters, become the most significant event of the year. But it probably was: Kovalev’s win over cagey old Hopkins established the heavy-handed Russian as the cream of the light heavyweight division, and in the absence of anything else to celebrate, this night felt glorious.

November 15: Klitschko knocked out previously undefeated Bulgarian heavyweight Kubrat Pulev, and even though the five-round fight was entertaining by Klitschko’s standards, it still paled in comparison to the champ’s ring walk. That bizarre light show! The Red Hot Chili Peppers song! That enormous projection of Klitschko’s head, saying something in German! And then that glorious robe and its multilayered shoulder pads. All hail Wlad.

November 15: Guess who else showed up in Hamburg to watch Klitschko’s fight?

briggs-shannon-boxerMartin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

But you know what? A funny thing happened between Briggs’s initial, shoe-throwing ambush back in March and his ringside antics in Hamburg in November. Over the course of 2014, Briggs never let up on his Klitschko-hounding gimmick. He developed a catchphrase  “LET’S GO CHAMP!” — and many of his videos were genuinely funny. He seemed like he was in on the joke behind his stunts, and as the videos piled up, it became hard not to wonder if the Klitschko camp was somehow in on it, too. (How else did Briggs always seem to know where to find Klitschko? Who was paying the cameramen who seemed to be with Briggs at all times? How did Briggs get the money to chase Klitschko back and forth between Florida and Germany?) And no, not a single serious boxing fan believes Briggs deserves a fight with Klitschko, but many of the challengers Klitschko actually ends up facing don’t deserve it either. So who cares if Briggs somehow huffs and puffs his way into a Klitschko fight in the near future? Would it be an injustice? Probably, but this is boxing — there’s a new injustice every week. At least Briggs is likable. 

November 22: We should probably remember Pacquiao-Algieri as the piece of disgraceful, cynical matchmaking that it was. All Top Rank and Pacquiao seemed to care about was finding an opponent who was willing to fight in Macau and whose purse wouldn’t cut too deeply into the huge pile of money they expected to make in the Chinese gambling mecca. Did somebody say Chris Algieri?

Instead, we’ll remember the impeccable comedic timing of Algieri’s trainer, Tim Lane:

November 22: Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym may have lost his Pacquiao-Algieri undercard bout with Shiming, but he left Macau with the memory of a lifetime.

onesongchaigym-kwanpichit-boxer(Hat tip to r/boxing.)

November 22: Sylvester Stallone made the trek to Macau, and maybe he’s considering Algieri for a part in Expendables 4. But first:

stallone-sylvester-selfie-macau

November 28: Did you hear that Mickey Rourke, at 62, was making a return to boxing? That he would be fighting on the Provodnikov–Jose Luis Castillo undercard in Moscow? And then that he knocked his opponent out in two rounds? Way to go, Mick!

Oh, but the knockout looked ridiculous and Rourke’s opponent was a homeless man from Pasadena who recently admitted that the fight’s organizers told him to take a dive? Wow. I’m stunned. If I can’t believe in Rourke’s ability to beat up the most vulnerable members of our society, then what can I believe in? I do hope Rourke continues to fight, however, because I’m curious to see if his face, which I hear is 74 percent rubber, has the capacity to bleed if he suffers a cut.

December

December 5: Some images speak for themselves.

December 9: Dear HBO,

Please bring Provodnikov back in 2015 and match him well. He’s one of the most endearing and engaging fighters in the sport. In the meantime, he will continue preaching the gospel of raw moose liver consumption.

December 11: With due respect to the terrible scorecards judges submitted in the December 13 Herrera–Jose Benavidez and Bradley-Chaves fights, I think it’s only right that we close 2014 the same way we began — with a Teddy Atlas meltdown. After Tyson Cave lost a decision to Oscar Escandon that an overwhelming majority of observers thought Cave deserved to win, Atlas declared that he’d had it with this sport, which never runs out of ways to cheat the brave athletes who partake in it.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to bid adieu than with Atlas screaming himself hoarse, saying that if he hadn’t already devoted his life to boxing, and if he had any other way to make a living, he’d get the hell out. Most fans aren’t lifers like Atlas, but we do feel attached to boxing, even in these years when the fight game consistently  hell, relentlessly — disappoints us. So even though Atlas might be right, and the smartest thing would be to get as far away from this sport as possible, I somehow know that when Saturday rolls around and presents us with another slate of uninspiring fights, we’ll be right back on our couches, waiting to hear the first bell ring.

Filed Under: Boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Adrien Broner, Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko, Terence Crawford, Top Rank, Golden Boy Promotions, Oscar De La Hoya, Al Haymon, Year in Sports 2014, Best of 2014