The 12 Days of Christmas are fun and all, but for fight fans, the end of 2011 is all about seven days of boxing. From December 26-29, HBO will replay the seven most memorable boxing matches of the year, including Fight of the Year candidates, history-makers and record-breakers, featuring some of the biggest superstars in the sport.
One thing all seven fights had in common was that they featured at least one combatant with something serious to prove (which is a not-uncommon ingredient in fights that turn out to be as great in the ring as they appear on paper). We'll break down the action of all seven fights, with a little help from HBO commentator Max Kellerman.
Bernard Hopkins W 12 Jean Pascal
May 21, Montreal, Quebec
We don't know how he does it, but once again, living legend Hopkins made Father Time call him "Daddy." Hopkins always has something to prove. In this rematch to his controversial 2010 draw with Pascal, he proved he's still an elite fighter at age 46 and became the oldest ever to win a major title in the process. In a close fight in which Pascal rocked Hopkins a couple of times late - and Hopkins rocked Pascal's will with a series of mid-fight pushups - B-Hop pulled out a unanimous 12-round decision on his opponent's home turf.
Max's Notes: "The pushups were memorable because that was something out of the ordinary and because Hopkins was sending the young guy a message: ‘I'm feeling great, kid, how you feeling?' Winning this title at 46 was an amazing accomplishment. Hopkins made history. He did it in the guy's backyard. And he did it in an entertaining fight."
Lamont Peterson W 12 Amir Khan
December 10, Washington, D.C.
This was supposed to be a mere formality, with the emerging British attraction Khan scoring a routine win before moving on to the welterweight division and its various superstar names. But Peterson, nearly counted out as a 9-1 underdog, fought with maximum determination in front of his hometown crowd. He overcame a first-round knockdown, killed Khan to the body, swarmed forward, and with the help of two controversial point deductions, won a split decision in one of the most action-packed and unpredictable encounters of 2011.
Max's Notes: "That was just a good prize fight, back and forth, not clear who's going to win, each guy answering the other guy's challenge every time. Lamont Peterson knew that after this there wasn't going to be another opportunity anytime soon on this level if he lost decisively to Khan. It was just a dramatic, feel-good kind of win for Peterson. Yes, we will also think about the point penalties when we think back on this fight. But you don't want to let the facts and the details get in the way of a good story."
Victor Ortiz W 12 Andre Berto
April 16, Ledyard, Connecticut
Sometimes we're fortunate enough to see two young fighters in the ring together, both with a tremendous amount to prove, and the result here was a stirring four-knockdown war in which the pendulum swung frequently and furiously. Ortiz started hot with a knockdown in the first, Berto scored one of his own in the second, the former Haitian Olympian struck again in the sixth, and then "Vicious Victor" pulled out a stunning knockdown later that same round. Ortiz, so roundly written off following his surrender against Marcos Maidana in '09, refused to quit this time and won a unanimous decision.
Max's Notes: "I felt this fight was really predictable, right up until the moment it wasn't. By that I mean, going in, you knew that Ortiz had the hand speed and punching power to bother Berto. I figured he would drop Berto early. Then Berto would come back, because Berto, as we've seen, has a lot of heart. And then the question would be, how would Ortiz respond to Berto's counterattack? My thinking in round six was, ‘Here comes Berto, now watch Ortiz fold.' And then it became surprising: Ortiz, showing a ton of heart, beat back Berto's inevitable response."
Floyd Mayweather KO 4 Victor Ortiz
September 17, Las Vegas, Nevada
Coming off 16 months of inactivity, with his former pound-for-pound throne occupied by Manny Pacquiao, "Money" Mayweather was looking to make a statement. And he picked the perfect opponent against which to do that in the marketable, red-hot but overmatched Ortiz. Nobody who saw this fight will ever forget the fourth round, in which Ortiz lost his cool and launched his head into Mayweather's lower lip, got penalized a point, wouldn't stop apologizing, and got knocked out by a so-called "sucker punch."
Max's Notes: "It was a sucker punch. But you know who gets hit by sucker punches? Suckers. After Ortiz got frustrated and launched the headbutt, he hugged Mayweather and kissed Mayweather. Then Ortiz hugged Mayweather again. Mayweather accepted the hug. Ortiz lingered in the hug. And Mayweather was like, ‘Kid, we're fighting.' And he hit him with a hook. Ortiz turned to complain to the ref, and Mayweather was like, ‘This is too easy,' and knocks him out with a right hand. I had no problem with what Mayweather did."
Manny Pacquiao W 12 Juan Manuel Marquez
November 12, Las Vegas, Nevada
The experts told Marquez he was too small. They told him he was too old. They told him he was going to get destroyed by the force of nature that is Manny Pacquiao. But Marquez believed that regardless of his age or size, he could move up to Pacquiao's weight class and outbox him, and for 12 alternately calculating and combative rounds, most at ringside felt Marquez had done just that, pulling off an upset for the ages. The judges, however, disagreed, and gave Pacquiao a split decision. Marquez felt robbed. But, as with the first two Pacquiao-Marquez fights, the fans certainly didn't.
Max's Notes: "This fight showed us that Marquez is still a great fighter. And I think it goes to show that when a guy looks as good as Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather routinely do, a lot of it is matchmaking. Pacquiao looked like an unbeatable fighter when he was fighting non-great fighters, or fighters who were no longer great. The last time Pacquiao fought a great fighter who was still great, it was Marquez in 2008, and he almost lost. Then he fought him again, and he almost lost again!"
James Kirkland KO 6 Alfredo Angulo
November 5, Cancun, Mexico
Was this the best opening round since Hagler-Hearns? Quite possibly. Kirkland, written off by many as having no defense and no chin following his shocking first-round knockout loss to Nobuhiro Ishida in April, looked like he had, well, no defense and no chin when the heavily favored Angulo floored him 30 seconds into the fight. But Angulo punched himself out trying to finish off "The Mandingo Warrior," and a determined Kirkland survived to floor the Mexican late in the round. From there, it was all Kirkland, as he got the better of the next five all-action rounds and revived his career with a TKO in the sixth.
Max's Notes: "Round one was the best round of the year. These were knockout punches by two knockout punchers, at an absurd rate throughout the whole round, where it looked like, ‘Oh, Kirkland's about to go,' and then Angulo hit the deck. That was an all-time great round in an extraordinary fight. And Kirkland's success was all based on what his trainer, Ann Wolfe, made him go through in training. So what I really take away from this fight is that human beings are capable of extraordinary things if they are willing to pay the price in preparation."
Miguel Cotto KO 10 Antonio Margarito
December 3, New York, New York
So many grudges in boxing are manufactured, designed to sell tickets. But when you lose your undefeated record at the hands of a man you think cheated to beat you, putting your health at excess risk in the process, your bitterness toward that man is real. Cotto, who lost via 11th-round stoppage to Margarito in '08, took the rematch to right a wrong, to undo what he perceived as an injustice. So he outboxed Margarito, attacked his opponent's surgically repaired right eye, and won nearly every round en route to the doctor stopping the fight at the start of round 10. Cotto got his redemption. We'll never know what was inside Margarito's gloves in the first fight, but we do know who got the last word in this bitter rivalry.
Max's Notes: "I'll never forget what Cotto said after the fight. He stared at Margarito and he said, ‘He means nothing to me.' The second fight was so similar to the first. Cotto's game plan was a little bit better; he would lock Margarito up and walk him back and not just run. But the big difference was Margarito's punches simply didn't have the same effect on him."
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