Kellerman: Toney dominates the Maxies
By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com
Time for my 19th annual year-end awards, to be known henceforth as "The Maxies." I kept the first 18 years of this award private, usually in my mind, but sometimes on a note pad buried under a pile of bills and back issues of The Sporting News.
We announced on Friday Night Fights this last week our FNF year-end awards, but I took exception - on the air in fact - to some of the choices of our voting panel. Unfortunately, on FNF the voting is not weighted - my vote counts exactly the same as the votes of production assistants who have been working Bass Fishing until eight weeks ago. So, some results - like Corrie Sanders' knockout win over Wladimir Klitschko as "Upset of the Year," were, simply put, wrong.
But you, reader, can rest assured that here, no year-end picks are wrong. Envelopes please:
Toney-Jirov is recognized as the second greatest fight in cruiserweight history (behind only the last great 15-round epic in boxing history - Evander Holyfield's title winning slugfest against Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Jirov threw more than 1,000 punches over the 12 rounds. He hammered Toney's body throughout, while "Lights Out" countered with precision. Going into the fight, Toney-Jirov figured to be a corker because of the style contrast. Jirov likes nothing better than an opponent who will stay still - preferably on the ropes, so that he can break down their body. Toney likes nothing better than an opponent who comes to him and throws punches, which leave them open to his pinpoint counters.
Halfway through Toney-Jirov the story of the fight was unclear. Was it Jirov's story? Was it his body attack that was winning rounds on the judges scorecards and maybe physically breaking the older guy down, setting up a late-rounds stoppage? Or was Jirov wearing himself down - punching himself out while Toney's counters to the head and body were perhaps keeping him in the fight?
As it turned out, not only was Toney winning most of the rounds, but it was the younger, ostensibly superior-conditioned Jirov, who was wearing down. This was obvious by the 12th, where Toney, who in the opinion of many in the ringside media needed something dramatic to pull out the win, knocked Jirov off his feet with time ticking down in the fight. The action in that last round, and really throughout much of the second half of the fight, was so intense that there were several moments that left Jim Lampley and Emmanuel Steward, who were calling the fight for HBO, speechless.
The third installment of Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward was certainly a tremendous action fight. The problem, however, with selecting it as the best of the year, is that aside from Ward's knockdown of Gatti, Arturo's superiority was obvious. The competitiveness of the bout seemed to come as much from Gatti's having hurt his hand as from Micky's legendary toughness.
My good friend Brian Kenny and a few other misguided souls have been arguing that Acelino Freitas' 11th round knockout of Jorge Barrios was the fight of 2003. Freitas-Barrios was a very good back-and-forth action fight with a spectacular ending (Freitas got up off the deck to KO Barrios), but come on. Toney-Jirov was contested on a higher skill level, featured more punching from both men, and had an ending nearly as dramatic. Plus, as a result of this fight, James Toney once again became a major player - this time in the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions. It also secured his place in the boxing Hall of Fame.
And speaking of the surly slugger from Michigan, he also wins the Maxie for...
After beating Jirov, James moved up to heavyweight and took on Evander Holyfield. Now, certainly Holyfield is not the fighter he once was, but he was still good enough to go essentially even up with John Ruiz and beat Hassim Rahman.
Roy Jones was given a lot of credit for moving up to heavyweight and dominating John Ruiz, and then melting off 25 pounds of muscle to take on his top light heavyweight challenger, Antonio Tarver. Toney beat Jirov at least as convincingly as Jones beat Tarver, and Toney dominated Holyfield to a greater extent even than Jones dominated Ruiz.
There are those who argue that Holyfield finally "got old" against Toney. Of course, Evander looked pretty good against James in the first round, before "Lights Out" began destroying Evander's body with pinpoint counters. Many young heavyweights would suddenly look ancient after six or seven rounds on the inside with Toney.
Manny Pacquaio too had a tremendous year, with his domination of Marco Antonio Barrera. But Barrera got old during that fight.
In the words of LL Cool J "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years." Toney bristles at the suggestion that he made a comeback this year. According to James, he never went away. But the truth is, Toney had not scored a win over a top fighter in a very long time. Sure, he had beaten some cruiserweight contenders in recent fights heading into 2003, but James had not been on any pound for pound lists, or any top fighter's radar, for the better part of a decade. Suddenly, this former middleweight champ is one of the hottest heavyweights in the world
I contacted James to ask him how it feels to win an unprecedented three Maxies in one year.
"It's about time you recognize. What do I get?"
The satisfaction of a job well done, James.
Corrie Sanders is a big, fast, hard punching southpaw. He had Hassim Rahman down twice before losing. He knocked out Al Cole in one round at a time when Cole was taking fighters like undefeated heavyweight darling Michael Grant into the 10th round. Sanders was old (37), and largely inactive (one fight in 16 months) at the time Universum (Wladimir Klitschko's cautious promoter) accepted him as an opponent, and sure, going in Wlad was rightly the favorite. But having ran out of gas and ultimately having been stopped by Ross Purity, and having never passed a test against a good, big, hard punching heavyweight, Klitschko was really largely unproven.
Vernon Forrest on the other hand, was coming off two consecutive wins over an undefeated Shane Mosley. He had never lost as a pro. He was a huge favorite to beat Mayorga, who had thrice been stopped as a pro. Going into the Mayorga fight, Forrest was universally considered head and shoulders above the rest of the welterweight division. Not anymore.
In a very good action fight he was losing, Freitas picked himself up off the canvas to knock Barrios out with one punch. And this was one of those Tivo-it-and-replay-it-for-your-friends knockouts. Barrios fell on his back, his arms extended in a frozen fighting pose. Mayorga's knockout of Forrest doesn't quite make the cut, because even though it was sudden, the fight was stopped a little early in the opinion of some, and Vernon was able to rise to his feet before the end of a 10 count - had he been given one.
Here are only a smattering of the rave reviews certain boxing television critics might give me were they to exist and be so inclined:
"Kellerman's scintillating work as Friday Night Fights studio analyst is second to none."
"Kellerman brings an understated dignity to a sport in dire need."
"Mad Max is, word for word, the greatest studio boxing analyst in boxing."
As boxing's only TV studio analyst of which I am aware, I humbly accept.
Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and the host of the show "Around The Horn."