With the 2008 year of boxing in the history books, let's get some more ESPN.com award winners in under the wire:
Trainer of the year: Really hard to go with anyone other than Freddie Roach, the mastermind behind the amazing improvement in Manny Pacquiao over the past several years. Roach has molded Pacquiao into a complete, two-handed fighter without having him lose the aggressiveness that makes him so special. From junior lightweight championship to lightweight belt to the upset conquest of Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight, Roach was there every step of the way during Pacquiao's historic year.
Roach wanted the De La Hoya fight desperately for Pacquiao and called me a few times during the uncertain period before the fight was signed just to make sure his view would get out to the public. From Day One, Roach said Pacquiao would stop De La Hoya, and his comments about De La Hoya's no longer being able to "pull the trigger" were a big part of the fight's intricate storyline.
Besides that, Roach was the star of HBO's reality series "24/7" during the buildup to the fight and showed us all where to get the best haircut in Los Angeles.
Manager of the year: Experienced managers Shelly Finkel and Cameron Dunkin could be up for the award every year. They have outstanding stables of established fighters as well as several quality prospects in the pipeline at different stages of development. But I'm going with Mike Criscio this year. He doesn't get much publicity (doesn't seek it, either) and doesn't have a huge stable. But his two big guns, light heavyweight titleholder Chad Dawson and red-hot junior middleweight prospect Alfredo Angulo, had outstanding years, and Criscio was a big part of setting them up for big business. Angulo twice fought on HBO and will be on again in February. Dawson beat former champions Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver and will make the jump from Showtime to the bigger money of HBO in March for a two-fight deal. Promoter Gary Shaw did most of that work, but Criscio also played a vital role.
Upset of the year: There are four excellent candidates for this one, but you gotta go with Pacquiao's overwhelming eight-round destruction of De La Hoya. For months before the fight was even signed -- back when it was merely Larry Merchant's crazy idea and fodder for my blog -- there was a backlash in some quarters that the fight should never happen because De La Hoya was going to hurt and destroy the supposedly smaller man. On fight night, Pacquiao didn't just win -- he thrashed the sport's biggest star in Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali fashion.
Three others also deserve mention:
1. Almost nobody that I know of picked Bernard Hopkins to defeat the much younger Kelly Pavlik, the middleweight champion in his prime facing the 43-year-old Hopkins, who was coming off a tight loss to Joe Calzaghe. Hopkins won the catchweight fight by virtual shutout in a masterpiece.
2. Vic Darchinyan talked a big game, but nobody believed him before his junior bantamweight unification fight with Cristian Mijares. In the prefight media poll organized by Showtime, 26 media members out of 32 picked Mijares to win. How wrong we were. Darchinyan ravaged Mijares, dropping him in the first round, beating the crap out of him and knocking him out in the ninth.
3. Lightweight Amir Khan was one of the most heralded prospects in years. The 2004 British Olympic silver medalist was supposed to be the next big thing from England. Despite Khan's shaky chin, promoter Frank Warren inexplicably allowed a match to be made with Breidis Prescott, an unknown fighter from Colombia who had racked up a 19-0 record with 17 KOs. Warren is normally a master at building his fighters. But he screwed up big-time on this one: Prescott waxed Khan, dropping him twice in brutal fashion for the knockout in just 54 seconds.
Robbery of the year: As usual, there were some terrible calls this year, but two stand out:
1. Nikolai Valuev W12 Evander Holyfield. Two judges had Valuev winning, and the third had it a draw. All three should be fired. Holyfield, at age 46, deserved his fifth title even though nobody I know thinks he should be fighting. But when a guy wins, he should get the decision, even if it is not because he fights so well, but rather because the opponent, Valuev in this case, fights so utterly terribly. Valuev, despite throwing almost no punches for 12 rounds in a miserable performance, got the nod and retained a heavyweight title.
2. Francisco Lorenzo W-DQ4 Humberto Soto. Fighting for a vacant interim junior lightweight belt, Soto kicked the crap out of Lorenzo, who had blood seemingly pouring from every orifice on his face. Soto was destroying him in the fourth and knocked him down, but hit him with a grazing shot a split second after he went to the mat. Soto shouldn't have done that, but referee Joe Cortez ruled that the grazing blow was the reason that Lorenzo, who did an Oscar-worthy acting job, could not continue and disqualified Soto. Memo to Cortez: The reason Lorenzo couldn't continue was because Soto had bashed his head in for almost every moment of the fight.
Save of the year: Mariano Rivera would be proud of the cooperation of all involved -- Showtime, Top Rank, Demetrius Hopkins and Kendall Holt -- when they salvaged a Dec. 13 card. On just a few days notice, Ricardo Torres pulled out of his rubber match with Holt, who had knocked out Torres in July in their rematch to win a junior welterweight title. Hopkins, due to box on the untelevised undercard and a worthy challenger for the title, was quickly tapped to move into the main event, and the show went off without a hitch.
Event of the year: When De La Hoya fights, it's big. Last year it was his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. that captured the public's attention. This year it was his "Dream Match" with Pacquiao that was the sport's biggest event. It was a fight that had plenty of mainstream attention starting with a national media tour that kicked off at the base of the Statue of Liberty, impressively pulled off by tour manager Kelly Swanson and the rest of the PR team. Then came HBO's excellent "24/7" series; the publicity-related involvement of Angelo Dundee, the all-time great Hall of Fame trainer and one of boxing's greatest ambassadors; and a fight week at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that buzzed. In the end, the fight sold 1.25 million pay-per-view subscriptions, generated $70 million in domestic television revenue and raked in a live gate of almost $17 million.
Non-event of the year: Mayweather's June announcement that he was retiring was met with a collective yawn. Nobody believed for one moment that he was really done. Long break after a busy year? Sure. But a forever retirement? No chance. Mayweather was the undefeated pound-for-pound king and welterweight champ when he supposedly hung up his gloves at age 31. And if you know Mayweather and his love for spending his money, you also knew it would only be a matter of time until he returned. Sure enough, best buddy and adviser Leonard Ellerbe began laying the seeds for Mayweather's return in recent weeks, calling me to say that Mayweather would consider fighting again for the right deal. Mayweather will fight again as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow morning.
Promoter of the year: Ladies and gentlemen, we have another draw. Just like last year, Bob Arum's Top Rank and De La Hoya's Golden Boy were again the standard against which you measure all promoters. They both have deep stables and continued to co-promote big fight after big fight in the wake of the end of hostilities in boxing's nastiest cold war. They teamed to bring us, among other bouts, De La Hoya-Pacquiao, Hopkins-Pavlik and Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez II in 2008. They'll kick off 2009 with a significant welterweight title fight Jan. 24 when Antonio Margarito faces Shane Mosley.
To be sure, the companies have different strengths. Top Rank is hands-down the best when it comes to building fighters from 0-0 into world champions and attractions, with matchmaker Brad Goodman and his boss, Bruce Trampler, overseeing every move. Top Rank also keeps the cash rolling in with its array of lucrative overseas television output deals. Arum is also not afraid to go it alone, without the support of HBO or Showtime. He and his staff are more than capable of producing their own pay-per-view events, and Arum is not afraid to take a financial risk in doing so.
Golden Boy, under CEO Richard Schaefer, who has a knack for turning everything he touches into gold, is more like the Yankees in the sense that it is not afraid to spend money to sign the best talent already developed, like James Kirkland and Robert Guerrero this year. Golden Boy also brings an impressive lineup of mainstream sponsors to the business like nobody else. If boxing ever gets back on network television, it's going to be Golden Boy that spearheads it.
Interview of the year: Thank goodness the Pacquiao-David Diaz fight wasn't on a broadcast network. After Diaz was beaten to a pulp by Pacquiao over nine rounds, he was gracious enough to do an interview with HBO's Jim Lampley at the end of the pay-per-view broadcast. During his brief interview, Diaz dropped more F-bombs than he did left hooks on Pacquiao in the entire fight.
Best move of the year: When Ricky Hatton fought Mayweather last year, the unruly and rude British fans booed and jeered the American national anthem with gusto for the duration of the song in an insulting display. Back at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to face Paulie Malignaggi in November, organizers didn't want a repeat, so there was no playing of the American or British anthem before the fight, something I can't recall before a big fight.
Comeback of the year: Heavyweight Vitali Klitschko, hands down. After almost four years in retirement and having overcome several injuries, the big guy made it into the ring in one piece and destroyed Samuel Peter to reclaim his old heavyweight belt in a stunning display.
Avert-your-eyes scene of the year: Gruesome injuries are part of boxing, unfortunately, and Jorge Barrios knows it all too well now. After Rocky Juarez dropped him in the 11th round of their junior lightweight battle, Barrios got up with as graphic and gruesome an injury as you'll ever see. The left side of his cheek was ripped open as though The Joker had sliced him across the mouth. Blood was everywhere as his cheek flopped in the wind.
Storyline beaten to death in 2008: Boxing vs. MMA. Whatever. Enough. They're different sports. They both have their place. They both have quality athletes and events. They can co-exist. Some folks might even enjoy both sports. OK? Let's move on.
Fight I most want to see in 2009: Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. It's the reigning pound-for-pound king against the one who gave up his mantle by "retiring." It will be a massive, massive promotion; it will return the Mayweather family to our TV screens via HBO's "24/7"; it will easily do 1.5 million pay-per-view buys; and, most important, it could be a really outstanding fight.
Fighters who might fight on but really met their end in 2008: Sure, maybe they won't retire, but three future Hall of Famers boxed their last fights of any true consequence this year:
1. De La Hoya. The jig is up. He's 35 and is 3-4 in his last seven fights after being pasted by Pacquiao. As the great NFL coach Bill Parcells is fond of saying, you are what your record says you are. De La Hoya may indeed fight again (and I think he will), but it won't ever be the same.
2. Roy Jones. We all thought he was done after being put to sleep by Tarver and Johnson in consecutive fights in 2004 and then being dominated and nearly knocked out again by Tarver in 2005. Jones got his second act this year by beating the shell of Felix Trinidad in January before being outgunned and outclassed by Calzaghe in November. At 39, there will be no third act.
3.Trinidad. The 35-year-old Puerto Rican icon ended a nearly three-year retirement (his second retirement, by the way) and was battered by Jones at 170 pounds, way above his best weight. I loved Trinidad as much as anyone. But come on. It's over.
I'll-never-get-that-hour-back award: You want pain? Forget about eating a left hook from a prime Mike Tyson. How about having to sit through the Wladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov heavyweight unification fight in February? I did, and I must live with the memory forever.