Now that half of 2014 is in the books, it’s time to reflect on the best boxing has had to offer this year. I will share my picks for Upset of the Year, KO of the Year, Round of the Year, Trainer of the Year, Fighter of the Year and Fight of the Year.

Upset of the Year – Chris Algieri split decision over Ruslan Provodnikov

June 14, 2014 – Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York.

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Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 KO) went from sheltered, club-level headliner to world champion in a stunning upset of clubbing Russian warrior Ruslan Provodnikov (23-3, 16 KO) in a split decision that put the 30-year-old Algieri on the map and made his name as well known throughout the world as it is in his hometown of Huntington, New York on Long Island.

Provodnikov known as the Siberian Rocky was coming off two incredibly high-profile fights, a brutal and razor thin decision loss in the 2013 Fight of the Year against Timothy Bradley Jr. followed by a career-defining world title winning effort against Colorado slugger Mike Alvarado. His banner 2013 should have led to bigger things in 2014 but he couldn’t get the high profile fights he aimed for against the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez or his former sparring partner Manny Pacquiao. So Ruslan had to settle for headlining on HBO’s Boxing After Dark against the unbeaten, softly tested and largely unknown Algieri near the challengers backyard in Brooklyn.

The fight started as many expected it would. Ruslan nailed Chris with a nasty left hook that floored the challenger and wrecked his eye in the first round. The relentless Provodnikov scored one more knockdown in the round and seemed to be on his way to a rout in his first title defense. But Algieri settled in and began to box, putting his 6 inch reach and 4 inch height advantages to good use by jabbing and moving. Ruslan continued to pressure and land power punches intermittently but by the time the judges had their say it was Algieri winning 114-112 on two of the three cards and pulling off the best upset of 2014.

Chance it remains – 35%. It was a fun fight and one that should be shown to all future judges as a test for how they score fights but Algieri was unbeaten heading in and I think we’ll see a bigger upset in the balance of 2014.

KO of the Year – Carl Froch over George Groves

May 31, 2014 – Wembley Stadium, London, England.

Carl Froch certainly has a flair for the dramatics. He made May 31st a date he will remember forever. First Froch knocks out his bitter rival and countryman George Groves in front of 80,000 fans in the biggest fight of the year (which he was barely leading on the scorecards 67-66, 67-66, 65-68 at the time of the knockout). Then he proposes (successfully) to his model girlfriend Rachael Cordingley.

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This night put to rest how poorly things went for Froch in the first meeting between the two super middleweights. The Cobra won that fight as well but in extremely controversial fashion that necessitated an immediate rematch. Froch was trailing on all three cards in November 2013 when he staged a 9th round rally and had Groves in modest trouble. To the shock and dismay of all fight fans, clueless referee Howard John Foster jumped in and stopped the fight awarding Froch a TKO win and robbing Groves the opportunity to recover and continue in a fight he controlled.

Froch needed a win and one that left no doubt who the better man was and his massive right hand shot to Groves head gave him the exclamation point moment in this England rivalry. As Groves lay prone on the mat with his leg unnaturally crumpled under his body, referee Charlie Finch appropriately waived off the fight and Carl Froch was redeemed.

Chance it remains – 70%. There are so many factors that make this knockout great. It was an even match in the ring and on paper. It came so suddenly (like most of the great ones do) and it had so much personal meaning as these two had so much bad blood and it was settled so quickly, violently and definitively.

Round of the Year – Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa, Round 9

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The crowd in Omaha was already on their feet before the opening bell of round 9, over 10,000 strong urging on the hometown kid Terence Crawford as he made a sensational impression in his first defense of the WBO lightweight title against unbeaten Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa. They were given no reason to sit back down in the most thrilling three minutes of boxing of 2014.

Gamboa rocked Crawford early in the round and had the Nebraska native badly hurt and holding on for most of the first half of the round. Then the tables turned back as Crawford regained his faculties and floored Gamboa with a crushing hook. It was the third time Gamboa was down in the fight, yet he found a way to will himself up. It was short-lived as Crawford sent the frenzied crowd home happy with a final knockdown and knockout to put Gamboa away for good with a mere seven seconds left in a round that will live on for ages.

Chances it remains – 60%. This round and fight had deep meaning and purpose in the boxing landscape. Two undefeated fighters near the primes of their careers waging an unexpected brawl where many anticipated a chess match between highly skilled and intelligent boxers. It paved the way for a new star (Crawford) and gained Gamboa move fans in his only loss than all of his prior 23 wins combined.

Trainer of the Year – Freddie Roach

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It hasn’t been a perfect year so far for the defending and six-time BWAA Trainer of the Year but it’s been awfully close. Sure his charge Ruslan Provodnikov lost his belt in a tight decision (see above) but everything else is aces for the man who built the Wild Card Gym from the ground up. The first place to start with Roach has been and always will be with his most prized pupil, the legendary Manny Pacquiao. On April 12, 2014 Pacman put all doubts to rest that he was the better man than Timothy Bradley Jr. and that his heart and desire to keep being at the top of the boxing world is still strong. Next up for the best trainer/boxer duo of the last decade is a date in Macao, China on November 22nd, likely a fifth fight with arch-nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez.

Roach’s newest high-profile relationship is with Puerto Rican superstar and former Pacquiao victim, Miguel Cotto. The two joined forces in 2013 and tuned-up by blasting Friday Night Fight favorite Delvin Rodriguez in a one-sided beating in the Amway Center in Florida. That was the two sharing an appetizer compared to the entree of 2014, where the always ambitious Cotto moved up to middleweight to take on the long-reigning lineal champ Sergio Martinez. In front of a sold-out pro-Cotto crowd at Madison Square Garden the boxing world got to see just how lethal the Roach/Cotto combination is. Miguel jumped Sergio in the first round dropping him three times and never letting off the pedal. The massacre went ten rounds largely because of Martinez’ giant heart but he was totally overmatched and beaten.

One of the greatest assets of a top trainer is getting the most out of his men. Pacquiao went from unknown (outside of most ardent fans) to one of the best ever from the time he and Roach met in 2001. Cotto’s resurgence has many asking what if? What if they had trained together for Miguel’s entire career? Could Cotto, a surefire Hall of Famer, been even greater had he hooked on with Roach earlier? One thing I believe is the travesty of Antonio Margarito beating up Cotto with loaded gloves doesn’t happen with Roach watching him wrap pre-fight. The most recent addition to the team is a reclamation project, 24-year old New Jersey native, Glen Tapia. Roach jumped in after the talented but mismanaged Tapia took a savage beating at the hands of Texan James Kirkland in December 2013. Instead of stopping the punishment, Tapia’s corner continued to send the kid out round after round to get slaughtered. Since he’s been in the care of Roach, Tapia has a 1st round knockout under his belt and is coming back July 26th at MSG on the Golovkin-Geale undercard.

Chance it remains – 75%. Freddie is the best in the world. He has great fighters who will walk through walls for him. As a trainer it doesn’t get any better than that. With Pacquiao scheduled to return in November and Cotto tentatively in December, he’ll have lots of work to do to hold on to the prize, but I won’t bet against him.

Fighter of the Year – Miguel Cotto

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Miguel has never won Fighter of the Year, with Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao in the way it can be difficult (but not impossible) to breakthrough. The last Puerto Rican to take home the prize was Felix Trinidad in 2000. Cotto is off to a blazing start in 2014, becoming the first Puerto Rican fighter to win world titles in four weight classes.

There have been two decidedly different trains of thought as to what happened between Cotto and Martinez in June at the big arena in Madison Square Garden. Some believe Martinez was damaged goods, his bad knees and the wear and tear of 56 professional fights on a 39-year old body left him ripe for the picking. Others believe Cotto is in the midst of a second-half career resurgence and is back to being the unstoppable force he was before Margarito robbed him of years of his prime and his undefeated record.

It’s time to give Cotto full credit for his win and great achievement. There may be some truth to both beliefs but Martinez was on a seven fight winning streak against legitimate contenders and Cotto stopped him dead in his tracks. The plan for Miguel looks like a return to MSG in December and there are several directions he could go, possible opponents include Timothy Bradley Jr., Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Canelo Alvarez.

Chance it remains – 50%. Many A-level fighters only have two to three fights per calendar year and most have only fought once so far in 2014 so to say much has yet to be decided in this race is an understatement. Hopefully Cotto can line up a huge fight for late 2014 (fingers crossed for Alvarez) and keep his great momentum going.

Fight of the Year – Lucas Matthysse 11th round KO over John Molina

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April 26, 2014 – Stubhub Center, Carson, California

There is something special in the air at the Stubhub Center in Carson, California. Last year, the unquestioned Fight of the Year between Timothy Bradley Jr. and Ruslan Provodnikov took place in the great outdoor venue. In 2012 the legendary battle between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado was in the same space. This is where fighters come to war.

Matthysse was coming off a unanimous decision loss seen by the largest pay-per-view audience ever as the co-feature to Mayweather-Alvarez. He was clearly inspired to get his reputation back and went through hell to do it. It was a see-saw battle that saw both fighters taste the canvas multiple times. Molina, living up to his nickname “The Gladiator” brought the fight to Matthysse knocking him down in the 2nd round and forcing the Argentine fighter to throw out a boxing game plan in favor of a toe-to-toe street fight.

Lucas went to work piling up power shots and finding his target at will. Molina gives a good punch and takes one too. His defense leaves much to be desired but his heart and toughness cannot be questioned. Matthysse finally broke Molina late. As Molina sat on his stool after the 10th round the ringside physician had a long talk about the punishment he was taking and how the fight was on the verge of being stopped. Veteran referee Pat Russell made it clear to the corner he would step in and stop the fight if Molina got in anymore trouble in the 11th. It was a foreboding scene as “The Machine” Matthysse clearly recognized his chance to end the night and seized the opportunity flooring Molina and winning the most action-packed slugfest of the year in dramatic fashion.

Chance it remains – 65%. I’m not sure what more can be done. Maybe a bigger fight with more even action, Matthysse clearly took over late and had a large statistical advantage in power punches according to Compubox (204 to 86). It’s hard to ask for much more than these two warriors provided on a sunny California night.

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