The strong performance of Irish middleweights gave fans here their best moments in 2011, with Matt Macklin and Andy Lee leading the way.
Macklin may have lost his only fight of the year, but his performance against Felix Sturm in July was enough for most to think that he deserved to beat the German, even if the three ringside judges disagreed.
He could now be set for a second successive World Title shot, against Sergio Martinez in New York on St Patrick’s Day.
If the event is to be confirmed in the new year, then it would likely be one of the biggest fights for an Irish boxer in many a year.
Andy Lee, meanwhile, had a better record this year, recording victories over former conqueror Brian Vera and Scot, Craig McEwen. Like Macklin, Lee too is chasing a fight with Martinez, though at present it looks like he will have to wait his turn.
Elsewhere in the 160lb division, Anthony Fitzgerald and Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan remained undefeated and will look to push on in 2012.
The one disappointment here was the retirement of John Duddy. The Derryman’s career never scaled the heights he had hoped for, while fights against natural rivals Lee and Macklin will forever be notable absences from his CV.
Staying with matters Irish, our amateurs had another solid year in 2011. The World Championships in Baku saw a reasonable performance – we hoped for more than three Olympic qualifiers, but there are more opportunities for that to occur yet, and John Joe Nevin in particular singled himself out as a medal contender in London.
European champions Joe Ward and Ray Moylette will also be hoping to stand on the medal rostrum next summer – their wins in Turkey gave Ireland our best continental championship performance in 72 years, but both men face tough tests at the National Championships in the New Year. Our other European champion will also be hoping for success at next year’s Olympics – Katie Taylor, your destiny awaits.
Internationally, the highlight was the finale of the Super Six Tournament which produced a new star for the sport. Andre Ward was more functional than explosive in his win over Carl Froch, but the American demonstrated some fantastic skills, and has the makings of a special talent.
Tyson Fury brought boxing back on UK terrestrial television – more of the same please, especially here in Ireland…Miguel Cotto gained revenge in his rematch against Antonio Margarito. No one was disappointed to see that…Brian Magee performed admirably in two tough away days, in his loss against Lucian Bute in Montreal in March and in Costa Rica against Jaime Barboza in July, lifting a version of the World Super-Middleweight title…For varying reasons, Mitchell v Murray, Khan v Peterson, Berto v Ortiz, Kirkland v Angulo and Pacquiao v Marquez all entertained in 2011. So too did DeGale v Groves, which if engrossing rather than thrilling, did at least see two young fighters in the prime back up some heated talk by going toe-to-toe…Cork-based Mike Perez won the International Prizefighter in Irish colours. Great to see, but he needs to back that up with more wins now…Looking for an inspirational sports story this year? Dewey Bozella. End of…Larry Merchant told Floyd Mayweather he’d kick his ass “if he was 50 years younger.” Great TV. Where were Emmet Brown and his Delorean when you needed him?
The most important fight in 2011 is the one that did not happen, and the one that we all want to happen.
The longer the wait for Floyd Mayweather – Manny Pacquiao, the less important the contest will become should it eventually happen. Both men are passing their prime – Manny in particular is increasingly focussed on outside-the-ring activities – and while they are still the world’s best, that won’t be the case forever. Will they fight in 2012? Probably not. Mayweather begins a 90-day jail term next week, hardly ideal preparation.
When they did fight, both men did at least take on worthwhile contenders, but Mayweather’s knockout of Victor Ortiz saw him shrouded in unnecessary controversy once more, while Pacquiao’s fortunate points win over Juan Manuel Marquez and his shut-out against the inept Shane Mosley meant he too provided fans with an unsatisfactory 2011.
The other big fight which we all wanted to see 12 months ago did happen this year, though David Haye made his fight with Wladimir Klitschko into the dampest of squibs. His non-performance, and subsequent ‘broken toe’ excuse rang hollow with fans. Haye looks set to return to the ring in 2012, despite announcing his retirement in October, and a contest with Wladimir’s brother Vitali Klitschko will give him a shot at redemption that he had better grab with both hands, or rather fists.
On the professional scene, boxing was also disappointing here in Ireland with just one card televised by RTÉ, namely Willie Casey’s first round knockout loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux. The Limerick man entered the year on the crest of a wave, and with a European title around his waist, but he fought just once more after his loss to the Cuban at Citywest. No doubt a more active 12 months is top of Casey’s New Year wish-list.
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Oscar De La Hoya’s admission of problems with drugs and alcohol was unfortunate. Here’s to a successful rehabilitation for the Golden Boy… Paul McCloskey’s robbery at the hands of Amir Khan in Manchester left a sour taste in the mouth, but the Dungiven man bounced back with a win over Bredis Prescott. He’s known now, and 2012 could be the most important year of his career… Dean Byrne’s first career loss, when he was parachuted into the main event as a last-minute replacement was unfortunate for the previously unbeaten welterweight. Promoter Frank Warren owes him after that one (Byrne’s decision to fight after Frankie Gavin pulled out saved the card that night)… The unfortunate deaths of a number of great men, including Henry Cooper, Joe Frazier, Ron Lyle, Scott LeDoux, Genaro Hernandez and Butch Lewis.