On Monday, SI.com unveiled its 2014 Fighter of the Year: Sergey Kovalev, the light heavyweight kingpin who unified three pieces of the light heavyweight title. It was a banner year for Kovalev, who could have bigger and better things ahead in 2015.
Kovalev wasn’t the only one with a notable accomplishment. Here are the rest of SI.com’s 2014 boxing awards.
Prospect of the Year: Anthony Joshua (10-0)
Joshua, 25, is the most compelling heavyweight prospect to come out of the U.K. since Lennox Lewis. At 6’6" with a long jab and crushing power, Joshua has all the tools to become the next dominant heavyweight. A decorated amateur, Joshua claimed the gold medal in the super heavyweight division in the 2012 Olympics. He turned pro soon after and has blasted his way through the early competition, winning all 10 of his fights by knockout. Joshua’s promoters intend to put him on a fast track: He is scheduled to fight durable former title challenger Kevin Johnson next year and could face countryman David Haye later in the year. Exciting, good looking and well-spoken, Joshua could quickly become one of the biggest stars in boxing.
Trainer of the Year: Freddie Roach
It has been another banner year for Roach, who guided Manny Pacquiao to a pair of wins over Tim Bradley and Chris Algieri; oversaw Miguel Cotto’s win over longtime middleweight champion Sergio Martinez; trained rugged rising star Ruslan Provodnikov and worked the corner for Denis Lebedev’s cruiserweight title defense. In 2014 Roach cemented his legacy as a master tactician, drawing up brilliant game plans while pushing his fighters to look for crowd-pleasing stoppages. He has rekindled Cotto’s career, restored Pacquiao to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings and developed Provodnikov from an unheralded sparring partner into one of the most dangerous opponents in his division. Roach will be the first to admit that he benefits from the talent, but there is no doubt the talent also benefits from Roach’s sage advice in the corner.
Fight of the Year: Francisco Rodriguez Jr. W12 Katsunari Takayama
It’s a boxing axiom: The bigger you are, the more TV time you get. That’s why it was no surprise that the strawweight (105 pounds) unification fight between Rodriguez and Takayama didn’t get the premium network treatment. Too bad, because Rodriguez and Takayama produced in August the most action-packed fight of the year. For 36 minutes the diminutive brawlers went at it. Rodriguez buried savage body shots into Takayama’s midsection; Takayama responded by suffocating Rodriguez with overwhelming pressure. There was only one knockdown -- by Takayama, courtesy of a crushing Rodriguez uppercut -- but the violence was unparalleled by any fight in 2014. Rodriguez took the decision, but make no mistake: There were no losers in this one.
Promoter of the Year: Oscar De La Hoya, Golden Boy Promotions
De La Hoya will be the first to admit: In recent years, he has been an absentee landlord. Personal problems pushed De La Hoya out of the day-to-day operations of Golden Boy and nearly resulted in a hostile takeover by former CEO Richard Schaefer. When De La Hoya returned, there were plenty of skeptics. But De La Hoya has re-established himself as a force on the promotional landscape. He has repaired Golden Boy’s relationship with HBO, restored a working relationship with rival Top Rank and continued to build junior middleweight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez into one of the biggest stars in boxing. At 41, De La Hoya’s fighting days are long behind him, but his best days as a promoter lie ahead.
Upset of the Year: Chris Algieri SD Ruslan Provodnikov
Last June, Algieri, 30, was a little-known club fighter with a sterling record, a nice story (a former kick boxer, Algieri has a masters degree Clinical Nutrition) and just enough of a profile for HBO to approve him as an opponent for Provodnikov, a 140-pound wrecking ball coming off a breakthrough year in 2013. Algieri was supposed to be a stepping stone, and in the first round he looked the part. He was dropped twice, the second shot swelling a softball size bump on his right eye, sealing it shut. Algieri could have folded; instead he rallied, peppering Provodnikov with soft but accurate punches, avoiding the Russian’s big shots while countering with a few of his own. The ending was controversial -- Algieri landed more punches (288 to 205, per CompuBox) while Provodnikov appeared to land the more damaging shots -- but Algieri walked away with a win and his first world title.
Breakthrough Performance: Nicholas Walters KO6 Nonito Donaire
In the buildup to Donaire-Walters, there was little question who was the A-side of the fight. Donaire was the featherweight champion, the 2012 SI.com Fighter of the Year who was slowly regaining momentum after a career-stalling defeat to Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013. Walters was a powerful but little-known contender in his first high profile fight. Donaire looked sharp early, drilling Walters with a left hook in the second round that nearly put him down. But from there it was all Walters. He landed an uppercut in the third that put Donaire down for the first time in his career. He landed another clean right hand in the sixth that sent Donaire careening face first to the canvas. Donaire beat the count but the referee, wisely, waved the fight off. “I’ve never seen a featherweight with as much power as Walters,” said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. Donaire, undoubtedly, would agree.
Knockout of the Year: Amir Mansour KO7 Fred Kassi
By now Mansour’s story is familiar: A solid heavyweight prospect in the late 1990’s, Mansour lost eight years of his career after being convicted of drug possession. He resumed his career in 2010, hooked up with promoter Main Events soon after, and strung together a collection of devastating knockout wins, none more impressive than his stoppage of Kassi in November. For six rounds Mansour controlled the action, backing Kassi up with wide, punishing power shots. With under a minute to go in the seventh, Mansour delivered the finisher, a crushing right hand that caught Kassi flush and sent him crumpling to the canvas. It was a devastating punch that left Kassi motionless for several minutes and reaffirmed Mansour’s place as one of the biggest punchers in the heavyweight division.
Comeback Fighter of the Year: Steve Cunningham
The nod goes to Cunningham less for what he has bounced back from in the ring -- he rebounded from losses to Tomasz Adamek and Tyson Fury in ’12 and ’13 with back-to-back wins over Amir Mansour and Natu Visinia in ’14 -- than what he has fought through out of it. Cunningham’s daughter, Kennedy, was born with a heart defect. After her two surgeries, Cunningham was effectively told by doctors his daughter didn’t have long to live. Cunningham refused to give up. As he climbed the heavyweight ladder -- a mission to raise money as much as to win a world title -- he fought for his daughter. In December, Cunningham finally caught a break. Pittsburgh doctors were will willing to perform another procedure and had found a heart for Kennedy, too. The operation went smoothly and now Cunningham and his daughter share something else in common: A bright future.
Round of the Year: Koki Eto-Ardin Diale: Round 8
A brutal flyweight contest between Eto and Diale culminated with a savage eighth round. Eto took the lead early, mauling Diale with an onslaught of punches that put him on the canvas twice. Diale rallied mid-round with thudding right hands that wobbled Eto, temporarily slowing his assault. How frenetic was the pace? With about a minute to go both fighters stopped, dropped their hands and patted each other on the back, a mutual sign of respect, a nod to what had become an unsustainable effort. Eto, though, would not be stopped. He overwhelmed Diale in the closing seconds, forcing the referee to step in and stop the fight.