1. The year of Pacquiao. Already boxing's most exciting fighter, Manny Pacquiao became a global phenomeon in 2010, penetrating the American sporting mainstream like no Asian-born athlete in history. He's won major sanctioning-body titles in eight different weight classes, nearly half of the sport's 17 divisions. He was the subject of a 60 Minutes profile in November, less than 12 months after being named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. He was elected to Congress in the Philippines in May and named Fighter of the Decade by the Boxing Writers Association of America in June. He won as many fights at Cowboys Stadium (two) as the full-time tenants won football games during the whole 2010 season. He sings, he acts. He fights Shane Mosley on May 7.
2. Mayweather battles Mosley ... and himself. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the other legitimate claimant to boxing's mythical pound-for-pound title, fought just once in 2010 -- but it was a memorable one. Mayweather survived a second-round scare to befuddle Mosley en route to a one-sided decision victory. But the public-relations capital from that Dancing With The Stars apperance seems completely spent after numerous out-of-the-ring woes, from a profanity-laced and racially charged Ustream video slamming Pacquiao (a sampling: "I'll make that mother f----- make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice") to the domestic violence incident that could send him to jail for 34 years.
3. Stadium-size boxing makes a comeback. When Pacquiao fought Josh Clottey at Jerry Jones' $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium in March, the official attendance was 50,994 -- greater than any fight in the United States over the past 50 years besides Ali-Spinks II at the Superdome in 1978 (63,350) and Whitaker-Chavez at the Alamodome in 1993 (59,995). Pacquiao's return trip to Arlington in November drew 41,734, another promising figure for a sport reportedly on the decline. Yankee Stadium also got in on the action, drawing more then 20,000 for a super welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and aspiring rabbi Yuri Foreman.
4. Maravilla breaks through. When Argentina's Sergio Martinez outpointed Kelly Pavlik for the lineal middleweight championship in April, the reaction among casual sports fans was, "Who?" Once a precocious striker for local soccer club Claypole as a teenager, Martinez turned down a contract offer from Club Atlético Los Andes, a decision that perplexed many in a nation where fútbol is sacrosanct. He was past 20 when he took up boxing -- a remarkably advanced age for a future champion -- and came up the hard way. When he defended the 160-pound strap with a pulverizing, SportsCenter-friendly knockout of pound-for-pounder Paul Williams just four minutes into their November rematch, the late-blooming Martinez demonstrated why he's a name worth remembering in 2011.
5. The brothers Klitschko reign supreme. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko exit 2010 the same way they entered it: alone atop the heavyweight division. They both dispensed handily of would-be challengers in 2010; Wladimir knocked out Eddie Chambers and Samuel Peter, while Vitali stopped Albert Sosnowski and hospitalized Shannon Briggs. The legacy of the Klitschkos is divisive. On one hand, they're one of the most gratifying sports stories in a generation -- they were my nominee for Sportsman of the Year in 2009 -- smart, articulate, respectful athletes who conduct themselves as role models. On the other hand, for those living under the presumption that heavyweight is still boxing's bellwether division, the lack of a singular identifiable champion has done immeasurable damage to the sport. That's why a unification fight between WBA titleholder David Haye and either Klitschko brother is vitally important in 2011.
6. Super Six falls apart (but stays standing). It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time: a six-man tournament to anoint a singular champion in the talent-stacked super middleweight division. Organizing it was no small feat for Showtime exec Ken Hershman, who somehow got promoters Lou DiBella, Dan Goossen, Gary Shaw, Kalle Sauerland and Mick Hennessy to consent to terms. Pulling it off has proven even more challenging. First, Jermain Taylor withdrew after a brutal KO loss to Arthur Abraham. Later, Mikkel Kessler and Andre Dirrell pulled out with injuries, leaving Hershman scrambling to find replacements. Just three of the original six 168-pounders remain -- Abraham, Carl Froch and Andre Ward -- and the semifinals are still tentatively scheduled for January. The resilient Super Six has proven it has no glass jaw, but the disarray shows why tournaments seldom work in boxing to begin with.
7. Tyson, Chavez, Stallone headline star-studded Hall of Fame class. That iconic fighters Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez were inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on the first ballot came as little shock to fight fans. That Sylvester Stallone was chosen among the 12-member class was a pleasant surprise, given the actor/screenwriter's hearty contribution to the sport through the Rocky series (which has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide) and The Contender reality series. The small upstate town of Canastota, N.Y., is bracing itself for unprecedented crowds for induction weekend in June.
8. Valero's tragic downfall. The first thing you noticed about Venezuelan knockout king Edwin Valero was the beautiful symmetry of his record -- 27 fights, 27 wins, 27 knockouts -- and efforts like February's brave stoppage of Antonio DeMarco suggested that it wasn't simply a product of friendly matchmaking. But the WBC lightweight champion had a turblent personal life that spilled over in tragic fashion when he was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife in April. Shortly after, Valero hung himself in his cell, leaving boxing fans to reflect on another grim headline in a sport with no shortage of them (see: Arguello, Alexis; Forrest, Vernon; Gatti, Arturo).
9. Boxing and the arts. The sweet science has been fertile ground for artists of late. Legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman scored a hit with Boxing Gym, a no-frills observation of the hypnotic rythyms of R. Lord's Boxing Gym in Texas. The Fighter, David O'Russell's biopic of "Irish" Micky Ward, has emerged as an awards-season contender thanks in part to a haunting performance by Christian Bale. Next up: The new FX original series Lights Out, about a former heavyweight champion dealing with life after boxing, which premieres on Jan. 11.
10. The megafight that didn't happen. This was the year we all learned much more than we cared to know about Olympic-style drug testing. The much-anticipated showdown between Mayweather and Pacquiao nearly came together twice in 2010. But it rapidly came apart over Mayweather's demand that Pacquiao submit to a blood test up until the day before the fight -- and Pacquiao's refusal to acquiesce. Unfortunately, Mayweather-Pacquiao is no longer a dream matchup, it's an obligation: a fight the public has made. It wouldn't just be a showdown between the sport's two best pound-for-pound fighters, it'd be the most delicious clash of styles boxing fans have seen in ages: Pacquiao's oppressive, offensive force against Mayweather, the foremost defensive tactician of our generation. Here's hoping the fighters find a way to make it happen in 2011, lest their robust legacies be undercut by their refusal to fight one another.
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