RICH SCHULTZ/AP/Press Association Images
Fight night

Andre Ward came of age in 2011, though he wasn't the only one to have a good year...

It was another busy and often dramatic year for boxing in 2011. Gavin Grace takes a look back over the finest action and reveals his top picks.

AS THE SPORTING year that was 2011 comes to an end, The Score’s Gavin Grace runs the rule over the best of boxing in the last twelve months, and hands out our first end-of-year awards.

Fighter of the Year – Andre Ward

Andre Ward’s victory over Carl Froch just a few short weeks ago sealed this award for him in the eyes of most boxing pundits. However, it was also the culmination of two years work in the Super Six Super Middleweight Tournament, with the win over Froch allowing him to lift the overall winners’ trophy.

In successive fights, he beat Mikkel Kessler, Allen Green, Sakio Bika (that was a non-tournament fight), Arthur Abraham and Froch. There were no knockouts for Ward in the sequence, but he was rarely troubled, even though it later emerged that he had fought with a broken hand.

Ward’s win in Atlantic City book-ended what was a fairly disappointing year for fight fans. However, it promises much ahead with Lucian Bute and a rematch with Froch potentially in store for Ward, as well as a host of tests at light-heavyweight. For boxing to thrive, a leading American is important so Ward’s emergence is timely. He has the potential to be brilliant, and don’t be surprised if he wins many more of these gongs in the years ahead.

Among those who deserve recognition are Miguel Cotto, who recorded inside-the-distance wins over Ricardo Mayorga and Antonio Margarito, Nonito Donaire, who had two big wins at bantamweight, and Lamont Peterson – the man who upset Amir Khan in December.

As for Irish Fighter of the Year, that award goes to Andy Lee for three wins in 2011 (including victories over Scot Craig McEwen and his former conqueror, Brian Vera), with Mathew Macklin a close second. The Tipp-born Brummie may have lost his only fight of 2011 against Felix Sturm in Germany, but his performance merited the judge’s decision he did not receive.

Fight of the Year – Wolak v Rodriguez I

Pole Pawel Wolak fought Delvin Rodriguez of the Dominican Republic to a ten-round draw in July in one of the best fights that you would want to see. It had everything – few breaks in action, bravery in abundance, a raucous crowd, and as dramatic an image as was seen in any sport in 2011. In
Round 4, Wolak developed a haematoma on his right temple, one which would close his right eye.

Many fights would have been stopped for this, but doctors allowed the Pole to fight on, thankfully. A draw was a fitting result, though Rodriguez would comfortably win their rematch in December, and in turn end Wolak’s career. This fight is their collective legacy.

YouTube credit: boneskrieg8

Honourable mentions go to James Kirkland’s sixth-round, knockout win over Alfredo Angulo, to Kevin Mitchell’s brilliant slugfest with John Murray and to Bernard Hopkins’ historic win over Jean Pascal. Mathew Macklin’s pressuring of Felix Sturm made that contest compelling – if not a slugfest – while Cotto’s win over Margarito was among 2011’s most pleasing results.

Knockout Of The Year – Nonito Donaire KOs Fernando Montiel

Fernando Montiel may have gotten up from a brutal left hook from the ‘Filipino Flash’, but I’ll never know how. This punch was as sweet a shot as you will see, and though he was there in body, Montiel’s circuits were well and truly scrambled by the spectacular left hook.

YouTube credit: HBOsports

Many other knockouts deserve to be watched as we look back on the year that was. Enjoy!

Kendall Holt – Julio Diaz
YouTube credit: TEAMHBO

Andy Lee – Craig McEwen
YouTube credit: HBOsports

Gary Russell Jr. – Heriberto Ruiz
YouTube credit: SuperBoxingVideos

Floyd Mayweather – Victor Ortiz (Certainly the year’s most opportunistic knockout)
YouTube credit: CN713911

Round of the Year – Hernan Marquez v Luis Concepcion I – Round 1

Always a category in which videos from obscure fights are shown, this year is no exception with this cracker being the pick of the bunch.

Any dramatic round needs huge shifts in momentum, and this is no exception with both men hitting the canvas in the opening three minutes. Marquez would go onto win the fight in Round 11, and their October rematch in two minutes, but there were times that he looked as if he was certain to be beaten in this encounter.

YouTube credit: JFKConspiracy

Other strong contenders include Pornsawan Porpramook vs Akira Yaegashi – Round 8 (YouTube credit: merck191) which also went back-and-forth, albeit without the knockdowns.

James Kirkland v Alfredo Angulo Round 1 was brilliantly explosive, while Tyson Fury – Dereck Chisora, Round 2 (YouTube credit: ibhof11) was the best session involving heavyweights this year.

Last but not least, Round 2 of Edgar Lopez v Felix Rivera (YouTube credit: zakir371), two cub fighters who entered the ring with a combined one victory from their three fights to date. In just over 2 minutes, they summed up why there is no sport more dramatic or exciting than boxing, and that its best qualities can be shown by two fighters going hammer-and-tongs no matter their levels of experience, or their stature within the sport.

READ - Seconds out… here’s the best and worst from boxing this year

READ - The casting couch: here’s who would play who in ‘2011 – The Sports Movie’