HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Best Moments

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best HBO Boxing moments this year.

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Kieran Mulvaney:

Terence Crawford Returns to Omaha

From Ron Stander – who lost to Joe Frazier in Omaha's most recent previous title bout, in 1972 – shadowboxing at ringside, to Crawford prevailing in a terrific bout against Yuriorkis Gamboa and standing on the turnbuckle, arms aloft, drinking in the adoration of his hometown fans, this was a night that will live long in Cornhusker State sporting history and turned one of the sport's best technicians into a legitimate star.

George Groves Rides into Wembley

Eighty thousand fans were packed into Wembley Stadium as George Groves made his entrance for his rematch with Carl Froch, and quite the entrance it was: there were pyrotechnics, there was loud music, and there was Groves on top of a double-decker bus. Eight rounds later, his exit wasn't quite as grand.

Momma Pacquiao's hexes

Just what exactly is Dionesia Dapridan-Pacquiao doing at ringside with her rosary beads, her stares and her pointing? If it's some kind of hex on her son's opponents, it worked like a charm in 2014.

The Chris Algieri Show

I know his almost comically resolute self-confidence grated on some people after a while, but for me, Algieri was a breath of fresh air. He was a new name and a new face, he had a fun backstory, he was hugely accommodating to the media and was a terrific interview, and in two fights he demonstrated superhuman fortitude. I hope he gets further opportunities, I really do. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that his year will chiefly be remembered for …

Tim Lane's Extraordinary Optimism

Particularly one spectacularly ill-timed comment to Max Kellerman that had gone viral before Chris Algieri had finished hitting the canvas against Manny Pacquiao.

Eric Raskin: The "cage" interview

Yes, the jokes were beaten into the ground within 15 minutes of it happening. But that in no way diminishes what a fantastic, hilarious moment it was when Chris Algieri's trainer, Tim Lane, told Max Kellerman he was almost ready to let Algieri "out of the cage" … and two seconds later, Manny Pacquiao floored Algieri. You couldn't have scripted it any better.

Hamilton Nolan:

The funniest moment of the year to me was Nonito Donaire's post-fight interview in which he kept talking on and on and on, effusively, about how badly Nicholas Walters beat his ass. Points for honesty, I guess? I also liked the HBO announcer's willingness to point out when fight scores were trash. I hope they continue doing this until fight scores are not trashy any more.

Nat Gottlieb:

With his total beat down of Sergio Martinez, who hadn't lost in five years, Miguel Cotto captured the linear middleweight title in spectacular fashion at age 34, and did it in the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden, before a raucous sellout crowd of adoring fans.

Middleweight Gennady Golovkin filled the stadium in Carson, CA this fall and it didn't matter if he was fighting Marco Antonio Rubio or Marco Polo. This guy puts asses in the seats. For the first time ever in boxing at The Stub Hub Center, extra seats had to be erected just to accommodate the mass of fans who wanted to see this ferocious knockout artist, clearly a must-see attraction.

Tim Smith:

The best moments are the entire story arc of Chris Algieri that played out on HBO.  It went from his rise from obscurity, fighting in club shows in Huntington, L.I., to get his big break fighting Provodnikov on HBO for the first time, pulling off the stunning upset, and then getting that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in a major pay per view event against superstar Manny Pacquiao. Unfortunately for Algieri it ended in a heart-wrenching fashion with the six knockdowns on the way to losing a lopsided decision.

Diego Morilla: Miguel Cotto wins the middleweight title

Winning a world title is always a memorable moment for any fighter. But becoming the first fighter from a boxing-crazy country to win titles in four different divisions, and doing it against all odds by decisively stopping a pound-for-pound undisputed champion in front of thousands of loyal fans has to be the greatest possible feeling for anybody, and especially if that fighter comes from a proud nation of boxing legends such as Puerto Rico. And Cotto achieved just that in his surprisingly dominant win over Sergio Martinez in June at the Madison Square Garden, in an emotionally-charged fight that is now part of the island's rich boxing lore.

 Michael Gluckstadt:

There really are too many to count. Andy Lee's two(!) miracle come-from-behind KOs. Chris Algieri's interest in avocados. The "Did Karim Mayfield lick Thomas Dulorme?" subplot. Wembley. Omaha. Cotto at the Garden. Bernard Hopkins visiting the doctor in an alien mask. John David Jackson's plan for Hopkins. Tim Lane's "plan" for Algieri. Ruslan Provodnikov's surreal "2 Days." Wladimir Klitschko's most exciting KO in years. "The Axe Man." Mama Pacquiao. Kovalev's crotch feint. The way Raskin says "Harold!" on the HBO Boxing Podcast, and for that matter, "Hey Harold!" Gabriel Rosado's left eye. David Lemieux's left hook.

All in all, you could sum up my feelings as follows (through a wide Kazakh grin): "This is fight. This is not game, this is fight. I love fight."

HBO Boxing Year End Picks: KO of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best KO on the network this year:

More: HBO Boxing Year End Picks

Kieran Mulvaney: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves

After their first meeting ended in a controversial stoppage, Froch left no doubt in the rematch, icing Groves in front of a massive Wembley Stadium crowd with a picture-perfect KO. A little stutter-step, a feinted jab and then a massive overhand right that poleaxed the Londoner: it was as sweet and definitive an ending to a prizefight as you'll see. Honorable mention to Andy Lee's one-punch stoppage of John Jackson.

Eric Raskin: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

It was a virtual coin flip between Lee-Jackson and Carl Froch's violent rematch knockout of George Groves, but the deciding factor for me was how comprehensively Lee was losing when he uncorked the miracle counter right hook. Aesthetically, the two best HBO-televised knockouts of the year were a dead heat. So Lee's stiffening of the previously unbeaten Jackson at Madison Square Garden wins on the strength of its shock value.

Hamilton Nolan: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

Jackson outboxed him. Jackson was landing at will. Jackson systematically hurt him, and finally moved in for the kill… and caught one crazy Andy Lee punch thrown from off the ropes on a prayer, and it was over. Craziness.

Nat Gottlieb: Nonito Donaire KO 6 Nicholas Walters

Featherweight Nicholas Walters took Nonito Donaire's early fire and then turned it around by pummeling the Filipino into a bloody pulp before he blasted him in round 6 with a thunderous overhand right to the side of the head. Donaire managed to get up, but was so dazed and confused the ref waived it off.  A decisive beat down of a onetime superstar.

Oliver Goldstein: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves

How to right the wrong of one of the most disappointing early finishes in recent history? Carl Froch insisted before his second meeting with George Groves that their first was heading toward a fairer conclusion when Howard Foster screwed the pooch, and this time around delivered when he crashed Groves into another dimension at Wembley in May.

This bout lacked the excitement of their initial tussle, when Groves had thrashed Froch about the ring for seven or so rounds, but its ending was truly memorable, as Froch feinted a left, let Groves bite, then let rip with a right for the ages.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford KO 9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Terence Crawford's stunning 9th round of Gamboa. It was a stepping stone fight for Crawford. It was as Crawford KO'ed Gamboa and stepped right into the spotlight as one of boxing's brightest new stars.

Diego Morilla: Wladimir Klitschko KO 5 Kubrat Pulev

Bulgaria's Pulev was tall, bulky, strong, yet agile and skilled, and had the hunger and the credentials of a young Klitschko: an Olympic medal, an unbeaten record and a defiant attitude. Perhaps that's why it was so impressive to see him go down in such a devastating fashion. Klitschko is known for 1-2-ing his foes into submission, using his pawing jab to set up his ramming straight right to then lay a progressive beating on his opponents. But using his often neglected left hook, he sent Pulev to the canvas a total of four times to score his most devastating KO to date.

Michael Gluckstadt: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

How can you not love Andy Lee? He's not the most skilled middleweight, nor the most powerful, but he may have the most heart (a dubious conceit in other sports, but one that certainly exists in boxing). In front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden on the Cotto-Martinez undercard, it looked like we were seeing Andy's end as an elite boxer. Jackson was outworking him and outclassing him, and just when it looked like he was about to finish the job, Lee reached down and unveiled a storybook right hook that ended Jackson's night before he even hit the canvas. Another, similar miracle punch later, and Andy Lee finished 2014 as a middleweight title holder instead of an afterthought.

Affirmation: Froch Knocks Out Groves in the Eighth

By Oliver Goldstein

Before a record-breaking 80,000 fans in the first fight at the new Wembley Stadium, George Groves arrived on a double-decker bus only to be sent to the deck himself, as Carl Froch, now 33-2, with 24 knockouts, provided conclusive evidence of his superiority at last. Having been denied the opportunity to produce such affirmative judgement in their first fight in Manchester, Froch, of Nottingham, England, on this occasion retained his 168-pound title belts with a knockout victory of the most devastating variety.

These were not the nights that the Football Association built the new Wembley for, but, in the twilight hours of a fresh Saturday night, it felt nonetheless that the stadium, magnificent not only in its capacity, but also in its beauty, had finally found its rightful partner. Boxing is not beautiful in its nature, and neither Carl Froch nor even George Groves, whose fighting style could be described as a kind of ragged sleekness, would lay claim to beauty. But at its best, boxing is doubtlessly magnificent; and when men like Froch and Groves meet, moreover, its particular brand of violence seems barely a pulse from the aesthetic. On this night, the action proved less frequent than their previous encounter, and long spells of feinting were often punctuated only by jabs and occasional crosses. But the conclusion, provided by a thudding right hand that collapsed Groves’s legs beneath him, was infinitely more satisfying.

Certainly, the powerbrokers behind this occasion knew they were dealing with a fight of unprecedented magnitude in post-war Britain. Sure, as many have noted, all sorts of superlatives are thrown around nowadays to provide hype for a sport that has slipped ever further from its cultural and sporting heyday. But this rematch, which gained its magnitude after Groves had rushed, rag-dolled, and nearly ransacked Froch in Manchester in November, before Howard Foster’s now infamous stoppage, deserved all the fervor and more. Froch, who had fallen off a lofty career peak in the first bout, when the cheers that had followed him to the ring turned swiftly to boos in its aftermath, had a significant reputation to restore. His opponent, Groves, had a first world title to capture.

But Froch, who has forged a memorable career despite considerable disadvantages, presented a significant challenge to surmount, even after Groves had so nearly incapacitated him in their previous encounter. Yes, the Nottingham fighter, with his basic approach and disregard for defense, had seemed an easier puzzle to crack than the Rubik’s Cube taken by Groves to press conferences before the bout. Froch’s style is hardly complex, after all, built on virtues like pride, ruggedness, and spite, but lacking in the nuance shared by many of his contemporaries. Nonetheless, with the benefit of time, focus, and added motivation to affirm his credentials once more, Froch was able to prepare a different enigma for Groves to solve.

Indeed, while Groves had insisted beforehand that the first round of this meeting would resemble the curtailed tenth of the last, the circumspection that Froch brought to the ring evidenced a significant change in approach. This was not furious, no matter the declarations made before the fight, but rather considered and cautious: Froch had no desire to surrender his senses in the opening round again, while Groves likewise proved reticent to bite. Even after the 26-year-old Londoner checked the champion with a short left hook, Froch refused to cede his strategy to whimsical violence.

Nonetheless, the silence of 80,000 spectators can prove pervasively loud, and when intermittent whistles began to circulate through the tremendous throng, Froch started to fire. To Groves’s credit, he was again equal to the task, and his sharpness on the counter and slickness inside guaranteed an early lead. When his right hand, ominously cocked beside his jaw throughout, started to land with authority, a different ending seemed possible.

Froch, so often unwilling to persist with trainer Robert McCracken’s instructions, was this time ready to tarry. The sixth, so pivotal in November, and punctuated memorably by Froch’s shock in the corner, passed largely without note, and Groves, after shunting his opponent’s head back in revelatory fashion in the seventh, could hardly have seen the ending awaiting him. As Froch pivoted from back foot to front while feinting his jab, Groves fatefully relaxed, allowing a right cross to crash viciously home on his jaw, disrupting sense and sensation and thought, and delivering his legs to the canvas. If the shot came out of the ether, then Groves was left staring thereto, his dreams now a matter of the Wembley sky and a knockout loss. Carl Froch had his victory.

Groves will undoubtedly come again. Though his slate, now 19-2, tells only of losses in his two biggest fights, he has yet proven himself a worthy competitor. Other opportunities will loom on the horizon.

Nonetheless, in Froch, he found an opponent who could not be deterred. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, that first bout, and in particular its turn in the late rounds, seems increasingly prophetic. Then, an unprepared Froch proved impossibly persistent. This time, a prepared one was simply too much. The 36-year-old veteran can now look forward to a possible third bout with Mikkel Kessler, while names like Andre Ward and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are never far from his lips.

Yet on this night, after eight tense rounds, Froch finally terminated a rivalry that has dogged him for months. With that thudding stoppage, he might have found the most compelling evidence for his growing legacy yet. 

London Through The Lens

Take a scenic look at the many sites around London, England, through the lens of HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland.

Froch vs. Groves 2 happens live tonight from Wembley Stadium on HBO Boxing After Dark, starting at 4pm ET when Simpiwe Vetyeka takes on Nonito Donaire at a split-site location in Macau, China. 

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Watch: Carl Froch vs. George Groves 2 Official Weigh-In

Carl Froch and George Groves met for the official weigh-in at London's Wembley Arena on Friday, May 30. Froch vs. Groves 2 happens Saturday, May 31st, at 4:00 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

Photo Gallery: Froch vs. Groves 2 Weigh-In

Photos: Ed Mulholland

Carl Froch and George Groves stepped on the scales at Wembley Arena Friday evening ahead of their highly-anticipated rematch, set to kick off Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium (4pm ET, 9pm local on HBO Boxing After Dark).

Final weights from London:

Carl Froch: 167.9 lbs

George Groves: 166.4 lbs

Follow more fight week coverage on Twitter and join the conversation with #FrochGroves2

Watch: The Final Froch vs. Groves 2 Press Conference

Carl Froch and George Groves met for the final press conference on May 29th at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Froch vs. Groves 2 happens Saturday, May 31st, at 4:00 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark. 

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Photos: Final Froch vs. Groves 2 Press Conference

Photos: Ed Mulholland

Select photos from the final press conference between Carl Froch and George Groves, held Thursday afternoon at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

Froch vs. Groves II happens Saturday at 4 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

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