Boxing
Ward pick shines through cloudy crystal ball

By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the last page of the 2010 calendar was torn off 12 months ago, it was a stroke of temporary brilliance to eschew the traditional year-end column for a crystal ball forecast of what my colleagues and I would be contentiously recapping when it came time to repeat the exercise 365 days later.

Well, the time has indeed arrived. And while I'm not so sure anymore about the brilliant part, I can say with 100 percent conviction that it was far more fun to look forward than backward -- even if the recap in 2011's swan song is a little more painful, and a little less prescient, than I hoped it would be.

With one notable exception, that is. Which you can be sure is the nugget I'll take from all this.

Without further ado, to the DeLorean we go ...

COMEBACK OF THE YEAR

The Pick: Oscar De La Hoya


Andre Ward reached the main P4P stage with a chance to become the sort of clean-living, good-guy ambassador the sport could use.
The Result: Lamont Peterson

The Grade: F... not even close

It seemed a sure thing. With the lure of a Wembley showdown with another Pacquiao-prompted hiatus-taker -- Ricky Hatton -- never more than a phone call away, I was pretty well convinced that the "Golden Boy" would ditch promotional cheerleading for a return date in center ring main event.

Instead, Oscar wound up in rehab and the nod instead goes to a guy whose 2009 ended with a title-fight loss and whose 2010 ended in a draw with a then less- heralded Victor Ortiz. Fast-forward a year and Peterson's 2011 closes with a championship effort in a close nod over heavy favorite Amir Khan.

EVENT OF THE YEAR

The Pick: Pacquiao-Mayweather contract signing

The Result: Mayweather KO of Ortiz

The Grade: C... right guy, wrong event

Count me among the optimistic that this still gets done. And heck, if they can get the thing inked before a week from Sunday, I'll consider it a retroactive victory. But as far as it stands right now on December 21, the pre-year guess in this category remains a colossally disappointing no-go.

Instead, Money's return to the welterweight ranks involved another former junior welterweight whose ill-advised roughhousing resulted in a spurned kiss and as sweet a left-right combo as you'll ever see over a stupidly relaxed guard. The only thing better: if he socks Larry next time around.

UPSET OF THE YEAR

The Pick: Abell KO 5 Arreola

The Result: Salido KO 8 Lopez

The Grade: F-... what's the next step down from "not even close"?

One of the caveats of a year-long column is the inherent risk in going out on a limb in January. Get the pick right and you refer to all year. But get it wrong and you spend 11 months trying to forget it. Consider it the latter for Arreola-Abell, which lasted all of 138 seconds before going according to chalk.

Instead, consider the case of the 30-something Salido, who was seven months off his 11th pro loss when he was brought in as presumed name fodder for an undefeated soon-to-be Puerto Rican superstar. Eight rounds later, a featherweight dream fight was dashed and a sturdy veteran was reborn.

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR

The Pick: Cotto KO 4 Mayorga

The Result: Donaire KO 2 Montiel

The Grade: D... Cotto-Margarito was in the mix, which warrants partial credit

No question, the surging 154-pound Cotto did what he was supposed to do against the dangerous Nicaraguan blowhard, but, truth told, the erasure of Mayorga didn't even wind up as his own best KO of the year -- see: Margarito, Antonio, TKO 10 -- let alone the bellwether for the entire sport.

Instead, the nod goes to a powerful, streaking Filipino southpaw who's not lost in several years while stacking up KOs and title belts like cord wood... but no, he's not a Congressman. A bantamweight for the time being, Donaire's five-minute blowout of a very capable Montiel set the pace for 2011.

FIGHT OF THE YEAR

The Pick: Pacquiao W 12 Mosley

The Result: Hopkins W 12 Pascal

The Grade: F... Heck, one good round would've been nice

Oof. Ugh. Ouch. Count me among the folks who thought one more turn in a big- stage event would motivate a clearly sliding Mosley to one last great effort. But as it turned out, one or two combinations left him contrastingly motivated to do little besides touching gloves.

Instead, I'll go for a fight I actually attended in Montreal -- Hopkins's trek to the "oldest man to win a title" record books courtesy of a spirited 12- round rematch with a hometown favorite. Combine the back-and-forth action with the significance and the result, and it spells award-winner.

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

The Pick: Andre Ward

The Result: Andre Ward

The Grade: A+... Glory for a good guy, and vindication for me

Even though it ended with Froch instead of Bute -- check back next year for that one, folks -- the three-fight, 12-month run undertaken by the former Olympic gold medalist is a definitive and deserving winner in the year's premier category. And remember, you read it here first last winter.

Not only was Ward proven elite in the drawn-out Showtime event, he reached the main P4P stage with a chance to become the sort of clean-living, good-guy ambassador the sport could use to gain traction in the mainstream. Quick, somebody call the "Dancing With the Stars" folks. This kid's going places.

Before we get to this week's schedule, a quick mea culpa for a parenthetical snippet of last week's column where -- in both Freddie Roach's quote referring to Peterson-Khan referee Joseph Cooper and a paragraph leading into it -- I mistakenly used the word "Cotton" instead of Cooper.

My sincere apologies to anyone inconvenienced by the error.

This week's title-fight schedule:

FRIDAY

WBC light flyweight title - Bangkok, Thailand

Adrian Hernandez (champion) vs. Kompayak Porpramook (No. 3 contender)


Hernandez (22-1-1, 14 KO): Second title defense; sixth fight outside Mexico (5-0, 1 KO)

Porpramook (43-3, 29 KO): First title fight; lost only fight against 20-win foe (TKO 4)

Fitzbitz says: "Mexican champion travels well, holds on to belt." Hernandez in 9

WBC flyweight title - Bangkok, Thailand

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (champion) vs. Hirofumi Mukai (No. 15 contender)


Wonjongkam (83-3-1, 44 KO): Fourth title defense; unbeaten since 2007 (18-0-1, 10 KO)

Mukai (5-1, 0 KO): First title fight; lost only fight scheduled for 12 rounds (UD 12)

Fitzbitz says: "Seventeen-year pro won't surrender title to six-fight foe." Wonjongkam by decision

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.

Last week's picks: 2-0 Overall picks record: 367-123 (74.8 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.