Jinxed: Fighter of the Year

By José Corpas on January 10, 2015
Jinxed: Fighter of the Year
The two longest running bodies naming FOY winners are Ring Magazine and the BWAA.

Were Robinson and Armstrong underrated by the experts of their day or, dare I say it, overrated by the experts of following generations? 

Most of us are familiar with the stories about appearing on the covers of Sports Illustrated and EA Sports. It’s a coincidence say some that athletes experienced bad fortune just after gracing their covers. That record hitting streaks ended, unbeaten records ruined, and injuries and prison sentences occurred just after they appeared on the covers is an overblown urban legend. But some insist it’s a jinx. And one with enough legs to it that athletes have replied “no thanks” when offered the chance to play cover model and strike a pose. During this time of the year when boxers are being nominated for Fighter of the Year, the sport’s equivalent of the MVP, I caution them that there exists the possibility of another jinx. One that comes attached to the Fighter of the Year trophies. 

The two longest running bodies naming FOY winners have been Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Ring magazine, which was formed in 1922 by Nat Fleischer and a wad of promoter Tex Rickard’s cash, began recognizing fighter of the years in 1928. The BWAA, originally the Boxing Writers Association of Greater New York, first announced a winner in 1938 and originally named it after Associated Press correspondent Edward J. Neil, who died covering the Spanish Civil War. In 2009 the BWAA changed the name of their award to the Sugar Ray Robinson Award. Another name change is probably in order in lieu of the popularity of MMA and the phenomenally ruthless year of one Robbie Lawler. Boxer of the Year is probably the more apt name. But that’s a topic for Michael Rosenthal, Doug Fischer, and Joe Santoliquito to debate. 

The first winner of the award was heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Tunney followed up his award winning year with a victory over Tom Heeney and then promptly retired. The following year’s winner, Tommy Loughran faired only slightly better. After scoring wins over Mickey Walker and James Braddock, he was stopped in three rounds by Jack Sharkey. Eight months after being named Fighter of the Year, Loughran was an ex-champ. It was a status he held for the rest of his career. Max Schmeling, who succeeded Loughran, scored one win before being defeated and, like Loughran, forever losing his title. 

The BWAA winners didn’t have much better luck either. After naming the long retired Jack Dempsey in 1938, they nominated Henry Armstrong the following year. Armstrong followed that nomination with a twelve-round stoppage loss to Fritzie Zivic. It was a loss he never bounced back from. 

The list goes on. Joe Louis had two wins followed a long, long, war related layoff. Tony Zale was left in a heap by Rocky Graziano and Gus Lesnevich kissed his title goodbye months after being named. Sugar Ray Robinson lost his middleweight title and Jersey Joe Walcott met Suzie Q, Rocky Marciano’s right hand.   

Within a year after winning his first award, Muhammad Ali was dealing with suspensions and facing prison for his refusal to be inducted into service during the Vietnam War. Joe Frazier was toppled by George Foreman within a year of his second FOY as was Big George by Ali after his first FOY. 

Many recent winners were unable to break the trend started by the early fighters. Nonito Donaire, winner in 2012, followed up his award winning season with what was up to then the worst year of his career. In his first fight after being awarded the Sugar Ray Robinson Award, he was virtually shut out by the sweet skills of Guillermo Rigondeaux. Andre Ward, winner in 2011, followed up his FOY nomination with a series of injuries, law suits, and only two fights in the three years since. 

Ring magazine recognized Gennady Golovkin in 2013. While he continued wrecking opponents in 2014, they were a less potent and more reluctant group than the previous year and he has yet to secure a fight against an elite opponent.

Some still may insist that there is no jinx. Perhaps they are right. However, the only logical conclusion I have been able to come to is that being named FOY coincides with a boxer’s best year and that there is nowhere to go but down after reaching that summit. But what boxer would want to risk that? But before we start dismissing the honor and insinuate boxers not show up at the podium to receive their awards, let’s take a quick look to see how winning FOY affects a fighter’s legacy.

In baseball and basketball, the amount of MVPs a player wins counts favorably towards their all time rankings. With seven, Barry Bonds has collected the most MVP awards in baseball. ESPN rated Barry Bonds the third best player ever and some sources have him number one. 

The leading MVP winners in the NBA—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Michael Jordan (5), Bill Russell (5), Wilt Chamberlain (4), and LeBron James (4)—are included among all discussions for best player ever. When looking at the boxers who have been deemed FOY the most times, it is likewise populated by some of the greatest fists in history.

Ring recognized Muhammad Ali (5) the most followed by Joe Louis (4). On the BWAA side, Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, and Manny Pacquiao share the most awards with three. If winning the most FOY awards, like MVP awards, is an indicator of the best careers, then, according to the BWAA, the most impactful were those of Ali, Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Holyfield, and Pacquiao. 

Going by the Ring recipients, the list would have Ali and Louis at the top followed by three-time winners Rocky Marciano, Frazier, Holyfield, and Pacquiao. However, when ESPN and Ring rated their greatest boxers, number one wasn’t any of the above mentioned boxers. 

Sugar Ray Robinson was awarded Fighter of the Year just once by the BWAA and twice by Ring magazine. Similarly Henry Armstrong, who was second and third best ever on the respective all time lists, was FOY only once by each group. Were Robinson and Armstrong underrated by the experts of their day or, dare I say it, overrated by the experts of following generations? 

And what about Roberto Duran, who ranked in the top six all time in both lists? Duran, winner of many big fights in numerous divisions over four decades, has never won a FOY award. And neither have Jake LaMotta, Marcel Cerdan, Sandy Saddler, Alexis Arguello, Aaron Pryor, Joe Calzaghe, Charley Burley, no women, nor any boxer weighing less than 115 pounds not named Michael Carbajal. Each of these fighters went on to have outstanding careers despite not, as these words imply, having years that stood out among their contemporaries.   

Out of superstition, I’ll stop short of naming my candidate for FOY. I’ll simply state that Naoya Inoue, Boxing.com’s choice, is a fine selection. So too are Terence Crawford, Roman Gonzalez, Golovkin, Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Nicholas Walters, and even Mauricio Herrera. Furthermore, with the relatively sizzle free year the men had, naming the first female recipient wouldn’t be too much of a stretch especially with the fine years Delphine Persoon, Cecilia Braekhus, and Jackie Nava had. 

But here’s hoping there is no jinx this year and that 2015 leads to bigger fights for the Fighter of the Year and for boxing in general. And perhaps we should hope that neither Pacquiao nor Mayweather Jr. is named this year by either Ring or the BWAA. Then maybe the two will finally meet in a fight that is still the boxing’s most anticipated despite being well past it’s “sell by date.” Signs point towards the possibility of that match finally taking place in 2015. PPV numbers have dipped and, as evidenced by the recent appearance of Mayweather-promoted Jessie Vargas fighting on an Arum card—the Pacquiao-Algieri fight—both sides appear to finally be willing to work together. 

And if the match does not come off then maybe this sudden burying of their I Hate You hatchets would lead to consolation fights with Pacquiao squaring off against the likes of Danny Garcia, Saul Alvarez, Adrien Broner, or Keith Thurman instead of coming out for round 79 against either Bradley or Marquez. And Floyd could face off with Tim Bradley or Ruslan Provodnikov rather than round 25 against Marcos Maidana. And if any of those fighters steps up and has an outstanding 2015, let’s hope, just in case, that none of them win Fighter of the Year. 

Jose Corpas is the author of “New York City’s Greatest Boxers. His next book, “Black Ink: The tragic tale of Panama Al Brown, boxing’s first Latino champion,” will be available in the spring.

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  1. Steve Barr 11:44am, 07/13/2015

    Jose Corpas.. I’ll be looking out for your book on Al Brown.

    I have a personal interst in him as my grandfather, Dick Burke, boxed him twice in the early 1930’s. Once in Sheffield and the second time at an English soccer ground, Blundell Park in Grimsby.

    He took him the distance in the first fight and was stopped in the 12th and final round in the second fight due to a cut eye.

    I have many reports and articles on both fights and am always interested to read about Al’s physical attributes. Maybe you can confirm?

    I have a report from my grandfather’s first fight which has Al Brown at 5 foot nine and a half inches with a reach of 78 inches. The typical bantam was like my grandfather, was around 5’3’‘! Any info would be welcome.

    Regards

  2. J Corpas 05:04pm, 01/15/2015

    Clarence,
    I wanted to write sooner but didn’t want to interrupt the nostalgia.  But now that there is a lull in the action, I thank you for the kind words about my first book.  I wish I wasn’t limited to a page count because there are others who deserve to be included.  I have to agree about Al Brown.  He might still be the best bantam of all. 

    And to Eric, some of the FOY choices just seem wrong.

  3. Clarence George 04:06am, 01/13/2015

    As a result of that commercial, Nicolas, there must have been a whole slew of Japanese men stuffing the subways soaked in scent.  Remember what happened to undershirts after Clark Gable appeared without one in “It Happened One Night”?

    I actually agree with you about Heston in “Evil,” in that he did a good job.  He was nonetheless completely unbelievable as a Mexican.

    I used to know his daughter, Holly Ann, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  One day, on Lexington Avenue, someone grabbed me.  I was about to throw this person into oncoming traffic, when I realized it was a woman…Holly Ann.  She reminded me of her father, which was amazing, given that she was adopted.  She didn’t want to talk about the Alzheimer’s much, so we instead talked about the little-known and underappreciated “Will Penny.”  And I used to ask her way too many questions about Linda Harrison (Nova in “Planet of the Apes”).  I was only about nine, but I had a total thing for that scantily clad bit of lusciousness…who must now be about 70!

  4. nicolas 03:18am, 01/13/2015

    I guess I am also a minority here, I kind of like Heston as Vargas In Touch Of Evil. He is sometimes kind of funny, and I just like his performance in the film.  I would admit though, a Mexican actor who could have done very well in the part is Ricardo Moltaban.

  5. nicolas 03:14am, 01/13/2015

    Yes, it is a very old commercial that Bronson did back then. Youtube used to show some other commercials of him with Mandom, they were shorter, but I think would really raise some eyebrows the way they were presented. There is footage of his film Red Sun, so yes, it was in the early 70’s. Also, the song was a hit in Japan, but no where else. Sung and written by some American gentlemen, now deceased.

  6. Clarence George 02:42pm, 01/12/2015

    I wasn’t familiar with the Mandom commercial and spoof, Nicolas.  Hilarious, particularly the original, and I thank you.  By the way, the great character actor, Percy Helton, plays the doorman.  He died in 1971, so that’s one old commercial.

    Oh, if I may:  RIP, Anita Ekberg.

  7. nicolas 02:20pm, 01/12/2015

    I have always laughed more at the spoof. They both remind me of the Charles Bronson Mandom, commercial, and its spoof done so many years later in Chicago. Vertigo I think is a great film, but I would not have it in my top ten. I think that the dream sequence in the middle with Stewart is very dated now.

  8. Clarence George 01:55pm, 01/12/2015

    I used to be a voracious reader, Nicolas, but no more.  On average, I now only read two or three books a year.

    Did “Vertigo” really replace “Citizen Kane” as greatest movie?  That’s astonishing.  “Vertigo” is one of the most bloated, interminable, and unwatchable films I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through.

    I kinda like Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” despite the miscasting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican.  Also his documentary about the Drummond murders, “The Dominici Affair.”  But if I may, me auld warrior, “Evil” came out long after “Kane.”  I agree with you, however, that Welles’ failure to live up to his genius was largely, if not totally, his own fault.

    By the way, have you seen these?  I don’t know which is funnier, the original or the spoof.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFevH5vP32s
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6P1ifGjvEE

  9. nicolas 11:02am, 01/12/2015

    Wow, Clarence, you have far more reading in your life than I do. Speaking though of jinxes on people, and their talents. The one name that for me really comes out in the movie world is Orson Welles. In 1962 his film Citizen Kane was named the greatest film every by Sight And Sound magazine, A title it would hold every ten years till 2002, when in 2012 Hitchcock’s Vertigo replaced it. You would have thought that this award to his 1941 film would have spurred on his career, but it did not. After poor American critical reception to his 64 film Falstaff came, his career after just brought in very minor efforts, and never finished films. At least before Citizen Kane, he made some interesting films, Touch Of Evil perhaps being the best. While some have said that it was the industry that turned there backs on him, I don’t entirely buy that. Some of it was self inflicted.

  10. Eric 09:43am, 01/12/2015

    You have to wonder how Joe Louis beat out Henry Armstrong for Ring Magazine FOY award for ‘38. Seems like there has been a definitive lean or bias for heavyweights in the past. Armstrong should have been a lock on anyone’s list for that year. I forgot to add that Larry Holmes also pitched a 12 round shutout against Earnie Shavers in ‘78, along with the tremendous effort against Norton. Ali’s two lackluster efforts against Spinks pale in comparison. Speaking of pitching and baseball, had Barry Bonds not used steroids, he would be a lock for GOAT in baseball. Stats are mind boggling. A definite 5-tool player like his dad, but Barry was literally Bobby Bonds on steroids. 8-time Gold Glove winner, 514 career stolen bases, and his career hitting stats are amazing. 762 home runs, 1996 RBI, 2,935 hits and a .298 batting average.

  11. Clarence George 06:05am, 01/12/2015

    Ah, I see that Jose has written a book on Panama Al Brown.  I usually can’t stand skinny boxers, but Brown is the greatest bantamweight of all time, in my opinion.  I look forward to reading the well-titled “Black Ink.”

  12. Clarence George 10:33am, 01/11/2015

    I must regretfully disagree with you, Eric—I have a low opinion of “East of Eden,” though I kinda like “The Pearl.”

  13. Eric 09:18am, 01/11/2015

    Clarence…I thought Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” was good. Read Steinbeck’s, “The Pearl,” in the 7th grade for school, also enjoyed that one.

  14. Eric 08:43am, 01/11/2015

    Saw that Ali won Ring Magazine’s FOY for 1978. Hmmm, that sounds like a chariable nod for an outgoing Ali. Ali was 1-1 against the neophyte, undersized, Leon Spinks. The Spinks-Ali rematch was a lackluster affair, the most entertaining bout on the card that night was Mike Rossman’s thrilling upset of Victor Galindez. In June of ‘78, Holmes and Norton would put on one of the best heavyweight title fights seen in years. Duran would stop archrival, Esteben De Jesus, in 12 rounds, and defeat tough Adolfo Viruet in a non-title affair. Holmes & Duran were more worthy of FOY in ‘78 than Ali. Duran could make a case for the award in ‘83. Hagler would claim Ring Magazine FOY by beating Wilfred Scypion, Tony Sibson, & Duran, 3 fighters who weren’t given much of a chance at defeating Hagler in the first place. Duran started the year off with a convincing knockout of Pipino Cuevas, both fighters were considered ready for the pasture at that point and time. Then the Davey Moore massacre, most felt Moore would put Duran out of his misery and retire him for good. Then a losing but respective showing against the heavy favorite Hagler. Before the fight, very few thought that Duran would be standing at the final bell against Hagler. The fight wasn’t nearly as competitive as the surprisingly close scoring, but just the fact that the 32 year old former lightweight, Duran, was able to make a decent showing and be there for 15 rounds against a prime Hagler, was impressive. At the beginning of ‘83, no one would have envisioned that Duran would capture another world title and be fighting Hagler for the middleweight title later that year.

  15. Clarence George 05:16am, 01/11/2015

    Permit me to add that the literary community, for whatever it’s worth, was shocked and dismayed when Steinbeck won.  I think there was the same reaction when William Golding was the recipient in ‘83.  Don’t we feel the same way when certain boxers are named Fighter of the Year?  I know I do.

  16. Clarence George 04:11am, 01/11/2015

    An amazing bit of synchronicity, as I mentioned Jose Corpas in my recent article on Izzy Jannazzo.  Jose’s book, “New York City’s Greatest Boxers,” is something of a gem, with great photos and on-target thumbnail sketches.  Izzy appears on page 71, where he’s quite rightly described as someone who “took on fighters most contenders avoided.”

    Jose’s very interesting article reminds me of the supposed curse of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Apparently, no writer ever wrote anything worth a damn after winning.  John Steinbeck, who won in 1962, was quite fearful…and his fears were justified.  Some would argue, of course, that Steinbeck never wrote anything worth a damn.  Not a fair assessment, given two or three books, including the outstanding “Grapes of Wrath.”  And that leaves aside how undeserving have been so many recipients, such as the unreadable Nadine Gordimer, who won in 1991.  Anyway, the Nobel curse can be put down to age—by the time these guys won, they’d written themselves out.  As for boxers…intimidated by the honor?  Or, as Jose speculates, “Being named FOY coincides with a boxer’s best year and that there is nowhere to go but down after reaching that summit.”

    I’m going to be very good, and not comment on a woman being named Fighter of the Year.  Suffice it to say that the very idea has the same effect on me as Inspector Clouseau on Chief Inspector Dreyfus:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v30HUOx6SYk

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