Like most years, 1998 had it's ups and downs. The glory of Lopez-Alvarez II was balanced out by the atrocity of Joppy-Duran. The Gatti-Robinson rematch soared while the Kelley-Gainer rematch snored. We ridded ourselves of Sean O'Grady and his cliches and picked up Max Kellerman and his stuttering inaccuracies. The demise of Don King yielded to the return of Don King. Flip a coin: this was either one of boxing's best years or one of it's worst.
The first half of 1998 started off with Gatti-Manfredy, and then didn't offer a single fight worthy of mention for half the year. Over the long spring and barren summer, many called this "the worst year in boxing history". And while many recent years have bourne that mark, the inactivity of boxing's bright stars and the lack of competitive matchups brought a certain truth to the cliche.
But out of nowhere, the second half of 1998 was an all-night buffet for boxing fans. The lower weight divisions came alive with pick 'em fights. There were so many good fights in the last half of 1998 that DelaHoya-Quartey was cancelled, and hardly anyone noticed. You could hardly turn on the television in late 1998 without seeing a pick 'em bout.
Well, make that "turn on HBO". In 1998, as USA cancelled it's weekly boxing show, and ESPN took Al Bernstein off the air, only Time-Warner's Home Box Office kept the sport alive. Certainly Showtime didn't help. Showtime aired the convuluted draws of MAGO-Chavez and Lopez-Alvarez, the mismatch of Joppy-Duran, and not one but two robberies of Guilermo Jones. Meanwhile, HBO was putting together card after card of great fights. And that doesn't look to change. HBO already has a full first quarter of 1998 booked, while Showtime is hoping Mike Tyson doesn't end up back in the pokey.
The story of 1998, however, was the emergence of the new stars of the game. While the established names took the year off to fight mandatories, a new breed of prospects made the jump to "star" status. Shane Mosley, previously one of the west coast's little secrets, defended his title five times and is inching his way to the top 5 on nearly everyone's pound for pound list. Floyd Mayweather used his unique style and blinding speed to clear out the #1 and #2 guys in his division and become a world champion at the age of 21. Fernando Vargas backed up some his boasting by become a champion himself by defeating a rugged veteran with 5 times as many fights as him. Eric Morales wasted no time in retiring yet another fighter and rising atop the talent-rich junior featherweight division. And a 6'7" giant named Michael Grant, with no amateur boxing experience to speak of, had Evander Holyfield's trainer and nearly everyone else calling him "the future of the heavyweight division".
The new stars were a welcome addition to the sport, because the old stars were either taking a break or getting beaten. Oscar DelaHoya, Lennox Lewis, and Evander Holyfield faced three of the worst mandatory challengers in history. Pete Whitaker was suspended, Felix Trinidad had contract disputes, Ike Quartey had three multi-million dollar cancellations. Meanwhile, superstars like Too Sharp Johnson, Tim Austin, Gerry Penalosa and Bernard Hopkins fight on in anonimity....and no one quite knows why. Vaughn Bean was paid $1,000,000 for an expectedly ugly loss while Ricardo Lopez was paid $25,000 for one of the most stirring victories in recent memory.
And now, my unoffical awards for 1998:
Fighter of the Year: Shane Mosley Honorable mention: Floyd Mayweather
Fight of the Year: Gatti-Robinson I Honorable mention: Lopez-Alvarez II
Round of the Year: Tszyu-Hurtado Round 1 Honorable mention: Gatti-Robinson I round 10
Robbery of the Year: Jones-Boudiani I Honorable mention: Jones-Boudiani II
KO of the Year: Johnson KO5 Guthrie Honorable mention: M. Johnson KO1 A. Johnson, Jones KO4 Hill
Shot Fighter of the Year: Terry Norris Honorable mention: Junior Jones
Exposure of the year: Purrity KO11 Klitschko Honorable mention: Ottke W12 Brewer
Retired: Junior Jones, Azumah Nelson, Genaro Hernandez, Christy Martin, The Ruelas Brothers, Roberto Duran, Terry Norris, Wilfredo Vasquez, Buster Douglas, Tracy Harris Patterson
Should Retire: Arturo Gatti, Julio Cesar Chavez, Tom Johnson, Troy Dorsey, James Toney, Tommy Hearns, John Mugabi, Chris Eubank, Tim Witherspoon
Comeback of the Year: Ivan Robinson Honorable mention: Manuel Medina
Failed Comeback of the Year: Danny Romero Honorable mention: Arturo Gatti
The Lou Duva Award (for working most corners in one year): Miguel Diaz
Cut of the year: Arturo Gatti's left eye vs. Angel Manfredy
Swollen eye of the year: Chris Eubank's right eye vs. Carl Thompson
Worst Rematch of the Year: Kelley-Gainer II Honorable mention: Nave-Haugen II
Bloodbath of the year: Medina-Lizarraga Honorable mention: Golata-Sanders
Most embarrasing loss: Jimmy Thunder W12 Tim Witherspoon