At the beginning of ’09, the big story among the boxing media was the apparent downfall of the American fighter.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. was still retired, Oscar De la Hoya had been humiliated by Manny Pacquiao and future Hall of Famers, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins were on their last legs. Even Kelly Pavlik, the blue collar Cinderella story of 2007-2008 had been profoundly schooled by Hopkins at the end of ’08.
2009 didn’t look to be much brighter at all for the American fight contingent since, to kick things off, Mosley was going to be facing off against the new consensus #1 Welterweight in the world and widely-regarded beast, Antonio Margarito.
But “Sugar” Shane pulled off the upset in front of a partisan, pro-Margarito crowd at The Staples Center in Los Angeles and ushered in a year that would see the return of a strong American presence in the sport.
Of course, bringing in the headlines was Floyd Mayweather Jr., as he totally dominated Juan Manuel Marquez in his comeback fight in September and officially pushed for a return to his pound for pound throne with a proposed fight against Manny Pacquiao in 2010.
But, well before Mayweather’s return, Andre Berto met his first real challenge as a pro and did just enough to get by a scrappy and crafty Luis Collazo. Berto would go on to defend against Jr. Welterweight champ, Juan Urango, later on.
Speaking of the Jr. Welters, a new undisputed 140-lb. champ emerged from the shadow of the “one and done” Pacquiao reign and the four year “run out the clock” reign of Ricky Hatton.
Timothy Bradley, unable to land a shot at one of the big names, went to business by just fighting the best available opposition in competitive and challenging match-ups. In 2009, he would fight a title unification with Kendall Holt, an optional defense against Nate Campbell that resulted in a No Contest and a mandatory against the hungry top challenger, Lamont Peterson. By the end of the year, the often dismissed Bradley had rightfully won his place among the elite of the sport.
Devon Alexander also wedged himself into a spot near the top of 140 by winning the vacant WBC Jr. Welterweight crown in a bout against veteran Junior Witter.
Paul Williams continued his search for the biggest and the best among those willing to fight him. In 2009, we saw “The Punisher” re-establish his place among the pound for pound best by winning easily against Winky Wright and edging Sergio Martinez in a back and forth war.
Chad Dawson continued to dominate the Light Heavyweight division despite finishing the year without any of the four recognized world titles. Repeating his conquests of 2008, Dawson soundly defeated star-level Light Heavies, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson.
Also, in the 175 lb. division, young banger, Tavoris Cloud returned from a long lay-off to take the IBF crown in a bout with Brit Clinton Woods.
Even Bernard Hopkins got back in the mix at 175 in a stay-busy fight against Enrique Ornelas.
One weight class below, Andre Ward became the first elite-level American 168-pound champ since Roy Jones when he pummeled Mikkel Kessler for the WBA crown as part of the World Classic Super Middleweight Tournament.
Also in tournament action, Andre Dirrell was robbed of his own title-winning opportunity against Carl Froch in Froch’s hometown of Nottingham, England. Dirrell, despite giving some rounds away due to lack of aggression, seemed to have done enough to win the decision, but a strange score from the Italian judge made sure that the American would go home empty handed.
Even in previously gringo-free zones, American champs began to spring up.
Hawaii-born Brian Viloria made a huge career comeback by beating long-reigning Jr. Flyweight champ Ulises Solis in a thriller.
Robert Guerrero finally settled personal and promotional conflicts, winning three bouts at Super Featherweight before taking the IBF title from Malcolm Klassen in his fourth fight of 2009.
Steven Luevano managed to hold on to his WBO Featherweight crown despite some scary moments against the tough Filipino, Bernabe Concepcion.
Moving up to the Cruiserweights, despite no real movement in the division, 2010 is sure to bring an American titlist since Steve Cunningham and Matt Godfrey are scheduled to meet early next year for the vacant IBF Cruiserweight title.
Sadly, the Heavyweight scene is still relatively barren for the USA. Eddie Chambers did provide some much-needed optimism by beating Samuel Peter and, then, giant Alexander Dimitrenko in Germany for a shot at Wladimir Klitschko’s title in 2010.
Chris Arreola and Kevin Johnson, while both lost convincingly to Vitali Klitschko, at least proved to be entertaining and charismatic characters- something the division desperately needs.
Let’s also not forget: Kendall Holt in his losing effort against Timothy Bradley, Nate Campbell over Ali Funeka, James Kirkland over Joel Julio, Allan Green over Simms and DeLeon Jr., Lamont Peterson’s effort against Bradley and Yusaf Mack over Chris Henry.
While American fighters have to share the stage more and more with foreign fighters, 2009 proved to be a comeback year for the USA and its best. With 13 of the 68 recognized world titles in their possession and a chance to win several more in the first third of 2010, it appears that the US fight scene has made a quick turnaround…
The American Swagger is back.