By Johnny Walker
Heavyweight Comeback of the Year: Cristobal Arreola
Boxing fans all too often are cynical, “what have you done for me lately” types, so when Chris Arreola said he was turning over a new leaf in 2011, few took him seriously – and to be fair, Arreola had made such promises before with little to show for it. But 2011 saw the Mexican-American boxer cut down on the Coronas and burritos, and get serious about his boxing career, reeling off five straight wins while getting his weight down to the 235-240 range. OK, he wasn’t facing the very best of the division, but by scoring a victory over his biggest foe – himself — Arreola has gotten himself back into the heavyweight picture. He now looks to be set for another title shot (he gave Vitali Klitschko his toughest test since the Ukrainian champ’s comeback in 2009) sometime in 2012. Keep up the good work, Cristobal!
Heavyweight Clown of the Year: Odlanier Solis
For every up side, there must be a down side, and the heavyweight division of boxing is no exception. While 2011 was a good year for the division overall, there were of course some rough patches, and some questionable performances. But for our money, nobody topped Odlanier Solis for sheer stupidity in the line of duty.
Here’s a guy who ballooned up close to 300 pounds while hanging out in seedy Miami bars getting his photo taken with strippers and proclaiming himself the greatest heavyweight in the world. Well, he certainly had the “heavy” part down, anyway. With a title shot against WBC champ Vitali Klitschko on the line in December of 2010, the slothful Solis staggered into a fight against Ray Austin at a still ridiculous 260 pounds on a 6’1” frame — after a few rounds, both fighters were so gassed that they engaged in a slo-mo drunken dance around the ring, with Austin finally being disqualified. Hardly a triumphant victory by which to head into the biggest fight of one’s life.
Undaunted, Solis spent much of the first part of 2011 bragging that he doesn’t even like boxing as a sport, that he has no interest in it whatsoever outside of making money. Yeah, we had an inkling of that when looking at your slovenly physique, dude. Even worse, in the run–up to the fight with Klitschko, Solis constantly brandished a blinged-out Sponge Bob necklace as if it was some kind of holy talisman, which had the unfortunate effect of making him appear to be mentally deficient. A greater contrast with the erudite and classy Vitali Klitschko would have been hard to find.
Solis, of course, had lost the fight with Vitali long before a shot to the temple and a blown-out knee ended the bout at the close of round one. Cuban-born, American-based Odlanier Solis–along with his shady, glory-seeking manager Ahmet Oner–is the poster boy for all that is wrong with the heavyweight division outside of Europe right now.
Heavyweight Clown of the Year, Runner Up: David Haye
David Haye made his own bed, and now he’s lying in it. He sold the boxing public a bill of goods concerning his own abilities, when a closer examination of his performances indicated that he wasn’t the man he claimed to be as a heavyweight. So it was no surprise to anyone who had been paying attention when Haye fell flat on his face (literally at times) against world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in July. It *was* a surprise, though, to boxing “experts” like Angelo Dundee and Freddie Roach, who predicted a smashing Haye victory.
What really cemented Haye’s status as a clown, however, was the infamous “Toe-Gate,” in which the embarrassed Brit pulled off his boot in the ring to show Larry Merchant and the world the sore little tootsie that supposedly cost him the fight against Klitschko. You’d think someone might have told David that this was a bad idea, especially before he repeated the performance at the post-fight presser. But no.
So now Haye is stuck with the legacy of Toe-Gate, kept alive with the never-ending bad toe jokes offered up weekly by professional Haye-hater Dan Rafael of ESPN. As the kids like to say: “Epic Fail.”