The prestigious Best Fighter ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) Award was created by the sports network ESPN and has been presented annually since 2007 to the boxer, professional or amateur, or mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter judged to be the best in a given calendar year.
Fans worldwide vote online, selecting between three and five candidates selected by the ESPN Select Nominating Committee. This year, the 20th annual installment of the awards show takes place July 11 in Los Angeles.
Thus far, only boxers have won the distinguished award during its five-year history but some believe MMA, known to some as the 'second combat sport,' will finally upstage boxing in this category this year.
Previous ESPY 'Best Fighter' Award winners are as follows:
(The award is given based on a fighter's accomplishments the previous calendar year)
- 2007 - Floyd Mayweather
- 2008 - Floyd Mayweather
- 2009 - Manny Pacquiao
- 2010 - Floyd Mayweather
- 2011 - Manny Pacquiao
This year's candidates, two boxers and two mixed martial artists, represent the best of today and most likely bellwethers for tomorrow in their respective sports.
Nominees for the 2012 ESPY Best Fighter Award
Floyd Mayweather Jr
43-0, 26 KOs
Division: Welterweight, Jr Middleweight
Titles: WBC Welterweight, WBA Jr Middleweight
Fights in 2011
KO 4 vs Victor Ortiz
At 34, the charismatic fighter known as "Money" returned from a 16 month hiatus to challenge 24 year old WBC Welterweight Champion Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KO) who, despite two losses and two draws, had knocked down or knocked out every opponent he'd faced to that point.
During the fight, the cunning Mayweather used his speed, skills and surgical right hand to tag Ortiz repeatedly.
After Ortiz deliberately headbutted Floyd, Referee Joe Cortez immediately called timeout and took a point from the champion. Moments later, after Cortez motioned the fighters back together to resume, he briefly turned his head. With the action "officially live" again, Victor Ortiz chose to watch the referee instead of his opponent and paid a heavy price for his momentary lapse in judgment.
Courtesy of Tom Hogan/ Hogan Photos/ Golden Boy Promotions
Mayweather, after the customary touching of gloves, uncorked a hard left hook followed by a punishing right hand that found their targets on Ortiz's face. The badly hurt champion dropped and was unable to beat the ten-count and Floyd Mayweather became the new WBC Welterweight Champion.
Whether viewed as an unjustifiable "sucker punch," righteous retaliation for a flagrant foul or simply an alert move, Floyd Mayweather's actions, unlike his opponent's, were well within the rules.
Hence, there's no rule in boxing that states your opponent must be watching you before you clock him.
The event, the second highest grossing non-heavyweight pay-per-view event of all time to date, earned Mayweather upwards of $40 Million USD. Also, Mayweather vs Ortiz was Google's most searched sports event in 2011 in the United States.
Eight weeks after Mayweather's win, several media outlets, including Yahoo! and Sports Illustrated, gave Floyd Mayweather top pound-for-pound accreditation following Manny Pacquiao's controversial win over Juan Manuel Marquez,
Was Floyd Mayweather's win after a long layoff, and perhaps the controversial ending of Mayweather vs Ortiz, significant enough to land Floyd Mayweather ESPY Best Fighter honors yet again?
25-0, 13 KOs
Division: Super Middleweight
Titles: The RING, WBA/WBC
Fights in 2011:
UD 12 vs Carl Froch
UD 12 vs Arthur Abraham
While some boxers notched more wins and others won in more dramatic fashion, no boxer accomplished more in 2011 than Andre Ward.
In May 2011, Ward met highly-ranked super middleweight and former IBF Middleweight Champion Arthur Abraham (then 32-2, 26 KO). After getting off a slow start, Ward asserted his authority by utilizing his technical expertise, ring instincts and athleticism to dictate the tempo and mitigate the aggressive, hard-punching Abraham's attack en route to winning a lopsided unanimous decision.
Seven months after thwarting the challenge of the bullying Abraham, Andre Ward culminated the year by outboxing highly-regarded WBC Super Middleweight Champion Carl Froch (then 28-1, 20 KO).
Ward, in workman-like fashion, outgunned Froch from a distance and at close quarters to win a unanimous decision in a competitive bout.
With the victory, the Oakland native won Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic and was awarded the previously vacant, prestigious lineal Super Middleweight title by The RING.
And while his fighting style is not the most entertaining, no other top-level boxer decisively defeated two opponents on the level of Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch in 2011.
The 2011 Fighter of the Year for The RING and FightSaga, Andre Ward is currently rated No. 5 on the pound-for-pound lists of both media outlets.
Will the former 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist's efforts be enough to win ESPY's Best Fighter honors?
31-4, 24 Stoppages
Title: UFC Champion
Fights in 2011
KO 1 vs Vitor Belfort
TKO 2 vs Yushin Okami
Regarded by many as the best fighter in mixed martial arts, Anderson Silva has won his last 14 matches. Last year, the fighter dubbed "The Spider" Silva collected two knockouts over stellar opponents.
UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva faced Vitor Belfort (19-8, 17 Stops) in February 2011 at UFC 126. After a rather slow "feeling out" process, the fighters started to engage with greater frequency midway through Round 1, trading strikes.
After Silva landed a nasty kick to Belfort's jaw that floored the challenger, he followed-up with a few ground shots, forcing the referee to stop the fight.
With the win, Silva extended his record streak of title defenses to eight and gave Belfort his first knockout loss in 28 fights.
And at UFC 134 in August, UFC's Middleweight Champion avenged his most recent loss, five years prior, by impressively stopping the highly-formidable Yushin Okami (26-5, 13 Stops) via a TKO in the second round. Anderson utilized speed, superior technique and accurate striking to overwhelm his outgunned foe.
Perhaps Anderson's impressive knockout of Belfort and redemption win against Okami will earn him ESPY honors?
16-1, 13 Stoppages
Division: Light Heavyweight
Title: UFC Champion
Fights in 2011
Submission 2 vs Ryan Bader
TKO 3 vs Mauricio Rua
Submission 4 vs Quinton Jackson
Technical Submission 2 vs Lyoto Machida
At 23, Jon Jones became the youngest UFC titleholder in history last year. He's currently ranked as the number one light heavyweight MMA fighter in the world by most mixed martial arts media outlets and is almost universally considered a top three pound for pound fighter in mixed martial arts.
In 2011, Jones didn't win - He dominated.
"Bones" Jones silenced Ryan Bader (12-0, 8 Stops) via submission in February and lifted the 205 lb championship from Mauricio Rua (19-4, 17 Stops) in March, stopping the champion with a series of punches and knees in Round 3.
Six months later, Jones submitted Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (32-8, 21 Stops) in Round 4 in what was supposed to be a stern test for the young champion.
Courtesy of Credit: Dave Mandel, Sherdog
Jones culminated the year by successfully defending his title at UFC 140, stopping Lyoto Machida (17-2, 8 Stops) in the second round via technical submission (standing guillotine).
The young light heavyweight has defeated four former champions in his last five bouts and seemingly has a 'chokehold' over UFC's light heavyweight division. He also went 4-0 in 2011, won UFC's light heavyweight championship and defended it twice against former champions.
Will Jon Jones be the first MMA fighter to win ESPY's Best Fighter Award?
Boxer Andre Ward and mixed martial artist Jon Jones enjoyed a breakout year in their respective sports and should probably be the favorites to win ESPY's 2012 Best Fighter Award.
Despite his reputation as the most popular and accomplished fighter among of the four candidates, Floyd Mayweather only fought once last year, defeating Victor Ortiz - a young, tough champion who was still unproven on the elite level. And while Mayweather's MMA counterpart, Anderson Silva, went 2-0 last year, his foes were arguably not as venerated as the fighters Andre Ward and Jon Jones defeated.
If Andre Ward and Jon Jones become the top two finalists, will Ward's workman-like decision victories over two elite boxers, a former and then-reigning super middleweight champion, be enough to outshine UFC's Jon Jones who recorded four stoppages against a top contender, a reigning champion and two former champions?
Jon Jones' activity (four fights versus Ward's two) may be the deciding factor.