With the year quickly coming to an end, there has been some debate regarding 2012 Fighter of the Year (FOY) honors not unlike that surrounding the NFL's MVP race. When contemplating the candidacy of fighters Nonito Donaire and Robert Guerrero, some comparisons can be drawn to the factors that involve leading NFL MVP candidates Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning.
Donaire (31-1, 20 KO's) is the likely front runner for FOY. The Filipino fighter had a banner year, stepping into the ring four times which is virtually unheard of for an elite fighter in today's age of boxing. After dominating the lighter weight divisions with his power and speed, Donaire showed he could carry these attributes up the scale by capturing the vacant WBO super bantamweight title in his first fight at 122 pounds against the highly regarded Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. by split decision. He defended the belt three times against top ranked fighters – IBF champion Jeffrey Mathebula (UD), former WBC titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka (TKO 9) and five-time world champion Jorge Arce (KO 3).
Peterson entered the 2012 NFL season with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding his status after tearing his ACL and MCL last December. The Minnesota Vikings running back has put all questions to rest with a league leading 1,812 rushing yards (294 short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record), 11 TD's and a 6.3 yards per carry average through Week 15. Despite poor quarterback play and lack of other offensive weapons, the Vikings have improved from 3-13 in 2011 to an 8-6 playoff contender in large part, if not entirely, due to Peterson's remarkable performance this season.
Both Donaire and Peterson are elite athletes. While there is a good deal of talent at super bantamweight, Donaire is the big fish in the division and the biggest threat given his skills, experience and work ethic. He has fought all year with an injured left knuckle yet still managed to knock down all four of his opponents with his left hand en route to victory. He is also a respectable member and leader within the boxing community, adhering to year-round VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) testing without imposing such demands on his opponents.
Donaire is the heart of the 122-pound division and a top five pound-for pound fighter, while Peterson is the heart and soul of the Vikings on the verge of potentially breaking a 28-year old record. This should help to solidify their receipt of the top honors in their respective sports.
A case has been made for 29-year old Guerrero for FOY who returned to the ring after a 15-month layoff following surgery to repair a torn tendon in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder. Instead of returning to the 135-pound lightweight division where he once held the interim WBA and WBO titles, the former featherweight and super featherweight champion jumped two weight divisions into the mighty 147-pound welterweight waters.
Unable to find willing opponents at lightweight or junior welterweight, Guerrero expressed desire to fight anyone at 147 pounds. He convincingly beat bona fide welterweights in hard fought battles with undefeated Selcuk Aydin (UD) and former two-time champion Andre Berto (UD) to become a six-time world champion across four divisions (including the two interim lightweight belts). In these performances, Guerrero exhibited the skills, heart and courage to establish himself as a legitimate threat in the welterweight division with a potential fight with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the horizon.
Manning missed the entire 2011 NFL season due to complications with his neck that required multiple surgeries, making it unclear whether the then-35 year old MVP quarterback would be able to return to an acceptable level of play. Manning signed with the Denver Broncos after the Indianapolis Colts released him in the off-season, where he has thrown for 4,016 yards and 31 TD's through Week 15. He has not missed a beat, becoming the first player to have 12 4,000+ passing yards in a season and only the fifth to pass for at least 4,000 on two different teams. With Manning at the helm, the Broncos have secured the AFC West division with a record of 11-3 and will be going to the post-season for the second consecutive year.
Both Guerrero and Manning overcame adversity to return to impressive levels of performance, putting themselves/their team in a position to achieve even greater success going forward. Guerrero did it in a new division while Manning worked his magic with a new team. While their achievements should not be overlooked, these two gentlemen may be better suited as "Comeback Fighter/Player of the Year".
However the official voting goes in each of these contests, it has been a rewarding year.
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