The "closet classic" is a fight that not many saw, but the people who saw it will remember forever. These are the fights that make you end up watching Friday Night Fights even when there's nobody you know on the card, just because you know that there might be a great fight anyway. While a lot of the mainstream media focused on the lack of great fights this year, at least until December, 2010 truly was a very deep year in good fights, as long as you knew where to look. Rather than the prominent fights being particularly good, there were just a ton of great bouts between unknown fighters.
The criteria for this list is that they're all fights that weren't on major U.S. cards and didn't have a major title at stake. So without further ago, here are my top 10 "closet classics" of 2010, with Youtube links to most of the fights available here:
1) Gumersindo Carrasco vs. Juan Manuel Bonanni - This fight literally had it all, and if it had just a slightly higher skill level overall, it would probably be the fight of the year. Easily the wildest fight of 2010, the two undefeated prospects met up in Argentina. Bonanni set the tone early, scoring a knockdown in the first round after getting the tar beaten out of him for two minutes. From there on, it was lots and lots of back and forth action. In almost every round, when one fighter started it strong, the other finished it strong. There were three official knockdowns, plus a standing eight count, plus a number of takedowns and other ruled slips that probably could have been called knockdowns. Both guys refused to do anything but attack. In the sixth round, a cornerman entered the ring and took down the opposing fighter, leading to a huge in-ring brawl between the corners. After the fight settled down, the fighters got a much needed break and went right back to pounding on each other in a Gatti-Ward style war. Anywhere outside of Carrasco's hometown of Mendoza, Bonanni probably wins this, but these are still two action fighters to keep an eye on for the future.
2) Daniel Estrada vs. Angel Alirio Rivero - An unexpected swing fight on the undercard of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. vs. Marvin Sonsona, this bout typifies why you don't walk away from the TV just because a fight looks like a mismatch on paper. Estrada came into the bout as a 21-1 prospect, while Rivero was 21-7 with 6 of those losses coming by knockout. Rivero was obviously the patsy to be knocked out in spectacular fashion, but it just didn't happen that way. It didn't take long for the big punching Estrada to put Rivero on weak legs. In fact, Rivero probably spent the entire fight on weak legs. Neither guy cared much for defense, and every time Rivero was hit sqarely, he was wobbled. But he also did something incredible - the second he got hurt, he would just come right back and fire 8 or 9 wild punches at a time, landing several hard shots right back and hurting Estrada as often as not. For ten rounds, this was an even fight with loads of wild momentum swings, keeping fans on the edge of their seats as it appeared that either fighter could get knocked out at any point. Unfortunately, the end was marred by the worst stoppage of the year - with Rivero wobbled for what must have been the 20th time in the fight, he was doing his usual thing and firing right back when the referee jumped in at a point he'd let go 19 times before.
3) Dominic Vea vs. Oscar Siale - Two relatively unknown cruiserweights fighting for the Commonwealth title in Australia made for the best big man fight of the year. As a last-minute replacement who had lost three of his last four, Siale was not expected to put up much of a fight. Instead, both fighters refused to take a backwards step, just lobbing big shot after big shot at each other. Siale wobbling Vea early helped put him in the driver's seat, as did a massive cut on the bridge of Vea's nose. Smelling blood, Siale just didn't let up the whole fight, and Vea, the better boxer, was forced to work at Siale's pace. This led to a bout with an extraordinary number of punches thrown (for a cruiserweight fight) and both men bloodied, bruised and battered at the final bell. By the end of the fight, the commentators were calling it possibly the best Australian fight of all time, and that wasn't necessarily hyperbole.
4) Antonio Escalante Jr. vs. Mickey Roman - This was like the mini version of Estrada-Rivero, only with a slightly higher skill level all the way around and not nearly as many shaky legs. It's always interesting to see a fight where the two fighters legitimately hate each other and take it out in the ring. Both men grew up in Juarez and were friends when they were kids, but as Escalante became a serious prospect and moved across the border to El Paso, bad blood grew between them. Escalante was the fighter with much more talent, but both fighters were willing to go to war. Almost every time it seemed like Escalante had started to cruise, Roman would mount a major comeback, landing wild but effective combinations that threw the final result of many of the rounds in doubt. While Escalante took the decision at the end of the day, both men put on a hell of a show.
5) Ramsey Luna vs. Rene Luna - This one was probably the most out of left field fight all year. After the main event of Ji Hoon Kim vs. Ameth Diaz ended in a first round knockout, two Texans both making their pro debuts entered the ring. Usually this is a recipe for a tentative and sloppy fight, but here it made for an instant four round classic. Fully realizing what a huge opportunity it was to make a pro debut on ESPN, both fighters came out aggressive and trying to take the other's head off. Ramsey knocked down Rene in the first round, but Rene came right back and was still headhunting like crazy by the end of the round. As I'm sure even the fighters weren't expecting such a tough, high-energy fight, both of them got winded late, but pushed through it, throwing punches as if their lives depended on it. Since the fight, Ramsey has fought three more times, going undefeated, while Rene has gone 2-1 since.
Also worth a mention - Alex Leapai vs. Travis Walker; Takashi Okada vs. McWilliams Arroyo; Donovan George vs. Osumanu Adama; Ramon Valdez vs. Oscar Andrade; Antonio Avila vs Russell Fiore; Vladine Biosse vs. Joe McReedy.
Brick's quick picks for year end awards come after the jump...
Fight of the year:
- Abner Mares vs. Vic Darchinyan
- Gumersindo Carrasco vs. Juan Bonnani
- Humberto Soto vs. Urbano Antillon
- Daniel Estrada vs. Angel Alirio Rivero
- Hugo Cazares vs. Nobuo Nashiro (shout outs not on the closet classic list - Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana; Ricky Burns vs. Roman Martinez; Giovani Segura vs. Ivan Calderon; Juan Alberto Rosas vs. Simphiwe Nongqayi; Mikkel Kessler vs. Carl Froch)
Round of the year:
- Hugo Cazares vs. Nobuo Nashiro, Round 12
- Mikkel Kessler vs. Carl Froch, Round 12
- Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Michael Katsidis, Round 3
- Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana, Round 10
- Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Bernabe Concepcion, Round 1 (shout outs to Said Ouali vs. Hector Saldivia, Round 1; Derry Matthews vs. Choi Tseveenpurev, Round 2; Giovani Segura vs. Ivan Calderon, Round 4)
Fighter of the year:
- Sergio Martinez
- Fernando Montiel
- Manny Pacquiao
- Giovanni Segura
- Jean Pascal
Knockout of the year:
- Sergio Martinez vs. Paul Williams
- Audley Harrison vs. Michael Sprott
- David Lemieux vs. Hector Camacho Jr.
- Tim Coleman vs. Patrick Lopez
- Alexander Frenkel vs. Enzo Maccarinelli (shout outs to Denis Lebedev vs. Alexander Alexeev; Wladimir Klitschko vs. Eddie Chambers; Jonathon Banks vs. Travis Walker; Jhonny Gonzalez vs. Santos Marimon; Drian Francisco vs. Ricardo Nunez; Saul Alvarez vs. Carlos Baldomir; Ashley Sexton vs. Usman Ahmed)
Prospect of the year (not necessarily who I think will be the best fighters overall, but the prospects who I thought had the strongest years):
- David Lemieux
- Saul Alvarez
- James DeGale
- Brad Solomon
- Tomoki Kameda (shout outs to Kubrat Pulev, Robert Helenius, George Groves, Mike Jones, Jose Benavidez Jr., Rico Ramos, Mikey Garcia, and a few guys who exited prospect status this year: Nathan Cleverly, Gennady Golovkin, Brandon Rios and Dmitry Pirog).
- Gabriel Sarimiento
- Freddie Roach
- Robert Garcia
- Ronnie Shields
- Valery Belov