February 17 -- Wembley Arena, London, England
Winner: Michael Katsidis RTD-5
When you talk about emerging stars in 2007, people will bring up Kelly Pavlik, Miguel Cotto and Juan Diaz, and those are true. But those guys were really emerging champions, as Cotto and Diaz had already won titles prior to '07, and Pavlik captured his first this year. But Pavlik is the best example of those guys to compare with Australia's Michael Katsidis.
For years, Kelly Pavlik plugged away, knocking people out with stiff power shots. He fought his way up to the Bronco McKarts and Jose Luis Zertuches of the world before getting shots at Miranda and Taylor (two fights we'll discuss later). Katsidis came into 2007 with a 21-0 record, and among those 21 wins, 19 came by knockout. But he had never fought stiff competition (Ranee Ganoy and Guillermo Mosquera were his two most recognizable defeats), and he had never ventured outside of Australia.
We'll ignore that his February 17 bout with England's Graham Earl, at the famed Wembley Arena, was foolishly for an interim version of the WBO title, which really needed no interim champion whatsoever -- but then, who ever really does? Popo Freitas hadn't fought in ten months, sure, but big deal -- he was back in the ring two months later.
Earl was 25-1, but had just 12 knockouts. He was known more for being a guy who would mix it up, something of a classic British scrapper in many ways. He had come in having fought the much better competition, with a notable points win over Yuri Romanov (though some will dispute that one). At any rate, he would be not only Katsidis' toughest foe to date, but Katsidis' first opponent outside of his homeland. In fact, Earl was considered the sportsbooks' favorite.
It was a night of short fights in London, a bunch of four-rounders that went the distance, one that ended in two, and then when you got up to the main attractions, nothing lasted much longer. Anthony Small knocked out Sergei Starkov in four, Amir Khan ended Mohammed Medjadji's night before the bell signaled the completion of the first round, and Michael Sprott waxed Audley Harrison in the third.
Katsidis and Earl, though, would turn in something special.
From the onset, the Aussie slugger and his British counterpart let each other know what they had in mind: A fight. A pure, balls-out, guns a-blazin', honest to God fight. Katsidis was going to come with the big punching power that had been his legend in Australia, and Earl, confident in the fact that Katsidis had never fought anyone on his level, was going to trade with him.
It was also clear from the get-go that no one was going to mistake Earl for the harder puncher, though it could be argued that it was also a truth that no one knew what we could make of Katsidis' beard. Sure, he could punch. Could he take punches? Could he really stand and trade against a game fighter?
Well, we learned. First off, yes, Katsidis could take the punches. He may not do it in the style of Librado Andrade, who doesn't even swell, but he can take the punches, like Diego Corrales or Arturo Gatti or Ricky Hatton. Maybe he swells, maybe he bleeds, but he stays up and marches forward.
Secondly, Katsidis can punch -- that's no joke. Graham Earl discovered that in the first round, when he had to be saved by the bell, Katsidis having sent him to the canvas two times within the final 30 seconds of the opening frame.
Early in the second round, Katsidis landed a wicked right cross, and Earl was down for the third time. His corner threw the towel in, and strangely, referee Micky Vann threw it back out of the ring. Whatever the reasoning, I'm thankful for that. No doubt Earl wanted to continue, as he had been fighting hard with Katsidis, just losing the battles.
After Micky Vann continued the bout, Earl put Katsidis down. What action. What pure action this was. One guy was outgunning the other, badly, and then all of a sudden, the little Briton that could fires back after the fight is nearly called to a halt.
In the third, Earl was down again, though Vann ruled it a shove. The same thing happened in the fourth round -- and what a round that was.
Round of the Year is always very hard to judge, because I remember parts of Barrera-Marquez where I was on my feet, and none of those rounds stand out to most people. It's about the timing of it all, the atmosphere of the crowd and wherever you're at, and what style of fighting most intrigues and excites you. But do not let yourself be in a Round of the Year discussion for 2007 that doesn't at least mention Katsidis-Earl, Round 4.
It was staggering. It was awe-inspiring. It was a round that would've made Gatti and Ward, Barrera and Morales, Vazquez and Marquez, and Hagler and Hearns stand up and cheer. It wasn't sloppy -- oh, no. This was power punching taken to the hilt. Earl, pinned against the ropes, absorbed vicious shot after shot after shot from the Queenslander, getting ripped repeatedly by shots that would have put most fighters out. Katsidis was loading up on these shots, and looking for the KO, as he should have been. Earl was refusing to move, more or less.
But Graham Earl kept firing back counters, too, snapping Katsidis' head back repeatedly and, if nothing else, at least keeping him somewhat honest. Somehow, the fight didn't end there. Micky Vann stood to the side, and some of his facial expressions told the story. That guy's seen plenty of fights in his day, and the fourth round of this battle had him showing emotion.
All kudos to Graham Earl for his courageous effort, but he was not going to win this fight without a miracle. After a fifth round that was again won by Katsidis, his corner would not let him go out for the sixth. It was the right decision -- their throwing of the towel in the second may have been the right call, but without Vann letting it continue, we never would've gotten the fourth round, my pick for Round of the Year.
Katsidis would go on to be in another barnburner in July, which is one that we're moving toward on this countdown. And Graham Earl, honestly, may have been seriously affected by this beating, as he was knocked out in the opening round against Amir Khan later in the year. There was, briefly, talk of a rematch between Katsidis and Earl, but I have no idea what the point would have been. As good of a fight as it was, Katsidis was clearly Earl's superior, though Graham Earl did everything he could to beat Katsidis at his own game. Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to do, but it damn sure made for a hell of a fight.
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