I don't profess to having seen every fight, but I try to see every major fight (at least) that's available live, and I try to catch big overseas fights, and if someone says a fight was good, I sure try to track it down and get a copy of it.
This list is not definitive, nor am I trying to present it as such. It's really just for fun and discussion, as every list like this is. There's no accounting for taste.
Without further ado, here's the Bad Left Hook 20 for 2008.
A couple of big, action-minded American heavyweights came together for a clash on the undercard of HBO's Boxing After Dark on November 29, setting the stage for Paul Williams' decisive taking apart of Verno Phillips. While Williams' 154-pound title win was impressive, it was the slugging big boys before his performance that stole the show.
Walker came out firing with all he had at Arreola in round one, throwing 106 punches in the first round, an astronomical number for the heavyweights. In 12 rounds of "action" nine months prior, ex-heavyweight titlist Sultan Ibragimov threw a grand total of 296 punches. His opponent, Wladimir Klitschko, threw 338.
Underdog Walker sent Arreola to a knee with a stiff combination early in the second round, but the rugged "Nightmare," perhaps feeling his back against the wall, roared back to drop Walker twice in the second round and then finish him off 13 seconds into the third round. Referee Jack Reiss told Walker that the fight was reminiscent of Hagler-Hearns. Most of us wouldn't go that far, but we say we want the big boys to slug it out, right? These two did. They came to fight, and while it may have been short, it was plenty sweet, if brutality can be sweet.
(Photo courtesy Jan Sanders/HBO)
March was a month that gave us a great many memorable fights, as you'll recall over the course of this list. Mashaba was making his U.S. debut, having fought his entire career in South Africa sans one fight in Thailand in 2003, which accounted for the lone loss on his record, and had been disputed by those who saw it. Cruz, two months shy of his 31st birthday, already had 11 losses on his sheet. He was a gatekeeper at featherweight, and most expected Mashaba to win going away en route to a possible crack at one of the alphabet belts in due time.
Cruz, though, had other plans. In what may have been something of a career-saving performance, Cruz let it all hang out against Mashaba, testing the traveling man's will with thunderous blows. Mashaba, to his credit, stayed with Cruz the whole way as the two delivered a wicked slugfest, live on ESPN2.
After several rounds of war, Mashaba shook Cruz up at the end of the ninth. It appeared he was putting his stamp on the fight down the stretch, but Cruz fired back in the 10th and 11th rounds. In a barnburning 12th and final round, Cruz drilled Mashaba with a shot that probably should have put him down, but couldn't on this fantastic night.
Cruz won a majority decision (115-113, 115-113, 114-114), but you wouldn't go so far as to say Mashaba didn't acquit himself nicely in his first trip to the States. Both men came out in better standing among American boxing fans than they were going in, for my money.
(Photo courtesy Peter Mark Heintzelman)
It was a disappointing fight only in the sense that it wasn't as good as their September 2007 instant classic. In that fight, the young, powerful Pavlik overcame an early knockdown and offensive blitz from Taylor to come back and secure one of the decade's most dramatic victories via seventh round stoppage as he pummeled the reigning middleweight champion of the world.
This one was a whole new story for the two, and a big chapter of each man's career. Taylor parted ways with legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward, going instead with the man who molded him, Ozell Nelson. It was Ozell's first time as Jermain's chief second. Pavlik, the KO artist, had put Youngstown, Ohio, back on the map the way Vice President elect Joe Biden would do with Scranton, Penn., later in the year. He was the new golden child of American boxing -- something Taylor had been before.
This fight's drama came from waiting for Pavlik to bomb, something Taylor expertly avoided this time around. Taylor was shaken up a few times, but maintained his composure and tried to box. Scoring live, I thought Jermain won a close one, but that Pavlik had no reason to think he'd "robbed" Taylor. Watching later, it obvious that Kelly just outworked him that little bit of enough to win the fight. After 12 rounds of solid boxing between two world class fighters, Pavlik was again declared the winner.
Pavlik and Taylor's two-fight rivalry was interesting in a number of ways. Pavlik stayed humble through the whole thing, and after losing the first fight, Jermain learned his lesson about underestimating Pavlik's power and skill. It was classic boxer versus puncher, really, with two of the sport's most respectable personalities mixing it up. It's too bad this pay-per-view didn't do the numbers it deserved to, but them's the breaks.
They didn't top their first fight. It would've been damn near impossible to do so. They couldn't equal it, either, because both fought smarter, careful of the other man's abilities. But they still put on a good show.
(Photo courtesy Will Hart/HBO)
As long as Ireland's John Duddy is fighting, he'll have chances to crack this list every single year. There are few in the sport that have Duddy's reckless disregard for defense and for the true art of the sweet science. In fact, there's nothing sweet or scientific about anything Duddy does. He is a prototypical brawler, a blood-gushing gladiator with bad intentions for his opponents and a healthy ability to eat shot after shot to do what he does best, which is just fight. Flat-out, no-B.S. fighting. He's a fighter.
Duddy may never reach that world title level, though similar fighters like Arturo Gatti have been able to snag an alphabet soup strap or two along the way. Duddy is exactly the sort of guy that people will pay to watch, even though he's probably never going to beat an elite fighter. He's relatable, he's got the strong ethnic thing going with Irish ties (and Lord knows both the Irish and Irish-Americans will come out to support a fighter), and he's just plain entertaining.
The knock on Duddy after this fight was that he was given a small gift from the judges. Maybe he was. You can absolutely argue that Smichet should have been awarded the victory, as he repeatedly drilled Duddy with power shots pretty much all night long. His performance, in black-and-white terms, wasn't impressive.
But when you take the analytical aspects out of it, it was just another John Duddy fight, and there's yet to be one that wasn't fun to watch. He gives as good as he gets, usually better. For as much as he bleeds and for as many bad shots as he takes, he still wins, albeit against similarly limited fighters. The guy is money in the bank. Here's hoping he gets his promotional battle sorted out and is back in the ring soon, so maybe he can land on the list again in '09.
As for Walid Smichet? You ask me, he deserved this win. It was all action, and he was responsible for most of the fight's best shots, I thought. It was close, and sadly for Smichet, it's probably as big as his name will ever get. But my cap is doffed to him -- it was a hell of a fight. Too bad HBO didn't show this instead of the stinker that came after it at MSG.
(Photo courtesy Ed Betz/AP)
Most, I presume, would not have this fight among their top 20 of the year. But I loved it -- it was a class fight between two master technicians and ring generals, two guys that know their way around the ring, and two guys that came to fight.
Casamayor has long been ultra-talented, but he's also never made himself a fan favorite. That sense of dislike (at least among American fight fans) erupted into a mushroom cloud of anger when the judges allowed Joel to rob poor Jose Armando Santa Cruz in November '07.
But you can't deny that Casamayor came back with a vengeance in 2007. He fought tooth-and-nail with young, hungry brawler Michael Katsidis in March, putting a bit of shine back on his Ring Magazine lightweight championship belt, and took that belt to Vegas in September to meet Juan Manuel Marquez.
It's also too bad that this fight was taken to Golden Boy-produced pay-per-view, distributed by HBO, because it means that almost no one got to experience the fight live. They didn't do much of a house in Vegas, the PPV was bought by around 100,000 fans (and I think that might be generous), and it wasn't hyped all that much on even a small scale.
Marquez and Casamayor went back and forth for much of the fight, I thought, with a ton of close rounds. Marquez more definitively won his rounds, but 10-9 is 10-9, and Casamayor kept sneaking his way into the fight.
The end result told the story, though: Marquez became the first man to stop Casamayor, ending his night and lightweight championship title reign in the 11th round. The better man won. And even the surly Casamayor said so.
(Photo credit Will Hart/HBO)
You would have been forgiven for expecting Campbell to simply fight valiantly and clearly lose to Diaz, the younger, unbeaten, favored three-body titleholder. After all, Campbell's career had sort of an "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" quality to it.
It began when Campbell lost a competitive decision to Joel Casamayor in 2003. In his next fight, he drew with unheralded Edelmiro Martinez. He infamously dropped his hands and invited Robbie Peden to hit him, which got him knocked out. He was stopped again by Peden in a rematch. He lost split decisions to Francisco Lorenzo and Isaac Hlatshwayo.
But then Campbell turned it up. Faced with eliminators against Matt Zegan and Ricky Quiles, he dominated both. Then-IBF titlist Julio Diaz fought a unification with Juan Diaz instead of facing Campbell, but when Juan took that title, he took the fight with Nate. Both, at the time, were Don King-controlled pugs.
Diaz, noted for his high workrate and body punching, found himself in a dogfight immediately. Campbell did exactly what he said he'd do, which was fight Diaz toe-to-toe and do what Diaz did best, and see how he responded to his own offensive tactics. Campbell stared Diaz down after the second round, and shouted, "All night!"
In the sixth, Diaz was cut badly over his left eye, and a point was taken for a headbutt. It was a bad call -- the gash was opened, clearly on replays, by a clean punch. And that's where it all went downhill for Diaz.
With his cut man apparently unable to tend to a cut (bad quality in a cut man), Diaz bled, got frustrated, and fought in a style you could even describe as scared. He did not handle the adversity well at all, and Nate Campbell absolutely dominated the latter half of the fight, winning round after round. Diaz stayed in there and tried his best, but he was clearly off. The cut man is most routinely blamed for Diaz's loss, but that's just part of it. Diaz didn't deal with it like a fighter that thought he could be hurt. He dealt with it like an immature fighter, shocked at what had happened to him.
Campbell was awarded the well-earned victory via split decision. If only the rest of his year had gone half as well.
(Photo courtesy Will Hart/HBO)
It may seem odd to put a one-minute fight on the top 20 of the year, but it deserves its place. If you boil down the legendary first fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo into one minute, it's pretty much Torres-Holt II.
Torres had beaten Holt in a controversial fight that took place in Colombia. After Holt petitioned for a rematch, he was turned down by the ever-brilliant WBO. Still, Showtime heard the calls, and gave the rematch an American TV home in July.
In 13 seconds, the hard-punching Torres nailed Holt with a big right hand, sending him crashing to the canvas. Holt sprung to his feet quickly, and continued.
32 seconds into the fight, Holt was clipped with a left hand that put him down again, the punch landing during a furious, wild exchange between the two. Holt's glove touched the mat, and the knockdown was ruled. But he immediately came back into the fight.
Back on his feet, Holt went to Torres for battle once more. Then it happened -- no, not the right hand that put Torres down. The headbutt that set it up. Unintentional, brutal, and the difference maker.
The right hand ended the fight. But it was the headbutt that sent Torres loopy.
You might instinctively ask how a somewhat controversial fight like this can be compared to Corrales-Castillo I, but you'd be forgetting Diego conveniently losing his mouthpiece on two occasions.
(Photo credit Kasprowicz/Fightwireimages.com)
You couldn't say that the 12-round war of attrition between Mexican middleweight contenders Rubio and Ornelas truly "stole the show" on the Pavlik-Hopkins card, since no one was stealing any of the spotlight from the divine and genius Hopkins that night, but you can easily say it was Fight of the Night.
Most expected a hard-fought, power-punching, throwback-type bout between the two men, and it's exactly what we got. Jabs were not really on the menu for this one, as it was 36 minutes of two guys trying to hurt the other with big shots. And both were hurting by the end of it, to be sure.
While the two left it all in the ring, it was one of a couple of fights that will be on this list that was given a tepid live reaction and mild applause when the final bell sounded, which may go even further to prove that people don't care about undercards on big fight nights. Which, of course, is a shame. Rubio and Ornelas left it all in the ring, battling for a shot at Kelly Pavlik down the line as his WBC mandatory. I scored the nasty battle slightly for Ornelas, but it's one of those fights where either man's hand could have been raised and I'd have simply been satisfied having seen the action.
By the end of the action, Ornelas' left eye was closed shut, and the two sent the fight to the cards with blistering final rounds action that you always want to see in a close fight, but rarely do. "Terrific fight," said HBO's Larry Merchant when it ended. He was 100% right.
(Photo credit Getty Images)
Oh, to be young and in the care of Emmanuel Steward, who so fills your head with nonsense that he leads you into your 16th professional fight and first televised fight on American TV while telling the press you'll be ready for Kelly Pavlik or Winky Wright within a year.
Poor Andy Lee. You could've easily called him the best prospect in the sport. Hell, a couple days before this fight, I foolishly ranked him in the top ten of a shallow middleweight division. I bought the hype. Many did.
Former "Contender" participant Vera -- who was knocked out in his first fight on the show -- was a hand-picked opponent for Lee. A rough-around-the-edges, tough kid with minimal skill, Vera came from Austin, Texas, as a club fighter that liked to fight. Lee's superior boxing technique, world-class training from Steward, and stature within the sport would surely overcome the brawler in short order.
Vera didn't agree. Though Lee floored him in the first round, in the second, he shook Lee up with some powerful shots, and if Andy Lee didn't know he had a fight on his hands by then, he was an idiot. The two traded back-and-forth, Lee getting cut in the fourth round, and Vera hanging in against all odds. He was forcing Lee into his fight. It was clear as day.
In the sixth, Vera pressured well but was met with some bone-rattling hooks. Maybe it was at that point that Lee let it cross his mind that try as he may, he wasn't going to knock this guy out. Vera was gassing him, making him work harder than he ever had to in his first 15 fights, and putting a sense of urgency on him.
The seventh round was the end. Referee Tony Chiarantano stepped in to stop the action, giving Brian Vera the shocking upset victory. Just before Chiaranatno sprang into action, though, Lee landed a counter left.
The crowd was mad, some fans were mad. But Emmanuel Steward took it in stride. Long-term, not taking a further beating from Vera might have been best for his prized pupil, a guy that may be the last of Steward's prized pupils.
It may not have been the prettiest thing in the world, but it worked. Vera stunned Lee in one of the year's biggest upsets, and in my view ESPN's Fight of the Year.
(Photo credit Samoyedny/FightWireImages.com)
All but forgotten on the Cotto-Margarito undercard was the featured underneath bout, pitting 108-pounders Giovanni Segura of Mexico, who came in unbeaten, and largely unknown Colombian Cesar Canchila.
Canchila taught us again to never underestimate the unheralded Colombian punchers. In what amounted to one of the year's more grueling contest, Canchila unanimously outpointed and upset Segura, winning the interim WBA junior flyweight title in the process.
Though Canchila hit the deck in the second round, he took momentum in the middle rounds and simply out-fought Segura over the 12 rounds of pretty relentless action, which represented more a great struggle than any neon-lighted affair. Like the middleweight slugfest between Rubio and Ornelas, this fight didn't get the live reaction it deserved. In this case, a lot of it had to do with two mismatches sucking the life out of the arena, and it didn't help that nobody knew who these two were. As great a fight as they put on, it should not have been the third televised fight of the evening. It should have gone on first.
(Photo credit Getty Images)
Amir Khan came into his June fight with rugged veteran Michael Gomez both unbeaten and the most hyped young British fighter to come down the pipe in many, many years. Offensively, it was easy to see why. But his chin had already been a noted issue. It would take another fight for someone to really drill him, but as expected, Gomez gave him some resistance, at least briefly.
Gomez turned 31 the day of his fight with Khan. A win would have meant big things for the former British junior lightweight champ. 16 of Gomez's previous 17 fights had ended on a stoppage, win or lose for the tough Irish-born pug.
On his birthday, he stood tall and strong against the fast, powerful Khan, and he gave the youngster some difficult moments. But Khan's natural talent was on display, too. Though Gomez stood and slugged it out with him, going down in the first round and socking Khan to the mat in the second, he eventually was outgunned. He was dropped a second time in the fifth, and though he again fought on, referee John Keane had no choice but to stop the bout with 27 seconds remaining in the round, as Khan had Gomez in a bad spot following a huge right. It was four rounds plus of non-stop action -- a veteran looking to knock off a young lion, and the young lion overpowering him in the end.
(Photo credit Sporting Life)
Journeyman Matt Vanda was given no chance against baby-faced Chavez, Jr., the always-fighting, always-hyped son of a legend who was main eventing yet another "Latin Fury" pay-per-view in a fight he couldn't lose.
Apparently, no one informed Vanda he wasn't supposed to win. Chavez, 22, was given the fight of his life against the 30-year old Vanda, a fighter that hadn't won against a decent opponent since beating Yori Boy Campas in 2005. Past the Campas fight, Vanda had gone just 5-7, generally winning against a bum and losing against someone of merit the next time out.
But instead of laying down, Vanda not only weathered the young Chavez's storm, he put him in the line of fire and wailed on him, too. Though Chavez started brilliantly, by the sixth round Vanda had JC Jr. backpedaling and fighting on his heels. In the eighth, Vanda was so dominating Chavez that the Mexican hopeful's famous father was frantic at ringside, urging his son to move and stay out of Vanda's wheelhouse. On his 46th birthday, the legendary Chavez, Sr., nearly saw his son knocked out.
But Chavez, to his credit, fired back big in the ninth round. In the final tenth frame, Vanda again had him reeling, and Chavez all but limped past the finish line, staying on his feet.
The judges scored a split decision for Chavez, which was booed by the Mexican fans, but it was a very debatable fight that either man could have rightly won. Judge Francisco Mouret scored it a 100-90 shutout for Chavez, though, which was perhaps the absolute worst card of the yea. Chavez and Vanda met again in November, this time with Chavez winning more convincingly.
(Photo credit Notifight)
When Froch-Pascal was signed, it was on paper simply a fairly interesting fight for the WBC 168-pound title that Joe Calzaghe had left vacant to officially move up to light heavyweight.
Froch, an unbeaten Brit, would take on Pascal, an unbeaten Haitian-Canadian who was familiar to American diehards thanks to ESPN. Those who had seen both mostly favored Froch, due to Pascal's bad habits of thinking he was a prime Roy Jones, as he attempted to toy with opponents, which had gotten him into trouble earlier in the year in what sould've been a gimme fight against Omar Pittman, a fight Pascal was in firm control of and eventually won by decision.
Both men had also seen other hyped fights go by the wayside in '08. Pascal's fight with Pittman shared a night of fights with Edison Miranda's brutal knockout of David Banks, a Friday NIght Fights episode meant to lead to a Miranda-Pascal showdown in the summer. It never happened. Instead, Pascal didn't fight for 11 months, and Miranda got creamed by Arthur Abraham, sending him back to the small shows at the Seminole Hard Rock with his tail between his legs and his mouth zipped air-tight.
Froch was to meet fellow unbeaten Denis Inkin on Showtime in the spring, but Inkin came up lame. Froch-Inkin never came off, either. So Froch-Pascal was the fight we got.
If all those fights had to go down the tubes for this one to happen, so be it. It was a classic slugfest between two guys looking to firmly establish themselves as the division's elite. Pascal, faster, battled the more powerful Froch with all he had, and even Pascal's detractors had to have come out of this epic battle thinking he acquitted himself nicely on the grand stage.
Froch, meanwhile, made his name. Lou DiBella had jokingly asked, "Who the Froch is Froch?" when there was talk of his fighter, Jermain Taylor, fighting the Nottingham native. After the fight, DiBella praised the bout and Froch greatly, and promised he'd never make that joke again.
(Photo credit Daily Mail)
A massive crowd gathered at Mexico City's Arena Mexico for this battle, a highlight of the yearly Independence Day celebration. Arce and interim WBA junior bantamweight titlist Rafael Concepcion of the Philippines did not disappoint.
Known for his all-action style, showmanship, and undeniable charisma, Arce has made himself a superstar without being a terrifically skilled pugilist. He is what he is -- he's a warrior. At 5'6" and with a bigger frame, he seemed to tower over the 5'4" Concepcion, who arrived to the fight with an unimpressive 11-2 record, having won the interim title in a fight that was designed to put a crown on fellow Filipino AJ Banal about six weeks prior. Concepcion knocked out the favored Banal in the 10th round.
And this time, on Mexican Independence Day, Concepcion was fighting a far more experienced, bigger man. Arce won the first couple of rounds by imposing his will, and then seemed to give the third away. But in the fourth, Rafael Concepcion showed he was not going to be a fall-guy. He was no patsy. He rattled Arce with bone-jarring shots that had him staggering around the ring, so thoroughly dominating him that it was an easy 10-8 round without a knockdown.
Arce warred back into the bout by taking the next two rounds, but Concepcion rallied again, drilling Arce with a huge right hand in the seventh round. Neither man, no matter how much punishment they took, would go backward.
The eighth round was Arce's dominant three minutes, as he appeared to have Concepcion on the verge of collapsing over and over again. But the double-tough Filipino titlist stayed up -- this was now a battle to survive, a test of intestinal fortitude that was showing us the macho of both combatants. And they had plenty of it.
After the ninth (another Arce round), Concepcion retired on his stool. I had it 86-83 Arce at the time of stoppage, and he was building huge momentum with those final two rounds. But though he "quit," Concepcion is no quitter. He went tooth-and-nail with one of the gutsiest, toughest brawlers in the sport, and he has nothing to be ashamed of.
It might not have been the best performance of Arce's career, and it may have been as good as Concepcion can do, but however it came to pass that these two put on one of the year's best fights, I'll take it.
(Photo credit Dong Secuya/PhilBoxing.com)
Joel Casamayor had four months of downtime. He listened to the boxing world condemn the judges for giving him a decision win against Jose Armando Santa Cruz, which nobody besides the three blind mice felt he won.
He had to listen to the boxing community -- fans, journalists, what have you -- declare him an undoubtedly shot fighter. And when he signed on to fight Australian slugger Michael Katsidis, an unbeaten young warrior, he surely would have the Ring Magazine lightweight championship ripped from his waist in violent fashion.
Like so many other good boxing storylines, Casamayor disagreed with the majority.
There was an energy in the building that was made palpable when Casamayor jumped into the face of Katsidis as soon as the Aussie -- in his usual ridiculous gladiator outfit -- entered the ring. Katsidis seemed taken aback by the move from the veteran. If you look at Katsidis' eyes at the moment, he didn't know exactly how to respond, but it seems obvious that he wasn't expecting such brash behavior. Maybe he had never seen Joel fight before.
Before Katsidis could get his gear off, Casamayor was in his head. And before the first three minutes were over, Katsidis had his back firmly pressed against the wall.
With two first round knockdowns of the tight Katsidis, Casamayor opened up a 10-7 lead. He took the next two rounds on my scorecard, as well, putting Katsidis in what I saw as a five-point hole in the first nine minutes. Not the start Katsidis was looking for, obviously.
In the immortal words of the genius Lee Corso, not so fast, my friends. Katsidis started banging away in the fourth, racking up points and clawing his way back into the fight. In the sixth, a three-punch combo sent Casamayor through the ropes and onto the ring apron.
Katsidis had done it. He'd staged a remarkable comeback, knocked out the old champion, and started a new regime at 135 pounds.
Not so fast, my friends.
The seventh and eighth were also Katsidis rounds, and he looked like he was going to win this fight going away, which in itself would have been a remarkable comeback. The ninth saw Casamayor get back into it, though he was docked a point for a low blow.
The tenth was fast and, frankly, unexpected. Katsidis came at Casamayor, who decked him with a beautiful left hand. Moments later, with a brave Katsidis under fire again, the referee jumped in to stop the fight. It was an unexpected gem of a performance from both men, and a rebirth of sorts for Casamayor.
(Photo credit Jan Sanders/HBO)
On November 7, Telefutura announced that they would be cancelling the Solo Boxeo series, one of the favorites of hardcore boxing fans. It was like a liver shot to many of us -- a program that had given us so many fights was gone from the schedule. It was a place where young fighters could get valuable TV exposure, and a place where tough veterans with plenty of entertainment left to give could be seen, even if they weren't exactly world-class fighters.
Neither Tomas Villa or Rogers Mtagwa are exactly world-class fighters, for instance, but their bout figured to be a good one. Nobody knew it would be this epic, though.
The two brawlers main evented Solo Boxeo that night of the cancellation announcement. In a bit of cosmic protest about the business decision, it felt as though they heard the deflated disappointment of the boxing community and decided to put on arguably the greatest fight in the history of the series.
Villa and Mtagwa hammered one another. It wasn't a work of art -- there was no precision to their attacks, really, just bombs away all night. A world-class featherweight likely makes relatively easy and short work of either of them, but against one another, the matchup was all but perfect. Their awkward, haymaker-throwing styles didn't mesh, they collided.
The final two rounds really said it all. Mtagwa seemed done in the ninth, having been knocked down. He looked finished. He survived the ninth, barely, and looked exhausted in the corner. He went out. It was Villa's fight to lose.
As Villa threw a right hand, Mtagwa's right came crashing into his opponent's skull. Down went Villa. Two more knockdowns came in rapid succession -- and it was over. Rogers Mtagwa had pulled out a fuel reserve from God knows where, and he had rallied to stop Tomas Villa in what I would definitely peg as the year's most heart-filled encounter. They didn't give an inch.
Steve Cunningham brought his IBF cruiserweight title home to the United States, fighting on American soil for the first time since a 2006 bout against Lloyd Bryan. He had been making his bones in Poland and Germany, fighting proudly as one of the world's best cruiserweights.
Polish-born Tomasz Adamek, a former light heavyweight titleholder, moved up to cruiserweight in 2007 following a loss to Chad Dawson. He had yet to fight great competition, save for former cruiser champ O'Neil Bell, who looked terrible against Adamek in an eliminator bout in April.
Cunningham would be the great cruiserweight test for Adamek, and it would also decide the new Ring Magazine champion. London's David Haye had vacated the crown to go up in weight and try his hand at revitalizing the heavyweight division.
I truly think it's safe to say that even if you expected a good fight from Cunningham-Adamek, you didn't expect it to be a Fight of the Year candidate.
Fighting in Newark, Adamek received great support from the many Polish-Americans in attendance. The Pole had relocated to Jersey a while back, too, and was fighting Philadelphia's Cunningham on what must have felt like a home court advantage.
Cunningham's hand speed advantage was evident in the first round, and he was looking fine. He was the faster man, the better athlete, and the better boxer. But the fight changed dramatically when Adamek crushed Cunningham just before the bell at the end of the second round, dropping the defending titlist and grabbing momentum.
In the fourth, a Round of the Year contender emerged. Cunningham wobbled Adamek, and began a full frontal assault. He fired on Adamek relentlessly, chasing him around the ring and leaving nothing to chance. To be frank, he was fighting stupidly. The granite-chinned Adamek wasn't going down -- instead, he walloped Cunningham to the floor again, and what was a 10-8 round for Cunningham turned into a 10-9 or maybe 10-8 round for Adamek.
Cunningham, though, calmed the pace and started racking up some points. He was still very much in the fight, despite hitting the canvas twice. In the eighth, though, he went down again, and this time he looked glassier than the previous knockdowns.
Trailing on my card, I had Cunningham winning the last three rounds to grab a 113-113 draw. On the official cards, he lost 114-112, 110-116, and 112-115, a split decision that was hard to argue with, but easy to argue, really.
Though Cunningham admitted he didn't fight his best, and that he got away from his strengths, the truth is he probably felt he had little choice by the second knockdown. He kept on trying to hurt Adamek and put him down, and he came fairly close. But if Steve Cunningham learned anything from this fight, it was not to slug with a guy who can do it better. Adamek walked away the new cruiserweight champion of the world, but it was such a compelling and excellent fight that there's no question the only fight for either of them is a rematch. It won't happen right away, but let's hope it does happen sometime in 2009. Every major network should want a piece of this action.
(Photo credit Pound4Pound.com/WeWantARematch.com)
Bob Arum long promoted Antonio Margarito as the most feared fighter in boxing, citing a big money offer turned down by Floyd Mayweather, among other instances that would paint the Tijuana tornado as the man avoided.
Margarito also lost a fight in 2007, his first defeat in three years, and only his second since 1996. After being disappointed by his own performance against Paul Williams, Margarito vowed to not start slow again. In November '07, he put a movie-like beatdown on Golden Johnson, and in April '08, he again destroyed Kermit Cintron, the power punching Puerto Rican that can't power punch Margarito enough to discourage him.
Miguel Cotto, unbeaten, was one of Top Rank's golden childs. Arum never had to say a lot about him, because his fights simply spoke for themselves. He was a calculated, vicious body puncher who had a reputation for getting dirty if he had to. Cotto just seemed like a mean guy while fighting, and then when the gloves were off, seemed like one of the sport's nicest competitors. He had been the first loss on the records of Carlos Maussa, Kelson Pinto, Ricardo Torres, Paulie Malignaggi, and Carlos Quintana. He'd beaten both Zab Judah and Shane Mosley in 2007. After Margarito stopped Cintron in April, Cotto came out to the same ring and annihilated popular Alfonso Gomez.
The fight was a natural, and easy to make. Arum had nothing to lose, really -- either Cotto became even bigger, or Margarito got a new shot of life as one of the sport's most feared.
Cotto boxed very smartly for the first half of the fight. He circled the ring, putting on a clinic, and shutting Margarito out for about six rounds. But Tony was pot-shotting here and there, working to the body when he could, forcing Cotto to trade with him whenever possible, and waiting for his chance.
His chance came. Having stunningly walked through Cotto's shots all night long, Margarito turned up the heat in a big way in the ninth round. His aggressiveness truly started to come into play, and he was wearing Cotto down very quickly.
In the tenth, Margarito hurt Cotto late, and the Puerto Rican star had no choice but to just tie up and survive the round. He did that, but the 11th round was the end. It seemed to come on so suddenly. Margarito put the pressure on Cotto in the corner, and now bleeding and with his eyes closing shut, Cotto took a knee, attempting to regroup. But there wasn't a long enough eight-count in the world to give him the gas he'd need to survive against Margarito's onslaught.
Margarito pounced again, and after taking a second knee, Cotto's uncle/trainer Evangelista threw in the towel. It was over. Antonio Margarito had taken Cotto's "0" and given the sport the dramatic, wow-ing finish we yearn for but can so rarely expect to see. Margarito's performance, again, was straight out of a movie. He took all Cotto had, and just kept coming. And eventually, he beat him into submission.
(Photo credit Will Hart/HBO)
A rematch four years in the making. After their 2004 draw, we'd seen both Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez take boxing by serious storm. Pacquiao had essentially obliterated all in front of him, and Marquez had finally gotten The Big Win, beating Mexican icon Marco Antonio Barrera in a 2007 fight that I still feel is a slightly overlooked classic.
This fight almost couldn't have lived up to expectations. Surely, Marquez would fight more cautiously, and he definitely wouldn't need to rally from three first round knockdowns to score a miraculous draw. Pacquiao, too, wouldn't fight the same. He had become a better all-around fighter, and was something of a boxing machine at this point.
Then they fought. Forget all that. It was a fight that lived up to all the hype, and made the wait well worth it.
Pacquiao knocked Marquez down in the third to take the first true advantage of the fight, but it was the only time either man tasted canvas, though both came close to it on a few more occasions. Their back-and-forth struggle was the type of stuff you only get when two fighters are not just brave and not just warriors, but also great boxers. That's what these two brought to the table -- beautiful combination punching, great counters, wicked power shots, and an ebb and flow that had any sane boxing lover on the edge of his or her seat.
Simply put, if you didn't love this fight, you're watching the wrong sport. I scored it 114-113 for Marquez, but it didn't really matter to me. Pacquiao won a split decision, which was perfectly understandable. Still, judge Duane Ford and HBO scorer Harold Lederman both gave the 12th round to Pacquiao, which was clearly a Marquez round. What did they see?
Ah, the debates of scoring. They'll never end. It's better and easier to be thankful that these two came together and gave us such a phenomenal show. And it's also worth noting that the fight was a wonderful pay-per-view success, the biggest PPV card ever main evented by fighters of their size or smaller. They deserved it.
It was also, as a final note (I promise!) a fight that I think no matter how you scored it showed us just how great Marquez is. We almost universally regard Pacquiao as the pound-for-pound best in the sport, yet Juan Manuel still gave him all he could handle this year. Pacquiao went out and didn't lose a round in his next two fights, beating the hell out of David Diaz and Oscar de la Hoya. But Marquez went toe-to-toe with the man. It's a rivalry for the ages, and hopefully we see a third fight before Marquez hits the wall.
(Photo credit Will Hart/HBO)
I don't have a whole lot to say about this fight. It's sort of like trying to explain to someone why they should see The Godfather, or why they should do themselves a favor and give Enter the Wu-Tang or Illmatic a shot if they like hip-hop.
It was the best fight of the year, and I don't think it was that close of a race. Nobody in the game brings it like these two men bring it against one another. For as great as a lot of the fights on this list truly are -- particularly in the top five -- Vazquez-Marquez takes something from every single one of them and throws it all together into 36 minutes of passion, fury, and refined chaos.
Mtagwa-Villa had a lot of heart. Vazquez-Marquez had heart for days. These guys were killing each other in there.
Cunningham-Adamek had swings in momentum that seemed to come from nowhere. With Vazquez and Marquez, it felt like if you blinked you might miss something stunning.
Cotto-Margarito had an epic finish. Vazquez-Marquez was decided in the final ten seconds.
Marquez-Pacquiao was two outstanding technicians who can also finish a fight taking each other apart with everything in their arsenals. Vazquez-Marquez was the exact same thing, except these shots may have been even more precision, and even harder.
Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez will always be connected, just like Barrera and Morales, Gatti and Ward, Ali and Frazier, Bowe and Holyfield, Robinson and LaMotta, and all the other great rivals. They earned a spot to have their picture on the same wall as those great fighters. Their trilogy, without question, was the best of my lifetime. And the third fight was the best, most thrilling, and most grueling of the three.
(Photo credit Notifight)