I know not everyone will agree with all the fights here, the order of them, and all that, but that's not really the point. I'm not trying to have some definitive list; I'm just saying these were my 20 favorites of the year.
Without further ado, Nos. 20 through 16.
20. Chris John v. Rocky Juarez
February 28, 2009 - Houston, Texas
Overshadowed by the main event that night, the HBO co-feature between long-standing featherweight titlist Chris John and Houston native Rocky Juarez more than holds up to repeated viewings. A tactical affair fought at a crisp pace, John-Juarez exceeded expectations and then some, and on a night with an average main event, may well have stood out more prominently in the minds of many. As it is, I feel it is somewhat overlooked now.
John vastly outlanded Juarez, whose all-too-familiar habit of keeping his powerful fists from moving may have cost him both this fight and the less-exciting September rematch. John was making his long-awaited debut in America, fighting on Juarez's home turf, and in most minds, deserved the victory. Instead, the end result was a draw -- and a draw that has only seemed worse in the months since, given the remainder of the year's feelings about Texas judging.
John made a fine splash on American soil with this fight, finally exposed to the HBO audience. Many of the doubts about his credentials were erased with this performance, as he proved for sure he can box, and that he had a bit more fight in him than many thought, too. For Juarez, it was another bitter pill to swallow in a career that has fallen a hair short on more than one occasion.
19. Miguel Cotto v. Manny Pacquiao
November 14, 2009 - Las Vegas, Nevada
The biggest fight of 2009 was also an entertaining bout, dominated in finality but not in total by the great Manny Pacquiao.
Neither man escaped unscathed. Cotto's face was bruised, swollen, bloodied and busted up. Pacquiao left with an ear that would fit an Olympic wrestler. The electric atmosphere in Vegas was unlike any other fight this year, and the 1.25 million buys the fight generated topped the charts for 2009.
Cotto took the opening round, and Pacquiao came back in the second. The third and fourth were both going Cotto's way until knockdowns turned the tide of the fight greatly. Cotto gamely tried to fight his way back into the contest, make it competitive, but by the later rounds he was being picked apart by the incredible Pacquiao, whose sharpshooting offense was proving too much for a battered, bewildered Cotto. Eventually, Cotto was so out of the fight you could see his gears turning, but his fists had been silenced.
Still, I've felt since the fight that Cotto's "running" was overstated by the blood-and-guts people. His running seemed like an attempt to find an opening to score a big shot, but Pacquiao was simply too good to let it happen. It was a last-ditch effort by Cotto. It wasn't the most exciting last-ditch effort, but that's what it was. Even in his reluctance to engage, he was trying to think his way back into it.
18. Adrian Diaconu v. Jean Pascal
June 19, 2009 - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Romanian Diaconu and Haitian Pascal have both become quite popular fighters in Quebec, part of one of the sport's hottest spots for big, exciting fights, generally aided by arguably the best boxing crowds in the world today.
Diaconu came in holding the WBC light heavyweight title, which he'd won on an interim basis against Chris Henry in 2008. When Chad Dawson vacated the real title, Diaconu was promoted to full titlist status, something he'd been seeking since a 2007 fight with Dawson was canceled. Pascal was moving up from super middleweight, and in December of '08 had surprised some of his skeptics with a stirring performance in a fantastic fight against Carl Froch in England.
Diaconu-Pascal just made sense. It promised to be good action, and in Montreal, it would be a hit at the gate. It was both. Versus picked the fight up in the United States, paired with "Contender" cruiserweight winner Troy Ross as part of the TV series' deal to promote cards on the network, which wound up not amounting to a whole lot.
Like Froch, Diaconu lacked for speed against Pascal, but took the fight to the challenger. Diaconu hit the deck in the fifth round, but climbed to his feet and kept the action going for the full 12. Pascal won an unchallenged unanimous decision on scores of 115-112, 116-111 and 116-112 to leave with his first major title, and boldly announce his arrival in the light heavyweight division.
17. Carl Froch v. Jermain Taylor
April 25, 2009 - Mashantucket, Connecticut
This is one I assume many will have higher and perhaps as a true FotY contender, but it's just not quite there for me. Your mileage may vary and all that, but also keep in mind what I'm saying about every single one of these fights: "It was really damn good."
Froch's last fight had been on his home turf against Pascal, sadly off of American TV. Taylor had expired his HBO contract with a ho-hum snoozer against shot Jeff Lacy a month prior to Froch-Pascal, in November 2008. Showtime saw an opening. Taylor, the former middleweight champ, now campaigning at super middleweight, had gotten a win. A marketable, known fighter, he made for the perfect introduction to the United States for Froch, who agreed to come to Mashantucket, Connecticut to make this bout happen.
Taylor started strong. In fact, he was dominant for much of the fight, using his superior speed and athleticism to frustrate Froch, keeping the strong Englishman at bay and even knocking him down hard in the third round. For all the world, it looked as though "Bad Intentions" was really back in business, as he had but to suck it up and survive the 12th round to leave with Froch's title and put himself right back into the major fight mix. Two judges had Taylor up 106-102 entering the 12th, though somehow judge Jack Woodburn had Froch up by the same score. Woodburn got off easy, really. Had the fight gone the distance, he would have had a final score of 116-110 for Froch, and it would have raised a ton of eyebrows.
But it didn't got the distance. With Gus Johnson shrieking like a deranged cheerleader, Froch rallied, a stunning example of a man looking at his situation and saying, "Well, what have I got to lose?" Under massive pressure, Taylor went down in the corner, making it to his feet to attempt to finish the contest.
Froch, though, had other plans. He continued to wail away on Taylor, whose defense crumbled to Froch's massive assault, and when his head snapped back again with a mere 14 seconds remaining in the fight, referee Mike Ortega had no choice but to jump in, stopping the fight in Froch's favor.
16. Miguel Cotto v. Joshua Clottey
June 13, 2009 - New York, New York
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If you had laid out this proposal to everybody as a "what's going to happen?" before the fight, nobody would have turned it down:
- We pit two top five welterweights against each other
- It's a wild, entertaining and even rather dirty fight, but with tons of action and displays of what both guys are good at
- It's competitive and basically too close to call
Nobody would've said, "Nah, pass." There's nothing about that that doesn't sound good. But of course, I also recognize that it doesn't simply work that way, and that so many people felt Joshua Clottey deserved to win this fight. I think "robbery" is way too strong a word for this one, but yes, you can easily argue that Clottey's hand should have been raised. He wound up outlanding Cotto by a pretty substantial margin and showed that he is without question a top-flight welterweight fighter. He gave Miguel all he could handle and then he gave him a little more. I scored it 114-113 for Cotto and would have welcomed a rematch with totally open arms. It wasn't to be, although maybe it can happen in 2010. I hope this fight is soon remembered more for how good it was than anything else.
John-Juarez: Getty Images
Cotto-Pacquiao: Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Froch-Taylor: Nick Laham / Getty Images
Cotto-Clottey: Al Bello / Getty Images