11-20 are in the books, and now we move on to the first half of the top ten for the year.
10. Vicente Escobedo v. Carlos Hernandez
April 4, 2009 - Austin, Texas
As the second bout of the Golden Boy-produced Lightweight Lightning pay-per-view, former Olympian Vicente Escobedo and rugged veteran Carlos Hernandez locked horns, and little was really expected of this fight. Escobedo was best-known to many boxing fans as the guy you wondered about on "Fight Night Round 3." In particular, "Why was he there?" Hernandez, 38, had been a past opponent for Genaro Hernandez (1997), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (2001) and Erik Morales (2004), among others.
The show was designed to be an eight-man, single elimination lightweight tournament. Golden Boy never made good on that, though Escobedo and Michael Katsidis did later fight on the Mayweather-Marquez undercard, which I chose to recognize as the Lightweight Lightning tournament finals, as in my mind, Edwin Valero and Rolando Reyes simply dropped out of the tournament.
Escobedo turned pro in 2005 and had yet to really step up competition at all. Hernandez promised that if he didn't win, that would be it for him. He would retire. And both of them fought like they needed this one -- Escobedo to prove he was no joke prospect, and Hernandez to prove that he still had something left in the tank.
Hernandez went down in rounds one and two, but stayed in the fight for the full ten rounds, hammering back when he could against a bigger, younger, faster, stronger opponent. "El Famoso" was giving up a full eight inches and reach, and when Escobedo wanted to use it, it showed. But for the most part this one could've been fought in a phone booth. The two warriors hammered away on one another, embracing at the opening of the 10th and final round, and leaving every ounce of energy they had in the ring. Escobedo couldn't finish Hernandez, and the proud veteran went out on his shield. Thus far, Hernandez has been true to his word, not fighting since. It was one of the year's least talked-about great fights.
9. Jose Lopez v. Marvin Sonsona
September 4, 2009 - Rama, Ontario, Canada
At just 19 years of age, Filipino prospect Marvin Sonsona stepped into the ring with WBO junior bantamweight titlist Jose "Carita" Lopez on September 4 in Rama, Ontario. The 37-year-old Puerto Rican had come in on a 16-fight unbeaten streak (15-0-1) dating back to 2001, when he had lost a 12-round decision to Fernando Montiel.
The veteran was confident, but so was the kid. Lopez looked strong early, but a ripping left hand sent him to the mat in the fourth round, and afterward Lopez said he felt that blow for the rest of the fight. The middle rounds saw Lopez kick up the pressure, attempting to rattle the young challenger. But he just couldn't do it. In the end, Lopez handed his title over to the prospect, who now was a titlist. Sonsona won a unanimous decision over 12 exciting rounds. Lopez offered no excuses, and hoped only to land a rematch, which did not come his way. Lopez also praised Sonsona after the fight, showing his true class.
8. Andre Berto v. Luis Collazo
January 17, 2009 - Biloxi, Mississippi
HBO's boxing year got off to a great start with this criminally underrated fight from January, a fight that was forgotten quickly due to the shock of Shane Mosley dominating Antonio Margarito seven days later, and then the subsequent controversy surrounding that fight. But Berto-Collazo was without any question a vastly superior contest, far more competitive and with one of the most dramatic finishes of 2009.
The much-hyped Berto came in against the experienced, crafty Collazo holding the WBC welterweight title, which was for all intents and purposes given to him when Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced his make-believe retirement in 2008. Berto beat non-contender Miki Rodriguez to win the vacant title, and then defended against non-welterweight Steve Forbes before signing on to face Collazo.
Collazo wobbled an overconfident Berto early in the fight, and then Andre lost a point in the fourth round for excessive holding. With his back then slightly against the wall, he was forced to accept that he was in there with a fighter who could beat him.
But the fight was interesting in a lot of ways. When Berto stayed at distance, Collazo was absolutely no match for him. Berto's enormous speed advantage gave Collazo fits. But when they got close, Collazo put a whooping on Berto, who had never been in the ring with someone as resilient and smart as the Puerto Rican.
Going into the 12th and final round, I had the fight at 104-104, counting that fourth round deduction against Berto. From where I was sitting, he NEEDED to win the 12th round, to prove he was a true "champion," whatever diluted meaning that word still has in boxing.
And he did just that. With a ferocity heretofore unseen in either this fight or really his entire career, Andre Berto dug deep down and took the fight to Collazo, who seemed ill-prepared for that sort of onslaught. Unable to time Berto anymore, Collazo was forced into the role of survivor. When all was said and done, I scored the fight 114-113 for Berto, and so did two of the official judges (the other had it 116-111 for Berto, which was very wide).
It was with this fight that, in my opinion, Berto finally earned his status as a welterweight titleholder.
7. Joseph Agbeko v. Yonnhy Perez
October 31, 2009 - Las Vegas, Nevada
From this fight on, we're into the territory of what I consider the TRUE Fight of the Year contenders. Any one of these fights could be argued as the best of the year, I believe.
Seeing as how I'm not six years old, nor do I go to bars to do anything other than drink and kick ass at karaoke, Halloween holds zero appeal for me anymore. But the folks at Showtime put together what wound up being a thrilling main event, with Don King back in Las Vegas at the Treasure Island Casino to promote his man, Joseph Agbeko, against Colombian contender Yonnhy Perez.
While this fight had sleeper status, I don't think anyone expected it to be quite as great as it was. Reigning 118-pound titlist Agbeko had come off of a win over a white-hot Vic Darchinyan in July, and Perez had scored a big comeback stoppage of Silence Mabuza in May. (Mabuza-Perez I should have mentioned on the cut list post as well. I have not seen the full fight, so I couldn't rank it.)
I don't recall a single clinch in this fight. The workrate was astounding, with both men throwing a ton of punches, particularly the hyper-active Perez. Perez scored a controversial 10th round knockdown, which it appeared at first might have wound up being a deciding factor. But for as closely contested as this war was, the scores were fairly wide at 116-111, 116-111 and 117-110. I scored it 116-111 for Perez myself, feeling he clearly won the fight over the always-tough Agbeko, but those scores don't reflect what a great, great fight this was. This year's Halloween wound up pretty damn memorable for the boxing fans that stayed in to watch this one, a true treat for the hardcore audience.
6. Jamie Moore v. Ryan Rhodes
October 23, 2009 - Bolton, England
In my view, without question this was the British Fight of the Year. Dubbed the "War of the Roses," Salford's Moore put his European 154-pound title on the line against Sheffield's Rhodes, who was looking to complete a comeback story with what would be a stunning win over a top ten worldwide junior middleweight.
Moore started the fight very strong, making Rhodes look bad in the opening frame, but meeting a bit more resistance in the second round and beyond. Still, though the fight was constant action and zero clinching, thus quite exciting to watch, I had Moore up 4-0 at the end of four rounds.
But there was a moment in the fourth when the tide seemed to turn. Rhodes hurt him to the body after absorbing more offense, and it would be the fifth round that I finally got Rhodes on the board with a winning three minutes. It was also that fifth round when you could tell for sure that there was a special fight brewing in the air.
Rhodes took the first half of a wonderful sixth round, with Moore coming back strong. On what appeared to be weakening legs, Moore made a major rally and took the round. He may well have gassed himself out, as he already appeared to be tiring. The sixth round might have been a valiant, last-ditch attempt, and it nearly did work.
But in the seventh, Rhodes dropped Moore with a right hand, right as Moore was making another run at a big push. The titleholder got back to his feet to fight on. The two then went toe-to-toe, firing everything they had. Moore suddenly wobbled Rhodes, but just as quickly, Rhodes landed a big right hand that sent Moore stumbling. Rhodes pounced, and with Moore being hammered on the ropes, the referee called an end to the action, giving Ryan Rhodes the dramatic, epic comeback victory.
Round seven of this one was my Round of the Year. They lived up to the "War" in the fight's title for sure.
Escobedo-Hernandez: The Daily Texan
Berto-Collazo: Naoki Fukuda / notifight.com
Agbeko-Perez: Tom Casino / Showtime
Moore-Rhodes: Chris Royle / The Boxing Bulletin