This list was surprisingly difficult to make. I had forgotten how many truly great fights we've seen over the past eleven years. I felt bad leaving out fights such as Freitas/Barrios, Taylor/Pavlik I, Pavlik/Miranda, Vasquez/Marquez I & II, Klitschko/Lewis, Taylor/Wright, Calzaghe/Kessler, Sithchatchawal/ Monshipour, Pacquiao/JMM I & II, Ward/ Augustus, Adamek/Briggs I & II, Johnson/Tarver I, Taylor/Froch, Pascal/Diaconu and De La Hoya/ Vargas. Oh well, I guess this opening serves as an "honorable mention".
The variables I used to separate the fights that made the list, were the amount of action, skill level, significance in the sport, and impact on the fighters' careers. BTW, Margarito/Cotto would have made my honorable mention but didn't for the obvious reasons. (I guess this would be my dishonorable mention) Anyway, here you go...enjoy!!
1. Corrales/Castillo I, May 2005
Because Floyd Mayweather had moved up to Jr Welterweight, a tournament between the four best lightweight fighters would decide who the king of the Lightweight Division would be. Little did we know that the victor would not only capture the Ring title, but the imagination of the entire boxing world. Corrales defeated Freitas by knockout in the 10th round, and would eventually face the only man to arguably give Pretty Boy Floyd his only loss to date. (Before you Floyd fans send me a ton of hate mail, I said arguably.) There is a reason why I bring up the Corrales/Freitas fight when discussing Corrales/Castillo I. During the Freitas bout, "Popo" would indirectly teach Diego how to steal a hard earned victory from "El Temible". Freitas occasionally would spit out his mouthpiece when faced with adversity in a tough fight to keep from getting seriously hurt. This questionable tactic would buy Corrales some much needed time to recover from multiple knockdowns and pull off the improbable TKO victory over Jose Luis Castillo in the tenth round. Before this amazing fight, both combatants stated that they were prepared to "walk through fire" for the WBO, WBC, and Ring Lightweight titles. For our entertainment, that's precisely what they did. Toe to toe action from start to finish and the dramatic and unimaginable 10th round finale. Wow...what a finish. It doesn't get any better than this in the "theater of the unexpected" we like to call prizefighting. Corrales/Castillo I, to many boxing fans, is considered to be the greatest fight in the modern era of boxing. This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2005. Sadly, Diego Corrales never won another fight after this historic match-up, and tragically died in an unexpected motorcycle accident in 2007. Rest in Peace, Chico!!
2. Morales/Barrera I, Feb 2000
Two of the greatest fighters of their era came together on February 19th, 2000, to begin one of the great boxing trilogies in the history of the sport. The first match-up at 122 lbs was by far the most violent and entertaining scrap of the boxing trilogy. It was a unification bout for the WBC and WBO Super Bantamweight titles. Before this fight, both Mexican fighters were only known by boxing die-hards. After the dust had settled, both men were considered by all to be superstars and would begin a new era of "little man" boxing. Before this bout, no one in the press really paid very much attention to any weight class below 130 lbs. This historic and memorable fight would change the future of boxing forever. What a way to start the new Millennium. This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2000.
3. Gatti/ Ward I, May 2002
What made this fight so unbelievable was that there were no belts on the line, no heated verbal exchanges, and no animosity of any kind between the two fighters. Yet, the two combatants went toe to toe as if their lives depended on it. It was one of the most amazing displays of heart and courage you will ever see in boxing throughout your lifetime, and round 9 is arguably the "round of the millennium". The action is absolutely breath taking. Both men were in the twilight of their careers, and most boxing scribes felt that the two fighters had failed to live up to their true potential. Flawed and vulnerable, these fighters made mediocrity look beautiful. It's hard to believe that the "Thunder" is no longer with us. God bless you, Gatti!! Boxing could use another blood and guts warrior right now. This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2002.
4. Toney/Jirov, April 2003
James Toney, since losing consecutive bouts to Roy Jones and Montell Griffin, had fallen into obscurity and hadn't fought a bout of any significance since 1995. Because of the risk/reward factor, "Lights Out" became an avoided fighter and couldn't land a decent fight. In 2003, he became the number one contender for Cruiserweight Champion, Vassiliy Jirov's IBF title. James had no idea the impact this bout would have on his career. Jirov, at the time, was an undefeated champion with a 31-0 record, and was considered by many to be a stylistic nightmare for Toney. Many in the media also considered this fight to be James Toney's final attempt at greatness. No one considered this bout to be a potential "fight of the year" candidate. But it was. The action and skill level of this fight was amazing. Both combatants gave it everything they had and fought as if there were literally no tomorrow. Jirov was the relentless aggressor and Toney was the slick counterpuncher. Ebb and flow, back and forth action; It was a true war of attrition, and in the end, Toney's arm was raised as the victor. But, the real winners were the fans who had just witnessed one the greatest fights of the decade. With the win, Toney had earned a big fight with Evander Holyfield, but Vassiliy Jirov's career was never the same. Unfortunately, the fight with Toney took everything out of "the tiger", who hasn't fought a significant bout since 2004. The only reason why this fight did not receive "fight of the year" honors by The Ring, was because the Gatti/Ward trilogy had concluded that same year.
5. Vasquez/Marquez III, March 2008
This match-up was a guaranteed winner from the start. Every boxing scribe knew that the Vasquez/Marquez fights would easily become "fight of the year" front runners from the point of conception. The real questions were, who would be the victor of the fights and what impact would these fights have on each fighter's career? The first two fights ended with split results as each fighter earned a knockout victory. A "rubber" match was deemed necessary by, not only fight scribes, but the general boxing public. This third fight for the WBC Super Bantamweight title was easily the best fight of the four fight series. The action between both men was incredible, but Israel Vasquez's performance in the 12th round was awe inspiring. In dramatic fashion, Israel Vasquez needed not only to win the final round, but at least one knockdown to win a split decision. He did both and successfully retained his title. After the fight, both men had solidified their status in the sport as Mexican legends, but also became damaged fighters who will more than likely be forced to retire as a result of the four brutal fights. This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2008.
6. Diaz/Juan Manuel Márquez, Feb 2009
This breathtaking bout was, in my opinion, the greatest accomplishment of JMM's career. Both fighters were regarded as the best 135lb fighters in the world, and their performances reflected that sentiment. This was only JMM's second fight as a lightweight, who had just come from a TKO victory over former 2 division champ, Joel Casamayor. Juan Diaz was considered the favorite, who was a natural lightweight and was a very effective aggressor. Most boxing scribes felt that JMM could not fight at the torrid pace in which "the Baby Bull" was accustomed. Most were wrong. Not only did JMM keep up, he shocked the world by knocking out the "Baby Bull" in 9 rounds. With this great performance, JMM earned a big money fight with Floyd Mayweather. Unfortunately, Juan Diaz has struggled since the devastating loss. Although he fought valiantly and wasn't trailing on the scorecards at the time of the stoppage, he has never been the same since being brutally knocked out. This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2009.
7. Gatti/Ward III, June 2003
The "rubber" match of this trilogy was more of the same with slightly different drama. Before the fight, Irish Mickey Ward had announced that the 3rd fight with Gatti would be his last. Ward gave one of his strongest efforts, but it just wasn't enough to overcome the intestinal fortitude of Arturo Gatti. In an amazing display of mental and physical toughness, "Thunder" Gatti had broken his right hand during fourth round action. When asked by trainer Buddy McGirt if he wanted to continue, Gatti responded with a resounding yes and defeated Irish Mick as a "one-handed" fighter; forever cementing his legacy as the true "Blood and Guts Warrior" of boxing. This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2003
8. Morales/Barrera III, November 2004
The first bout between the two Mexican champions was, God bless them, a violent slugfest. The second fight was much more of a tactical match-up. Most boxing writers weren't sure which strategy either fighter would employ, but everyone was in agreement that this was a "can't miss" fight. Barrera dominated the first half of the fight with brilliant combination punching. It initially seemed as if Barrera had "El Terrible's" number for the third fight. But like a true warrior, Erik Morales came storming back in the last half of the bout and forced a draw on one of the judge's scorecards. After all of the animosity and punches were exchanged, before and after the fight, it was "the Baby-faced Assassin" who was proclaimed the victor in a very close majority decision. Great fight!! This bout received "fight of the year" honors from The Ring in 2004.
9. Liakhovich/Brewster , July 2007
This fight was, without a doubt, the best heavyweight bout over the past 11years. It was a fight for Brewster's WBO Heavyweight title and was a vicious scrap. Both men were throwing serious bombs and giving each other a severe beating. It was not only violent, but skillful...everything you wish to see in a prizefight. Although both men got hurt during the fight, there were no real knockdowns throughout the match. The "White Wolf" took a knee in the seventh round to avoid receiving more punishment at the hands of relentless Lamon Brewster, but shockingly no one was floored. Both fighters displayed incredible heart, toughness, and granite chins. Even though both men handed out a beating, Sergei Liakhovich was deemed the victor on all of the judge's scorecards. Tremendous fight and one of my all-time favorites!! In my opinion, this fight should have beaten out Vasquez/Marquez II for The Ring "fight of the year" in 2007.
10. Dorin/Spadafora, May 2003
Most boxing die-hards who remember this tremendous fight agree that this was one of the most gruesome fights they have ever seen. The amount of blood was ridiculous; I thought I was watching WWE. It was a Lightweight unification bout and both men were undefeated. Leo Dorin, the puncher, was 21-0 and Paul Spadafora, the boxer, was 36-0. This fight was a perfect combination of beauty and brutality. A "perfect storm" which ended with an imperfect result; the judges scored this fight a draw. If there were a rematch, a draw wouldn't have been a bad thing. But, unfortunately a rematch never took place due to the fact that Paul Spadafora was found guilty of the attempted murder of his fiancé, Nadine Russo. He shot her in the midsection while she was pregnant. Spaddy stayed in jail until 2006. He attempted a comeback, but was thrown back in the stoney lonesome for parole violation in 2007...Nice!! Leo Dorin fought two more fights and retired in 2004. Dorin/Spadafora was recognized as a "fight of the year" candidate for the year 2003.