If anyone says there weren't some amazing boxing matches this year, then they either don't know boxing or they weren't paying attention.
Sure, we didn't see the big fight everyone was hoping for in 2010, but we saw plenty of great action. There were many excellent matchups in boxing this year, and some were from well-recognized boxers like Juan Manuel Marquez, who fought Juan Diaz in 2009's fight of the year, or his brother Rafael, who was a part of the previous two fight of the year winners.
Another exciting piece of news is that there is no obvious front-runner for fight of the year; rather, there are at least a half dozen valid candidates for the award, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
In this article, I break down 12 fights that have a legitimate chance at being boxing's fight of the year for 2010. This is all leading up to King J's big announcement of the consensus picks from Bleacher Report's panel of top boxing writers.
The fight of the year usually is awarded to an action-packed fight, featuring one or more knockdowns, between top-tier boxers, often on a major pay per view or cable TV card.
For that reason, some of the top action of 2010 is unlikely to win the award because of the relatively low-profile of the combatants, or other factors that may prevent them from winning the award.
Still, there were some quality matchups worth recognizing as honorable mentions for the fight of the year award:
Miguel Roman vs. Antonio Escalante
Juan Carlos Burgos vs. Antonio Escalante
Ramsey Luna vs. Rene Luna
Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam vs. Avantandil Kurtsidze
Raul Martinez vs. Rodrigo Guerrero
Now, on to the matches with a legitimate chance at winning Fight of the Year...
Showtime has had the best tournaments in boxing over the past few years, with the Super Middleweight "Super Six" tournament and now, the much more manageable bantamweight tournament between four of the top fighters in the division.
The tournament got off to a quick start two weeks ago with two semifinal matchups: Abner Mares vs. Vic Darchinyan.
Mares is a young, heart-filled Mexican-American boxer, and Darchinyan is a familiar name to boxing fans. In 2007, the awkward Armenian-Australian southpaw was one of the top stars in the sport before being upset by a young Nonito Donaire. Nonetheless, he is still one of the most feared fighters, and for good reason - awkward, hard-hitting, and violent, he's a handful for anyone he steps into the ring with.
Mares-Darchinyan exceeded expectations. As skillfully recounted by Bleacher Report's Nick Tylwalk, the first round was close, but then Darchinyan pulled ahead with two or three big rounds and a knockdown in the second round. Then Mares started to come back, taking everything Darchinyan threw at him and displaying tremendous heart.
Mares knocked down Darchinyan later in the fight for good measure, and pulled ahead slightly with some excellent late rounds. In the end, Mares won a split decision victory and moved on to the Showtime bantamweight tournament finals.
Nobuo Nashiro is a 29-year-old Japanese bantamweight whose 14-2 record doesn't do justice to the extraordinary level of talent he possesses. He entered the sport as a 21-year-old back in 2003 and won the WBA world super flyweight title in only his eighth fight.
He entered his match with Hugo Cazares with a 4-1-1 record in title fights, including an undefeated record in his last three title fights.
Hugo "El Increible" Cazares is a 32-year-old from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, and possesses a lengthy, explosive frame for a boxer in his division.
In their previous meeting, the two had battled to a hard-fought, well-contested draw, and this fight surpassed the drama of even that initial matchup. Both fighters had their impressive moments in a 12 round fight to the finish.
This time, Cazares proved superior and pulled off a close, but decisive 12-round decision.
Prior to this bout, 34-year-old Puerto Rican Ivan Calderon had gone undefeated for his entire nine-year career (34-0), but couldn't seem to generate much attention because he isn't a big knockout puncher. Calderon has long been one of the best pure boxers in the sport, and he has won only one sixth of his fights by knockout.
However, he did land one of the highest-profile fights of his career when he stepped in with Giovani Segura, a talented 28-year-old Mexican-American flyweight who is just entering his peak years.
The fight happened in August, but it was perhaps the first of the high profile fight of the year candidates this year. As is often the case with well-regarded fights in the lighter weight divisions, these two boxers went at each other with an impressive onslaught of speed, punches, and counterpunches.
As everyone expected, Calderon fought valiantly, but for the first time in his career, he was simply outclassed by a fresher, younger fighter. Calderon won a round or two, but by the time Segura knocked him out in round 8, he was trailing on all the scorecards and looked visibly weathered.
This was an exceptional, action-packed performance by both fighters.
Humberto Soto, also known as "La Zorrita" or "The Crafty Little Fox," is a 30-year old Mexican boxer who has long been one of the biggest contenders in the lightweight division, but hasn't been quite able to break through to boxing's top tier, due to his seven career losses against sometimes mid-level opposition. Still, his 54-7 record qualifies him as one of the top boxers in his division.
Urbano Antillon, for his part, was in his first non-interim title fight. He entered the ring as a 28-1 boxer, with less experience than Soto and more to prove.
And prove that, he did. From the moment the bout began, it was pure action. Bleacher Report's top boxing live blogger, Nick Tylwalk, immediately called the fight one of the fight of the year candidates, and it certainly was.
Both boxers fought and traded for 12 rounds. Alarmingly, neither of them went down during the entire fight, in spite of constant action and drama. The lack of a knockdown, combined with the slightly lower profile of the fighters, Antillon in particular, may prevent this from being fight of the year, but it certainly deserves to be in the discussion.
This was one big fight that lived up to its lofty expectations. Juan Manuel Lopez is one of the fastest-rising stars in the sport of boxing, and Rafael Marquez is a grizzled veteran who had been in two of the last three fights of the year. In 2007 and 2008, two of the fights in the famous Rafael Marquez vs. Israel Vazquez trilogy were boxing's fight of the year.
This fight was held on Nov. 6, and was the first of the huge arsenal of big-time fights this past November. It got us off to an excellent start. After a minute or so of measuring each other up, this was a non-stop all-action fight, and both fighters had their moments.
This long-anticipated bout provided boxing a much-needed shot in the arm, and I think it's one of the two or three fights with the biggest chance at walking away with the Fight of the Year award.
The junior welterweight division is probably the most talented in boxing right now, and it is a real treat that we are getting to see the top fighters in the division actually square off against each other in the ring.
Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander are squaring off on Jan. 29, and observers predicted that the winner of that bout would be facing off against the winner of the Dec. 11 matchup between talented Brit Amir Khan and Argentina's rugged Marcos Maidana.
The match between Ring Magazine's third and fourth-rated junior welterweights did not disappoint. Maidana is a gritty, hard-hitting fighter with some questions around his pure boxing skills, while Khan is a speedy, powerful boxer whose recent history has caused some to question his chin.
At the end, the fight lived up to expectations. There were moments of pure action, moments of strategic measurement, and one of the most dramatic rounds of the year when Maidana, trailing on most scorecards, shook Khan with some big punches, and the Bolton-based Khan was holding on for dear life.
In the end, Khan won a close decision victory and walked away with his head held high with his position as one of boxing's rising stars intact.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the Marquez brothers has been in each of the last three fights of the year: Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez won the award twice for their 2007 and 2008 bouts, and Juan Manuel Marquez won for his ninth-round KO last year of Juan Diaz.
That trend has a good chance of continuing this year, as each brother had one of the biggest, most action-packed fights of 2010.
From the moment Marquez vs. Katsidis was announced, we expected an action fight. Michael Katsidis is an Australian lightweight who has one of the most courageous hearts in recent boxing memory. Marquez, of course, is the legendary Mexican tactician who is one of the finest practitioners in the sweet science today.
The fight was on the ropes, though, after Michael's brother, Stathi Katsidis, passed away just six weeks before the fight. Astoundingly, Michael Katsidis valiantly decided to continue training, and came into the fight in excellent shape.
The fight was a brilliant one. Marquez came on strong early, using his superior boxing skills to hold off Katsidis' attack, though Katsidis did box valiantly. However, Marquez was the victim of a flash knockdown in round three, and the two fighters traded action after that.
In the end, it was Marquez's superior boxing ability that won out, and the referee stepped in and stopped the fight in round 9. Immediately, it was considered one of the fight of the year candidates, and is a frontrunner for the award today.