Right off the bat, on April 2, in Panama, there was a little-watched bout in the flyweight division between Hernan Marquez—possibly best known at that point as one of Nonito Donaire's victims—and Luis Concepcion, which turned into an absolute scorcher. It was a grueling bloodbath, a war throughout, with multiple knockdowns. Each fighter delivered a barrage of power shots until the eye of Concepcion, the former champ and hometown favorite, was so badly swollen, the doctor was forced to end the fight in the 11th round, awarding Marquez the TKO victory.
The fight was as intense and violent of a confrontation as we've seen all year. Unfortunately, even the most hardcore of boxing fans probably didn't catch it live. If anything, as in my case, they were watching another event that night, a rematch of one of last year's best fights, Giovanni Segura vs. Ivan Calderon, and the dreck that preceded it on a typical Integrated Sports PPV broadcast. That fight turned out to be quicker and more decisive, but a less competitive and entertaining version of last year's edition. Meanwhile, an instant classic was brewing in Panama City.
I did not catch it until probably the following week, in a four-part installment on YouTube, already well aware of the final outcome. As in any sporting theatre, once you know the result, it makes it a lot less interesting to watch. It was certainly a riveting spectacle for a bloodthirsty fan, but I can't say the viewing experience was among the most memorable of the year for me. Thus, a shout-out to the action in the ring, but Marquez-Concepcion does not make the cut.
1) Victor Ortiz UD over Andre Berto
The fight was sizzling. Berto down and hurt in the first. Ortiz down in the second. Ortiz peppering Berto with shots from all over until getting clobbered in the sixth round, going down on what looked like might be a fight-ending shot. But the wounded Ortiz hung tough, and caught Berto smack on the chin to put him down with seconds left in the round. The torrid pace continued for the next couple of rounds, and subsided a bit in the last third as Ortiz, smartly, was more careful, and Berto tried to out-box him even though he was behind on the cards. Ortiz' stock skyrocketed after this, probably even more than Berto's would have had he found a way to win the fight. It was a satisfying night full of action and drama. And it didn't hurt that I had predicted the Ortiz upset.
2) Marcos Maidana MD over Erik Morales
This whole night was fantastic, from Nobuhiro Ishida's stunning first-round stomping of James Kirkland, to Robert Guerrero's thorough beating of the probably-too-courageous-for-his-own-good Michael Katsidis. Few thought the main event had any chance of being the highlight of the evening. On this one, I was way off. I thought it would be Kirkland knocking Ishida out before you had a chance to blink. I figured Maidana would barrel right through Erik Morales and pound him into submission. And I almost thought Katsidis would beat Guerrero. The night was full of surprises, with Kirkland's abysmal performance at the top of the list. But coming in a close second place was the shockingly resilient Morales against a much younger and stronger Maidana.
Many people have downgraded Maidana based on this performance. I find that to be misguided. No one ever said he was Willie Pep. Maidana is who he is: a certified tough-as-nails, come-forward, free-swinging brawler. And as Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz can attest to, not a guy you can just put away easily with one big shot. On this night, one had to give credit where credit was due: to Erik Morales. He showed that he's not running on an empty tank, which most of us suspected. Had he not basically thrown away the first few rounds, or suffered a horrible swelling that nearly left him blind in one eye, Morales could have easily won this fight. At the same time, give him credit for overcoming the deficit on the cards and a bad injury to turn the bout into a competitive, highly entertaining fight. It was shades of Morales vs. Pacquiao I for the old master from Tijuana.
3) Tim Bradley TD over Devon Alexander
This one was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It seemed like months before the last significant fight leading up to this junior-welterweight clash in January. Here were two unbeaten American fighters, each with a belt, each purporting to be the best in their class, and neither having a particular fondness for the other. The anticipation was palpable (by me anyway—the mainstream sports media didn't really pick up on it, though, and in retrospect, that was probably a good thing).
The fight was a dud. It made Pacquiao-Mosley look like Hagler-Hearns. And it was awkward. Like two guys who wanted to fight, but didn't quite know how to engage. Seemed like every time they went inside, they clashed heads. The only big televised fight that was worse this year was Khan-McCloskey, until Berto-Ortiz quickly wiped the bad taste away from that one. And that was basically an in-between fight for Khan. This was supposed to be primetime, the main event, a coming out party for the winner. But after this debacle, Bradley should have been thrilled to fight Khan to unify the division. Instead, he seems content to wait for a bigger payday or a better moment.
The irony of the situation is that the loser may end up better off than the winner. Alexander is slated to face heavy-hitting Lucas Mathysse on June 25, and he will have to engage to keep the tough brawler away from him. If Alexander can pull it together and knock off Mathysse in what should be an entertaining fight, he may find himself with better options for his next fight than Bradley, who seems like he's waiting for a multi-million dollar payday from a Pacquiao fight that may never happen.
4) Orlando Salido TKO over Juan Manuel Lopez
This is the one fight I did not see live but had to put on the list. I didn't watch it live because as astute readers may note, it was on the same night as the Berto-Ortiz fight. So after soaking in Ortiz' glorious victory, I went to the trusted DVR to scope JuanMa's epic fall to Salido. I did not yet know the result. If I had, I can't imagine I would have experienced the fight the same way.
Lopez is one of my favorite fighters. I knew Salido was a heavy hitter with a tough chin, but I never considered that other issues might effect JuanMa's performance (the divorce, trouble making weight). Whatever the case, I felt like he looked slow and not as crisp as he had in the Marquez fight.
I think it was the fourth or fifth round when Salido really hurt JuanMa, put him onto the canvas as Gus Johnson shrieked in delight at the action. But Lopez seemed to recover and won the next round. Suddenly, Salido was pounding JuanMa again, and he was clearly out of sorts, flailing back punches, almost helpless to defend himself. Almost helpless. I thought the stoppage was rough. So did Lopez. So did the guy who threw the water bottle at Al Bernstein and, for that matter, even Bernstein himself. But it was the ref's call. And one thing was clear, Lopez was losing that fight.
The action was intense throughout, both fighters more than willing to scrap. But the result was the most memorable thing. We always knew Lopez was vulnerable, and of course Salido was a dangerous opponent, but it was shocking nonetheless, with most of us still drooling looking ahead to a possible clash with Gamboa. The lesson learned, when you play with fire every time, eventually you'll get burned.
You can't keep a zero on your loss record if you get badly hurt in most of your fights. See Miguel Cotto. It's why we love Lopez and Cotto. It's also why Cotto's become more of a boxer against less fearsome guys than he brawled with in the past, and why you'll see Lopez do the same when he looks for revenge against Salido. When you have the skill and athletic advantages that JuanMa does, going inside against a battle-tested Salido was a foolish, though crowd-pleasing, strategy for winning the fight, and it backfired horrendously.
5) Brandon Rios TKO over Miguel Acosta
Bam-Bam is becoming one of the most exciting fighters in the world, and it will definitely be interesting to see how long he can hold that zero in the loss column as he fights against better competition. His explosive style and warrior's heart almost makes you forget about his distasteful parody of Freddie Roach and his affiliation with the diabolical Antonio Margarito. Almost. In a sport of heroes and villains, Rios will probably always be on the dark side.
For four rounds, Acosta was schooling Rios, with superior speed, reach, and boxing skills. But Bam-Bam pressed and found a way inside, where he's comfortable. He methodically began doing damage, culminating in a violent submission in the 10th round, with Acosta dazed and defeated. Rios faces a much different opponent on July 9, Urbano Antillon, a guy who will pressure and stalk him from the opening bell. These are two locomotives blazing toward a head-on collision. Blood will be spilled on what looks to be a brutal night.
Of course there were plenty of other memorable moments in what's been a pretty decent year so far. Nonito Donaire's striking blow that shattered Fernando Montiel. Andy Lee's great comeback to knock out Craig McEwan in an entertaining fight. Dazzling displays from supremely talented fighters Sergio Martinez and Yuriorkis Gamboa. And unfortunately, the Pacquiao-Mosley stinker will linger in our minds for a while, too.