This list is to honor 10 fighters who have given either spectacular performances or extremely compelling ones.
The year is still young, but we've seen dazzling displays of mastery from the likely suspects, and we've seen some fighters we didn't expect to win reach down into the pit of their souls and find the heart and courage to defy the odds. Erik Morales, pictured above, did not make this list because in the end, he didn't win the fight. But his effort, refusing to back down with a horrible eye injury and trailing badly on the cards, was amongst the year's most memorable, and once again, carried out the old axiom that every great fighter has one last great fight.
He stood toe-to-toe with one of the hardest punchers in a weight class well above where he fought in his prime, and with supreme skills and a champion's heart, was winning a substantial stretch of that fight. But the fact that he coasted through the first four rounds and was beaten in the last two meant he needed to sweep Rounds 5 through 10 just to earn a draw, and in a hotly contested, very close fight, that was too much magic for even the old wizard from Tijuana to conjure up. But the effort deserves a mention, and I am convinced Morales-Maidana will be one of the most memorable fights of the year.
Going into his fight against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., they said he had been in too many wars. It was an athletic mismatch, against the younger, quicker Vazquez. And they were wrong.
He was a battle-tested soldier, and he took the young buck into combat. Arce's stellar effort on a night when Shane Mosley immasculated himself at the altar of Pacquiao is the lone positive memory from the most-hyped event of the year.
Salido was considered by some as a measuring stick for the great Juan Manuel Lopez. Could Lopez do better than his purported rival Yuriorkis Gamboa did in outpointing Salido in his previous fight? The venerable Mexican with a granite chin had something else in mind as he walked right through JuanMa's punches all night and staggered Lopez several times.
The stoppage may have been premature, but there was no question Salido was putting a beating on JuanMa, one from which he would probably not recover. Lopez may have had trouble with the weight or been distracted by issues outside the ring, but none of that matters to Orlando Salido, who pulled off one of the year's biggest upsets and shattered the dreams of the boxing world and Bob Arum for the heavily anticipated, and now indefinitely postponed, Lopez-Gamboa.
On April 2nd, Segura emphatically stopped long-reigning light flyweight king Ivan Calderon for the second time, this time in bloodier, more decisive, quicker fashion than the first.
Segura affirmed that he is the man among the sub-bantamweight, pound-for-pound aspirants, and anyone interested in fights between such diminutive men should be demanding Segura-Wonjongkam as the true battle to be had for dominance in these oft-overlooked weight classes.
When is this man going to get some pound-for-pound top 10 love? While Pongsaklek Wonjongkam continues to occupy a spot while fighting guys from Thailand with less than five professional fights, Froch has done nothing but fight top-rated fighters for years.
He faced intense pressure from a resurgent Glen Johnson and continued to show astute ring awareness and an absolutely titanium chin. With Froch's blend of self-assured brashness and a fan-friendly style, it is shocking this guy's not a bigger attraction. The awkwardness maybe fools us into thinking he's not skilled, but the resume speaks for itself: Pascal, Taylor, Dirrell, Kessler, Abraham, and now Johnson, boasting a record of 5-1 in those fights.
Bernard Hopkins, love him or hate him, has endured the test of time in a way so few, if any, of his contemporaries have. His second fight against Pascal was classic Hopkins, frustrating and exhausting his opponent, a healthy dish of some unsavory tactics, and ultimately, a boxing clinic over the second half of the fight, a familiar script.
Hopkins was more aggressive than usual, not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the much stronger and younger Pascal, and he gave the fans an entertaining scrap and a memorable, historic event.
As far as what one fight meant to one fighter, this was probably the most significant win of the year. A loss, particularly a bad one, would have probably banished Ortiz into journeyman status for the next couple of years. Instead, Ortiz proved all the critics and doubters wrong—he did have heart, he had the courage to stand and trade with a decent puncher in Berto and he had the chin and the fortitude to take some big shots and keep coming, confident in his skills and power.
His post-fight interview after essentially calling it a day against Marcos Maidana two years ago was the textbook on what not to say when Max Kellerman or Larry Merchant sticks a mike in your face. Here, as seen above, he is full of grace and composure, remarkably reflective on the fight of the year in which he just participated and won.
When Robert Guerrero was slated to face Michael Katsidis, people thought this would be the fight of the year. Instead, it was the beatdown of the year, with Michael Katsidis looking like he had been jumped by 10 guys in an alley by the time it was over.
Guerrero put on a clinic, using boxing skills and footwork to find angles from the southpaw stance to savagely punish Katsidis nearly every time they met in the center of the ring. This was like Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito, just a guy with the total package putting on a show against a more limited opponent who was willing to take a severe beating in the hopes of a puncher's chance. It never came, and when Katsidis did connect with something, Guerrero shook it off and hit him back with two punches in return.
A compelling, dominant performance that demands Guerrero get a fight against one of the top fighters at 135 or 140 soon.
It was no shock that Yuriorkis Gamboa beat Jorge Solis, but Gamboa looked invincible out there—a mini-Mike Tyson, the perfect blend of speed and power in a compact package.
Solis has fought top-level competition and has been knocked out before, but never has he been so completely undressed and dominated as he was by Gamboa this night. There are fighters ranked lower who won much bigger fights this year, but none looked as utterly unstoppable as Gamboa. In this performance, Gamboa separated himself from the pack at featherweight, weeks before Lopez ceded his crown to Salido. The counterpoint would be that Solis was drained from cutting down to featherweight.
But I saw a game fighter that night in Jorge Solis, a guy who was simply overpowered by an ever-improving phenom who may one day rule the pound-for-pound charts.
How can you possibly improve on the dramatic demolition of Kelly Pavlik last year to seize the middleweight crown and the best one-punch KO of the past decade? You can't.
Nothing Martinez did against Dzinzurik was as memorable as his late-fight command against Pavlik or his shocking left hook that put Paul Williams to sleep. Yet, it was a masterful performance, the most one-sided fight the great Maravilla has had in years. Dzinzurik was supposed to be a defensive master who had never been knocked down, a tough jabber, and a fighter it was hard to look good against, seemingly a no-win situation for Sergio going in.
So what does he do? How about put him on the canvas five times for starters.
This was the only fight this year between two top 10 pound-for-pound guys, correct me if I'm wrong, and by the end, it could not possibly have been clearer who was deserving of that honor.
Donaire physically looked so much bigger, stronger, faster, it seemed as though Montiel was hopeless from the opening bell. Montiel fought tentatively in the opening round and seemed to be feeling Nonito out. In the second round came the shocker: Montiel, who hadn't lost in almost five years, was rocked from a shot to the jaw, crashing to the ground, legs twitching as he stumbled to recover. He somehow leapt to his feet but his fate had been written.
Seconds later, the ref stopped the action as the dazed Montiel leaned helplessly against the ropes. With one punch, Donaire justified his lofty P4P status and continues to be mentioned as one of boxing's next superstars. We can only hope his contract issues get resolved so we can see the Filipino Flash in action again soon.
Zab Judah-Sick KO of Kaizer Mabuza put himself back into the mix at 140, resulting in a huge opportunity against Amir Khan July 23rd.
Hernan Marquez - the winner of the bloodbath of the year to this point against Luis Concepcion
Canelo Alvarez - a superb manhandling of Matthew Hatton continues the ascension of one of boxing's next superstars
Pawel Wolak - laid a beating on the very solid defensive boxer Yuri Foreman
Brandon Rios - fought back from an early deficit to pound talented Miguel Acosta into submission in an early Fight of the Year candidate
Marco Antonio Rubio - played possum for six rounds against the fast, aggressive David Lemieux, but when Lemieux got a taste of the Mexican veteran's power, it was ballgame for the previously undefeated Canadian.