Elite eight bouts

If it’s judged by the quality of its matches, boxing had a great year in 2008. There are easily a dozen fights that deserve serious consideration for recognition as Yahoo! Sports’ Fight of the Year.

Choosing the top match out of all the great fights that were held in 2008 is no easy matter.

To make my choice, I considered quality of the fighters involved, quantity of sustained action, drama and significance. When it comes to evenly matched candidates, the one in which the fighters are of a higher quality will get the nod, since it’s more difficult to perform against a better caliber opponent.

With that, here is the Elite Eight, my choices as the eight best bouts in 2008:

8. Rogers Mtagwa vs. Tomas Villa

Date: Nov. 7

Site: Casino del Sol, Tucson, Ariz.

Significance: The bout was the main event of the card on the night that the announcement was made that Telefutura was canceling the “Solo Boxeo” series.

Outcome: Mtagwa won by technical knockout at 1:20 of the 10th round.

The fight: It was a brawl from beginning to end as the featherweights went at it hard. Villa, who was on a 12-fight winning streak, seemed to take control of the fight when he knocked Mtagwa down near the end of the ninth round. Mtagwa barely had enough steam to return to his corner. When the fight resumed in the 10th, Villa raced at him, but Mtagwa fired back and decked him. It was the first of three dramatic knockdowns in the final round that forced referee Rocky Burke to stop the fight and give the win to Mtagwa.

7. Kendall Holt vs. Ricardo Torres II

Date: July 5

Site: Planet Hollywood Resort, Las Vegas

Significance: Rematch of controversial Sept. 1, 2007, bout in Colombia, which Torres won by TKO to capture the WBO light welterweight title.

Outcome: Holt won by knockout at 1:01 of the first round.

The fight: Torres knocked Holt down twice in the first 40 seconds of the bout, as both men were trading wild shots. But as the heavy-hitting Torres was moving in for the finish, Holt tagged him with an overhand right that stunningly ended the fight. It’s the shortest bout on the list, but it was thrilling from the first bell to the last.

6. Joel Casamayor vs. Michael Katsidis

Date: March 22

Site: Morongo Casino/Resort, Cabazon, Calif.

Significance: Bout was for the Ring Magazine lightweight belt and the interim WBO lightweight belt. It also was a fight designed to showcase the up-and-coming Katsidis.

Outcome: Casamayor won by 10th round technical knockout.

The fight: If Katsidis thought the wily veteran Casamayor was willingly accepting of his role as a steppingstone, he was disabused of that notion early. Casamayor decked him twice in the first and nearly finished the fight. Gradually, Katsidis fought his way back into the bout over the next several rounds and floored Casamayor in the sixth. But Casamayor wouldn’t go and roared back to stop Katsidis in the 10th, handing him his first loss in 24 fights.

5. Tomasz Adamek vs. Steve Cunningham

Date: Dec. 11

Site: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

Significance: The bout matched the world’s top two cruiserweights fighting for the Ring Magazine and IBF belts.

Outcome: Adamek won a split decision. Judges had it 115-112 and 116-110 for Adamek and 114-112 for Cunningham.

The fight: There was quality action from the beginning until the end, but Adamek pulled it out on the basis of his harder blows. He knocked Cunningham down three times and clearly landed the more significant shots. Cunningham was busier and was hopeful his activity level would pull it out, but he’d created too big of a hole for himself.

4. Jorge Arce vs. Rafael Concepcion

Date: Sept. 15

Site: Arena Mexico, Mexico City

Significance: The fight was for the interim WBA super flyweight title, a bout the veteran Arce desperately needed to win to stay in the hunt for a big fight against Vic Darchinyan down the line.

Outcome: Arce won by technical knockout at the end of the ninth when Concepcion could not answer the bell for the 10th.

The fight: It was a toe-to-toe slugfest, with each man landing telling blows in just about every round. Arce kept up a sustained body attack, though, and that proved to be the difference as it sapped the strength from Concepcion. Arce poured it on in the ninth, but not only would Concepcion not go down, he kept fighting back. But Arce was too strong and Concepcion was unable to continue after the ninth.

3. Antonio Margarito vs. Miguel Cotto

Date: July 26

Site: MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas

Significance: Bout was for the WBA welterweight title and was a highly anticipated match between two of the game’s best offensive fighters.

Outcome: Margarito won by technical knockout in the 11th round when Cotto’s corner saved him as the Mexican was delivering a savage beating.

The fight: Cotto won the early rounds with his boxing, but it was telling that he was moving and circling as much as he was. Margarito stalked relentlessly and frequently forced Cotto to the ropes. Once there, they traded furiously, but Margarito was stronger and gave better than he got. He also showed an incredible chin. He began to bloody Cotto by the seventh and just pummeled him over the final two rounds.

2. Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez II

Date: March 15

Site: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas

Significance: The bout was for the WBC super featherweight title, but it was also a match of two of the four best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It was a rematch of their brutal 2004 draw.

Outcome: Pacquiao won a split decision in a very close fight. Judges scored it 115-112 and 114-113 for Pacquiao and 115-112 for Marquez.

The fight: The action was manic from start to finish. Marquez seemed to hurt Pacquiao in the second round, but Pacquiao floored Marquez in the third. There were few slow spots, as they simply fired hard shots at each other all night. Marquez had a slight edge in punches landed (172 to 157) and had a fairly significant advantage in connect percentage (34 to 25), but Pacquiao’s blows seemed to do more damage and that was the difference in a very close match.

1. Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez III

Date: March 1

Site: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

Significance: The bout was the third in a series, with the 2007 bout earning the nod as the Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year. They were competing for Marquez’s WBC super bantamweight title and the Ring Magazine championship.

Outcome: Vazquez won by split decision. Judges had it 114-111 and 113-112 for Vazquez and 114-111 for Marquez.

The fight: The pace was fast and the blows were hard and accurate. Vazquez was decked in the fourth and Marquez went down in the final seconds of the 12th. Vazquez seemed to be the stronger man and appeared to hurt Marquez more than Marquez hurt him. The crowd was heavily into it and roared at deafening levels throughout.

Why it’s the 2008 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year: Any one of the eight bouts could have won. But these are two of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world who went at each other with a ferocity rarely seen. There were many ebbs and flows in the fight and when it was over, no one was certain who’d won. The only thing certain was that everyone wanted to see a fourth fight between the two.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Dec 22, 2008