Less than 30 seconds into their epic super lightweight bout Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., Brandon Rios had already connected with a crackling double left hook, and Alvarado had returned fire with a blazing right hand.
Throughout the nearly 20 minutes they pummeled each other, the pace rarely slowed. They each delivered bone-crushing shots in a battle that ended dramatically with Rios swarming Alvarado on the ropes in the seventh round.
Referee Pat Russell jumped in to save Alvarado from further punishment as he went defenseless along the ropes. When the fight ended, many were saying it was the greatest bout of the 21st century.
Since the 21st century didn't begin until Jan. 1, 2001, I'll include the Year 2000 as I pick my Baker's dozen of the greatest matches of the 2000s.
13. Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto, July 26, 2008, Las Vegas: The match was billed as "The Battle," but it was more like a war. The welterweights went at each other in savage fashion from the opening bell. The bout later became infamous when Cotto began to believe that Margarito's hand wraps were loaded, but that has never been proven. It was, however, one of the most entertaining fights ever to watch.
12. Manny Pacquiao W12 Juan Manuel Marquez II, March 15, 2008, Las Vegas: Pacquiao won a split decision over Marquez in a bout that, much like their classic first match, could have gone either way. Pacquiao dropped Marquez in the third and, if there was a difference between them on this night, it was the Filipino star's punching power.
11. Erik Morales W12 Manny Pacquiao, March 19, 2005, Las Vegas: This was probably the final fight of the prime Morales, but he reminded fans why he is one of the great fighters of his era. It was a high-paced, tense bout throughout, but it turned Morales' way when he cut Pacquiao in the fifth round.
10. Manny Pacquiao D Juan Manuel Marquez I, May 8, 2004, Las Vegas: Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times in the first round with blisteringly fast hands and seemed about to win by early knockout. But Marquez got up and won most of the rest of the rounds. The bout, though, was a split draw, with one judge favoring Pacquiao, one favoring Marquez and the other scoring it even. However, judge Burt Clements called the first round 10-7 in favor of Pacquiao instead of 10-6, unaware, he admitted afterward, he could score a round 10-6. Had he done so, Pacquiao would have won a split decision.
9. Arturo Gatti W10 Micky Ward II, Nov. 23, 2002, Atlantic City, N.J.: Gatti and Ward fought three times, and the second was clearly lesser than the first and the third. But that only speaks to how great the first and the third bouts were, as the second fight between them was epic. There was great ebb and flow, but Gatti used surprisingly good boxing to hold off Ward and even the rivalry at a fight apiece.
8. Erik Morales W12 Marco Antonio Barrera I, Feb. 19, 2000, Las Vegas: Barrera and Morales hated each other and nearly came to blows several times on their press tour. The fight between them was fast-paced, intense and hotly disputed. Morales believed he won, as did many, but Morales eked out a split decision that set up their classic trilogy.
7. Arturo Gatti W10 Micky Ward III, June 7, 2003, Atlantic City, N.J.: Gatti broke a hand in the fourth round and got decked in the sixth, but in typical Gatti fashion, he came roaring back. They kept hitting each other with clean, hard shots to the head, but Gatti simply landed more, and more often to pull out the win.
6. Israel Vazquez TKO6 Rafael Marquez II, Aug. 4, 2007, Hidalgo, Texas: This was the rematch of an outstanding bout from earlier in the year in which Marquez won when Vazquez was injured and couldn't continue. The third round was insane with the ebb and flow, but Vazquez was hurting Marquez badly as the fight wore on. He was bleeding from both eyes, but managed to stop Marquez in the sixth in what would become the 2007 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year.
5. Israel Vazquez W12 Rafael Marquez III, March 1, 2008, Carson, Calif.: Vazquez and Marquez fought four times, but this bout, the 2008 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year, is the one that stands above the others. In part, that's because it was the longest and the action never stopped over 12 rounds. The fourth round was one of the finest of that year, and Vazquez willed his way to a split decision.
4. Micky Ward W10 Arturo Gatti I, May 18, 2002, Uncasville, Conn.: It was a violent spectacle as the men went at each other with a savagery rarely seen. The ebb and flow in the bout was remarkable as big punches would turn the tide first one way, then the other. The ninth round was so wild that HBO broadcaster Emanuel Steward exuberantly called it "The Round of the Century." Ward knocked Gatti down with a body shot and Gatti seemed out of it, wincing in pain. He got up and Ward poured it on. But suddenly, back came Gatti. It was the best round of the fight, but it was emblematic of how the entire match went. Ward pulled out a majority decision.
3. Marco Antonio Barrera W12 Erik Morales III, Nov. 27, 2004, Las Vegas: In each of their three fights, Barrera and Morales moved up a weight class. In this, the finale of their amazing trilogy, it was fought at super featherweight. Power seemed to play a bigger role in this fight than in the other two. Morales was hurt late in the first round by Barrera and had his nose bloodied in the second. But Morales kept firing and nearly finished Barrera in the 11th. Barrera showed his toughness by fighting out of danger and went on to pull out a hotly disputed majority decision.
2. Diego Corrales TKO10 Jose Luis Castillo I, May 7, 2005, Las Vegas: The first nine rounds were sensational, but were merely a prelude for an unbelievable finish. Castillo came out strong to start the 10th and decked Corrales twice. After the second knockdown, a woozy Corrales was docked a point for spitting out his mouthpiece. As the fight resumed once his mouthpiece was washed, Castillo pounced, looking for the finish. But Corrales was one of the best punchers in the lightweight division and he cracked Castillo with a right that badly hurt Castillo and sent him staggering to the ropes. Corrales pounded away as Castillo sagged back defenseless against the ropes until referee Tony Weeks stopped it. Neither man was ever close to the same fighter again.
1. Brandon Rios TKO7 Mike Alvarado, Oct. 13, 2012, Carson, Calif.: Each round was bitterly contested and the advantage would swing from one guy to the other like a pendulum. As Alvarado seemed to be taking control, Rios would come roaring back. Rios set up the finish with a hook to the body and then a right to the head. Alvarado sagged back against the ropes, as Castillo had done against Corrales seven years before, and Rios fired away. Referee Pat Russell stopped it, ending one of the most sensational bouts in a long time. Promoter Bob Arum said it was one of the handful of best fights he's seen in nearly 50 years.
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