Boxing is a sport rife with comebacks. Many of the sport's legends, such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard, retire only to decide to come to fight again.
Given that, perhaps it's fitting that the sport itself performed a comeback of sorts in the final two months of 2010. The year was lackluster when it came to great fights in the first 10 months. There was a good fight here and there, but it wasn't until the final two months when there were consistently excellent bouts week after week.
The fun started on Nov. 6 in Las Vegas, when Juan Manuel Lopez stopped Rafael Marquez after eight rounds for the World Boxing Organization featherweight title. On Nov. 27, again in Las Vegas, Juan Manuel Marquez stopped Michael Katsidis in the ninth to win the World Boxing Association/WBO lightweight belts.
Another lightweight belt was on stake on Dec. 4 in Anaheim, Calif., as Humberto Soto decisioned Urbano Antillon for the World Boxing Council belt. And on Dec. 11, Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana put on an entertaining slugfest in Las Vegas for the WBA super lightweight belt, while in Tacoma, Wash., Abner Mares upset Vic Darchinyan in a bruising bantamweight battle.
It was quite the final two months, and that's not even including Manny Pacquiao's impressive destruction of Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13; Sergio Martinez's stunning knockout of Paul Williams on Nov. 20 and Bernard Hopkins' amazing rally in a draw with Jean Pascal on Dec. 18.
It's been as good as it gets for the final two months.
It's also helped to deepen the field of candidates for the annual Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year honor.
I'll take a look in chronological order at the nine finalists – seven of which were Aug. 28 or later – and then make my selection for Fight of the Year. For what it's worth, previous Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year Award winners were Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez II in 2007, Vazquez-Marquez III in 2008 and Williams-Martinez I in 2009.
Antonio Escalante W10 Miguel Roman, featherweights, Feb. 27, El Paso, Texas – The bout was an under-the-radar match for all but the most hardcore fans, but it turned out to be an entertaining back-and-forth slugfest for all who saw it on ESPN2 as part of its "Friday Night Fights" series. They largely stood toe-to-toe for most of the 10 rounds, working the head and the body with a series of savage shots. Escalante won a unanimous decision by scores of 96-93 twice and 97-92.
Mikkel Kessler W12 Carl Froch, super middleweights, April 24, Herning, Denmark – The Kessler-Froch bout has been the signature match of Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic to this point. The match was fought in the center of the ring and there were constant ebbs and flows, though neither man ever gained the advantage for a lengthy period. By the end, the signs of the war were etched upon their faces, but Kessler pulled out a unanimous decision by scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113.
Giovanni Segura KO8 Ivan Calderon, light flyweights, Aug. 28, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico – For most of his career, Calderon has been such a good boxer that he all but disqualified himself for Fight of the Year. He was so slick and so good defensively that opponents couldn't lay a glove on him. Segura, though, managed to touch him consistently and the result was a surprisingly entertaining battle. Segura unified the WBA and WBO belts by taking over the fight in the fifth round and pummeling Calderon with a combination of right hands and shots to the body. Calderon went down from a combination to the body in the eighth and couldn't get up, giving Segura the victory.
Ricky Burns W12 Roman Martinez, super featherweights, Sept. 4, Glasgow, Scotland – The hard-hitting Martinez was a big favorite in the WBO title fight and put the challenger on the deck in the first round. Burns, though, got up and outboxed Martinez the rest of the way to win the title. He was particularly effective with the right uppercut, snapping Martinez' head repeatedly and peppering him with combinations. Martinez continued to stalk, but Burns was quicker and more accurate and pulled out the decision.
Juan Manuel Lopez TKO8 Rafael Marquez, featherweights, Nov. 6, Las Vegas – Marquez was the biggest test of Lopez's young career, and Lopez passed the test in style. Marquez tried to make it into a slugfest, but that played into the hands of the faster and stronger Lopez. After an even start, Lopez began to pull away and Marquez ultimately quit on his stool after the eighth, claiming an injured shoulder. The intensity was high from start to finish and there were rarely breaks in the action in the classic battle.
Juan Manuel Marquez TKO9 Michael Katsidis, lightweights, Nov. 27, Las Vegas – Katsidis did as Katsidis does, coming out aggressively and pouring on the pressure. He managed to drop Marquez in the third round with a thunderous counter-left hook. Marquez, though, is one of the greats of the game and he proved it, using his accurate punching and ring savvy to beat down Katsidis over the second half. Referee Kenny Bayless leaped in to halt it mercifully as Marquez was giving Katsidis a one-sided working over in the ninth.
Humberto Soto W12 Urbano Antillon, lightweights, Dec. 4, Anaheim, Calif. – Bantamweight Nonito Donaire Jr. got all of the attention with his impressive knockout of Volodymyr Sydorenko in the main event, but Soto and Antillon stole the show in their duel for the WBC lightweight title. Antillon turned the bout into a brawl and Soto, the much faster man, willingly accommodated him. The result was an edge-of-the-seat battle that wasn't determined until the final round.
Abner Mares W12 Vic Darchinyan, bantamweights, Dec. 4, Tacoma, Wash. – Darchinyan was the favorite going into Showtime's bantamweight tournament, but Mares outhustled him down the stretch and pulled out a disputed split decision. Darchinyan dropped Mares with a left in the second and Mares lost a point in the fourth for a low blow, but Mares overcame those losses with a spirited effort down the stretch. He was the fresher fighter and was landing the cleaner shots over the final third of the fight to take the close decision.
Amir Khan W12 Marcos Maidana, super lightweights, Dec. 11, Las Vegas – The fight was supposed to be Khan, the boxer, against Maidana, the puncher. But in the first round, Khan ripped Maidana with a combination to the body and Maidana hit the deck in agony. Had it occurred 30 seconds earlier, he wouldn't have been able to finish. Khan's boxing skill, though, helped him build a wide early lead. Maidana continued to stalk and had Khan in trouble in the 10th and nearly out. He pressed hard for the knockout, but Khan backpedaled and managed to survive. Khan earned the unanimous decision to claim the WBA super lightweight title.
The verdict Each fight had its selling points, but I narrowed the initial list of nine to three, separating Marquez-Katsidis, Segura-Calderon and Soto-Antillon from the group.
Any of the three could have won and it would have been a fair honor, but I chose Soto-Antillon. It was a close fight throughout with sustained action and plenty of drama. The Marquez-Katsidis fight was excellent, but Marquez was clearly the more skilled fighter and he dominated the last three or four rounds. Segura also pulled away from Calderon in the fifth and established himself as the better man before landing the knockout.
But the Soto-Antillon bout was a tense, taut battle that could have gone either way. A point deduction from Antillon for a low blow is what wound up giving the decision to Soto, by scores of 114-113 twice and 115-112. Had referee Ray Corona not taken the point, it would have been a majority draw.
The fighting pace and the stakes were high, the action intense and the drama significant. As a result, Humberto Soto's victory over Urbano Antillon on Dec. 4 in Anaheim, Calif., is the 2010 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year.