Plenty of choices for Fight of the Year

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

There is no sport that takes as much abuse from the media, the fans and those in the industry as boxing. It's almost mind-boggling that the sport has survived for so long despite the way it is frequently attacked from within.

But 2009 is an example of what boxing can be when it's close to its best. The sport can do better – a great place to start in 2010 would be for promoters to put more quality fights on pay-per-view undercards – but it had its best year in a long time in 2009.

And while it seemed that there were great fights on a weekly basis, none stands out as the slam dunk choice for 2009 Fight of the Year.

Here are my 12 nominees, in chronological order. I'll pick my top three and give you my choice for the Yahoo! Sports 2009 Fight of the Year at the end.

Andre Berto W12 Luis Collazo to retain the WBC welterweight title, Jan. 17, Biloxi, Miss.: Berto came of age in this edge-of-your-seat thriller against the more experienced Collazo. Collazo had done little since a 2007 loss to Shane Mosley and seemed on a downward career arc. But he came to fight and gave Berto everything he could handle. Berto proved his skill and toughness by meeting the challenge and stepping his game up over the second half of the fight.

Shane Mosley TKO9 Antonio Margarito to win the WBA welterweight title, Jan. 24, Los Angeles: The fight is remembered mainly for Margarito's failed attempt to wear illegal knuckle pads into the ring. Mosley put on a show in a fight that featured very hard shots delivered both ways. Mosley landed many more, though, and forced referee Raul Caiz to save a battered Margarito in the ninth round.

Juan Manuel Marquez TKO9 Juan Diaz to win the WBA-WBO lightweight titles, Feb. 28, Houston: Diaz put heavy pressure on Marquez and seemed to take an early lead in the fight, but Marquez stood his ground and began a withering assault that turned Diaz' face into a bloody pulp. Diaz kept pushing and Marquez, one of the best tacticians in the game, kept delivering hard, precise shots before finally ending it.

Chris John D12 Rocky Juarez to retain the WBA featherweight title, Feb. 28, Houston: John, a classy boxer, had to use all of his skills to fend off the pressure of Juarez, who was fighting in front of his enthusiastic home fans. John seemed to build an early lead, but Juarez poured it on down the stretch in a fight that was judged a draw.

Bernard Dunne TKO11 Ricardo Cordoba to win WBA super bantamweight title, March 21, Dublin, Ireland: This was a heated battle in front of a passionate pro-Dunne crowd. Dunne went down twice and Cordoba hit the deck four times in an entertaining, back-and-forth brawl. Dunne appeared to be in better shape and that lifted him to the victory after three knockdowns in the 11th round.

Vicente Escobedo W10 Carlos "Famoso" Hernandez, April 4, Austin, Texas: There was much emotion going into this bout, as the classy former champion Hernandez would probably be forced to retire if he didn't win. He gave an effort for the ages and the young Escobedo met his challenge. They landed clean, hard shots on each other throughout and neither man backed off. The crowd roared its approval and many in the media section applauded at its conclusion.

Brian Viloria KO11 Ulises Solis to win the IBF light flyweight title, April 19, Quezon City, Philippines: Each fighter was hurt. Each fighter was in trouble. Each fighter rallied. It was back and forth throughout, but Viloria was the harder punch and knocked Solis out with a huge right hand. Both men showed great courage in the fight, but Viloria ended it with a perfectly placed, powerful right hand to the chin.

Carl Froch TKO12 Jermain Taylor to retain the WBC super middleweight title, April 25, Mashantucket, Conn.: Each man came to fight and each had his moments in the battle, though Taylor seemed to be on the verge of victory in the final round. But Froch put just a little more pressure on and tired Taylor. He caught him late in the final round and stopped him in dramatic fashion to keep his belt. Had the fight gone to the cards, Taylor would have won a split decision.

Miguel Cotto W12 Joshua Clottey to retain the WBO welterweight title, June 13, New York: Cotto was cut badly by an accidental head butt in the third round and blood poured into his eye. Clottey made things worse for Cotto by pressuring him and firing a tremendous amount of punches. It was gut-check time for Cotto, who passed the test and won a split decision in a rousing affair.

Juan Manuel Lopez W12 Rogers Mtagwa to retain the WBO super bantamweight title, Oct. 10, New York: Lopez, one of boxing's top young fighters, was expected to waltz to victory in a bout that was to set up a future match with Yuriorkis Gamboa. The heavy-handed Lopez fired everything he had at Mtagwa, a journeyman with an undistinguished record, but Mtagwa took it and fired back. There were many ebbs and flows in the fight and it took all of Lopez's intestinal fortitude for him to survive the final round.

Manny Pacquiao TKO12 Miguel Cotto to win the WBO welterweight title, Nov. 14, Las Vegas: The fight was fought at a feverish pace, but Pacquiao was simply too fast, too accurate of a puncher and too good for Cotto. Cotto gave Pacquiao anxious moments early in the fight, but never recovered from a fourth-round assault. He didn't give in and kept trying to land the big blow that would turn the tide, but Pacquiao simply picked him apart.

Paul Williams W12 Sergio Martinez in a 12-round super welterweight bout, Dec. 5, Atlantic City, N.J.: The official result was a majority decision in favor of Williams. Judge Pierre Benoist had it 119-110, a ridiculously wide score in favor of Williams, while Lynne Carter had it a more reasonable 115-113. Julie Lederman had the bout a draw, 114-114. Regardless of who got the decision – and you could make a case for either guy – this was the kind of taut, intense, back-and-forth battle we ought to see more of on television. Each fighter had to adjust when the other seized the momentum and each had to find a second win when he appeared to be in difficulty.

It was easy to find plenty of fights that would qualify for Fight of the Year, but it isn't so easy to pare the list to three. Ultimately, I've decided to cut it to Marquez-Diaz, Williams-Martinez and Dunne-Cordoba.

I eliminated Mosley-Margarito and Pacquiao-Cotto because they were too one-sided to make the cut when there were so many choices. I dropped John-Juarez because I'm not going to choose a draw for Fight of the Year unless I had no other alternatives, which in this case I did.

I consider the skill level of the fighters involved very heavily when making the choice. It's a lot more impressive to have a great fight against a very good opponent. Given that, I eliminated the Lopez-Mtagwa fight because I don't think Mtagwa is of the same skill level of the other fighters on this list.

I dropped Berto-Collazo, Froch-Taylor, Cotto-Clottey and Viloria-Solis from contention largely because I thought the action was better in my three finalists. The toughest cut was Viloria-Solis, which was a highly underpublicized fight but turned out to be sensational. Ultimately, I've decided to go with Williams-Martinez as the Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year. It pitted two classy, world-class fighters who went back-and-forth in an exceptionally close and competitive fight.

Marquez-Diaz was a great fight, but Marquez began to dominate in the final few rounds, so I eliminated it. That left me choosing between Williams-Martinez and Dunne-Cordoba. I went back and forth on the choice several times, but went with Williams-Martinez in the end because I feel their overall skill level was the highest.

This was one of boxing's best years in a long time, but with Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao looming in 2010, hopefully it will be even better.

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