2009 Boxing Fight Of The Year: Paul Williams – Sergio Martinez

(Paul Williams, left; Sergio Martinez, right. Which was kind of the story of the fight, wasn’t it? Photo credit: Naoki Fukuda)

This was a deep class of Fight of the Year nominees we had in 2009, which is both good and bad. Parity usually means lots of excitement all over the place. But it also means you don’t get the satisfaction of that one clear winner. This isn’t a cop-out: Knockout of the Year and Fighter of the Year were easy, but Round of the Year was hard, and Fight of the Year was hard, and I honestly didn’t decide the winners in those two categories until after we hashed it out here. And what we hashed out among the many worthy candidates for Fight of the Year is that what finished last in 2009, finished best.

There are fights you know are going to be good, where the question is only how good they’ll be. Then there are fights that are signed that you think they might be good, where the question is whether it they’ll be good at all. The Dec. 5 bout between Williams and middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, the last big fight of 2009, was a fight I knew would be good; when Pavlik fell through, and Martinez replaced him, I thought it was a fight that might be. But by the end of the 1st round, when the two men exchanged knockdowns and Martinez showed that the idea of him being a 4 to 1 underdog was a case of some gamblers badly misjudging the affair — and I misjudged myself how competitive Martinez would be, I should confess — the question moved to how good it would end up being. It ended up being a classic.

I’ve tried to have something new to say about each of these 2009 award winners, but I don’t think I can improve on what I wrote in my Weekend Afterthoughts column right after:

One of the main things I liked about that fight was that I hadn’t seen anything exactly like it, from the standpoint of its dramatic arc. We had two 1st round knockdowns, one by each fighter… Martinez taking over the early rounds, with the Williams still landing sizzling shots… Williams turning the tables by hurting his man and then taking over for another long stretch, with Martinez still landing sizzling shots… the sudden, unexpected revival of Martinez late… and the race to the finish in the 12th, with the outcome of that round potentially dictating the fight’s outcome because of how close it was.

Just a few weeks ago, we had a similar phenomenon with Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto; I don’t think I’d previously seen a five-round Fight of the Year candidate ever turn into such a one-sidedly destructive performance. It’s amazing to me that after watching hundreds upon hundreds of boxing matches, the fundamentally simple idea of “two men punching each other” could produce such complex plots, such myriad twists and turns. This fight was unique. It was, dramatically speaking, beautiful.

We’ll remember Williams-Martinez, unfortunately — at least in part — for the atrocious 119-110 scorecard in Williams’ favor in a fight that was so close that really, either man winning would have been fine with us. But when we look back on 2009’s Queensberry Rules Fight of the Year, I hope we’ll remember Martinez’ tremendous speed and skill, and Williams’ determination to throw as many punches as he could in the face of it; I hope we’ll remember the extraordinary resiliency both showed — with each wobbled more than once and with Williams sporting nasty cuts over his eyes that he ignored — by digging deep when it looked like the other had taken over; I hope we’ll remember how they seemed to be trying to knock each other out with almost every punch.

And I hope we’ll remember that in the midst of such savagery there was, indeed, beauty.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.