(What a great fight looks like: Israel Vazquez, left, Rafael Marquez, right)
Let’s say you expected the “Fight of the Century” this weekend between Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao to be the BEST fight of this century, at least so far. You were dreaming. Also, there are 85 more years to go.
But since the year 2000, boxing has had its share of brutally dramatic two-way brawls, fights that were far, far more astounding on the action scale than Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao.
One of them might be the best fight that ever happened. Ever.
Consider this your mouthwash for whatever bad taste is left in your mouth from Saturday’s mega-fight, in the event you have one.
Boxing is a great sport, one that can deliver more than one variety of thrill. But bank this: The best boxing match beats the best of most anything. Good luck watching and denying as much.
In reverse order:
5. Akira Yaegashi vs Pornsawan Porpramook
There isn’t necessarily a direct link between a fight’s level of prominence and how awesome it is to watch. Indeed, most of the fights on this list were not big smashes in the television ratings. This one didn’t even appear on TV in the United States — it was waged between two Asian fighters, one Japanese and one Thai. It happened in a division so minute that, talking to any non-boxing fan, they laugh at the name and the number: “strawweight,” or a maximum of 105 lbs.
It’s actually, by far, the weakest of the five candidates, because it takes until the middle rounds to rocket into the stratosphere. A fight like one of the other installments in various trilogies or tetralogies below could take its spot, or James Toney vs Vasily Jirov.
But once it gets going in those middle rounds, it leaps from “Solid fight” to “What in the world is happening?” The intensity of the pure slugfest stands the test of time.
4. Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera I
Morales and Barrera are two of the three outstanding Mexican warriors against whom Pacquiao established his reputation (the third being his greatest rival, Juan Manuel Marquez). Against one another, Morales and Barrera produced one of boxing’s all-time great trilogies.
Barrera came from a middle class background, Morales a lower class. One of the weird things about boxing to casual fans is that most boxers don’t remotely dislike one another. They beat each other into a pulp, then hug afterward.
Barrera and Morales despised one another. They fought even when they weren’t being paid to fight. Their first fight was their best, in particular the 5th round.
3. Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez III
Rafael Marquez, the brother of Pacquiao rival Juan Manuel, was himself a great fighter. The Marquez boys both showed a knack for offensive firepower mixed with clever counterpunching, but of the two, Rafael was the heavier hitter.
When he moved up to 122 lbs. to meet Vazquez, he was squaring off with a walking drama computer. Would Vazquez get knocked out? Would he get knocked down, then knock his opponent out? Would he get knocked down, then nearly knock his opponent out and lose? Spin the wheel, there was just no way of predicting.
They split their first two fights, with Vazquez uncharacteristically quitting with a broken nose in the first bout then forcing the referee to step in and save Marquez in the second bout. The third fight, which builds with each round, took an unbelievable toll on Vazquez. He fought with a torn ligament in his knee, and needed 60 stitches to heal his face. And he didn’t even seal the win until the final moments of the fight. See it to believe it. It’s one of the best three-fight sequences in boxing history; many of the best trilogies have a lull at one point, but not Vazquez-Marquez.
2. Micky Ward vs Arturo Gatti I
Ward is the subject of the film “The Fighter,” and he is one of the most beloved fighters of his era. Gatti is probably more beloved still. That Vazquez “spin the wheel” dynamic was multiplied by 10 anytime he stepped in the ring.
There are few rounds in boxing history that can compare to the 9th round of Ward-Gatti I. HBO’s Jim Lampley was, by the end, pleading for the referee to stop it as Ward piled on inordinate damage. Except we’d seen Gatti’s resurrection act before, albeit never more clearly than this round in his whole breathtaking career. He was born, killed and reborn multiple times throughout that legendary three minutes.
One of the best calls of any fight came via Emanuel Steward in that otherworldly 9th round: “You know, you dream of fights like this, but very seldom do they live up to the expectation. This is even more than you can dream of!”
1. Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo I
Corrales and Castillo are linked by Mayweather — Mayweather’s defeat of Corrales was his best win prior to Saturday, and Castillo is the man most deserving of a decision win over Mayweather — but more importantly, they are linked to one another.
There are a handful of fights that have a solid claim to the best that ever happened:, among them Jack Dempsey-Luis Firpo; Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III; Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns; and Castillo-Corrales. Castillo-Corrales is by far the most recent.
Corrales, the taller, longer fighter, made the macho decision to go toe-to-toe with Castillo, a disciple of inside-fighting Julio Cesar Chavez. It was unfathomably ill-conceived. It made for an extraordinary fight where every round was better than the last (and all of them were great), ending in a reversal as jaw-dropping as you’ll see in any sporting event.