As we wave goodbye to 2019, we are left to reminisce on another exciting year and memorable decade of pugilism. With a whole host of unforgettable toe-to-toe battles to choose from, here are our picks for the Fight of the Decade.
Román González vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai I
18 March 2017 – Madison Square Garden, New York, United States
My personal favourite fight of the decade saw unbeaten, four-weight world champion, and pound for pound star, Román González – unbeaten in forty-six contests, defend his WBC super flyweight strap against the all-action Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
González, an all-time favourite of mine, is one of the greatest pressure-fighters to grace the squared circle. Quiet and unassuming by nature, but incredibly skilled and professional between the ropes, he is adored amongst the hard-core boxing community.
He defeated every champion and every contender in his path during his rise from 108 to 115 pounds but never received the coverage or recognition his talent and achievements deserved. His fight against Rungvisai was a terrific opportunity for González to showcase his masterful skills to a mainstream audience, with the fight being aired live on HBO.
His opponent, hailing from Thailand, was unknown by the majority and came into the fight with four losses on his record. He is a stocky-framed and lanky super flyweight, who prides himself on being incredibly rugged and durable. Entering the ring with nothing to lose and everything to gain, this fight was his opportunity to seize the day and elevate his career to new heights.
In the opening round, González tasted the canvas for the first time in his professional career. Rungvisai was intent on making the fight as uncomfortable as possible for the champion, by dragging him into a gruelling dogfight. After a couple of rounds, the Nicaragua native found himself badly cut and absorbing serious punishment. He quickly realised he was facing a challenge of a type that he had not previously encountered – and it took monumental resilience to weather the early storm.
The Thai challenger employed some questionable tactics throughout the fight, particularly the use of his head when the pair engaged at close quarters. González, however, never complained to the referee once and instead responded with furious blows of his own. In the sixth, the man in charge finally intervened and deducted a point from the challenger for his excessive head usage.
The champion gradually forced his way back into the fight and even had the challenger reeling on the back foot in the final round. It was a high-level, enthralling back-and-forth contest, competitive from the first bell to the final bell. I felt González consistently landed the cleaner and more effective shots doing enough to edge a close decision. However, the judges saw it the other way and awarded Rungvisai a majority decision.
The outcome was contentious, and many felt that González had had his unbeaten record snatched from him unjustly. It was an extremely competitive fight and both men showed copious amounts of courage to witness the final bell, so it would be an overstatement to call it an outright robbery – but I did feel González deserved the decision. Rungvisai would ultimately end all controversy in the rematch, brutally dispatching the past-prime Chocolatito inside four rounds but that doesn’t detract from the ferocity and intensity of the first fight.
Gennady Golovkin vs Canelo Alvarez II
15 September 2018 – T Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
The brilliance of the first fight had been somewhat overshadowed by the controversy of the judges’ decision. Most felt Gennady Golovkin not only won the fight but did so in convincing fashion (including me). Demand for a rematch was universal, so the boxing fraternity was ecstatic when the return fixture was set for Cinco De Mayo weekend in 2018. However, the fight was pushed back to September after Canelo Alvarez was forced to serve a short suspension for testing positive for Clenbuterol use.
If the first fight was anything to go by, another classic dust-up could be expected in the rematch. Neither took a backwards step for thirty-six whole minutes, trading heavy leather and demonstrating granite chins. The second fight did not disappoint and proved to be even more savage than the first encounter.
Canelo seemed to have learned more from the first fight and adapted his approach this time around. His style had been far too negative during their previous meeting – but this time he was more aggressive and asserted his authority from the offset.
They were equally happy to trade-off and match each other blow for blow. We’d not previously seen GGG in real trouble but the excellent body-work of the Mexican was clearly causing discomfort. At the end of twelve hard-fought rounds, the decision was announced, and Canelo was crowned the unified middleweight king.
The scoring proved to be contentious once again, but this time opinions were divided. After the first fight, 99% of viewers felt GGG deserved the victory. However, this time some saw it for the Mexican, others edged it to the Kazakh. Golovkin out-landed Alvarez in eight of the twelve rounds, but Canelo had a higher punch success percentage.
The contest was awarded Ring Magazine’s 2018 Fight of the Year.
Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov
16 March 2013 – Home Depot Center, Carson, California
After controversially defeating Manny Pacquiao in 2012 for the WBO welterweight strap, Timothy Bradley made his first defence against Russia’s, Ruslan Provodnikov.
Despite outrage over the outcome of the Pacquiao fight, Bradley was expected to utilise his superior skills to come through this defence with relative ease. Provodnikov was somewhat of an unknown entity though recognised as a tough but limited slugger.
No one predicted that this bout would prove to be as brutal or barbaric. ‘Desert Storm’ and ‘The Siberian Rocky’ went toe-to-toe for thirty-six minutes, exchanging wildly and refusing to concede the initiative to the other.
Bradley didn’t carry the power to prevent Provodnikov from pressing on the front foot and was unable to put a dent in the challenger, whereas the Russian did plenty of damage to Bradley, who was concussed from round one onwards.
The fight was nonstop, back-and-forth action throughout. Bradley was rocked on several occasions but managed to weather the storm and his classier work occasionally prevailed. In the twelfth and final round, Provodnikov unloaded with a flurry of heavy shots and knocked Bradley from pillar to post. On the verge of being stopped, losing his title and his unbeaten record, Bradley wisely took a knee to slow down proceedings.
Bradley managed to survive and was awarded the unanimous decision victory, despite the punishment he’d absorbed. Brain scans later showing swelling on the brain and he also suffered blood in his urine and slurring of his speech.
The contest was unsurprisingly awarded the Ring Magazine 2013 Fight of the Year.
Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko
29 April 2017 – Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London
These two giants produced a heavyweight battle for the ages on a wet and windy night at Wembley Stadium, in London. Wladimir Klitschko, having ruled the division for the best part of ten years, was looking to bounce back from his upset defeat to Tyson Fury, whilst Anthony Joshua was attempting to unify the IBF and WBA belts and establish himself as the number
at one heavyweight.
The pair exchanged jabs throughout the early rounds, both attempting to assume centre ring and assert their authority. Lightning struck first for Joshua when he wobbled the experienced champion in the fifth with a right hand. The punches continued to flow and Klitschko was forced to pick himself up off the deck for the first time in eleven years.
The Ukrainian survived to see the end of the round, before managing to flip the fight on its head entirely in the sixth. AJ’s inexperience at elite level became apparent, as a relentless pursuit of the knockout severely depleted his energy levels. This left AJ an easy target in the following round and Klitschko turned up the pressure, resulting in a thunderous straight right which flattened the Brit.
AJ rose and managed to cling on for dear life, before somehow staggering back to his corner at the ding of the closing bell. He remained leggy for several rounds but gradually managed to regain his senses and weather the storm.
Joshua wrestled back control in the tenth, but the fight remained in the balance as they entered the eleventh round. With six minutes left, both men needed to win those rounds decisively to be confident of victory. However, AJ left no opportunity for controversy, as he finished the long-serving champion with a crushing right-hand uppercut.
Klitschko beat the count but was pounded into oblivion on the ropes, forcing the referee to rescue the veteran. This was a career-defining night for Joshua, who became the unified (IBF and WBA) heavyweight champion and in doing so, dispelled many doubts about his fortitude.
Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez IV
8 December 2012 – MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Despite having already sharing three wonderful fights, the fourth instalment in the Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez series proved to be the most dramatic and conclusive victory of their meetings.
At the time, appetite for a fourth fight was limited. After two close meetings, Pacquiao had won the third encounter more convincingly and would have served as a suitable conclusion to the series. However, the Filipino had beaten everyone around his weight – ignoring the ludicrous decision defeat to Timothy Bradley – and was in search of another challenger. Marquez felt he had been unjustly robbed of a victory against Pacquiao on all three occasions, so a fourth fight was pencilled in for December 8th, 2012 in Viva Las Vegas.
Many predicted that Pacman might finally stop the Mexican this time around, given that he handled him comfortably in their third meeting. Pacquiao opened like he always did, darting in and out of range, whilst probing with jabs before unleashing with mesmerising speed. Marquez remained the patient counter puncher, waiting for his moment to land with a devastating shot.
The eight-weight world champion was overpowering his older foe for the first two rounds, and for most of the third. Until Marquez stunned everybody, catching him with a looping right hand that sent Pacquiao to the floor – for the first time since 2003.
The champion responded well in the fourth, evening the scores with a knockdown of his own, before dominating in the sixth. A sharp left cross sent Marquez sprawling and he was forced to cling onto the rope to keep his balance. The Mexican landed with some solid counters, but he was being overwhelmed by Pacquiao’s volume and tenacity.
It was all Pacquiao in the sixth and it looked likely that it wouldn’t be long before he managed to get Marquez out of there. Looking depleted, the challenger was bleeding heavily from his nose and several cuts across his battered face. In the closing seconds of the round, it happened. The fight was over.
Marquez timed a beautiful, yet devastating, counter right hand that sent reverberations around the boxing world and left his rival unconscious on the canvas. In the early hours of the morning here in the UK, I jumped up from the sofa in shock and disbelief. The Mexican had finally done it – he had finally defeated Pacquiao. Not on a close decision or via questionable scorecards. But by a vicious one-punch knockout when his back was against the wall and he was on the verge of being stopped himself.
While Pacquiao laid motionless on the canvas for over a minute, with referee Kenny Bayless and ringside medics attending to his situation, Marquez sprinted to the opposite corner to celebrate with the fans on the ring apron. A career-defining victory for the Mexican cemented his already impressive legacy and finally put his Pacquiao demons to bed.