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Desert Island Fights: The 2000s

Desert Island Fights Arturo Gatti
So far we have: Frazier-Ali I (seventies); Hagler-Hearns (eighties); Chavez-Taylor (nineties)… Now, Matt Christie goes back to the 2000s and reveals the fight you voted as your favourite

THE premise for Desert Island Fights is simple: You will soon be stranded on a desert island. To ease the boredom, you can take along one – and only one – fight from each of the last five decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s) to watch while you’re there. Which five fights do you take?

THERE were clear shifts in power as we waved goodbye to the 20th century. Within the sport, as Lennox Lewis retired and no clear successor stepped forward, the heavyweight division lost its lustre. That was good news for the lower divisions – and the fans – as a series of high-paced slugfests stole our attention.

Not so good was that many of these fights came at a cost to the consumer as the business of pay-per-view gathered pace and became the order of the day. Bona fide stars were born, like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, others ultimately faded, like Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Roy Jones Jnr, yet the defining theme of the decade was the rivalries it created.

Think Gatti-Ward, Pacquiao-Marquez, Corrales-Castillo, Vazquez-Marquez and you get a taster of the furious action to choose from for your trip to the desert island.

5. FELIX TRINIDAD w rsf 12 FERNANDO VARGAS (2000)

THE last great performance of Felix Trinidad’s career saw him emerge from a see-saw slugfest with Fernando Vargas not quite unscathed but with his arms aloft. Vargas still being around in the last round, when he was eventually rescued, seemed unlikely in the opening seconds as Fernando went down twice – briefly but heavily – from Trinidad’s booming left hook. The high pace remained; particularly in a dramatic fourth, as Trinidad’s eye swelled, his right hand plunged into Vargas’ groin and, when he took a short sharp left, his backside hit the mat.

WATCH OUT FOR:
Trinidad’s reaction to being dropped in the fourth. As he gets up he’s incensed by referee Jay Nady asking him if he’s okay. As Nady grabs his arms, Trinidad screams that he’s alright, just resisting the urge to shove the official out of the way. The desire to win – from both combatants – is awe-inspiring throughout.

DID YOU KNOW:
Vargas didn’t fly from Oxnard, California – where he was from – to the Las Vegas fight site (Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino), he was driven there inside his brand new customised SUV which measured an impressive 30ft and was described by Jim Lampley as a ‘rolling disco’. His entrance to the ring was similarly high-key as he punched his way through a wall of plastic bricks before strutting to the battleground.

Felix Trinidad

4. ISRAEL VAZQUEZ w pts 12 RAFAEL MARQUEZ (2008)

PERHAPS the fiercest series of the decade was shared by Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez. Between 2007 and 8, the Mexicans fought three times in a trilogy so savage it essentially finished them both; their fourth fight in 2010 (won by Marquez in three) was nothing compared to what came before. Marquez rose from the floor to win their first bout, Vazquez then levelled the rivalry before winning this incredible humdinger on points. When naming the best fights of the decade, all three deserve to be included.

WATCH OUT FOR:
The fourth round, when WBC super-bantamweight boss Vazquez is dropped before rallying hard, is arguably the best, but asking a fight fan to name their favourite round of this scrap is like asking a meat-eater to pinpoint the tastiest mouthful from their mixed grill.

DID YOU KNOW:
Vazquez would fight only twice more, the injury to his right eye he suffered in this bout proving irreparable. He now has an artificial eye and, through a mixture of boxing and bad luck, is in poor health. BN caught up with him last year and asked him if it was all worth it. “I always gave my best in every fight, no matter what price I had to pay, so that people would leave happy to have seen a fight.”

Israel Vazquez

3. ERIK MORALES w pts 12 MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA (2000)

TWO local rivals who didn’t like or respect each other, the two best super-bantamweights in the world and two of the finest in the sport full stop, this all-Mexican war oozed savagery from the moment it was signed. If you want to watch a thrilling, technically brilliant scrap, one where no inch was given or effort withheld, this is for you. In the end, there was controversy as Morales got the split nod after Barrera had seemingly done enough – many would argue the roles were reversed in the return – but this was no robbery.

WATCH OUT FOR:
The barbaric fifth session is one to savour but the 12th round is perhaps the most dramatic. After Morales obeys the referee’s instructions to touch gloves ahead of the final three minutes he then shoves Barrera in the throat. Morales, perhaps sensing he’s behind, goes all out but he’s hurt in the final minute before being shoved to the mat. With the knockdown called, Morales then runs at Barrera to make amends.

DID YOU KNOW:
Four days after the bout, the WBO – in another nod to sanctioning bodies doing whatever they like and to hell with the consequences – decided they didn’t agree with the decision and reinstated Barrera as their super-bantamweight champion. Morales, the WBC boss, moved up to featherweight.

Erik Morales Desert Island Fights
JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

2. DIEGO CORRALES w rsf 10 JOSE LUIS CASTILLO (2005)

IT says it all about this decade when a fight like Corrales-Castillo – which contained a finale as dramatic as any in history – only comes second in the voting. In Las Vegas, where the fight was staged inside a (far from sold out) Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Corrales was a narrow 6/5 favourite but boxing insiders were split down the middle in their opinion. And the fight played out in exactly that way, with the outcome in the balance right until the end. Fought at close quarters, Castillo looked to have made the defining breakthrough in the 10th, dropping Corrales twice, only to be socked out of contention with a stunning and brutal retort.

WATCH OUT FOR:
You’ve no doubt seen it countless times but the astonishing events of the 10th round will always amaze.

DID YOU KNOW:
Though some were keen to paint Corrales in a villainous light for the manner in which he bought extra time by spitting out his mouthpiece at the end of this one, it would be Castillo who trumped the foul play stakes. Ahead of the rematch, and knowing his charge was overweight, Armando Barak, Castillo’s physician, was caught putting his foot under the scales to alter the reading. Barak and Castillo were fined but the fight, won by the Mexican, went ahead. When Castillo missed weight ahead of their projected rubber match, the contest was cancelled.

Diego Corrales Desert Island Fights

1. MICKY WARD w pts 10 ARTURO GATTI (2002)

ROUND NINE. Two words that can be applied to countless boxing matches yet say those two words to a serious boxing fan, and nothing else, and their minds almost inevitably conjure images of Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti in the thick of combat. The other rounds are all special in their own way but the penultimate session stands tall as the greatest three-minute advertisement for boxing at its most exhilarating. Even now, even after watching it countless times before, it still makes you draw breath, it still makes you ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’, it still makes you shake your head in wonder and clap your hands in respect.

WATCH OUT FOR:
The work of referee Frank Cappuccino. Was it brilliant or flawed? He stayed close throughout but not too close, often choosing to yell instructions in the midst of exchanges rather than getting in the way. There’s an argument to be made he should have stopped it in the ninth, yet what transpired hands him a pass. Also, listen to Cappuccino ahead of the 10th as Ward – thinking Gatti had been pulled out – starts to celebrate. “Woah, woah! The fight ain’t over! This is the last round!” he yells at Ward.

DID YOU KNOW:
When Gatti was first shown a tape by his manager Pat Lynch of Ward in action, he was not overly impressed and figured it was a fight he would win easily. “Gatti took one look at the tape and said, ‘No problem’,” Lynch said. “Like it was a cakewalk, basically.”

Arturo Gatti Desert Island Fights


CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
Other fights receiving votes

Somsak Sithchatchawal w rsf 10 Mahyar Monshipour; Lennox Lewis w rsf 6 Vitali Klitschko; Joe Calzaghe w pts 12 Jeff Lacy; Floyd Mayweather w rsf 10 Ricky Hatton; Manny Pacquiao w rsf 12 Miguel Cotto; Manny Pacquiao d pts 12 Juan Manuel Marquez; Jamie Moore w ko 10 Matthew Macklin; Arturo Gatti w pts 10 Micky Ward (II & III); Marco Antonio Barrera w pts 12 Erik Morales (III); Rafael Marquez w rtd 6 Israel Vazquez; Israel Vazquez w rsf 7 Rafael Marquez; Michael Gomez w rsf 5 Alex Arthur; Ricky Hatton w rtd 11 Kostya Tszyu; Cory Spinks w pts 12 Zab Judah; Roy Jones Jnr w pts 12 John Ruiz.

EDITOR’S CHOICE
My personal Top 5 for the 2000s:

5) Bernard Dunne w rsf 11 Ricardo Cordoba
4) Israel Vazquez w pts 12 Rafael Marquez
3) Diego Corrales w rsf 10 Jose Luis Castillo
2) Jamie Moore w ko 10 Matthew Macklin
1) MICKY WARD w pts 10 ARTURO GATTI
There were better technical fights than Ward-Gatti, perhaps even fights offering more sustained action and drama, but for that ninth round alone, this has to join me on the island. It’s not just watching the supremacy shifts in those three minutes that fill me with joy, it’s listening to Emanuel Steward – a man still so sorely missed – on co-commentary losing his cool, as he gets swept up in the action, that always brings a smile to my face.

THE HIPSTERS’ CHOICE
You know the type. They know more about boxing than you…

DANNY WILLIAMS w rsf 7 KONSTANTIN AIRICH (2008)
An oft-forgotten contest that is scarcely believable. Williams not only has to deal with Airich, he also has to cope with some seriously shady work by promoter, Ahmet Oner, who, amongst other things, rings the bell when his fighter is in trouble to end a round early.

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