Ten years of boxing, boiled down to the “best of” in four categories: Round of the Decade, Knockout of the Decade, Fight of the Decade and Fighter of the Decade.
Sunday: Round of the Decade candidates, plus Knockout of the Decade candidates. Today: Round of the Decade and Knockout of the Decade winners now, plus Fight of the Decade candidates later. Tuesday: Fight of the Decade winner, plus Fighter of the Decade top 10. Wednesday: an awards-season Open Thread.
The 9th round of Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti I began with HBO’s Larry Merchant saying “We’re not sure” Gatti can persevere against a fighter like Ward, the way we know Ward has persevered. Oh, dramatic irony. I’m not sure why Merchant wasn’t sure of that, but we’d all soon be very, very sure.
Ward dug in his trademark left hook to the body early in the round, putting Gatti down. HBO’s Emmanuel Steward was convinced Gatti wouldn’t get up, but he did. Ward rained down shots on Gatti’s head and kept going back to his body, too, where Gatti was so not enjoying the experience he spent about half the round bent over, like he was being sawed in half and was trying to keep his midsection away from the teeth. He’d rather take it to the head, please, he seemed to be saying, dipping it forward to give Ward a better target.
Merchant got back on track with “In the past, this is where Arturo Gatti has been dangerous.” True to form, when Ward became tired from smacking Gatti around, Gatti got dangerous. He started pounding Ward with humongous body punches, left and right, then moved upstairs for more of the same. Ward suddenly was backing up. HBO’s Jim Lampley chimed in: “Can you believe there’s still a minute and a half to go in the round?” That’s my exact thought every time I watch it. We’d gotten two totally different fights in half a round.
Thirty seconds later, Ward again turned the tables on a tired Gatti, catching him with uppercuts and a fusillade of shots on his suddenly upright opponent. Both of them made it plenty easy on the other to land blows, of course. Neither cared a lick for blocking punches, so convinced of their own offense and ability to withstand the other man’s that everyone imagined well in advance that this fight would be something like an action nirvana. “You know,” Steward said as Ward pushed back Gatti, “you dream of fights like this, but very seldom do they live up to expectations. This is even more than you could dream of.”
Mere seconds later, Lampley was exhorting the referee to stop the fight, so bad was the punishment Gatti was taking. But HBO’s team had underestimated Gatti yet again. In the waning moments of the round, Gatti found one more power combination, and survived to the bell. “This should be the Round of the Century,” Steward said.
It’s got a chance, at least in my book. It’s the Queensberry Rules Round of this Decade, a decade Gatti did not see the end of after his tragic death in 2009. It barely nudged Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo Round 10, the most dramatic ending to a fight I’ve ever seen, but one that doesn’t stand on its own as a round sans the entire fight quite as well to me as does Ward-Gatti I’s 9th round.
Nine more decades to go.
I hate to be anticlimactic, but Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton (like Gatti-Ward, a junior welterweight bout) just won our award for Knockout of the Year for 2009. I said all I needed to say about it when it won that award, so I can’t say much more in giving it the award for Knockout of the Decade. Check out what I wrote for the 2009 award here.
Still, hell of a picture there, from the moment of impact for the left hook that left Hatton sprawled and helpless. Second place? It wasn’t as pretty a shot as the one flyweight Nonito Donaire landed on Vic Darchinyan, but I have to go with light heavyweight Antonio Tarver’s knockout of Roy Jones, Jr., just for the shock value. Interestingly, all of these are lefts. I’m a southpaw myself, so maybe I’m biased — or maybe it’s just that the left is the punch that nobody ever sees coming.