- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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In their first three memorable fights against each other, neither Juan Manuel Marquez nor Manny Pacquiao could truly get the better of the other.
Although Pacquiao led the all-time series 2-0-1 (including split decision and majority decision wins), their previous three bouts each ended in storms of controversy, with Marquez bitterly complaining about the decisions in fights that all could have gone either way.
When Pacquiao agreed to fight Marquez for the fourth time on Dec. 8 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he said the key reason was because so many people had doubts about the previous outcomes, especially the third fight 13 months earlier, when Pacquiao eked out a majority decision to retain a welterweight title.
Heading into the fourth fight, a nontitle welterweight affair, both men promised to be more aggressive and go for the knockout. They -- and everyone else -- were desperate for a definitive result. Neither wanted to leave it in the hands of the judges again.
Pacquiao and Marquez lived up to their promise and put on the best fight of their epic series, which delivered as definitive an outcome as possible: Marquez landing a picture-perfect right hand that knocked Pacquiao out cold with one second left in the sixth round.
The knockout was as aesthetically pleasing as it was shocking and historically significant. Obviously, it's the 2012 ESPN.com knockout of the year.
Each man had already been down once before they reached the sixth round. Pacquiao, ahead 47-46 on all three scorecards and dominating the sixth, appeared to be on the verge of a stoppage win. He was nailing Marquez, whose nose was bleeding badly.
As the final seconds ticked off, Marquez was swinging wildly at Pacquiao.
"Marquez was off balance again," HBO broadcaster Jim Lampley said. "Now gets his feet back and tries to roar back to nail Pacquiao with a right hand."
Just as the word "hand" left Lampley's mouth, Marquez unleashed a hard straight right hand that landed flush in the center of Pacquiao's face. Pacquiao immediately dropped face-first to the canvas and was out cold near the ropes.
As the crowd -- mostly Mexican fans cheering for Marquez -- went wild, HBO analyst Roy Jones Jr. let loose: "Ohhh! He's not getting up, Jim! He's not getting up, Jim! He's not getting up!"
Jones was right, as referee Kenny Bayless immediately waved off the fight.
"No, he's been knocked out!" Lampley cried. "A sensational right-hand knockout by a bloodied Juan Manuel Marquez. And that is the keystone moment of his career." The keystone moment of Marquez's career and the keystone moment of the year in boxing.
Afterward, Marquez concisely summed it up: "I threw the perfect punch."
Other sweet shots
Mikkel Kessler KO4 Allan Green (May 19 in Copenhagen, Denmark): Kessler and Green were supposed to fight during the Super Six World Boxing Classic, but it was called off when Kessler dropped out because of an eye injury. When they did meet after the tournament, fighting slightly over the super middleweight limit, Green looked good early, scoring a first-round knockdown. But Kessler survived, took over the fight and ended it in ruthless fashion with a classic left hook to Green's jaw. Poor Green never knew what hit him. He was out before he hit the canvas, and when he fell in the center of the ring, his arms were stretched over his head and his legs seemed to twitch as referee Ian John-Lewis waved it off 17 seconds into the fourth round and raced to pull out Green's mouthpiece. Kessler knew it was over when the shot landed, raising his hands as 15,000 of his Danish countrymen went wild.
Nonito Donaire KO3 Jorge Arce (Dec. 15 in Houston): Donaire authored the 2011 knockout of the year with his sick stoppage of Fernando Montiel to win two bantamweight titles. This crushing knockout of Arce wasn't far off as Donaire wrapped up his 2012 fighter of the year campaign and retained his junior featherweight title in emphatic fashion. Donaire had already dropped Arce in the second round and once previously in the third round of the lopsided fight when he landed a clean left hook to the chin. Arce pitched forward slightly and then crashed to his back. Referee Laurence Cole had no need to count, waving off the fight with just one second left in the round.
Danny Garcia KO4 Erik Morales II (Oct. 20 in Brooklyn, N.Y.): In March, Garcia dropped Morales in the 11th round and won a clear decision and a vacant junior welterweight title. After unifying belts by knocking out Amir Khan, Garcia met Morales, the faded former four-division titlist, in a contractually obligated rematch in the first main event of the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and dusted him. Garcia dominated the first three rounds before ending it in the fourth with a picture-perfect, ferocious left hook that landed so cleanly Morales nearly spun all the way around before dropping like a rock. He came to rest with his body hanging over the bottom ring rope. Referee Benjy Esteves didn't bother to count, calling it off at 1:23. Garcia may never throw a better punch for the rest of his career.
Shinsuke Yamanaka KO7 Tomas Rojas (Nov. 3 in Sendai, Japan): Rojas, a former junior bantamweight titlist, never knew what hit him in this colossal knockout loss as Yamanaka retained his bantamweight title. It had been a competitive fight until Yamanaka rendered the scorecards pointless 36 seconds into the seventh round with a sick knockout. He shook up Rojas with a right-left combination, and as Rojas opened up to return fire, Yamanaka caught him with a clean left cross to the head. Rojas went down face-first in the center of the ring. He lifted his face off the canvas for a moment but was completely out of it, prompting referee Michael Griffin to immediately wave off the fight.
Randall Bailey KO11 Mike Jones (June 9 in Las Vegas): Bailey had done nothing against Jones in a horrible fight and was way behind on all three scorecards. But finally, seconds before the 10th round ended, he dropped Jones with his vaunted right hand. Jones had boxed ultra-cautiously for the entire fight in an effort to avoid that shot but got clipped. He got nailed again in the 11th round, leaving himself just open enough for Bailey to land a wicked right uppercut, one of the few punches he threw in the fight. Jones, his nose bleeding, fell straight back. He tried to get up but was falling all over himself, forcing referee Tony Weeks to stop it at 2:52 as Bailey won a vacant welterweight title.
Adonis Stevenson KO1 Jesus Gonzalez (Feb. 18 in Montreal): Stevenson needed just 99 seconds to win this super middleweight title eliminator, erasing Gonzalez with a thunderous left hand. Stevenson, a southpaw, missed with a sweeping right jab and then slammed Gonzalez with a full force, fight-ending left hand to the face. Gonzalez went down hard and smacked his head on the canvas as referee Marlon Wright immediately called off the fight. It was a frightening scene as Gonzalez was on his back with his hands outstretched in the air, his legs slightly off the canvas and twitching.
Gary Russell Jr. KO3 Roberto Castaneda (Nov. 9 in Indio, Calif.): Russell, a featherweight and the 2011 prospect of the year, has been drastically undermatched, but at least this knockout of yet another low-level opponent was memorable. He touched Castaneda with a left to the body and followed with a fast right hand to the chin that laid him out cold as referee Pat Russell immediately stopped the fight at 1:25.
David Lemieux KO1 Alvaro Gaona (Oct. 12 in Montreal): Lemieux, a middleweight, has tremendous power and has scored numerous highlight-reel knockouts, none better than this beauty. When a Lemieux right hand dropped Gaona with 40 seconds left in the first round, it was clear the fight wouldn't last long. As soon as it resumed, Lemieux landed a little right hand followed by a devastating left hook. Gaona fell hard on his back, but his head also smashed into the canvas. His arms were eerily outstretched as he came to rest, and referee Jean-Guy Brousseau stopped the fight with 12 seconds left in the round without a count.
Angelo Santana KO5 Juan Garcia (Nov. 16 in Miami): Santana, a former two-time Cuban amateur national champion, made his television debut a memorable one. He had dropped Garcia in the second round and earlier in the fifth round before finishing him with a sensational left hand. Santana had him backing into the ropes when he unleashed the shot that absolutely flattened Garcia, who fell sideways and was unconscious before he hit the deck, causing referee Frank Gentile to call the fight at 1:41 without counting as medical professionals quickly attended to Garcia.
Juan Manuel Marquez's rock-a-bye right hand against Manny Pacquiao -- an epic equalizer in an all-time great rivalry -- is ESPN.com's 2012 KO of the year.