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|The only thing grander than the stage in Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton was the fight's finish.|
While the boxing world and even the sports world as a whole wait to see whether Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. can overcome their stalemate over the drug-testing protocol for their tentative March 13 fight, we can at least revel in one of the greatest moments of Pacquiao's storied career.
Already a five-division champion when he met Ricky Hatton, Pacquiao -- the Filipino idol coming off his destruction of Oscar De La Hoya -- was gunning for a title in a record-tying sixth division when he met "The Hitman" on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Hatton was the junior welterweight champion and unbeaten at 140 pounds, having lost only to Mayweather in a 2007 welterweight title fight.
The excitement was palpable in Vegas. Some 25,000 British Hatton fans had crossed the pond to party like it was 1999, and a sold-out arena of 16,262 -- mostly Hatton supporters -- rocked the house, including verse after verse of their "There's Only One Ricky Hatton" song.
They didn't celebrate for long.
The much faster Pacquiao dropped Hatton hard twice in the opening round and finished him in ruthless fashion in the second round with one of the greatest knockouts in recent memory. It was the obvious choice for the 2009 ESPN.com Knockout of the Year.
Just as the 10-second warning sounded to signal the end of the round was coming, Pacquiao unleashed a full-leverage perfect left hand that crashed into Hatton's chin and knocked him stiff. Hatton fell sideways, going down hard and hitting his head on the canvas. He came to rest flat on his back in the center of the ring, his arms at his sides and his body perfectly aligned on the Rockstar Energy Drink logo.
"Boom! Oh, my gosh! What a straight left hand," HBO's Jim Lampley exclaimed. "And will Hatton make it up from this, or is that it? No way. That is that. What an amazing knockout shot. That is the most spectacular one-punch shot of Manny Pacquiao's incredible career!"
While a joyous Pacquiao celebrated with his team, Hatton was visibly gasping for air as referee Kenny Bayless kneeled beside him. He immediately called off the fight with one second left in the round and attempted to extricate Hatton's mouthpiece as his family looked on in horror from ringside.
"I really didn't see the punch coming, but it was a great shot," Hatton said after being examined by ringside medical personnel and regaining his senses.
The following afternoon, Pacquiao watched a DVD of the fight for the first time with about 15 people in his hotel suite at Mandalay Bay. When the knockout punch landed, Pacquiao turned to a reporter sitting next to him and said unprompted: "Yeah, it's a good shot. I felt it on my knuckles."
Then the reporter asked Pacquiao whether he thought it would hold up as the knockout of the year.
"Yeah, I think so," Pacquiao answered.
Now he knows it.
Other sweet shots:
|Just as their fight was winding down, Jermain Taylor's lights were put out by Arthur Abraham.|
Arthur Abraham KO12 Jermain Taylor (Oct. 17 at Berlin): Abraham is a pure puncher. Taylor has a poor chin. Not a good combination if you're a Taylor fan, but great if you like knockouts. In April, Taylor was leading Carl Froch in a super middleweight title challenge before falling apart and getting knocked out with 14 seconds left in the fight. Coming back from that nasty loss, the former undisputed middleweight champ faced Abraham on his turf in the opening bout of Showtime's Super Six super middleweight tournament.
Once again, Taylor started well but faded slowly as Abraham took over. Abraham was on his way to an easy decision when with just six seconds left he ended it in violent fashion with a highlight-reel knockout. Out of nowhere, Abraham detonated a stiff right hand down the middle. It connected on Taylor's chin, knocking him unconscious. As Taylor lay on the canvas out cold, it was eerie to see his right arm outstretched in the air as if he was still fighting.
"Down goes Taylor! What a shot," Showtime's Steve Albert barked. "It's over! They won't even finish the count. [Abraham's] gonna get himself three points, and let's just hope Jermain Taylor is all right."
Under tournament rules, Abraham got two points for the victory and an extra point for the knockout. Taylor, who slammed the canvas with his head, wound up in the hospital with a severe concussion, short-term memory loss and many calling for his retirement -- including his promoter, Lou DiBella, who resigned the position when Taylor said he would continue in the round-robin tournament.
Antonio Pitalua KO6 Jose Reyes (Aug. 14 at Miami): In April, Pitalua served as second-round roadkill for Edwin Valero in a lightweight title bout. But sometimes you're the bug, and sometimes you're the windshield. Returning four months later, Pitalua, a tremendous puncher, was the windshield as he dusted Reyes in sick fashion in a Telemundo main event.
Reyes, who was winning the fight, got caught with a classic one-two. Pitalua pushed out a jab and came behind it with a gargantuan right hand that landed flush, literally forcing Reyes to hop off the canvas with both feet for a split second before he fell to his back, out cold. It was a sick, thudding knockout that left him on the canvas and in need of medical attention for several minutes.
|Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz featured a number of awards candidates, including top knockout.|
Juan Manuel Marquez KO9 Juan Diaz (Feb. 28 at Houston): This was one of the year's best fights. It also featured several candidates for best round, and it ended with one of the year's best knockouts. Marquez, the lightweight champ, came to Diaz's hometown to defend against the former titleholder, and they waged a tremendous battle that ended with the exclamation point of a big Marquez knockout blow.
Marquez had found a home for his effective uppercut early in the highly competitive fight. With Diaz bleeding from a cut in the eighth, Marquez began to take over and, in the ninth, finished off Diaz. Marquez initially dropped Diaz face-first into the ropes with an uppercut. Moments later, he splattered Diaz in the middle of the ring with a series of blows capped by -- what else? -- a murderous right uppercut as referee Rafael Ramos immediately waved off the fight.
"What you just saw was a really good young fighter knocked out by a great old fighter," HBO's Max Kellerman said, describing the scene at ringside.
Randall Bailey KO4 Frankie Figueroa (April 3 at Memphis): Bailey, a former junior welterweight titlist, is one of the best pure punchers in boxing, and this was one of his best knockouts, so you know it was tremendous. His right hand is like a boxing version of an atomic weapon, and he used it to erase Figueroa with one thunderous blow to the chin in this title eliminator. Figueroa never saw it coming.
"As big a right hand as you will ever see," ESPN2 announcer Joe Tessitore exclaimed. "Randall Bailey, knockout victory!" The knockout was simply spectacular and ended what had been a very entertaining fight. The punch left Figueroa out cold on his back in the center of the ring and ranks as one of the best knockouts in the history of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
Jean Pascal KO5 Pablo Nievas (April 4 at Montreal): One bout after Pascal lost a tremendous action fight to Carl Froch for a vacant super middleweight belt and one before Pascal won a thrilling slugfest to claim a light heavyweight title, he scored a knockout that looked like something out of a cartoon.
Pascal, who had dominated the bout, cracked Nievas with a crushing left that badly hurt him in the fifth round. He immediately followed with another left hand that nailed Nievas again. Nievas was hit so hard that he literally jumped off the canvas, turned in the air and fell face-first. He hit the mat with his fists and rolled over onto his back with his arms outstretched. Why referee Gerry Bolen bothered to count will forever remain a mystery.
Mike Alvarado KO10 Emmanuel Clottey (March 7 at Commerce City, Colo.): Alvarado, an undefeated Top Rank junior welterweight prospect, wound up in jail for most of 2009. While waiting for his return in 2010, we can replay this knockout from Azteca America over and over.
Alvarado was on his way to an easy decision in a less-than-exciting fight before giving his hometown fans a jolt of excitement (and Clottey a jolt of power) as he closed the show in style. Rather than coast to the final bell, Alvarado scored the blistering knockout with two seconds remaining, landing a bomb of a right hand on the point of Clottey's chin over a lazy jab. Clottey was unconscious upon impact, so it was incredible that referee Curtis Thrasher even began a thoroughly unnecessary count.
|Antonio Margarito lost his padding before the fight, then lost his wits in a Shane Mosley win.|
Shane Mosley TKO9 Antonio Margarito (Jan. 24 at Los Angeles): Mosley, who had been hammering Margarito (sans illegal padding that had been discovered in Margarito's mitts in the dressing room before the fight) all night, had finally dropped him at the very end of the eighth round. As the ninth round began, Mosley continued his assault.
"This fight could be stopped any second now," HBO's Jim Lampley blared. "Margarito is getting hit flush with every right hand!" After eating a few more shots, Margarito crumpled again in a corner as referee Raul Caiz moved in to stop the fight.
"Shane Mosley has annihilated Antonio Margarito," Lampley exclaimed. Given the reputation Margarito had for an indestructible chin, it was a stunning scene. Mosley, who won the welterweight title again in an upset, had closed the show in style, outlanding Margarito 21-0 in the ninth round.
Alfredo Angulo KO3 Harry Joe Yorgey (Nov. 7 at Hartford, Conn.): This one was ugly, as Angulo beat and battered poor Yorgey like a heavy bag with a head to claim a vacant interim junior middleweight belt. Yorgey showed enormous heart as Angulo hammered him over and over while inept referee John Callas watched the destruction like a fan with a good seat.
Eventually, Angulo pinned Yorgey in a corner and did serious damage, unloading something like 15 unanswered blows -- including a flush left and right hand that snapped back Yorgey's head, sending his eyes rolling up into his head before he dropped to the mat, where Callas finally ended the carnage.
"He is getting hit by solid shots, and he is out cold now after the left-and-right combination, and the doctor races across the ring," HBO's Jim Lampley said as he called the end of the blowout.
|No year-end list of best KOs is complete without an entry from bomb-throwing Vic Darchinyan.|
Vic Darchinyan KO2 Tomas Rojas (Dec. 12 at Rancho Mirage, Calif.): What would a roundup of the best knockouts of the year be without an entry from Darchinyan, the junior bantamweight champ with crushing power? Making a mandatory defense against Rojas, Darchinyan -- who was coming off a loss in a bantamweight title challenge -- looked as though he might be in for a long night. He was on his heels and looked flat through the first round-plus.
But then, as the second round wound down, Darchinyan dropped the hammer. He swung and missed with a pair of wild lefts, landed a left to the side of Rojas' head and then landed a left flush on the chin. Rojas, who had inadvertently leaned into the punch, went down immediately, laid out with his body halfway under the bottom ring rope and referee Raul Caiz counting him out. Typical Darchinyan.
Chris Avalos KO4 Giovanni Caro (Sept. 18 at Santa Ynez, Calif.): Avalos, an exciting 20-year-old bantamweight prospect, was matched with the more experienced Caro on Showtime's "ShoBox" and turned in a smashing knockout to cap an excellent fight.
Avalos entered the bout after being ill during the week with flu-like symptoms, but it didn't stop him from hurting Caro with a big right hand in the fourth round and then flattening him with a flush sweeping right to the side of the chin. Caro was down and out on his back, never knowing what hit him.
"Oh, he's out, guys! That's it," Showtime analyst Antonio Tarver said matter-of-factly.
|Lucian Bute followed up 2008's controversial decision over Librado Andrade with a convincing KO.|
Lucian Bute KO4 Librado Andrade (Nov. 28 at Quebec City): In 2008, Bute easily outboxed Andrade before running into severe trouble and barely surviving the controversial 12th round to win a decision and retain his super middleweight title. Meeting in the rematch on HBO, Bute left no doubts.
The normally rock-chinned Andrade went down on the end of a short and sneaky left hand with just more than a minute left in the fourth. Bute kept pounding away when the fight resumed and eventually landed a left to Andrade's gut. It hurt just to watch it. Imagine how Andrade felt: The look on his face showed he was in agony as he slumped to his knees, bent over and leaned his head on the canvas and struggled for his wind while referee Benjy Esteves reached 10.
|And you were wondering why they call Brian Viloria "The Hawaiian Punch"?|
Brian Viloria KO11 Ulises Solis (April 19 at Manila, Philippines): Viloria sure lived up to his nickname -- "The Hawaiian Punch" -- as he obliterated Solis with a single right hand to the chin to win a junior flyweight title with four seconds left in the round. Viloria got awesome leverage on the shot, turning into it with all his might. Solis went down to all fours and put his forehead on the canvas. Then he rolled over on his back, struggled to a sitting position and eventually went back to the mat, where medical personnel rushed to his side and gave him oxygen.
Peter Manfredo Jr. KO7 Walid Smichet (April 18 at Montreal): Manfredo, who starred in the first season of "The Contender," had been knocked out in three rounds by Sakio Bika five months earlier and was considering retirement. Electing to fight on, he went to Smichet's turf in Canada to try to get his career back on track -- and did just that with a devastating knockout win.
The fighters had been exchanging shots when Smichet landed a right hand. Almost simultaneously, Manfredo unloaded a right uppercut followed by a massive left hook. Smichet's punch did nothing to Manfredo. But Manfredo's blows short-circuited Smichet's entire body, which went limp as he turned and fell to his back, smashing his head on the mat as the fight was immediately called off.
Also coming: awards for round and fight of the year
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.