February marked the 15th anniversary of HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series, which was created to showcase young fighters, often in lighter weight classes, in fan-friendly action fights. Over the years, it has helped introduce the public to numerous future stars and produced some of the most memorable fights in recent boxing history. In honor of the anniversary, here are my top 15 "BAD" fights in the show's first 15 years. Here's to 15 more.
1. Erik Morales W12 Marco Antonio Barrera I (2/19/00): Simply, this unforgettable battle between Mexican junior featherweight champions is the mother of all modern ring wars. Morales won the split decision in a brilliant rock 'em, sock 'em slugfest, the first battle in what became a legendary trilogy. The fight included the sublime fifth round -- the 2000 round of the year -- and Barrera scoring a questionable knockdown in the 12th round. The ferocity with which these bitter rivals fought is nearly unparalleled in modern boxing. It was an absolutely brutal, nonstop slugfest that left both men bruised and bleeding.
2. Micky Ward W10 Arturo Gatti I (5/18/02): The 2002 fight of the year is an all-time action fight and the first match of their epic trilogy. It was probably the best action fight of Gatti's career, amazing when you consider the resume of the late, great action star. The ninth round was the round of the year and one of the great rounds in boxing history. In it, Gatti went down in the first few seconds but somehow survived one of Ward's vicious left hooks to the body and the massive punishment that followed. They were both bloody and battered as Gatti lost a majority decision. HBO's Jim Lampley put it best in the final moments of the fight: "We told you it might be a candidate for fight of the year. We didn't know it would be a candidate for fight of the century!"
3. Marco Antonio Barrera TKO12 Kennedy McKinney (2/3/96): The series' first main event not only set the bar so high but also began the Barrera legend. He was not well known outside of Mexico and Southern California, but the 22-year-old would soon be famous after his fifth defense of his junior featherweight belt against well-respected McKinney, a 1988 U.S. Olympic gold medalist. It was a fabulous fight. McKinney dropped Barrera in the 11th round, but McKinney tasted the canvas five times, including twice in the 12th round. As HBO's Larry Merchant exclaimed at one point in the fight, "Folks, this is about as good as it gets!"
4. Arturo Gatti KO6 Wilson Rodriguez (3/23/96): If the first "BAD" main event -- between Barrera and McKinney -- was great, this second one was an exceptional encore that launched Gatti to stardom as he retained his junior lightweight belt in dramatic fashion. He went down in the second round, and his right eye was severely swollen. It was so bad that the ringside doctor came to the corner after the third round and, in a surreal scene, made Gatti cover his left eye before asking him how many fingers he had up. Gatti guessed right and was allowed to continue. The action continued, too, as Gatti eventually floored Rodriguez in the fifth with a body shot and knocked him out with a massive left hook in the sixth.
5. Ike Ibeabuchi W12 David Tua (6/7/97): Tua was a bona fide heavyweight contender seemingly steamrolling his way toward a title shot. Ibeabuchi was an unknown, but not after pulling the upset and handing Tua his first defeat in one of the best brawls of the past 25 years. The power punchers traded huge shots throughout the fight and combined to throw a CompuBox heavyweight-record 1,730 punches.
6. James Toney W12 Vassiliy Jirov (4/26/03): They fought perhaps the best cruiserweight fight in history as Toney became a three-division champion by winning this all-action battle for the ages. It had been a tight fight all the way, and Toney's trainer, Freddie Roach, didn't want to leave anything to chance. He told Toney before the start of the final round, "You gotta put this guy on his ass!" Toney followed orders and dropped Jirov for the first time in his career in the final moments of the final round and won the decision in a great fight in which they combined to throw an astounding 1,843 punches.
7. Ivan Robinson W10 Arturo Gatti I (8/22/98): This was a typical Gatti fight, meaning all action, all the time. It was named Ring Magazine fight of the year as well as upset of the year. Gatti dropped Robinson in the fourth round, but Robinson's nonstop punching badly swelled both of Gatti's eyes in a frenetically paced fight that could have gone either way. It cried for a sequel, which Robinson won in another barn burner four months later.
8. Miguel Cotto KO7 Ricardo Torres (9/24/05): Cotto has been in numerous action fights, but this is the best of them all as he retained his junior welterweight title in dramatic fashion on the undercard of Wladimir Klitschko-Samuel Peter I. Torres, an unknown, had taken the fight on three weeks' notice, and it turned into an all-out brawl. Cotto dropped Torres in the first round, but he rallied to hurt Cotto later in the round, then dropped him for the first time in his career in the second round. Cotto was hurt again in the fifth, but he kept himself together to score four knockdowns in total against Torres and pull out the tremendously exciting victory.
9. Joel Casamayor TKO10 Michael Katsidis (3/22/08): Casamayor, not known for being in exciting fights, retained the lineal lightweight championship with a dramatic victory in this unexpected classic. He dropped Katsidis twice in the first round, and the excitement didn't let up. Katsidis knocked Casamayor out of the ring and onto the apron with a body shot in the sixth round and led on two scorecards heading into the 10th. But, Casamayor knocked Katsidis down 30 seconds into the round with a left he never saw, then finished him later in the round.
10. Hasim Rahman TKO7 Corrie Sanders (5/20/00): The future heavyweight titleholders met in what was a fantastic all-action slugfest between heavy hitters. The third round was a standout frame in which they traded knockdowns, but Rahman took a pounding and was nearly out. Rahman decked Sanders again in the fourth round during an exchange in which it appeared that there was a double knockdown, even though only Sanders was given a count. Finally, Rahman hurt Sanders in the seventh round, punishing him with more than two dozen punches until the sensational fight was called off.
11. Derrick Jefferson KO6 Maurice Harris (11/6/99): Jefferson, a rising heavyweight contender, and Harris, a late substitute for Lance Whitaker, turned in an undercard slugfest that ended with Jefferson scoring a spectacular knockout. Jefferson dropped Harris twice in the second round but also was knocked down in the round. They duked it out for the next four rounds until Jefferson exploded a left hook to knock Harris out cold.
12. Marcos Maidana TKO6 Victor Ortiz (6/27/09): Maidana, unknown coming into the fight, scored the upset over heavily hyped Ortiz in a tremendous action fight that was filled with knockdowns. They both went down in the first round before Ortiz scored two more knockdowns in the second round. Maidana, however, rallied to drop Ortiz in the sixth round, and Ortiz quit in a stunning scene.
13. Paul Spadafora D12 Leonard Dorin (5/17/03): Spadafora and Dorin were undefeated lightweight titleholders when they met in Spadafora's hometown of Pittsburgh in a unification bout that turned out to be a blood-soaked battle in which both men were cut badly. They hammered each other throughout the bout, but neither was much of a puncher, and, in the end, it was ruled a split draw. The fight took its toll on both of them. They were never the same after this physically grinding battle.
14. Kostya Tszyu TKO5 Diobelys Hurtado (11/28/98): Tszyu was supposed to fight Miguel Angel Gonzalez for a vacant junior welterweight belt, but Gonzalez withdrew about two weeks before the fight because of a rib injury. Hurtado took his place and was part of a largely forgotten but terrific action fight. Tszyu knocked Hurtado down early in the first round but went down twice himself in the opening round, and the action never let up until Tszyu floored Hurtado twice with body blows for the knockout in the fifth round.
15. Fernando Vargas W12 Winky Wright (12/4/99): Vargas was a young junior middleweight titlist making his third defense against Wright, a man few wanted to tangle with. But Vargas had no choice if he wanted to keep his belt because Wright was his mandatory challenger. It was a nip-and-tuck battle all the way that featured the best of their ability to box and slug. It was a high-level fight that was exciting throughout with Vargas pulling out a majority decision win in an exciting fight that turned out to be the best victory of his career.
A few that just missed the cut: Vince Phillips' gargantuan upset of Kostya Tszyu, whom he shockingly knocked out in the 10th round to win a junior welterweight title in May 1997; Erik Morales winning his first world title at junior featherweight when he sent Daniel Zaragoza into retirement with an 11th-round knockout in September 1997 in a classic match of youth prevailing over age; Oleg Maskaev's come-from-behind victory against fellow future heavyweight titleholder Hasim Rahman, whom he knocked out of the ring and into Lampley's lap in the eighth round in November 1999; Paulie Ayala outpointing Bones Adams in their first slugfest to win the recognized junior featherweight title in August 2001; and Andre Berto winning the toughest fight of his career so far when he escaped with a decision against Luis Collazo to retain his welterweight belt in January 2009.