The raging bad blood that British heavyweights Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora brought into the ring after an incredibly acrimonious buildup paid off as they waged a sensational fight that included several outstanding rounds.
The eighth round was one of the most exciting, but it was the wild, back-and-forth fifth round that was the best of the bunch in Whyte's hard-earned split-decision victory on Dec. 10 at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, that stole the show from heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua's easy knockout of Eric Molina in the main event.
The first four rounds of this heavyweight title elimination bout, one in which Whyte moved a step closer to a mandatory shot at titlist Deontay Wilder, were good, but the action seriously heated up in the fifth round, the 2016 ESPN.com round of the year.
These are big men with good chins, good power and deep reservoirs of heart and desire. All of those attributes were on display throughout the fight and especially in this round as they rumbled at close range, ripping each other with power shots.
Whyte worked the body, but then Chisora cracked him with a left hook 40 seconds in that caused Whyte to hold briefly before referee Terry O'Connor separated them. Whyte came back with a nice three-punch combination to the head and body.
They traded on the inside, and then Chisora burst through with a cracking left hook that sent Whyte into the ropes midway through the round. Whyte was in major trouble as Chisora swung a chopping right hand. Whyte escaped the trouble but looked exhausted before unleashing a combination that got Chisora's attention as the sold-out crowd went nuts.
"What a good fight this is turning out to be," Sky Sports announcer Adam Smith roared as the fighters continued to take turns blasting each other with clean blows.
They stood toe to toe beating the bejesus out of each other, and Chisora was now the one who looked spent when Whyte backed him into the ropes and hammered him. It was a massive change of momentum, adding to the already frenzied excitement the round had produced.
"Whyte comes back! Now Chisora's on the ropes! Last 45 seconds of what's been a dramatic round," Smith exclaimed.
Whyte continued to land hard punches with Chisora backed into a corner with 25 seconds to go, but Chisora showed some spark as they exchanged huge shots at the bell.
Said Smith: "What a thunderous heavyweight punch-up we have!"
2. Francisco Vargas-Orlando Salido, June 4 at StubHub Center, Carson, California (6th): Everybody expected this junior lightweight world title fight to be two things: competitive and action-packed. Round after round, it was all that and more, but as great as the fight was, it was the sixth round that stood out the most as they let it all hang out in a tremendous three minutes of unadulterated violence. There were no knockdowns, just two hard men whaling away at each other as they stood in the pocket, heads down and fired bomb after bomb. "They're just getting down and dirty in the trenches right from the bell," HBO analyst Max Kellerman said. Jim Lampley, HBO's blow-by-blow man, chimed in, "How about this: skilled mayhem." It was a perfect description. With two minutes left, Vargas rocked Salido with a clean right hand to the chin followed by an uppercut. He had Salido in huge trouble but expended massive amounts of energy before Salido came back as they traded with abandon nonstop. "Round of the year candidate, even without a knockdown," Lampley said matter-of-factly. "Just a phenomenal round!"
3. Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz, July 30 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York (12th): The final round of this fantastic featherweight title fight was the perfect crescendo. The action never relented as they came out firing huge shots, both seemingly feeling as though the fight was up for grabs. It was a wild atmosphere as they traded shots, both landing combinations in the middle of the ring as the crowd stood and cheered. "Incredible conditioning, incredible pace, incredible will being demonstrated by both Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton as they continue to chuck leather," is how Showtime announcer Mauro Ranallo summed things up with a minute left. They combined to land 63 of 197 punches in the round, and, as the final seconds ticked down, they emptied their tanks, forcing referee Harvey Dock to separate them at the final bell.
4. Jorge Linares-Anthony Crolla, Sept. 24 at Manchester Arena, Manchester, England (6th): Linares and Crolla had a lot on the line, the lightweight world title, and put on a tremendous scrap highlighted by this fast-paced round. For most of the first two minutes, Crolla was in charge. He was intensely pressuring Linares and nailing him with right hands and body shots. But Linares rallied to badly hurt him with a right hand and nearly stopped him late in the round with a series of head and body shots. "What an end to a classic round," Sky Sports announcer Adam Smith roared.
5. Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter, June 25 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York (9th): The much-anticipated welterweight world title bout lived up to its lofty expectations, including the action-packed ninth round, which served up a three-minute helping of excitement. It was filled with fierce exchanges, changes in momentum, power punching that wobbled both fighters and blood as Thurman suffered a cut around his left eye. They spent the final 30 seconds slugging away, bringing the crowd to its feet.
6. Robert Easter Jr.-Richard Commey, Sept. 9 at Santander Arena, Reading, Pa. (12th): Commey and Easter, battling for a vacant lightweight world title, waged an exciting and very competitive fight that went to another level of action in the ninth round as they came out blasting and connecting at close range for the first 30 seconds. Commey backed Easter up with a series of right hands midway through the round, and then Easter pinned Commey on the ropes and had him in trouble as he landed shots. But Commey rallied and snapped Easter's head back with a left hand. "We thought this would be a great fight, but we didn't know it would be this good," Spike analyst Jimmy Smith said as the round came to an end. "Man, this is a war!"
7. Sam Eggington-Frankie Gavin, Oct. 22 at Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham, England (6th): Although Eggington stopped Gavin in the eighth round of this all-British welterweight slugfest, the sixth round was something to behold. Eggington hammered Gavin along the ropes early before Gavin roared back. But then Eggington rebounded to drive Gavin into the ropes and teed off on him. Eggington got in a hard left hand to the body that caused Gavin to sag into the ropes for a knockdown because they were holding him up with 50 seconds to go. Amazingly, Gavin came back strong to finish the round in charge. Fantastic back-and-forth action. "Fifteen seconds until the end of the round! This has been an extraordinary three minutes," Sky Sports announcer Andy Clarke cried.
8. Jesus Soto-Karass-Yoshihiro Kamegai I, April 15 at Belasco Theater, Los Angeles (10th): These junior middleweight warriors fought twice in a pair of barnburners in 2016, but the final round of the first encounter epitomized their commitment to warfare. In an extremely close fight, one that wound up a draw, Soto-Karass and Kamegai emptied their tanks as they spent virtually the entire round in each other's chest pounding away to the head and body with both hands as the crowd went wild. With about 30 seconds to go, both took a deep breath, but that was about their only break. Incredibly, they landed a combined 94 of 245 blows in the round. When it was over they smiled, smacked gloves and hugged.
9. Tom Doran-Luke Keeler II, April 2 at Echo Arena, Liverpool, England (1st): Doran stopped Keeler in the second round of this middleweight shootout, but the first round was wild. After a slow start the second half of the round was all action as both were badly hurt and knocked down. First, it was Doran who hit the deck courtesy of a clean overhand right. He was up quickly, and they began trading bombs before Doran connected with a series of shots, including a sweeping left that sent Keeler to his backside with 30 seconds left. "And now Keeler's in trouble! What a tear up this is," Sky Sports announcer Nick Halling howled. "Couple of right hooks from Doran, and Keeler is shaken. What a first round!" When it was over, they staggered back to their corners.