A real fight in France; 9th brought out the best

Round after round, junior featherweight titleholder Mahyar Monshipour, a French citizen born in Iran, and challenger Somsak Sithchatchawal of Thailand fought their hearts out.

Squaring off for a 122-pound world championship on March 18 in the Levallois-Perret section of suburban Paris, they waged a truly awe-inspiring fight, even if only the hardest of hardcore fans in America know who they are.

The first eight rounds were thoroughly hellacious and fought at a breakneck pace. Rounds 1, 3 and 5, in particular, were extraordinary -- a word we don't just throw around.

The 10th round, too, in which Monshipour finally wilted and Sithchatchawal scored a TKO to lift the title in dramatic fashion, was another gem for those aroused by raw brutality.

But, for our money, it is the ninth round of this all-time action classic that stands out even more than the other glorious three-minute segments of this wickedly violent fight.

For its nonstop, pulse-pounding action, dramatic shifts in momentum and jaw-dropping savagery, Round 9 is the 2006 ESPN.com Round of the Year.

If someone insists that the honor go to another round of this brawl, that would be OK, too, because virtually every round has merit. Virtually every round was fantastic.

But we'll take the ninth, and trust us, we've watched them all countless times.

The first half of the round was all Sithchatchawal, who relentlessly battered the outgunned Monshipour. Despite the incoming thunder, however, Monshipour never stopped returning fire, even if he was often off the mark.

Although Sithchatchawal was strafing him with powerful uppercuts and right hands, Monshipour was able to somehow stay on his feet.

When Sithchatchawal finished a six-punch combination with a head-snapping right hook that landed flush 45 seconds into the round, the French broadcasters on Canal+ and the crowd couldn't contain themselves, simultaneously shrieking "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!"

You don't need to understand French to understand excitement.

It was that kind of round.

The ferocious action -- and accompanying "Oooohhhs! and "Ahhhhhhs!" -- never let up.

Sithchatchawal unloaded another 10-punch flurry and connected with most of the blows. Monshipour looked like he was in trouble, but continued to march forward pumping his arms in rhythmic fashion, willing to take five shots just to get in one.

With about 80 seconds remaining, the momentum swung to Monshipour, whose title reign had been marked by dramatic slugfests. He pinned Sithchatchawal against the ropes and landed numerous hard blows, including a nasty left hook to the side of the face that made Sithchatchawal bend over. Finally, Sithchatchawal spun away only to be caught seconds later with two flush right hands and a left.

After all the punishment Monshipour had taken in the first half of the round, it was shocking to see him on the verge of stopping Sithchatchawal with 45 seconds to go.

But again, the momentum shifted when Sithchatchawal clobbered Monshipour with a right hook that stopped him in his tracks.

Both men were tired and hurt, but in it to win it. They had given too much of themselves at this point of the battle to back off. This was will over skill.

They finished the movie-like round trading toe-to-toe for the last 15 seconds, rocking each other with simultaneous hooks at the final bell of a phenomenal and unforgettable round that ranks with the best we've ever seen.

Other scorchers:

Up next: Fight of the year

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.