Forget round of year -- this one mattered

With about 40 seconds left on the clock in the spellbinding ninth round of Saturday's Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez rematch, Showtime analyst Al Bernstein asked, "Can you say Corrales-Castillo?"

Bernstein was, understandably, swept up in the moment and overstating the case. Only with the passage of time, with some distance and perspective, will the boxing world be able to accurately and unemotionally assess precisely where Salido-Lopez II ranks among the classics.

What we can say safely now is that it will at least be a contender for fight of the year. What we can also say with certainty is that the ninth round was the featherweight brawl's best stanza.

But what we most definitely should be saying is that the 10th round was the most indispensible round in terms of allowing Salido-Lopez II to possibly go down as a classic.

Was it as sensational as the ninth? No. But without the 10th, all 32 seconds of it, we wouldn't be talking about the thrills that Round 9 offered. We wouldn't be talking about the events of Saturday night in San Juan being good for boxing at all.

If not for Round 10, all we would be talking about is another atrocious decision soiling the night for a sport determined to sabotage itself at every turn.

Sixteen seconds into the 10th, Salido, his shoulders squared up after missing a left hand, connected with a right hook that stunned JuanMa. The Mexican followed up with a left uppercut, then a destructive right uppercut and finally a straight left hand that provided the directional force needed to send Lopez to the canvas. JuanMa's head rocked diagonally as he collided with the canvas, jolting from an alignment of left ear with left shoulder to right ear with right shoulder. The resilient Lopez got up immediately, but he was in a fog and referee Roberto Ramirez correctly waved off the contest.

Lopez was brave but outgunned, and for the second time in 11 months, Salido had TKO'd him. The right fighter had won.

And had Lopez survived the final three scheduled rounds, that almost certainly would not have been the case.

Through nine rounds, judge Denny Nelson had the fight even at 85-85. His colleagues, Michael Pernick and Cesar Ramos, both had the local fighter, popular Puerto Rican Lopez, leading 86-84. If Lopez had stayed on his feet and won just one of the final three rounds in the eyes of the judges, he was getting the decision. Yet he probably wouldn't have deserved it even if he'd swept all three of them.

A mere three weeks after Tavoris Cloud received a decision over Gabriel Campillo that was so astonishing that Cloud's mother fainted when Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced the winner's name, another major Saturday night fight on Showtime was tracking toward "everything you just watched means nothing" status.

Every sport has its controversies, its mistakes by officials that swing outcomes. But no sport promises as consistently as boxing does to suggest there is no link between performance and outcome.

Maybe Salido versus Lopez wasn't a total blowout. After all, Lopez scored the fight's only knockdown through nine rounds. But there was no doubt who was winning. At worst, Salido should have been ahead 86-84. Most observers had it more like 87-83 or 88-83. Yet on the judges' cards, Salido needed a dramatic rally to win. Good thing he delivered one.

The ninth round is the one we'll be talking about in December, come year-end awards time. But the 10th round is the reason we'll remember Salido-Lopez II as something other than a disturbing night for a periodically magnificent but perpetually mismanaged sport.