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Fighter forum: My toughest bouts and most satisfying moments in the ring

Lightweight world titleholder Teofimo Lopez celebrates his victories with Fortnite dances and backflips. Howard Simmons/AP

Boxers are always thinking about fighting, whether it's the previous bout or the next one. Those who step into the ring rarely get the chance to take a step back and understand all they've been through. However, with the sport on hold, many world-class fighters have had a chance to reflect on what they have accomplished thus far in their careers.

ESPN spoke to a number of fighters about where they are on their journeys. Most of the fighters on this panel have won major world titles or will soon compete for one. Most have also suffered disappointments and defeats. They have gone through the broad spectrum of emotions that comes with this particular vocation.

Which has been the toughest fight of your career?

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Lopez KO's Silva, celebrates Fortnite-style with backflip

Teofimo Lopez throws a flurry of punches at William Silva in the sixth round, knocks him to the ground to improve to 10-0 and celebrates in style.

Teofimo Lopez: I'd say William Silva. My dog, Leo, passed away the week of the fight. It was tough for me emotionally, and then I broke my hand in the first round of a scheduled 10-round fight.

Nonito Donaire: My last fight with Naoya Inoue, I thought I showed a lot of toughness in there, a lot of heart, you name it. I mean, his power, taking his hits, getting up and just everything. I thought that was one of those classic fights.

Abner Mares: I think it was against Vic Darchinyan because I was hurting in that fight, to be honest. That's one of the fights I was really in pain. Every time the guy would hit me, my head would hurt, my body. His punches were really hard, really strong, so it was really tough. I got knocked down. I got cut. I had a point taken away from me. I was losing the fight, and I just really fought my heart out -- kept pushing -- winning round by round, and eventually I caught up and did enough to get a split decision.

Marlen Esparza: Jhosep Vizcaino, the biggest mental struggle I've had. I had to go through a lot of self-doubt and a lot of overcoming. It was my first fight right after having my son. The turnaround was so fast. I had him in February, and I fought in April. It was a big struggle for me to bounce back like that.

A part of me was like, 'This is a bad decision.' Another part of me was, 'This is the best thing to do.' So I had a lot of different things that I had in my head. I can honestly say it was the toughest thing I've ever done in my life.

Jorge Linares: It had to be against Kevin Mitchell. He was strong. He was like a street fighter with a very complicated style.

Regis Prograis: I probably had two of them. I had a fight when I was 7-0. I fought this real tough Mexican dude, Felipe Reyes, at 147. I dropped him in the first round, but he got up and just gave me hell, and I finally stopped him in the last round. But I remember the first round and the last round, which was the sixth. That was a tough fight.

And the last fight with Josh Taylor. The fight was tough because I made it tough on myself, where I just wanted to go in there and fight him. But on top of that, I had 20,000 people rooting against me. So that was not only tough physically but mentally and emotionally.

Jamel Herring: The Denis Shafikov fight absolutely because at the time, I was a young and undefeated fighter. And of course, when you're undefeated, you start to think you can defeat anybody. I took that fight on three-and-a-half weeks' notice, and I didn't get to fully train for a fighter of that caliber. That was definitely the toughest fight of my career.

Oscar Valdez: I would definitely have to say it was the fight against Scott Quigg just because I had my jaw broken in round four. Going through all that pain, going through all those rounds with a broken jaw, it was definitely harder than all my other fights. And he didn't even come on weight -- he didn't even try to make 126. We thought it was maybe part of the game plan with [his trainer] Freddie Roach because he was way heavy, and he didn't even want to weigh-in the next day.

I was just so upset that I wanted to get in the ring and beat him down.

Andrew Cancio: I would have to say it was against Dardan Zenunaj. He just kept coming. I threw everything at him. I hurt him a couple times, but he refused to go down. He had a great, great chin and kept coming forward.

Seniesa Estrada: It was my fourth professional fight against Carley Batey, who was from San Diego. That was my very first fight at the Forum. I would say that was my toughest fight because that was the first big card I was ever able to get on. After that, I was on another four or five cards at the Forum with Tom Loeffler on Gennadiy Golovkin and Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez cards. Carley Batey was so much bigger than me. She fought at bantamweight. She was a Marine, a tough girl. She was strong.

It was a six-round fight, she was so much stronger physically, and it's tough fighting someone who's so much heavier and so much bigger. I remember I hurt her with a body shot in, like, the fourth round. I spoke to her after, and she said, 'If you would've hit me with one more body shot, I would've [gone] down, and I wouldn't have gotten back up. That's how bad I was hurt.' I ended up winning by unanimous decision, but it was a very tough fight.

Julian Williams: I've had a few tough ones. I'd have to say that Nathaniel Gallimore was a tough fight. He was tough, he was on a good winning streak, he had a lot of confidence, and he was a really tough dude. His toughness is probably underrated because he hasn't had any wins on the championship level. He's a very tough dude.


What's the most satisfying moment of your career?

Teofimo Lopez: After the Richard Commey fight, when I got to hold the belt for the first time. You could see the joy on my face. I worked so hard for that moment.

Donaire: There's two. The first one was the very first Darchinyan fight, getting the title. The second one is the Fernando Montiel bout. Going into that fight I was very nervous, and it just happened the way we game planned it.

Mares: It was against Jesus Cuellar, the Argentinian fighter. This is for the whole team and for myself, just the energy and how it played out, -- and for many reasons. One, knowing that I was going to fight him, [my trainer] Robert Garcia jumped for joy because he made Cuellar a champion, and he wanted to take that title away from him because of the way he just left him.

After defeating him, we both celebrated because we both conquered something. A lot of people thought I was going to lose the fight because Cuellar was a knockout artist. He was a devastating puncher. I was coming back from a loss to Leo Santa Cruz, so basically people counted me out.

Linares: I believe all my fights have been very significant, but the three fights in the UK [against Mitchell and twice against Anthony Crolla] have to be my top three because I showed myself as a fighter and realized how good I was, not only physically but mentally as well.

Prograis: There's probably two. When I won the WBA world championship [against Kiryl Relikh] and that first time I really fought in New Orleans. I mean, I had fought in New Orleans before, but when I fought Juan Jose Velasco, and I just had all my friends there. It was a packed house in New Orleans that night. All the famous people were there that night to see me.

I had news coverage all over. Just the whole city recognized. They were all there to see me. It was on ESPN. It was a big platform.

Herring: The Masayuki Ito fight, for many reasons. It would've been my daughter's 10th birthday. She passed away from SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome] when she was 2 months old. I was going in as a major underdog, so a lot of people didn't give me a chance.

Valdez: When I became a world champion by beating Matias Rueda. [Becoming a champion] was always a dream that I had since I was a little kid. Achieving that was definitely one of my happiest moments of my life, having my father in my corner, just the whole moment of father and son achieving a dream we both had.

Cancio: I would have to say when I became a world champion, defeating Alberto Machado. I had a long layoff, thinking I was retired, and just everything that unfolded that night. I was a big underdog. Nobody expected me to win with everything that had happened in my life. That was a great moment for me.

Estrada: Definitely beating Marlen Esparza. It was very personal. Like I said after the fight, I still don't like her. She doesn't like me. She's still making excuses that the fight would've been totally different if I didn't head-butt her. I was actually rewatching the fight today, and I'm not the type of fighter who intentionally head-butts or leads with their head.

Williams: That's easy. Winning the world title [versus Jarrett Hurd] by far. I just remember being in my groove from Round 1 until the end. He fought his butt off, though. He fought 'til the end. He wouldn't stop. If it was a 15-round fight, he would've fought 15 rounds.