When Juan Manuel Marquez signed to defend the lightweight title against former titlist Juan Diaz, you just knew it would be an exciting fight.
Marquez, a crafty counterpuncher who can also go toe-to-toe, had been in some terrific bouts, including two memorable slugfests with Manny Pacquiao.
Diaz, who had the hometown advantage at Houston's Toyota Center for their Feb. 28 showdown, is a relentless pressure fighter who had also engaged in a number of fast-paced barn burners.
Rafael's Rounds of the Year
So when the bell rang and the fight began, the anticipation was electric. Most of the 14,571 who packed the joint were on their feet, many cheering for the local kid and a large portion cheering for Mexico's Marquez.
Marquez and Diaz didn't let any of them down. As soon as the fight started, they were throwing down immediately at an accelerated pace, which never really slowed down. There would be no feeling-out period, no get-to-know-you rounds.
Although there were no knockdowns or intense drama, the first round of Marquez-Diaz -- a bout Marquez eventually would win by ninth-round knockout -- was a microcosm of a fantastic fight. The first three minutes set the tone, which is why it rates as the 2009 ESPN.com Round of the Year in a year with a number of worthy candidates.
Marquez and Diaz each simply came out with their foot on the gas and continued to put the pedal to the metal all night.
"Already the pressure from Diaz begins," said HBO's Jim Lampley as the "Baby Bull" fired away in the early moments of the fight.
A minute into the fight, Marquez and Diaz were in each other's chests, trading with abandon in a corner, both connecting with hard shots.
"This is going to be a hellacious war," Lampley said.
He was on point.
Marquez and Diaz continued to trade, most intensely in the final 20 seconds of the round when Diaz landed a right hand and a left hook that staggered Marquez along the ropes.
But Marquez regrouped and fired back. He landed a stiff right hand and a left that pushed Diaz back as the bell sounded.
"Round 1 is an all-out war," barked Lampley as the exceptional round came to a close.
How sizzling a round was it?
According to CompuBox statistics, Diaz connected on 31 of 104 blows, while Marquez landed 29 of 95 punches. Marquez had never thrown more punches in a round in any of his numerous bouts tracked by CompuBox through the years.
What a tremendous way to begin what turned out to be a special fight.
Juan Manuel Lopez-Rogers Mtagwa, 12th round, Oct. 10: You want high drama? This was your round. It was more like a game of "Beat the Clock" than a fight: Lopez, who was ahead on the scorecards, just needed to make it to the final bell to retain his junior featherweight title.
It had been an all-action fight, but Lopez was fading fast and had been rocked badly in the 11th round. He came out for the final round still on unsteady legs. Would he be able to survive for three minutes or would the hard-charging Mtagwa put him away?
The pro-Lopez crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden Theater held its collective breath as Mtagwa abused Lopez for most of the round. Lopez's legs were shot and he had no defense as he desperately tried to hang on. He got off the occasional punch just to keep the referee from stopping the fight. Mtagwa was pounding him, but Lopez, who was basically out on his feet, was at least coherent enough to steal a glance or two at the big screen in the corner of the arena to see how much time was left. As the seconds ticked away, Mtagwa continued hammering him, but Lopez just would not go down in what was as dramatic a one-sided round as you'll ever see.
Lopez summed it up afterward: "The 12th round was all heart. A lot of people think I am Superman. I'm not. I get hit like everyone else. But I'm resilient."
Bernard Dunne-Ricardo Cordoba, 11th round, March 21: What a fantastic finish to a great fight. Dunne, challenging for a junior featherweight belt in his hometown of Dublin, was trailing on all three scorecards going into the 11th round: 97-90, 96-91 and 95-92. He had dropped Cordoba in the third round, but got knocked down two times in the fifth and was cut over his left eye. Dunne was desperate to turn the fight around in the championship rounds, and boy, did he ever, in a storybook come-from-behind finish that sent his fans into jubilation.
Both men had been swinging away, but Cordoba's legs were betraying him. With 70 seconds left, Dunne nailed him with a left and he staggered backward and dropped to the mat. An inside combination sent him down for the second time a few seconds later as he skidded on his backside into a corner. The crowd seemed to sense what was coming. Cordoba, with blood dripping down the side of his face, desperately tried to hold on, but Dunne shook free and landed a left uppercut on his chin. Cordoba went down for the third time in the round, landing flat on his back and spread-eagled as referee Hubert Earle waved off the fight for a dramatic conclusion.
Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto, second round, Nov. 14: The year's biggest fight had at least three outstanding rounds. If you want to put the third or fourth rounds on your list, go for it. They were excellent in their own right and certainly worthy entries. For our money, we'll take the second round.
Before the welterweight title bout turned into a Pacquiao landslide, Cotto was in the fight early on, and the second round was highly competitive. Cotto and Pacquiao both landed an assortment of nice shots as they circled each other in the center of the ring looking to set up their big blows. Both fighters showed off their skills, with Cotto shoving a beautiful stiff jab into Pacquiao's face and the faster Pacquiao bouncing around and throwing combinations. Cotto landed a left hook that got Pacquiao's attention a minute into the round, but Pacquiao also got off fast shots that tagged Cotto. It was anyone's fight at this point, and it was wildly entertaining. As the exhilarating round came to an end, the MGM Grand crowd erupted.
"This is what we came for," HBO's Larry Merchant said. Indeed it was.
Ryan Rhodes-Jamie Moore, sixth round, Oct. 23: The British fight of the year was a barn burner, and the sixth round of the European junior middleweight title bout was particularly bone-jarring. It was a toe-to-toe firefight fought on the inside as upset-minded Rhodes and Moore exchanged hard head shots. Rhodes, who would stop Moore in the seventh round, also dug to the body. But Moore got off a left and a right that knocked Rhodes' head back. They took turns taking command as both ate crunching blows.
"Huge punches going in from the pair of them," British Sky broadcaster Adam Smith bellowed halfway through the round. "This is brutal!"
He was right, and the brutality didn't end there. Rhodes and Moore continued to take turns blasting and wobbling each other. In the final seconds, Smith summed it up: "It's been another amazing session!"
Marcos Maidana-Victor Ortiz, first round, June 27: Ortiz, the heavily hyped Golden Boy junior welterweight prospect, was facing his toughest test in Maidana. It looked like Ortiz was going to have a good night in the interim title bout when he connected with a combination and then landed a counter right hand, dropping Maidana with 88 seconds to go.
But as soon as the fight resumed, the fighters met in the middle of the ring and Maidana unleashed a flush right hand that dropped Ortiz, who appeared far shakier when he got up than Maidana did after he hit the deck. The brawl was on, the Staples Center crowd was cheering and HBO's Bob Papa was understandably excited as he announced, "What a Round 1! Both men have been down!"
Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez, first round, Dec. 5: This middleweight fight started with a bang and never relented. Williams was facing Martinez only because champion Kelly Pavlik had withdrawn with a hand injury. Many believed that Martinez, a junior middleweight titlist, posed as much -- if not more -- danger than Pavlik did. But it didn't look as though that would be the case early on.
A minute into the fight Williams landed a long left hand to the shoulder/neck area of Martinez, who went down to his backside as he crashed into the ropes. It was more of a flash knockdown than anything seriously damaging, so after Martinez popped up, he answered Williams by ripping him with a hard left hand. The battle was on. They were fighting at a fast pace when suddenly, with five seconds left, Martinez nailed Williams with a hard right hand to the chin. Williams staggered backward and fell into the ropes to put an exclamation mark on an outstanding opening round in what turned out to be a tremendous fight.
Jean Pascal-Adrian Diaconu I, fifth round, June 19: Just when it looked like Pascal might get the knockout win, that's how quickly the momentum changed in this all-Canadian light heavyweight title bout that Versus televised from Montreal. The first half of the round featured good boxing, but then it turned a bit more wild.
Pascal, who would go on to claim the decision and title, cracked Diaconu with a straight left hand to score the only knockdown of the fight. Diaconu was stunned but rose at eight. Pascal was all over him, and Diaconu appeared to go down to his knees under a hail of shots, but referee Marlon Wright ruled it was a slip. Whatever it was, Diaconu looked spent as Pascal tried to finish him right there, unloading an assortment of shots with both hands from different angles. Maybe Pascal got too confident, but he left himself a little bit too open as he hunted for offense, and Diaconu suddenly staggered him with a left hand with 15 seconds to go. Pascal was looking for cover as Diaconu took command and was hammering him as the round ended with the crowd of 13,659 going absolutely bananas.
Chris John-Rocky Juarez I, 12th round, Feb. 28: Indonesia's John came out for the final round of his featherweight title defense apparently leading Juarez, the Houston hometown fighter. Over in Juarez's corner, trainer Ronnie Shields knew it was time for his man to let it all hang out.
"You hear that crowd? You hear that crowd? They want to see you knock this guy out," Shields told Juarez. Then the bell rang and Juarez went for the knockout, and went for it hard.
Juarez had been coming on strong over the final few rounds, but this was desperation time as he tried to close the show and win a world title that had been so elusive to him in four previous attempts. As the crowd cheered, HBO's Jim Lampley set the stage: "High drama in Houston with the feather championship on the line!"
Juarez, the heavier puncher, pressured John relentlessly as John tried to stick and move. With about 95 seconds to go, Juarez cracked John near the ropes with a right hand during a flurry and wobbled the champion. Juarez hurt him again a few seconds later with another right hand, but John answered with a three-punch combination during the heavy action. Would Juarez get the knockout? They continued to trade as the seconds ticked away, both men leaving everything they had in the ring. Juarez would end up with the gift draw and more heartbreak.
Carlos Abregu-Irving Garcia, second round, May 1: Abregu, the undefeated prospect, and Garcia, the tough veteran, put on a great show as Abregu won their four-round shootout. But how about that second round? Whew, what a wild frame. Abregu, who had been knocked down in the first round, spent most of the second round pummeling Garcia. In fact, referee Jack Reiss was looking closely and appeared ready to stop the fight at any moment. But out of nowhere, with about 45 seconds to go, Garcia landed a desperation right hand that rocked Abregu and sent him reeling backwards.
"He runs into a right hand! Hey, round of the year," said Showtime's "ShoBox" announcer Nick Charles. It wasn't quite that good, but it sure was fun.
Giovani Segura-Cesar Canchila II, third round, March 14: If you like little guys who swing for the fences -- who never stop throwing and land bombs -- damn, what a round. Segura came out firing and staggered Canchila with two minutes left as he hammered home a series of looping left hands. He had Canchila pinned on the ropes and in deep trouble. But Canchila was hanging in there and found a home for some of his own blows that rocked the defense-challenged Segura.
The last 90 seconds of the round were spent with both men trading vicious shots back and forth until the bell. The action was tremendous, but it took more of a toll on Canchila, who would get knocked out in the next round as Segura won an interim junior flyweight title in this Azteca America-televised rematch.
Tony Grano-Travis Kauffman, fourth round, Sept. 18: The first three rounds were competitive, but Kauffman, a heavyweight prospect being showcased on "ShoBox," was winning. That's when things got wild.
Kauffman picked up the pace and clocked Grano with right hands that did damage. Grano responded by hitting Kauffman below the belt, causing a delay while Kauffman was given time to recover by referee Wayne Hedgepeth. The delay also allowed the tiring Grano to collect himself. When the fight resumed, Grano was gassed and spit out his mouthpiece, which drew a warning from the referee. It was worth it for Grano, however, because the few additional seconds it took to replace his mouthpiece helped him catch a second wind.
When the fight resumed, Grano took it to Kauffman. He battered him around the ring with a surprising two-fisted attack that finally saw Kauffman hit the deck under a hail of punches. Hedgepeth reached 10, and Grano had the big upset after a roller-coaster round.
Also coming: award for Fight of the Year
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.