When Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams met in December 2009, they waged one of the most action-packed fights of the year. They were both knocked down in the first round and spent the rest of the fight pounding each other in an unforgettable battle.
Williams came out with a disputed majority decision victory that cried for a rematch. After each took an interim fight -- Martinez dethroned Kelly Pavlik to win the middleweight championship in his -- they met again on Nov. 20 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
The anticipation in the boxing world was at a fever pitch. The expectations were sky-high for another fight-of-the-year candidate between two of the world's best pound-for-pound fighters.
It never materialized. Instead, Martinez fired the overhand left heard 'round the world that violently drilled Williams in the second round for the utterly stunning 2010 ESPN.com knockout of the year.
Coming into the rematch, both fighters were talking a good game.
Rafael's Knockouts of the Year
"This one will be more brutal this time," Williams said during the buildup.
He was right, but just not in the way he had expected.
"I'm going to hurt him worse than I did in the first fight," Martinez said before the sequel. "I think I can stop Paul Williams. Both of us need closure from our last fight. We need to know that the result is final this time."
The result was about as final as it could be.
The first round looked more like the 13th round of their first fight as they both stepped on the gas right away. Maybe we were indeed in for another barn burner. But Martinez put that notion to rest in the second round.
He had been finding a home for his left hand but hadn't landed it perfectly yet. That changed when both fighters went to throw lefts simultaneously. Williams, however, had his right hand hanging down near his waist and Martinez came over the top with a ferocious, full-leverage blow that landed clean on Williams' chin.
Williams, who usually has a durable chin, never saw the punch coming. He dropped to the mat face-first as his entire body short-circuited. First his knee hit the canvas. Then he slammed the mat with his face as he came to rest with his arms at his side. His lip was bleeding, his shoulder quivered and his blank eyes were open, but he was removed from his senses. Referee Earl Morton counted him out at 1 minute, 10 seconds. There was no reason for Morton to count. Martinez had blown Williams away for a huge knockout that harkened back to Thomas Hearns' all-time classic, one-punch, second-round KO of Roberto Duran.
"That is the knockout of the year if nothing else," HBO analyst Max Kellerman said on the broadcast. "A sensational, shocking, one-punch knockout of a normally iron-chinned, top-notch fighter!"
As Martinez and his team erupted in celebration of the gargantuan knockout, medical personnel rushed to Williams' aid to give him oxygen. After a couple of minutes on the canvas, he was able to get up on his own, but with little idea about what had hit him.
Martinez had planned for it. His trainer, Gabriel Sarmiento, had envisioned the left hand as the finishing punch and was so confident that would be the key that he jotted down his prediction for the fight on a piece of paper in the dressing room in the minutes before the ring walk. His prediction: second-round knockout on a left hand.
"We prepared for this," Martinez said while still in the ring. "We worked really hard. [In the second round] I started to attack, and when I did, we knew he was going to make a mistake because he always makes mistakes. He left me a lot of room to come in and hit him."
While Martinez was cool and confident before the fight, his promoter, the emotional Lou DiBella, was a nervous wreck.
"You know how many times he told me, 'Don't worry, I'm going to knock him out'? He kept saying that over and over," DiBella said at ringside after the fight. "I was worried like a maniac. He said, 'Relax, I'm knocking him out.'"
Martinez not only knocked him out, he clinched knockout of the year.
Other sweet shots
Wladimir Klitschko KO12 Eddie Chambers (March 20 at Düsseldorf, Germany)
The heavyweight champion was pummeling the smaller, overmatched Chambers, who had been taking a beating round after round. Yet, for all of his dominance, Klitschko had not put Chambers away. Trainer Emanuel Steward, well-aware of Klitschko's growing reputation for letting lesser opponents hang around in one-sided fights, begged him to pick up the pace, put his punches together and get rid of Chambers. At one point between rounds, Steward compared the fight to Klitschko's horrendously boring 2008 unification fight against Sultan Ibragimov. Even though Klitschko had won every second against Chambers, Steward was so frustrated by his lack of aggression he yelled at Klitschko before the beginning of the 12th round: "We don't need another bulls--- decision!" Klitschko finally got the message and put his opponent away, scoring a spectacular knockout with five seconds left in the fight. Klitschko creamed Chambers with a left hook that sent him staggering backward into one of the corner pads before he collapsed sideways and came to rest facedown with his body hanging over the bottom ring rope. Chambers was out cold with no need for a count. It was the epitome of a heavyweight knockout, even if it took too long for Klitschko to deliver it.
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez KO6 Carlos Baldomir (Sept. 18 at Los Angeles)
Although this was an undercard fight, a huge portion of the heavily Mexican crowd at Staples Center had come to see junior middleweight Alvarez, the 20-year-old rising Mexican star, and he sure gave them a thrill as he wrecked the usually iron-chinned Baldomir. The former undisputed welterweight champ had been stopped only once previously, and that was 16 years ago in his seventh professional fight. But the punishment Alvarez was dishing out began to mount in the sixth round, and then he landed a thunderous left hook on Baldomir's chin. He pitched forward and slammed face-first into the canvas without breaking his fall. The glassy-eyed Baldomir tried in vain to get up, rolling over onto his backside, but there was no use as referee Jose Cobian reached 10. "Down goes Baldomir on a rocket left hook," HBO's Jim Lampley barked. "That's the biggest moment of the night for the crowd! They are going wild. And the count is finished, and he knocked Baldomir out. Not a TKO, a knockout. That's what they wanted!"
Alexander Frenkel KO7 Enzo Maccarinelli (Sept. 18 at Birmingham, England)
In his four previous losses, Maccarinelli had been heavily knocked out, but none was as devastating as this possible career-ender in which Frenkel savagely destroyed him to win the European cruiserweight title. Frenkel scored the first knockdown with 50 seconds left in the seventh round when he slammed Maccarinelli with a flush left hook to the chin. Maccarinelli's eyes rolled up into his head as he flopped to the mat on his back, with his head resting on the bottom rope. He beat the count on instinct, at which point referee Erkki Meronen should have stopped the fight. Maccarinelli was gone, but Meronen allowed it to continue. Maccarinelli staggered toward Frenkel and ate a left, a right and another titanic left that dropped him heavily again. This time Meronen immediately called it off as Maccarinelli landed like a cup of pudding being thrown to the mat, and medical personnel rushed to supply him with oxygen. Sick, sick knockout.
Dmitry Pirog TKO5 Daniel Jacobs (July 31 at Las Vegas)
Jacobs, the 2009 ESPN.com prospect of the year, was the big favorite against Russia's unknown Pirog when they met for a vacant middleweight title, but five rounds later Pirog had fired a career-altering right hand. Although Pirog trailed slightly on the scorecards after four rounds, he made them unnecessary when he detonated a right on Jacobs' jaw. With his hands down and pulling straight back in an amateurish move, Jacobs was a dead duck when the shot landed. His knees buckled and he fell, coming to rest flat on his back as Pirog immediately raised his arms in victory. Jacobs lay motionless as referee Robert Byrd called off the fight. HBO's Jim Lampley with the call: "Down goes Jacobs on a perfect right hand and that may be that! No way. Robert Byrd won't even finish the count! He waives his arms and Jacobs is gone!"
Tim Coleman KO3 Patrick Lopez (Oct. 1 at Santa Ynez, Calif.)
Junior welterweights Coleman and Lopez stood in the middle of the ring trying to measure each other in the third round of this fight on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation." Suddenly, Lopez threw a left hand. But Coleman dipped to the side and countered with a crushing right uppercut that landed dead on Lopez's chin. Lopez dropped to his knees before falling face-first to the mat. He made it to his feet on shaky legs, took a few steps backward, turned around and staggered across the ring until falling into a corner ring post with no idea where he was as referee David Mendoza, who tried to catch him, called it off.
Daniel Ponce De Leon KO3 Antonio Escalante (Sept. 18 at Los Angeles)
Ponce De Leon has been on this list before and likely will be again. He has as much pure power as any fighter in boxing and showed it yet again as he put Escalante to sleep with a left hand to the forehead followed by a short right hook to the side of the face in this featherweight title eliminator. Escalante went down flat on his back, spread-eagle, and referee Tony Crebs stopped it immediately. There was no need to count. "What a right-hand shot," HBO's Jim Lampley told the pay-per-view audience. "And we told you about the punching power. There's the example."
Audley Harrison KO12 Michael Sprott II (April 9 at London)
In 2007, Sprott knocked Harrison cold in the third round in a knockout-of-the-year candidate. Three years later, it was Harrison turning the tables on his British countryman to win the vacant European heavyweight title. Harrison had an injured shoulder and was being roughed up on his way to what would have been a career-crippling defeat when he suddenly turned things around in the final round. Harrison backed Sprott against the ropes and launched a picturesque straight left hand that caught him on the chin. Sprott went down face-first and rolled over on his back as referee Dave Parris immediately stopped it. "What a punch! What a punch," roared British Sky broadcaster Ian Darke. "Massive left hand! It is over! Harrison, in a quite incredible finish, has dredged out the victory. That is one of the most astonishing things you will ever see in a British boxing ring."
David Lemieux KO1 Hector Camacho Jr. (Oct. 29 at Montreal)
Facing his first name opponent, Montreal's heavy-handed Lemieux (25-0, 24 KOs) thrilled his hometown fans with a punishing knockout in this middleweight fight. Camacho has usually shown a durable chin, but it was no match for Lemieux, who dominated the opening round. He wobbled Camacho and then forced him to back up into the ropes before drilling him with a short right hand to the face. Camacho dropped to a knee and fell backward, seemingly in slow motion. He was gone, and referee Michael Griffin stopped the fight.
Ed Paredes KO2 Joey Hernandez II (Feb. 5 at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
In August 2009, South Florida welterweight rivals Paredes and Hernandez fought to a foul-filled draw. In that first fight, Paredes dropped Hernandez but couldn't finish him. Paredes had no such problem in the rematch on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights." Hernandez never saw Paredes' short left hand to the chin. It crumpled Hernandez, who dropped to his knees and fell forward onto the mat. He got to his knees in an effort to get up, but then fell over onto his back as referee Samuel Burgos counted him out. "Wow! Can you believe that? Mark it down, folks! Put it on the list," ESPN's Joe Tessitore barked. "Knockout of the year has an early entrant and it comes from Ed Paredes!" Don't worry, we marked it down.
Jhonny Gonzalez KO2 Santos Marimon (Nov. 20 at Monterrey, Mexico)
Featherweight contender Gonzalez is one of those guys who gets knocked out or does the knocking out. In this case, he did the knocking out, putting Marimon, a .500 journeyman, to sleep with a left hook to the chin. Marimon, out before he hit the deck, spun sideways and dropped to his back spread-eagle as the referee immediately called it off.
Randall Bailey TKO1 Jackson Bonsu (March 19 at Antwerp, Belgium)
It wouldn't be a knockout-of-the-year list without Bailey, one of the best pure punchers in the sport. He traveled to Bonsu's hometown for a welterweight elimination fight and made quick work of him. Bailey had scored a knockdown earlier in the round and Bonsu was wobbly. It was surprising that he made it to his feet, but he wasn't up for long. Bailey set up the spectacular knockout with a booming right hand followed by a nasty left that made Bonsu look like a rag doll being bent in half before he fell to the canvas, half under the ropes. Referee Tony Weeks immediately called it off.
Also coming: awards for prospect, round and fight of the year