Juan Manuel Marquez knows a thing or two about drama in the ring. So, too, does Michael Katsidis.
Marquez, of course, has been in numerous exciting battles, tasted the canvas many times and always survived. He was down three times in the first round of his first fight with Manny Pacquiao before clawing his way to a disputed draw. Pacquiao dropped him again in the third round of their classic rematch and Marquez lost an even more disputed split decision. When he jumped up two weight classes to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. at welterweight, Marquez went down in the second round.
But Marquez always has picked himself up and waded back into the battle.
Katsidis has been in several hellacious battles himself and has become the closest thing boxing now has to the late all-time action hero Arturo Gatti.
So was it any surprise that when Marquez, the lightweight champ, met Katsidis, his mandatory challenger, on Nov. 27 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that they produced serious fireworks in a blistering fight?
Not at all.
Boxing fans knew when the bout was signed that it would be a rousing slugfest, and the fighters sure delivered. They waged a tremendously exciting fight, but one that will be remembered most for the exhilarating third round, a topsy-turvy three minutes and the 2010 ESPN.com round of the year.
Rafael's Rounds of the Year
The first two rounds featured plenty of back-and-forth action, but the third round took the fight to another level. Katsidis was doing well but was behind when it began. However, 50 seconds into the round, both men went to throw left hooks. Marquez, his right hand dropped low, left himself wide open and Katsidis' punch got to the target -- Marquez's chin -- first.
Marquez went down on his back and was badly hurt, even though he popped right back up, probably on instinct.
"Tremendous shot!" HBO's Jim Lampley said excitedly. "The biggest punch Marquez has taken since he fought against Pacquiao."
Referee Kenny Bayless, who officiated Marquez's rematch with Pacquiao and is very familiar with him, gave the fighter a good look and let the fight continue.
There were still two minutes left in the round and the question lingered: Would Marquez be able to survive on those shaky legs?
And then, rather than hold, the warrior spirit spilled out of Marquez, who decided to fight toe-to-toe rather than hang on for survival. If he was going down, he would go down swinging.
Australia's Katsidis knew Marquez was hurt and went for the knockout. He was winging shots, trapped Marquez along the ropes and tried to finish him right there.
But Marquez had been in this position before. He has a deep reservoir of heart and showed it midway through the round.
"Marquez is getting his bearings back," Lampley said. "He's gonna try to find an opportunity to go right back at Katsidis."
And then Marquez promptly landed a left hook. And then Katsidis wobbled him again. Back and forth they went. Marquez was landing shots up the middle and Katsidis was coming over the top with head blows as the crowd went crazy.
As the round wound down, they stood in the center of the ring trading heavy punches, with the crowd on its feet. Marquez was getting the better of it, landing what appeared to be eight consecutive shots as Katsidis whiffed on a couple.
"What a round," Lampley said. "What an amazing round Round 3 was!"
Not only had Marquez survived a desperate moment in the thrilling round, he closed it with such an offensive explosion that he had clearly taken back the momentum that would carry him through to a ninth-round TKO.
"I was surprised in the third round, but I'm a true warrior and I came back to win the fight," a proud Marquez said afterward. "He surprised me. I made an error. I dropped my hand and he caught me. It was a perfect punch, but I was in great condition and that's what helped me to get up and finish off the fight."
As soon as Marquez went down, he apparently had Katsidis right where he wanted him.
Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana (10th): Khan was clearly ahead when they got to the 10th round at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay. He had dropped Maidana in the first round and was outboxing him. But after some knockdowns early in Khan's career and a memorable first-round knockout in his only loss, there have been questions about his chin. Maidana has a huge knockout record, so the question going into the fight was, what will happen when he eventually touches Khan's chin? We found out in this drama-packed frame, which was eerily reminiscent of last year's unforgettable 12th round of Juan Manuel Lopez's desperate (and ultimately successful) effort to survive an onslaught from Rogers Mtagwa in a junior featherweight title defense. As in that round, Khan played boxing's version of beat the clock. He dominated the first 65 seconds, firing fast punches and using his legs to avoid the slower Maidana. But then it happened: Maidana landed a brutal right hand to Khan's jaw, and Khan's legs turned to jelly. He was badly hurt. And then Maidana nailed him with another right hand. HBO's Jim Lampley kicked into Hall of Fame mode: "Hard right hand! Khan is tremendously wobbled! Amir should be holding on right now! Maidana clocked him big-time with a right hand. Khan was momentarily out on his feet! And he's hurt again! Maidana's got his chance. Plenty of time left in the 10th. And a left hook lands for Maidana. Khan is wobbly! Khan is almost gone!" Ninety seconds still remained and Khan, in phenomenal condition, did everything he could to survive while Maidana pursued him like a hungry dog after a piece of raw meat. Another right hand hurt Khan with a minute left. It was simply remarkable that he didn't go down. Maidana finished the round by whacking Khan around some more, but Khan found a way to survive in a thoroughly one-sided, incredible round. "This," HBO analyst Larry Merchant said, "is high drama in the desert."
Mikkel Kessler-Carl Froch (12th): If you want high stakes and high drama with a splash of blood to end what had already been a tremendous fight, this round is for you. Kessler and Froch laid it all on the line in a Group Stage 2 bout in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic -- probably the best round so far in the tournament. The fight seemed to be on the table going into the final round. Jimmy Montoya, Kessler's trainer, certainly thought so and told him man on the stool after the 11th, "Mikkel, you want this f------ title? You go get the son of a b----!" That's exactly what Kessler tried to do. Froch, attempting to hang on to his super middleweight belt, had the same idea. The result was a frenzied and ferocious final round. It was bombs away as they basically stood in the center of the ring and tried to knock each other out. Kessler, already bleeding from a cut over his left eye from earlier in the fight, busted open a cut over Froch's left eye. And when Kessler finally backed Froch into the ropes and began teeing off with less than a minute to go, Froch fired right back. "Look at 'em! Toe-to-toe, man-to-man," roared Showtime's Gus Johnson. They traded with reckless abandon the rest of the way in an unforgettable ending to a terrific fight, which Kessler wound up winning unanimously. Turned out he didn't need the 12th round after all, but thankfully he thought he did.
Humberto Soto-Urbano Antillon (third): Soto's lightweight title defense against Antillon was such an exceptional fight that you could pick any number of rounds from it to honor. You like the first? Fine. The second? How about the sixth? The 10th, 11th and 12th were exciting as well. But we'll take the third, which featured searing action from start to finish. When the bell rang, Antillon marched across the ring and sunk a left hook to Soto's body and a right hand upstairs. Soto responded by ripping him with a couple of uppercuts, and the action never relented. While Antillon bulled toward Soto with massive pressure, Soto, the more skilled of the two, countered him beautifully. But by the second half of the round, Soto took the offensive, rocking Antillon with left hooks and body blows. Antillon was walking into shots, happy to take two or three to land one big bomb as the fighters traded in violent fashion. "This is vicious two-way action," said broadcaster Nick Charles, like a kid in a candy store.
Hugo Cazares-Nobuo Nashiro II (12th): In September 2009, Nashiro retained his junior bantamweight belt in a split draw in an excellent fight against Cazares. In the immediate rematch in May, which was also on Nashiro's turf in Japan, they both let it all hang out again -- but never more so than in the final mesmerizing round of combat. Cazares seemed to be ahead, but he couldn't be sure because he was on enemy ground. Nashiro seemed to know he needed the last round badly. So from the opening seconds when they met in the center of the ring until the final bell sounded, they played Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots for all three minutes, taking turns trading combinations. Both fighters landed repeatedly and neither buckled or backed down under the heavy fire. Outstanding two-way action. Cazares, by the way, got the well-deserved decision and the belt.
Juan Manuel Lopez-Bernabe Concepcion (first): Nothing like kicking off a fight with a bang, and that's just what Lopez -- defending his featherweight belt at home in Puerto Rico -- and the Philippines' Concepcion did as they both tasted the canvas in an action-packed opening stanza. Lopez, who would ultimately win via second-round knockout, is offensive-minded and sloppy on defense, which means he's usually in exciting fights. So just when it looked like Lopez might finish Concepcion for a first-round knockout, Concepcion got in his own big lick in the Showtime main event. Lopez got off to a fast start, sending Concepcion staggering into the ropes about a minute into the fight, courtesy of a big straight left hand. Thirty seconds later, he dropped the Manny Pacquiao protégé to all fours with a right hook as the crowd went wild. Lopez continued to strafe him with straight lefts and was on the verge of a knockout when Concepcion threw a Hail Mary of a left and dropped Lopez to his backside with 13 seconds left in a shocking turn of events. "Another left hand backs up Concepcion. Here comes the champ," Showtime's Gus Johnson bellowed. "Punches in bunches, 25 seconds to go! Concepcion trying to roll, trying to slip. He hit him with a left hook and dropped him! Whoah! Out of nowhere, Concepcion sends the champion to the canvas! And that quiets this crowd. What a start here in P.R. Ha-ha! And that's the end of the first round. Whew!"
Joseph Agbeko-Yonnhy Perez II (sixth): In 2009, Perez won a bantamweight title from Agbeko in a rousing fight. In the rematch, a semifinal in Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament, they met again. Although they put on another good scrap (with Agbeko reclaiming his belt via decision), it wasn't nearly as action-packed as the first encounter. But the sixth round of the rematch might have been the best round of the 24 they fought. Agbeko opened the round trying to continue doing what had worked for him, which was boxing Perez and not getting into a brawl as he did in the first fight. But Perez wanted to throw down and cornered Agbeko in the early moments. That's when the leather started flying. Back and forth they went. Perez landed some hard right hands, but Agbeko came right back and the round just kept getting better and better. They really let loose in the final minute, prompting Showtime's Steve Albert to really get into it: "The action is really heating up! Nonstop, two-way action now. There's a right hand to the head by Perez. Back comes Agbeko with a straight right. Now it's Perez. They go back and forth! This is the first fight all over again, and it starts in Round 6. ... Unbelievable action! It doesn't let up! One scores then the other one does!" When this gem of a round ended, the crowd was on its feet cheering.
Giovani Segura-Ivan Calderon (fourth): Segura and Calderon met to unify junior flyweight belts in a classic Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry fight and produced a stirring battle, with this frame being the best round in one of the year's best fights. As he had done throughout the match (fought on Calderon's Puerto Rican turf), Segura, the bigger pure puncher, relentlessly pressured Calderon, the technical and defensive wizard. Segura pressed forward, looking to land anything he could while Calderon slipped shots and countered. While Segura banged Calderon's body, Calderon was trying to move side to side and use every inch of the large, 24-foot ring to evade the incoming for the first half of the round. But there was only so long he could avoid Segura before the fireworks detonated in the final 90 seconds. Segura eventually cornered Calderon and began to unload punch after punch. He must have thrown more than two dozen shots, although Calderon managed to bob and move away from most of them while countering with left hands. Still, it was very exciting stuff, and broadcaster Col. Bob Sheridan could not contain himself in the final minute: "He's letting Segura shoot it all! Look at this, folks. It's sensational action! ... The crowd is going berserk. The entire crowd is on its feet in Puerto Rico! What a fight!"
Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins (12th): Hopkins, a consummate boxer who possesses excellent defense, isn't known for being in action-filled fights. But this final round of one of the most exciting Hopkins fights in recent memory was just tremendous. Hopkins, 45 and looking to become the oldest champion in boxing history, knew he needed every point he could muster if he was to wrest the light heavyweight title from Pascal on his Quebec turf. So Hopkins, the aggressor throughout the fight, went right at him at the start of the round and backed him into the ropes. Pascal was trying to hold while Hopkins fired away. Eventually, Pascal also began landing some nice counterpunches as the action built. "This could really be a brawl these last couple of minutes," said Showtime's Steve Albert. Sure enough, it happened. They swapped punches down the stretch, prompting this from Albert: "Oh! They are going at it! A furious round!" As the 10-second warning sounded, the fighters traded toe-to-toe as the crowd of 16,500 went wild. Hopkins didn't make history by winning, instead ending up with a controversial majority draw that allowed Pascal to keep the title. But his effort in the fight, particularly the last round, was memorable.
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam-Suriyan Por Chockchai (10th): Wonjongkam, the Thai legend and longtime flyweight titlist, got a serious test from his countryman, including during this fierce round filled with sensational action. Wonjongkam punched well off the ropes and landed numerous uppercuts and body shots in the round. Chockchai absorbed a lot of punishment but rallied to deliver his own brutal blows when he trapped Wonjongkam on the ropes again. It was a thrilling round. It was also a sick round -- literally. At one point, in one of the nastiest and shocking things you'll ever see in a boxing ring, Chockchai projectile vomited. Hard. What did Wonjongkam do? He ripped him with a left hand to the gut while he was still puking. Seriously.
Derry Matthews-Choi Tseveenpurev II (second): Sky Sports in England televises a regular series called "Prizefighter," in which eight boxers in the same division compete in a one-night tournament with each bout scheduled for three rounds. It has produced some terrific fights and some terrific rounds, but this was one of the most scintillating. England's Matthews and Mongolia's Tseveenpurev first met in 2008, when the Mongolian dropped Matthews five times en route to a fifth-round knockout. But the rematch, in the semifinals of a "Prizefighter" junior lightweight tournament, was extremely close and exciting with the second-round producing exceptional back-and-forth action. Matthews, who would go on to win the decision, had been hurt at the end of the first round and Tseveenpurev roared out for the second round to see if he was still vulnerable. Matthews was eating shots and trying to hold in the first minute, but he suddenly came back strong in the bruising battle. He hurt Tseveenpurev with a pair of right hands and an uppercut and followed with a series of shots that had Tseveenpurev against the ropes and in trouble. But Tseveenpurev rallied to wobble Matthews again with a right hand. Not to be outdone, Matthews answered back with his own rights late in the fabulous, frenetic round.
Roman Martinez-Gonzalo Mungia (third): Although Martinez ultimately rolled to a fourth-round knockout in a junior lightweight title defense, this hard-hitting round was action-packed after a pedestrian first minute. When things heated up, they spent virtually the rest of the round standing in the center of the ring and trading bombs. Martinez's shots were heavier and Mungia showed a dynamite chin to stand up to the blows. Despite getting hammered, he continued to march forward and throw right back. "Toe to toe!" roared Integrated Sports pay-per-view analyst Benny Ricardo. "This is just an absolute war here right now." Martinez ate a bunch of shots, but then he staggered Mungia just before the bell ended the blazing round while the pro-Martinez crowd in Puerto Rico cheered wildly.
Said Ouali-Hector Saldivia (first): In a wild shootout, welterweights Ouali and Saldivia met on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Shane Mosley HBO PPV undercard and got the telecast started with a fun-filled bang. Ouali survived a quick, hard knockdown and withstood a rough follow-up attack to eventually knock out Saldivia after 107 seconds of mayhem. Saldivia rushed toward Ouali at the outset and knocked him down with a chopping right hand almost immediately. Ouali survived, but Saldivia tried to finish him by dishing out punishment in a brutal follow-up assault. Suddenly, while taking shots, Ouali landed a right-left combination out of nowhere and dropped Saldivia, who was badly hurt by the punch. Ouali wasted no time, landing a right hand when the fight resumed to knock him down again. Saldivia made it to his feet a second time, but he was wobbly and staggered across the ring, prompting referee Russell Mora to call it off and give Ouali the mild upset. It sure was exciting while it lasted.
Ivan Popoca-Jose Luis Soto-Karass (fourth): Do you like watching two guys just wail on each other? This is your round. Neither fighter looms as a future champion, but these junior welterweights make fun fights -- including this especially crowd-pleasing round in a "Top Rank Live" undercard bout in Chicago. Soto-Karass dropped Popoca with a booming right hand 30 seconds into the round, and it was on. Popoca popped right back and waded back into the battle. Soto-Karass thought he might be able to finish him right then and began swinging wildly. But Popoca stood his ground and delivered his own blows. They spent the rest of the vicious round simply trading shot for shot, each man getting in his share. Both men were rocked. We cheered.
Also coming: award for fight of the year.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.