Ranking the 10 best boxing matches since 2000: Which epic brawl tops our list?

No sport asks as much of its participants as boxing, even among other combat sports. Boxers leave pieces of their lives in the ring in every fight. That is true of any fight, but the most exceptional boxing matches take things to another level.

CBS Sports’ experts dug through nearly 20 years of boxing history while debating over and voting for the best fights in boxing since 2000. Narrowing a list of almost 100 legitimate contenders to just 10 was a difficult undertaking and valid lists can be made while excluding almost any of our choices. But there’s no doubt this millennium has provided fans with a great number of amazing battles and some of the best rivalries in the long history of the sport.

Let’s take a look at the fights that made the cut after the votes were cast by Brent Brookhouse and Brian Campbell.

10. Antonio Margarito vs. Miguel Cotto 1 (July 26, 2008): There’s no doubt the inclusion of this fight is controversial. Margarito committed one of the most evil acts in boxing, fighting with plaster-loaded handwraps. But looking at the fight as a whole, it was a high-level brawl that lived up to all the talk of a potential fight of the year. Referee Kenny Bayless would say after the fight, “It’s the best fight I’ve ever done. They started out throwing power punches and they never stopped. They were throwing bombs and they never stopped.” Cotto finally relented under the crushing blows of Margarito, but not before giving an incredible effort along the way. The fight exemplified the brutality of boxing in ways that were both artistic and vile. — Brookhouse

9. Felix Trinidad vs. Fernando Vargas (Dec. 2, 2000): Among the greatest fights in junior middleweight history, this unification bout saw a pair of unbeatens trade knockdowns and relentless power shots before Trinidad was able to finish the 22-year-old Vargas in Round 12. This updated chapter of the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry was heavily anticipated and somehow exceeded expectations thanks to the drama it produced. Vargas survived a pair of devastating first-round knockdowns to score one of his own against Trinidad in Round 4 before “Tito” finally closed the show in emphatic fashion. — Campbell

8. Somsak Sithchatchawal vs Mahyar Monshipour (March 18, 2006): While almost any fight on this list fits the bill as a clash that looks like something out of a video game, nothing quite hits that mark like Sithchatchawal vs. Monshipour. Whether it’s Sithchatchawal spamming dozens of uppercuts at a time or Monshipour walking forward throwing punches with each step, the pure action fight deserved every bit of praise it received, including winning Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year. After nine brutal rounds of action, Sithchatchawal finally caught Monshipour with a blistering series of shots to force the TKO in Round 10 and win the WBA junior featherweight title. As Monshipour would say 10 years later, “Somsak wouldn’t go down. He was indestructible. That night was our boxing event. It was his day; on that day, he can’t lose.” — Brookhouse

7. Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez 3 (March 1, 2008): Although there was a forgettable fourth meeting two years later, this legendary All-Mexican rivalry will be remembered for the trio of dramatic slugfests that took place over a 364-day span. Simply put: Vazquez and Marquez were perfect for each other and both were just flawed enough defensively to create the perfect formula for fireworks. After Marquez broke Vazquez’s nose to force a stoppage in their first fight, Vazquez redeemed himself with a sixth-round TKO in their rematch. The third fight went the distance and produced a disputed split decision that was aided by Marquez getting floored in Round 12 and also being docked a point for low blows two rounds earlier. — Campbell

6. Erik Morales vs Manny Pacquiao 1 (March 19, 2005): One fight after losing his rematch with Marco Antonio Barrera, Morales met Pacquiao. Pacquiao had only recently become a household name after classic wars with Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez. Morales and Pacquiao got things going quickly, but Morales’ right hand was the defining punch of the fight. A bloodied Pacquiao never stopped battling, but Morales’ best qualities allowed him to win the fight by unanimous decision. The two would fight twice more, both in 2006, making for one of the best trilogies in boxing history. — Brookhouse

5. Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov (March 16, 2013): You can call it the Home Depot Center or StubHub or even Dignity Health Sports Park. But the “War Grounds” in Carson, California, has built a reputation for savagery for a reason, and this fight played a key role in that development. A veritable “Rocky” movie come to life, this welterweight war was only made possible by the chip on Bradley’s shoulder after scoring a controversial split-decision win over Manny Pacquiao in their title bout. Bradley looked to make a definitive statement against the Russian brawler and instead fought through hell to eke out a disputed decision. Bradley showed incredible toughness as he offset rounds in which he outboxed and battered Provodnikov’s face with stanzas that saw him floored and hanging on for life. — Campbell

4. Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera 1 (Feb. 19, 2000): Known commodities but not superstars outside the Mexican boxing community coming into the fight, Morales and Barrera went big time with this affair. Barrera entered as the underdog but was relentless in pushing Morales, who gave as good as he got. The fifth round of the epic encounter stands as one of the great rounds in championship boxing history and serves as a micro view of the fight as a whole. No matter how much either man gave, the other was able to roar back with an answer. Barrera walked away with the split decision win and two super bantamweight titles, but both men cemented themselves as big money fighters going forward — including in two more fights with each other. — Brookhouse

3. Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez 4 (Dec. 8, 2012): The best chapter of quite possibly the greatest rivalry of the modern era ended in climactic fashion when Marquez, with his nose busted open, knocked Pacquiao out cold to end Round 6. Somewhat lost in the violent finish is just how savage the previous five rounds were as these bitter competitors traded knockdowns to close out a rivalry that began at featherweight and ended at 147 pounds. Marquez, who felt he was robbed on the scorecards in all three of their fights leading in, secured lasting retribution with the manner in which he emerged victorious. The fact that many fans and critics looked at this fourth meeting as a bit unnecessary while fighting off customer fatigue was instantly forgotten. — Campbell

2. Micky Ward vs Arturo Gatti 1 (May 18, 2002): Putting Gatti and Ward in the ring together was a recipe for an epic action battle. Even knowing that, what the two men delivered went beyond simply being a great fight between two action fighters. That no titles were on the line did not matter as the two went to war. Gatti controlled the early action, cutting Ward and outboxing him for two rounds. Ward began working the body as his stalking approach allowed him to work his way back to competitive footing. Gatti began standing his ground, ready for the brawl and abandoning his more technical approach to the early rounds. A classic Round 5 was only the start of things heating up before the “Round of the Century” in Round 9. Ward landed a crushing left hook to the body, sending a wincing Gatti to the canvas. Gatti beat the 10-count before absorbing a barrage of shots from Ward and suddenly turning the tables, rocking Ward with a blistering assault. Ward turned things around again, battering Gatti as he was nearly unable to defend himself. The two men, bloodied and swollen, managed to make it to the final bell, with Ward taking a majority decision after 10 rounds of incredible action. They would fight two more times, both living up to expectations and never with a title belt getting in the way of simply doing what they did best. — Brookhouse

1. Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo 1 (May 7, 2005): The granddaddy of them all from the standpoint of action, drama and an unforgettable swerve finish. While this fight has acquired near universal claim as the best of this century, the larger debate is where it actually fits in among the best in history. The late historian Bert Sugar, just minutes after Corrales sealed an unlikely comeback by rising twice in the 10th round to finish Castillo, claimed it was the best fight he had ever seen. Not only did this have savage, two-way action in all 10 rounds, it had legitimate stakes as a lightweight unification. Both fighters, who each entered at the peak of their fighting primes, were never the same in the aftermath. Corrales, who lost the rematch by TKO after Castillo missed weight, never won another fight and died two years to the day of this classic bout after crashing his motorcycle. — Campbell

Honorable Mentions: Lennox Lewis vs Vitali Klitschko (June 21, 2003), Juan Manuel Marquez vs Juan Diaz 1 (Feb. 28, 2009), Marco Antonio Barrera vs Erik Morales 3 (Nov. 27, 2004), Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez 2 (Aug. 4, 2007), Kelly Pavlik vs. Jermain Taylor 1 (Sept. 29, 2007), Micky Ward vs Emanuel Augustus (July 13, 2001), Victor Ortiz vs Andre Berto (April 16, 2011), Shane Mosley vs Oscar De La Hoya 1 (June 17, 2000), Brandon Rios vs Mike Alvarado (Oct. 13, 2012), Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire (Nov. 7, 2019)

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