BEST FIGHTER: Manny PacquiaoPacquiao opened the decade as a 21-year-old, ex-WBC flyweight champion who owned a 27-2 record and had fought just three times outside his native Philippines. His final pre-2000s excursion resulted in a third-round knockout loss to Medgoen Sengsurat in Thailand in 1999. Today, Pacquiao (50-3-2 with 38 KOs overall; 23-1-2 with 20 KOs this decade) owns seven world titles in as many weight classes, and is quite possibly the finest fighter in the world, pound-for-pound.
With an improbable combination of speed and power, he's an electrifying presence in the ring, a relentless attacker and a master of distance, who comes at opponents from surprising angles while still maintaining tremendous leverage and balance. He also fights with an urgency and a joy unseen since the young Roberto Duran. Best of all, Pacquiao, 31, may not even have peaked yet; under trainer Freddie Roach, he just keeps getting better.
Click here for Richard O'Brien's top 10 pound-for-pound boxers of the decade
BEST FIGHT: Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo I"At some point," said WBC lightweight champion Castillo, heading into his May 7, 2005, showdown with WBO champ Corrales, "it will be bombs away." That point, it turned out, was the opening bell. For nine rounds, the action never flagged, the momentum swung back and forth and each man took tremendous punishment. Then came the 10th, and things got really amazing.
Thirty seconds in, Castillo dropped Corrales with a crushing left hook. Amazingly, "Chico" beat the count, gaining a few extra seconds to recover when his mouthpiece came out. Castillo jumped on him immediately and, 30 seconds later, Corrales was down again, badly hurt. But again, the mouthpiece came out and this time referee Tony Weeks deducted a point. It seemed academic, as Castillo moved in for the finish, but Corrales, both eyes nearly swollen shut, fired back with a furious flurry, leaving Castillo hanging helpless on the ropes and forcing Weeks to end the fight with 54 seconds left in the round.
Click here for Bryan Armen Graham's top 10 fights of the decade
BIGGEST UPSET: Antonio Tarver vs. Roy Jones Jr. IIJones, 35, came into the bout, on May 15, 2004, with the light heavyweight title, a record of 49-1 and a reputation as the best fighter of his generation. True, he had squeaked past Tarver on a close decision just six months before, but that was viewed as an aberration. In the rematch, everyone would see the return of the real Roy Jones. Instead, what everyone saw was Jones pole-axed by a huge left hand from Tarver and counted out less than two minutes into the second round.
BIGGEST OVERACHIEVER: Ricky HattonThe product of a Manchester, England, housing project, Hatton was an every-bloke figure, just another Man City soccer fan who loved nothing more than frequenting his local pub, where he drank enough ale between fights to earn (and embrace) the nickname "Ricky Fatton." He was also a relentless, hard-hitting bulldog of a fighter who won two world championships (knocking out the heavily favored Kostya Tszyu in 2005 for the IBF 140-pound title) and ran up a record of 29-2 in the decade, losing only to a couple of guys named Mayweather and Pacquiao.
BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER: Zab JudahCan a three-time world champion really be an underachiever? He can if he squanders as much talent as Zab.
A three-time New York Golden Gloves champ and one of the most highly touted amateurs in recent memory, Judah began the decade by winning the vacant IBF 140-pound title. He was 22 years old and 22-0 and, with his blend of unearthly speed and ring smarts, appeared on track for pound-for-pound greatness. But a lack of discipline and focus repeatedly derailed him.
In 2001, Tszyu knocked him out in two rounds. Judah came back to win, and then carelessly lose, two welterweight belts; melted down in a bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. that he had a shot at winning; and lost by technical knockout to Miguel Cotto. Judah's record for the decade: 17-6.
BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: The Hands of Antonio MargaritoOn July 26, 2008, Margarito knocked out previously unbeaten Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas to take the WBA welterweight title. Margarito, who brought a 36-5 record into the bout, lost most of the early rounds, but came on strong to batter Cotto into submission in the 11th.
Six months later, in Los Angeles, just before Margarito entered the ring to face Shane Mosley, one of Mosley's cornermen noticed a "white, pasty substance" on Margarito's hand wraps. Forced to rewrap his hands, Margarito went on to lose to Mosley by technical knockout in the ninth. The California commission subsequently determined that the substance was sulfur and calcium, which combine with oxygen to form Plaster of Paris. On Feb. 10, 2009, Margarito and his trainer, Javier Capetillo, were suspended for "at least a year."
The Mosley incident threw an immediate shadow over Margarito's knockout of Cotto, and while Margarito has denied any wrongdoing in that fight, most observers believe Cotto was the victim of an egregious crime.
HOTTEST FEUD: Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Bob ArumArum knows feuds. His many battles with rival promoter Don King are the stuff legends are made of. Mayweather, too, has been known to throw down. (He once derided a multimillion-dollar contract offer from his long-time network, HBO, as "slave wages.")
So, when the two parted ways in 2007, after Arum had promoted Mayweather for a decade, it was no surprise that some acrimony ensued. Mayweather charged Arum with underpaying and under-promoting him, while Arum asserted that the fighter was notoriously hard to deal with.
All that would just be more colorful fodder for boxing gossip, save for the fact that it threatens to get in the way of the next decade's first superfight: a showdown between Arum's Manny Pacquiao and the now self-promoted Mayweather. No sooner had Pacquiao beaten Cotto, clearing the way for a date with Mayweather, than Arum was referring to Floyd as "just a problem and a head case." Mayweather countered by calling Arum "a very old, grumpy man."
Still, in boxing, money (and we don't mean "Money" Mayweather) talks. Even the Hatfields and the McCoys would get together for the kind of bottom line Manny-Floyd will generate.
BEST RIVALRY: Arturo Gatti vs. Micky WardNeither was a true A-lister, but their trilogy offered fans an old-school thrill that had been missing from most of the decade's superbouts.
Gatti, born in Italy and raised in Montreal, had become a cult hero (especially in New Jersey, where he fought so often), celebrated for a series of near-miraculous comeback wins and a seemingly bottomless capacity for punishment. Ward was a lunch-pail Irish-American brawler out of Lowell, Mass.
Their first fight, on May 18, 2002, was a 10-round extravaganza of give-and-take violence, highlighted by a ninth round of almost cartoonish ferocity in which both men were nearly finished off. Ward won that one by narrow decision and the two bonded afterwards in neighboring hospital beds. The next two bouts, both won by Gatti, were, if not quite as spectacular, just as gloriously two-sided.
ONE-HIT WONDER: Hasim RahmanIn this case, the term applies just about literally. A 28-year-old, under-achieving heavyweight out of Baltimore, Rahman was a 15-1 underdog when he stepped into the ring against champion Lennox Lewis on April 22, 2001, in Gauteng, South Africa. Lewis, perhaps distracted by his recent cameo turn in Oceans Eleven, came in under-trained and under-focused, and midway through the fifth round, walked into a decidedly over-achieving right hand by Rahman and was counted out.
Rahman's reign lasted a little less than seven months. In a rematch in Las Vegas, Lewis knocked the "Rock" out in four with a right cross that landed with the crack of a rifle shot. In the years since, Rahman has stumbled his way through a record of 10-4-2, with one No Contest.
WORST MELTDOWN: The Mayweathers and JudahsApril8, 2006: The long-anticipated welterweight showdown between the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the gifted-but-erratic Zab Judah finally took place, at Las Vegas' Thomas and Mack Center. It should have been at the Tumult and Whack Center.
Things started under control, with the speedy Judah stinging and out-boxing Mayweather early. Then Mayweather took over, increasingly frustrating Judah. With 10 seconds to go in the 10th round, Judah, clearly desperate and disgusted, hit Mayweather low and followed with a shot to the back of the head. Referee Richard Steele called time, and that's when Floyd's uncle/trainer Roger Mayweather jumped into the ring to confront (and eventually choke) Judah -- which brought Judah's father/trainer Yoel into the ring (as Judah threw an extracurricular punch or two), followed by everyone else in the fighters' corners and a swarm of security and police.
Order was finally restored, and Mayweather went on to win an easy decision. Five days later, the Nevada commission held a hearing and handed down a total of $600,000 in fines.
MOST INSPIRATIONAL STORY: Freddie Roach's Second ActAs a boxer in the 1980s, Freddie Roach was a crowd-pleasing lightweight of indomitable spirit but limited talent. Urged by trainer Eddie Futch to retire in 1985, Roach fought on for another year, taking ever more punishment. After finally quitting the ring, he returned to Futch as an apprentice. Now, even as he battles Parkinson's disease -- the result, he said, of his years in the ring -- Roach stands as the most celebrated trainer in the sport.
Over the past decade, he has worked with 27 world champions, foremost among them Pacquiao, whom he molded into the best fighter in the world. Further, Roach is determined to protect all his boxers from the kind of damage he suffered, limiting the rounds they spar and even suggesting early retirement, calling such concern "his duty."
MOST COLORFUL PERSONALITY: James ToneyBoxing is rife with self-styled showmen, from Roy Jones Jr., with his carefully packaged hip-hop swagger, to the clownish Prince Naseem Hamed, who put more effort into his ring walks than he did his actual fights. But the real thing is rarer. Toney had it-mostly because he didn't give a damn what anyone thought of him. The former middleweight champ-turned heavyweight spoiler rolled through the decade as the best interview in boxing and a reminder of an earlier era, when boxing's best were larger-than-life figures.
BEST INNOVATION: HBO'S 24/7Remember, this is boxing. There hasn't been a true innovation since the protective cup. But when it comes to bringing fresh interest to the sport, HBO's 24/7 concept deserves applause. Launched to promote the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight in 2007, the series features behind-the-scenes footage from the opposing boxers' camps leading up to a major bout. Sure, it's all slick and over-dramatized, but for potential fans, the episodes help make the fighters human and accessible. And for established fans, the access is remarkable. Just imagine the same kind of footage from, say, Dempsey and Tunney, or Ali and Frazier.
WORST INNOVATION: The ContenderThe sad flip-side to 24/7, producer Mark Burnett's "reality/sport" series, in which real-life marginal fighters vied Survivor-like for a spot in a final showcase bout, wound up turning boxing into something that looked strangely unreal. Launched in 2005 on NBC, the show, like an overmatched pug, languished in the bottom of the ratings over the next four years.
BEST TRASH-TALKER: Ricardo MayorgaSorry, Mike Tyson. Promising to eat Lennox Lewis' children doesn't do it. For one thing, Lewis didn't have any children. For another, it just sounded silly. No, in a sport where pre-fight lip-flapping is not just tolerated, but expected, it takes some truly inspired vitriol to stand out.
That's what made Mayorga, the Pride -- er, make that the Shame -- of Nicaragua, so perversely entertaining. A wild-swinging brawler in the ring, he was even wilder with his mouth, dubbing De La Hoya "Pretty Girl" (and presenting him with a skirt); referring to FernandoVargas as "that fat guy from Mexico;" offering to send Corey Spinks to heaven to join his dead mother; and promising that he would make Shane Mosley "my woman." Best of all, even after all of those guys cleaned his clock, Mayorga remained just as cheerfully offensive.
BIGGEST NEAR-MISS: Castillo beats MayweatherIn 2002, Floyd Mayweather Jr., then 27-0 and the WBC junior lightweight champion, moved up to challenge lightweight titleholder Jose Luis Castillo. While Mayweather won the early rounds, Castillo came on over the second half of the fight, wearing Mayweather down with his superior strength. Though Castillo wound up out-landing Mayweather by more than 100 power punches (173-63), Mayweather took the fight on a close decision.
True, Floyd was fighting with an injured shoulder, and in a rematch eight months later, he won by a clearer margin. But had the judges given the first fight to Castillo -- as many observers thought they should have - "Pretty Boy's" record would have been one W less pretty and he would have had just a little less leverage to avoid matches with the likes of Mosley, Margarito or Paul Williams. Any one of whom could have conceivably scuttled Mayweather-De La Hoya, the decade's richest bout.