The Pugilist

Pacquiao-Marquez IV: Yahoo! Sports 2012 Fight of the Year

Referee Pat Russell leaned against a wall outside of Mike Alvarado's locker room on a cool Southern California night in October.

Moments earlier, Alvarado had engaged in one of the best fights of the 21st century with Brandon Rios at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Rios won by a seventh-round stoppage in a thrilling, action-packed bout that satisfies virtually every Fight of the Year requirement.

• It was extraordinarily competitive.

• There were great momentum shifts.

• There were no clinches, and the breaks in the action were very few.

As a group of reporters left after speaking with Alvarado, Russell called out to them.

"Appreciate that," he said. "You're not going to see another like that for a while."

But Russell was wrong; very wrong. And fortunately for boxing fans, the final quarter of 2012 made a seemingly easy choice for Fight of the Year extraordinarily difficult.

The best fight of the first nine months of 2012 is easy to pick. The sustained action and high skill of the April rematch between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez made it the frontrunner for Fight of the Year.

It remained the frontrunner at the end of June, as it did at the end of September.

But in the final quarter of the year, it seemed like contenders for the honor popped up every week.

On October 13, Rios stopped Alvarado in the seventh in what, at the time, might have been the best fight of the 21st century.

Brian Viloria and Hernan "Tyson" Marquez competed in an enthralling flyweight unification bout on November 17.

Robert Guerrero and Andre Berto unexpectedly went toe-to-toe for 12 rounds of gripping action.

And on December 8, the fourth fight of the epic series between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao turned out to be the best, as Marquez knocked out Pacquiao in the Yahoo! Sports Knockout of the Year.

Suddenly, Salido-Lopez II had plenty of company.

Arguments can be made for each of them, but after a lengthy consideration that included multiple viewings of each, conversations with respected colleagues and a lot of soul searching, one ultimately stood above the other.

Pacquiao-Marquez IV is the 2012 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year because it matched Rios-Alvarado in terms of action and momentum shifts, but the skill of the fighters was higher.

It wasn't hard to predict that they'd put on a great fight. There were already three fights and 36 rounds of evidence to suggest that Pacquiao-Marquez IV would be worth the pay-per-view price and more.

Their first three fights were all breathtaking affairs, filled with the kind of action that would make anyone who saw them a fan for life.

In the build-up to the fourth fight, both men spoke of their desire to fight more aggressively. One of Pacquiao's most frequently used clichés before any match is "I want to give a good fight for the fans."

He almost always promises to fight toe-to-toe in an entertaining style. Marquez, though, is a counter puncher who has been in far more than his share of great fights. However, Marquez always needs an aggressor to initiate the action.

This time, though, Marquez was vowing to take it to Pacquiao, believing the only way he could avoid the heartbreak of losing another close decision would be to finish his rival.

As it turned out, it was one of the fights that more than lived up to its billing. They attacked each other with a ferocity that hadn't been seen in any of their three previous fights. They landed hard, they landed often and they landed not to win, but to finish.

Pacquiao went down in the third round from a crushing overhand right. In the fifth, Pacquiao decked Marquez and seemed to be in control of the bout.

In the sixth, Marquez took serious abuse and was bleeding from the nose and mouth. Many long-time observers felt Pacquiao was a round or two away from fulfilling his prefight promise to stop Marquez.

As the seconds wound down in the sixth, he picked up the pace even more. He threw a right as he moved toward Marquez. The right missed its mark as Marquez countered with a right of his own.

The punch landed squarely on Pacquiao's chin and he went face first to the canvas. The bout ended in an instant and Marquez celebrated the most significant win of his Hall of Fame career.

There's room for debate in any opinion-based award such as Fight of the Year. But when considering the action, the drama, the momentum shifts, the stakes and the skill of the fighters, Pacquiao-Marquez IV earns the nod as the 2012 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year.

Nonito Donaire: Yahoo! Sports 2012 Fighter of the Year

British Eurosport-Yahoo! 2012 awards