Just before the opening bell of junior lightweight titlist Takashi Miura's defense against Francisco Vargas, HBO analyst Max Kellerman told the television audience, "On paper, this has a chance to be something really good."
Yes, expectations were for an exciting fight, but nobody could have imagined what we wound up seeing, as Kellerman's comment turned out to be a massive understatement.
Back and forth, Miura and Vargas pounded each other in a compelling war filled with clean power punches that tested each man's will to the fullest extent and culminated in one of the great comebacks in boxing history.
Vargas' ninth-round knockout of Miura to win a junior lightweight world title was perhaps the most dramatic comeback since the late Diego Corrales used a legendary 10th-round rally to stop Jose Luis Castillo and unify lightweight titles in 2005.
Many thought the main event Nov. 21 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas -- Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez for the middleweight title -- would challenge for fight of the year consideration. But while Cotto-Alvarez was indeed terrific, it had nothing on Miura-Vargas, which stole the show and boxing fans' hearts, and rightfully earned 2015 ESPN.com fight of the year honors.
Japan's Miura (29-3-2, 22 KOs), a power-punching southpaw making his fifth defense, came to the United States for the first time to meet Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs), his Mexican mandatory challenger, and they produced a bout that had everything you want in a prizefight: big punches, knockdowns, blood, heart, supreme action and big-time drama.
Vargas looked like he might score a first-round knockout when he badly hurt Miura with a right hand to the center of his face. He battered him in the round and dished out so much punishment that one judge scored it 10-8 for Vargas despite there being no knockdown.
Miura had completely shaken off the rough start by the fourth round when he nailed Vargas, whose right eye was damaged, with a clean left to the face with a few seconds left in the round for a knockdown. In the fifth round, he had Vargas in deep trouble again, and his right eye, now with a cut above it and below, was swelling badly and closing.
Miura looked like he was going to score a knockout in the eighth round when he buckled Vargas with a left hand. After the round the ringside doctor examined Vargas in the corner, and the fight was on the verge of being stopped because his eye was such a mess.
Then came the memorable ninth round. Vargas, down on two scorecards and even on the third, knew he needed to do something big, and he did with an improbable and electrifying rally, as he connected with a four-punch combination to drop Miura hard in the opening seconds. Miura scrambled to his feet, but he was in desperate trouble. Vargas nailed him repeatedly until referee Tony Weeks -- the Corrales-Castillo I ref -- stopped it at 1:31, sending the largely Mexican crowd that had come for Alvarez into delirium.
Vargas' comeback made it hard not to think of him as something of a Mexican Arturo Gatti, the late Hall of Famer whose legend was built by comebacks in title fights in the same division Vargas had just claimed one.
"That is as dramatic a fight as you can see," Kellerman exclaimed at the conclusion. "What a performance. What a special event both these guys created!"
Kellerman had said it had a chance "to be something really good." In the end, we were fortunate to get something really great.
2. Krzysztof Glowacki KO11 Marco Huck (Aug. 14 at Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey)
How good was this ferocious toe-to-toe slugfest? Besides being fight of the year runner-up, the sixth round (in which Glowacki was dropped hard but stormed back) was round of the year, Glowacki's unexpected cruiserweight title victory was an upset of the year candidate, and his devastating knockout that left Huck hanging like a dish towel on the ropes was a KO of the year candidate. The fight was supposed to be a coronation for Huck, who was seeking to set the cruiserweight title defense record at 14, and it looked like he would, especially after dropping Glowacki. But the determined Glowacki, down on the scorecards going into the 11th, wouldn't be denied as he dropped Huck for the first time in his career and finished him with a series of thudding shots that drove Huck into the ropes until he slumped between them as referee David Fields dramatically waved it off at 2:39.
3. Lucas Matthysse W12 Ruslan Provodnikov (April 18 at Turning Stone Resort & Casino, Verona, New York)
Matthysse was half of the 2014 Boxing Writers Association of America fight of the year, and Provodnikov was half of the 2013 consensus FOY. So when they were matched, expectations were that the junior welterweight warriors would produce a memorable battle. That's exactly what they delivered, going at each other with abandon from the opening bell. It was the quicker and slicker Matthysse matching wits with the straight-ahead Provodnikov, who bled from a cut over his eye from the second round on, for 12 thrilling and violent rounds. In the end, Matthysse won a majority decision in a fight that was filled with heavy back-and-forth exchanges.
4. Canelo Alvarez KO3 James Kirkland (May 9 at Minute Maid Park, Houston)
Alvarez, looking to set up a shot at middleweight champion Miguel Cotto, met power brawler Kirkland and they went to war in a sensational shootout waged against the backdrop of the spectacular atmosphere of a baseball stadium filled with a roaring crowd of 31,588. It was like "Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns light" as 2015 fighter of the year Alvarez and Kirkland immediately charged each other. Alvarez survived rocky early moments to drop Kirkland with a right hand in the first round. They didn't let up in the second, trading toe-to-toe as the battle raged on. In the third, Alvarez delivered a brutal uppercut to floor Kirkland again and then ended it with a howitzer right hand that knocked Kirkland out cold at 2:19 for the KO of the year.
5. Leo Santa Cruz W12 Abner Mares (Aug. 29 at Staples Center, Los Angeles)
It didn't take a genius to know this would be a great fight, which is why fans were demanding it. When we finally got it, it lived up to the hype, as Santa Cruz won a vacant featherweight belt and L.A. bragging rights. Fighting before an electric crowd of 13,109, they waged an old-fashioned all-Mexican slugfest, brawling from the outset and trading shots at a breakneck pace. Mares applied intense pressure, and while Santa Cruz was also slugging, he was able to subtlety box as well, leading to his majority decision in a fight in which they combined to throw an outlandish 2,037 punches and land 600.
6. Andrzej Fonfara W12 Nathan Cleverly (Oct. 16 at UIC Pavilion, Chicago)
The light heavyweight contenders put on an incredibly fast-paced fight that was tiring just to watch, as they exchanged punches at close quarters every round. It looked like a video game as they crushed multiple CompuBox records with their awesome output, although Fonfara was the rightful winner of the close fight. How much action was there? They set four light heavyweight division CompuBox records: most combined punches thrown (2,524), most combined punches landed (936), most individual punches thrown (Fonfara, 1,413) and most individual punches landed (Fonfara, 474). Cleverly landed 462, second most in CompuBox light heavyweight history.
7. James DeGale W12 Lucian Bute (Nov. 28 at Videotron Centre, Quebec City)
Super middleweight titleholder DeGale traveled to Bute's turf for a fight many thought would be easy work against a faded ex-titleholder. But Bute, filled with pride and still darn good, wasn't going down without a fight. They went at it tooth and nail at a high skill level and gave everything they had while emptying their tanks with a relentless pace in a fantastic fight. DeGale always seemed in control, but Bute had many good moments, surged in the second half, did damage in the ninth round and finished strong as they went toe-to-toe in a gripping 12th round, closing it out like two animals fighting for a scrap of food.
8. Nonito Donaire W12 Cesar Juarez (Dec. 11 at Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Donaire reclaimed a vacant junior featherweight title in a fight much tougher than expected as he and an extremely game Juarez produced a dramatic and hard-hitting fight that had knockdowns, ebb and flow and blood. Even though Donaire won a wide decision this was a grueling fight, which he called his toughest ever. At first it looked like Donaire would have it easy, as he repeatedly rocked Juarez in the early rounds and dropped him twice in the fourth round. But Juarez rallied over the second half of the fight, dished out his own punishment and had Donaire in trouble in the eighth round.
9. Jorge Linares TKO10 Kevin Mitchell (May 30 at O2 Arena, London)
Linares traveled to Mitchell's turf for a lightweight title defense, and they put on an exciting, competitive back-and-forth battle. Linares was dropped early in the fifth round, but he made a strong comeback, opening a terrible cut over Mitchell's left eye in the eighth round. In the 10th round, Linares battered Mitchell, opened a cut on his nose and raised swelling around his left eye. Mitchell was in bad shape but pressed forward as the crowd roared until Linares finally floored him with a right hand. Although Mitchell beat the count, he was done, and referee Victor Loughlin stopped it at 2:57, ending an epic fight that delivered action, skill, heart, knockdowns and drama.
10. Edwin Rodriguez TKO3 Michael Seals (Nov. 13 at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, Biloxi, Mississippi)
Few expected anything memorable out of these light heavyweights, but they wound up delivering tremendous action in a shootout, combining for five knockdowns, three in the wild first round. Rodriguez looked like he was going to make it a very quick fight when he dropped Seals face-first with a left hand 30 seconds into the bout. But Seals then dropped Rodriguez hard before he turned the tables and floored Rodriguez again in the final seconds. Rodriguez dropped Seals again in the second and finished him early in the third in this rock 'em, sock 'em affair.
More slobber knockers: Rocky Martinez-Orlando Salido I, Martinez-Salido II, Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal, Pascal-Yunieski Gonzalez, Dave Ryan-John Wayne Hibbert II, Anthony Joshua-Dillian Whyte, Chris Arreola-Curtis Harper, Omar Figueroa-Ricky Burns, David Lemieux-Hassan N'Dam, Masao Nakamura-Daiki Kaneko, Jamie Conlan-Junior Granados.