Boxers will always have that fight or win that defines their career. They also have those fights where they just enjoy being in the ring, win or lose. They know their most challenging opposition and love to discuss their most satisfying victories.
ESPN spoke to a number of top fighters about a few unforgettable moments throughout their career. Most of the fighters on this panel have won major world titles, or will soon compete for one. Many have also suffered disappointments and defeats. They have gone through the broad spectrum of emotions that comes with this particular vocation.
What’s the fight that has defined your career so far?
Teofimo Lopez: The Mason Menard fight because it put all of the fans and media on notice. I put on a show for the fans, and I wore the Kyler Murray jersey after the knockout on the night he won the Heisman. The highlight went viral and upped the ante moving forward.
Nonito Donaire: I’d have to go with the Fernando Montiel fight. I was going up in weight. People are constantly posting that left hook online and tagging me on it. That’s one of the most talked about punches with my fans and people online.
Abner Mares: I think both fights with Leo Santa Cruz because until this day, every time people see me they talk about those fights. Those two fights are memorable because of the way they played out, the styles were perfect for a war. So those two fights people will always remember me by.
Marlen Esparza: It would be the Olympics Games, then the Seniesa Estrada fight for sure. I would say that getting a rematch is a priority off the top of my head. It was such a grudge match, and considering what happened, I want a rematch very badly. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that probably might not happen.
So I need to think about how else to get my name to where I want it to be. And for me, to represent myself accordingly, considering the fact she may not take another fight [with me].
Jorge Linares: It had to be my fight in Venezuela against Ivan Cano in 2015 because it was a dream-come-true to fight in my home country, in front of my fans, and it was a sellout. I really enjoyed giving them a great show.
Regis Prograis: I really think the Taylor fight. I came out on the other end of it but it was such a close fight. The UK fans loved me so much. A lot of people still thought I won the fight. Also the [Julius] Indongo fight, when I stopped him in one round less than Terence Crawford. I think that was also a real huge fight.
Jamel Herring: It’s still the Ito fight, it allowed me to showcase a lot about me — my heart, my will. I had to dig deep in the middle rounds when Ito started to pick it up and he was coming. So it’s definitely that fight. And I’m hoping for more fights to make who I am as a fighter, in and out of the ring.
Oscar Valdez: Right now, if I was to retire, the one fight people would point to was the Quigg fight because it was a dramatic fight, it was very bloody. I broke his nose, he broke my jaw. People like seeing wars, so I think that’s one fight people will always point out. And with the rain that night, it was actually kind of weird because it was refreshing, some of the rain was going into the ring and after a round would finish, we would sit down and you could feel the breeze and the rain. It actually helped the fight.
But this upcoming fight I have against Miguel Berchelt will be one people will always recognize for years to come.
Andrew Cancio: I would say the second Machado fight. It showed that [my first victory] wasn’t a fluke, I belonged up there with the top contenders.
Seniesa Estrada: I would have to say the Esparza fight, it was the biggest fight of my career on the biggest stage. That was the most-watched fight out of all my fights in my career. That fight definitely opened the eyes of [Golden Boy’s] Oscar De La Hoya, Robert Diaz and Eric Gomez. They were able to see that I’m a real fighter and that they can make other big fights with me.
Julian Williams: I would say winning a world title, that’s every fighter’s goal, well… at least it should be. So for me, it’s winning a world title [against Hurd] — but I’ve got a lot more to do.
What’s the most fun you have had in a fight?
Lopez: When I knocked out Vitor Freitas at Madison Square Garden. I broke out the Fortnite dance, and I did it in front of the home fans.
Donaire: I’d have to say the fight with Inoue, as much as it was tough, it was fun — and I’d like to do it again. Just me as a fighter, as a warrior, it was just kind of like one of those movie fight scenes.
Mares: The fight with Daniel Ponce de Leon. I was really enjoying myself in there. I got myself on the ropes just to make him miss. I was just enjoying myself fighting him and eventually knocking him out.
Esparza: I kind of had a good time in my last fight with Seniesa. I did enjoy the whole idea of getting fun out of things I don’t expect to. So when you take me out of my comfort zone and then I’m learning something, I tend to have a good time. Even when I was getting beat up [during boxing and sparring sessions] when I was growing up, I had a good time, because it’s like, ‘Man, I’m trying really hard and I’m trying to figure everything out all at once.
So I had a really good time, it was physically harsh, but mentally I had a good time because I feel I learned a lot about myself, about where I’m at. It brought me a lot of light to my thinking going forward.
Linares: It was against Oscar Larios in 2007 because it was my first world title. Also the fight against Kevin Mitchell because it was the same day my daughter Chloe was born. It marked a special day in my life because of the magnitude of the victory but more than anything the arrival of my beautiful baby girl.
Prograis: It was definitely the Terry Flanagan bout because my fight before in New Orleans with Juan Jose Velasco, it was a big fight for me, but I looked horrible because I had a lot of pressure on me. So going into the World Boxing Super Series, my first fight was against Flanagan. It wasn’t as packed as the first one, and I just relaxed and had a lot of fun that night.
Herring: I think my debut with Top Rank against Juan Pablo Sanchez. I had to dig deep after I suffered that cut early in the fight. But after a while that cut was the last thing on my mind. I just pushed the fight the way I wanted to push it and that’s how I got the stoppage.
Oscar Valdez improves to 23-0 with a unanimous decision victory against Genesis Servania, defending his WBO featherweight title.
Valdez: It’s fun when I knock out my opponents, but the funnest one was when I got knocked down by Genesis Servania and then I knocked him down.
Cancio: It was the second Machado fight, everything was just working out perfectly — other than the cuts that I suffered. But everything was great. I was confident, I wasn’t nervous like the first fight, I was just in there having fun. I knew what I was going to do.
Estrada: It was probably the Esparza fight, it was definitely fun hitting her 70 times.
Williams: I don’t know if I’ve had fun in a fight. But I would probably say the Jarrett Hurd fight because we went back and forth. But the rounds didn’t fly by, the dude’s 6-feet tall and throwing 100 punches a round at you. I felt I was winning the rounds, I didn’t really care about looking good. I just cared about winning.
If you can fight any fighter from the past, who would that be and why?
Lopez: I have to go with Roberto Duran at lightweight because a lot of people compare me to him. As for who wins, the fans would be the real winners.
Donaire: Oh, man, I’ve got too much respect for those guys, I would never put myself in the predicament [laughs]. I’m an old-school guy, I have all the respect for all those guys. But to answer the question, I would say Alexis Arguello. I’ve learned a lot from him, that’s where I got my left hook from. He’d beat the s— out of me, that’s what it would pretty much come down to [laughs].
Mares: There’s two fighters actually. I would’ve loved to fight Erik “El Terrible” Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera because they’re legends. They’re my ultimate favorite fighters growing up, they were featherweight champions, also. I think the styles fit perfect and they would’ve been tremendous fights. I’m not going to say how it would’ve played out [laughs], but I think they would’ve been entertaining fights, period.
Esparza: Lucia Rijker, because I’m big on this whole pound-for-pound thing. It’s big for me, especially in women’s boxing because in men’s boxing it’s more specific to weight classes, more scientific. But we haven’t had such a long history. I really want to know how I’d do with one of the best people back then, pound-for-pound. Because right now, I would say if you take one of the smaller people, their abilities are way better than the bigger people.
But back then that really wasn’t the case because Rijker moved like she was 119 pounds. So if I would fight somebody from the past, I would want to fight her just to see how it compares to now.
Prograis: It would be Henry Armstrong and Roberto Duran. It would be an honor. I definitely would never say I would beat either one of those guys. As a fighter, I’d say I’d beat anybody — but I wouldn’t dare say I would beat one of those guys. Henry Armstrong, just because he just never stops throwing punches, he was just a monster, he just overwhelmed you, broke you mentally — you’d be out of there.
Of course Duran, just skill-wise, and he had that aggression. So these would be my dream matchups.
Herring: In my weight category, I have to say Robert Garcia, because to me he was underrated. He had a lot of good fights. His fight with Diego Corrales is one of my favorites — he came out tough and strong. But I definitely have to say Robert because he made fights action packed and fun. Robert had a lot of good tools and speed, but his aggression is something that definitely could test and push any fighter.
So I can’t answer how I’d approach that fight, you’d just have to figure it out and take what’s given to you when you get in there.
Valdez: It would definitely be Erik Morales. He’s my idol, and just to have that experience to step in the ring with a warrior like he is, it’s definitely something I would love to do. I wouldn’t really know how to really approach that fight because he had different styles. He was a come-forward fighter but he has had a lot of tricky technique and defense.
Cancio: I would have to say Marco Antonio Barrera, him and I would make a great fight. He’s a true, true warrior, he’s proven it time and time again. I respect the hell out of that guy.
Estrada: I would really like to fight Mariana Juarez, she’s a lot bigger than me. Mariana’s been a trailblazer, she’s been around for so long, had so many fighters. She’s definitely someone who opened the doors for a lot of women in Mexico. It’s crazy to see womens’ boxing in Mexico, they’ve been main events and co-main events for a long time, even before women’s boxing started to rise here in the U.S. There’s sold out crowds for women’s boxing in Mexico.
Williams: Terry Norris because he’s considered the best junior middleweight, at least top three, ever. Some people have him number one because he has the most — not consecutive title defenses — but most defenses at that weight class. Now, I hear some people say Tommy Hearns was the greatest junior middleweight, but he didn’t have the body of work that Terry Norris had at 154. Some people say Mike McCallum is the best junior middleweight, but he moved up to ’60 after he got a few title defenses. Terry Norris dug his feet in at the ’54 pound division and stayed there for his whole career.
So I would’ve liked to tangle with him, he’s a great fighter. He’s fast and explosive on his feet, so I would approach him like I approach everybody else. I think you have to start off basic boxing first, using your jab, you definitely can’t let him explode into you because he can fight all night. He had a really good gas tank and his feet were extremely fast, and he could throw extended combinations. I just think you can’t let him get started with his feet, so you definitely have to put a jab on him.