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First Corrales-Castillo fight best of year

12/26/2005 - Boxing

Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo will fight for the third time in nine months when they meet Feb. 4, but their first battle May 7 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is the one people will remember most.

Corrales' dramatic -- to put it mildly -- 10th-round TKO of Castillo to unify lightweight world titles was not only the hands-down choice as 2005 ESPN.com's fight of the year, but if you check back with us in a few years, expect to see it honored as the fight of the decade.

It was simply one of the greatest fights ever, an unforgettable masterpiece that will stand the test of time. Corrales-Castillo I is right there in the pantheon of all-time ring wars alongside Ali-Frazier III, Pryor-Arguello I, Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Hearns I and the Zale-Graziano, Bowe-Holyfield, Gatti-Ward and Barrera-Morales trilogies.

"I think the whole sports world knows that this fight was something legendary, and Castillo and Corrales put on a performance that great athletes do, and people that go into legendary status in their careers do," said Todd duBoef of Top Rank, Castillo's promoter. "They put on a beautiful performance and made people think how great boxing is."

It had all the ingredients for a great fight. Nonstop, savage action. Blood. Courage. Momentum swings. High stakes. Knockdowns. Controversy. And an ending so stunning, so sublime, that you could hardly believe what you were seeing.

From round one through the incredible conclusion, Corrales and Castillo went at it in blistering, video-game-like fashion, which they had predicted in the days leading up to the bout.

"This fight will be like two buffaloes colliding," Castillo promised.

"On paper, this has the potential to be as exciting a fight as you will see," Corrales said. "I definitely feel that at some point, it will be bombs away. … I really do not see how it can go the distance with each of us dropping bombs on each other in the middle of the ring. I love these kinds of fights."

After nine rounds of grueling, frenetic action, Corrales, with a badly swollen left eye, got knocked down twice in the 10th round. Hard. This fight was over, right?

Not quite yet.

On each knockdown -- and this is where the controversy comes in -- Corrales lost his mouthpiece, giving him valuable recovery time while it was replaced by referee Tony Weeks.

Perhaps it was those precious extra seconds that did the trick, but whatever it was, Corrales made a magical comeback. Moments later, he stopped Castillo with a flurry of shots along the ropes.

The fight was over, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Other unforgettables:

Also coming this week: Awards for round, knockout, prospect and fighter of the year

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.