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Fightwriter: The Champion Returns

By Graham Houston

When old champions come back it is often with unhappy outcomes. The latest to try is Erik Morales, who, at 33, is giving the game another try, this time in the welterweight division.

Morales, a champion at 122, 126 and 130 pounds, was last seen in the ring almost three years ago when losing a tough fight to David Diaz in Chicago. Morales fought well, even scoring a knockdown, but Diaz was a bit too strong and persistent for him in a gruelling fight.

I have to admit that Morales surprised me in that fight. He had more left in him than I thought would be the case. Still, his decision to retire seemed the right one. This was his fourth loss in a row, including consecutive stoppage defeats against Manny Pacquiao.

On Saturday, Morales meets Jose Alfaro, the former lightweight champion from Nicaragua, in a 12-rounder for the WBC’s International welterweight title.

Morales will have trained down to 147 pounds after packing on poundage during his layoff, while Alfaro is moving up two weight divisions. It is difficult to say which man will be the more effective at welterweight.

Alfaro is a good puncher but has not always shown a sturdy chin. He lost his lightweight title in Tokyo when Yusuke Kobori outpunched him in a fierce battle that saw each man hurt before a left hook from the Japanese fighter sent Alfaro sprawling in the third. After three wins in a row, Alfaro was disappointing in his last fight when losing in 10 rounds to Antonio DeMarco. It was as if Alfaro had become slower and even easier to hit than in the past, although DeMarco’s height, reach and southpaw stance might have played a big part in the Nicaraguan boxer’s struggling performance.

The Morales camp will have studied this fight and decided that they are getting Alfaro at the right time. Any fight is a gamble for Morales, though, after his long layoff and the hard slog to lose weight and get himself into boxing shape. He isn’t an old fighter as such at 33 but he has been in many hard fights and taken a great deal of punishment. The three years away from boxing might have rejuvenated Morales to some degree, but no one can be sure how much of his one-time ability he retains, nor how well he will be able to take a punch after the lengthy break from boxing.

Morales has fought at a much higher level than Alfaro, of course, and he is boxing at home in Mexico. He might be able to win simply on heart, pride and experience. Alfaro says he has trained very well, but he is coming into the contest after getting outclassed and stopped in his last fight and this might have had a negative psychological effect.

Anything can happen in this fight, but I will go with Morales to reach back and find sufficient form to scrape through with a win, perhaps by stoppage late in the fight.

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