By Graham Houston
There probably weren’t many who believed he could do it, but Erik Morales almost turned back the years with his courageous performance against Marcos Maidana on HBO PPV from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The 34-year-old veteran from Tijuana was right in the fight for 10 rounds and the younger, stronger Maidana needed a big finish in the last two rounds to make sure of victory.
Although one judge had the fight a draw the two scores of 116-112 in Maidana’s favour seemed to be the correct ones. For me, it was Maidana early and late, with Morales fighting so well in the middle rounds that an upset looked possible in the junior welterweight title fight.
I must hold my hands up and admit that I never expected this sort of performance from Morales, who has been boxing professionally for 18 years and was considered a faded fighter three years ago, before his two-year break from the sport. Information from a respected source in Mexico suggested that Morales was what the game harshly calls a “shot” fighter. Morales, though, had prepared well for this fight and came into the ring with a winner’s mentality.
HBO’s Max Kellerman, who knows his ring history, quoted old-time heavyweight champion Max Schmeling in the network’s lead-in to the fight. Given no chance against a surging Joe Louis, the German heavyweight veteran told American reporters: “I see something.” Schmeling detected a flaw in Louis’s fighting, and he proceeded to knock out the celebrated Brown Bomber in one of boxing’s most startling upsets.
Kellerman suggested that Morales also “saw something” when he agreed to the fight with Maidana — he saw a heavy handed but essentially raw fighter who could be outboxed and outsmarted by a superior technician.
Unfortunately for Morales, he wasn’t quite young enough or strong enough to win the fight, but this, to me, was one of boxing’s memorable-in-defeat displays.
With his right eye swelling shut from the opening round, Morales withstood the early onslaught and boxed and fought his way into the fight. Whereas Maidana swung and swiped and slashed, Morales was placing the accurate, professionally delivered shots. Maidana’s punches were often hurled wildly. He was knocking Morales around at times but he never looked like knocking him out.
There was a worrying vulnerability about Maidana. Like many aggressors, he didn’t look comfortable when he was getting hit back. Morales was looking like Carmen Basilio in the rematch with Sugar Ray Robinson as his right eye vanished beneath a mound of purplish flesh in the later rounds, but he stayed steady and through sheer heart, toughness and the boxing knowledge acquired in many big fights he forced his way into a position where victory was achievable.
Yet although Morales could hurt Maidana, he couldn’t hurt him quite enough, couldn’t take quite enough out of the younger man.
Inevitably, youth was served when Maidana made his closing charge. Morales could no longer contain the fists-flying rushes of the Argentinean fighter and the last two rounds were tough ones for him. Morales, though, had the guile and the guts to get through to the finishing post, and he seemed to have convinced many in the crowd that he had done enough to win.
I was humbled by Morales’s performance, humbled for doubting one of the most remarkable of many great fighters produced in the proud boxing nation of Mexico.
As Max Kellerman and broadcasting partner Jim Lampley rightly reminded viewers, the great thing about boxing is that when two fighters get into the ring with the will to win and are emotionally and physically commitment to combat, the outcome is never guaranteed.
Morales didn’t win the contest but he surely captured the glory. Maidana deservedly had his hand raised, but the moral victory went to Morales.