There was greatness still in the legendary Erik Morales Saturday night, even if it wasn’t enough to overcome the mega-punching junior welterweight Marcos Maidana. Maidana won a majority decision over the aged Morales, but Morales — a 6:1 underdog — fought Maidana on even terms, and in so doing was some kind of emotional winner on the HBO pay-per-view.
This fight, a Fight of the Year candidate that nobody expected, is the latest piece of evidence to be entered into the case for why boxing is the greatest sport on the planet when it’s at its finest. No other sport offers the opportunity for such heroics, for such improbability. Even a barely respectable trial lawyer could take this before the most purse-lipped judge and use it to win the argument for pugilism as the best sport that mankind had to offer.
On the undercard, there were yet more unexpected goings-on, namely middleweight James Kirkland losing the Upset of the Year favorite from here on out against Nobuhiro Ishida.
MARCOS MAIDANA-ERIK MORALES
That Maidana has now been in Fight of the Year candidates three years straight will surely be overshadowed by Maidana’s unfathomable performance. So, since he was the winner — and I scored it 116-112, just like the two judges who swung it in his favor, overturning the 114-114 result handed in by the third judge — that has to be acknowleged first. Maidana is a hard puncher, among the hardest, but he is also amongst the most hittable and the most prone to overcoming pain, so he’s a walking drama machine, plunking out healthy servings of intense uncertainty in canned form like virtually no one else out there today.
In the early going, Maidana had his way, swelling Morales’ eye shut almost immediately in the 1st round. Yet for as much of a beating as he took, Morales stood up to it extremely well, rolling with the heavy shots and never losing his cool under a nasty assault. Before long, some of the fighting back he did began to take its toll on Maidana, who was wobbled in many of the rounds of this fight.
The middle rounds mostly belonged to Morales for that reason, because for every Maidana assault, Morales summoned reserves of fortitude that rivaled those he exhibited in his legendary wars against Marco Antonio Barrera. He would counter Maidana attacks with blistering combinations of his own, often forcing Maidana to flap his lips in frustration and exhaustion. Morales would take Maidana’s heavy clubbing shots and return the favor with crisper, more accurate, head-snapping blows.
All the while, Morales’ right eye swelled to nearly Hasim Rahmanish levels, yet still, he fought on. And let’s take a moment to pause here and say, the majority of observers — myself included — thought that Maidana would reduce Morales to spare parts in short order. Morales hasn’t done anything special since his comeback, and Manny Pacquiao ripped him to shreds at 130 years and years ago. For Morales to be moving up 10 pounds from that, years removed from any kind of notion of excellence, and facing one of boxing’s biggest pound-for-pound punchers, and shrug that stuff off like it was a mere annoyance… we’re talking about the kind of tough hombre that comes along only once every generation or so.
Maidana, to his credit, found it within himself to close out the fight strong and maybe in so doing pull out the win. But Maidana was supposed to win. That Morales very nearly pulled it off — and scoring the fight for Morales is an extremely rational point of view — is a tribute to fortitude that few humans can boast.
Assessing both mens’ places going forward might not be easy. Maidana is good enough/bad enough to beat anyone/lose to people he shoudln’t. Morales had enough left in his tank/had enough skill to tussle with someone like Maidana. Hell, it’s almost a bad thing — fights like this that give over the hill fighters false hope, because feats like Morales’ Saturday are rare indeed.
You’re almost speechless when you see things like this. Almost. I love boxing. I love boxing. I love boxing.
In other action on the “Action Heroes” pay-per-view:
- Robert Guerrero delivered as complete a performance as you could ever ask for out of the streaky but talented lightweight, taking a wide unanimous decision over Maidana’s fellow walking drama machine Michael Katsidis. Guerrero controlled distance, he was faster, he was sharper, he hit harder, his defense was better and he held up to Katsidis’ spirited charges. One fight ago, the notion of Guerrero against division champion Juan Manuel Marquez sounded like a bore and mismatch. Performances like this from Guerrero say, “Wait, no, let’s do that.”
- Middleweight Kirkland has often exhibited vulnerability early in fights, but how in the world he got knocked out in one round by the light-punching super-underdog Ishida is beyond comprehension. Kirkland has stood up to far bigger punchers than Ishida. Something got lost from the time Kirkland spent in jail, and I’m not sure what it is or whether he can get it back. It’s one thing to be sloppy and poor on defense and still win fights, the way Kirkland used to. It’s another thing to get dropped three times and stopped by the likes of Ishida, when Kirkland once held up against big punchers like Joel Julio. Who, you know, good for Ishida and all. But something has gone wrong in Kirkland’s world. This is the Upset of the Year, barring a level of absurdity that I can’t quite comprehend at this moment in 2011.
- Paulie Malignaggi won a definitive decision over Jose Cotto. He was more offensive-minded than ever, and slower, too, at welterweight. But between his mouth and his newfound apprecaition for occasionally sitting down on his punches, he’s lining himself up for another big-to-decent “opponent” fight, which is about the best you can hope for for the Magic Man, I suspect. But, hey, weirder stuff has happened. I mean, Morales almost beat Maidana tonight.