Michael Rosenthal

Morales gives inspirational performance in defeat

Erik Morales lost a fight but won millions of hearts.

The Mexican warrior, given little chance even to compete with strapping Marcos Maidana, gave the hard-punching Argentine all he can handle only to lose a majority decision in a 12-round junior weltereight fight Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

And, remarkably, he did it with limited sight because his right eye was more or less closed in the first round.

Maidana (30-2, 27 knockouts) was the aggressor throughout, throwing and landing more punches than the 34-year-old from Tijuana. However, Morales, sharper and more resilient than any of us could’ve imagined, took Maidana’s best punches and consistently landed the cleaner shots.

The scores – 114-114, 116-112 and 116-112 – indicate a fairly convincing victory for Maidana. But make no mistake: This was a war, the kind that made Morales (51-7, 35 KOs) a fan favorite in the first place.

“Really, Morales is a good fighter, a strong fighter,” Maidana said afterward. “He can continue his career because he’ll do well.”

That seems obvious now … but certainly not going into the fight.

Morales had defeated three journeymen since returning from a 2½-year hiatus from the sport. And he didn’t look particularly good in those fights, in part because he’s not a natural 140 pounder.

That is one reason people genuinely feared for his safety going into this fight, which seems like a joke in retrospect.

Morales, looking much like the warrior of old, shocked us all by taking the best Maidana had to offer and dishing it right back in what many will have seen as a very close, difficult-to-score fight from beginning to end.

Afterward, Morales called for a rematch. No one will say he doesn’t deserve it.

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