“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Cano, “and I couldn’t refuse it.”
But the opportunity will test his level of experience. The 21-year-old Cano goes into the fight with a record of 22-0-1 (17 KOs) against the 34-year-old Morales, who has over twice as many wins and more than double the number of knockouts.
Morales (51-7, 35 KOs) scored his first professional victory with a second-round stoppage of Jose Orejel in March of 1993 when Cano was three years old. When Cano was seven, Morales won his first world title belt by knocking out Daniel Zaragoza.
Cano believes the age difference is to his advantage.
“I have grown up watching Erik Morales,” he said. “I know his strengths and his weaknesses.”
Cano will face Morales for the WBC’s vacant title belt on the undercard of a main event featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. (41-0, 25 KOs) against WBC welterweight titleholder Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs). He is replacing the hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse (28-2, 26 KOs) of Argentina, who withdrew earlier in the week with a viral infection. The fight will take place on Sept. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and will be broadcast on HBO Pay Per View.
“While it’s an honor to fight him,” said Cano, “I have a style to beat him and win my first championship, which is the dream of every fighter.”
The last man to beat to current WBO welterweight beltholder Manny Pacquiao, Morales is one of five Mexican fighters to have earned title belts in three divisions, along with Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Fernando Montiel.
Morales, of Tijuana, Mex., is perhaps most recognized for his battles with Barrera (66-7, 43 KOs), of Mexico City, having lost twice in a trilogy that ranks among the greatest of all time.
“Every time there’s a change in opponent, it forces you to make changes,” said Morales. “But I’ve been in this sport long enough to adjust without a problem.”
Like Barrera-Morales, the clash features in Cano a fighter from Mexico City against “a legend from Tijuana,” said Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer. “So the rivalry between Mexico City and Tijuana, where Morales is from, is going to continue.”
Five months after falling to Barrera for the second time, Morales out-pointed Pacquiao in March 2005. But Morales lost his next four fights after that, culminating with a unanimous decision against David Diaz in his lightweight debut in August 2007.
Morales ended a 31-month ring absence with a unanimous decision over Jose Alfaro in March of last year, his first of three straight victories. Morales then lost a disputed majority decision in April to Marcos Maidana (30-2, 27 KOs), a fight many ringsiders thought Morales won.
Cano is being trained by Rudy Perez, who also worked with Barrera, and, most recently, with Maidana against Morales.
“I spoke to Rudy,” said Schaefer, “and he is excited about the opportunity. He has the recipe and knows how to beat Morales.”
With a victory over Cano, Morales could become the first of his countrymen to win a fourth belt in as many different weight divisions.
“From what I’ve heard, Cano is a strong, young fighter,” said Morales. “But whether it’s Matthysse or Cano, the result on Sept. 17 will be the same…me leaving the ring with another world title belt around my waist.”
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org