September 2, 2000, KO 7 Kevin Kelley – Don Haskins Convention Center, El Paso, Texas, interim WBC featherweight title
For Morales this was his first major fight at 126 pounds following a two-and-a-half year, nine-defense reign at junior featherweight. It didn’t matter that an “interim” belt was at stake; the names on the marquee were more than enough to sell it because of their mutual reputations for action fights.
The 33-year-old Kelley was clearly on the downside of his career, for after starting 41-0 and 47-1-2, he had lost three of his last seven and had taken this fight on four weeks’ notice. However, he came in off a ninth-round TKO of then-unbeaten Frankie Archuleta and the fact that he gained only six pounds after the weigh-in suggested he was in good shape. As for Morales, he gained only four pounds and proved himself superior in every category once the bell sounded.
The southpaw Kelley curiously started by moving to his left – directly into the path of Morales’ vaunted rights – and by switching stances far more often than in the past. By the second Morales had found his range with the right, causing Kelley’s notoriously injured left eye to begin swelling.
In the final minute of the third Morales nailed Kelley with a right in the middle of a switch. Morales showed off his wiles by intentionally slowing his pace in the fourth to draw Kelley in and springing the trap when he finally fell for it. Morales increased the pressure in round five and scored the fight’s first knockdown with a straight right to the stomach and a chopping right to the ear.
Morales picked away at Kelley’s swelling eyes in the sixth with hard jabs and pinpoint crosses but the former champ refused to yield. A little more than a minute into the seventh Morales unleashed an explosive 13-punch salvo that floored Kelley for the second time. Up at nine, Kelley tried to fire back but Morales’ pressure proved too much to handle. Referee Laurence Cole intervened at the 2:30 mark with Morales leading big on all scorecards and the valiant Kelley protesting the stoppage.