Lee Groves

10: Erik Morales’ greatest fights

April 9, 2011, L 12 Marcos Maidana – MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada, vacant WBC super lightweight title

Four fights into a comeback following two-and-a-half years of retirement, Morales, as is his custom, wanted to shoot high. His original target was Juan Manuel Marquez but THE RING’s lightweight champion declined, saying it would have been a dreadful mismatch, even in Morales’ hometown of Tijuana. Undaunted by Marquez’s rejection, Morales then asked to fight Marcos Maidana – a whirlwind aggressor, a dynamite puncher and an extraordinarily determined force of nature.

That the WBA approved this match for its “interim” 140-pound belt was nothing short of astonishing, and in some eyes it bordered on criminal. Words like “insane,” “crazy” and “suicidal” were common, for the 34-year-old Morales had looked flabby, slow and defensively vulnerable despite going 3-0 in his return. Many observers expressed genuine concern that Morales could die because they felt his war-weary body could no longer withstand the orders of his warrior’s heart. Morales was a 6-to-1 underdog, but the vast majority envisioned Christian vs. Lion carnage.

Those predictions seemed prescient in the first round as Maidana swarmed Morales and unleashed a torrent of power shots. A diabolical left uppercut slammed against Morales’ right eye, and by the two-minute mark it was almost completely closed. But starting in the second round the pieces of Morales’ aged shell began breaking off and lying underneath – to the profound shock of just about everyone – were remnants of the glory days. Suddenly, Morales’ legs had spring, his accurate jabs were crisp and he answered every Maidana surge with speed and resolve. A jolting left uppercut shook Maidana early in the fourth and a fifth round flurry revived memories of March 2005 when he knocked off Manny Pacquiao. Morales didn’t look like a man ready to pass the torch; he wanted to incinerate Maidana with it.

When Maidana stunned Morales with a heavy-handed volley near the end of the sixth, Morales answered with a 17-punch assault that further awakened the echoes. A massive short hook 30 seconds into the eighth had Maidana hanging on but the Argentine quickly recovered and resumed his pressure. Over the next two rounds Morales threw little but landed at a high percentage while Maidana lathered Morales with punches but broke through less often. Maidana’s corner was near apoplectic as a once-certain victory turned into a dogfight. Terms like “Fight of the Year” and “Upset of the Year” were thrown around as freely as predictions of carnage had been less than an hour earlier.

Morales’ miraculous run ended in the 11th when Maidana’s attack finally emptied the Mexican icon’s gas tank. By then his right eye resembled a plum and it was all he could do to last until the final bell, especially after Maidana unloaded 113 punches in the 12th. Maidana might have won a majority decision, but Morales ended up seizing the hearts of those who had doubted him.

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