At 36, former titleholder Eric Morel is 10 years older than the man he will fight on Saturday night for the WBC junior featherweight crown in a Showtime-televised clash from El Paso, Texas.
And it’s not just any kid he’s facing. Morel (46-2, 23 knockouts) is taking on Abner Mares (23-0-1, 13 KOs), who recently vacated his IBF bantamweight title to rise in weight.
Can the older man out-fox the young wolf?
“(Mares is) a very complete fighter, as far as what I’ve seen,” said Morel. “He’s very good. Very strong. He’s got speed and he can box. He can stay toe-to-toe. I mean, you name it, he can do it all. But that’s nothing that I haven’t seen before. I’ve fought all types of fighters. But his style is perfect for mine.”
“I’m aware of his power and I’m aware of everything that he can bring. I’m confident that I can pull it off. My preparation for this fight is that I know that this is basically … this is it for me. Mares is a great fighter, but 36 is nothing but a number. I’m in great shape, and I’m feeling great. My speed is still there. I’ve got more power. I feel like nothing is going to stop me.”
Their matchup continues what appears to be an established theme for 2012, during which older cats have been facing off against younger ones.
In the coming weeks, for example, RING light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson will fight in an HBO-televised, April 28 rematch of a bout that was ruled a no-contest in October, and junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will defend his WBC belt against former champ Shane Mosley.
Hopkins, the oldest man to win a significant belt in boxing, is 47, and Dawson, 29, while Alvarez is 21, and Mosley, 40.
“First of all, I’m not looking into the age thing. I’m not worried about that, and I’m not training differently because Eric Morel is 36 years old,” said Mares. “I’m training harder because he has more fire to win, and I don’t look at numbers. I’m training like I have for every opponent, so I look at this fight as just another fight.”
Although Mares is youthful, chronologically, he already has the resume of a battle-tested veteran. Over more than a 20-month span through December of last year, the Mexican-born resident of Los Angeles faced elite oppponents in four 12-round title bouts, going 3-0-1 and overcoming intense moments of adversity in the ring.
“As far as me, I’ve faced these top fighters, and I’ve been able to adjust to every style that they’ve brought. That’s just because of the way that I train and maintain and set myself up, mentally,” said Mares.
“Again, I’m not concerned about his age — even if he was my age. Whether he was younger or older, I know that he’s training hard and that he has two hands just like I do. I just expect a tough fight. Believe me, none of that has crossed my mind.”
The result could go either way, as evidenced by what occurred last month in separate junior welterweight bouts on the same night during which aging former titleholders Zab Judah and Erik Morales fought younger men with different results.
Judah, 34, overwhelmed previously undefeated Vernon Paris, 24, on the way to a ninth-round stoppage on March 24, while Danny Garcia, 24, dropped the 35-year-old Morales in the 11th round of a competitive 12-round title-winning effort for the younger man.
“I don’t know if age did it, but to me, Erik Morales looked a lot slower and a lot heavier, but like I have said before, my speed is just tremendous,” said Morel. “On April 21, you all are going to see that. So it doesn’t mean that because it happened to Morales, that it’s going to happen to me.”
A Puerto Rican-born Madison, Wis., resident and former 1996 Olympian, Morel will try to earn a title belt for the first time since August of 2000, when he won the WBA flyweight belt by unanimous decision over Sornpichai Kratingdaenggym.
Nicknamed “Little Hands Of Steel,” Morel defended that crown five times — twice by knockout– before losing it by unanimous decision to Lorenzo Parra in December of 2003. In March of 2005, Morel lost his bid for the WBA’s junior bantamweight title by unanimous decision to Martin Castillo, and was subsequently convicted of sexual assault on a minor and imprisoned for two and a half years.
Morel returned to the ring with an eight-round, unanimous decision over Felipe Almanza in February of 2008 to begin his current winning streak.
Having assessed Morel’s abilities, Mares says he knows exactly what he is in for.
“I am ready. I know what I’m getting into. I’ve been in his position where I was under the radar and nobody knew about me. It’s a big step up fight for him, and I know that he’s trying to get his name out there again and make a comeback by beating me. When I first faced Perez, nobody knew about me,” said Mares.
“When I faced Darchinyan, they thought that I would get destroyed. So I know what Eric Morel is thinking, and I know what I’m getting myself into, and I definitely know that it’s going to be a tough fight where he’s trying to prove to the world that he’s still ready. But again, I’ve trained hard for him, and I’m ready, and I hope that it will be a great fight for the fans.”
Has the cub truly matured into a young lion, or will the older lion re-emerge?
RingTV.com gathered the opinions of 17 knowledgeable observers:
Abner Mares UD 12 Eric Morel: Eric Morel has been toiling and waiting for a television slot for quite some time for two reasons: He’s not an upper-echelon fighter, and he’s not marketable.
A move to 122 gives Abner Mares an opportunity to win another belt and then prey upon a division full of broken-down fighters, and still enable his camp to talk about fighting Toshiaki Nishioka or Nonito Donaire. Much like this fight, the maneuver is a calculated one.
Abner Mares W 12 Eric Morel: Tricky pick, in spite of an age differential of a decade. Expect body attacks and heavy assault from Abner Mares, but will it have the effect after his having stepped up a weight?
Arguably not, and allied with Eric Morel’s ability to be elusive, and attack on the counter, it could be a frustrating night for Mares.
Both men are rightly confident going into this. Neither man has ever been stopped. The key is whether Mares can carry his strength and power up a weight division. I reckon he will.
At some point, Mares will begin to find success with his attacks, and I see him coming back late in the fight to take the victory, by a narrow points decision.
Abner Mares UD 12 Eric Morel: I’m going to go with Abner Mares by decision. I think that Eric Morel will be difficult over the first half of the fight. I think that it will be an intense boxing match. But Mares will be the one who is the aggressor and the one who will be applying pressure, at least in spots.
I think that Mares’ body work will eventually take a toll on Morel, who, I think, is underrated as a bantamweight. I think that Morel is one of the more savvy veteran boxers out there, but I think that Mares’ youth and his activity will catch up to Morel, who is 36 years old, which is pretty old for a sub-featherweight (boxer).
I wouldn’t be shocked if Mares is the first person to stop Morel, but Morel is a proud guy, and the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry is a really big thing. I think that Morel is going to be as prepared as he can be. I wouldn’t be surprised if Morel rocks Mares in the early rounds because he can be sneaky with his offense.
But I think that Mares takes over this fight down the stretch. I think that the late rounds are going to belong to Mares, and I expect him to win rounds nine through 12. I think that he will secure a close but clear unanimous decision.