By Cliff Rold
Maybe we’ll never know, really, who the better man would have been on their best day. The best that can probably be discovered is who the superior man is right now, in this late moment of two legendary contemporary careers.
One is 37 and still reigning as the legitimate Lightweight Champion of the World. He might not be as good as he once was, but it’s fair to think he’s still as good on any one night as he ever was.
The other is 34, 3-0 in 2010 after nearly three years out of the ring, a rebound from the four consecutive losses that appeared to draw his curtain.
Given the descriptions, it doesn’t sound like it should amount to much.
…except the descriptions are missing names. The champion is Juan Manuel Marquez (52-5-1, 38 KO). The challenger, should the final details be ironed out for an April 9 showdown, will be Erik Morales (51-6, 35 KO).
Morales is perceived, fairly, to be well faded. Marquez is not. A one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather two divisions higher than Marquez had any business being in 2009 came between a rousing pair of wins over Juan Diaz and a stoppage of Michael Katsidis. The first Diaz fight was the 2009 Fight of the Year; the Katsidis win was a leading contender for the honors in 2010.
This fight should have happened years ago.
Morales probably has no shot to win.
Where do we sign up to see it?
Sure, okay, no one wants to see what looks like a mis-match. Given the spryness Marquez has shown against much younger men recently, the allure of seeing him continue to defend his crown against the peak of the Lightweight class instead of a faded name is unmistakable. That sort of thinking is fair and should be the rule.
There are exceptions to any rule.
Marquez-Morales 2011 would be one.
Call it the desire for completeness, call it the manipulation of memories, but if there was ever a vaquero deserving of one last rodeo, it’s “El Terible” Morales. His collection of classics is as deep as any fighter in the last fifty years and a showdown with Marquez is the missing ingredient.
Not just on the resume of Morales either.
From 2000 to 2008, Marquez, Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Manny Pacquiao engaged in what undoubtedly will go down, at and around Featherweight, as the ‘00’s equivalent of the Welter/Middleweight Fab Four rivalry of the 1980s. Let debates rage about which foursome, in the ring, was ‘better,’ but there are is one clear, quantitative area where the latter bunch exceeded the former.
That would be sheer number of fights.
The 80s Four (Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler) met in nine fights from 1980-89. The “Feather Four” have had eleven. An astute observer could point out that the 80’s Four was really five; that Wilfred Benitez was too significant to be ignored. Benitez, who lost to Hearns and Leonard but slicked Duran out of his shoes, raises the number of fights to 12. Marquez-Morales would tie the mark with one less fighter to show for it.
The 80s Four finds their edge in an equation Marquez-Morales would solve. They all fought each other. It isn’t until the fifth man on their side that we see a lack of clash (and in, say 1982 or 83, wouldn’t Hagler-Benitez have been worth a look?).
Even if a clash in 2011 probably doesn’t tell the world anything about what a match of prime Marquez and Morales would have looked like, who cares? Two of the greatest Mexican fighters of all time, two of the members of their generations defining multi-man rivalry, are still lacing them up. Neither is so gone as to wear the look of tragicomedy.
And, damn it all, stranger things than a Morales upset have happened in the ring.
Just ask the 80s crew.
Tommy Hearns was done, put a fork in him, heading into the Leonard rematch. His legs were shot. He’d been stopped, brutally, by the great Marvin Hagler and then the just-really good Iran Barkley. Leonard, riding high off his comeback victories over Hagler and Donny LaLonde, was just picking up a paycheck.
Leonard got off the floor twice on that fateful 1989 night, even managed to hurt Hearns badly in rounds five and twelve to keep the crowd on its feet and “Sugar” in the mix, but was clearly not the better man that night. Leonard escaped with a draw that still brings steam from the ears of anyone who saw Hearns’s face as the judges screwed him out of an earned victory.
Morales probably can’t shock Marquez the same way.
He’ll try like hell to do it anyways.
Anyone who saw the first eleven chapters of this four-way drama that says they can resist finding out what ‘try like hell’ could result in is probably to their self.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Erik Morales? Even now?
But wait, there’s (this week, just a little bit) more…
Herrera Upsets Provodnikov: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=34513
Shumenov, Kameda Move the Needle: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=34669
Ratings Update: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=34622
According to reports, the only thing stopping Marquez-Morales now is clearing up the money. Given all the recent disappointments in making big fights, there is faith here in these two to get the numbers right…Part of the brain says it would be simply outstanding if Odlanier Solis, Ruslan Chagaev, and Derek Chisora all sprung big Heavyweight upsets before the summer. Giving the sport its most ignominious trio of “champs” since the mid-90s sprung Bruce Seldon, Frank Bruno, and (until he got popped for PEDs) Frans Botha would be fitting for this awful era...The other part of the brain commends the three men who make up the bulk of the rhetorical drama these days. The Brothers Klitschko and David Haye may not have figured out how to make fights with each other but that they manage to keep showing up in tip-top shape like professionals when the evidence suggests they don’t need to has to be tough…For the record, Haye needs the Klitschko’s far more than the other way around…So for anyone following the former Middle and Light heavy king’s latest absurd race rant: Bernard Hopkins, Jimmy the Greek, and Al Campanis walk into a bar…Seriously though, who wouldn’t want to go fishing with Hopkins and Larry Holmes, recently quoted blasting Floyd Mayweather, and just wait to hear what gets said…Finally, with no chance of doing justice to all the things that can be said, the deepest condolences are sent to the victims of tragedy in Tuscon last weekend. God bless you all.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]