By Jake Donovan
When all was said and done, the old veteran’s fighting heart wasn’t enough to overcome the young lion’s relentless pressure. But it was certainly more than enough to make things far more interesting than most expected to be the case.
Marcos Maidana remains in the junior welterweight hunt, though was given the fight of his life by legendary former three-division champion Erik Morales. Maidana managed to escape with a hard-fought majority decision on Saturday evening at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Scores were 114-114 even, and 116-112 (twice) for Maidana.
The first several rounds supported the odds as well as the concern that Morales was insane for demanding this fight. Maidana was ruthless from the opening bell, landing repeatedly upstairs and causing Morales’ eye to rapidly swell shut.
It wasn’t about to get any easier for Morales, though he wisely chose to ride out Maidana’s attack rather than attempt to go toe-to-toe and hope to come out ahead. Maidana was banking the early rounds, but Morales was positioning himself to become a threat as the fight wore on.
The first signs of that strategy paying off first surfaced in the fifth round. Right hands repeatedly found a home on Maidana’s chin, at one point wobbling the Argentinean. However, the round ended saw the action revert to form, with Maidana punishing the proud warrior and forcing his corner to work overtime to tend to multiple wounds.
Maidana rode that momentum into a brutal sixth round, highlighted by a flush right hand that forced Morales to lean back and steady himself while along the ropes. With his right eye swollen shut and gas tank beginning to dry out, Morales was heading to that point in the fight – and career- where concern for his health was in order.
Then came the seventh round.
The fight was still heavily in Maidana’s favor, but Morales managed to land a big punch nearly every time it appeared that he was on the verge of collapsing. A right hand to the body and left hook stopped Maidana in his tracks, or at least did enough to prevent any further incoming at that moment. Morales also closed the round strong, landing a right hand that got Maidana’s attention.
There was still plenty of fight left in Morales in the eighth, going toe-to-toe with Maidana to the tune of “Me-xi-co!” from the crowd. At no point was he able to keep his opponent at bay, but his spirited attack was enough to force Maidana to dig that much deeper in order to push ahead.
No matter how many times Maidana threatened to surge ahead for good, Morales was right there to remind him that he had a fight on his hands. Few expected the 34-year old to even stick around long enough to still be standing in the later rounds, much less remain competitive.
Back and forth the two continued over the final four rounds, though it was Maidana generally getting the better of the action. But there were also moments like midway through the 12th, when Maidana attempted to go on the attack, but left himself wide open for a right hand that froze him in place.
But as was the case for most of the night, Maidana was able to absorb and charge forward, as he never stopped gunning for the knockout. His determination in that regard saw him batter Morales down the stretch, though never to the point of the fight not lasting all twelve rounds.
Both fighters were appropriately paraded around the ring by fights end, Maidana for a clear winning effort, and Morales for exuding championship heart that few can match.
For Maidana, it’s his first win and bout since his Fight of the Year entry with Amir Khan last December, a 12-round war that saw him decked early but his stock skyrocket by night’s end.
It’s not likely that his star continues to rise after Saturday’s performance, though it was enough to advance his record to 30-2 (27KO) and keep him towards the top of the junior welterweight division.
Meanwhile, Morales will most likely remain conflicted about what’s next.
His record now stands at 51-7 (35KO), snapping a three-fight win streak that began just over a year ago. Still, few expected the veteran to even last all 12 rounds, and even fewer saw the case where he’d come this close to pulling off a shocking upset.
Both fighters seemed to be open to the idea of a rematch, which would actually make sense considering what’s in store for the rest of the best at junior welterweight.
Current plans call for a showdown between Amir Khan and Tim Bradley, universally regarded as the best two fighters in the division, though the order in which they rank remains subject to debate.
Just a rung below, Devon Alexander is slated to face Lucas Matthysse in the beginning of the summer.
Maidana is not the type of fighter who prefers to go stale while awaiting his next big payday. Morales is clearly not the type of fighter willing to go away quietly, or even settle for a moral victory as means to ride off into the sunset.
It’s never been who he is, which is precisely why most experts were proven wrong on Saturday evening, even in getting the end result right.
UNDERCARD RESULTS (recaps provided by Rick Reeno):
Robert Guerrero UD12 Michael Katsidis - http://www.boxingscene.com/robert-guerrero-beats-michael-katsidis-wild-war--37954
Paul Malignaggi UD10 Jose Miguel Cotto - http://www.boxingscene.com/paulie-malignaggi-decisions-jose-miguel-cotto-over-ten--37951
Nobuhiro Ishida KO1 James Kirkland - http://www.boxingscene.com/nobuhiro-ishida-destroys-james-kirkland-one-round--37952
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .