By Thomas Gerbasi
Rocky Marciano cried after beating his hero Joe Louis in 1951. 29 years later, Larry Holmes did the same thing after delivering a frightful beating to Muhammad Ali. Will Danny Garcia do the same thing this Saturday night should he hand Erik Morales the kind of loss that makes “El Terrible” want to head off into the sunset?
Probably not, but this HBO main event in Houston is a rite of passage fight that could spell the end of a career (Morales) and launch a new one (Garcia), just another reason why boxing remains unique in the sporting pantheon. In baseball, if you lose something off your fastball, you give up a few more hits and get released. In basketball, losing a step sends you off to Europe or into a coaching position. In boxing, retirement is beat into you, and it’s that stark reality that causes grown men to cry if they’re placed in the position of being the proverbial grim reaper because who wants to hurt their heroes, especially one as revered as Mexico’s Morales?
For 19 years, Morales has given his life to the sport, building a legacy that will land him in Canastota’s Boxing Hall of Fame five years after he retires. But more than having a stack of fancy titles and accolades, he earned his keep because of his attitude in the ring and the way he fought. There were no hints of what Floyd Mayweather calls “special effects” in Morales’ game, just a solid technical base, an old-school mentality, and a warrior’s spirit. And though his comeback after a nearly three year layoff was met with groans throughout the boxing world, at 35 he has proven that he can still get the job done, going through a 12 round war with Marcos Maidana last April before losing a close majority decision and then stopping unbeaten countryman Pablo Cesar Cano for the vacant WBC junior welterweight crown last September.
But he can’t go on forever, and with his speed diminished and the prospects of him keeping up with a mobile foe for 12 rounds unlikely, Garcia may be Morales’ Waterloo this weekend. No, Garcia doesn’t have the power or experience of the champion, but at 24 he has enough gas in the tank to stay out of Morales’ range and peck and poke him throughout the fight, and he has the smarts to avoid a firefight. So while the fight won’t be anything resembling a replay of Morales’ wins against Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera, or even the loss to Maidana, Garcia should do enough to gain the nod and begin building his own championship legacy.
As for Morales, it’s likely that he will continue to fight on should he lose. His exit from the game is likely to come from a losing firefight, not a mosquito attack. And that’s just the way he would want it. If you’re going to shed tears, I could imagine him saying, at least earn them.
JUDAH IN BROOKLYN
Kudos once again to Main Events for actually promoting their Saturday show and making an event out of Zab Judah’s return to Brooklyn. Synonymous with the borough, Judah is past his best days at 34, but with an IBF title shot on the line and a venue full of fans, friends, and family cheering him on, he may be able to catch lightning in a bottle at least one more time against unbeaten Vernon Paris, who despite clocking in at 26-0 as a pro, has yet to step in the ring with someone of Judah’s caliber. And though “Super Judah” showed signs of fading in his last three bouts against Lucas Matthysse, Kaizer Mabuza, and Amir Khan, he probably has enough left to beat Paris. The only scary part is the possibility of Judah getting another title shot against either Lamont Peterson or Khan (should he beat Peterson in their rematch). Then again, that’s what a good promoter does, right?
I don’t know what was worse last Saturday night in Madison Square Garden’s Theater: the idea that Matty Macklin was a 10-1 underdog against Sergio Martinez or that the HBO commentating crew kept harping on the fact that “Maravilla” didn’t blast the Brit out in three rounds. If anyone has followed Macklin’s career, they would have seen that he’s a tough, rugged competitor and a world-class middleweight. And that’s the performance he gave last weekend. So how did Martinez respond? Like a champion. He took Macklin’s best, made adjustments, roared back, and closed the show. What more do you want from the legit middleweight champion? Of course, that doesn’t mean that a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is any closer, and Junior knows that he’s holding all the aces in terms of being the bigger draw among casual fans. So while people are talking about the fall, it wouldn’t surprise me if the fight doesn’t take place until early 2013, if at all. Why? The older Martinez gets, the better chance Chavez has of putting his only legit rival to rest, and if he wanted the fight now, I imagine that he and his team could get it done.
Speaking of fights not getting made, I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw Yuriorkis Gamboa into the fire here for backing out of his bout with Brandon Rios. Simply put, I don’t care about the money, the promotional considerations, or any other reason why Gamboa took his ball and went home. He agreed to the fight; he should fight. This was one of those matchups where regardless of the result, there would be no losers because both guys stepped up to the plate and made the best possible fight for themselves and the sport. Gamboa killed that and put another nail in the public perception coffin. Hey, I get it, this is a business and you want to make as much money during your short stay in this often brutal game. But don’t agree to fight and pull out; don’t get the fans amped up and then pull the rug out from them. Hey, if you can make Brandon Rios a sympathetic figure, you screwed up.
CHIN CHECKING AGAIN?
Another Brooklynite returning to the ring this Saturday, albeit in a more low-key fashion, will be Curtis Stevens, who faces Romaro Johnson on the Judah-Paris card. It’s Stevens’ first bout since a January 2010 loss to Jesse Brinkley, and while this bout won’t be one to put him on the map again, maybe it will propel the 27-year old back into a regular fighting schedule. Of course, maybe I’m just looking for Stevens to bring back the excitement present in the New York City fight scene when he and buddy Jaidon Codrington formed the knockout duo the Chin Checkers. Before Stevens got stopped by Marcos Primera in 2006 and Codrington was knocked out by Allan Green in 2005, these two young princes of the city gave life to the scene with their brash confidence and knockout power. And though they were polarizing figures to some, when the cameras were off, it was obvious that they were just two kids having fun with the attention they were getting. It was a fun time for us covering them as well, and that’s never a bad thing in a sport where a little levity can break up the bad news.