by Cliff Rold
It was a thinking man’s bruiser on Saturday night at the Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas as 24-year old Danny Garcia (23-0, 14 KO) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, scored a late knockdown en route to a unanimous decision over 35-year old Mexican legend and former four division titlist Erik Morales (52-8, 36 KO) of Tijuana, Mexico. Garcia wins the WBC belt at 140 lbs.
Morales lost the belt on the scales of Friday, scaling 142 lbs. Under WBC rules, the title can be won by the challenger in such circumstance but cannot be defended. Garcia came in at a ready 139 ½. The referee was Laurence Cole.
Garcia initiated the action with a soft, looping left hook. Moments later, an attempted Garcia jab was countered with a hard right hand to the face. Morales struck again with a stiff jab and just missed with a left hook as he pressed the younger man. At the midway point of the round, Garcia answered with a jab and stiff, landing right. At the minute mark, he connected with another right and blocked a Morales flurry. A countering Garcia combination ended with a landing left hook and Morales struggled to land clean down the stretch with power shots while landing jabs to the body and head.
Morales was calm and deliberate in the second, popping the jab and throwing in combination. Garcia countered with good single shots, rights to the body and some swift left hooks, but it was Morales coming forward. The veteran was consistent with short right hands and managed a wily triple uppercut while cuffing the back of Garcia’s head.
Asserting his advantage in speed, Garcia had a big third round. Standing taller, he began sticking the jab and in the final minute connected with a right hand to stun the Mexican great, driving Morales into the rope. Morales slid away while Garcia pursued, landing another big right shortly after and keeping the heat on into the bell. An awkward exchange ended with Garcia smiling at Morales. The veteran nodded but offered no smile in return.
The old man was right back into the fray in the fourth. Morales worked the body and stayed close to the younger man. Garcia rallied a bit in the final minute, getting home with two notable rights, but Morales took them well and continued his steady approach.
With the crowd chanting “Morales,” both men had their moments in the fifth and sixth. Garcia received a warning late in the fifth for hitting the hips of Morales and dominated the first two minutes of the sixth. Pinning Morales to the ropes after a booming shot to the body, Garcia measured off the jab and landed hard lefts and rights upstairs. Morales weathered the storm and battled back in the last minute with a furious rally. The crowd again embraced the living legend on display.
The seventh was another intense frame, Garcia seeming a slight step ahead through much of the three minutes. The same could not be said in the eighth. Outjabbing the younger man, Morales found space for clean combinations in spots. Garcia bounced back in the final thirty seconds and scored with some clean, long rights.
A missed, winging right from Garcia early in the ninth ushered in some levity, Morales mocking him by waving his arms weakly to mock his foe. It was Morales’s turn to smile. Garcia was better landing in response to Morales then he was trying to initiate, a trend true for most of the bout. Garcia landed a harsh right and then left hook in the final fifteen seconds, Morales slipping a follow up flurry with his back to the ropes.
There was still more in the Morales well. Berated in the corner before the tenth, Morales again found wind and right hands, bloodying the nose of Garcia late in the round. Morales stayed on top in the first half of the eleventh, drawing crimson from the mouth of Garcia and appearing to seize control.
Garcia answered with singular thunder. Catching Morales blind, Garcia slammed home a crushing left hook and Morales crumpled to all fours. Shaking the cobwebs clear, Morales rose shaky at the count of seven and Garcia pressed, landing hard shots as Morales went to the ropes. Morales stayed up and, by the final thirty seconds, was firing rights again even as he more and harder shots.
Ever the warrior, Morales refused to fall again in the twelfth and Garcia stopped trying in the final minute, content to box and land smart shots down the stretch. At the final bell, the winner seemed clear but Morales lost nothing in terms of reputation on the night.
Garcia’s hand was raised by scores that could have been seen as wide by some at 117-110, 116-112, and 118-109, but the win was fairly earned. BoxingScene scored the contest 115-112 for Garcia. Morales was hoisted on the shoulders of his corner and paraded around the ring, soaking in the cheers for another tough effort and for a career of great memories.
Garcia was exhausted and overcome by emotion in the post-fight interview, his cornerman father by his side. “It’s been a long way. Everyone wants to be a champion.” Speaking of Morales, he said, “The guy has power. I knew it was gonna’ be a war…I just couldn’t let him take my dream away.”
Morales offered through a translator that it had been a difficult fight and said he’d have to think about whether he wants to continue with his career, his health cited as a factor in future considerations. For certain, the health of the sport without him is lesser but he’s earned the right to ride off into his own Tijuana sunset.
The televised opener featured an intriguing clash of Jr. Middleweights with a head-scratching ending.
Well behind on two of three judge’s scores, 28-year old James Kirkland (31-1, 27 KO), 153 ¾, of Austin, Texas, escaped possible defeat when the corner of 28-year old Carlos Molina (19-5-2, 6 KO), 153 ¾, of Chicago, Illinois, entered the ring early following a knockdown at the end of the tenth round, leading to a disqualification. The referee was Jon Schorle.
Molina boxed well through most of the contest, timing the offensive rushes of the southpaw Kirkland with quick shots and holding to stem counters. The holding was excessive in spots but uncalled by Schorle. Kirkland too often found himself lunging with his left, Molina making him miss with deft head movement.
Believing himself behind, Kirkland came out with a furious attack in the tenth, stunning Molina on the ropes and forcing the holding up by necessity. At one point, he bodied Kirkland to the ropes and held both strands to keep him there, fighting to keep a rallying Kirkland from doing so.
Fighting off the ropes in the closing seconds, Kirkland landed a short right inside, then another as he pushed forward and the men became tangled. A final left landed high on the head of Molina and Molina stumbled to the floor. Schorle ruled a knockdown and picked up the count at two as the bell sounded.
At the count of five, Schorle broke off from Molina to push a Molina cornerman out of the ring. He returned to the count at six as Molina nodded at his corner and smiled, seemingly shrugging off what had been an anxious moment.
Schorle sent him to the corner following the end of the mandatory eight. Kirkland stepped towards the middle of the ring, Schorle telling him to return to the corner and then ushered Molina back as well.
Molina sat down to rest up for the eleventh round. He’d never get there. Schorle immediately went to the ringside table and informed he was stopping the fight because of the illegal entry to the ring of the Molina cornerman. While technically correct, it is a call referee’s have much discretion on.
Clearly, for Molina’s corner, more discretion was advised. It was not the only odd call as official scoring showed one judge, Gale Van Hoy, had Kirkland ahead at the end.
For Texas, it was another moment of controversy in 2012. Just weeks ago at Light Heavyweight, Tavoris Cloud received a widely reviled decision over Gabriel Campillo.
Molina protested to no avail as Kirkland’s trainer walked across to embrace Molina, heard whispering, “You were winning the fight.” The crowd booed loudly and their disdain for the call was not without merit.
Interviewed after the contest, both Kirkland and his corner stated they would rather have had the fight go on, soaking in boos they did nothing wrong to earn. Molina was nonplussed and expressed that he felt he could have stood up to Kirkland for two more rounds, also stating he’d like to do it again.
Kirkland adds a fourth straight win since a first round knockout loss to Nobuhiro Ishida in April 2011, but leaves Houston unlikely to feel much the victor. Molina suffers his first defeat since 2007 but loses little in the regard he’s slowly built.
The card was televised in the U.S. on HBO as part of its “World Championship Boxing” series, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
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]