By Jake Donovan
Diosbelys Hurtado slowly creeps back toward the junior welterweight title picture, overcoming an opening round knockdown and a rocky first half of the fight to claw his way back and earn a split decision nod over former title challenger Arturo Morua, Friday night at the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming Casino in Miami, Florida.
Hurtado was the clear crowd favorite entering the fight, having long ago established Miami as his adopted home after defecting from Cuba in the mid-1990’s. The bout was his 10th time playing the Miccosukee Resort, but his first appearance in more than eight years.
Another familiar place the former junior welterweight titlist found himself was on the canvas, which came toward the end of the opening round. Hurtado was controlling the action with his superior technical skills, often rattling off rapid fire combinations. Morua struggled to keep up at times, but quickly proved that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
A Hurtado flurry was countered with a left hook which froze the Cuban, setting him up for a follow-up jab and right hand to produce the bout’s first knockdown. Hurtado was up at four, but still buzzed enough to question the validity of the knockdown, to which referee Frank Santore replied, “It was a punch” before completing his mandatory eight count, officially the first time Hurtado’s touched down since his second round knockout loss to Vivian Harris in 2002.
Round two was almost a repeat of the first, only without knockdowns. The manner in which the round was fought defied conventional boxing wisdom. Hurtado was flat-footed but kept it strictly boxing; Morua spent the entire round bouncing on his toes, but was landing the more telling blows throughout.
What he wasn’t landing was enough of them, as Hurtado was the far busier fighter, and landing enough to make an impact on the scorecards.
The crowd rallied behind Hurtado after a strong start to the third round, one that found Morua under siege and with his back often touching the ropes. Hurtado found his timing on offense and defense, scoring with his jab, and easily ducking Morua’s return fire.
A similar pattern played out in the fourth, with Hurtado gaining confidence while Morua simply wasn’t letting his hands go often enough. Chants of “Cu-Ba” filled the arena, though the crowd’s enthusiasm clearly exceeded the in-ring action. The fans would simmer down in the fifth, a round that clearly belonged to the Mexican contender, whose crisp punchers were getting through Hurtado’s tight guard.
Fatigue appeared to set in for Hurtado in the sixth. The 33-year old, three fights deep into a comeback spray painted over 16 months, was forced to contend with a cut over his right eye, which left his white trunks tinted with crimson.
After offering little in the sixth, the Cuban offered lateral movement in the seventh, content with sticking and moving while Morua stalked and awaited openings that rarely surfaced. It gave him a 10-point round on the scorecards for the first time since early in the fight, but there was little snap on his pitty-pat punches.
Hurtado spent much of the eighth round fighting in reverse. The strategy paid off; Morua was ineffective in cutting off the ring, allowing Hurtado to jab and bolt, though occasionally planting his feet to land a keep-‘em-honest left hook.
Action slowed to a crawl in the latter stages of the bout. Neither fighter deviated the from the second-half script – Hurtado boxed and moved, Morua plodded forward with mixed results at best. It wound up costing Morua the fight, having built up an early lead but faltering down the stretch. A late rally in the twelfth and final round saw Morua land several left hands, but not enough to close the show or extend his days as a gatekeeper at least one more fight.
All three judges scored the bout 114-113 in the end. One card went Morua’s way, but was overruled by the other two judges who favored Hurtado’s superior technical display.
The win is the sixth straight for Hurtado, who improves to 41-3-1 (25KO). Whether or not Hurtado claws his way back into the title picture remains to be seen.
The Cuban was a fixture in the thick of things in the junior welterweight division during the late 90’s and earlier portion of this decade. His rise to fame began with his spirited welterweight title challenge against Pernell Whitaker in 1997, dropping him twice and leading on the cards after ten before getting stretched in the 11th round.
Another chance at superstardom came nearly two years later, and Hurtado was once again on the threshold of a major upset, overcoming a knockdown to score two of his own in his November 1998 clash with Kostya Tszyu. The success was short-lived, however; Tszyu rallied back to take over and eventually put him away in five rounds.
He finally hit paydirt in 2002, going punch for punch with Randall Bailey before stopping him in the seventh round for his first (and to date, only) major alphabet title. The glory was short lived, suffering a second-round knockout loss to Vivian Harris in his lone title defense later that year.
He has since won six straight, including three in a row since returning to the ring in late 2007, though most of it against largely non-descript competition. The win over Morua was by far his most significant achievement since knocking out Randall Bailey six years ago.
Bailey scored an impressive victory of his own earlier in the evening a few states away in Memphis, Tennessee, one that put him in position to challenge for a major alphabet title.
Hurtado appears to be a long way off from that course, but certainly a lot closer than Morua, who loses for the fifth time in his past six fights. He falls to 25-12-1 (14KO), and is most likely done as a title challenger, even with the thin standards that come with the alphabet sanctioning bodies.
The show was presented by Felix “Tuto” Zabala’s All Star Boxing.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Please feel free to contact Jake at [email protected] .