By Chris Robinson
On November 27th Juan Manuel Marquez successfully defended his WBA and WBO lightweight titles with a thrilling stoppage over brave Australian Michael Katsidis. In the contest Marquez had to recover from a crushing third round knockdown before regrouping and picking his younger foe apart, with referee Kenny Bayless calling a halt to the action in the ninth round.
Following the fight Marquez let it be known that his intentions were to meet Filipino star Manny Pacquiao for a third time. The two men had a pair of memorable encounters that saw them fight to a heated draw in May of 2004 while Pacquiao nipped the Mexico City fighter via split decision almost four years later. But with Pacquiao now in line to defend his WBO welterweight crown agaisnt Shane Mosley on May 7th, Marquez must look in other directions.
The most logical opponent at the moment seems to former three-division champion Erik ‘El Terrible’ Morales. While the fight is a few years past it’s best date it is still a contest worth taking a closer look. Read on for all of the angles to a potential bout between the two Mexican legends.
Band of bandits
Marquez is scheduled to be meeting with Golden Boy Promotions in the coming days to discuss his future. BoxingScene.com’s Rick Reeno learned from matchmaker Eric Gomez that there appear to be four names on the table for consideration as possible opponents for Marquez; Morales, WBA junior welterweight champion Amir Khan, former champion Robert Guerrero, and fierce Argentinean puncher Marcos Maidana.
Khan and Maidana engaged in one of the year’s best fights last month inside of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. Khan dropped Maidana in the first round and survived a hellacious late round rally to pull out a close decision victory. Both men are fine fighters with different gifts and they would likely have too much size and power for Marquez to handle at this point.
Guerrero is an interesting opponent, as the Gilroy, California fighter has previously held titles at 126 and 130 pounds while showing flashes of promise in destroying overmatched foes. In 2010 the southpaw netted decision victories of Joel Casamayor and Vicente Escobedo and a fight between him and Marquez would be another youth vs. experience matchup.
Of all the candidates, however, it appears to be Morales who has the inside track towards landing the fight.
The return of ‘El Terrible’
Shortly after his August 2007 loss to David Diaz, a bout in which unsuccessfully attempted to win a title in his fourth weight class, Morales would end up announcing his retirement from the sport. His hiatus would be short-lived, however, as the proud Tijuana fighter made a return to the sport in 2010, scoring three victories.
In March Morales fought as a welterweight, pounding out a decision victory over former lightweight champion Jose Alfaro in Monterrey, Mexico.
Six months later Marquez fought at 143 pounds, scoring a sixth round stoppage over Glasgow’s Willie Limond.
And just a few weeks back Morales would win a closer-than-expected decision over Dominican Francisco Lorenzo, a fight in which he reportedly looked far from stellar.
Morales’ legacy is already set in stone after winning titles at 122, 126 and 130 pounds while engaging in memorable bouts with the likes of Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera, Carlos Hernandez, Paulie Ayala, Daniel Zaragoza and countless others. Morales obviously wants another crowning moment to cap off his career and he’s hoping it can come in the form of a bout with Marquez.
Avoiding a Vegas drought
Marquez’s next fight is slated for April 9th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and if Morales gets chosen to be the opponent you have to wonder how the fight would sell. The last three main events in the city were rousing affairs as Khan edged Maidana, Marquez chopped down Katsidis, and Juan Manuel Lopez outlasted Rafael Marquez, but all three shows pulled in less than 5,000 spectators.
While some point to those numbers as Las Vegas simply losing it’s hold as the boxing capital of the sport, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer feels that other factors came into play.
“I think there are three things involved there,” Kizer recently told me. “First and foremost it is a sign of the economic times. [Also,] it was a tough weekend. Both the November 27th weekend where they had Marquez-Katsidis then the December 11th weekend with Khan-Maidana are probably two of the worst weekends to have a fight other than Christmas and Easter weekends. But they were trying to get some good fight cards in here by the end of the year so we kind of had to live with what we had.”
There were 4,652 spectators on hand for the Khan-Maidana bout while 4,920 showed up for the Marquez-Katsidis affair. If Marquez-Morales lands at the MGM in April you would have to figure that the pro-Mexican crowd would show up to support each man, hopefully raising those statistics just a bit.
Financial success in April
When thinking of recent bouts in Las Vegas during the month of April, a handful of fights came to mind. Some events were extremely successful while others made less of an impression.
Last April Bernard Hopkins found away to pull out a decision over Roy Jones Jr. in their rematch at the Mandalay Bay. 4,240 people were in attendance for the contest.
One year earlier Paul ‘The Punisher’ Williams soundly defeated Winky Wright inside of the same facility in front of 2,975 spectators.
Hopkins’ 2008 clash with Joe Calzaghe was a very big event, drawing 14,345 people into the Thomas and Mack Center. Hopkins would lose via split decision after dropping Calzaghe in the first round.
One of Floyd Mayweather’s most complete performances came on April 8th of 2006 as he dominated Zab Judah over the second half of their bout inside the Thomas and Mack. 14,616 people were present for the event.
One of the biggest heavyweight upsets in recent memory took place in April of 2004 when Lamon Brewster shocked Wladimir Klitschko with a fifth round stoppage during their fight at the Mandalay Bay. 9,191 spectators witnessed Brewster weather an early assualt from his Ukrainian foe before coming back to turn the tables.
Mayweather also fought in April of 2002 inside of the MGM Grand, winning a tight decision over Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight. 5,200 people were on hand to watch the Mexican give Mayweather all he could handle for twelve rounds.
Steve Farhood sizes up Marquez at 140 pounds
I reached out to Showtime analyst Steve Farhood to get his take on a possible Marquez-Morales fight. Farhood feels that Morales’ underwhelming performance agaisnt Lorenzo last month didn’t help to generate any buzz for the fight.
“It doesn't help that Morales didn't look particularly good in his last fight,” Farhood stated. “I don't think the matchup means much to the average fan because Morales is no longer deemed an elite fighter. He hasn't scored a truly significant win in almost six years.”
I asked Farhood what direction he would like to see Marquez take if successful in April and he pointed towards challenges in the junior welterweight class as being the most intriguing.
“Everyone wants to see a third Marquez-Pacquiao fight, but my enthusiasm for the matchup will be diminished if the bout is fought at 147, which doesn't suit Marquez. I'd rather see Marquez stay at 140 and take on Khan or the winner of Bradley-Alexander.”
Devon Alexander says Marquez-Morales is a good matchup
As for Devon Alexander, the IBF and WBC junior welterweight champion is currently deep into training in Las Vegas at Barry’s Boxing Center for his clash later this month against Timothy Bradley. Alexander feels that a Marquez-Morales bout would be entertaining but doesn’t see much business for either man beyond 135 pounds.
“Erik and Marquez could be a good match up at 135 because both of them would be right there in front [of one another]. I think Marquez should stay at 135. I think that’s where he feels most comfortable.”
As for his own personal battle against Bradley in roughly three weeks’ time, Alexander can’t seem to hold his enthusiam for the HBO-televised unification bout.
“Training is going good. I'm right on schedule and this fight I’m going to shine. I am very eager to fight Bradley. He thinks he's number one, I think I'm number one; so that's a problem.”
Miguel Diaz remembers Morales during the height of his career
Well-respected trainer and cut man Miguel Diaz has worked with some of the best fighters in the world over the years including Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao, Castillo and Morales, amongst others. Diaz remembers working with Erik’s father Joe years ago at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas and recalls that Morales was a fighter when he was just seven or eight years old.
Diaz has worked with Top Rank Promotions in Las Vegas for nearly fifteen years and recalls working with Morales during his peak years. Diaz claims that his great chin, toughness and skill set him apart but his best memories in the corner weren’t always the fondest.
“The first Barrera championship fight was fantastic,” Diaz claimed. “The first time he beat Pacquiao it was the same thing. Another sad moment was when Pacquiao knocked him out in the last fight, I was actually hoping that he would stay down. I didn’t want him to get any more punishment.”
Diaz notes that after Morales’ brief retirement in 2007 that he and Erik haven’t spoken yet he has obvious admiration for him.
“I wish him the best. He was always very nice with me. I didn’t see his return fights but somebody told me that he is in very condition but another person told me that in his last fight he didn’t fight according to how the old Erik Morales was. But I didn’t expect that anyways.”
Lem Satterfield compares Marquez to a legend of the 70’s and 80’s
AOL Fanhouse and BoxingScene.com correspondent Lem Satterfield and I discussed Marquez’s victory over Katsidis recently and the Baltimore scribe pointed out that it was another vintage performance from the 37-year old. Speaking further, Satterfield points out that Marquez can’t help but to remind him of one of boxing’s most exciting champions during the late 70’s and early 80’s.
“Marquez, like [Alexis] Arguello, who is one of my all time favorites, at times, appears to be a seemingly vulnerable champion,” he stated “But you can tell that he brings his lunch pale to work every time. Marquez reminds me of Arguello because he is exciting and he is a technician who must give it all that he has to win and never seems to be in an easy fight."
Satterfield went on to say that he welcomed the thought of Marquez facing Morales or the likes of WBC lightweight champion Humberto Soto or contender Brandon Rios. But if Marquez decides to move up to 140 pounds, Satterfield feels he could meet the same fate as Arguello, who was stopped in the fourteenth round by champion Aaron Pryor in November of 1982 in his attempt to win a title in a fourth weight class.
Boxing historian Bert Sugar pays respect to Morales
I try to catch up with boxing historian and author Bert Sugar a few times a month to gather his thoughts on certain aspects of the sport. During a recent conversation with Sugar we discussed his best memories of Morales and Bert stated that there were too many showcases for just one alone to stand out.
“He’s fought so often and in so many great fights that they all start merging together,” Sugar reflected of Morales. “I just knew when I saw this very gaunt, very thin man who had a face almost like a Mayan Indian, he just didn’t look like a fighter. He looked fragile. But if anything he was one of the most powerful punches I had ever seen.”
Sugar went on to tell me that his rivalry with Marco Antonio Barrera and their three thrilling battles created one of the most exciting atmospheres he had ever been to and he pointed out that his March 2005 upset over Manny Pacquiao was both thrilling and brilliant.
As for Morales’ comeback, Sugar feels that he more than has the right to continue chasing his dreams inside of the squared circle.
“If Bernard Hopkins can fight as long as he did, Erik Morales has the right to fight as long as he can. He’s one of the great fighters of recent times. And I say that straight out.”
What to expect with Marquez vs. Morales
If Juan Manuel Marquez does indeed face off with Erik Morales I feel that a decent crowd would show up to support the event and that people would be interested regardless of how less meaningful they feel the matchup is at this point. It would definitley be in Golden Boy’s best interested to stage a solid undercard and I was recently informed that former champion Winky Wright will likely serve as the co-feature on that evening.
I think it would be a decent fight, with Morales pressing the action and Marquez looking to pick him apart with his piercing counter punches. Marquez definitley seems to be closer to his prime and that is enough to give him the edge in this fight. Morales could have trouble squeezing himself down to 135 pounds and I see him having problems with Marquez’s accurate, punishing shots throughout.
I would like have to side with Marquez via late round stoppage in a fight that exceeds expectations.