Can Morales turn back time vs. Maidana?
Despite losing his last fight to Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana is on a career high, with his performance against the WBA champion impressing everybody. In a dramatic fight Maidana was able to recover from being dropped in the first round to dominate the closing rounds and come close to ending the reign of "King" Khan.
Ironically, while the victor Khan struggles to make a commercial success of his "homecoming" fight against Paul McCloskey in the UK, Maidana takes center stage against Erik Morales in the first big boxing pay-per-view of the year.
The rationale behind Morales’ return to the ring is something of a mystery with the former three-weight world champion having retired in August 2007 after going on a four-fight losing streak. Morales insists that the reasons for his return aren’t financial and that he simply wants to make history as the first Mexican to win world titles at four weights.
At his best Morales was the very epitome of a fan-favorite warrior, boasting of how he could only fight in the Mexican way, letting it all hang out in classic, violent wars.
He has, however, not looked his best since his return last year with all three comeback fights being against lesser competition and featuring a Morales who looked slower and less explosive than his irresistible best.
When Morales-Maidana was first made the reaction from most was nothing short of horror, with most seeing it as nothing short of a mismatch. The consensus was clear: Maidana as a natural light welterweight is too big for Morales, whose best days were at 122 pounds and 130 pounds. Maidana has the punching power and ability to get the better of Morales in any slugfest, and given the form Morales has shown recently he may have the speed and energy to outwork the aging veteran.
And yet over the past week something has shifted; the revulsion has given way to excitement as slowly commentators and fans began to stop fearing and start hoping. The inspiration for this change has very much been the attitude with which Morales has approached the buildup to the fight. Not only does he look in terrific shape, but his prefight comments have shown the confidence he’ll need to pull off what many assumed was impossible. Talking with an engaging frankness, he’s had convincing rationales for previous disappointments and has been loudly explaining how at 5-foot-8 and with a 72-inch reach he’s more than competitive at the weight.
But if he’s to win, he needs to fight smart. Yet another all-out brawl may excite fans, but it would surely end in defeat for Morales; Maidana has a KO rate that is above 90 percent and came close to knocking out an Amir Khan who is younger, stronger and bigger than Morales when the Brit allowed himself to get drawn into a brawl.
But if Morales can expose the technical deficiencies in Maidana’s game, then he may just have a chance. Morales needs to use his experience to pressurize Maidana with movement, properly setting up his offensive flurries rather than just walking forward. Above all he needs to use that superior reach to get the jab working, forcing Maidana to fight with a high guard. If he can do that, he will create the space for the body shots with which Amir Khan nearly knocked out the Argentine early in their fight and Morales finished Willie Limond with in his last outing. It may not be the "Mexican way," but it may just work.
On Saturday night Maidana enters the ring to face a surefire future Hall of Famer but is the runaway favorite, with odds-makers pricing long the possibility of Morales shocking the world. That says something about Maidana’s strengths, but it says more about how a long, hard career has seemingly left Morales a shadow of his former strength.
With so much in Maidana’s favor, the boxing world will be worrying that the Mexican legend’s career is about to end in an unnecessarily violent and dangerous way.
But increasingly one can’t help but wonder whether Morales somehow finds a way to secure a remarkable victory.