Commentary

Morales puts up fight, but Maidana wins

Updated: April 12, 2011, 2:33 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com


A roundup of the past week's notable boxing results from around the world:

Saturday at Las Vegas

Junior welterweight
Marcos Maidana W12 Erik Morales

Wins a vacant interim junior welterweight title

Scores: 116-112 (twice), 114-114

Records: Maidana, 30-2, 27 KOs; Morales, 51-7, 35 KOs

Rafael's remark: Maidana won the fight, but Morales, the all-time great Mexican warrior, won the drama of the event. When Golden Boy put the HBO pay-per-view main event together, it was widely ridiculed and blasted by many as an utter mismatch. Morales, critics said, was too old and shot to have a prayer to win, much less be competitive. If he even was on his feet after a few rounds, it would be a miracle (although a certain ESPN.com writer said all along that it had a chance to be a very exciting fight and that Morales had a chance).

It turned out to be a fantastic fight -- more than anyone could have dreamed of -- and a legitimate fight of the year candidate. Morales, who is 34 but way older in boxing terms because of all the brutal fights he has been in, proved the critics wrong by turning back the clock for an inspirational performance. Maidana, 27, of Argentina, meanwhile, fought as he usually does -- as an ultra-aggressive gunslinger looking for a knockout with a never-ending series of power punches.

Maidana, who was coming off a terrific fight and a close decision loss to titleholder Amir Khan in the 2010 Boxing Writers Association of America fight of the year, came out fast and landed an uppercut that immediately swelled Morales' right eye about a minute into the fight. The eye got worse throughout the fight. By the time it was over, his eye looked like a purple water balloon and was completely closed. That he fought as well as he did with the handicap was incredible. Had he not suffered the injury, Morales very well might have won the fight. In fact, many still thought he won -- or at least deserved a draw.

They fought toe-to-toe for almost the entire fight. Morales was able to take the punches many thought he wouldn't be able to, and he landed lots of hard shots of his own, wobbling Maidana multiple times. Morales, a three-division champion, had retired after a failed lightweight title bid in 2007, but he came out of retirement last year and won three low-level fights at welterweight and junior welterweight. He certainly hadn't done anything to make folks think he could hang with Maidana, one of the most fearsome punchers in the 140-pound division. Morales started slowly, but by the middle of the fight, he was controlling much of the action and giving as good as he was taking against Maidana, whom he had begged Golden Boy to match him with.

Although Maidana did enough to get the nod on two scorecards and set himself up for bigger business in the deep junior welterweight division, Morales also earned himself another big fight. Some called for a rematch, but it seems more likely that the fighters will go in different directions for now. Both would like to face lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez, but several other names out there could make an exciting and lucrative fight with each.

As for the bogus interim belt Maidana collected, the second of his career, all you need to know is that it was bestowed upon him by the WBA. Khan has the actual title, beat Maidana in December and will defend the title on Saturday. Just more nonsense.

Lightweight
Robert Guerrero W12 Michael Katsidis

Wins two vacant interim lightweight titles
Scores: 118-107, 118-106, 117-108

Records: Guerrero, 29-1-1, 18 KOs; Katsidis, 27-4, 22 KOs

Rafael's remark: For years, Guerrero, a former junior lightweight and featherweight titlist, has been a good fighter who seemed to have so much untapped potential. With Guerrero turning in the best performance of his career in a fantastic showing in Saturday's crowd-pleasing fight, all that potential seems to be finally bubbling out. Guerrero fought with poise, purpose and maturity against a tough son of a gun in Katsidis, who has made numerous terrific fights. This was another exciting one, but Guerrero just had too much talent and more than enough toughness to get the job done in a fight that lived up to the expectations for action, despite being fairly one-sided.

Guerrero and Katsidis were supposed to fight in March 2010, but Guerrero withdrew the month before because he was not focused -- and for good reason. His wife, Casey, was battling leukemia and was in bad shape, so Guerrero put his career on hold (he wound up taking off eight months) to care for her. With Casey now healthy, Guerrero, 28, of Gilroy, Calif., was able to go away for training camp to prepare for Katsidis, and he said that made a huge difference.

Guerrero took control of the fight in the fifth round, during which he pounded Australia's Katsidis, 30, with strong right hands and combinations. Katsidis wound up in the hospital to have his badly damaged right eye and cut left eye examined. Katsidis would never give up in a fight, but he took so much punishment in the late rounds that trainer/manager Brendan Smith or referee Russell Mora probably should have stopped it. Guerrero figures to move on to a major fight. Pick any top guy at lightweight or junior welterweight, and Guerrero fits in. Katsidis, meanwhile, has lost two fights in row. He was stopped by lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez in the ninth round in November in another slugfest.

Middleweight
Nobuhiro Ishida TKO1 James Kirkland

Records: Ishida, 23-6-2, 8 KOs; Kirkland, 27-1, 24 KOs

Rafael's remark: As far as upsets go, this one was about as big as they get. Japan's Ishida, 35, was given zero chance to win -- even less than Erik Morales against Maidana in the main event. He was supposed to be nothing more than cannon fodder for Kirkland, 27, of Austin, Texas, who returned for two easy knockouts last month after being out of action for the past two years because of a well-chronicled 17-month prison sentence. Even Ishida acknowledged that he knew he was not supposed to win, much less score a mind-boggling first-round knockout of the heavily touted Kirkland on the strength of three legitimate knockdowns. It was such an unexpected result that HBO did not even have a Japanese translator on hand for an interview on the pay-per-view in the event that Ishida pulled it off. Well, he did -- and in spectacular fashion.

The win is a feel-good story for a fighter who said through a translator (one was found in his camp) that he did it for his country, which has been struggling with the devastating aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe. Ishida, who briefly held an interim junior middleweight belt for part of 2009 and 2010, needed just 112 seconds to dust Kirkland, who walked into a right hand early in the round and went down two more times on similar punches before referee Joe Cortez called it off. Before going to prison, Kirkland was one of the hottest fighters in the junior middleweight division and the sport. Huge things were expected from him before this showcase bout, but Ishida destroyed that notion. After such a shocking loss in which Kirkland's chin was badly exposed, it is fair to ask whether he will ever be a factor again.

Welterweight
Paulie Malignaggi W10 Jose Cotto

Scores: 99-91 (twice), 97-93

Records: Malignaggi, 29-4, 6 KOs; Cotto, 32-3-1, 24 KOs

Rafael's remark: The only thing that has hampered Malignaggi, 30, of New York, during his career has been fragile hands. It's one of the reasons he has so few knockouts. The hands have been relatively healthy in recent years, but in this fight he wound up hurting both paws cracking Cotto's head. He had them both on ice after a tough (but clear) win. Malignaggi has designs on a title shot against Slovenia's Jan Zaveck, but first he had to deal with Cotto, 33, of Puerto Rico, in his second fight since signing with Golden Boy and moving up to 147 pounds in the wake of his 11th-round TKO loss to junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan last May.

Cotto, the older brother of junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto (who was in his brother's corner), had his moments and landed some solid shots. However, they were thrown one at a time. Meanwhile, Malignaggi, with far superior speed, fired off numerous combinations, even if they did not have the same pop as Cotto's blows. Malignaggi suffered cuts over both eyes (at least one was from an accidental head butt) that required stitches. Still, it was a satisfying victory for Malignaggi, who gained at least a measure of revenge against the Cotto family. In 2006, Miguel Cotto battered him in a junior welterweight title bout. Now he has at least evened the score against the family.

Junior welterweight
Danny Garcia W10 Nate Campbell

Scores: 100-90, 99-91, 98-92

Records: Garcia, 21-0, 14 KOs; Campbell, 33-8-1, 25 KOs

Rafael's remark: Every young prospect needs this kind of fight on his résumé to build his credentials and gain experience. Garcia, 23, of Philadelphia, was a standout amateur who is now beginning to step up his competition in the pros. In Campbell, he was facing a former unified lightweight titlist who is vastly experienced but isn't the fighter he once was. In fact, Campbell retired in November after a stunning loss to journeyman Walter Estrada. But it was a short sabbatical. He returned for this fight to try to test Garcia (and for the $35,000 payday). Campbell, 39, of Jacksonville, Fla., tried his best, but Garcia had too much spring in his step, too many skills and too many combinations. He landed his right hand nearly at will, and although he did not hurt Campbell noticeably, he clearly won the fight. A good step up for the kid. Campbell's future is up in the air: retirement, or become an opponent for young prospects?

Heavyweight
Rakhim Chakhkiev KO3 Harvey Jolly

Records: Chakhkiev, 10-0, 8 KOs; Jolly, 11-17-1, 6 KOs

Rafael's remark: Chakhkiev did exactly what he was supposed to do in his American debut. The 2008 Russian Olympic heavyweight gold medalist from Russia had fought of all his fights in Germany. But he came to the United States under the co-promotional deal that German promoter Universum now has with Golden Boy, which is now involved with some of Universum's top fighters and prospects. Chakhkiev, 28, a rugged southpaw, is one of them. He weighed 203 pounds, but he will campaign as a cruiserweight should he become a contender. He looked good against a journeyman opponent in Jolly, who was there to fight -- not just fold after getting hit. Jolly tried but was outclassed.

Chakhkiev is a very strong body puncher. He used that skill against Jolly as well as a strong left hand. Body punches caused a second-round knockdown, and a left to the top of the head sent Jolly to his knees in the third, when he took the full count. Michigan's Jolly, 34, lost his third in a row (including his second straight by third-round knockout) and for the sixth time in his past seven fights.


Saturday at Newark, N.J.

Heavyweight
Tomasz Adamek W12 Kevin McBride

Scores: 120-107, 119-108 (twice)

Records: Adamek, 44-1, 28 KOs; McBride, 35-9-1, 29 KOs

Rafael's remark: Going into the fight, Adamek knew that all he had to do to secure a Sept. 10 title shot in his home country of Poland against Vitali Klitschko was win. He did that with ease, befuddling the plodding, ineffective McBride, 37, a journeyman known only for stopping Mike Tyson in 2005 and sending the former champ into retirement. Adamek's team picked McBride, a native of Ireland living in Massachusetts, as the tuneup opponent for a specific reason: he's big. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, McBride gave Adamek another look at a big man before he faces Klitschko.

About 35 pounds heavier than Klitschko and outweighing Adamek by 70 pounds, McBride tried to use the bulk to his advantage by leaning on Adamek to try to tire him out, but it didn't work. Adamek 34, who lives in Jersey City, N.J., and packs in a heavily Polish crowd at his home base at the Prudential Center, was hardly breathing heavily when the fight was over. He flustered the out-of-shape McBride with his movement, in-and-out tactics and fast punches. The former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champ hurt McBride several times in the fight, including with a right hand in the seventh that appeared to momentarily stagger him. Later in the round, referee Randy Neumann docked a point from McBride for pulling Adamek's head down. McBride was mildly competitive for the first four or five rounds, but he began to tire and lost what little snap he had on his punches while Adamek boxed circles around him -- much to the delight of the wild crowd that roared at his every move. Other than getting a knockout, there wasn't much more Adamek could have done in a nearly perfect performance. Just imagine what that stadium in Poland is going to be like when he fights for a title against Klitschko.

Welterweight
Sadam Ali KO3 Javier Perez

Records: Ali, 12-0, 7 KOs; Perez, 8-5, 5 KOs

Rafael's remark: Ali, a 2008 U.S. Olympian from Brooklyn, N.Y., looked very good in dismantling Puerto Rico's Perez, 27, who lost for the third time in his past four fights, with each defeat in the rut coming by knockout. Ali, 22, with a tremendous speed and power advantage, nearly had Perez out in the first round when he crushed him with a left hook to the jaw. The punch sent Perez's head swiveling and knocked him to his rear end. In the third round, Ali landed another brutal left hook to the jaw that dropped Perez even harder. Perez was flat on his back and spread eagle as referee Earl Morton stopped it at 2 minutes, 40 seconds. He remained on the floor for a few minutes, and Ali had himself an eye-catching victory.


Friday at Montreal

Middleweight
Marco Antonio Rubio TKO7 David Lemieux

Title eliminator

Records: Rubio, 50-5-1, 44 KOs; Lemieux, 25-1, 24 KOs

Rafael's remark: Big upset! Lemieux, 22, of Montreal, was a prohibitive favorite against Rubio, 30, a tough veteran from Mexico with good power but a well-deserved reputation for not having much of a chin. Lemieux is all about youth and power. He had gone 10 rounds only once; all of his other wins had come inside five rounds. He was supposed to be the next big star in Montreal, following in the footsteps of Lucian Bute when it comes to filling the Bell Centre. So when Lemieux began the ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" main event in completely dominant fashion, it did not come as much of a surprise.

Lemieux swept the first five rounds with ease. He landed all sorts of hard shots, but although Rubio was wobbled a few times, he stood his ground. His whole game plan was to survive the early onslaught and then take Lemieux into deep water and drown him. So in the sixth round, after surviving the difficulties of the initial rounds, Rubio picked up his activity rate and hurt Lemieux with a right hand. It was the first sign of things to come. In the seventh, Rubio landed a hard right hand behind the ear, and in a stunning scene, Lemieux went down against the ropes in a corner. When the fight resumed, Rubio went for the kill and landed several clean shots that hurt Lemieux. Although Lemieux was still on his feet and there were only 24 seconds left in the round, his trainer, Russ Anber, shockingly stepped onto the apron and waived a white towel in a sign of surrender.

Given how little time was left in the round and what was on the line for the winner -- a mandatory title shot against the winner of the June 4 fight between titlist Sebastian Zbik and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. -- the stoppage was a surprise. But chalk one up for grizzled veterans everywhere with this big win for Rubio, who had been stopped in the first and second round in two of his losses, as well as in the ninth round while challenging then-champion Kelly Pavlik in 2009. For Lemieux, it's a bad, bad loss -- especially knowing that a title shot went down the drain, as did a likely HBO fight (the network had heavy interest in him and was talking to promoter Yvon Michel about doing business together). We also found out that no matter how great a young fighter looks, you never know what will happen when his chin is tested. When Lemieux's was, he failed the test miserably. Now we'll have to see if he can rebound after such a stunning loss.


Friday at Kobe, Japan

Featherweight
Jhonny Gonzalez TKO4 Hozumi Hasegawa

Wins a featherweight title

Records: Gonzalez, 48-7, 42 KOs; Hasegawa, 29-4, 12 KOs

Rafael's remark: The last time Gonzalez faced a Japanese fighter, junior featherweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka went to Gonzalez's home country of Mexico to defend the belt and starched Gonzalez in three rounds. After the fight, Gonzalez moved up to featherweight, eventually earning a mandatory title shot. He went to Japan to get it, turning the tables by winning with his own knockout of a Japanese titleholder on the first major card in the country since last month's disaster. Gonzalez, 29, trailed on all three scorecards (30-27 and 29-28 twice) when they went to the fourth, but he landed a superb right hand on Hasegawa's jaw and knocked him to the canvas. Hasegawa made it to his feet in time, but referee Michael Griffin decided to call it off at 58 seconds in what certainly looked like a premature call.

Nonetheless, Gonzalez, a former bantamweight titleholder, won his eighth fight in a row and collected a title in his second weight class. Hasegawa, 30, one of Japan's best fighters in recent years, was making a mandatory defense of the vacant belt he won via decision in a terrific fight against Mexico's Juan Carlos Burgos in November. Before that, Hasegawa had been relieved of his bantamweight title, which he had held for five years, by Fernando Montiel in their unification fight last April.

Junior featherweight
Toshiaki Nishioka KO9 Mauricio Munoz

Retains a junior featherweight title

Records: Nishioka, 38-4-3, 24 KOs; Munoz, 21-3, 9 KOs

Rafael's remark: Nishioka, 34, of Japan, made his sixth title defense in workmanlike fashion. He threw a lot of combinations and outboxed Munoz, 25, of Argentina, for most of the fight. He was leading on the three scorecards (78-74 twice and 78-75) before landing a terrific left hand to the chin in the final moments of the ninth round. Munoz, who had terrible swelling under his right eye, went down to his backside after the punch and, with his back against the ropes, took the full count. The official time of the knockout was a rare 3 minutes, 7 seconds of the ninth round because, even though the round had gone three minutes, you can't be saved by the bell.

Junior lightweight
Takahiro Ao KO4 Humberto Gutierrez

Retains a junior lightweight title

Records: Ao, 21-2-1, 10 KOs; Gutierrez, 28-2-1, 20 KOs

Rafael's remark: Japan's Ao, 27, who briefly held a featherweight title in 2009, moved up to 130 pounds and outpointed Vitali Tajbert to claim a junior lightweight belt in November. Making his first defense against mandatory challenger Gutierrez, 22, of Mexico, Ao looked strong in the victory. He was pitching a 30-27 shutout on two scorecards and was up 29-28 entering the fourth round. They were trading punches in an even round when Ao landed a nasty right hook to the liver, dropping Gutierrez to his knees in agony. Gutierrez put his head down on the canvas, spit out his mouthpiece and was counted out at 1 minute, 6 seconds.


Friday at Primm, Nev.

Welterweight
Jesse Vargas TKO1 Vivian Harris

Records: Vargas, 15-0, 8 KOs; Harris, 29-6-1, 19 KOs

Rafael's remark: Vargas, a 21-year-old prospect from Las Vegas who is part of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s camp, dominated Harris for the entire first round until the former junior welterweight titlist simply quit in the corner after the round in the main event of Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo Tecate." With Mayweather watching from ringside, Vargas rocked Harris almost immediately with a left hand and spent most of the round battering him as Harris did nothing but hold on. In his best Audley Harrison impersonation, he barely threw any punches at all. With about 30 seconds to go in the round, Vargas visibly hurt him again with a right hand, and when it was over, Harris told referee Joe Cortez that he did not want to continue. It was a good performance for Vargas, although he had very little in front of him. Harris' career is over or at least should be. At 32, the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident is completely washed up, having suffered his second brutal knockout loss in a row; the other came when Victor Ortiz iced him in three lopsided rounds in September. Since late 2007, he has not looked good in any fight, and his record in that span is 1-4 with a no-contest (although one of the losses was a defeat on a terrible stoppage to Lucas Matthysse).

Middleweight
Bastie Samir D6 Lester Gonzalez

Scores: 58-56 Samir, 58-56 Gonzalez, 57-57

Records: Samir, 10-0-1, 10 KOs; Gonzalez, 11-3-2, 6 KOs

Rafael's remark: This is a very disappointing result for Samir, a 2008 Olympian from Ghana, and for Golden Boy, which has high hopes for him. Samir, 24, who lives in Las Vegas, had looked good in most of his fights, but he had faced seven opponents with sub-.500 records. That can disguise a lot of flaws. Gonzalez, 32, of San Diego, stood his ground and engaged Samir in a firefight throughout the bout. Samir got in his licks, but so too did Gonzalez in a close, competitive fight that was filled with action. Gonzalez had Samir in a bit of trouble in the third round when he clobbered him with a flurry. They went back and forth for most of the fight and traded wildly in the sixth round, during which Samir was warned for hitting Gonzalez with a low blow. In the end, it was close, could have gone either way, but wound up even. Samir, who is not a big middleweight, probably would be best served moving down to junior middleweight.


Friday at Laredo, Texas

Super middleweight
Dyah Ali Davis W10 Marcus Johnson

Scores: 98-91 (twice), 96-93

Records: Davis, 19-2-1, 9 KOs; Johnson, 20-1, 15 KOs

Rafael's remark: Davis' upset highlighted a "ShoBox" card on Showtime in which the underdog won all three televised bouts. Davis was held to a controversial draw by Francisco Sierra in a February fight that many thought Davis, the son of 1976 Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis Jr., had won. The performance against Sierra was good enough to land Davis, 29, of Coconut Creek, Fla., a televised main event against Johnson, a star amateur and a blue-chip pro prospect from Houston. But Johnson, 25, turned in a woefully disappointing performance as Davis outboxed him with relative ease. Johnson was aggressive against Davis but had little success landing meaningful punches. In the ninth round, Davis dropped Johnson to a knee with a right hand to the ribs. It was the first time Johnson had been down. The knockdown did not factor into the outcome because Davis was already far enough ahead, although it did serve to embarrass Johnson even more in a fight that he was supposed to win.

Junior welterweight
Gabriel Bracero W8 Danny O'Connor

Scores: 80-72 (twice), 79-73

Records: Bracero, 15-0, 1 KO; O'Connor, 14-1, 3 KOs

Rafael's remark: Look at their knockout records. You just knew this one was going the distance because neither of them can punch with any authority. But both Bracero, 30, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and O'Connor, 26, of Framingham, Mass., are good boxers. Bracero, who had his career interrupted by a six-year prison stint because of a weapons charge, did not box from 2002 until 2009. Despite his skills, it was a surprise to see him so easily outbox O'Connor. A southpaw, O'Connor was a star amateur -- in 2008, he was a U.S. Olympic alternate and a National Golden Gloves champion -- who was viewed by many as a quality prospect despite having previously faced weak opposition. Although neither fighter has power, they still made a pleasing fight by exchanging punches throughout. Bracero, however, won most of the rounds because his punches were more accurate and effective. He gave O'Connor a bloody nose in the fourth round and applied a lot of pressure to get the biggest win of his career.

Welterweight
Vincent Arroyo W8 Willie Nelson

Scores: 75-73 (twice), 74-74

Records: Arroyo, 11-1, 7 KOs; Nelson, 16-1-1, 10 KOs

Rafael's remark: Arroyo, 23, of Amherst, N.Y., pulled off his second upset in a row, and it came after a year layoff. Last April, Arroyo knocked out touted prospect Jeremy Bryan in the eighth round. Even though Arroyo did not stop Cleveland's Nelson, 23, he dropped him three times (in the third, sixth and seventh rounds) to get a majority decision. Arroyo also had a point deducted for holding in the third round.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.