April 9: Erik Morales vs. Marcos Maidana
Former three-division champion Erik Morales, on the comeback trail after a 2½-year retirement, will face junior welterweight slugger Marcos Maidana on April 9, Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com on Thursday.
The fight is one of four bouts Schaefer said he has finalized for the HBO PPV card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
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"I got the 'Fight Freak' card done," Schaefer said, referring to the hardcore boxing fans he hopes to please with the lineup. "Everything is locked in."
The other televised bouts on the show:
• Robert Guerrero, a former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist, and Australian action star Michael Katsidis will meet in the co-feature matching lightweight contenders.
• Middleweight Winky Wright will face Matthew Macklin of Great Britain in a previously announced bout.
• Junior middleweight James Kirkland, one of boxing's hottest rising stars before his career was sidetracked by an 18-month prison stint, will open the card against an opponent to be named. Kirkland's fight is contingent upon winning and not being injured in a fight scheduled for March 5, his first fight since being released from a halfway house where he recently completed his sentence.
In addition to the pay-per-view lineup, Schaefer said there would be a one-hour free preview available on the PPV channel that will "showcase fights with some of our young emerging stars."
Former junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight champion Morales (51-6, 35 KOs), one of Mexico's most decorated fighters, has won three fights in a row since ending his retirement last March. He had retired following a decision loss against then-lightweight titleholder David Diaz in August 2007.
Now Morales, 34, is stepping into another league against Maidana compared to the three opponents he has faced on his comeback. Argentina's Maidana, 27, is a brute slugger and one of the top 140-pounders in the world, although he is coming off a decision loss in December to titleholder Amir Khan in a dramatic slugfest voted fight of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
"I can tell you what Erik Morales said to me, that he feels like this is an early Christmas present," Schaefer said. "It's really the fight he wants. He feels that he has the style to beat Maidana and he feels with Maidana, he is taking on the most dangerous 140-pounder. He said, 'I don't want to just do a fight. I want to do a fight where a win will take me back to where I was.' I agree with Erik that a win against Maidana will do exactly that. Maidana is one of the most credible 140-pounders and an exciting fighter. Most people rank him third in the division [behind Timothy Bradley Jr. and Khan]."
Schaefer had tried to finalize a fight between Morales and lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez to headline the card. It would have matched all-time great Mexican fighters in the only match that had never happened between the era's quartet of stars that also includes Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera.
Ultimately, the deal fell through over a disagreement between Golden Boy and Marquez on a contract extension that would have been tied to a $2.6 million purse for the fight with Morales. Marquez did not want to commit to an extension because, with his contract close to expiration, he wants to keep his options open for a possible third fight with Pacquiao, who is with rival promoter Top Rank. Top Rank won't do business with Golden Boy, a feud that has dominated boxing business headlines for the past few years.
Morales, well past his prime, lost four fights in a row before his retirement and has not looked like he has had much left in his recent fights. However, Schaefer said he was highly motivated to face Maidana (29-2, 27 KOs).
"He and his father were begging us for this fight," Schaefer said. "He did take some time off and there is a history of fighters who took time off and came back and did write another chapter in the career, and not only pick up where they left off but go to bigger heights.
"Erik has had three fights [on his comeback], not against the easiest opponents, but not against the toughest opponents. But that shows how serious he is about his comeback. Each opponent was a gradual step up and it allowed him to measure where he stands. I'm happy for him that we were able to deliver that early Christmas gift to him. Not many fighters would sign up to fight Maidana."
Schaefer also said that the deal with Morales was part of a multi-fight promotional agreement he made with him.
Guerrero-Katsidis is a marquee match between two top-rated 135-pounders with fan friendly styles.
"It's one of the most exciting fights one can make in boxing and I'm really looking forward to it," Schaefer said. "Helluva fight. The winner will come out as a major guy."
Guerrero (28-1-1, 18 KOs) is Marquez's mandatory challenger, but has been unable to get Marquez to fight him. Katsidis (27-3, 22 KOs) has been involved in numerous exciting fights, including his last bout, a ninth-round TKO loss to Marquez, who he knocked down in the third round before being stopped in one of the year's best slugfests.
Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs), the 39-year-old former undisputed junior middleweight champion, will end a two-year layoff by fighting Macklin (28-2, 19 KOs), the European middleweight champion hoping to make a statement to American boxing fans. The winner of the fight will be in a strong position for a world title opportunity.
"There's a lot at stake for both guys," Schaefer said.
Kirkland (25-0, 22 KOs) was released earlier this year from a halfway house in his hometown of Austin, Texas, where he was serving the remainder of a prison sentence for gun possession by a convicted felon. The 26-year-old, who is now living and training in Las Vegas, hasn't fought since March 2009. He was incarcerated the following month.
Kirkland was steamrolling toward a title shot and was scheduled to fight on the Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton undercard in May 2009. However, the fight was canceled when Kirkland, who was already on probation for a 2003 armed robbery conviction, was arrested.
"James Kirkland will open up the show," Schaefer said. "The plan is that we have James fighting on March 5 in a non-televised bout and then he'll come back on April 9 on the opening bout of the pay-per-view."
Kirkland's comeback fight is in Anaheim, Calif., on the undercard of HBO's headlined Saul "Canelo" Alvarez-Matthew Hatton bout.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.