"I think this fight is a case where Maidana took it because he wants to pad his resume with a big name. Morales will provide action for as long as he can last." - Max Kellerman
Morales (51-6, 35 KOs) is 34, having had just a couple tune up fights since coming out of a two- and-a-half year retirement. In neither bout did he show the same speed, power and arsenal of weapons he had used to terrorize the featherweight and junior lightweight divisions earlier in his career. He has put in a rugged training camp at high altitude in Mexico and says he's confident he can beat Maidana, whom he feels has flaws to exploit.
HBO analyst Max Kellerman, like many other critics, doubts Morales can regain his faded skills. "I think this fight is a case where Maidana took it because he wants to pad his resume with a big name. Morales will provide action for as long as he can last."
Morales' best chance at winning is to box and frustrate Maidana. He must avoid at all costs getting into a brawl, where he'd be hard pressed to stand up to the 27-year-old Argentinean's thudding punches. Maidana has lost twice, but never been dominated. His will to win is as great as it gets. He was put down three times by the hard-hitting Victor Ortiz in 2009, got up and eventually knocked him out. In his losses to Andriy Kotelnik and Amir Khan, no scorecard in either fight had him losing by more than three points. He has stun-gun power to put opponents away at any time, as he demonstrated again Khan, whom he almost took out in the 10th round. Khan held on, then recovered in the final two rounds to win.
In the co-feature bout, three-time champion Robert Guerrero will face the stiffest test of his career in relentless Michael Katsidis, a brawler who knows only one speed-fast forward. Guerrero (28-1-1, 18 KOs) has all the tools for stardom. He is a multi-talented boxer who will try to keep Katsidis (27-3, 22 KOs) at the end of his jab and outmaneuver him. As styles go, the fight has classic potential. "This is a really intriguing fight," Kellerman says. "Boxer versus brawler. Who can take the next step up?"
Questions hover over both fighters. For Guerrero, it's whether he has the heart to be an elite fighter. Doubters point to his fight with Daud Cino Yordan in March of 2009. In the second round, an accidental clash of heads opened up a cut over Guerrero's right eye. Referee Jon Schorle ended the fight when Guerrero told him he couldn't see because of the cut. It was declared a no decision. Some felt Guerrero was looking for an out and should have pushed Schorle to let him continue.
"Guerrero is still smarting from the criticism he got against Yordan," Kellerman says. "If he beats Katsidis, it will silence his critics, especially if he does it convincingly. Katsidis is probably thinking, 'If I'm relentless, let me test his heart and she how he does.' You have to wonder if Guerrero, with his wife and kids and all he has, will be willing to risk everything for his career. There's a lot of drama here."
In Katsidis' case, it's not clear whether he can close out a top-level boxer.The Aussie looked like the next coming of Arturo Gatti until 2008, when he lost the first fight of his career to Joel Casamayor on a 10th round TKO. Katsidis was ahead on two cards by a point when the wily veteran rallied to put him away. In his next fight, Katsidis lost a tough split decision to Juan Diaz. Katsidis then strung together four decent victories before going up against the great Juan Manuel Marquez. Another close fight, another TKO, this time in the ninth round. How many more chances will he get? "In terms of his career, if Katsidis wins, he can show he can beat a top boxer, and that will get him more opportunities with elite fighters."
Also seeking answers are Paulie Malignaggi (28-4, 6 KOs) and Jose Miguel Cotto (32-2-1, 24 KOs), who will square off in a welterweight bout. Malignaggi, the former junior welterweight champion, is looking to reboot his sagging career with a move up to 147 pounds. This will be Malignaggi's second fight at the higher weight and a must-win if he is to continue being a viable star attraction. Cotto, the older brother of Miguel, has been a contender, but has yet to put himself over the top. He is very aggressive, but not reckless, and he has power to spare in either fist. He showed that in May of last year when he staggered rising star Saul Alvarez in the first round and nearly took him out. The young Mexican survived and then went on to dominate the fight. Malignaggi has the edge in championship experience and has a three-inch height advantage over the 5'5 1/2 inch Cotto.
Another boxer on a different type of comeback trail is undefeated sensation James Kirkland (27-0, 24 KOs). Kirkland will be fighting for just the third time after serving 17 months in jail on a weapons charge. A junior middleweight with ferocious power and drive, Kirkland is looking to regain his star power and move on to bigger fights. "Kirkland is seen as a possible future opponent for Sergio Martinez," Kellerman says, "not because he is as good a boxer overall, but he has the style and the determination and can take punches to put Martinez to the test."
Kirkland's opponent, 35-year-old Nobuhiro Ishida (22-6-2), could present some problems. Ishida is four inches taller than the 5'9 Kirkland, and his record is deceptive. All but one of his losses came early in his career. Since his last defeat in 2004, Ishida has gone 10-0-1, fighting mostly in Japan. An even bigger problem for Kirkland is that Ishida has never been knocked out; so it's possible the fight will go into the deeper rounds, if not the distance. Kirkland is used to making short work of his opponents. He has had only two fights that have gone eight rounds and one 10. Given the long layoff, and the fact that his comeback fights have lasted just a total of three rounds combined, his conditioning will be a key factor.