By Hamilton Nolan
Erik "El Terrible" Morales is timeless. Seems that way, at least. Though he's not the oldest prize fighter in boxing - at 35, he's the same age as Floyd Mayweather, and three years younger than Juan Manuel Marquez - Morales' permanent look of grim resolve and unbreakable chin give him the air of a grand old man, one who ceased to be surprised a long time ago. But in boxing, the old men always break sooner or later. And the young men are the ones that do the breaking.
Danny Garcia is a young man, a fighter on the cusp. At 23 years old, he's got more than 100 amateur fights to his name, and he's already been a pro for more than four years. He is the most dangerous sort of young boxer: the polished sort. After running his record to 20-0 against relatively light competition, Garcia dominated the declining but savvy veteran Nate Campbell last year and then followed that up with a split decision win against the knifelike puncher Kendall Holt last fall.
Garcia himself is a calm boxer-puncher with a high guard and above average power, especially in his right. He covers up and patiently waits for the chance to kill. He is fully capable of hurting his opponents. And he's earned his ticket to prime time. For Danny Garcia, a win over a legend like Erik Morales would mean everything - it would pay his admission to boxing's upper echelon and open the door to a long and lucrative career. That's enough to make any fighter hungry.
All of this, of course, means nothing to Erik Morales. Notwithstanding his larger-than-life Mexican superstar status, Morales is the embodiment of the "lunch pail fighter." He shows up, he fights, and he goes home until it's time to fight again. He has a win followed by two losses against Marco Antonio Barrera, and the same against Manny Pacquiao-- two cases of Morales stunning great fighters, who were forced to regroup before coming back to redeem themselves.
Erik Morales is physically incapable of being intimidated, under any circumstances. It is not so much bravado, or even faith in his own overwhelming talents, as it is a disposition that seems naturally resigned to his own fate: He will fight and fight, no matter what, and when his flashier or harder-punching opponent gets tired, he will still be fighting. And at that point, in all likelihood, he will win. In his last fight, Morales was at times absolutely battered by the younger Pablo Cesar Cano. But as the rounds went on, Cano began to show his own damage, as humans do, whereas Morales just kept coming, and coming, and coming until he won a decision victory (and turned Cano's face into deli meat in the process). Like all of the greatest Mexican fighters of his generation, Erik Morales will never stop coming, and he just might pick up some steam along the way. That is the terrible thing about facing El Terrible. Not doom from a single punch, but doom from the relentless forward progression of a timeless man's will.
There is no question that Danny Garcia has the physical tools necessary to knock out or otherwise defeat Erik Morales. It is equally certain that Erik Morales will not care one bit, having already been to boxing's mountaintop and back. It all comes down to a question of motivation. Danny Garcia has all the material motivation in the world. Erik Morales is motivated by something more intangible in himself - his nature, let's call it. But boxing is a painful sport. One day, for all aging fighters, the price tends to become too high for the reward. Those days often show up in fights just like this.
On the Undercard: James Kirkland is not the best 154-pound fighter in the world. He's certainly not the slickest. But he is, without a doubt, the most interesting 154-pound fighter in the world, simply because no one has any idea what might happen when he fights. Will he do his traditional Tyson-esque straight ahead destruction of his overwhelmed opponent? Will he inexplicably be knocked out in the first round by a light puncher, as he was by Nobuhiro Ishida last year? Or will he get into one of his near-death defense-free but ultimately triumphant slugfests, as he did with Alfredo Angulo in his last fight, the one that had him coming off the canvas to win, demonstrating equal measures of perseverance and a mystifying lack of, you know, ability to not take each of his opponent's punches directly to the head? Nobody knows! That's what makes James Kirkland so downright interesting to watch. And his opponent, Carlos Molina, is more interesting yet: not so fast, not so strong, but able to beat-- nay, dominate more physically gifted fighters through sheer intelligent game planning.
Kirkland is the ostensible favorite in this fight. But Molina is exactly the type of smart fighter who could use Kirkland's own bullheaded aggression against him. Prepare to see... just about anything.
HBO WCB: Mar 24, 2012 10 PM ET
James Kirkland vs. Carlos Molina