By Kieran Mulvaney
Once, Erik Morales possessed a combination of skill, power and fighting spirit that enabled him to break down and defeat one opponent after another. Now, at age 35 and after 60 professional fights, that combination is no longer enough for him to defeat the one opponent who ultimately prevails over all fighters.
Morales deployed experience and guile against Danny Garcia in Houston on Saturday night, and in doing so was able to keep the fight close against a younger, faster opponent. But he was fighting Father Time as well as Garcia, and the tandem proved too much, as Morales fell to 52-8 and the undefeated Garcia lifted the WBC super lightweight title.
After a cautious opening couple of rounds, in which Morales worked behind a jab that kept Garcia at bay, the younger man landed a booming right hand in the third that buckled the veteran's knees. Another pair of right hands punctuated the frame, but then Morales, summoning the warrior within that had seen him safely through multiple epic clashes over a storied career, stepped inside Garcia's punches in the fifth, landing short combinations and finding a home for his left hook.
In the sixth, Garcia came roaring back himself, teeing off as he backed Morales to the ropes, ripping to his opponent's body as well as his head. But still Morales kept trying, kept pressing, using footwork and feints to lure Garcia into his punches. Still, something was missing: he was keeping the rounds close, and he was even shading a couple, but there was a sense that the Morales of old would have been taking advantage of openings that this, merely old, Morales could not.
After ten rounds, told by his father and trainer that he was far behind, Morales reached into his quiver and pulled out his last remaining arrow. He attacked Garcia with two-fisted combinations that bloodied the young man's nose and may have broken it. He opened up and attacked, sensing an opportunity for one more improbable victory, but as he launched a right hand, he walked into a left hook and went down to his knees. There he stayed for a few seconds as if pondering whether to put himself through any more, before reaching his feet and beating the count.
He made it to the end of the fight, but the result was a formality: a clear and unanimous points win for Garcia, who improves to 23-0 with 14 KOs.
"This was a very difficult fight," conceded the beaten veteran. "His style gave me problems. He's a normal fighter, not a great fighter. I think my age caught up to me."
The co-main event ended in shocking and hugely controversial fashion when junior middleweight James Kirkland defeated Carlos Molina after ten rounds by way of a disqualification that had the Houston crowd roaring its disapproval. Kirkland's vaunted power rarely had an opportunity to shine, as Molina's subtle defense and head movement seemed to confuse the Austin native and prevent him from settling into an offensive rhythm. In fact it was Molina who was the aggressor, outboxing Kirkland from the outside, keeping him off balance, tying him up on the inside, and unleashing eye-catching combinations.
Heavy hands are a great equalizer, however, and in the tenth, Kirkland finally decided to unleash his heavy artillery. Molina went down just as the bell was sounding to end the round, and referee Jon Schorle ruled it a knockdown. However, he sent Kirkland to his own corner and not a neutral one, and as he began the count, a member of Molina's corner team stepped into the ring, thinking the round was over. Technically, that's a disqualifiable offense, and after a delay during which Molina, having beaten the count, sat down on his stool, Schorle treated it as such.
"I hate this decision," said Kirkland. "I was progressing and felt I was coming on strong. My game plan was to take him into deep water. I was pressuring and adjusting."
"I fell down but got right back up," said Molina, whose career continues a snakebit path that includes draws against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Erislandy Lara that almost certainly should have been wins. "I was winning every round. I want a rematch as soon as possible."