The past quarter-century has witnessed a handful of improbable comebacks. Sugar Ray Leonard's shocker over Marvelous Marvin Hagler was one. George Foreman's campaign that eventually led to a heavyweight title 21 years after winning his first was another. And no one could've ever guessed that Vitali Klitschko would return from a four-year retirement to regain a belt in his first fight back, much less run off eight defenses -- and counting.
On Saturday, another one of today's best comeback stories will create another chapter when Erik Morales defends his WBC super lightweight belt against undefeated Danny "Swift" Garcia. Will the old man produce another inspirational performance or will Father Time channel himself through a 23-year-old Philadelphian? Their respective CompuBox pasts yielded these results:
Morales' Building Blocks: "El Terrible" is rightly celebrated for his toughness and desire to please action-starved fans. But the underlying reason for his recent success, at least statistically, is Morales' adherence to the fundamentals. Just as baseball games are won with pitching and limiting runs, Morales has prevailed with effective jabs and better-than-expected defense.
At 5-8 and possessing a 72-inch reach, Morales was huge at 122 and 126 but can hold his own anatomically at 140. That helps. The average 140-pounder is struck by 29.8 percent of overall punches, 20.7 percent of jabs and 36.2 percent of power punches, and in his last three fights against Francisco Lorenzo, Marcos Maidana and Pablo Cesar Cano Morales was hit by a combined 21.4 percent of overall punches (28.2 percent better than average), 13.7 percent of their jabs (32.9 percent better) and 25.1 percent of their power shots (30.7 percent better). These numbers are more impressive given that Morales faced 75.4 punches each round -- far more than the 57.2 Morales fired back.
Surprisingly, these defensive numbers stack up better against his prime years. In 19 CompuBox-tracked fights between 1995-2005, Morales was struck by 29.1 percent overall, 19 percent of jabs and 34.7 percent of power shots. His recent numbers may be influenced by his opponents' flaws (Maidana is notoriously inaccurate, Lorenzo was 39 years old and Cano was green at world level), but that's mitigated by Morales' age and the thought by many he was a shot fighter when he launched his comeback two years ago.
Morales' jab is still a valuable and effective weapon. In his prime he threw 20.1 per round and landed 19 percent of them, but in his last three fights he has averaged 28.9 per round and connected at a 20.8 percent rate. The increased usage makes sense because Morales must keep naturally bigger men at bay but his percentage success is impressive, especially since his 20.8 percent accuracy is almost identical to the 20.7 junior welterweight norm. Speaking of jabs: Garcia's only been hit with an average of three jabs per round in his last five fights, landing only three jabs as well per round.
Garcia's Economical Power: In smashing Mike Arnaoutis and out-pointing Nate Campbell and Kendall Holt, Garcia's best asset is his power punching -- both in raw numbers and percentage. Garcia's 40.1 percent power accuracy against Holt propelled his 139-79 bulge in that category as well as his 184-103 overall connect gap. Against Campbell, Garcia landed 42.9 percent of his power shots to generate connect leads of 142-54 (power) and 172-98 (overall) while the same story played out against Arnaoutis (42.3 percent power, 31-14 power connects and 36-23 overall connects).
Garcia's output could be a problem against Morales. The average 140-pounder throws 60.2 punches per round but Garcia averaged just 43.4 against Holt, 54.3 against Campbell and 56.5 against Arnaoutis. One would think a 23-year-old would generate more volume, but his three-fight average of 51.4 is actually less than the 35-year-old Morales' three-fight average of 57.2.
Prediction: Much will be revealed here. Morales will be fighting a young, live, undefeated, inspired challenger while Garcia will experience the first taste of the big-time. Is Garcia busy enough to steal rounds from the legendary Morales, who will the fan favorite in Houston? It won't be easy, but Garcia's ability to find holes for his power shots and Morales' wear and tear should translate to a close decision win for Danny, but don't be surprised if Morales' hand is raised in victory.