When Erik Morales emerged from a two-and-a-half year retirement, the objective was clear-cut: Become the first Mexican-born fighter to capture four divisional titles.
His original target was 37-year-old Juan Manuel Marquez, an attractive option because he’s three years older and the holder of two major lightweight belts. But when that match evaporated, in stepped Marcos Maidana and the chance to capture the “interim” WBA junior welterweight title, a belt whose existence defies logic since Amir Khan’s decision over Maidana in December supposedly settled that dispute.
Throughout his 18-year career Morales has never sidestepped a challenge. That’s why fans love him so much – and are so concerned for him now. Does Morales, at 34 and a 5-1 underdog, still have the tools to win or will the 27-year-old Maidana add “El Terrible” to the list of greats victimized by Father Time? Their CompuBox histories offer the following clues:
The Energizer Argentine: No matter how long the fight – or how he’s faring – Maidana keeps throwing. In seven CompuBox-tracked fights Maidana averaged 75.4 punches per round, 20 percent higher than the 60.5 norm. He unleashed 103.4 per round against Kotelnik (a disputable L 12) and saved the best for last against Khan as he averaged 22 of 77 in the last three rounds after going 10 of 59 in the previous nine. In short, he never gives up and thus he’s dangerous from bell to bell.
Defensive Lapses?: One hope for Morales is Maidana’s leaky defense, a byproduct of his aggressiveness. Khan landed 45.3 percent (overall) and 52.8 percent (power) because his punches were fast and straight, like Morales’ during his prime. Likewise, Kotelnik landed 35 percent (overall) and 35.6 percent (power) despite being badly out-thrown (1,241-655). Even while crushing Victor Ortiz, Maidana tasted plenty of leather (41.8 percent overall, 44.9 percent power).
To win, Morales must balance output with defense. He achieved that in fight one against Pacquiao by making the Filipino’s aggression work against him. While Pacquiao averaged 74.5 punches to Morales’ 59.5, “El Terrible” out-landed Pacquiao 265-217 (total) and 96-34 (jabs) while limiting Pacquiao’s power connect edge to 183-169 despite throwing 134 fewer. Accuracy was key as he enjoyed advantages of plus-12.8 overall (37.1-24.3), plus-22 in jabs (31.7-9.7) and plus-7.5 in power shots (41.1-33.6). The big question is whether Morales can revive those glory days.
Morales’ recent form: In beating Jose Alfaro, Willie Limond and Francisco Lorenzo, Morales showed excellent output (a combined 67.4 punches per round) but as he cautiously raised his competition his marksmanship eroded. Against Alfaro he landed 29 percent (overall) and 38.4 (power) but they dropped against the mobile Limond (21.0 and
25.0) and the aggressive Lorenzo (15.8 and 21.5). His jab was also ineffective (a three-fight average of 16.3 percent).
Of the three, Lorenzo’s style most closely mirrors Maidana’s – and the results weren’t encouraging. While Morales threw plenty (71.2 per round) his punches lacked precision. His jab – which may be the most important weapon against Maidana – was anemic (11.2 percent). Lorenzo’s own inaccuracy (16.4 percent overall, 6.7 percent jabs and 18.7 power) and advanced age (39) enabled Morales to avoid disaster. Morales averaged 37 jabs thrown per round in his three comeback fights (landing 16%)- 15 more thrown per round than in nine of his in-prime fights tracked by CompuBox. He’ll have to land better than 16% to hold off the hard-charging Maidana, who brings it for three minutes of every round.
Prediction: Morales will always have the heart but the Hall-of-Fame skills have faded. Maidana’s youth, strength and desire will prove too much. The choice of referee will be crucial because he may have to save “El Terrible” from himself. Maidana KO 9.