31.07.04 – By Patrick Corcoran: In one of the most anticipated bouts of the summer, Erik Morales displayed myriad offensive skills, a sturdy chin, and an unexpected amount of defensive smoothness en route to a unanimous decision victory over Carlos Hernandez. With the victory, Morales climbed to 47-1 and unified the WBC and IBF super featherweight belts, while Hernandez dropped 40-4-1. The first round was more of a wrestling match than a boxing contest, with Hernandez racing forward and trying to impose his larger frame on the ex-122-pounder. Both men threw short punches entirely in close without succeeding in imposing their will on the other. Jabs were unheard of, and there was little strategic movement other than Hernadez’s straight-ahead charge.
The second round was the best of the fight. Morales opened up quickly, ripping jabs and right hands into the face of his opponent. He was at his best punching from the outside, where his hand speed shined. Hernandez eventually moved within spitting distance of Morales, and took advantage with a slew of power punches.
Hernadez’s wide shots thrilled the crowd and surely impressed the judges, but Morales was unmoved. He demonstrated this by holding his hands at his hips and inviting more. The two men traded combinations over the entire course of the three minutes, with Morales eventually asserting control of the action with a series of uppercuts and right hands to Hernandez’s body. Hernandez ended the round with a three-punch combo, but absorbed a terrific amount of punishment in the preceding moments.
Surprisingly, Morales’s punches seemed to have more sting than those of Hernandez. Clearly, El Terrible was the sharper puncher, the faster puncher, and the better puncher. Carlos Hernandez still plowed ahead after the second round, but the tone Morales set there persisted throughout the fight. Morales deployed his entire arsenal in combating Hernandez, making particularly good use of his uppercut. He ate Hernandez up when the two men were separated by a distance of more than a foot. Even when they were in close, Morales generally outhustled his slower foe.
The fight was competitive through the middle rounds, but it was increasingly clear that Morales was the simply the better fighter. He moved with impressive grace and skill, angling away from Hernandez’s onrushes and countering effectively with uppercuts, straight right hands, and left hooks.
In the fourth round, Hernandez drew blood with a head butt, but Morales, himself no stranger to roughhouse tactics, was unfazed. Although Morales had success trading punches with Hernandez, he never resorted entirely to the brawling style that often rises to the surface. Whenever he was hit with combination punches, as he was in the seventh round, Morales wasted no time in responding. He scored with a variety of punches after being rattled by Hernandez bull rush and showed that he would
not be bullied. Even as he was winning the smaller battles, Morales was focused on the larger war. Behind a scoring jab, Morales slowed the pace of the fight to a relative crawl. The eighth , ninth, tenth, and eleventh round all seemed slower than any of those that had come before.
Morales utter athletic superiority was the story of the fight, and Hernandez seemed to have only the knockout left if he wanted to win the fight. Morales also never forgot any of his weapons. He never ignored the jab or overlooked the body. He conscientiously kept moving away from Hernandez, and remembered to keep the pressure on. Hernandez’s pace slower markedly in the ninth and tenth rounds.
It was clear as the fight headed into the championship rounds that against Morales at the top of his game, Hernandez did not have the answer. Hernandez never abandoned his relentless attack, but he also failed to make any adjustments. The twelfth was a fitting end to competitive contest, with both men trading power punches the duration of the round. Once more, Morales took over with crisp combinations and sharp counters. Despite a faced butted into disfigurement, Morales was clearly the victor as the final bell sounded. The judges confirmed this moments later, rendering a unanimous decision with two scores of 119-109 and one tally of 115-113. Although he delivered his best effort in years, Morales showed some of the same limitations as he did against Jesus Chavez in February.
With a substantially inferior athlete in front of him, Morales was again unable to stop his opponent early. This is excusable, because Hernandez has never been knocked out, not even against Floyd Mayweather Jr. But it does make you wonder what will happen if Morales fails to take out an opponent with some offensive skills (as Chavez may have been had both arms been functioning). Could the brawling Morales be in danger of suffering a knockout from a lesser fighter because of his lack of power at 130 pounds? It is possible.
In the co-main event, IBF bantamweight king Rafael Marquez upped his record to 32-3 with a third-round knockout over Heriberto Ruiz, who fell to 31-2-2. Marquez and Ruiz opened the bout slowly, circling and throwing one punch at a time. The two Mexicans both feinted more than they punched. Neither man put a great deal of power into his punches, and both seemed more concerned with leaving themselves vulnerable than with setting the tone of their offensive attack. Marquez threw not a single right hand until almost two and a half minutes had elapsed in the first round, but did stick his left hook and jab to the body of Heriberto Ruiz. Ruiz, for his part, threw mostly wild shots that had little chance of finding a home on Marquez’s damageable parts, either missing entirely or being harmlessly deflected aside.
The pace remained slow in the second, but Marquez began to dictate the events with his left jab. Time and again, the reigning bantamweight champ drilled his challenger, snapping Ruiz’s head back while keeping him at a safe distance. Marquez was still feinting more than he was punching, and still looked unsure of when to uncork his power shots.
Whatever anxiety remained after the second round did not last long. Marquez controlled the third round with jabs and hooks, mixing it up to the body and the head, and the pace of the fight grew steadily faster. Marquez’s right hand began to sneak into Ruiz’s jaw with increasing regularity. In the final minute of the round, Marquez followed a wild left hook with a short
right hand to Ruiz’s jaw, a perfect counter punch that slipped over Ruiz’s lowered left hand. Ruiz immediately went limp and fell straight to canvas, clearly unconscious. Without picking up the count, the referee ended the fight. Ruiz recovered his senses quickly, but the fight was over, ending in the telecast’s only pay-per-view knockout at 2:11 in the third round.
Kicking off the action was a twelve-round title bout in the minimum weight division. Puerto Rican Ivan Calderon moved left, right, backwards and forwards, occasionally throwing the odd combination in the process, to retain his 105-pound WBO title with a unanimous decision over Mexican Roberto Leyva. Calderon now stands at 20-0, while Leyva’s loss moved his record to 23- 4-1.
The fight opened with the two southpaws fighting at a measured pace. After a head butt opened up a cut over Calderon’s left eye in the first minute, the Puerto Rican scored points with repeated power shots to the body. He raced forward to land combinations and then dashed away before could mount a counterattack. Leyva moved forward behind a steady jab, but he rarely
landed it and his only strong moments in the opening rounds, and as it would turn out the entire fight, were looping combinations thrown in close. Calderon won the early rounds by raking combinations to the body and staying out of range, moving laterally to avoid Leyva’s forward freight train.
Leyva broke through for the first time in the third round. Although jabbing less, he continually walked forward, and when he succeeded in cutting off the ring, Calderon was there to be hit. Leyva obliged, at one point ripping more close to a dozen power shots in a row while Calderon struggled to hang on. Calderon, at just 5’ tall, was unable to hold effectively against his 5’3” opponent. Moreover, in close, he was reduced to merely hanging on because he did not have the punch power to worry Leyva. After finding success in the third, Leyva once again scored points with a smothering attack of uppercuts, hooks, and straight lefts in the fifth.
But Leyva was unable to stall Calderon for more than a moment at a time. In the middle rounds, Calderon also began to mix a right hook into his offensive game plan, both punctuating combinations and leading with this rediscovered weapon. But despite the value of the right hook, the Puerto Rican’s explosive legs were the fight’s defining weapons. His hand speed was also vastly superior to Leyva’s. Calderon threw shorter, more precise punches. Consequently, Calderon beat his Mexican to the punch from start to finish. He was consistently able to throw a two- or three-punch combination and slide out of range before Leyva could respond.
Calderon’s easy movement and Leyva’s inability to force the action to the inside with any regularity told were the story of the fight through the first two thirds of the fight. The bout’s slow pace and tactical nature played perfectly in to Calderon’s cheetah-quick hands. Calderon focused more on movement and avoiding a knockout punch, and did not mount the same body attack he had previously. He did slip in the occasional right hook, but the diversity of Calderon’s attack, which was not a furious assault even early in the fight, had now almost completely disappeared. Leyva took advantage as much as was able, landing the odd looping blow amid his slow-fisted flurries, but Calderon never stayed close enough to be in danger.
Without ever hurting his opponent but easily avoiding in any hazard, Calderon coasted to an easy unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring the bout 116-112.