Simply put, what a great weekend of Boxing! High doses of drama were delivered throughout.
A great champion summoned up the courage, heart and precise skills of his prime to deliver an enchanting performance in the twilight of his career. Erik Morales dipped into the fountain of youth and rediscovered his old titanium chin in the noblest losing effort of the year.
Undefeated contenders and rising stars were undressed and exposed, like the Emperor and his new clothes.
Michael Katsidis was beaten so badly his face became, as Jim Lampley so artfully dubbed it, "a grotesquely swollen mask," yet he never stopped coming and refused to give up.
There was minor controversy with James Kirkland protesting his stoppage and David Lemieux's corner throwing in the towel with little time left in the round and their fighter still on his feet.
Where do we go from here?
1) Should Erik Morales rematch Marcos Maidana?
In my humble opinion, no.
That was my reaction as soon as the fight ended. It was an inspiring, classic display from Morales. Faced with unrelenting pressure, he did exactly what makes him so special: Absorbed punishment and fought fire with fire, using supreme footwork and angles to endorse his cause. Morales proved (for the zillionth time) he is the ultimate warrior: a master technician who's not afraid to brawl.
When the subject of a rematch came up, I was saddened to hear Morales emphatically suggesting it.
Could Morales beat Maidana if they fought again? Of course. Would he take a lot of punishment to do so? Yes! And in my mind, Erik Morales has taken enough punishment for a lifetime. He has the heart of 10 fighters and that doesn't always benefit the rest of his body.
The great champ made his statement and gave us all one of the most thrilling fights of the year. I would like to see him bow out in a blaze of glory. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the plan. This fight reminded me, at times, of his first fight with Pacquiao—the way Morales handled the pressure and let his hands go when he needed to. I'm afraid a rematch would be more reminiscent of Erik's second encounter with Pac-Man.
2) What the H happened to James Kirkland?
Man...I have no idea.
But we could have seen this coming, or at least been less confident than we were. Kirkland looked sloppy in his last fight against Jhon Berrio, a very mediocre opponent. Berrio seemed to hurt Kirkland in the first round, and Berrio wasn't terribly hurt himself on the knockdown that ended the fight.
It was a very average performance from Kirkland that obviously, looking back, was an ominous warning.
Most of us wrote that off as "ring rust" and assumed Kirkland would put in some work before this fight. It looked like Kirkland hadn't trained at all. Sure, his body looked great at the weigh-in (I thought he would crush this tall, skinny unknown fighter from Japan), but the guy in the ring had no footwork, no defense, no polish and no game plan.
Kirkland surged forward at the bell, but was more clumsy than ferocious, and soon took a knee on a glancing shot.
That was shocking enough.
He was then put on his back twice on decent shots to the head, but not the type of thundering blows you might expect. Ishida was coming in with 7 KOs in 30 fights. The truth is, on Saturday night, James Kirkland, a man who went to war with hard-hitting Joel Julio just over two years ago, epitomized the phrase "glass jaw." Paully Malignaggi might have knocked him out.
I have no idea what to make of this. Always loving a good redemption story, and salivating over a potential Kirkland-Martinez fight, I was pulling hard for Kirkland to continue his ascent and make it back to a top contender in the division. Now it seems ridiculous to mention those two in the same breath.
What does GB do with Kirkland now? He has been humbled outside of the ring with a prison sentence and now inside the ring,with a shocking first-round ouster. Looking forward, there's only so much soul searching and crafty matchmaking can do, either Kirkland still has it or he doesn't. He may never be what he once was or what we all imagined he would become. He probably has one more serious chance to state his case.
3) Where does David Lemieux go from here?
Another fighter who was laughably mentioned as a viable challenger to Sergio, my heart goes out to the hard-punching Lemieux. First of all, he was the victim of a premature stoppage. I don't blame the corner for protecting their fighter, but Lemieux was never given a chance to handle the adversity. Rubio was throwing, and landing some, but Lemieux was on his feet, with his gloves up and had to hold on for just 24 seconds to finish the round. The fact that the corner showed little faith in their fighter is probably telling, but it seemed like they pulled the plug while he still had a little life in him.
Regardless, a loss is a loss, and with the way things played out, he absolutely deserved to lose the fight. Lemieux, unlike Kirkland, came out firing and showed a lot of the skills that made him so highly regarded. But the man across the ring, Rubio, a veteran with a much better list of opponents than Lemieux has been in with, withstood the offensive assault, and sensing that Lemieux was running out of steam, turned it up in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Lemieux showed severe limitations in his game.
He was unable to effectively box his way to victory after banking so many early rounds. He just kept coming forwards, and as he ran out of gas, the openings were bigger and Rubio took advantage and became the aggressor. Lemieux's defense proved suspect and his chin did not acquit itself well. Lemieux showed dazzling speed on the attack in the early rounds, but he couldn't move well enough laterally later in the fight to protect himself from the Mexican's onslaught.
A win would have given Lemieux a title shot at 160 against the winner of Zbik-Chavez Jr. Now he faces a slow, painful road back up, probably going back in soft in his next fight to begin the rebuilding process. Look for Lemieux to resurface back on the contender lists in about a year.
This was a big setback for a young fighter, but Lemieux has the athletic ability, the crowd-pleasing style and the youth to go back to the drawing board and come back strong down the road.
4) Was Maidana-Morales Fight of the Year?
Depends on your standards. If every fight this year was a random scuffle on a playground with anonymous participants, then the flyweight bloodbath between Hernan Marquez and Luis Concepcion would have to get the nod.
However, knowing the combatants, appreciating the incredible heart and skills that the older Morales brought to this fight against a certified tough-guy throwing a ton of punches with concrete fists is made this event something particularly special.
I think Rios-Acosta is still a worthy candidate, in large part because of the stakes involved for those particular fighters. Brandon Rios had a lot more to lose/gain than Marquez or Concepcion. After being soundly outpointed through four rounds by the superior technique of Acosta, he bulldozed forward and insisted upon a brawl, ultimately wearing down and beating his man into submission.
Those three fights stand out so far, but hopefully the ultimate winner combines the extreme fireworks of Marquez-Concepcion with a bigger stage and higher-profile fighters.
5) How good is Robert Guerrero?
Slightly overshadowed by the heroic effort by Erik Morales and the action-packed main event was a dominant exhibition from Robert Guerrero.
Katsidis certainly proved resilient, taking merciless shots all night, refusing to surrender, always looking for one chance to turn the fight. Though it was a dominant performance, Guerrero took some big shots himself throughout the affair, showing fortitude, athleticism and a solid chin in, maintaining his balance and composure every time he was in trouble. I came away from the weekend more impressed with Guerrero than any of the fighters on display.
Guerrero can hang with any of the champs at 135.
I rank him ahead of Soto and Rios, and I think he would be a tough fight for Marquez. Should he move up to 140, many more worthy foes await...and that division should become clearer soon with Khan-Bradley, Alexander-Mathysse and Judah-Marquez all on the horizon.
The winner of Alexander-Mathysse would be a great measuring stick for Guerrero at Junior-Welterweight.
Guerrero fought the perfect fight against Katsidis. How he would handle a more versatile boxer/puncher like Marquez is another question.
Right now, I would have to favor Marquez. As incredible as Saturday's virtual shutout of Katsidis was, Katsidis was badly hurt after about the fourth or fifth round, and there were large stretches where Katsidis wasn't throwing at all. Guerrero stood in the fire and handled the attack well, no question, but Marquez fights a completely different style than Katsidis. Either way, none of the guys at 135 deserve a shot at the champ more than Guerrero, but all signs are pointing to JMM jumping to 140 against Judah.
With his other best competition at 135, Soto and Rios, both being top rank guys, look for Guerrero to follow Marquez into the Junior-Welterweight division. But with Marquez fighting Judah and seeking a super-fight with Manny Pacquiao, don't expect that face-off anytime soon. Instead, maybe Guerrero can take on a Devon Alexander or Lucas Mathysse and call out the winner of Khan-Bradley. He is right in the mix with anyone in either of the two classes after Saturday's romp.