Even with St. Patrick’s Day landing on Thursday last week, little transpired to cause us to believe we would be blessed with the luck of the Irish. In a span of less than a week, a notable heavyweight contest was postponed (Klitschko-Rahman), a potentially classic old-meets-new middleweight showdown (Hopkins-Taylor) appeared to be falling apart at the seams, and a chance for history to repeat itself in Ireland was denied when Joe Calzaghe was “forced” to withdraw from his scheduled fight with Brian Magee last Friday.
This being a sport where heart and willpower are every bit as important as skills and physical attributes, boxing refused to go down without a fight. Just when it seemed the present had nothing to offer, the weekend turned out to be one for the time capsule, with plenty of promise for the future.
Chief among the notable events last weekend was the junior lightweight showdown on pay-per-view between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. Rare is the occasion where a fight assumed by many to be the Fight of the Year going in actually meets or exceeds the hype. Morales and Pacquiao not only managed to meet the hype, but also received a hell of an assist from an unforgettable flyweight co-feature between Jorge Arce and Hussein Hussein. The pair of lower-weight wars helped accentuate the evening’s theme of “Coming with Everything,” which turned out to be well worth the price of admission, whether you ordered the show at home, or were among the beyond capacity crowd at the MGM Grand.
The hard-fought unanimous decision win now gives Morales (48-2, 34 KOs) the signature victory his already great career lacked, one of the few things missing in what has otherwise been an amazing run by the Tijuana terror. Having won world titles at 122, 126 and 130, Morales long ago affixed his name among the greatest Mexican fighters of all time. All that was missing was that one big indisputable win against a fighter whose star was on the rise or already burning bright. The closest he had come was a debatable win over a then-seemingly faded Marco Antonio Barrera in what proved to be the Fight of the Year in 2000.
Against Pacquiao, whose legion of diehard fans rival any fan base in the past decade – Tito-ites and Tyson fanatics included – Morales could not have asked for a bigger event for which to turn back the clock and deliver perhaps the most technically proficient performance of his career. In front of over 14,000 fans, many of who described the evening as “an event like no other in recent memory,” Morales managed to freeze out “Manila Ice” long enough to where he was even able to overcome an inexplicable brain freeze in the twelfth and final round to eke out a two-point decision.
As much ebb and flow as was featured in the main event, the crowd received a helluva primer in the co-feature. Jorge Arce finally grew out of the junior flyweight division, where he had reigned as linear champion (do the research; you’ll see that I’m right) for nearly three years. Looking to further his career, “El Travieso” set his sights on the flyweight division, a division having one of its golden eras. Standing in the way of a potential flyweight superfight with WBC champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam was a tough-as-nails Australian contender by the name of Hussein Hussein – a fitting name, as he undoubtedly had Arce seeing double for much of their ten-round slugfest. Cut badly between the top of his nose and left eye, Arce was dangerously close to suffering a TKO loss midway through the bout, which had been back and forth the entire way.
You didn’t need to speak Spanish to understand what Arce was demanding each and every time the ringside physician came to visit; all he wanted was the fight to last one more round, or until he was ready to end matters. That moment finally came in the tenth round, when Hussein finally gave in to an avalanche of punches from Arce that produced the bout’s lone knockdown. Before Hussein could beg anyone to allow the fight to last just a little bit longer, one of his cornermen darted into the ring to halt the contest. Some equated the act to turning off the TV just before the climax; others recognized that Hussein had given his all, but had no more left to give.
One could only speculate how much Arce had to offer at that point, but the point now becomes moot. What was offered in the end was yet another reason why the major networks should pay more attention to the lower weight classes. Arce, Hussein, Morales and Pacquiao all fought their hearts out, and eventually relied on heart to pull them through an evening where just giving their all would not be enough to prevail.
Junior bantamweight Martin Castillo gave it his all, and it proved to be enough to perhaps send former flyweight champion Eric Morel packing for good. Castillo walked down Morel all night, body punching his way to a dominant and aesthetically pleasing twelve round decision. The win kicked off what would become a “Mexican sweep” in the televised portion of the evening, with rising prospect Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – do we really need to explain to you who his father is? – scoring a third round stoppage.
One night before “Mexican March Madness” was upon us, separate cards on both sides of the Atlantic helped introduce the past, present and future within a manner of hours.
When the Calzaghe-B. Magee fight was scrapped on the eve of the card, promotional outfit Sports Network, Ltd. searched for ways to somehow salvage the card. The solution came not in the fight itself, in which the Eamonn Magee-Alan Vester contest was upgraded from co-feature to main event. Instead, the story for the evening became the fact that not only was Magee able to fight again for the first time in fifteen months, but returns to the ring with a sizzling stoppage over Vester, a former world title challenger.
Barely surviving a violent roadside attack on February 29 of last year, Magee was figured to have been left for dead. In the attack, Magee suffered a broken leg so mutilated that you could see the muscle inside. His lung was punctured to the point where he had to stick his finger through a hole in his neck just so he could summon the strength and vocal ability to call 911. The miracle was that he lived; doctors had informed him at the time that it was going to be as good as it gets for the once-promising junior welterweight contender.
If boxing has taught us one thing, it is to never underestimate the heart of a fighter. Magee is a fighter in every facet of life, and defied the odds by rehabilitating himself to the point where he could lace them up again without making a spectacle of himself.
He did manage to make a spectacle of Allan Vester in front of a rabid, if somewhat sparse, crowd at King’s Hall in Belfast. Despite the overwhelming number of fans who demanded a refund the moment the Calzaghe-Brian Magee fight was scrapped, Eamonn managed to give those who decided to stick it out their money’s worth and then some. Dominating the bout from the outset, Magee finished off Vester with a pair of knockdowns in the third frame, forcing referee Mickey Vann to halt the contest with about fifteen seconds to go in the round.
It wasn’t enough for Magee that he was able to once again climb through the ropes; he is slated to run the Belfast Marathon on May 2, and is already calling out streaking contender Junior Witter. How far Magee is able to go in his comeback is irrelevant. The fact that he is back at all is all the proof you need that boxing is first and foremost in boasting the world’s greatest survivors.
Speaking of irrelevant, Kevin McBride headlined the stateside portion of the St. Patrick’s weekend celebration in stopping Kevin Montiy inside of five rounds on the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. The action between the bells was every bit as pitiful as the pro credentials attached to the career of McBride. Bad enough that he is once again rumored to be the opponent for Mike Tyson’ proposed June comeback. McBride had his chance at such honors last year, but managed to ridiculously price himself out. Considering what wound up taking place in Louisville last July, Team Tyson will undoubtedly be willing to empty the vault this time around.
A career that is shaping up to become extremely relevant would be that of undefeated middleweight John Duddy. One of the more promising fighters to come out of Ireland in a long time, Duddy has made it his intention from the beginning of his career to make a splash in the States. Now based out of the Northeast, all of Duddy’s fights have been staged in New York and Connecticut.
With last Friday being the day after St. Patrick’s Day, Duddy served plenty of cause for which to celebrate, steamrolling past previously undefeated contender Leonard Pierre in the ESPN2 co-feature attraction. Flooring Pierre mere seconds into the contest, Duddy remained as calm as an assassin in delivering every punch with pinpoint accuracy before finishing off Pierre midway through the opening round. That a 25-year-old prospect in his ninth pro fight could exude such poise under such circumstances speaks volumes of the potential Derry’s John Duddy possesses. From Ireland to New England, this one may pan out to be the gift that keeps on giving.
All in all, the weekend’s action helped us all forget the bogus politics and shenanigans which had taken place earlier in the week. With three noteworthy fights falling through before the weekend arrived, the naysayers were too quick once again spreading tales of the sport’s alleged demise. After viewing what took place in the ring, you’d have sworn that Mark Twain was brought back from the dead to help rewrite the script. Because a miraculous comeback, a prospect on the rise, and two unforgettable back to back wars in Vegas helped prove that reports of the sport’s death have been greatly exaggerated.