Boxing
Veteran Morales rewarded for mediocrity
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ladies and gentlemen, it's good to be Erik Morales.

Though it very well may exist, I can't think of a single industry off-hand in which an employee would be rewarded for missing four of five deadlines, failing four of five exams, losing four of five patients or botching four of five orders.

But here we are in boxing, where a record of 1-4 over his last five fights, including a pair of losses by knockout, has "earned" the Mexican veteran a shot at his fourth weight-class championship, in the form of a match with WBC lightweight title-holder David Diaz on Saturday night in Rosemont, Ill.

Erik Morales
Erik Morales is undeserving of a title shot.
The 30-year-old Tijuana native hasn't fought since November 2006, when he was hammered into a third-round submission by Filipino whirlwind Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. That fight was the encore of a brutal January bout between the two, which Morales lost by a 10th-round stoppage.

The first misstep in "El Terrible's" freefall actually came back in November 2004, when he lost a 12-round majority nod to Marco Antonio Barrera in the last and most decisive bout of their intermittent four-year trilogy.

He rebounded with a surprise decision over Pacquiao in their initial get- together in March 2005, but looked listless while dropping a wide decision to previously anonymous Zahir Raheem in a presumed stay-busy bout six months later in Los Angeles.

Not exactly the ideal title-shot run-up, huh?

Still, with all that said, don't get me wrong.

I won't argue for a second that Morales hasn't had a Hall of Fame-worthy career. He has. I won't contend for a moment that his presence on the card won't steer a few more interested customers toward the broadcast from Allstate Arena. It will.

And I'll never be one to claim that "vintage" fighters, like Evander Holyfield or Virgil Hill, a pair of recently returning ex-champs for whom I've argued - don't deserve one last chance at pay-per-view glory so long as they've been active, in shape and winning.

Here, though, the legend simply doesn't belong.

Morales hasn't just lost his last few fights, he's been punished. Even in his victories, he generally takes a fair number of hard blows before wearing foes down with relentless and determined aggression. And these days in the lightweight division - where Morales has never fought - there are simply too many worthy and deserving alternatives.

Raheem has looked good since dropping a split decision to then-champ Acelino Freitas and warrants another shot. Nate Campbell has won a pair of bouts billed as "title eliminators" and ought to have a date. And Australian Michael Katsidis clearly burst onto the 135-pound scene with a win over Czar Amonsot on the Hopkins-Wright undercard.

All should be getting the "golden parachute" chance Morales has gotten.

I hope that's the only regret come Sunday.

It's high time for Vernon Forrest to consider weight management.

The ex-welterweight champ won a shiny junior middleweight belt last weekend with a one-sided defeat of Carlos Baldomir in Tacoma, Wash., but in reality the WBC hardware he copped may be good for little else than hitching up his pants.

Though arguably the most complete and certainly the most recognizable campaigner in the world at 154 pounds, the "Viper" is nonetheless on the outside looking in at several tasty big-money feasts evolving alongside him at 147, 160 and 168.

Recent PPV kingpins Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya have either hinted at or outright confirmed intentions to pursue bouts at welterweight, with the former officially announcing his "Undefeated" showdown with British phenom Ricky Hatton for Dec. 8 in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Joe Calzaghe, Mikkel Kessler and Bernard Hopkins have the makings of an entertaining and chatter-filled round-robin tournament at super middleweight, which will begin in earnest when the two Europeans square off for the WBA, WBC and WBO super middle belts on Nov. 3 in Wales.

And even Forrest's next best hope at a wallet-fattening night - middleweight champion Jermain Taylor - has at least temporarily abandoned a diet of puffy 154-pounders to face unbeaten challenger Kelly Pavlik on Sept. 29 in what's likely his last defense before joining the aforementioned trio eight pounds north.

Of course, there's always purging.

Though seven pounds would be tough to shed at this stage of his career, Forrest would certainly fit somewhere in the welterweight mix, be it against new WBO champ Paul Williams, streaking IBF kingpin Kermit Cintron or even old friend Shane Mosley, whom Forrest beat twice via decision in 2002.

And, for dessert, there's always Mayweather, De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto or perhaps Antonio Margarito, who'll no doubt be looking for big-name redemption after losing both his jewelry and his "most avoided fighter in boxing" title via decision to Williams last month in California.

All are more appetizing dishes than what's available at 154, which includes Haitian-turned-Canadian WBA champ Joachim Alcine, deposed American belt-holder Travis Simms and comparatively bland and non-lucrative veterans Sergio Gabriel Martinez, Sergiy Dzinziruk and Jamie Moore.

Pssst, hey, Vernon, can I get you Kirstie Alley's phone number?

Anyone determined to attach boxing's toe tag might want to stop reading here.

Notwithstanding the insistent saber-rattling from MMA fans citing their sport's burgeoning popularity and imminent dominance, the powers-that-be on the square-ring side of things struck a blow for their own long-term prosperity this week.

By finally burying the hatchet on a years-old feud, De La Hoya and Bob Arum cleared the promotional way for a series of long-anticipated bouts that could very well push the needle back toward boxing?s favor.

Most notably, Arum's Top Rank and De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions settled a legal dispute over the aforementioned Pacquiao, who'd signed contracts with both companies before siding with Arum.

As part of the deal, the companies will co-promote Pacquiao's upcoming bouts against De La Hoya-promoted fighters, while Top Rank will promote bouts against non-Golden Boy foes and share a slice of the pie with De La Hoya's outfit.

The companies will work together on the Filipino's rematch with Barrera - set for Oct. 6 in Las Vegas - and could team up again if Pacquiao moves on to a second fight with another Golden Boy property, Juan Manuel Marquez.

Other potential matches include Cotto-Mosley at welterweight, Humberto Soto- Joan Guzman at junior lightweight and Fernando Montiel-Jorge Arce at junior bantamweight.

"We are pleased that we were able to do this. Boxing is the big winner," said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy, in a piece posted on espn.com. "It's an important day for boxing when you have two of the biggest promotional companies settling their differences and moving on to do things together. We can bring fans great fights. Top Rank and Golden Boy working together is great news for the sport."

One of the sport's least appreciated talents headlines the weekend's "other" championship card on Saturday night.

Rafael Marquez, younger brother of pound-for-pound elitist Juan Manuel Marquez and former seven-defense holder of the IBF?s 118-pound belt, will face former WBC super bantamweight champion Israel Vazquez at Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, Texas.

The bout is a rematch of a championship encounter between the two last March in Carson, Calif., which ended when Vazquez could not come out for the eighth round after suffering a nose injury.

Marquez is unbeaten in 16 outings since a second-round KO loss to unheralded Genaro Garcia in November 2000.

He won the IBF bantamweight crown with an eighth-round stoppage of Tim Austin in early 2003, then scored five inside-the-distance wins in seven fights before surrendering his belt for Vazquez's.

Vazquez had held the IBF crown at 122 pounds before capturing the WBC laurels with a third-round TKO of veteran Oscar Larios at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in December 2005.

He defended it twice, beating Ivan Hernandez and Jhonny Gonzalez via stoppage in four and 10 rounds, respectively.

Also on the card is a scheduled 12-rounder for the WBA's super bantamweight crown, in which Panamanian slugger Celestino Caballero defends his title for the third time against Mexican veteran Jorge Lacierva.

Caballero, a 31-year-old left-hander, earned the division's interim title in October 2005 before stepping up to defend the full-fledged honors for the first time with a third-round TKO of Somsak Sithchatchawal in October 2006 in Thailand.

He beat Ricardo Castillo by ninth-round disqualification in Hollywood, Fla. in March and now faces Lacierva, who's won six straight since a three-bout winless streak over 11 months between November 2004 and October 2005.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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