By Fiona Manning
Erik “El Terrible” Morales pulled off a stunning performance to capture the vacant WBC featherweight championship with a unanimous decision over Paulie Ayala on Saturday night at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
The Pride Of Tijuana who almost knocked out Ayala in the closing seconds of the bout but was rewarded with scores of 117-111 (twice) and 116-112 to take home the belt he previously owned and may immediately vacate to move up to the 130 pound division.
Two champions now stand tall in the featherweight division: Morales and his nemesis Marco Antonio Barrera. Ayala was clearly disappointed in the scoring but the action spoke for itself. After the fight, Ayala, whose face looked dreadful, said he felt bad for his fans and his family but he has nothing to apologize for. He went the distance with a tough, very tough opponent.
He did not make it to the post-fight press conference. His left eye was swollen shut and he was taken to Valley Hospital to make sure there was no fracture to his orbital dome (there wasn’t).
Morales, a gracious champion said he would give Ayala a rematch anytime. “I give this fight to the people of Mexico,” he said.
Texas-born Ayala was very busy in the first two rounds but from the third round, it was Morales’ night all the way. As the action progressed, Ayala was being increasingly pounded by the naturally bigger Morales.
It was the second lopsided fight Las Vegas has seen in recent weeks. Morales showed that despite his claimed difficulty in scaling 126 for this fight, he is an effective counter-puncher as well as tremendous aggressor.
The 12th and final round saw Ayala’s left eye practically closed. He couldn’t see some of those right hands coming his way. But they didn’t call this fight Never Surrender for nothing. Ayala gave as good as he got but it looked like he was out on his feet in the final seconds.
He crumpled into the ropes but ref Kenny Baliss rescued him - almost stopping the action which continued. Another 10 seconds and he would have been knocked out. Morales 10-9.
Morales (who earned $1 million) improevs to 42-1, 31 KOs. Ayala (who earned a $575,000 purse plus $525,000 in ancillary moneys adding to $1.1 million) drops to 34-2, 12 KOs.
After it was all over, Morales whose face hardly bore a mark, said he is taking time off to spend with his family over the holidays and will then decide what his next move will be,
“It was sweet to win back this title,” he said. “But I don’t think I want to fight Barrera again. I already fought him twice.”
In the main supporting event of the Never Surrender card, Guty Espadas kept up a sustained, spirited attack on Kentucky’s favorite son Clarence “Bones” Adams to win a split nod for the vacant WBC Continental Americas Featherweight championship.
It seemed a virtual shut-out but unbelievably, judge Duane Ford thought Adams won. Scores of 115-113, 115-114 from Jerry Roth and Herbert Minn against 115 - 113 (Adams), proved we weren’t all asleep at the wheel.
Adams himself whined about the scoring, siezing on the discrepancy as evidence he won: “I started late but I pulled it out in the end,” he said. “I won this fight.”
Co-manager Greg Hannley agreed: “I gave the first half to Espadas and the second definitely went to Bones,” he said.
Espadas dominated Adams however, showing tremendous heart and great conditioning in winning the fight, even though most boxing insiders picked Adams to win.
When two former world champions meet head to head, anything can happen. The odds are high and so are the expectations for each team. As Bob Arum said, the winner of this fight “is back in the featherweight mix in a big way.”
And now we know that Espadas is back: With a payday of a meager $15,000 (against $50,000 for Adams), Espadas worked hard for his money.
He came into the ring pumped, to the tune of a lively Bachata song. The audience danced in their seats to the joyful rhythm. Things changed with a few guitar strums. The crowd screamed: Bones Adams was walking into the ring to George Thoroughgood’s “Bad To The Bone.”
The third major fight on this card was Jorge Arce’s WBC junior lightweight championship title defense against solid-looking but tentative, Augustin Luna. Luna had a run of bad losses a few years ago but come in to this fight off a string of victories. He seemed unwilling to engage in an actual fight however, tying up the champion and smothering his punches as much as possible.
After cutting Arce’s left eye in the first with a nice right hand, the stuffing seemed to leave Luna who was knocked down in the second round. He was now looking frankly frightened. Maybe tiny Arce packs a meaner punch than it would seem. Luna was reacting to each and every body shot, while his own seemed to be frequent but none ever seemed to threaten Arce.
For his part, Arce was content to land one at a time, knowing it was only a matter of time.
By the third, Arce’s left eye was puffed and bleeding but he was still landing only one shot deals, breathing openly through his mouth. Suddenly he saw his moment: A big left-right sent Luna to the canvas. He rose on legs so wobbly, it’s unbelievable ref Vic Drakulich let it continue. It was all over in just a few seconds though: Arce pinned Luna to the ringpost and a right hand almost decapitated the challenger.
Official time: 2.13. Arce (who received $15,000 for his efforts) improves to 31-3-1, 22 KOs and Luna ($5,000) drops to 18-13, 12 KOs.