After defeating late sub Kevin Kelley, Erik Morales proudly wore a WBC belt around his waist. It was a title as fraudulent as the one he claimed after his bogus decision against Marco Antonio Barrera earlier this year. Morales had earned the "interim title" of the WBC. What the hell is that?

This is what it's come to in boxing: not only are there too many champions in each division, but there are now too many champions in each sanctioning body. As best as Boxing Chronicle can tell, this whole thing began with Roy Jones and the WBC light-heavyweight title.

Fabrice Tiozzo held the WBC's 175 lb. title, but had announced plans to campaign as a cruiserweight. But Tiozzo was taking his sweet time making a matchup, and while he pondered this fight or that one, he kept his light heavyweight title in limbo. Enter Jones. Jones offered to give the WBC a fat sanctioning fee if they would call his televised sparring match with veteran Mike McCallum a title bout. The WBC, never one to turn down a check, obliged, and Jones was named the "interim" light heavyweight champion.

The alphabet groups, seeing an entirely new avenue of revenue, started naming interim champions left and right. Kostya Tszyu, Zab Judah and Joel Casamayor (among others) all won "interim" world titles, further confusing the title scene. Zab Judah still enters the ring with his interim belt, despite having won the legitimate world title from the same sanctioning body. Is this what it's come down to? That each ABC group has two champs that now have to unify?

Erik Morales was supposed to have faced WBC featherweight champion Guty Espadas for the title. Espadas suffered a legitimate injury less than a month before the fight. In the good old days (which in this case is 1998) Morales would have simply fought his replacement, been disappointed in having to wait, and fought for the title when the champion was repaired. Instead, we now have Morales fighting for an "interim" belt and parading around the ring pretending like Guty Espadas doesn't exist. It's confusing to the boxing fan, it disrespectful to the legitimate champion, and it's another rip-off that the sanctioning bodies get away with.

Morales didn't think much of Kevin Kelley, and why should he have? Since losing to Naseem Hamed, Kelley lost an uninteresting rematch with Derrick Gainer, and even dropped a fight to an relative unknown in an off-television bout. Focused now on being a color commentator on KO Nation, Kelley was widely viewed to be retired pending a big money offer that would never come. But when Espadas begged off, that offer came calling, and Kelley took his best shot.

Kevin Kelley's only chance to win this fight was to catch Morales in exactly the same way he caught Derrick Gainer in their first fight: with a surprise left hand that came as he was switching from southpaw to conventional. A quick switch of the legs allowed him to swing his entire body into a left hook that could kayo Morales, if the former junior feather champ could be enticed to leave an opening.

Morales began the fight very aggressively, not even bothering to jab. Instead he launched straight right hands that landed easily on Kelley. Kelley was moving uncharacteristically to his left, right into Morales' money punch. Trouble was detected when Kelley's back touched the ropes early in the first round. If you're going to circle, you have to keep your man in center ring. With Kelley already on the ropes, it was inevitable that he would be trapped at some point.

Worse for The Flushing Flash was that his punches had no steam on them. Kelley could do little more than Pernell Whitaker did against Felix Trinidad: avoid punches and smile when hit. It was not the way we wanted to see Kelley wrap up his outstanding career.

Kelley began trying to catch Morales in the switch early in the second round. He was so anxious to spring his surprise that he often switched his footing after an overt feint from Morales. Kelley landed a couple of left hands in this round, but he seemed all too aware of Morales' power and spent much of his time keeping away.

Morales took his time, but Kelley's unwillingness to stand still made him frustrated. He was expending a lot of energy chasing Kelley and throwing bombs, and by the fourth, Morales looked like he might be looking for a breather. But then Morales played expert possum. Looking winded, Morales waited until Kelley fired a body shot, then he limped back into a corner. At first, Kelley followed cautiously, but when Morales looked seriously tired, Kelley attacked. Morales ate a punch but immediately spun Kelley so that the tables were turned. With Kelley now trapped, Morales unloaded a frantic array of punches, many of which landed. Kelley could not get out of the way, and ate a series of overhand rights before the bell sounded to save him. It was the first sustained action of an otherwise sporadic fight.

Morales now had a taste for brawling, and Kelley's inability to offer any power shots in return meant that Morales attacked with some abandon. It was exactly the wrong game plan for the Mexican titlist, but it made for an entertaining bout. Morales' desire to score the kayo put him right where Kelley wanted him. For the next few rounds, Kelley repeatedly tried to land the left hook on a stance switch. A few times he did, but it was not nearly enough.

Morales sunk a fierce body blow into the front of Kelley's stomach in the fifth, and Kelley attempted to take a knee. With Morales still throwing, he ended up on his hands and knees, but he beat the count. The knockdown only fueled Morales' desire, and his reckless attack left him open for a number of exchanges. This continued into the sixth, and most of the seventh. Although Morales banked every single round by starting and ending the exchanges, and controlling the time in between them, he still gave Kelley dozens of opportunities to land. Often he did. In the sixth round especially, the two stood toe-to-toe, with Kelley landing the punch he had been looking for several times. Although Morales was controlling, onlookers half expected Morales to suddenly drop to the canvas as Gainer had. Kelley had only one chance to win, and Morales was giving it to him.

But it was not to be. In the seventh round, Kelley began taking some long shots thrown from the distance and retreated more desperately. Morales' sharp accurate punches were landing more frequently, and the largely Mexican crowd ate it up. At one point Morales landed two huge right hands and Kelley looked like he wanted to take a knee again. But Morales kept throwing, and Kelley again went down, this time falling to his knees and then flat on his stomach. It was from position that he watched the count reach eight before springing up and asking to continue. Morales gladly hit him some more, and with Kelley on the ropes and taking shots, the fight was eventually stopped. Morales KO7

There was some controversy at the stoppage, because Kelley had technically been throwing back punches at Morales. But while Kelley was throwing and missing, Morales was reaching around his tight guard and landing right hand after right hand. The last two that he landed had Kelley leaning forward with his gloves pinned to his face. While he was still mentally alert, he was taking punishment and had no chance to stem the tide. The decision to halt the fight was totally legit, and while disappointed, Kelley was probably also thankful. He could have been seriously injured.

And so Erik Morales now claims a belt... an interim version of a belt that was already thrown in the garbage by unbeaten Naseem Hamed. For Morales (38-0/30), two fights loom on the immediate horizon: a rematch with Barrera and a showdown with Hamed. Our guess is that Morales will delay the Hamed bout and opt for Barrera first. The theory is that by completing his title against Espadas later this year, and then defeating the only man to threaten his reputation, Morales would be in a better negotiating position to bargain with Hamed. He may be right, but it's a gamble. After all, Hamed has expressed interest in fighting Marco Antonio first, which would leave Morales with no one but Espadas. It's a complicated situation, and politics, promoters and paychecks will all prove to be stumbling blocks before the future is mapped out. One thing is for certain, however. If Morales doesn't tighten up his defense under the tutelage of Floyd Mayweather, Sr. then both Hamed and Barrera would have to be early favorites when the fights are eventually made.

Until that time, we won't consider Morales a world champion at 126. Not until he beats Hamed, the recognized #1...or until he beats Espadas, the legitimate WBC champion. The title picture is out of control. It's time to reign in the ABCs.

.....Chris Bushnell































© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.

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