and Hell in Detroit
By Thomas Gerbasi
It was a study in contrasts at the
Joe Louis Arena in Detroit last night, as four combatants of the 122-126 pound divisions
battled in two completely diverse matchups. In the main event, the expected star of the
show, Sheffield, Englands Prince Naseem Hamed, survived a mugging from WBC 126 pound
champion Cesar Soto to win a comfortable unanimous 12 round decision. This fight had to be
the ugliest that this reporter has ever had the misfortune to witness. But more on that
I would be remiss if I
didnt first report on the fight which may not have been the headliner on the
marquee, but which stole the show from the flashy Prince. Erik Morales, the latest
successor to Julio Cesar Chavez, remained unbeaten (35-0, 28 kos) as he pounded out
a 12 round unanimous decision over Irelands Wayne McCullough (23-3, 14 kos) to
retain his WBC junior featherweight title. But though the scores may have seemed lopsided
(116-112 twice, 118-110), this was one of the most competitive and entertaining fights in
McCullough, who has been plagued
by an inability to win "the big one", looked to change things from the opening
bell. Using an aggressive style remininscent of that used in his close loss to Daniel
Zaragoza, "The Pocket Rocket" found little problem catching Morales, though to
be fair, many shots were deflected by his gloves and shoulders. Morales warmed up late in
the opening stanza and started to establish a pattern of landing solid right hands. These
right hands seemed to momentarily halt McCulloughs forward progress, but the
Irishman would then pull off a little showboating dance and resume hostilities with
This give and take action
continued through the early rounds, much to the delight of the Detroit crowd. By the
fourth round though, Morales had started digging vicious shots to McCulloughs body,
and Wayne seemed to be weakening. In round five, McCullough repeatedly looked to referee
Frank Garza for help, protesting that Morales body blows were kidney shots. The
referee ignored these pleas, and this reporter figured that McCullough would only have a
couple of rounds of reserve left in his body.
But McCulloughs heart
refused to give in. With what must have been a feeling that this was his last chance to
compete at the upper levels of the sport, McCullough dug in and stood toe to toe with
Morales. Erik seemed to take a couple of rounds off as Wayne slammed hooks and crosses
through the Mexicans guard. Unfortunately, McCulloughs lack of explosive
firepower led to his shots being brushed off by the harder hitting Morales.
In the ninth, Morales established
his dominance again, but McCullough refused to back down. This led to action over the last
which displayed the very best of the Sweet Science. Morales shots were accurate and
debilitating, while McCulloughs were plentiful and annoying. The final round ended
with both men throwing punches, and while the unanimous decision was not in doubt,
McCullough proved that he could still fight at the elite level of the sport. As for
Morales, a proposed bout with countryman Marco Antonio Barrera has to be one of the most
anticipated bouts for boxing purists in a while. And it should live up to expectations.
As for the main event, over the
12 rounds of tedious, ugly street brawling, WBC champion (and I use the champion term
lightly) Cesar Soto showed the crowd and the worldwide television audience what is wrong
with boxing today. Soto, who was looking to add the WBO belt to his WBC hardware, showed
up to survive. Not to win, not to fight, but to put his head down, headbutt, hold, and
basically do whatever he could to go twelve rounds. And while the viewers of this farce
were the biggest losers, new WBO /WBC champion Hamed didnt fare too well either.
Booed by a crowd packed with members of the largest Arab community in the United States,
Naz has now struck out in two of his three US appearances, the other dud being his 12
round snoozer over McCullough.
After his usual flashy entrance,
which seemed shorter than usual, Hamed came out at the opening gong looking to establish
his speed and superior skills. He did this quickly with some flashy combinations. Soto
responded by grabbing Hamed and thrusting his head in his face. I should have turned off
the television right there. Throughout the remaining eleven rounds, that was the pattern:
Hamed tries to punch, Soto grabs him and brawls. Referee Dale Grable earned his pay for
the next year trying to sort out this bout, which would have been booed if it was held in
a barroom. Grable was forced to deduct three points from the fighters during the bout (2
from Hamed, 1 from Soto) for fouling, and he could have taken points on dozens of other
occasions. And Im being generous.
Hameds vaunted punching
power was not on display last night, and in fact, the only time Soto was hurt (and the
only entertaining part of the bout), was when Hamed lifted up the WBC title holder and
bodyslammed him in round five. This cost Hamed a point, and the only drama was seeing
whether Naz was going to be disqualified.
What little fighting was done was
done by Hamed, and thus the lopsided scores of the three judges (114-110, 115-110,
116-108). This reporter had it 118-108.
Sotos display was a
disgrace, and we hopefully wont be hearing from him anytime soon. As for the Prince,
lets hope the partys over. Weve seen the dancing, weve heard the
boasts. Now lets see some fights against top drawer competition, fighters who want
to win and who want to fight. Then the real Naz can show up.
Hamed and Soto stink out
By Chris Bushnell
When Naseem Hamed stepped through the ropes to battle featherweight co-titlist Cesar Soto,
all sign pointed to a classic style matchup: southpaw vs.conventional, power vs.
output, rangy boxing vs. come-forward aggression.
However, replacing the sweet science was a nearly unwatchable contest in which points
were deducted for flagrant fouling, an abundance of "final warnings" from shrill
referee Dale Grable brought no DQ, and Cesar Soto was on the canvas nearly a dozen
times...although never from a knockdown.
Naseem Hamed may have won another world championship, but he did nothing to stem the
growing exodus of his fan base.
After the requisite confetti cannons and choreographed pyrotechnics, both fighters stood
in the ring, ready to unify their respective claims to the 126 lb. championship.
Soto wasted no time when, at the opening bell, he charged Hamed. Bullying in
with both hands flying, Soto fired rapid punches to the Prince's midsection before getting
tangled in the evening's first sloppy clinch. Hamed quickly answered with several
blistering left hands from the southpaw stance that swiped Soto's face and cooled his
aggression. Immediately wary, Soto's high output, rapid-delivery style evaporated in
the face of his opponent's power. Encouraged, Hamed fired even more sharp lead
lefts, and banked the first round with ease.
The action hinted at in the opening stanza melted away by the second round, as Hamed
devolved into the one-punch-at-a-time offense that drew catcalls in his fight with Wayne
McCullough. Soto offered little in return, although the second round saw his only
seriously effective punch of the night when a long left hook caught Hamed leaning straight
back. The punch nearly inverted Hamed's skull. Another Soto hook later in the
same round caught Hamed flush, but it was the last clean punch Soto could conjure.
During the second round, referee Dale Grable began a ceaseless plea for clean breaks.
He was not successful. As Hamed and Soto wrestled with each other, the older
Grable was unable to secure a break by command, and only slightly more effective
separating the fighters physically. Despite warnings to both fighters, the clinches
continued to dominate the fight.
In the third, Grable risked losing his voice from barking "Break" so frequently.
While both fighters shared blame for the waltzing, the bulk of the problem often
seemed to lie with Soto, who bullied in on Hamed with an ultra-tight defense, threw no
punches, and then appeared to hold Hamed during the attempted breaks. Grable was
losing control of the fight, and not making it any easier on himself by repeating
"One more time and I'm taking a point". It was an empty threat until the
A point was finally deducted in the fourth, but not from Soto. After one chaotic
entanglement resulted with Hamed's left arm around Soto's head, the frustrated Hamed
cinched the headlock and mugged to the crowd. Grable now took a point from the
Prince for "unsportsmanlike conduct". But he hadn't seen anything yet.
In the fifth round, Naseem again found himself losing a point...but for a much more
egregious foul. As the two fighters came together, Hamed ducked and was soon tied up
with Soto hovering over his back and leaning down on him. Alone, it's not an
uncommon position for fighters to be stuck in, but what happened next was anything but
usual. Rather than be leaned on, an agitated Hamed quickly stood up. Soto was
lifted off his feet and draped across Hamed's back. But he didn't stop there.
Continuing his ascent, Hamed spun and flipped Soto
head over heels and onto his back in a flip that rivaled Naseem's ring entrance.
Simply put, Hamed body slammed him.
For a moment, chaos reigned in the ring. Grable grabbed Hamed by the wrist and began
walking him to a neutral corner, looking as though he were going to call what would have
been a completely appropriate disqualification. Soto's cornermen immediately entered
the ring, a move worthy of disqualification on it's own, and Grable was in the eye of a
tornado of controversy. Order was quickly restored, with Soto's team ordered back to
their seats and Hamed suffering his second point deduction of the evening. But now
the wrestling match was on.
In the following rounds, Hamed occasionally punched and Soto occasionally got hit.
But mostly, the two grappled. In clinch after ugly clinch, the two men shoved
each other around the ring, into corners and onto the canvas. Soto was down a half a
dozen times on his own, and on several other occasions managed to pull Hamed down with
him. It was ugly.
Most of the blame falls on Soto, who rarely attempted punching his opponent as he rushed
in with his head down. One particularly flush headbutt caused the third point
deduction of the night, this time from Soto in the eighth. But Hamed cannot be
spared indictment, as his answer to Soto's tactics was often more return shoving. As
both men walked the tightrope of disqualification every single round, referee Dale Grable
could do little more than offer repeated warnings. Unfortunately, perhaps, he seemed
unwilling to DQ either man in the biggest fight Detroit had seen in some time.
Hamed flashed his brilliance only once in the fight: a ninth round flurry that saw
him brilliantly hit Soto flush, then quickly step around him and fire again. As
Hamed darted from one side to another, he broke not only Soto's nose but his will to win.
Behind on the cards from his inability to land, Soto seemed content to simply go
the distance. Even in the twelfth and final round, after trainer Miguel Diaz
implored his man to turn it around, Soto could not be bothered to punch. Instead he
stared at Hamed, who clowned his way to the final bell under a hailstorm of
At the end of the fight, Hamed lifted Soto's title by wide scores of 116-108, 115-110, and
114-110, but had little to be proud of. Forced to battle the rough housing Soto,
Hamed could do little more than oblige his desire to dance. None of the fancy
footwork, combination punching, or "wicked" power Hamed promised surfaced.
It was a night both men will seek to purge from their memory, but one that will
stick in the fight fan's mind for a long time.
For Soto, his eighth loss is a serious setback, but for Hamed this performance may be even
more catastrophic. After capturing the imagination of the U.S. audience with his
thrilling win over Kevin Kelley two years ago, The Prince has looked anything but
spectacular in consecutive wins over McCullough, Ingle and now Soto. He desperately
needs an impressive victory over a name opponent to keep his status as a top draw.
Let's hope that he does the right thing and faces the winner of the undercard bout,
Before Hamed and Soto stunk out the joint, Erik Morales and Wayne McCullough waged a
brilliant ebb and flow battle that was everything boxing fans like: clean punches,
shifting momentum, and bravery and courage in the face of pressure and exhaustion.
Although he was far from invincible, Erik Morales' stock rose after his gutsy
championship performance over the Pocket Rocket.
Wayne McCullough's best moments have always come when he's used a high volume of punches
to make up for his lack of punching power. Once the opening bell rang, McCullough
began an barrage of punches in this, his third title shot since leaving his bantamweight
championship behind. Jumping on the slow starting Morales, McCullough found success
in backing up the champion and catching him with left hooks upstairs and down.
Morales answered with several blistering right hands of his own, but not enough to
keep the challenger from
winning the opening round.
McCullough continued his attack in the second, brawling freely with Morales. The
rugged Irishman would charge Morales, perpetually firing punches into his guard.
While many were blocked, some found their way through, and Morales knew he had to
answer or else risk giving up the pace to McCullough. Using pin point accuracy and
effective timing, Morales fired his long arms across the distance to great effect. A
beautiful one-two followed by a left uppercut momentarily stopped McCullough in his
tracks, and kept the round close, but McCullough kept coming and banked another stanza.
Luckily for Morales, McCullough could not keep up his furious pace for every minute of
every round, and in the third, Morales capitalized on the short breaks Wayne would take to
catch a breath. In these moments of passivity, Morales would quickly set his feet
and fire laser guided bombs straight to McCullough's head. The crisp head snapping
work Morales did turned the fight back in his favor, and he backed McCullough across the
ring, landing punches along the way.
The fourth round began a string of very close rounds as McCullough would back Morales to
the ropes, unload on him, and then allow Morales to answer back. Whichever man landed
first soon found himself on the receiving end of a retaliatory blow, and the action was
back and forth all night. Morales landed some of his most crippling shots in the
fourth as he dug repeated right hands to the body that could be heard in the cheap seats.
It was a good investment on Morales' part, because by the end of the fourth he
found himself completely exhausted.
Beginning the fifth with his mouth open and his chest heaving, Morales was in a precarious
spot: controlling the fight with clean punches, but tiring badly against an opponent whose
stamina never seemed to waver. Again going to the body, Morales' right hands to the
body drew complaints from McCullough, who thought he was being punched in the kidneys.
It's possible that Morales had cracked Wayne's ribs as his fearsome punches landed
legally, yet the pain extended around McCullough's back.
As the fight continued, Morales never ceased picking off McCullough, although his fatigue
grew with each round. In the seventh and eighth, with Morales hitting McCullough's
forehead at will, the fight was still extremely close, as McCullough would inevitably keep
firing punches until one would land, sending a very tired Morales back to the ropes.
As Morales' condition worsened, and his mouth opened wider and wider, the fight grew
closer. McCullough pressed the issue throughout, looking for the one punch that
could send Morales to the canvas. Lacking the power to drop Morales, McCullough's
task was fruitless. In fact, late in the fight, his best punches seemed to only
momentarily awaken the weary Morales into answering back with some big right hands of his
With the fight relatively close going into the championship rounds, Erik Morales proved
why he deserves to be mentioned among the game's pound for pound best as he ignored his
fatigue and pressed forward, summoning the will to win that only true champions possess.
In the eleventh round, McCullough was looking for one specific opening. As he
waited, he leaned over, and as he leaned over, Morales hit him. Eight consecutive
punches bounced off McCullough's forehead unanswered as he stood looking for an opening.
With 30 seconds to go in the round, McCullough found an opening, and nailed Morales
with a left hook that stunned him. Morales responded just as McCullough was
inspired, and both men stood toe to toe to close out the frame.
As the final round began, both men began where they left off, immediately returning to a
phone booth war. Face to face, each man fought their hearts out. Both were
landing punches, and the Detroit audience rose to it's feet as
the battle continued through to the closing bell. While Tapia-Ayala seems to have
the award locked up for 1999, expect this fight to poll a close second for Fight of the
Morales retained his title by scores of 118-110 and 116-112, scores that rewarded his
crisp clean punching over the course of the fight. (BoxingChronicle.com scored the
bout 116-112 for Morales). Fighting on pure courage and determination, Erik Morales
(35-0/28) closed the show like a champion, and deserves the accolades this fight will
garner him. His willingness to box or brawl, his WBC title and unblemished record,
and his increasingly difficult time making 122 make him the perfect next opponent for
Naseem Hamed. Let's hope that the acrimonious Arum-Hamed relations can be overcome
to make this bout a reality. After tonight, the fans deserve it.
Editor, Boxing Chronicle.com