"Sugar" Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns round out what is affectionately referred to as "The Fab Four" -- a group of 1980's era fighters (for the most part) that were all great in their own right, but brought out the best in one another when sharing a ring. Poll a group of hardcore boxing followers as to who their favorite fighters are, and there's a very good chance at least one of the four lands on their list somewhere, and for good reason.
Leonard vs. Hearns I, Duran vs. Leonard I, Hagler vs. Hearns? Between only four fighters, that's a boatload of quality leather trading right there, and there were a handful more match ups involving two of the four, few of which were dull.
Since their respective retirements, and not counting Ray's first dozen before actually retiring, the boxing community has been scouring canvases for the next Fab Four. And they've been right under our noses for a solid decade.
Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez present the next best thing to the above quartet, and perhaps even better.
But only if the boxing gods can find a way to anoint us with the greatness that would be a Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Erik Morales meeting in July.
In the wake of another failed attempt at bringing down Pacquiao and handing him a loss last November aided by thoroughly unkind judges, Juan Manuel Marquez continues his quest to ensnare the Filipino icon before retirement. Last month, Marquez notched an impressive, if unspectacular decision win over Ukrainian Serhiy Fedchenko in Mexico City, and looks to boost his clout ahead of another potential clash with Pacquiao by fighting about two months from now at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
According to Miguel Rivera at BoxingScene.com, Marquez has narrowed down his options to Zab Judah, Brandon Rios, Mercito Gesta and Erik Morales, with heavy leaning toward Gesta and "El Terrible."
Brandon Rios' groggy performance in a controversial win over Richard Abril last month seems to have disqualified him in this race to face Marquez though. And Zab Judah's nice win over Vernon Paris in an IBF eliminator on NBC Sports may have proven to take him out of the running as well, as in Marquez' mind's eye Zab could present more stylistic issues and problems than Marquez would be willing to risk another shot at Manny on.
The idea that Filipino prospect/almost contender Mercito Gesta is ready for someone of Marquez' caliber is questionable at best, but the premise behind that one seems to be that Juan Manuel wants another southpaw in order to ready himself for Manny's left-handed assault once more. Still, in watching Gesta stroll through his last few non-factor opponents, it just doesn't feel quite like the correct sell to put him in with the 54-6-1 (38 KO) Marquez. At 24-years old and 25-0-1 (13 KO), Gesta appears to have plenty of time to develop, and he needs it. He's not a bad fighter at all, but bland and stiff at times.
Enter Tijuana's Erik Morales.
A close loss to David Diaz for a lightweight strap that many felt he should've won put him at 1-5 in his last six and led Morales into an almost three year retirement. His first three fights since coming back in 2010 were as much about shaking off the cobwebs and getting his weight right as they were about anything legacy-related, and in that sense he did well. Plus, in true "El Terrible" fashion, he was entertaining even against weaker opposition than he'd been used to.
Roughly one year ago, a great scuffle with Marcos Maidana that saw Morales battle through an almost completely closed eye for more than half the fight and lose a tight majority decision marked the return of a more vintage version of the Mexican soldier we'd gotten used to.
A spirited scrap with unexpectedly game undefeated contender Pablo Cesar Cano for the vacant WBC junior welterweight trinket that ended with a stoppage in 10 for Morales readied him for a showdown with another unbeaten young gun in Danny Garcia.
Unable to make weight and battling a speedier opponent with good skills and a difficult style, Morales lost his belt on the scale and dropped a unanimous decision in a fight where he never lacked heart and effort, but was slowly whittled down on the cards, and even decked in the 11th while seemingly seizing momentum back. The knockdown blasted the wind from Erik's sails, and talk of another retirement flooded after-bout discussions following a post-fight interview in which Morales waxed existential.
At only 35, Morales is still young chronologically. But the age tally in puglistic terms is much higher, as his 52-8 (36 KO) record over 19 years reveals. Battle after war after donnybrook after melee have clearly pumped the brakes on the man's ability to deal with the velocity and athleticism many of his prospective opponents would bring, should be decide to continue.
But if he does indeed continue, he could still participate in a few great action bouts if matched just right. Pressuring bangers like Maidana, Lucas Matthysse or even Mike Alvarado would bring the fight he always seems to want right to his doorstep. Those fights are perfect for his style at this juncture, but they might not bring the money he'd be looking for in likely one of his last few (if not last altogether) fights. The more realistic choices in terms of money are probably a few counterpunchers that may have lost a bit in Zab Judah, and one Juan Manuel Marquez.
But between the two, there's only one road to a chance at evening up two stoppage losses at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, as Morales has occasionally hinted at wanting, and Marquez is trying to race him there.
Marquez' promoter Top Rank and its don, Bob Arum, are looking to fill as many seats as possible in Cowboys Stadium, which should prove difficult to do against anything short of a big name. Marquez' drawing power has increased in the last handful of years, though not drastically, and as strong undercards have become more and more rare, he'd be a lone salesman in that one if pitted against weak opposition.
But the two Mexicans finally meeting would be ten years plus in the making, and aside from completing a fantastic round robin between Barrera, Pacquiao, Morales and Marquez, both men have fought increasingly flat-footed in recent years, though neither lack the savvy and calculated ferocity they're both known for. Even a number of years past when it perhaps could have happened initially, a Marquez vs. Morales tumble would be high level smashing for as long as it could possibly last.
Of course, the mythical, factual and frustratingly moronic rift between Top Rank and Morales' handlers Golden Boy Promotions makes the match up unlikely as it is, and reports that Marquez isn't supremely keen on a Morales fight sink the spirits a bit more.
It should be noted, however, that Morales would probably fight a rabid wolverine in a cabbage patch if pride were on the line -- or if said wolverine happened to be related to Marco Antonio Barrera in any way.
On a plane just parallel to reality, boxing fans salivate at the idea of Marquez vs. Morales regardless.
It's not like any of these four men are made or broken based on Marquez and Morales being matched up -- all have etched their names onto future Hall of Fame ballots individually, though with some help from each other along the way. But sealing up the missing link in this Fab Four would bring some closure for fans, and maybe fill in perceived gaps on their ledgers, if you believe any exist.
Above all, and most logically, it's a fight between two bigger names that's unlikely to disappoint. At its heart, that's what boxing should be about.
There exist a number of interesting, intriguing and downright exciting possibilities in matching the various competent junior welterweights currently on the scene, and this is one of the better ones. And at some twisted, surreal point, that needs to be taken into account when putting fights together.
Top Rank, Golden Boy...drop the maces and clubs. Many of us are way past even wanting Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, much less expecting it. Alienation isn't on the menu any longer. Feed us some Marquez vs. Morales.
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