This Saturday on HBO, we have a doubleheader where in each fight, either elbow grease and know-how will triumph, or else raw horsepower will. James Kirkland is like the owner of a muscle car, loud and vulgar, while Danny Garcia is more like the owner of a formula one car, speedy and nimble. But Erik Morales and Carlos Molina — they run their grimy garages that find ways to win the race at the end of the movie, no matter how many times they’re counted out.
Both fights, too, have action credentials. Kirkland is an almost vulgar display of physicality who charges forward with the subtlety of a meteor, and Molina loves to get down and dirty in the trenches, so that junior middleweight fight has a “surefire” marked down next to it in that category. Morales has been providing action fights for decades, and Garcia has done some showy things in high-contact affairs, so that junior welterweight has a “probable” marked down next to it.
Style contrasts, the likelihood of fun: Those are good things to have in a night of boxing. There’s something missing ever-so-slightly in here for me, in that neither fight is really what I want most for some of the combatants. After his career-reviving win last year over Alfredo Angulo, I suggested Molina as a possible opponent, but not because I wanted it so bad — because it made sense to see whether Angulo could handle someone with some tricky boxing skills. And I’m very eager for a revived Morales to face Juan Manuel Marquez, the one Mexican match-up we haven’t gotten in the Morales-Marquez-Marco Antonio Barrera grouping (and you can throw Manny Pacquiao — who’s faced all three of them — in there to make it a less nationally-united foursome).
The storylines are just a touch weak, too. If the favorites win, will anyone be too impressed that a younger, faster boxer like Garcia takes out an old man like Morales, or that Kirkland steamrolls a fighter who has a total of one truly impressive victory and one impressive near-victory? Now if Morales or Molina win, maybe we’ll have something…
DANNY GARCIA-ERIK MORALES
On paper, this one screams “Garcia.” But just last year, we all said the same thing about Marcos Maidana prior to his own fight with Morales, and Morales ended that fight just on the precipice of stealing a victory, even with one eye so swollen that it threatened to hop off his face and become its own “The Thing”-like lifeform. Morales was left for dead years ago, but has found a way to get back in the mix.
It’s similar to something like what Bernard Hopkins does, where he’s got a lifetime of boxing tricks up his sleeve and all these young pups with their energy and speed and power and size or whatever else can be whacked on the nose by Morales with a newspaper. That’s not to say Morales does it easily; he unexpectedly struggled with Pablo Cesar Cano’s energy, speed, power and size in his last fight before putting him away.
Garcia’s better than Cano in every way, other than size. His identity as a boxer is hard to figure. I’ve seen him in fights play the role of knockout artist and power puncher. I’ve seen him be a volume puncher, I’ve seen him be a cautious counterpuncher. At times, too, he looks like a blue-chip youngster or more run-of-the-mill. He’s lucky to be undefeated, since Ashley Theophane nearly topped him in a split decision. But he is coming a strong performance against a somewhat reluctant Kendall Holt, a performance where he won virtually every round and showed off some of his blue-chipness — things like catching a Holt shot on his left glove and immediately popping Holt with that same left hand, or connecting on three consecutive lead rights. He was still rough around the edges at times, like when he bent down and in to reach with his punches.
It’s the kind of thing Morales could take advantage of, in theory. But the very quick Holt couldn’t take advantage of it. And Morales isn’t facing some slow guy like Maidana where good timing is a plenty big weapon. Morales will need good timing against the faster Garcia, and will have it, but this feels like too difficult a course to navigate with just that one weapon when the other guy has so many more.
Betting against Morales of late has been unwise. And if he claimed Garcia’s scalp, it would be the most remarkable win of his late-career revival. But if there’s a pattern to all these old men getting over on younger guys in recent years, it’s that the old man was facing someone who was slow. That’s not Morales-Garcia. I like Garcia to win a clear decision, one where Morales has his share of moments but is ultimately made to look like the ring-worn 35-year-old he is.
JAMES KIRKLAND-CARLOS MOLINA
When I brought up the idea of this fight, the thinking was that Molina was like a lesser version of Kirkland, an inside fighter without Kirkland’s nuclear power. If two people are standing in front of one another and doing work, the one with more power, it stands to reason, would win.
That might underestimate Molina. He’s the sharper boxer of the two, for sure. Kirkland has just a smidge of intelligent boxing in his makeup, as he showed against Alfredo Angulo boxing better than he ever had before. That doesn’t mean he can’t be embarrassed by someone crafty, and that’s what Molina is.
Kirkland has not only the edge in power, but in the win column. Angulo, Joel Julio, Brian Vera — those are better wins than Molina’s victory over Kermit Cintron and a draw against Erislandy Lara. But Cintron did beat Angulo and Lara would be a difficult style match-up for Kirkland, so it’s not that uneven. And Molina has a decent number of good wins besides that compare favorably to Kirkland’s (Molina’s Ed Paredes, vs., say, Kirkland’s Eromosele Albert). Molina has a couple more losses on his record, but early losses to people like Mike Alvarado or Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. doesn’t look as bad as Kirkland’s recent loss to Nobohiro Ishida.
Molina is a bit like a bigger version of Orlando Salido — his won-loss record doesn’t tell you how good he is, and while he doesn’t look like anything special, he’s crafty and competent in all areas. He’s a devout bodypuncher, in particular. And he’s not as hittable as your usual inside fighter, since he’s good at moving out of range either with his feet or upper body when he senses a shot coming. Kirkland is faster than him, but Molina’s punches are shorter and sharper, so it’s easy to imagine Molina punching between Kirkland’s wider shots.
There are two interesting variables here. Kirkland, having reunited last year with trainer Ann Wolfe, showed marked improvement against Angulo and could have yet more in store. And Molina hasn’t been hit cleanly very often by someone with Kirkland’s kind of power; he handled about the only clean, hard shot Cintron landed on him, but that came in the final round of their fight and Kirkland figures to make more contact than Cintron because unlike Cintron, he’s not timid.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one a few times, especially after talking to our man Alex McClintock about the dynamic. A Molina win would be the completion of a remarkable journey from “opponent” to real contender to world-class fighter. I’m going to side with my original feeling that Kirkland will be just a bit too much of a force of nature for Molina. You don’t need to hit hard to deck Kirkland, and Molina doesn’t hit hard — but keeping Kirkland down is another thing, and Kirkland is a hard man to keep down, especially with Wolfe’s unorthodox training techniques getting Kirkland in the kind of shape he thinks he needs to be in. But I bet it’ll be good before Kirkland eventually overwhelms and stops Molina in the middle rounds.