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GAA Previews: Underdog McCullough to pack a punch

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

Nearly a year ago on a nippy Halloween night, Wayne McCullough climbed into the ring in Atlantic City, a huge underdog against the fighter many still regard as the hardest punching featherweight in history.

The hardened Ulsterman not only went the distance with Naseem Hamed, but also had the self-proclaimed Prince running in the ring for most of the 12-round WBO contest.

"He had a hard head, What can I say, he’s Irish," was Hamed’s grudging compliment after winning a points decision.

On Friday night, McCullough and Hamed return to the ring in Detroit, albeit against different opponents.

The former squares off with heralded Mexican banger Erik Morales in a scheduled 12-round match for the World Boxing Council (WBC) super bantamweight championship and a $275,000 purse, while Hamed attempts to add the WBC featherweight crown to his collection in a unification bout with Cesar Soto.

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Like in the Hamed fight, McCullough is the underdog, as much as 20-1 in some Las Vegas casinos. He plans on shocking them, especially if Morales doesn’t run like Hamed did.

"He’s a good fighter," the 29 year-old challenger said, sizing up the sinewy Mexican before switching training camp from Las Vegas to Detroit last Monday.

"His main punch is his right hand. He has a good jab, but not as good as mine."

Like Hamed, Morales, who’s 24, is a knockout specialist who has won most of his 34 fights via the short route. But conventional wisdom says if Hamed failed to put McCullough away, Morales may not either.

Although he hasn’t been down as often as Hamed, there is also a question mark on Morales’ chin which McCullough (23-2, 14 KOs) will be eager to test.

"I’ve seen him dropped before, and (Daniel) Zaragoza had him going in the fourth round. He hurt him with an overhand left," McCullough noted.

Zaragoza is the one common opponent both champion and challenger have on their respective ledgers.

McCullough lost a split decision to the now retired Mexican veteran, in his first quest for the WBC super bantamweight title in January 1997. Zaragoza later ceded the crown to Morales via TKO in his next fight, after running out of steam.

McCullough hinted that he would follow a simple fight plan at the Joe Lewis Arena.

"If he doesn’t take you out early, he kind of gets distracted. After the first couple of rounds, Morales runs out of ideas," he observed.

The inference is that McCullough will try to extend Morales into the latter rounds, cranking up the pace with each passing round.

That should guarantee a brutal slugfest, if the champion doesn’t borrow a leaf from the Hamed book and run.

Triumphant or not, McCullough, who plans on retiring in two years time, will campaign as a featherweight and hope for a second date with Hamed.

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