By Jay Mwamba
Redefining the word toughness once again, Wayne McCullough went 12 torturous rounds with Erik Morales in Detroit last Friday, before losing another brutal decision in his quest for the World Boxing Council super bantamweight championship.
The final bell rang with the Joe Louis Arena resonating from a huge ovation from the 12,500 fans, and HBO commentators agog after the slugfest.
McCullough, nose bloodied and his head ringing from a burst left eardrum, conceded defeat graciously, albeit not by the wide margins recorded by the three judges.
"I gave it to him by one or two rounds," he said.
Michigan official Glenn Hirsch scored it 118-110 for Morales, while Englishman John Keane and Mexico’s Ovar Mintum both had it 116-112 for the 23-year-old champion, who was taken the distance for only the seventh time in his 35-fight career.
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"He thought it was going to be easy but it wasn’t," McCullough, whose record dropped to 23-3, said. "He thought he was going to knock me out and when he didn’t he was a bit disillusioned."
Morales said: "It was a very difficult fight. McCullough is a strong fighter and a worrier. I hurt my hand in the third round."
The fight, on the undercard of Naseem Hamed’s featherweight unification match with WBC titlist Cesar Soto, was stirring. It was also the best on a weekend of farcical bouts including Hamed’s ugly points victory over Soto and the Mike Tyson-Orlin Norris no contest in Las Vegas, which McCullough attended.
McCullough got off to a good start beating Morales to the punch in the first two rounds and answering every big shot by the Mexican phenom with power shots of his own.
The Ulsterman let Morales know that he could take his vaunted power as early as the second round when he shook off a crunching uppercut with a little dance in a corner.
Morales then switched tactics. At the urging of his astute corner, he started going to the body in the fourth round with long right hands. He pressed the action in the fifth stanza, mixing his assault with looping rights to the head, but McCullough was equal to the challenge.
The 29-year-old challenger came back in the sixth round, twice trapping Morales on the ropes with a volley of shots, and clocking the champion again with a stunning right at the start of the seventh.
In between rounds, Morales was a picture of distress on his stool.
His corner, however, was giving him sound advice, imploring him to keep away from McCullough, and to keep going to the body. With a decided edge in height and reach, Morales was able to do that effectively.
But even with his nose bloodied in the 10th, there was no letting up by McCullough. In fact, the action was rising to a crescendo. The last three rounds were fast paced and full of exchanges. Morales repeatedly thudded right hands against McCullough’s head in a bid to score a late KO, but McCullough fought back bravely, raking the champion with body shots and occasional right hooks to jaw.
They were still swinging when the final bell rang, eliciting a huge ovation from the thousands in attendance. They threw 170 punches in the last round alone, but Morales was credited with connecting 341 times throughout the fight, while McCullough landed 231 shots.
In a sign of mutual respect, the two combatants exchanged tracksuit tops after the match.
"He hits harder than Hamed, but Hamed is physically stronger," McCullough, comparing Morales’s power to Hamed’s, told the Echo. Hamed also won a decision over McCullough in defense of his WBO crown last year.
"Morales is also a more accurate puncher. He’s a clever fighter," the former WBC bantamweight champion, who received $275,000 for Friday’s fight, added.
On his immediate future, McCullough said he’d take a break and look to fight again next March, probably in the 126-pound (featherweight) division.