Erik Morales to Return in January: Who Are the Potential Opponents?

Erik Morales will return to the ring in January. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

WBC junior welterweight titlist Erik Morales will return to the ring in January, according to Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez in a report at Fightnews.com. An exact date, opponent and location are yet to be named, but hopefully this will lead everyone to stop thinking that Morales will fight Floyd Mayweather Jr in May. That's not going to happen.

Morales (52-7, 36 KO) won the vacant WBC belt in September under less-than-desirable circumstances, beating untested young Pablo Cesar Cano on the Mayweather vs Ortiz card, but on the plus side it was a good fight and a nice moment, if manufactured, for one of boxing's most deserving warriors.

Let's look at five potential interesting opponents, and hope one of them (or someone close) winds up on the other side of the ring, rather than some gimme fight.

1. Humberto Soto (57-7-1, 34 KO)

Though I rag on Soto's crappy schedule, I'd be perfectly happy to see him fight Erik Morales, which he said in September was a big reason for him to sign with Golden Boy. Soto, 31, and Morales, 35, both bring action, and Soto can be in a really good fight when he's given a decent test, as we saw a year ago against Urbano Antillon. Plus, it's right up the WBC's alley: Morales and Soto have been given preferential treatment, so why not just have them fight for a belt?

[ Related: Soto Wants a Big Fight at 140 ]

The only downside might be getting HBO interested, but it could also be a fight that Showtime jumps in and picks up as Stephen Espinoza may be looking to secure more fights on this level, spending a little bit of money to bring on more name guys. With the Super Six off the table, spending money on fights like Ortiz vs Berto II and Morales vs Soto (or any Morales fight, really) isn't all that wild for next year. Plus a potential dud of a deal with Lucian Bute will be coming to a close and you have to wonder how enthusiastic they are to secure him any further, and not just treat him like anyone else and buy a fight if they think it's interesting, and pass if it isn't. Showtime could be figuring out a way to effectively spend their boxing budget -- a fight like Morales vs Soto could be a good purchase, particularly if Golden Boy sticks a good prospect or two on the show with them. As for location, while Morales vs Soto is made for Mexico, California or Nevada could work, too.

WBC Standing: Soto is actually listed as "unavailable" with "WBA" listed by his name. Soto hasn't held or fought for a WBA title in his entire career, and the last two belts he's held were WBC titles at 130 and 135. In fact, when he announced a move up to 140, the WBC listed him as one of the highest contenders at 140 immediately. That's how this stuff works. So I have no idea what their "unavailable - WBA" listing means.

2. Ajose Olusegun (30-0, 14 KO)

006_olusegun_vs_chebah_img_8799_medium
Photo by Tom Casino/SHOWTIME

Well, we know Olusegun wants it. And he did all the WBC asked in defeating Ali Chebah on September 30 in what was an eliminator fight for a title shot.

[ Related: Olusegun Wants His Shot at Morales ]

The kinks here are obvious: Olusegun is a potentially awful style matchup for the aged "El Terrible," and he has no name value, no political clout, and no way to force the issue. If the WBC doesn't want to give him the title shot, they'll find a way out of it no matter how hard he or his managerial team push. There would also be the issue of getting U.S. TV for this one: Would Showtime be interested, because HBO likely would pass on this fight. Keep in mind for all of these, there's no major PPV in January where Golden Boy could put Morales on as a co-feature, and that might be his ideal role at this point for most fights.

WBC Standing: Ranked as the No. 1 contender to Morales' title.

3. Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KO)

Top Rank's Bradley isn't itching to go to 147 pounds the way Amir Khan is, and given that his fight with Joel Casamayor on the Pacquiao undercard didn't exactly thrill or create a wave of new fans for the California native, a fight on this level might make sense.

[ Related: Bradley Wants Morales, WBC Title ]

As linked above, Bradley said in September that when he returned (which he did in November), he wanted to target the WBC belt he felt was unfairly and unjustly stripped from him and all but tied with a bow for Morales. It's a fair enough desire, but I don't really see the point. The WBC has stripped Bradley of the title twice and I don't know why he keeps giving them his money. The biggest issue here would probably come down to whether or not Top Rank has their own firm plans or Bradley, and they likely do.

WBC Standing: Listed as champion in recess still, and also holds the WBO title.

4. Marcos Maidana (31-2, 28 KO)

Maidana has been twiddling his thumbs in the final third of 2011, with an August 27 date against Robert Guerrero canceled and a stay-busy fight on September 23. He's talked about moving up to welterweight, and Golden Boy still thinks they've got some interesting welterweight tournament lined up with a bunch of guys who lack star power or are on the wrong side of the hill, but he's also stated several times he'd love to rematch Morales. As long as the fight weren't put on PPV again, where it did terrible numbers and wouldn't likely do any better the second time around, it's a really good fight. It's guaranteed action and a perfectly good main event for any network.

WBC Standing: Not available, since he holds the WBA regular belt.

5. Lucas Matthysse (28-2, 26 KO)

It was supposed to be -- at one point -- the fight for September 17 anyway. Of the four Morales fights that were ready to go for that date, this was the only one where nobody groaned. It's a good fight and if anyone deserves a break right now, it's Matthysse.

WBC Standing: Ranked the No. 4 contender to Morales' title.

The Rest of the WBC Top 15 Contenders

We've covered Olusegun (No. 1) and Matthysse (No. 4), but what about the rest of this motley crew?

Danny Garcia (No. 2) might be an interesting proposition, as he's promoted by Golden Boy, but he seems to be trying to line up for the WBO belt instead, which may become vacant sooner than later if Tim Bradley goes up in weight.

The rest are guys that could very well fight Morales, but it would be almost impossible to get U.S. TV without sticking it on PPV: Prawet Singwancha, Pablo Cano (that's not a rematch that's going to happen in January), Roberto Ortiz, Yoshihiro Kamegai, Cesar Cuenca, Kendall Holt, Josesito Lopez, Claudio Olmedo, Ashley Theophane, Denis Shafikov, Rosbel Montoya and Ali Chebah. There are good fights in there, as in fights that would be fun to watch, but none of them are big fights.

If you happen to be wondering why Lopez is listed but Jessie Vargas is not, that's because the WBC has Vargas ranked 16th at welterweight. I guess the idea is Vargas doesn't fight at the 140-pound limit, but he also doesn't fight at 147. He's clearly a junior welterweight but hasn't had a fight yet where burning off those last two pounds or so is necessary for anyone. There are tons of fights like this. But I'm guessing he could sneak in sometime and get a title shot at 140 with the WBC if he wanted to. With the Mayweather affiliation, he's got some connections.

Anyway, don't be surprised if this is just a time-killer fight for Morales before he targets something bigger next spring, which may wind up being a move back down to 135 pounds and a run at a fifth title belt.

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