Mixed martial arts might have had the last word in the month of April with Saturday night's mammoth UFC 129 show, and while Dana White and his fighters deserve all the credit in the world for selling 55,000-plus seats at Toronto's Rogers Centre and no doubt taking over the combat sports headlines, it was boxing that delivered the greatest and most consistent quality in the month of April.
Keep in mind I don't say this to start a big, "Haha, suck it, UFC!" thing. This is not a shot at MMA. This is a celebration of the best month of fights I can remember. Here's a recap of what was a phenomenal 30 days.
The biggest event of the night was Giovani Segura forcing Ivan Calderon to quit in three rounds, a rematch for the junior flyweight world championship and one of 2010's best fights. Segura's youth and power were too much for the Puerto Rican star, who for so long dominated at 105 and 108 pounds. And in Germany, Marco Huck outfought a very game Ran Nakash, who made a big leap up in class and gave a good accounting of himself. On that undercard, heavyweight prospect Robert Helenius announced his arrival to the contender stage by knocking out Samuel Peter.
But the fight of the night was one that started it all for the month -- not just the great fights, but the big upsets. In Panama City at Arena Roberto Duran, red-hot flyweight Luis Concepcion got into an all-out war with young Mexican upstart Hernan Marquez, resulting in a blistering battle that saw the heavy underdog Marquez triumph by 11th round TKO.
In the wee hours on American time, a triple-header in Kobe, Japan produced fireworks. In the main event, Jhonny Gonzalez stopped Hozumi Hasegawa in featherweight action. Top super bantamweight Toshiaki Nishioka overcame a stiffer than expected challenge from Mauricio Javier Munoz of Argentina. And in the best fight of the card, Takahiro Ao was better than ever against Humberto Gutierrez, stopping the Mexican in four on a right hook to the body.
The night's big story was the Friday Night Fights main event. Mexican middleweight veteran Marco Antonio Rubio held tough against Canadian power punching prospect David Lemieux, waited for his opening, and in the sixth and seventh rounds, battered Lemieux until the Montreal fighter's corner stopped the bout.
ShoBox that evening also saw another hyped prospect fall in the main event, as super middleweight Marcus "Too Much" Johnson was outboxed by Dyah Davis. In the opener of that show, welterweight Vincent Arroyo topped tall Willie Nelson just as the Nelson hype was getting started.
On a rightly criticized HBO/Golden Boy pay-per-view, James Kirkland was demolished in the first round of his third comeback fight since returning from prison, floored three times by a light-punching Japanese veteran named Nobuhiro Ishida. This would have stolen the show on most nights, but the legendary Erik Morales had other plans:
It was the aged, faded Morales, fighting four divisions above his best weight, who was the night's greatest winner. If for only one night, "El Terrible" turned back the hands of time and traded bombs with the Argentinean slugger, surviving all 12 rounds and giving Maidana everything he could handle. Both fighters got hurt, both fighters came back. Both fighters left it all on the table. And Morales shocked the world simply by fighting close.
Morales' right eye was swollen shut in the first round. He fought this whole fight one-eyed. And Maidana could never get him to go away. After the fight, Morales said he wanted a rematch. He said he would fight Maidana tomorrow.
He is Erik Morales. He is "El Terrible." And he reminded us all of that tonight, even in a loss.
That Erik Morales even came close to beating Marcos Maidana was a minor miracle. That he did it with one eye was something else. It was a monumental effort by a fighter who was supposed to be all but a dead man walking.
In a big fight in Australia, Anthony Mundine got revenge on Garth Wood, the brawler who had knocked out Mundine in December.
The hits juts kept on coming. 1.5 million viewers tuned in during HBO's free preview weekend to see "Vicious" Victor Ortiz get over the hump with an exciting win over previously-unbeaten Andre Berto. The two slugged it out heavy until slowing down in the later rounds, with Berto fighting on instinct during much of the bout. The highlight was an amazing sixth round, where Berto clawed back into the fight by knocking down Ortiz on a stiff right hand, only to find himself on the canvas for a second official time (third in reality) on a sweeping left hand from Ortiz. I must have replayed Emanuel Steward's call of, "BAOHMYGOD!" at least 15 times.
When the fights finished on HBO, dual subscribers switched over to Showtime, where Orlando "Siri" Salido took the "0" from Juan Manuel Lopez on Lopez's home turf in Puerto Rico. The veteran Mexican (that sure is coming up a lot) had Lopez staggering around the ring repeatedly before referee Roberto Ramirez Jr. made a fairly controversial decision to stop the fight in the eighth round.
Though Joseph Agbeko had to pull out of his fight with Abner Mares, we still got half of the bantamweight tournament finale, and Vic Darchinyan used the bump to main event status to fight like a true bantamweight main eventer. The Armenian motormouth thoroughly overpowered Colombia's Yonnhy Perez, getting a technical decision win in five rounds. Perez looked nothing like the fight he had in his previous three bouts, and a lot of that was the doing of Darchinyan, who silenced skeptics at the age of 35.
Later that evening in Oklahoma, Top Rank prospect Robert Marroquin dropped a gritty, action-packed decision to gatekeeper Francisco Leal in the best fight of the evening. Some months in recent memory, this would have been the easy fight of the month.
In September 2010, John Simpson lost a tight decision to young Stephen Smith in an exciting fight. Last Wednesday, they met again. Smith hadn't fought since their first fight, but Simpson had upset Martin Lindsay in December to claim the British featherweight title. A rematch made sense, and they delivered once again. Smith started fast, but Simpson battled his way back into the fight. The energy expended in the middle rounds by Simpson left little for a finish, and Smith found a second wind at the right time, once again barely getting past Simpson.
In Mexico, Gilberto Keb Baas and Adrian Hernandez closed out boxing's great month with an exciting tangle in Texcoco. Baas held up with Hernandez in the early rounds, but eventually found himself on the receiving end of many hard right hands. Though Baas wouldn't go down or even so much as back off for more than a moment, the fight was stopped after 10 rounds, with an exhausted Baas conceding defeat to his stronger foe.
If May can be half this good, we're in for another damn fun month of fights. A salute to all the fighters who brought us this killer month of the sweet science -- often against all odds.