LOWELL – As far as Gabriel Morales was concerned, the feeling-out process in this fight ended once the opening bell sounded.
Golden Gloves bouts only last three rounds, and more often than not, the boxers who end up having their arm raised in triumph are the ones who are ready to spring forward at the first call of the bugle.
That’s why Morales was determined to dictate the pace. And the Dracut resident did just that, going on the attack early and sticking to his opponent like a magnet to metal.
Morales banged his way to a unanimous-decision victory over Kirby Espinal of Dorchester in a Greater Lowell/Central New England 141-pound Novice Division semifinal bout at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium Thursday night.
This was basically an inside job, as Morales scored consistently with combinations from close range.
Morales, a former three-sport athlete at Dracut High, improved his amateur record to 6-2. He has now posted two wins by unanimous decision in this year’s tournament. Morales lost in the Novice semifinals last winter.
“I took the next step,” said Morales, 24, who works as a union carpenter. “My whole goal for the past year has been to focus on this tournament, because I came up short last year. I had a tough fight and I came up a little short. So this year I wanted to make another run at it.”
And now Morales is a win away from a Golden Gloves title.
“It means the world for me (to being going to the finals),” said Morales. “But I’m not happy yet. I won’t be until I have (a Golden Gloves) title.
“I’m not taking anything for granted. I realize this sport is all mental. You really have to prepare for anything. Even if you think you are going to win, you have to train like you are not. That’s how it is. You have to be aggressive and do what you need to do to get the ‘W.’ Six minutes of hell. That’s what we call it.”
Morales scored consistently with a snapping jab, which allowed him to work his way in tight, where he was able to score with combinations. Pressure is the key to his game, and Morales was relentless in his pursuit of victory.
“That was the plan,” said Morales. “He is a tall fighter. I love fighting on the inside because I’m a shorter guy. So I rip to the body with my uppercuts. I try to keep my distance and come back in. I like to work in and out, in and out. That’s the way we train.”
Morales trains and spars with a number of pros. And this has helped him become a much better stick-and-move boxer.
“The kid works hard both in and out of the gym,” said his father and coach, Thomas Clermont, who trains Morales at the Lawtown Boxing Gym in Lawrence. “I’m very proud of him The kid is coming along.
“He’s in the gym with guys he’s not always going to look good against. That’s the plan, to get beat up in the gym so you can look good in the ring (during fights). Sometimes hard work beats talent. And he works his butt off.”
Espinal, 28, was able to land his share of shots. But Morales did a nice job countering. So Espinal wasn’t able to put together a lot of punches in bunches.
“It was a tough fight,” said Espinal, who has a 2-3 amateur record. “I should have expected it. Nobody gives it to you.
“He kept me on the outside every time I tried to come in. Whenever I came in he had a good counter for it. That’s what kept me outside. He did a very good job.”
In the third round, Espinal began to tire, while Morales continued to score to the body and head.
“I could tell he was tiring,” said Morales. “He would tie me up and he was breathing heavy. So I knew I had him. I knew if I kept throwing those body shots, he would slow down.”
Morales was happy with his performance, but he is far from satisfied. Morales knows he still has work to do in the gym in order to reach his goal.
“I’ve reached this point thanks to great help from an amazing coach and an amazing dad,” said Morales. “I get great support from my family, my friends and all my supporters. They make me go hard every day.”