LAS VEGAS -- An old adage in boxing is a good bigger fighter will usually beat a good smaller fighter. On Saturday night, Erik Morales was both too big and too good for Paulie Ayala.
Morales, showing little respect for Ayala's punching power, scored repeatedly with right hands against his smaller opponent to win the vacant WBC featherweight title with a unanimous 12-round decision that he punctuated with a devastating final round.
Ayala fought hard until the end, but his left eye was swollen shut and he paid the price by taking some vicious right hands from Morales. Ayala never went down but he took a beating in the 12th round as Morales pinned him on the ropes and landed punches almost at will.
With just a few seconds left in the final round it looked like referee Kenny Bayless might stop the fight with Ayala taking a beating on the ropes, but it went to the final bell for a decision.
''He has a strong chin,'' Morales said. ''I hurt my left hand early and right hand late. At the end of the fight I couldn't really use my right hand.''
Ayala was fighting for the first time at 126 pounds and, although he and Morales weighed the same, Morales, who lost the same title in his last fight to Marco Antonio Barrera, looked like a bigger fighter and clearly landed the harder punches.
Morales had come into the fight with 31 knockouts, while Ayala had only stopped 12 opponents in his career as a bantamweight and didn't add any extra punching power with the heavier weight.
''He's a very heavy hitter, punches very hard. He also had a reach advantage over me and was catching me at the end of his punches,'' Ayala said. ''By far my toughest fight.''
Two judges scored it 117-111 for Morales while the third scored it 116-112. The Associated Press had Morales winning 118-110.
Punch stats recorded by Compubox showed the dominance of Morales, who was credited with landing 422 of 961 punches to 185 of 852 for Ayala. Morales landed 74 power punches in the final round despite complaining he hurt both his hands.
Ayala (34-2) earned his biggest purse -- $1 million -- to move up in weight, but it was Morales (42-1) who looked the most comfortable and it was the big right hand of the once-beaten Mexican that made the difference.
Ayala was game and had his moments, landing effectively with his left hand behind a right jab. By the sixth round, however, Morales was walking through Ayala's punches and landing right hands, seemingly unconcerned with his punching power.
Ayala's left eye was swelling midway through the fight, but that didn't stop him from trying to slug it out with Morales, much to the pleasure of the crowd at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino.
By the eighth round, Ayala's eye was nearly closed, and his chances of winning the fight were all but gone. He didn't have the power to hurt Morales and was taking a beating from right hands he couldn't see.
Morales was a 3-1 favorite to win back the same WBC belt he lost June 22 when he dropped a disputed 12-round decision to Marco Antonio Barrera.
Barrera refused the title, but is generally regarded as the best featherweight in the world, a claim he bolstered two weeks ago with a lopsided win over Johnny Tapia.
Morales said he would welcome a third fight against Barrera, who he beat the first time they met.
''If HBO wants a third fight and pays me enough money there will be a third fight,'' he said.
In another fight, welterweight prospect Dmitriy Salita remained unbeaten by stopping an outmatched Ron Gladden midway through the first round of a scheduled four-round fight.
Salita, who follows orthodox Jewish guidelines and will not fight before sundown on Saturdays, won for the ninth time in as many fights and scored his seventh knockout.
Salita, a Ukranian native who moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., as a child, had no trouble against Gladden, knocking him down with a left hook a minute into the fight and then finishing him off with a double hook that put him on the canvas for a second time.
Referee Tony Weeks counted Gladden (11-7-1), of Murray, Ky., out at 1:25 of the first round.
In the semi main, Mexico's Guty Espadas won a split decision over Clarence ''Bones'' Adams, who was bloodied by a head butt midway through the fight.
Espadas (36-5) landed the cleaner punches to win on two of the three scorecards over Adams (41-7-3) in the featherweight fight.
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