- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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HOUSTON -- Danny Garcia is 24, in prime condition and has not been through ring wars time and again. Erik Morales is 35, wasn't in top condition and has been through more brutal fights than most fighters around today.
In the end, it added up to Garcia, with his young legs, stiff punches and resolve, securing a unanimous decision victory in a very tough fight to win a vacant junior welterweight title before a crowd of 5,590 on Saturday night at Reliant Arena.
Morales, one of boxing's legends, fought valiantly but didn't have enough in his worn-out body, losing 118-111, 117-110 and 116-112 on the scorecards. ESPN.com had it for Garcia, 116-111.
"He's a normal fighter, not a great fighter, but it seems like my age caught up to me tonight," Morales said through a translator. "There were a lot of things that happened here."
If this is the end for Morales, he will go to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on the first ballot, obviously. He has been in numerous great fights, is a fan favorite and was the first Mexican fighter to win titles in four weight classes -- junior featherweight, featherweight, junior lightweight and junior welterweight.
Morales was supposed to be making his first defense against Philadelphia's Garcia, but he was stripped of the title at Friday's weigh-in when he came in at 142 pounds -- two over the limit -- and refused to try to lose the weight.
So the title was vacant, with only Garcia able to win it, and he did just that by weathering a few tough moments and his face being bloodied from a cut over his left eye.
"It's been a long way, everyone wants to be a champion," Garcia said through tears in the ring after his victory. "[My dad, trainer Angel Garcia] stuck by my side and we did it. I knew it was going to be a bloody war. I couldn't let him take my dreams away."
After a slow start, Garcia turned up the offense against the clearly slower Morales in the third round. He tagged him with a right hand and hurt him with a series of them late in the round.
Garcia displayed a strong jab that snapped Morales' head back several times. He was effective forcing Morales into the ropes and following with right hands.
By the sixth round, Morales' legs looked dead. He couldn't move well and was looking for spots to catch a break.
Garcia (23-0, 14 KOs) could have done a better job pressuring the tiring Morales (52-8, 36 KOs), but he showed him respect -- just not enough to prevent him from continuing to nail the Mexican legend with jabs.
A heavily Mexican crowd tried to lift Morales against Garcia, who is from a Puerto Rican family, with chants of "Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!" in the eighth round. But it didn't help.
After the ninth round, Morales' trainer, his father Jose Morales, told his son that he needed a knockout to win because Garcia was ahead.
Morales had opened a cut over Garcia's eye and bloodied his nose, but Garcia was undeterred. He landed a clean left hook in the 11th round that sent Morales sprawling to the canvas. Morales survived but was in major trouble.
"It was a very difficult fight and, yes, his style gave me complications," Morales said.
Garcia landed several flush right hands after the knockdown as Morales was leaning against the ropes, obviously tired. But he is an ultimate warrior, and Garcia could not put him away.
According to CompuBox statistics, Garcia landed 238 of 779 punches (31 percent), while Morales was much less active, landing 164 of 547 blows (30 percent).
"I won this fight with great conditioning," Garcia said. "This means the world to me. If you have dreams, don't ever let them go. I am proof they do come true."
Morales made many of his dreams come true, too, just not on this Saturday.
He won boxing fans over by the millions with his epic fights against Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao, many other sensational battles and a closet full of title belts.
When he returned from a 2½-year retirement in 2010 (after four losses in a row, which came on the heels of his becoming the last man to defeat Pacquiao), he won three consecutive bouts. After a loss to Marcos Maidana in April 2011 in a slugfest -- a terrific Morales performance that caused many to believe he was back -- he won a vacant belt in September by knocking out Pablo Cesar Cano in the 10th round.
But Garcia is one of boxing's rising talents, a former standout amateur and blue-chip prospect groomed for a title from day one by Golden Boy Promotions.
He was too much for Morales, who said he would assess his future after a clear loss in a rough fight.
"I have a lot of things to think about, I truly have to think about it," Morales said when asked about his future in the ring. "First of all, it's my health, but I have to think about it. To take fights at this level against these types of opponents, it really affects my health."
Erik Morales put on another entertaining and courageous performance Saturday in Houston, but it wasn't enough to overcome the fresher legs and resolve of Danny Garcia, who won a vacant 140-pound belt.