In the last round of his first fight with Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales was advised by his corner to fight smart. He needs to be, he is leading by all accounts on all score cards, be it official or unofficial. He heard their advice but it may not have registered on his mind. It is a great advice. A fatherly advice at that, for in his corner is Jose Morales, his dad, trainer and manager. But in that last round of that grueling battle, he did what he has not done throughout the fight. He changed his fighting style. He turned southpaw. A style he has not executed in the last 11 rounds. He did not need to. He has been successful with his game plan so far. All he need to do is not to be careless and fight smart in the remaining three minutes of the fight. The win is in the bag for him that night as so counseled by his team. But he did not, he battled Pacquiao who himself is a south paw in a south paw position. A cardinal sin in boxing. You cannot be at an advantage by doing so .You are left vulnerable to the other fighter’s dominant hand at this stance. Erik Morales knows that, but he is not going to run and jab in what has been a great fight so far. He knows Pacquiao’s reputation going to this fight.
Pacquiao has been on a roll lately, tearing down opponents like an ax man chopping trees for logs. Pacquiao has just knocked out Marco Antonio Barrera who has just recently defeated Morales. Pacquiao also knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez three times before settling for a controversial draw. Morales is peculiar’s next target of aggression but he is determined not to be in the Filipino’s list of victims. He will not be smart in this last round of a fight which he fought tactically and technically well. No he wont run and backpedal to a sure win, that is not his plan. When Erik Morales got off that stool on that final round of their March 2005 fight, his fighter instincts cried out louder than what common sense tells him to. This round, he will fight fire with fire even if he gets hit with something that could clearly turn this fight against his favor. And that he did in a round that saw him take Pacquiao’s brutal shots to his head but also saw him returning the favor with the same amount of ferocity and viciousness.
Six years have passed since that momentous victory, Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao are two entirely different stories. Pacquiao avenged that loss to Morales the year after via a 10th round knock out and then finished him off for the last time in that same year via a third round knockout. Pacquiao has then continued to become boxing’ s best while Morales’s career has ended in retirement after one more fight. He fought then WBC lightweight champion David Diaz in 2007. A fight that was scored erroneously depriving him of another world championship belt. One that would have been a record setting victory for Morales. He would have been the first Mexican to win a record fourth title in a fourth weight class. A feat that has not been accomplished until now. A feat he was so close in achieving back then in that fight with Diaz. A feat that can be accomplished Saturday night with his upcoming fight with hard hitting Marcos Maidana. A foe who is as rugged as the terrains of Tijuana, Mexico where Morales was born. A boxer armed with a hand so heavy that he has amassed 27 stoppages out of 29 fights. He has knocked out bright prospects in Victor Ortiz and Victor Cayo and almost put the lights out of Amir Khan in their last fight. Morales is in real peril with Maidana once they crossed paths Saturday night. But this is Morales’s choice, at least his second one. His first choice was Juan Manuel Marquez who declined the fight out of spite. Marquez remarked that he is not giving Morales his chance now because Morales would not entertain his request to fight him in the past. Morales then chose the dangerous Maidana out of reasons he only knows.
The Morales – Maidana fight is not considered a fight at all by many. Morales has been through many battles that has left his 33 year old body battered and bruised. He has been inactive for three years because of his retirement and his last three fights despite winning it, is not necessarily against top caliber opponents. A stark contrast to Maidana’s last three fights. His fluctuations in weight worry many. His defeats prior to retirement are signs of a fighter losing the skill he once had. His former promoters in Fernando Beltran and Bob Arum raised concerns about his safety. But Erik Morales is not worried. “Fear not .” he stated. They might be words of assurance for many but it might also be words of stubbornness on his part. Boxers are stubborn athletes. The sport is filled with comebacks. There seems to be no certainty in the word retirement in this job. The return to the ring despite the advise and the criticisms by everybody is a call that is hard to resist by former boxers. There is always that something that brings them back to the squared ring. Motivations that include for the most part money and the hunger for the recognition that he once had. Often times the result is a validation of all the concerns raised before the fight. There are great comebacks in boxing such as Evander Holyfield , Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard to name a few. But these same ones also made the mistake of not knowing when to stop resulting in damaging results both in their career and reputation. Morales knows this danger to his health, to his career and to his name. His thirst to further his legacy not only as one of Mexico’s greatest boxers but of the sport as well is a drive that is fueling his desire to box yet again. In his mind that is worth all the risk.
Erik Morales won that fight in March 2005 with Manny Pacquiao. He was the only one so far to have dealt the Filipino icon his only loss in American soil. A recognition he will always be associated with in his great boxing career. If he pulls off this one on Saturday night, his legend in boxing will be cemented . But if not, and he ends up being in the canvass once again, his legacy will bore a picture of defeat, shame and failure. Not exactly befitting this great warrior of the ring. I am sure people close to him has advised him not to continue fighting. But like that 12th round of the fight with Manny Pacquiao, their advise is one that he is not inclined to follow. The fighter in Erik Morales wants to fight.
Top photo: Former Six-Time and Three-Division World Champion Erik Morales shadow boxes on April 6, 2011 at a media workout in Las Vegas, Nevada in preparation for his April 9, 2011 fight against former World Champion Marcos Maidana at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas which will be televised live on HBO Pay-Per-View. Photo by Hogan Photos / Golden Boy.